Thursday, July 22, 2010

Top 20 Episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Part 1)

This is, possibly, the hardest list I've written on this blog. To provide a simple answer, "Buffy" is one of the best shows that's ever been on television, certainly the best genre show, and there's never been a bad episode. Certainly, the first season and first half of the second season comprise many "less memorable" episodes, but a bad one? Never.

So, after great turmoil (inner and outer, as is only fitting) I present the top 20 episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (20-11).

20. Dopplegangland (Season 3, Episode 16)

After a wish that created an alternate reality (see #19, The Wish) in which Buffy had never come to Sunnydale, the vengeance demon Anyanka, or "Anya", is searching for the necklace she lost in that dimension and recruits Willow to help her. Willow, who is feeling less than needed, agrees and accidentally releases that reality's version of her into her world. It allows for a wonderful performance from Alyson Hannigan as both the normal reality's Willow and her evil, bisexual, vampire doppleganger. The gang's reaction to Willow's death (and then the fact that she's alive) is a hilarious, yet somehow touching moment.

Best quote: "That's me as a vampire? I'm so evil... and skanky. And I think I'm kinda gay."-Willow

19. The Wish (Season 3, Episode 9)

Cordelia, having broken up with Xander after discovering him kissing Willow, makes a wish to the vengeance demon Anyanka that Buffy Summers had never come to Sunnydale. It creates a grim alternate reality where Xander and Willow are vampires, The Master was never defeated and controls the entire town, Angel is his tortured pet, Giles, Oz and Larry are the only ones trying (rather unsuccessfully) to make a difference. And Buffy is stripped of her friends, her family and a good portion of her humanity, making her very similar to Faith.

Best quote: Giles: "I have to believe in a better world." Buffy: "Go ahead. I have to live in this one."

18. Normal Again (Season 6, Episode 17)

Buffy gets infected by a demon and begins to have visions of a world where she is in a mental institution, and her mother and father are still together. In that world, her doctor tells her that Sunnydale is all an elaborate fantasy created in her mind, and that if she wants to be normal again, she has to destroy the things tying her down there (i.e. her friends and her sister, Dawn). The episode plays brilliantly with Buffy's own troubled psyche of this season, and with the fact that it never overtly states that this other world isn't the real one.

Best quote: "Buffy's delusion is multi-layered. She believes she's some sort of hero." -Doctor

17. Prophecy Girl (Season 1, Episode 12)

Giles reads a prophecy that states clearly that if Buffy is to face The Master when he rises, she will die. Buffy is terrified by the news and says that she quits, but after Willow and Cordelia discover two students killed by The Master's vampires, Buffy goes down into the underground church to face him. He overpowers her, proclaiming that the true prophecy reads that the slayer is the one to set him free, and without her he cannot rise. Having said this, he leaves her in the water to drown. Xander and Angel discover her at the last minute and Xander performs CPR, bringing Buffy back to life. Re-energized, Buffy kills The Master and stops the Hellmouth from rising. All in time for the dance.

Best quote: "I may be dead. But I'm still pretty. Which is more than I can say for you." -Buffy

16. Band Candy (Season 3, Episode 6)

Principal Snyder awards Buffy and the gang the dubious honor of selling "Band Candy", chocolate bars to support the school's marching band. The candy, however, is being produced by Giles's old nemesis, Ethan Rayne. The candy reverts all of the town's adults back into teenagers. It's the best straightforward comedy episode of the series, and also an interesting character study revealing what Snyder, Joyce and especially Giles were like as teenagers.

Best quote: "Whoa, Summers! You drive like a spaz!" -Principal Snyder

15. Lover's Walk (Season 3, Episode 8)

Spike returns to Sunnydale after Drusilla breaks up with him. A husk of the villainous vampire he was in the previous season, he is drunk off his ass and kidnaps Willow and Xander, forcing Willow to do a love spell to make Dru want him again. Instead, he runs into Buffy while Willow and Xander hide in the factory, assuming they're going to die. They give into passion and kiss...right as Oz and Cordelia appear to rescue them. The real treat of the episode is James Marsters who has never been in better form as Spike. Psychotic, sympathetic, and outright hilarious, all in one episode.

Best quote: "Love isn't brains, children, it's blood. Blood screaming inside you to work its will. I may be love's bitch, but at least I'm man enough to admit it." -Spike

14. Earshot (Season 3, Episode 18)

After being scratched by a demon, Buffy is informed by Giles that she will gain "an aspect of the demon", which turns out to be telepathy. It's a wonderful character study figuring out what each character is thinking (Willow's nervous Buffy will know Oz better than she does, Oz is geniusly philosophical, Xander really can't stop thinking about sex, and Cordelia really is that shallow) except for Angel, as it seems vampires are immune to telepathy. The plot thickens when Buffy hears someone say they're going to kill everyone in the school. Even with a hilarious twist at the end, it becomes a very serious episode about school violence and the angst of high school has never been covered better.

Best quote: "You think it's quiet down there. It's not. It's deafening." -Buffy

13. Bad Girls (Season 3, Episode 14)

Season 3 kicks into high-gear with this episode, which introduces Buffy and Faith's new watcher, the more-Giles-than-Giles Wesley Whyndam Price. Faith seduces Buffy into her way of thinking, that slayers are above the law. They steal weapons, fight more vamps than they can handle, and Buffy is starting to really love it...until Faith accidentally stakes the deputy mayor, a human. Faith's road to the dark side starts here with her dumping the body, brushing it off like it never happened, and threatening Buffy if she tells anyone.

Best quote: Buffy: "Faith, you don't get it. You killed a man." Faith: "No. You don't get it. I don't care."

12. Innocence (Season 2, Episode 14)

Some may, with good reason, consider this episode the true beginning of the series. This is the episode where Buffy went from being a "very good" show to a "good goddamn phenomenal" one. Picking up on the cliffhanger of surprise where Buffy and Angel have sex, then Angel stumbles into the street in immense pain, it is revealed that part of Angel's curse is that if he ever has a moment of true happiness, he will lose his soul. We see Angelus for the first time, and see what a tremendous bastard he is. The scene where Buffy and Angel meet up for the first time after having sex is heartbreaking, as is (to a lesser extent) Willow finding Xander and Cordelia kissing.

Best quote: "I'll call you."-Angelus

11. Fool For Love (Season 5, Episode 7)

In this episode (actually my personal favorite episode) we get to see Spike's past, and after so many "Angel flashback" episodes, it's great to balance it out. Buffy gets nearly killed by a single vampire and she wants to know how the other slayers have died, so she goes to the only vampires who has ever killed two: Spike. He gives her the rundown of his past, from London 1880, to China 1900, to New York, 1977, to Brazil 1998. There's hilarious stuff here, full of in-jokes, poking at continuity for all it's worth... but there's a beautiful piece of narrative television here, focusing on one of the most complex characters in all of television history.

Best quote: "Every slayer has a death wish. Even you." -Spike

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