Okay. I'll just come out and say it... I am a Buffy Fan. A huge enormous geeky convention-hopping Buffy Nerd. And it is the greatest label on this planet! With one simple question "Do you like Buffy?" you can make instant friends across pretty much every land mass on Earth. Yet in all of my years as a pseudo-card carrying member I have never sat myself down and worked out exactly which episodes are my favourites. I have avoided it so far because there is a serious risk of an aneurism as my mind literally melts at the thought that there could be anything other than an awesome Buffy ep! So cross your fingers and prime your defibrillators as I wade into the quagmire of near-death and attempt to determine my personal Top 10 Buffy The Vampire Slayer episodes, ever.
10. HUSH (Season 4)
With 144 episodes to choose from I have definitely found myself at a difficult junction. So let's start with one of the all-time classic and Emmy-winning episodes. Hush was groundbreaking (and still is when compared with much current TV content) not only by attempting to create an episode of television without using words, but because it tackled the task with finesse and entertainment. In a realm where characters never shut up Buffy stood tall and proved that audiences won't turn off just because the talking stops. On top of this creative feat one of the best things about this episode are the terrifying facades of The Gentlemen. Only Der Kinderstod comes close to being mind-numbingly nightmare-haunting as these skeletal spectres. Instant horror classics. They scare me so much that I ran out and bought the dolls of them (that's right, not action figures. Dolls. Now you know how dedicated I am to the Buff-ster).
I am aware that most fans would put 'Hush' closer to the top of this list and even though I too think that it is an entertainment work-of-art, it doesn't have the emotional connections that the rest do.
9. I ROBOT, YOU JANE (Season 1)
I can already hear the abuse being hurled. What is a bottom-tier first season ep doing in this list? Quite simply this is THE Willow episode for me. Forlorn at her lack of love-life (and interest from Xander) Willow finds herself rapidly caught up in an online relationship with Malcom who, of course, turns out to be Moloch The Corruptor - an evil demon who had been trapped in a book of hundreds of years. In the end it is Willow who stands up to the powerful robot body that Moloch houses himself in, even though she has no super-slayer-strength (granted Buffy actually beats him up, but we are talking about a personal victory).
Whilst there might be some hammy lines and now-dated outfits and hairdos this is the first episode that showed how well the gentle-souled character of Willow could have so much depth. From here on she became more than just the damsel in distress. Willow was the embodiment of all of us who were pushed to the back of the class and faced with the high school perspective of being alone forever. She had no power (yet) and would never surrender. You go girlfriend!
8. WILD AT HEART (Season 4)
Jumping from a Willow ep to an Oz episode. Oz was always one of my favourite characters and the lack of airtime that he was given helped to create an aura of mystery about him. So on the rare occasion that he stepped up to bat these episodes stuck with me; none moreso than Wild At Heart which pushed the sickly-sweet relationship he had with Willow to the edge and ruined all human belief in happy endings. Due to transforming into a werewolf once a month Oz was terrified of the harm he may cause and locked himself up to keep others safe. When dog-like killings continue irrelevant he discovers that he is not the only lycanthrope around and finds himself being drawn to the female, Veruca, who has breezed into town. Oz has to fight an internal struggle against his animal instincts and the human heart-strings. When Willow finds him curled up naked with Veruca, her heart-breaking made my heart break. It was the dramatic culmination of this episode that marked the end of Oz in the series. Sure he popped up from time to time, and over in the Angel spin-off as well, but never again was he one of the Scoobies. This made me sad.
On a brighter note I feel the need to mention the episode 'Phases' which, as the polar opposite, was about the very first time Oz changes into a werewolf and he begins his romance with Willow. This made not have made my Top 10 list but it warrants attention as a true turning point in the show.
7. BEWITCHED, BOTHERED & BEWILDERED (SEASON 2)
Many of you are probably surprised to see this ep on my list as opposed to the much more talked about 'The Zeppo' episode. You will find no argument from me that The Zeppo is an amazing story that twists the standard storytelling approach of A plot/B plot on its head and creates an A plot out of what would usually be the subplot to a show. Xander is given scope and humanity within this story that allows him to become more than just the token 'no power' normal in the Scooby Gang. In contrast 'Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered' is a simple tale of revenge gone awry and the dangerous consequences of your dreams coming true. This is one of the episodes that always springs to mind when I think about Buffy and was a defining moment in committing me to a life of Buffy-ism. After Cordelia breaks up with him due to taunts from her friends, Xander gets Amy to cast a love spell on Cordelia in revenge. In great Whedon-style the spell goes wrong and all the women (including Buffy) except for Cordelia become obsessed with him, leading to a pack of murderous women out to kill Cordy led by the smitten Willow (there is no image like that of little Alyson Hannigan wielding an enormous axe!).
For me this episode is the epitome of what Buffy did like no other show; taking a typical dramatic problem and using a twist of the supernatural to create an amazing, hilarious and heartbreaking metaphor for teenage issues. Ah, how I dreamed of having the problem of being pursued by lust-mad females even if it did end in my crushed and bloody demise. What a way to go!
6. THIS YEAR'S GIRL (Season 4)
It is utterly impossible to talk best Buffy episodes without mention of Faith. Granted Faith is my favourite character in the series and the visual joys of Eliza Dushku play no small part in that decision. But as the flip side to the Slayer coin she also allowed the Whedon-crew to venture into stories that they could never take the goody-two-shoes Buffy. The corruption of power and the actual consequences of life and death decisions. In 'This Year's Girl' Faith finally awakens from the coma that she fell into after being beaten and stabbed by Buffy at the end of Season 3. She heads back to Sunnydale and begins making her presence known to the Scoobies. Faith is given a present from her old and now deceased boss The Mayor - a device to allow her to switch bodies with someone. Yep, you can guess who! This major story arc does not actually come into play until the next episode, 'Who Are You', but my choice of 'This Year's Girl' is due to the what-we-have-been-waiting-for all out brawl between Buffy and Faith.
Sure they hit each other a lot back in Season 3, but even their final showdown lacked that special something. This is slayer on slayer; there should be some major damage! And here in Season 4 we finally got our wish answered as the pair knock each other through every room in the Summers' house. Woo! Yeah! Love it.
5. NORMAL AGAIN (Season 6)
Alrighty we've broken into the Top 5! And this is where we see the industry leading brilliance that is Joss Whedon and the Buffy-teamsters. 'Normal Again' caught me off guard. What starts out as a regular episode of Buffy looking for the Trio (as she does for much of Season 6) turns into a reality doubting storyline where Buffy swings backwards and forwards between her Vampire Slayer existence and one where she is locked up in a mental institute. She, and the audience begin to wonder which reality is the real one, and Buffy is coerced into destroying the Scoobies so as to kill her demons. The arguments made to her in the nut house are brilliantly devised and written, pointing out all of the elements of the show that are so unrealistic. In essence the show argues how unreal it is, even though we Buffy fans have given it a life in the real world (or so we assume). The way that this episode ends, with the catatonic Buffy sitting in the corner of the padded cell is haunting.
And it left me with a serious question about whether that mentally ill girl is the reality and our favourite show is nothing more than seven seasons of her maniacal dream. As always the writers never allow you to be sure.
4. SURPRISE and INNOCENCE (Season 2)
I doubt that there is a Buffy fan anywhere who would not agree that story arc that spans the double episodes of 'Surprise' and 'Innocence' not only defined the Buffy ethos, but also forced television as a medium to take another look at itself. The midpoint of the second season, this arc finally brings Buffy and Angel together. They have defeated Spike & Drusilla, Sunnydale is safe for the time being, there is no major nemesis anywhere in sight. For once all is peaceful. And Buffy gives herself to Angel. The moment we were all waiting for happens as she loses her virginity in a warm and tender montage. And then BOOM. Angel turns evil. They have sex and something bad happens. Not just bad - Angel becomes Angelus and thus the Big Bad for the season. From beau to arch-nemesis in a matter of minutes. Could there be anything more horrible to happen to a young woman? As Joss points out, if your characters are happy then you have no story. And this arc is the true proof that he lives by this storytelling mantra.
Did anyone see this coming? I know I didn't. Sure we knew that at some point Angelus was going to return but to do it like a slap in the face. Brilliant. Of course the climax of 'Innocence' also stands out as an iconic image. Buffy firing a rocket launcher to blow up the Judge and a shopping mall.
3. THE GIFT (Season 5)
Yep, the final episode of season five. This season was rather complicated with the love complications of chip implanted Spike, Dawn suddenly having been there from the beginning, and Glory (a God) and her human alter ego. Yet it all boiled down to a simple Hell-God must throw the Key (Dawn) into a portal in order to bring her hell dimension to Earth (yep, this does seem to be a recurring Sunnydale theme). The problem was that Dawn had become (or always had been... so confusing) Buffy's sister. For the final battle we have a giant haphazardly constructed tower, Olaf the Ogre's hammer, Robot Buffy, Willow's magic and Xander knocking Glory about with a wrecking ball. I had missed a couple of episodes when this was airing on TV and I managed to flick it on just as Glory was put down and reverted back into Ben. Victory, the sweet taste of an old friend when watching Buffy. And then suddenly she jumped. She died. A gravestone. There are those moments in your life when things suddenly feel not-real. When you almost look at yourself from outside of your body and the world goes a little wonky. This was one of mine. Buffy was dead. The show was over. There was a hole in my whole.
So when they announced season six I found myself caught between happiness and disappointment. This is how it should have ended. The way heroes rarely get to end in this age of franchising and multi-platform marketing.
2. BECOMING PART 2 (season 2)
Top 2. Wow, the pressure is on. Season two had been tumultuous with Angel becoming Angelus. He killed Jenny Calendar (didn't see that one coming), Xander gets his arm broken, Willow ends up in a coma and Drusilla kills Kendra (to make way for Faith so all works out for the best!). Angelus decides to destroy the world by awakening a demon named Acathla who is currently trapped inside a statue. When he awakens he will suck the world into a hell dimension and for some reason this is a good thing for Angelus.
For all of the action and witty banter that fills this season closing ep there is only one moment that matters. It is the only thing you remember because it is so damn heart breaking. Too late to stop Acathla from being awoken, Angelus turns back into Angel. Buffy realises he is his old self again and they have a moment of passion before she plunges her sword into his heart and sends him to hell so that the Earth will be saved. I was in tears as Buffy kills the love of her life and sends him to eternal damnation. So was everyone I know. Few television moments can move you so greatly. It is art.
1. THE BODY (Season 5)
I had to go back and forwards between first and second position. Both episodes are awesome but 'The Body' does come out on top. Amidst all of the supernatural chaos of living on the Hellmouth and being the Slayer, this episode brought characters and audiences alike back to earth and reminded them that the most harrowing of experiences are the normal ones. Buffy comes home to find her mother dead on the couch. No demon, no curse, no spell. Just a regular old human anurism. The rest of the episode deals with the very human side of having to deal with the death of your mother. If anyone had any doubts as to the storytelling or directing talents of Joss Whedon then this was the moment that all doubt disappeared.
With unnerving honesty Whedon captures the horrific reality of each second in the single opening shot of the show that lasts for approximately 9 minutes. No editing, no mood-swaying score, no special effects. Just horrible reality. I dare anyone to watch this episode and not find a knot in their stomach by the end. It was 'The Body' that showed how a simple story can impact on us all.
So that's my Top 10 Buffy The Vampire Slayer episodes. I'm sure many of you disagree with some of my choices but Buffy is about its personal connection to you and this is what swayed my final decision. Which episodes would you have put up here instead?