Buffy: 5-1

I must apologize for the delay getting this out… Like Dean, I have been sick over the last week or so, which meant blogging took a back seat to sleeping and eating a lot of soup. But I’m finally back, with the final installment!

If you missed it, check out 10-6!

OK, before we begin the top five, I wanted to give you a quick breakdown of the types of episodes that made this list. Seasons 1 and 7 had the least amount of representation with two episodes each, followed by seasons 5 and 6 with three, and season 4 with four. Seasons 3 and 2 had the most representation with five and six episodes, respectively. The top five has episodes from seasons 2, 3, 4, and 5, so both the first and last seasons did not crack the top. My top 25 consists of  no season premieres, but six season finales– the only one to miss the list was season 4. So, without further ado, I present to you my five favorite episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer!

5. “The Wish,” season 3, episode 9

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“You guys in Sunnydale talk like I’m the second coming.” -Buffy

“Some have argued that such an advancement goes against our nature, they claim that death is our art. I say to them… well, I don’t say anything to them, because I kill them.” -The Master

“This is the real world now. This is the world we made. Isn’t it wonderful?” -Anyanka

To explain my love for this episode simply: alternate reality episodes are the best. And this one is certainly no exception.

Poor Cordelia is not having a good couple of episodes. She just discovered that her honey was cheating  on her with Willow, she got impaled, and now she is the laughing stock of Sunnydale High. High school kids are mean. Harmony suggests Cordy hook up with Jonathan (because he won’t cheat on her… for awhile). Guys don’t want to be seen with her because she is Xander Harris’ ex. In fact, the only person who wants to talk to her is random new girl, Anya. And random new characters are never a good sign.

Anya is a character that we will grow to love, but for now she is just Anyanka, patron saint of women scorned. And she wants to help make Cordy feel better about Xander’s indiscretions by granting her a wish. And when it comes down to it, Cordelia decides she can blame everything on one person– Buffy. She tells Anya, “I wish Buffy Summers had never come to Sunnydale.” A very creepy looking demon Anya obliges.

Alternate Sunnydale is not a pretty place. Everyone wears muted colors, there is a curfew, teenagers aren’t allowed to drive, and vampires have basically overrun the town. The Bronze is a vamp hangout, and the Master is alive. As a matter of fact, his two main lackeys are also familiar faces– Willow and Xander. Cordelia is killed very early in this new world, so it’s clear that things are very, very dark.

She did have a chance to mention Buffy’s name to Giles, who is running a group the vamps call “White Hats” (which includes Oz). So Buffy does, in fact, make it to Sunnydale. And she isn’t the Buffy we know either. As soon as the audience sees her, it’s evident how hard she is. This Buffy never went to homecoming.

Seeing how important Buffy’s time in Sunnydale was really puts a lot of the series into perspective. To see what things would have been like without her… it’s scary.

The last scene in alternate Sunnydale is a great one, as the camera cuts between Giles and Anya, and Buffy going into the factory to stop the Master from mass producing human blood. Xander kills Angel (and I like the fact that they chose to have Xander be the one to do this), and Buffy walks through his ashes like it’s nothing. Oz kills Willow. Meanwhile, Giles has discovered Anya’s power source and plans to destroy it. “You trusting fool!” Anya screams at Giles. “How do you know the other world is better than this?”

“Because it has to be,” Giles replies, destroying Anya’s amulet.

But in the seconds before he is able to do this, we get one more cut shot to the factory. One more scene in Bizarro Sunnydale. We see the Master snap Buffy’s neck. This is an episode that is hard to forget.

4. “Hush,” season 4, episode 10

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“Fortune favors the brave.” -Buffy

“Oookay… remember how we talked about private conversations? How they’re less private when they’re in front of my friends?” -Xander

“I guess we have to talk.” -Riley

This episode is so good, that I can even overlook Riley’s annoying presence in it.

“Hush” is, by far, the scariest episode Buffy has ever offered it’s viewers. But it’s also a lot more than that. Joss Whedon’s ability to not only scare us, but to make us laugh and to mesmerize us without the use of language is brilliant.

The episode opens with a lot of communication problems. Buffy and Riley can’t talk to each other because they are both too busy trying to keep their hidden identities hidden. It’s incredibly awkward. Anya is upset that Xander can’t tell her how he feels about her. And newly introduced Tara is almost completely ignored in the Wicca group she is in with Willow.

The Gentlemen, who are fairy tale villains Giles later discovers, and their straight-jacket wearing lackeys show up in Sunnydale and take away everyone’s voices, so they will be able to collect the seven hearts they need without having to worry about any pesky screaming warning people that they are coming. When Olivia sees one right outside of Giles’ window, I want to scream every time, so I can see how people having their voices would hinder the Gentlemen.

There are some great comedic scenes, especially involving Giles, Spike, and Xander. Their conversations before they lose their voices are hilarious, as well as their interactions after. When Xander comes into Giles’ house, he thinks Spike has bitten Anya, and he starts to pummel him. This shows Anya exactly how much Xander cares about her, and in turn solves their communication problem.

Buffy also runs into a voiceless Riley and gives him a passionate kiss– I mean, I guess he is a little better when he can’t talk. But really, not by much.

Willow and Tara get together and perform some magic that saves them both from the Gentlemen. I’ve read all the interviews where Joss said Tara was originally going to be a friend for Willow to practice magic with. I understand why he decided to up the ante with those two– the chemistry between Willow and Tara is undeniable. It’s so evident in this episode, the first time the two ever get to act together. There was no way Tara and Willow could ever just be friends.

“Hush” features a very iconic Buffy scene (one of my favorites of all time), where Giles uses an overhead projector to explain to the Scoobies who the Gentlemen are. He turns on some music, and even put his first slide on upside down. Anya is eating popcorn, Xander mistakes Willow’s heart gesture for boobs, and everyone mistakes Buffy’s staking gesture for… well, you know. The slides themselves are also incredibly comical– I love that Giles uses red marker for blood (and a lot of it), and I want to know where I can get a t-shirt with the “Buffy will patrol tonight” drawing on it.

Buffy and Riley run into each other while they are in secret identity mode and fight together to get rid of the Gentlemen. There is a great scene where Buffy tries to get Riley to smash the box the voices are trapped in– he nods, we get slow motion and… he smashes the wrong thing. But in the end, the correct box is destroyed, and everyone gets their voice back. Buffy (the princess in this fairy tale) screams, and some heads explode.

After everything is back to normal, Riley goes to see Buffy, so they can talk.

The episode ends with the two sitting across from each other in silence.

3. “Once More With Feeling,” season 6, episode 7

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“What can’t we face if we’re together? What’s in this place that we can’t weather?” -Buffy

“So you just lie there when you should be standing tall, but I… I wish I could lay your arms down, and let you rest at last. Wish I could slay your demons, but now that time has passed. Wish I could stay here.” -Giles

“Understand we’ll go hand and hand, but we’ll walk alone in fear.” -Company

If I could watch only one hour of television again for the rest of my life… “Once More, With Feeling” would be it without question. I am not just talking about Buffy either… this would be my choice out of anything. The people who say Buffy should have ended at “The Gift,” and that nothing good ever followed that episode clearly haven’t watched this one. Because this is great television. Plenty of shows have tried to do a musical, but Joss Whedon may be the only one who got it right.

Whedon was lucky, of course, because he was blessed with a very talented cast, and everyone could sing their own songs. Sure, SMG is no superstar, but I’d still rather have her singing Buffy’s songs than some voice double. I am not going to lie– I bought the soundtrack right after this episode first aired. I still listen to it all the time. I am not even ashamed.

I took so many notes watching this episode, because there is so much to it, that I almost don’t know where to start. But I guess we will go with the singing first, and then get into what makes this episode more than just fluff.

Anthony Stewart Head (who has been on Broadway) is clearly the most talented of the bunch and “Standing” is easily my favorite song. I’ve said time and time again about the soft spot I have for Giles and his fatherly feelings toward Buffy, and his realization that he can no longer protect her and doing so will only hurt her in the long run gets me every time. And following Anthony Head, there are three other cast members who really blew this thing out of the park: Amber Benson, Emma Caulfield, and James Marsters.

Tara’s song to Willow is gorgeous… and highly sexual– almost risque at points, in my opinion (“lost in ecstasy, spread beneath my willow tree, you make me complete”). She also gets to do a fabulous reprise with Giles that really lets their talent show. Like Giles, Tara is constantly harmonizing and doing backup vocals throughout the episode– and she does it well. Anya has a cute duet with Xander that is tons of fun, and she not only gets to sing, but to do a little dancing as well. Nicholas Brendan isn’t that bad himself, but Emma Caulfield shines.

Spike’s solo number is really a highlight in this episode. Clearly James Marsters is a rock star at heart, and “Rest in Peace” is perfect for him. He tries to convince Buffy he is immune to all this singing and rush her out, but he isn’t quick enough. The look on his face when he starts singing and is just disgusted that Buffy is going to see this is priceless. He also manages to telegraph a lot of emotion into his singing– one of my favorite lines being when he sings to her, “If my heart could beat, it would break my chest.” He also gets another great one later with, “I hope she fries, I’m free if that bitch dies… I better help her out!”

Now, I could talk about the songs forever. I could talk about the jokes they make (Anya wondering if the pterodactyl Dawn gave birth to sang, for example), the great guest spots (Hinton Battle is a fabulous villain, an extremely talented dancer and singer, and Marti Noxon is no slouch either in her cameo), and how incredibly talented Joss Whedon and his cast are for being able to pull this off. But instead I want to talk about the value this episode has beyond being a ton of fun.

I already talked about Giles and Buffy, but that is only one of the issues that we touch upon. Tara realizes Willow put a spell on her after they had a fight about magic, and sings “Willow, can’t you see, there’ll be nothing left of me. You made me believe.” The ending to Willow and Tara’s relationship is looming, and so is Willow’s break from reality, and even Tara’s death. This episode begins the distrust which will lead easily into the events of “Tabula Rasa,” and everything else that is to follow for these two.

Xander and Anya’s fun little number is actually pretty depressing when you listen to it. They are both singing about their fears in regards to their upcoming nuptials. Yes, they love each other, but… neither seem ready to settle down, which we will see in “Hell’s Bells.” A lot of their song is about things like Xander’s beady eyes, and Anya’s hairy toes, but in the end it’s more than that, as they agree, “I lied, I said it’s easy. I’ve tried, but there’s these fears I can’t quell.” It’s more than simple complaints about each other…. Xander and Anya are scared of the future and what will become of them.

And last but certainly not least is the big reveal that Buffy was in heaven (along with her big kiss with Spike). Buffy sings, “These endless days are finally ending in a blaze,” as she heads in to see Sweet and confess her biggest secret via song… that her friends actually pulled her out of heaven. The gang’s reaction to Buffy’s confession is perfect, especially Willow’s look of complete horror. In the end, it is Spike that saves Buffy before she burns, explaining that she as to go on living… to which Dawn adds, “The hardest thing in this world is to live in it,” reminding Buffy of what she told her at the end of  “The Gift.”

In the end, Buffy and Spike end up together and share a passionate kiss. Their last words (lyrics?) prior to it are so telling as to how the rest of the season will go between the two. Spike tells Buffy, “You can make me feel,” while Buffy’s words to Spike are “This isn’t real, but I just want to feel.” While Spike truly feels he loves Buffy, Buffy will only use him. She knows this already.

The episode ends with a great question for the gang, and for viewers alike, after all these big reveals: “Where do we go from here?”

2. “The Gift,” season 5, episode 22

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“Wow. Been a long while since I met one that didn’t know me.” -Buffy

“This is how many apocalypses for us now?” -Buffy

“We’re not all gonna make it. You know that, right?” -Buffy

An episode that ends with a shot of Buffy’s grave (she saved the world a lot) should make everyone’s top five. In fact, if “The Gift” was the series finale, as opposed to just a season finale, it may have been number one. Now, I am not one of those people that pretends seasons six and seven never happened (obviously), but I do think this episode would have packed the punch to be number one if the series had ended here. Still– with two seasons to follow, it makes number two.

Let’s start at the beginning: Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We see a scene from basically every episode of the show. Ever. It’s brilliantly directed, and worth watching. So… you should watch it. The quality is awful, but it was the only clip of it I could find!

Season five of Buffy is by far the most straight forward. It follows one plot, and almost every single episode ties back to this: Dawn is actually a key that Glory (a god) needs in order to destroy the world. Glory is a fabulous Big Bad, and the foreshadowing of Buffy’s death (while heavy-handed at times) is very well-done for the most part. This season had to end this way. And it is beautifully done.

Buffy makes it clear early on that she will not let Dawn die, regardless of the consequences for everyone else– because Dawn is more than her sister. Dawn is her. Which will come back later in the episode, of course.

We get callbacks to previous episodes from both this season and the preceding four– Doc and the Buffy Bot return, along with Olaf’s hammer. Anya tells Xander she normally gets outta town if an apocalypse is coming– which she did two seasons ago in “Graduation Day.” Willow asks Xander why he couldn’t have realized he liked smart girls in tenth grade, reminding us of geeky Willow and her big crush. And when Buffy speaks to Giles about death being her gift (as she was told in “Intervention”) and how hard that is– she says she just wishes her mom was still around. We have watched these people grow up for five years, and it has all worked up to this moment. This fight.

There are so many things I could say about this episode, because every single scene is fantastic. So I will quickly touch on three things, and then tell you to go watch this episode. Immediately.

One: Spike is wonderful. When Buffy invites him into her home, and he tells her she makes him feel like a man, it almost feels like closure. Spike knows she won’t love him, but what she gives him is enough. His face when he realizes he can’t save Dawn is heart-breaking– almost as heart-breaking as his reaction when he realizes Buffy is dead.

Two: Early on in the episode, Tara (brain sucked by Glory) tells Giles he is a killer. Which is foreshadowing the end of the episode where Giles does, in fact, become a killer. Glory morphs into Ben, and Buffy lets him go. He is human, after all. Ben and Glory are two separate entities– they just happen to share a body. Ben is an innocent, as was stated earlier in the episode when Xander suggested killing Ben to end Glory. Then scene where Giles kills Ben is incredibly well-done, and the dialogue is perfect. He asks if Ben is hurt, and let’s Ben share his gratitude that Buffy let him go– even though one day Glory will make her pay for that. “Buffy even knows that and still she couldn’t take a human life,” Giles tells Ben. “She’s a hero, you see. She’s not like us.” And as soon as Ben (and the audience) realizes what Giles is saying– he suffocates Ben to death, becoming the killer Tara already saw him as.

Three: This one should be obvious– the final scenes of the episode, with Buffy’s speech to Dawn as a voice over are beautifully directed, and a perfect ending to this episode, this season, and if Joss had wanted– it could’ve been the perfect ending to this series. Yes, “Chosen” was fitting. But “The Gift”…. Perfection. Of course I am going to tell you I cry every time I watch this (which I do), but no blog post could ever do this justice. Go watch this episode. But in the meantime I will leave you with this… One of the greatest Buffy monologues of all time:

“Dawn, listen to me. Listen. I love you. I will always love you. But this is the work that I have to do. Tell Giles… tell Giles I figured it out. And I’m okay. And give my love to my friends. You have to take care of them now. You have to take care of each other. You have to be strong. Dawn, the hardest thing in this world… is to live in it. Be brave. Live. For me.”

1. “The Becoming,” season 2, episodes 21 & 22

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“Hi, for those of you who just tuned in… everyone here is a crazy person! So this spell might restore Angel’s humanity? Well here’s an interesting angle: Who cares?” -Xander

“The big moment’s gonna come, you can’t help that. It’s what you do afterwards that counts. That’s when you find out who you are.” -Whistler

“The truth is, I like this world. It’s got dog racing. Manchester United. And you got people. Billions of people, walking around like Happy Meals with legs.” -Spike

“In order to be worthy, you must perform the ritual wearing a tutu.” -Giles

“No, it doesn’t stop. It never stops. Do you think I chose to be like this? Do you have any idea how lonely it is?” -Buffy

When I decided to make this list, there was one thing that was never in doubt, and that was what episode would end up at number one. I struggled with a lot of other spots, and moved plenty of episodes around, but… never “The Becoming.” This episode always was, and always will be the greatest part of this show. The season built perfectly to this point, where the was no other way out. Season two of Buffy could only end in Angel’s death at Buffy’s hands. And of course Joss Whedon chose to do this in the most painful way possible.

Part one does a great job setting up the ending. We see Angel’s backstory– where his life as a vampire began, and how he came to Sunnydale to help Buffy. Meanwhile, Buffy is preparing to kill Angel– but something surfaces to give her new hope. The disk with the restoration spell Jenny was working on before her death is discovered… and suddenly the Scoobies can see a new way out of their current dilemma. If Willow can use the spell to restore Angel’s soul before he opens Acathla and sucks the world into hell, well… that works out pretty well for everyone involved.

As part one draws to a close, Buffy goes to fight Angel, only to realize this fight wasn’t about her– it was about her friends she left behind. Xander is hurt, and Willow is seriously injured. Giles is kidnapped, and Drusilla kills Kendra. Angel was just distracting Buffy so they could get Giles and figure out how to open Acathla.

The episode ends on a great cliffhanger of Buffy discovering Kendra’s body… and in turn being discovered by the police.

Like I said when talking about “The Gift,” I can’t do this episode justice by writing about it. You need to watch it. I could write about every scene. But there are some fabulous moments in part two that deserve mention.

Buffy’s alliance with Spike is great foreshadowing for the future. Now, I have no clue if Joss Whedon knew the role Spike would play later on, but it sure seems like he did.  The scene between Spike and Joyce at the house while Buffy is on the phone is hilarious (“You hit me with an ax once, remember? Uh, ‘get the hell away from my daughter!'”). Spike is also there when Joyce sees Buffy kill a vampire, letting the cat out of the bag that things in Sunnydale aren’t as normal as everyone pretends they are.

The scene between Buffy and her mom in regards to slaying is also brilliant. Joyce reacts in the way any mom would– she asks Buffy if she can just stop being a Slayer. She doesn’t understand the implications of Buffy’s calling, and it’s so clear in this argument. In the end, Joyce tells Buffy that if she leaves, she cannot come back. And these are words Buffy will not forget.

But the real heart of this episode is Angel. The entire second half of this season has prepared us for this final showdown between Buffy and her former undead boyfriend, but even all that preparation doesn’t make the results any less shocking.

Angel manages to remove the sword from Acathla before the spell can be completed. A sword fight ensues, until finally the two are standing in front of Acathla as his mouth opens, begin to create the vortex that will suck the earth into hell. But before Buffy can end Angel… something happens. His eyes flash, and suddenly he is not Angelus anymore.

David Boreanaz, as always, does a fabulous job with this transition. The viewer doesn’t need the eyes flashing, or to even watch Willow perform the spell– his performance alone is enough to tell us that the old Angel is back.

Unfortunately– he is back far too late. And Buffy’s face when she realizes this… well, it’s painful to see. She kisses the love of her life, and tells him how she feels about him. She tells him to close his eyes. And after episodes building up to this point… the conclusion finally arrives. And Buffy kills Angel.

The final scene is perfect– as I’ve said many times before, they get the musical montage at the end right. We hear Sarah McLachlan’s “Full of Grace” (and come on, you know you still cry whenever you hear this song) as Buffy gets on a bus to leave behind Sunnydale without so much as a goodbye…. presumably forever.

In all of the television I have watched (there has been plenty), there is something about Buffy Summers that has always resonated with me. She is a strong female lead, a role model, a fighter. She is, to me, one of the best female characters I have ever had the pleasure of watching. And in this episode there is a scene that really sums up how I feel about Buffy and the strength and courage she always manages to exude.

Angel has Buffy backed into a corner, ready to kill her. “So that’s it,” he tells her. “No weapons, no friends. No hope. Take that all away, and what’s left?”

Buffy’s response? “Me.”

And that, readers, is enough.