< Part 3
Last year, we kicked off a look back at the 90s cult classic, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The series, spearheaded by Joss Whedon, celebrates its 25th Anniversary this March. The show ran for over one hundred episodes, and we’re counting them down from bottom to top. You can check out all our previous articles in the series, breaking down each season of Buffy (and Angel to boot), as well as the previous two installments in our episode-ranking countdown, here: Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
We already have considered the episodes ranked 8/10 or below. Those are the bottom-of-the-barrel episodes, though there are only a few I would consider bad, and basically none of these have anything positive to offer during a rewatch. After that, we looked at the episodes ranked 8.5/10, the ones that aren’t bad, but lack the little extra something that makes Buffy’s best episodes so magical. Last time, we examined the shows ranked 9/10, each of which is a treat, either because it’s so funny, so clever, so scary, or any combination thereof. They’re not the absolute best of the best 10/10 episodes, but they’re almost that good.
Now we come to the best of the best. These are the greatest episodes of the show. There is only one episode better than this bunch of masterpieces, and we’ll devote the final entry of the series to it. For now, these are…
THE PERFECT TENS
#33 – Pangs – season 4, episode 8
The episode is a hair controversial today in the way it portrays Native Americans in a very stereotypical way. I just view it in the same realm as comic book stories from the 50s or sitcoms from the 90s. There are going to be things that you can get up in arms about if you want. I’m not going to stop you. I’m just going to be sitting here loving every second of Buffy’s desperate need for a proper Thanksgiving dinner, the many arrows sticking out of Spike’s body (all of them narrowly missing his heart), and the final shot of the episode, when the big secret everyone but Buffy knew (Angel was in town and didn’t say hi) is finally revealed…
Spike’s face is delightful. Everyone’s face is delightful.
#32 – Lies My Parents Told Me – season 7, episode 17
Other than the finale, this is the last truly great episode of Buffy. It gives us a killer flashback to Spike as a bad guy, offing a Slayer on a New York metro. It gives us Giles manipulating Buffy to keep her distracted while Wood attempts to kill Spike (the Slayer he offed was his mom; small world). And it gives us a powerful moment of growing up, where Buffy finally tells Giles she’s no longer his student, essentially firing him as her Watcher. We’ve seen their relationship grow strained over the years, especially post-resurrection, and while it’s heartbreaking to see it break down this way, it makes sense: This isn’t the first time Giles has broken her trust under the guise of “Watcher knows best.” But this is the first time Buffy has realized she’s old enough and mature enough now to walk away.
#31 – Tabula Rasa– season 6, episode 8
After seven episodes of season six, it’s easy to feel beaten down by all the sadness, angst, and drama swirling around it. Even the episode just before this, while it’s a fun showboat of a time, it packs more pathos and heartbreak in its runtime than some entire seasons of Buffy. This episode serves as a nice respite. Everyone loses their memory, which means they forget while they’re all so miserable all the time, and what follows is a game of misplaced identity. The result is the lightest, easiest, breeziest episode of the season, and a fun reminder of simpler times before the darkness takes over once more.
#30 – Selfless – season 7, episode 5
Final seasons often feel like final seasons because they often pause to focus on a character who might otherwise not get an entire episode devoted to them. Anya is the star here, and after instantly fitting into the show as a series regular, she reminds us all that she used to be a villain and still has the skill to be bad. The best part about “Selfless” is either Buffy’s immediate readiness to chop off Anya’s head once she learns about the murder at the Frat House, or the fact that Buffy succeeds in driving the weapon into Anya’s chest, giving us a half-second to think “holy crap she just murked her!” before we’re reminded that, no, demons aren’t dispatched so easily.
#29 – Forever – season 5, episode 17
An episode as monumental as “The Body” needs proper follow-up. Rightly does the show focus on Dawn, the least acquitted with death among the group. What follows is a series of terrible decisions, both done by her and by Buffy, that make you say “no don’t!” and “I totally get it” all at once. It’s not quite the heart-destroyer that the episode just before it was (none are), but it’s gut-wrenching in its own right and a powerful outing.
#28 – Conversations with Dead People – season 7, episode 7
Four stories, Four dead people, Four conversations, each one written by a different member of the staff, with the Buffy story being written and directed by Joss himself. No surprise, it’s the snappiest and most introspective of the quartet, but the other three pack plenty of dramatic punch as well. The only missing player is Xander, which is fine. This is an unusual episode, not just because of the structure of the plot, but in the way it is presented. There’s an odd title card at the start (something that happens nowhere else in the show, other than the intentionally set-apart “Once More With Feeling”), and a kind of dreamlike quality to it all. None of the heroes interact with each other, making it feel like a series of short stories rather than an episode of TV. At times you might even wonder if the characters are under collective hypnosis. The result is an episode—maybe the last one in the show—that sticks with you and makes you want to rewatch it immediately upon completion.
#27 – School Hard – season 2, episode 3
Enter Spike. In a lot of ways, this is the true beginning of season two. The first episode served more as closure to the season one finale, and the second felt more like a holdover script from the cheesier days of the first season. Here, Spike and Drusilla come to town, crash the Parent/Teacher Conference, and begin their time as “usually the most interesting people on screen whenever they’re on-screen” in both this show and in Angel to come. Spike is the character Buffy never knew it needed till it had him, never realized how important he was until he was MIA in season three, and would never be taken for granted again once he was back for good in season four. Drusilla is simply magnetic. She’s maybe the most underrated character in the Buffyverse.
#26 – Fear Itself – season 4, episode 4
Buffy’s Halloween episodes—three in all—are all a treat. This one features the Scoobies caught in the most “Scooby” environment possible: A Haunted House. Of course, this being Buffy, and with Buffy being in college, it’s a Haunted “Frat” House, but the hijinks are all there, and the gags are abundant. Anya’s fear of bunnies is mined to perfection. Giles showing up with a chainsaw to cut his way into the house is wonderful. And the final scene, where the demon behind all the horror is finally revealed…to be an action-figure-sized non-threat, is the ultimate punchline to an episode that serves no grand purpose other than to be entertaining.
How can you not love this show?
#25 – Revelations – season 3, episode 7
Maybe my favorite thing about Revelations is that, while I saw the twist coming a mile away, I was still engrossed in the way it played out. You never quite know how Joss and co. are going to play with your expectations, and in this case, the reveal that Gwendoline Post was the baddie all along was hardly a shock. The manner in which she was dispatched…now that was a shock.
Get it? Get it?
Yeah, you get it.