Twenty years ago, a show hit our TV screens that completely changed the horror/fantasy genre for ever. Buffy The Vampire Slayer kicked her way onto our screens in the pilot “Welcome To The Hellmouth,” and along with her demon slaying friends known as The Scooby Gang, Buffy became an instant cult classic. Its influence on the genre is still felt today as many argue that is one of the greatest TV shows ever written.
Running for seven seasons and nearly 150 episodes, Buffy tackled everyday teenage life subtly wrapped in apocalyptic action, with a great cast, whip smart dialogue, and great action pieces. Buffy soon became the benchmark in great TV.
All of this is surprising to many, as Buffy itself came as a spin-off from a failed movie that no one wanted or cared about, so the TV show’s success is even more surprising and rewarding. However, given that Buffy was on our TV screens for many years it was bound to have the odd off day. With that in mind we look at the 8 best episodes that made Buffy The Vampire Slayer so great and 7 episodes that could have so easily taken the show off the air.
We start our list with the very last episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Unlike many other TV shows, which have the unfortunate luck of being cancelled during its run, and therefore usually tend to feel unfinished and incomplete, Buffy managed to end on its own terms and therefore the final season could end the show nicely and satisfyingly.
“Chosen” was the perfect way to do this and even though everyone was sad that Buffy was ending, this episode gave us all closure. The episode itself brings the entire series full circle and reminds us what Buffy was and what its original mission statement and premise was. With some great action scenes and a few nods to the early days of the show, the characters and the plot had all been given satisfying endings that tied the show up nicely into a perfect seven season universe.
14. Where The Wild Things Are
There is no denying that Buffy The Vampire Slayer became one of the most important TV shows in recent times, especially in the fantasy genre. The premise and many of its episodes completely turned the genre on its head and even now, Buffy is one of the biggest cult classics around.
However, with a groundbreaking show like Buffy, it was bound to have the odd hiccup and bad episode. The first of our list of worst episodes goes to “Where The Wild Things Are.” Season 4 of Buffy did struggle with its post-high school settings and, more importantly, with its post-Angel love interest. So new boy on the block Riley got the chance to shine as Buffy’s new love, however, fans didn’t take to Riley too kindly and this resulted in this episode in which we saw the two lovebirds “go at it” for pretty much the entire episode. The episode is clearly an excuse to push the Buffy/ Riley love thing in our faces and it backfired greatly.
13. The Wish/Doppleganger
This entry maybe a bit cheeky on our part as, “The Wish” and “Doppleganger” aren’t strictly speaking a two-part episode and therefore should each have their own entry. However, giving that “Doppleganger” is a followup to “The Wish,” and the fact that they are both equally brilliant, we decided to put them together as one entry.
After events that saw Willow and Xander getting it on and therefore breaking the hearts of their partners Cordelia and Oz, Cordelia comes across a vengeance demon and in her grief-stricken mood, she wishes that Buffy had never come to Sunnydale. The resulting episode sees pretty much all the major characters die, and we get to see Willow and Xander as bad-ass vampires. Vampire Willow in particular was not only an enjoyable character to have in these two episodes, but it actually paved the way for some serious Willow character changes as Vampire Willow first introduced us to the idea that Willow is a lesbian. The other notable thing about The Wish in particular is that it introduced us to Anya, a demon and character that would quickly become a fan favorite.
12. The I In Team
As we mentioned in the previous entry, season 4 struggled a lot. Not only did they lose a major character with Angel, the show also struggled to find itself again after everyone had left high school. Although in reality, the transition from high school to college can be disorientating, confusing, and a little scary, the show just felt jumbled and failed to really explore this subject fully.
However, the worst part about season four was the magic vs science angle that they set up with a demon hunting government agency, The Initiative. Super soldier Riley and his boss Professor Walsh never really connected with the show and this showed more than ever in the episode “The I In Team.” In this episode, The Initiative leader Professor Walsh met her end. It may have been meant as a shocking or even sad moment, but most of us were applauding her death as we hoped this was the moment in which Buffy returned to being Buffy.
Joss Whedon has become famous for killing off favorite characters within his shows and movies, especially at moments when things seem to be actually happy! “Passion” was the first episode that Whedon showed us what he is willing to do with his characters and that no one is truly safe from death.
After Buffy’s faithful watcher Giles finally gets the girl of his dreams in fellow teacher Jenny Calendar, for once there seems to be hope and happiness on the horizon. However, with Angel being turned back into his serial killing alter ego Angelus, it was only a matter of time before he unleashed his true evil. Not only did Angelus kill Jenny, but the reveal in which Giles in particular found out was cruel and torturous and gave us an insight into just how evil Angelus is. It maybe argued that if Angelus wanted to do something really bad, he would kill Buffy herself, but having Jenny being the first death crippled the Scooby Gang to the core and the aftermath of her death was the first major blow to all the characters in Sunnydale. It was a genius piece of writing that set the path and tone for future shocks and heartbreaks.
10. Into The Woods
Poor Riley. He never really stood a chance. The first 3 seasons of Buffy saw her fall madly in love with Angel, and the last 2 seasons saw her fall for Spike, two huge characters in the Buffyverse and two fan favorites to win Buffy’s heart. However, between those two big love stories that almost defined the show, came Riley Finn. Stepping into Angel’s shoes was always going to be a big job and Riley was no where near up to the challenge. The love story between Buffy and Riley always felt forced and the chemistry between them was non-existent so when it came time for Riley to leave, no one really cared or even noticed.
“Into The Woods” saw Riley hit rock bottom, probably in an attempt to give his bland character some edge. Riley was caught visiting a vampire den in which he got vampires to bite him for pleasure. Not only that, but Riley then blamed Buffy for the whole thing. In a true childish tantrum, Riley accused Buffy of not showing him enough attention so he had to go looking for it elsewhere. This all came to a head when Riley offered Buffy an ultimatum: love me or I’m gone. In a bizarre “out of character” moment from Riley, the ultimatum was a step too far for fans and Riley became one of the, if not the, most unliked character in all the Buffyverse. Bye Bye Riley!
9. The Body
Buffy The Vampire Slayer dealt with death and mortality on almost a weekly basis, that’s the price of fighting an endless war with the evil spawn of the Hellmouth! However, when it came to real life death and disease, the show would usually stay clear of that. That is until “The Body.”
Having faced off against the worst evil you can image, seeing friends die and even having to kill your one true love in order to save the world, you would think that Buffy Summers could handle anything, but when her mother dies from a brain aneurysm there is nothing Buffy can do. This episode has no monsters, no action packed butt-kicking scenes, there isn’t even music in the background to enhance the emotional turmoil. The entire episode is quiet, subtle, and a shocking realization to the inhabitants of Sunnydale that there are some things that you just can’t beat. With characters that walk a world in which all manner of magical and extraordinary things can happen, the harsh reality of death makes even the most powerful of them completely useless. A true masterclass in storytelling from Mr. Whedon.
8. As You Were
Speaking of Riley, “Into The Woods” wouldn’t be that last time we saw him. In a similar vein to season 4, season 6 often struggled to find itself. After the events of the almost perfect season 5, season 6 had trouble getting itself back to what it once was. Now that Buffy had been brought back from the dead, season 6 just got darker and more clouded, as most of the characters spiralled out of control and struggled to keep anything together. Buffy herself was dealing with coming back from the dead and also being in a very unhealthy relationship with Spike.
So with so much darkness and confusion in the show, what is the best way to get it back on track? Bring back Riley of course! Not only did Riley’s presence remind us why we disliked the character so much in the first place, but he also brought his new wife with him. Not content with just jumping back into Buffy’s life, now he waved his own happy and perfect life in Buffy’s face when she was probably at the lowest point she has ever been. A truly bad episode but the upshot is that Riley was never ever seen again after this!
As with the previous entry, Joss Whedon is no stranger to taking chances and risks with his shows in order to tell a story in different and fresh ways. “The Body” was a subtle, stripped down episode without any music at all in order to give it more meaning and importance, but a season before that episode in season 4 came “Hush.”
For a TV show that is right in the middle of the fantasy and horror genre, there weren’t really that many “hide behind the couch” moments. So how did Mr. Whedon hope to rectify this? By having everyone unable to speak. As if having some seriously scary looking monsters stalking the streets of Sunnydale wasn’t bad enough, then taking away people’s ability to scream or call for help made it 100 times worse. Taking inspiration from every child’s nightmares, “Hush” was an episode that didn’t claim to be anything else. It was going to scare us and it did.
6. Beer Bad
Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and in particular, Joss Whedon, became experts at tackling real life teenage problems and subtlety incorporating them into a fantasy show. With the mantra for the first 3 seasons “High School Is Hell,” Buffy pushed the envelope on what could be done. Unfortunately for every great idea and episode to come out of Sunnydale, we also got “Beer Bad.”
Not only was the subject matter silly and a bit pointless, but the way in which the story was told wasn’t just obvious, it jumped out of the TV screen and slapped us in the face. This was an episode that didn’t understand the meaning of subtlety. After Buffy was feeling a bit down, she decides to hang out with some guys for some fun and plenty of drinking, which a lot of people do. However, in a real stupid “WTF” moment, the beer is tainted and turns everyone that drinks too much of it into cavemen. The subject matter of depression, addiction, and drinking have all been tackled so much better on the show that we’re still amazed at how this episode even made it off the page. Buffy Bad!
5. The Gift
When season 5 of Buffy hit our screens, there were a lot of rumors and uncertainty about the show’s future and many of us believed it would be the final season. Although season 7’s “Chosen” would be the last, and a great way to end the show, “The Gift” was also seen as the perfect way to end the series and to end it on a high.
Having been saving the world for 5 seasons as well as dealing with high school, college, the working world, and having a new sister made from magical energy, Buffy Summers has certainly been through the mill. “The Gift” was the perfect goodbye for the character and her fellow demon hunters. When the interdimensional goddess Glory is about to open Hell on Earth, Buffy sacrifices herself in order to close the portal and save us all. The episode, and Buffy’s death, brought the whole show to a nice close and would have been the perfect ending to the perfect show. All the characters were sad but proud of what she had done in life and Buffy was the true hero. This episode had it all and ended with an uplifting, albeit a teary, ending, especially at the sight of the soulless vampire Spike brought to his knees at the sight of Buffy’s dead body. That moment still pulls on our heartstrings!
4. Doublemeat Palace
As we’ve mentioned before, season 6 of Buffy The Vampire Slayer had its problems. One of the major problems about the whole series is that everything is bad. The previous mantra of “High school is hell” had a clear message and purpose, but by the time we get deep into season 6 the mantra is more like “Everything is hell and everything sucks!”
As well as dealing with the usual monsters and magic, Buffy season 6 tried to tackle some grown up problems such as money and jobs. Although this is noble and true to what would happen to Buffy if she was in the real world, the writers seemed to forget that Buffy isn’t the real world! So when Ms. Summers gets a job at a fast food restaurant, we all sighed in a group depression at where the show had gotten to. The episode itself is pretty bland and predictable. Buffy starts working in the fast food industry only to find out that people are being turned into burgers. She stops the monster and saves the day. “Doublemeat Palace” wasn’t just a bad episode, it signalled to the fans at just how badly Buffy had lost its way.
3. Becoming Part 1 & 2
The first season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer had a bit of a hit-and-miss feel to it. With only half a season allocated to it, the first season felt a bit up and down as Whedon tried to establish characters and set up his universe. However, when season 2 came along, Buffy really found its place and there was no looking back.
The season finale for season 2 was a real game changer for the show and showed us all what Wheldon is capable of and nothing and no one is off limits to death. After Buffy and Angel finally get together in season 2, Angel losses his soul and reverts to his killer vampire persona Angelus. Not content with torturing Buffy and her friends, Angelus wants to end the world completely which sets up the ultimate showdown between the star crossed lovers. Buffy’s friends desperately try to restore Angelus’s soul before he can destroy the world. They succeed but it’s too late as the portal has been opened and Angelus’s blood is the only thing that can close it. So Buffy has only one choice: she has to kill her true love in order to save us all. Running him through with a sword, Buffy watches as Angel gets sucked into the portal to hell and the world is saved. Gut-wrenching!
2. Bargaining Part 1 & 2
Even with a show that is groundbreaking and still very popular, it is bound to have the odd misfire and bad episode. For the number one spot of Buffy’s worst episodes, there were a few contenders: “Doublemeat Palace” could have definitely taken the top spot as well as other episodes, such as “First Dates,” “The Killer In Me,” “Flooded,” and many others. However, we decided that the worst episode in Buffy history isn’t just a terrible episode in itself, but an episode that tries to undermine everything that has come before.
After the near perfect ending of season 5, in which Buffy sacrifices herself to save the world, the followup was always going to be difficult, mainly because a TV show that has just been renewed has killed off its main character. So season 6 jumped right in with how to get Buffy back and put the show on track again. However, season 6 opener “Bargaining” Part 1 and 2 fell short of the mark and unfortunately set the season up to be much of the same. We know bringing back Buffy from the dead was always going to be a difficult feat, but what we got was a two episode mess!
1. Once More With Feeling
As we’ve mentioned with previous entries on this list, Joss Whedon isn’t afraid to do something different and or even shocking in order to keep his shows entertaining and fresh. The best of all of these episodes is the musical classic “Once More With Feeling.”
Although nowadays it seems to be the norm for an established show to include a musical number in its series, a few years ago it wasn’t, and Mr. Whedon took a huge risk when he broke that mould and gave us a musical Buffy episode. It could have blown up in his face but luckily it didn’t. The episode itself explores all the problems that the characters have faced in season 6: Buffy being dragged out of heaven by her friends, Willow’s continuing addiction to magic, Spike’s growing obsession with Buffy, Giles’ feeling that Buffy has outgrown him, and Xander having to deal with being a grown up. All of these issues are tackled brilliantly and all set to some truly great musical songs and dance routines. “Once More With Feeling” is arguable the greatest TV episode of any TV show.