“You’re just a girl.”
“That’s what I keep saying.”
For over twenty years, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the show about a young girl who’s chosen to protect the world from the forces of darkness, has had the power to make us feel like we can accomplish anything. We watched as Buffy staked vamp after vamp, punning with sarcastic ease. We giggled when she told The Master that he had “fruit punch mouth”, we swooned over Angel, cringed at Parker’s betrayal, and sang along with Anya as she expressed her fear of bunnies. We yelled at Dawn like a big sister, cried when Tara died, and cowered in fear at Willow’s response. Like Spike, we’ve seen the best and the worst of Buffy, and we love her all the more for it. Buffy Summers is a character than we can all aspire to become: brave, resourceful, upbeat, and a little cocky. Although there are hundreds of spectacular Buffy episodes, I’ve narrowed down the list to a humble top fifteen, in hopes of sharing some of my favorite moments with fellow Buffyverse fans. Enjoy!
15. “Restless” S4:E22
This episode was a toss up for fans, who seemed to either love it or hate it. I’ll admit, it’s a bit odd for a season finale, because shows like BTVS usually go out with a bang for the final episode of the season. Joss Whedon recognized this pattern and chose to stand out, by making the finale of his fourth season entirely about dreams. One by one, Buffy and her friends dreamt crazy, random experiences, only united by a common villain: the first slayer. The reason it made its way onto my top 15 list is that it establishes where every character is on his or her journey. Although “Restless” is quite bizarre, it’s actually very relatable. The scooby gang may have just won the battle against Professor Walsh’s frankenstein-like monster Adam, but they are still bombarded by the same questions that plagues every young person’s conscience: why am I here? Who am I? Where am I supposed to end up? In Willow’s dream, she feared that her new self-empowered, wicca-tude was merely a charade for the old insecure, schoolgirl skirted Will. While Xander was sleeping, he found he couldn’t escape his parents basement-literally, and Giles fretted over whether or not to leave Buffy and Sunnydale to head back to the mother country. Buffy’s dream showed she was trying to decide how primal of a slayer she wanted to be. The end of the ‘sode introduces Buffy’s new little sister, Dawn, and includes tons of foreshadowing. One could even argue that the reason why the scoobies are having such wildly outlandish dreams is because the monks are putting new memories of Dawn into the gang’s brains.
14. “Who Are You?” S4:E16
Just in case anyone started to take Sarah Michelle Gellar’s acting for granted, she reminded them of what a talented actress she is in this episode. She portrayed herself as Buffy, with Faith trapped inside. Faith finally awoke from her long coma-induced sleep in season four, only to find that Buffy had killed her friend the Mayor. Pissed, and ready for vengeance, Faith decides to release something arguably worse than death to the “tight-assed” chosen one. Before he died, the Mayor left Faith a touching video, and a body-swapping, magical present that fits in the palm of one’s hand! After switching their physical features, Faith takes the Buffster’s body on a drinking splurge that ends in Riley’s bedroom. But that’s still better than where she planned to take it next, which is far enough away that even a slayer couldn’t find her. Both SMG and Eliza Dushku impress in this flesh-trading tale, and the audience learns that Faith may not be as happy as she claims.
13. “The Body” S5
In the saddest episode to ever air on BTVS, Buffy Summers lost her mother, Joyce, to the cruel hands of death. The raw emotion of this conflict is enough to bring anyone to tears. Buffy has experienced so much loss and struggle, and just when it seems that things will finally start going her way, her mother is taken from her. The brain tumor that put her mom in the hospital had been removed, but it wasn’t enough to save her. Sarah Michelle Gellar is such a phenomenal actress that it’s actually very distressing to watch her break down over the loss of a loved one. She brings so much emotion to the role, with an underlying notion of responsibility for her little sister. Now, Buffy must make the transition from big sister to mother, on top of being the one who saves the world a lot. This moment in the series shows how death brings about frustration, confusion, but ultimately, growth and union. Anya learns that becoming human again means that sometimes it’s okay to not know how to handle desperate situations, and Willow begins to understand that she won’t always be able to help Buffy. Tara speaks for the first time about losing her mother at a young age, bringing Buffy and her closer together than ever before. Sometimes, to make it through something painful, a person just needs to know that someone else has felt the same heartbreak.
12. “Villains” S6:E19
Joss built up Tara to her full potential, made us, the viewers, fall in love, and then abruptly rid the screen of her presence. Tara’s sudden and devastating death sends Willow into a magical rampage, taking out everyone who stands in her path. Although Warren, Tara’s murderer, is fixated in Willow’s crosshairs, her friends can’t help but catch the waves of her wrath. Dark Willow is one of my favorite evildoers in the Buffyverse, and honestly, three full episodes of her fury wasn’t even enough for me. You would think that Tara’s death would be the most shocking moment of the episode, but Dark Willow left everyone gasping in the final moments, when she ripped off Warren’s skin.
11. “Faith, Hope & Trick” S3:E3
There’s a new slayer in Sunnydale, and her name is Faith. Faith was a potential, bumped up to slayer status when Kendra died in season 2. Despite the fact that she is the mirror opposite of Buffy, she seems to fit in with her friends very well. So much, in fact, that Buffy questions her place in the scoobies, and in the council. Technically, Faith did come to town to take B’s place, and since she was considering college, it would be understandable if she handed over the stake. She may be a hero, but even the Buffinator can feel a little jealous from time to time. It’s easy to question your significance when you feel threatened by a newcomer to a tight knit circle of friends. This was especially true for Buffy, who was questioning her place anyway after killing her one true love. But, as always, the person who makes you cringe isn’t really showing you every side to them, and being in their position isn’t necessarily five by five.
10. “Innocence” S2:E14
After Buffy gave herself to Angel, he changed. A curse that had been placed on him by gypsies took effect that night, causing Angel to lose his soul once he felt a moment of pure happiness. Afterward, he treated Buffy like a meaningless toy, and laughed at her pain. Countless girls have cried watching this episode, feeling all too much like Buffy-betrayed, bewildered, and backstabbed. Not every man is an egotistical pig, but there are a few, and the girls who are unfortunate enough to have encountered them feel the burn that Angelus used to singe Buffy. And, although it’s painful, Buffy found her footing, and so can any other person who’s been mistreated. Although Angel mocked her for being too weak to stake him in the end, Buffy spoke the words any person should during a break up: “Just give me time”.
9. “Prophecy Girl” S1:E12
What would you do if you were told that you were destined to save the world, but it would cost you your life? Would you run away? Try and outrun world domination by an elden vampire? Would you face your fate? If you’re Buffy Summers, you walk through the fire. On the night of her big dance, The Master planned to rise and open the hellmouth, ending the world. Buffy travels through the sewers to find and kill him before he makes his way to the surface, but he overpowers and kills her. Xander and Angel showed up just in time to resuscitate Buffy, who became all the more powerful after her journey. This episode marked Buffy’s rite of passage into womanhood. She started out as a watcher’s pet, and ended up as the Chosen One.
8. “Graduation Day Part II” S3:22
Buffy faced her biggest demon to date-figuritvely and literally-in the finale of season three. The mayor ascended into a giant snake at Sunnydale High’s graduation, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. After Faith poisoned Angel with an illness that calls for the blood of a slayer, the chosen two fought it out to see who would be fed to Angel. Although the Buffinator slayed her nemesis, Faith jumped off the top of a building before her body could be claimed. When plan A fell through, Buffy offered herself up to Angel, saved his life, and nearly lost hers. While lost in a coma Buffy dreamt of cryptic messages from Faith, foreshadowing many things, including Dawn. Faith told Buffy the secret to defeating the mayor, gave Buffy power, and sent her on her way. Everything until now has been a battle for Buffy, but this was the first war. The mayor as a snake ate Principal Snyder, Angel left, and Buffy would be starting a new, more difficult chapter in her life: college.
7. “Becoming” S2:E22
“In the end, you’re always by yourself. You’re all you’ve got. That’s the point.” Buffy realizes for the first time that ultimately, she’s on her own, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean that she can’t have friends and family, or that they don’t care about her, but when they can’t be there, she will fight for herself. Angel tried to use isolation to beat the Buffster, but it only added to her strength. But Buffy wasn’t the only one who grew in this episode. Willow used big magic for the first time, proving her importance to the group. It was also a huge step in the witchy direction. Buffy reveals to her mother that she’s the slayer. And in one of the series most touching moments, Angel got his soul back right before Buffy killed him. Spike helped Buffy, foreshadowing his assistance in future seasons, and Buffy ran away, a questionable act that comes into play in the third season.
6. “Passion” S2:E17
This is a very interesting episode because it can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Some say that even as Angelus, Buffy’s ex still cares about her. Others argue that Angelus is merely a sick, twisted, soul-lacking bloodsucker who enjoys watching his former beau suffer slowly. Whatever your interpreation is, the cold facts stand true, that Angelus killed Miss Calendar, stalked Buffy and her friends, and smiled at the sorrow he spread. Yet, despite all of the havoc he created, Buffy can’t help but feel love for the one who took a bite out of her heart. It’s hard not to relate when Miss Calendar came so close to restoring Angel’s soul, only to have Angelus show up just in time to stop her good deed. Just when we were starting to forgive Miss Calendar for her lies, Whedon killed her. You’d think we’d come to expect it by now, but each time it feels like we’ve fallen on our own swords. This episode ponders whether it is better to live with passion and feel the pain of loss, or to live without it and feel the loneliness of ostracism.”If we could live without passion, maybe we’d get some kind of peace. But we’d be hollow….without passion, we’d be truly dead.”
5. “Chosen” S7:E22
Joss Whedon has the uncanny ability to bring things around full circle again. He brings back two of the show’s youngest villains: The First, and vampires. Willow exercised light magic for the first time, using the scythe to share Buffy’s power with all of the potential slayers in the world. This means that every potential who would gain power upon Buffy’s death, now has equal slayer strength and agility. This broke the hold that men had over slayers for thousands of years. Spike became the champion we all knew he could be, when he wore the amulet Angel provided to cast light into the hellmouth. And, in one swift slice of an ubervamp’s blade, the show lost Anya, one of its most memorable characters. Yet, despite their losses, the final episode in the series ended with a feeling of overwhelming hope for the future. The last shot of Buffy’s smile radiates accomplishment and strength, two traits that she and the gang will need in their continuing fight against malicious misdoings.
4. “The Wish” S3:E9
Cordelia made a wish that Buffy Summers had never gone to Sunnydale, and just like in the fairytales, it came true. With Buffy gone, Cordy’s invisible crown sat proudly on her head once again. She reclaimed her popular pals, turned down drooling boys, and ruled the school, just like old times. The tale traveled down darker, more tedious path once the new Sunnydale showed its true colors. Apparently, without the Buffinator around to keep order, the entire town obeyed a strict curfew, Willow and Xander were turned into creatures of the night, The Master ran The Bronze, and to Cordy’s despair, no one was allowed to wear bright, fashionable clothes. It’s easy to blame Cordelia for her shallow shortsightedness, but after her penetrating breakup with Xander, it seems like she was just looking for a place to put her pain. In the end, Cordelia realized that it was better to have the Buffster around-a wise choice to make when one is living on a hellmouth. Besides proving the slayer’s worthiness, this episode offered a unique look at what Sunnydale could’ve been like without Buff there to defend it. It was sad, yet intriguing to watch as Xander got his “grr face” on, and vampy Willow offered an insight into what the future Dark Willow would look like. And, of course, this was the premiere of Anya, the wish demon who aided Cordelia’s desires, and would later become Xander’s fiance.
3. “The Gift” S5:E22
“The hardest thing in this world is to live in it. Be brave. Live.” The gang has come a long way from battling overgrown snakes. Buffy became the ultimate martyr in this heartbreaking finale. After discovering that her sister, Dawn, is Glory’s key to unlocking hell on Earth, she vows to stop the fashionable god before her day of destruction. However, outrunning a higher power with super-speed requires more than one slayer can offer. Glory ultimately captures Dawn, orders her minions to build a tower, positions the key atop it, and waits for the right minute to begin the ritual of draining. Although Buffy and the gang showed up just in time to fight the fight, the incisions had been made, and the portal was opened. Buffy jumped into the portal, giving her gift of death to save her sister, and the Earth. It’s no wonder her friends had “She saved the world a lot” engraved on her tombstone. How could one summarize all of Buffy’s sacrifices on a single plate of stone? This episode proves that even when life provides horrible options, you can still make a righteous choice, and be better for it. I hope that one day I can be as brave as Buffy Summers.
2. “Hush” S4:E10
Actions speak louder than words, and sometimes the best way to express oneself is through silence. Buffy and Riley experienced a communication breakdown at the beginning of their relationship, due mostly to their Clark Kent lifestyles. Unsure of how to handle their secrets, both relied on lies and deception to protect themselves. But like any great BTVS demon, the Gentlemen forced the gang’s secrets to surface when they stole the town’s voices whilst they slept. Sunnydale awoke in a noiseless panic, that only became more violent as the mute hours slouched on. Buffy had a prophetic dream, which sends Giles back to the books. Surprisingly, these Gentlemen came from a children’s fairtyale. The story said that the villains quiet their victims so that they cannot scream while they cut out their still beating hearts. Somehow, one day, a princess screamed, and killed all of the monsters. Joss loves his long shots, and they worked to create an uneasiness that fits the ominous scenario. Doug Jones gave a creepy performance that’s sure to have haunted more than a few dreams over the years as the leader of the Gentlemen. Jones, a phenomenal character actor, is mostly known for his role as Pan in Pan’s Labyrinth. His relentless smile that sliced the life out of people is hard to forget. In the end, the Duchess of Buffonia became the princess who screamed, and saved Sunnydale from silent solitude.
1. “Once More, With Feeling” S6:E6
It’s funny how I went from the quietest episode, to arguably, the loudest. Anyway, this is the musical episode of all musical episodes. Buffy’s back from the dead, but still quite catatonic. What her friends didn’t understand about her behavior was that she wasn’t rescued from hell, but rather, yanked out of heaven. A demon named Sweet showed up, bringing ballads and choruses with him. His presence forced everyone in Sunnydale to occasionally break out in song, almost like a living musical. It seemed fine at first, but eventually, the songs began telling secrets. The music brought some startling facts to life, but also created an interesting and inventive way to reveal the truth. Some things are just better said in song. But Buffy wasn’t the only one cleaning out her closet. Xander and Anya share a hilariously honest song, expressing their fears of marriage to each other for the first time. Spike confessed that he cared too much about Buffy to be toyed with, then played the puppy act again. Giles shared his epiphany that he needed to leave Buffy in order for her to become an adult, only to have his perfectly-pitched words fall on deaf ears. Tara, too, made a realization, only hers was that Willow was using too much magic. This episode allows Joss to express his love for classic Hollywood musicals, while still maintaining its sub-culture of Buffy.