This was at least partially inspired by Entertainment Weekly’s list of its twenty-five greatest episodes of the Simpsons ever. As I was reading it, all I could think was that the only show that would ever motivate me to do something like that would be Buffy, so this is my list of my favorite Buffy episodes ever. Hopefully, you’ll share yours…
1.>The Body-I defy you to name a better episode of Buffy! Hells, I defy you to name a better one hour of television ever! Everybody gets screen time, and everyone uses their screen time wisely. We still get a little funny at the beginning of the episode, and then WHAM! into the crushing pathos. It assuredly deserves the appellation “Best. Episode. Ever!”
2.>Hush-One thing I admire most about Buffy is the willingness of the show’s creators (Joss most notably) to take risks. What could be a bigger risk, in a show famous for its dialogue, than taking all the characters’ voices away? Of course, that meant that the amount of dialogue they did have would have to be stepped up, and Joss hit a home run with nearly every line, with the possible exception of Riley’s “Don’t worry. If I kiss you, it’ll make the sun go down.” Of course, that was a dream, but still… Yeuch. Oh, but Willow and Tara meet. Yay.
3.>Once More, with Feeling-The second most daring episode they ever produced, and one that seemed to start a mini-trend of musical T.V. episodes. Joss wrote some badass songs to go with his badass dialogue and, better than all that, the songs actually served the plot! I admit going into this episode with quite a bit of trepidation, but I came out loving it. I guess while I’m admitting things, I should also admit that I shamelessly use “It was like a nightmare. It was like a plague. It was like a nightmare about a plague” whenever something bad happens to me.
4.>Innocence-If Buffy has an overall, series-long theme, then it has to be, at least to me, about change. Nothing ever stays the same on Buffy. Well, possibly Buffy’s self-absorbtion. Anyway, this is the episode that most embodies the themes of changing relationships through the show’s run. Angel turns bad, Cordy and Xander are outed, Buffy’s mom realizes her girl has become a woman, Oz makes Willow (and us) love him, Giles offers Buffy whatever support he can manage, and Spike realizes that Dru’s a fickle bitch. And jeez, how did I get this far without mentioning that Buffy gets a rocket launcher?
5.>Doppelgangland-I’m still trying to find a way to fit Oz’s line of “I’d call that a radical interpretation of the text” into my everyday conversation. This is probably a perfect example of a one-off Buffy episode. The main storylines of the year weren’t significantly advanced, but they got a little action, and the metaphor driving the show really allowed the makers of the show to explore character development. Just great stuff. Oh, and Vamp Willow? MmmMMmmMMmmm…
6.>Something Blue-Wow, did they ever bring the funny in this episode. Willow’s pathos shines through it all, of course, but one of the few times I’ve ever laughed at Riley (Well, laughed at him when the writers wanted me to) was in the exchange with Buffy outside the bridal boutique.
7.>Pangs-This episode kicked off the funniest three weeks of Buffydom ever, since it was followed by Something Blue and Hush. It’s written by Jane Espenson, who’s just badass anyway, and it’s my favorite of all their holiday specials through the years. Would have been better if Angel hadn’t been in it (why was he there, again?), but the “you’re evil again!” running gag was funny. And Xander gets the much-fabled funny syphilis.
8.>I Only Have Eyes for You-For this little stroke of mastery, Marti Noxon can be forgiven many sins. I’ll forgive her Riley Finn, and even Buffy shagging Spike (And that’s a huge step for me, folks), but never, never the magic-is-crack storyline. I shudder to even think of it. Anyway, I just like this episode for its forgiveness themes, even though they all seem to have forgotten its lessons by Season Seven. Now they seem to just be in the “ignore the problem and it’ll go away all on its own” camp.
9.>Life Serial-Jane Espenson again. It’s getting to be a theme here, isn’t it? Anyway, I liked this 'un a lot, and the sequence with the mummy hand actually had me in tears. Tears!
10.>Lie to Me-Though I may possibly never forgive Joss for the Oreos ‘n’ apple juice thought, this was another of those episodes that just fired on all cylinders. The dialogue was sharp, the themes were sound, and the ending was just perfect. I’ve used this one as an introduction to Buffy for my friends who think it’s a dumb show about some girl who fights vampires.
11.>Conversations with Dead People-My favorite episode from Season Seven so far. Everything in this episode just worked well, though I am still miffed about the lack of Xander and Anya. Of course, on the plus side, no sappy fluffy puppiness from Spike, only quick carnage, just like when he was all evil and likeable.
12.>Band Candy-I had to have an Ethan Rayne episode in here, and this is definitely it. This, for one thing, marked the writing debut (I think) of one Jane Espenson, my second favorite writer on the Buffy staff. The only thing that kept this out of the top ten was the completely lame penis-metaphor demon. Jebus, but how many of those can a series take?
13.>Earshot-Jonathan gets a speaking part! It’s another Jane Espenson episode! This episode really runs a gamut, too. We start off with the humor of the uncertainty over the aspect of the demon, then Buffy’s mindreading, move into plot arc continuance with her trying to read Angel’s mind, then into the mystery of who’s trying to kill ‘em all (and I must admit I totally bit on Freddy and Jonathan both), sweep straight into Jonathan’s pathos, and finally end up with a little cafeteria-lady-butt-kickin’.
14.>Tabula Rasa-Number one, Jane Espenson. Number two, “Why didn’t you just call me Randy Giles? Or Desperate-for-a-shag Giles?” The defense rests.
15.>Restless-This one’s in here as I bow at the altar of continuity. So much was set up in this episode that I was in awe for the next two seasons. Well, of course, then, of course, Marti took over and decided continuity was over rated. So, yeah, Joss, remember this episode and come back to the continuity fold, please? And bring back the cheese guy!
16.>Out of Mind, Out of Sight-One of two on this list from Season One, and this one was only picked because of the beauty of the metaphor. The writing wasn’t particularly strong, but the idea that the chick who just isn’t noticed in high school becomes literally invisible is just so spot-on that this episode cannot be ignored. Plus, it had that cute bit about “Have a nice summer.”
17.>A New Man-This is another one that deserves to be on just for the sake of the metaphor. Hmm. It just occurred to me that up by Band Candy, I said I was only going to include one Ethan Rayne episode. Well, you can never have too much of the guy, especially if it’s written by Jane Espenson (Have I mentioned that I like her yet?). It sorta took a while for this one to get going, but it’s still at number seventeen for the metaphor.
18.>Nightmares-The reason I really liked this episode when I first saw it was that the villain of the piece was really just some bully of a coach. Buffy couldn’t kill him. He wasn’t even trying to hurt her so she couldn’t even really punch him. It was a great excercise in how the Slayer couldn’t handle everything and that sometimes Buffy Summers has to solve the problem.
19.>Buffy vs. Dracula-The closest this show has ever come to self-parody. Well, intentional self-parody. Some might say every episode that Marti touches becomes self-parody. Ahem. Okay, so it had a few groaners (I still remember Willow’s comment about getting a little “hairy eyeball.” Unless that was just another lesbian metaphor. Hey…), but not only were they having fun with the show’s suspension of disbelief (Riley’s comment about not noticing a “big, honkin’ castle” in Sunnydale before), they provided room for character development.
20.>The Gift-Ah, if only we had ended it here, many fans would have been happy. Personally, I liked Season Six more than I’m liking the later episodes of Season Seven, but hey, whatever tweaks your antennae. Giles gets badass again, Buffy gives it all up, Willow gets pre-Rennaissance on Glory, and Xander gets to be actually useful during a fight. Make a joyful noise.
Okay, I couldn’t stop at twenty, but I’ll be brief about these that I think deserve honorable mention:
21.>Normal Again-Just kind of fun. Well, as much fun as was to be had during Season Six.
22.>Grave-Three words. Dark Mojo Willow. Nummy. Three more. Broken Yellow Crayon. Not so nummy, but touching nonetheless.
23.>Fear, Itself-I liked this more than Nightmares, but Nightmares was before it and used essentially the same plot, so this episode resides outside of the top twenty.
24.>Lessons-This was a strong season-opener. It’s really a shame, though, because I really liked the first handful of episodes this season. Unfortunately, then, the Slayers-in-Training arrived and things have really taken a nosedive. Well, not really, it’s more like they just plain stalled out.
So, uh, what do you think of my list? And what would you include? I know a few of you would want more Spike, and I recognize that I’m mainly a Willow fan, but that’s what makes this fun, seeing what other people like about a show you love.