7 Episodes That'll Convince You 'Buffy' Is the Greatest Show of All Time
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the WB's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the internet is freaking out. Those who weren't dedicated fans may be wondering why everyone's flipping for a show about a girl who fights demons, vampires, and the forces of darkness in the world.
But Buffy was more than just a simple fantasy series. The Joss Whedon-created drama quickly became a cult hit for its witty dialogue, feminist message, and subversion of tropes. Two decades later, the show remains as relevant as ever, and you can stream it all on Netflix.
Not convinced? Here are seven episodes, one from each season, that demonstrate why BtVS was the greatest show ever. Minor spoilers abound, but only to display just how wild Buffy could get.
"Welcome to the Hellmouth" (Season 1, Ep. 1)
"That gym was full of vampi… asbestos."
The premiere episode opens with a couple breaking into a high school. The boy is lascivious, even predatory, the girl nervous and scared. But then, suddenly, her face changes into something monstrous, and she bites him, draining him of his blood.
In that moment, Buffy the Vampire Slayer defined itself as a show that would subvert the expectations of genre fiction and the gender tropes that had long defined it. "Welcome to the Hellmouth" introduces us to Giles, Xander, Willow, and, of course, Buffy Summers, the character who would inspire generations as a female icon and a hero. The episode itself still manages to be fun, humorous, even a bit scary, but the fact that it set up all of what followed is what makes it great.
"Surprise/Innocence" (Season 2, Ep. 13 & 14)
"Dream on, schoolgirl. Your boyfriend is dead and you're all going to join him."
The two-parter marks the point at which the show achieves greatness. Buffy sleeps with Angel on her 17th birthday (let's try and ignore the squickiness of a 240-year-old vampire gettin' with a teenager for now), he turns evil, and the entire show changes course.
Angel's transformation into "Angelus" took the program to new levels of maturity and drama, moving it away from the camp of the early episodes and into something darker and bolder. Beyond that, "Surprise" and "Innocence" simply offer a fun, brisk hour-and-a-half of TV -- the ways Angel torments Buffy before she realizes the truth, Oz and Willow's honest and adorable conversation in the van, they all add depth to a story about how, sometimes, when you sleep with a guy who seems great, he turns out to be an evil asshole. Then you have to blow up a big blue demon with a rocket launcher to save the world
"The Zeppo" (Season 3, Ep. 13)
"Is this a penis metaphor?"
Season 3 may be Buffy's most iconic season, but it's also the season the show developed patterns and tropes that, repeated too often, begin to feel stock: jump-cuts to dramatic lines, Angel and Buffy's poignant yet cheesy theme song, the constant threat of the apocalypse, etc.
Then "The Zeppo" proved that Buffy could completely make fun of itself without ruining continuity. The show's tropes were inverted and tenderly mocked throughout this very "meta" episode. What results is a hilarious, satisfying story of Xander exploring his own masculinity and what it means to be "cool" and important, all while unintentionally saving the world and losing his virginity. In the end it defined Buffy as one of the most self-aware programs ever, a strength it continually played to.
"Hush" (Season 4, Ep. 10)
"Can't even shout. Can't even cry. The gentlemen are coming by."
For a show about vampires, monsters, and demons, Buffy was rarely scary, having earned more of a reputation for its witty, pithy dialogue. But in the Emmy-nominated "Hush," Whedon explored what an episode would be like without that style of dialogue… or much of any dialogue at all.
When demons come to Sunnydale to steal everyone's voice, what's left is a funny, moving episode about what it truly means to communicate. It's also scary as hell, especially The Gentlemen, led by monster actor (and mime) Doug Jones. The visuals are striking, as the besuited, grinning monsters float through the town stealing voices and cutting the hearts from their helpless victims. The rousing, macabre soundtrack by Christophe Beck (who later composed Frozen’s orchestral score) adds to the stylish horror.
"The Body" (Season 5, Ep. 16)
"Mom? Mom?... Mommy?"
"The Body" isn't just one of the best episodes of BtVS, but one of the most well-crafted pieces of television, period. Written and directed by Whedon and drawn from memories of his own mother's passing, it depicts death in an unadorned and undramatized manner, especially striking for a show so steeped in melodrama. The soundtrack is absent, and the usual Buffy banter is replaced by more earnest, realistic dialogue.
From Buffy's discovery of her mom's body, through Anya's "fruit punch" speech, Willow and Tara's understated and deeply important kiss (a milestone in television history), and the final moments with the unexpected and out-of-place vampire, it's equal parts stark, painful, and loving, without ever veering into manipulative or saccharine. "The Body" proved incontrovertibly that Buffy was far more than camp and monster suits.
"Once More, with Feeling" (Season 6, Ep. 7)
"I think this line's mostly filler."
"Once More, with Feeling" set the stage for television musicals, pun absolutely intended. Sure, nowadays every TV show seems obligated to provide a musical episode, especially in the later seasons when it starts running out of ideas, and while there are some standouts, nothing has ever reached the level of "OMwF."
The sheer theatricality of it, the level of talent and dedication from the performers, songs good enough to listen to on their own, and the episode itself is everything a musical should be: fun, sexy, tragic, humorous, and over the top with drama.
"Chosen" (Season 7, Ep. 22)
"So here's the part where you make a choice."
"Chosen," the series finale, is truly epic: a noble sacrifice, a beloved character death, the most badass Wicca spell ever, and, of course, the final battle of the Slayers versus the Über-vamps, which rivals scenes from Lord of the Rings.
But what makes it great is what makes the whole show great: its feminism. Buffy's feminism is imperfect, it trips and it staggers, but in "Chosen," it lands with a single message: "I say, my power should be our power. From now on every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?"
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