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Buffy: 15-11

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15. “Tabula Rasa,” season 6, episode 8

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“Is this some kind of psych test? Am I getting paid for this?!” -Xander

“Magic? Magic’s all balderdash and chicanery!” -Giles

“Randy Giles? Why not call me Horny Giles, or Desperate for a Shag Giles? I knew there was a reason I hated you!” -Spike

How do you follow up a musical episode? “Tabula Rasa” definitely isn’t the worst way to go. This episode is season 6′s version of “Something Blue,” except cookies won’t make up for Willow’s wrong doings this time.

Willow and Tara are having relationship problems, that are really centering around Willow’s overuse of magic. And rather than try and solve the problem, Willow decides to keep relying on her magical crutch and cast a spell to make it all go away. We’ve seen before that magic is something Willow turns to when she wants to stop feeling pain (as in the aforementioned “Something Blue”), and it’s going to become a big theme this season. This time, she wants to make Tara forget the things Willow has done to cause her pain, and she wants Buffy to forget her pain over being pulled from Heaven. Her intentions are honorable, but her way of going about things is all wrong.

Of course, the spell doesn’t work right. In fact, it works too well, and suddenly all of the Scooby Gang loses their memories. Xander (whom Dawn calls “Alex,” a much more typical nickname) thinks he is Willow’s boyfriend, and Tara and Willow think they are study buddies from UC Sunnydale. Dawn and Buffy immediately realize they must be sisters, but since Buffy has no form of ID, she names herself “Joan.” Anya decides she and Giles must be getting married, since they own the magic shop together and she is wearing a ring, while Spike assumes he is Giles’ son, due to their similar accents (and similar rugged good looks, in Anya’s opinion).

“Tabula Rasa” is another laugh out loud episode that is always a lot of fun to watch. Giles and Spike’s interactions are absolutely the highlights. Upon deducting that they must be father and son, Giles tells his ‘offspring,’ “You do inspire a feeling of… familiarity, and disappointment.” Spike makes fun of Giles’ ‘wife,’ Anya, calling her a “tart” and complaining about the fact that she is half Giles’ age. And don’t even get me started on Spike’s supposed name– Randy, a family name, Giles is sure.

Our loan shark villain is a little silly, but also unimportant to the plot. Any vampires could have appeared and similar chaos would have ensued. While Xander, Willow, Tara, and Dawn try to escape through the tunnels, Anya and Giles stay at the Magic Box. Anya keeps conjuring bunnies, and Giles tells her he can tell why he was planning to leave her and move to England. And while Buffy and Spike fight the vamps, causing Spike to realize his own undead identity, we get a great bit of dialogue. Spike basically describes himself as Angel: fighting the good fight, helping the little guy, a vampire with a soul. To which Buffy responds, “A vampire with a soul? How lame is that?”

Now, how does a silly episode like this make it into my top 15? Yes, it’s a lot of fun. But it’s so much more. In the last few minutes of the episode, we are able to see the consequences Willow’s actions will have, and the serious changes our characters are about to face. Buffy has always been pretty good at ending episodes with montages to music, and this is a great example. We get to hear the Michelle Branch song, ‘Goodbye to You,’ while we watch Tara pack her things, and try to say goodbye to Dawn while she runs away. Willow sits alone in the bathroom, crying (this is painful to watch). Giles is on a plane headed to England. And Buffy goes from sitting alone at the bar, to ending up in some back corner of the Bronze, kissing Spike. The music, the shots… they are all perfect. And if an episode as hilarious and fun as “Tabula Rasa” can make me tear up at the end, realizing how much pain all of these characters are in, and the struggles they are going to face– that’s definitely worth a spot in the top 15.

14. “The Zeppo,” season 3, episode 13

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“Oh gee, I’m really sorry my life or death situation isn’t exciting enough for you!” -Xander

“OK, now I’m involved in crime. I’m the criminal element.” -Xander

“Being blowed up isn’t walking around, drinking with your buddies dead. It’s little bits being swept up by a janitor dead. And I don’t think you’re ready for that.” -Xander

Very early on in this episode, Xander tells Cordelia he is integral to the Scooby Gang, and Cordy has a good laugh. Because for a main character who has been a part of our lives since episode one, Xander really gets the shaft a lot. He is the only member of the group without his own special background (something Cordy also points out to him), the only member of the group that doesn’t really get his own special story. Everything about Xander is really about how it relates to the rest of the group– even in the later seasons. No one thinks Xander can take care of himself, or really help the rest of the gang. “The Zeppo” shows that this is not, in fact that case.

Buffy typically tells a story of some dramatic, world ending battle, but this episode has a different take. Xander is feeling a little useless (and Cordelia’s nagging isn’t helping the situation). In this episode, we see a day in the life of Xander, the loyal sidekick. Xander gets a new car, accidentally befriends a gang of dead guys, discovers the dead guys are planting a bomb and he needs to stop them, looks to his friends for help but realizes they are otherwise occupied, and saves the day himself. Oh, and he also loses his virginity to Faith. (Which brings us a fabulous Xander quote: “It’s just that I’ve never been… up… with people before.”)

While Xander is doing all of this, the more “integral” members of the gang are busy trying to stop the world from ending. We get a lot of random scenes of Willow hugging Xander goodbye, Buffy crying to Angel and telling him she can’t watch him die again, and some seriously crazy monsters at the high school. Plot A seems like it was pretty intense– but it’s totally irrelevant. Buffy wants to keep Xander out of the loop so he doesn’t hurt himself, or make things harder for them. What she doesn’t realize is how much Xander actually does. While she is battling another apocalypse, Xander is risking his life to keep the school from being blown up.

Xander is a fabulous character on this show that never gets his proper due. He is great comic relief, but he also brings a lot of heart and loyalty to this show. There aren’t many Xander centric episodes. But here we have one that really gives us a chance to get to know this character, who we all love but don’t know as well as some of the other Scoobies– and it’s fabulous.

In the end, Buffy saves the world, and Xander saves the school (and his own life). He proves to be brave, resourceful and… important. Willow talks about the fact that no one will ever know what they did to save the world– just as no one will ever realize what Xander did. He isn’t singing his own praises. But he does find some newfound confidence. At the end of the episode, he is finally able to walk away from Cordelia and her jabs. He knows he is more than what she is trying to say he is. And so do we.

13. “The Prom,” season 3, episode 20

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“There are some hard choices ahead. If she can’t make them, you’re going to have to. I know you care about her. I just hope you care enough.” -Joyce

“And I shall be wearing the pink taffeta as chenille doesn’t go with my complexion, can we please talk about the Ascension?!” -Giles

“I think we need to talk.” -Angel

How can you ask for a better pre-finale episode than this one?

OK, OK. I already confessed to my Buffy/Angel support. So now I will also confess… I can be kind of a sap. And this one gets my every time. You have to have a heart of stone to not get misty-eyed, I think! And yes, the hell hounds are a little silly. A lot silly. But they are completely irrelevant to this episode. They just give Buffy a bad guy to fight for a few minutes before we get to the real point of this episode. Which is growing up.

Everyone is excited about the prom, Buffy included. She can’t wait to see Angel in a tux– but he has other ideas. Sure, Joyce pushed him in this direction, but I’m sure his future with Buffy was something that had already been on his mind. They have a sad breakup scene in the sewer where Angel tells her, “You deserve something outside of demons and darkness. You should be with someone who can take you into the light.” Man, if he knew that someone was gonna be Riley, he probably would have saved this speech.

Anyway, Buffy is deeply hurt and shocked. Angel tells her he doesn’t want to be with her for the rest of his life– something I still don’t believe. You aren’t fooling me, Angel. You guys are meant to be.

We get a very emotional scene where Buffy confides in Willow about her breakup with Angel. And to reference something no one other than me will probably get– this scene really reminds me of Party of Five, when Kirsten realizes Charlie isn’t going to go through with the wedding, and tells her mother she has to think to breathe. Buffy echoes these sentiments to Willow: “I think horrible is still coming. Right now, it’s worst. Right now I’m just trying to keep from dying. I can’t breathe, Will. I feel like I can’t breathe.” It’s so painful to watch because– don’t we all understand heartbreak? Especially high school heartbreak, that feels like the world will end?

In addition to Angel ending things with Buffy, we do have one more cast member leaving the show who needs some closure– the fabulous Cordelia Chase. It turns out Cordelia is broke and working to buy a prom dress, which she isn’t even able to pay for by the night of the prom. She happens to see Xander while he is tux-hunting, and she is working, so her secret is out of the bag. But Xander decides to keep it between the two of them. And he also decides to buy Cordy her dress. She thanks him at the dance, to which he responds, “It looks great on you.” Cordelia tells him, “Well, duh,” and we all have our real ending to the Xander/Cordelia romance. It was handled so well, even episodes after the actual breakup occurred. We needed this final goodbye to a couple we loved, and they gave it to us. They also give us Xander’s first date with Anya, letting us know there will be more to come in Xander’s love life when Cordy is off in LA.

At the end of this episode, Buffy kills the hell hounds, a proud Giles watches his Slayer finally be acknowledged for all her hard work, and Angel shows up in a tux to dance with Buffy. He is still leaving, but we needed some more closure here too. He is going to give the woman he loves the perfect high school moment she dreamed of. All with an awesome version of “Wild Horses” playing in the background. Didn’t I just say how good this show is at episode ending music to tug on the heart strings? This is no exception. I tear up every single time I watch this one.

And I can’t forget to mention Jonathan’s speech. I can’t do it justice by telling you about it, so… I’m just gonna give the whole thing to you. Buffy does a pretty thankless job, and it’s nice to see that people actually do realize the good she does. I dare you not to get misty-eyed!

“We’re not good friends. Most of us never found the time to get to know you, but that doesn’t meant we haven’t noticed you. We don’t talk about it much, but it’s no secret that Sunnydale High isn’t really like other high schools. A lot of weird stuff happens here… But whenever there was a problem or something creepy happened, you seemed to show up and stop it. Most of the people here have been saved by you or helped by you at one time or another. We’re proud to say that the class of ’99 has the lowest mortality rate of any graduating class in Sunnydale history, and we know at least part of that is because of you. So the senior class offers its thanks and gives you this. It’s from all of us, and it has written here, ‘Buffy Summers, Class Protector’.”

 12. “Fool for Love,” season 5, episode 7

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“What can I tell you, baby? I’ve always been bad.” -Spike

“Lesson the first. A slayer must reach for her weapon. I’ve already got mine.” -Spike

“It wouldn’t be you, Spike. It would never be you. You’re beneath me.” -Buffy

“Fool for Love” is the story of Spike, and it is worth the wait from when we first met him until we finally got to see what went on before the events in “School Hard.”  This is a fabulous backstory episode, and James Marsters is wonderful in it, going from William the Bloody Awful Poet, to Spike, to Spike with a chip all within 45 minutes. What a way to show off his acting range.

Buffy has a close encounter with a vamp and wants more information on how previous slayers died, but the Watcher’s Guides don’t seem big on rehashing the deaths. Luckily, Buffy has something better– a vampire who has killed not one, but two slayers in his time. So, she brings Spike to the Bronze, buys him some wings, and gets him talking. We learn that, despite Spike’s claims, he wasn’t always bad.

He was a hopeless romantic trying to woo Cecily, who informed him that he was beneath her. After this he runs into Drusilla (who Spike fears is a pickpocket) and she decides to bring him into her vampire crew. His story continues in China, where he kills a slayer during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. He feeds on her, and shares his kill with Dru. After they inform Angel and Darla (who I always love to see) of the kill,  we get an epic shot of the four walking away from the Rebellion, Spike with an extra spring in his step.

Next we go to New York City in 1977, where he kills the second slayer. In this case, he snaps her neck on the subway, and doesn’t even bother to feed off her, although he was just talking about slayer blood being an aphrodisiac. I think this is pretty telling about Spike. Suddenly the blood isn’t what matters– it’s the kill itself. All that typical stuff that vampires care about– that’s beneath him.

Spike also takes a souvenir from each victim. Slayer #1 gives him the scar he has over his left eye. And Slayer #2? She couldn’t even give him a serious injury. But he took her black duster, which we see him wearing pretty often throughout the show.

Now, all of this Spike backstory is fabulous enough on it’s own. But the whole episode really builds up to the final scene, which shows who Spike is now. He thinks about killing Buffy, walks right up to her with a shotgun. But then he realizes she is crying. “What’s wrong?” She doesn’t want to talk about it. “Is there something I can do?” She doesn’t answer. So Spike sits next to his former enemy, a woman who could’ve become Slayer #3 on his death list. And he just sits with her in silence. He is her friend.

11. “This Year’s Girl”/”Who Are You?” season 4, episodes 15 & 16

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“You took my life, B. Payback’s a bitch.” -Faith

“You can’t do that, because it’s wrong!” -Faith

“I guess you never really know someone until you’ve been inside their skin.” -Faith

So, I absolutely love this episode of Buffy. For a season with an awful main plot (Adam, Riley, the Initiative) it has some fabulous episodes. And this is no exception. In fact, I really wanted to put it in my top ten, but I couldn’t bear to bump any of those episodes down (I really did struggle though, especially between spots 11 and 10).

Faith is a great Buffy character that we didn’t even get close to enough of. She’s a “bad guy,” but also not really. She is just a sad, flawed, girl who wanted to be someone. And these two episodes really do her character some serious justice. But beyond the great plot line, what makes this episode so good is Sarah Michelle Gellar and Eliza Dushku. I mean– these women can act. But we’ll get there.

Faith is in a coma (has been since the season 3 finale), dreaming about Buffy trying to kill her, and dropping little hints about what is to come in season 5 (little sis, to be exact). And after a series of these dreams, Faith wakes up and heads off to find her old nemesis. But before their real fight can begin, Faith gets a little message from her old friend the Mayor. He left her a video, and a little gift. This is a reminder for those of us who forgot– Faith was lonely. She turned to the Mayor because she felt he cared about her– loved her even. It wasn’t because she wanted to be evil, per say. It was because she wanted to fit in somewhere.

Faith then pays Joyce a visit, tries on some of her lipstick, and talks some smack about Buffy before the slayer herself shows up to handle the situation. Buffy and Faith fight, and right before the cops arrive, Faith uses her little toy to switch bodies with Buffy. This is another great cliffhanger, where Joyce asks “Buffy” if she is ok, to which she responds “Five by five,” letting the audience know that this is not, in fact Buffy. To be continued.

Here is where things get complicated. Eliza Dushku is credited as ‘Buffy Summers’ in “Who are You?” so when I refer to Buffy– I mean Buffy in Faith’s body. And vice versa.

One of my all time favorite scenes in this television series is Faith in the mirror, giving Buffy’s body a try. She practices making faces, sticking her tongue out, and telling people “It’s wrong!” She then heads out into the world to cause some trouble before she plans to catch a flight out of the country.

Faith dances at the Bronze, flirts with Spike (who likes it– foreshadowing, perhaps?), is a total jerk to poor Tara (and is also one of the few to actually realize Willow is dating this girl), and has sex with Riley. Who then tells Faith that he loves her. Smooth move, Commando. I mean, I can tell it’s Faith. SMG is an amazing actress who knew exactly what to do to show the audience who she is supposed to be. Just the way she moves her body is different and, well… Faith-like.

During all of this chaos, Faith saves a girl from a vampire, who thanks her. And you can tell that this moves her. She can see the appeal of being the good guy.

Buffy, on the other hand, is busy trying to escape the Watcher’s Council, who are not very kind to the woman they think is Faith (one guy even spits in her face). Luckily, she manages to escape and get to Giles. And let me tell you– Eliza Dushku is so good in this scene that you could almost close your eyes and mistake her for the actual Buffy. Her mannerisms, pattern of speech, the phrases she uses– it is so clear that this is Buffy.

Like I said earlier– two fabulous acting jobs in the latter half of this two-parter.

In the end, Faith goes to save some people in a church, because she’s Buffy, and she has to. Ultimately, the real Buffy joins her and the two fight each other once the crisis has been averted. “You’re nothing… disgusting, murderous, bitch… you’re nothing!” Faith tells her body. In the end, the two switch back, and Faith heads for the hills. But it doesn’t change what Buffy learned about Faith by spending a day in the life, and it doesn’t change what Faith learned (and revealed) about herself. She is just a lonely girl who does feel for what she has done in the past. She wants to be good, which was evident when she went to the church instead of skipping the country– she just doesn’t know how to be good as Faith, when she is already so far down the dark road she is on.

It’ll be quite some time before we see Faith again (which is unfortunate), but this episode is a great way to leave her story… For now.