Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a once in a generation series about a teen girl who must balance fighting the forces of evil with everyday teen struggles, like first loves, friendships, school, and parents. Buffy the Vampire Slayer has a special place in the heart of many, but for me, it was one of the shows that made me love television. It showed me how good TV could be when shows had clever writing, used allegory or satire to comment on society, and a strong balance of heartbreak and hysterical moments. Some of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s best episodes are those that can have you crying one moment and chuckling the next.
For this list, I picked ten episodes that I feel best capture the series at its best, either for thought provoking writing, bold decisions, or just a fun episode. I tried to have at least one episode from every Buffy the Vampire Slayer season represented, so even though I could probably fill this list with a hundred from Season 2, I limited myself.
10. Nightmares, Season 1, Episode 10
In “Nightmares,” the Sunnydale residents start to have their nightmares come true. Some have more normal fears, like clowns, spiders, and becoming a nerd, while others have more personal monsters like failing as a Watcher.
The reason “Nightmares” is one of the best episodes is because it really shows a lot about Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) as a character. She has the common fear that many teens have: fear that their parents don’t love them and everything is their fault, and then this specific fear of turning into a vampire. It shows this duality of her burden as both a teen and a slayer. The humanity within Buffy is what makes her such a strong heroine. “Nightmares” does a great job of reminding viewers that she has to fight both demons as the slayer and as a teen girl.
9. Chosen, Season 7, Episode 22
It’s the last battle and Buffy and the gang are going all out against The First. It’ll take everyone’s involvement to win this last major fight. “Chosen” is the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series finale.
We have had a lot of disappointing series finales, especially recently (you know who you are), but the Buffy finale was one of the rare times where I think the finale worked. It felt like the series came full circle, with the ending and everything tied up neatly enough. There were major changes that felt like the world of Buffy would never be the same again, and in many ways that worked. The heroes won, some lives were lost, and everyone got a sort-of happy ending, or at least a fitting one.
8. Graduation Part 1, Part 2, Season 3, Episode 21 & 22
Buffy, Willow (Alyson Hannigan), Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), Buffy, and Xander (Nicholas Brendon) are finally graduating high school, but what would their graduation be without one major battle.
The Mayor (Harry Groener) is easily one of Buffy’s best and scariest villains, so the final fight against him was always going to be epic. It gets even bigger and better when the entire graduating class gets involved. It’s one of the most grand battles of the series. “Graduation” also marked some major goodbyes as Cordelia, Wesley (Alexis Denisof ),and Angel (David Boreanaz) left for the Angel spin-off series. These episodes marked the end for Buffy and her friends as children, and their step towards the new darkness that is adulthood. They won this battle, but they had a lot more scarier ones ahead.
7. Seeing Red, Season 6, Episode 19
Buffy decides to finally take out the trio, but their latest scheme and invention makes Warren (Adam Busch), at least physically, a match for Buffy. It all comes to a tragic confrontation by the end of “Seeing Red.”
“Seeing Red” is one of Buffy’s darkest episodes in terms of content. The entire Season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer has a big divide among fans because of its dark nature, and this episode pretty much sums up how gloomy the series could go. “Seeing Red” shows Spike (James Marsters) at his worst, as he nearly commits an unforgivable crime. If that wasn’t bad enough, one of the series most beloved characters meets a grim fate. It’s a hard episode to watch, and even harder to rewatch, but kind of drives home one of Buffy’s best ongoing themes: in a world full of mythical monsters, the actions of humans are still some of the most horrific.
6. The Wish, Season 3, Episode 9
“The Wish” is the first episode with Anya (Emma Caulfield). Anya, a vengeance demon, befriends Cordelia, who feels scorned after discovering that Xander and Willow were having an affair behind her and Oz (Seth Green)’s back. Anya provokes the anger that exists in Cordelia to get her to wish for a world where Buffy never arrived at Sunnydale.
The alternate version of events that ensues is not exactly the utopia that Cordelia hoped for because, without Buffy around, the vampires have control of Sunnydale, Xander and Willow are cool vampires, and Buffy comes back but she’s an emotionless version of herself. This is a fun look at another version of Sunnydale and the core group. If people really want a reboot, maybe it’s time that the world of “The Wish” becomes the new premise, yes?
5. Becoming Part 1, Part 2, Season 2, Episode 21 & 22
Buffy, Giles (Anthony Head), Xander, Oz, Cordelia, Willow, and even Spike get involved in the battle to take down Angel and stop the end of the world. By the end of these episodes, major secrets will be revealed and Buffy will have to make more than one sacrifice.
The entire second half of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 2 builds up to the Buffy and Angel showdown. Most of the season, she held onto the hope that the Angel she fell for might return, but now too much has happened. Buffy’s Angel is dead to her. This finale is where viewers get to see how good Buffy is at breaking your hearts, and giving you one hell of a season finale. The final moments of “Becoming Part 2” are equal amounts beautiful and soul crushing. This and “The Gift” are easily the series’ best season finales.
4. The Gift, Season 5, Episode 22
Buffy and the scoobies are preparing for one big final battle against Glory (Clare Kramer), and they know that if they fail, Buffy may have to lose her sister Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) in order to save the world. Buffy isn’t sure she can make that type of sacrifice again.
Hands down, “The Gift” is the best season finale--mainly because it works as a series finale. In many ways, it is one because this is the last episode of Buffy that aired on The WB. The final two seasons aired on UPN. This is Joss Whedon and the creative team's way of saying goodbye to the old ways and hello to the new order. “The Gift” is an emotional episode because we watch our heroes win the battle, but they must make the ultimate sacrifice to make it happen.
3. Hush, Season 4, Episode 10
A group of demons called “The Gentlemen” steal everyone’s voices--forcing Sunnydale into complete silence. The Scoobies must figure out a way to get their voices back and stop these dangerous foes.
“Hush” is the perfect example of why Buffy the Vampire Slayer is at its strongest when it’s a bit experimental. This episode is almost entirely void of dialogue, and yet it’s just as compelling as episodes full of witty conversations. This episode also highlights how strong the instrumental music is in Buffy, and how that has a major part in the storytelling as well. Long before A Quiet Place, “Hush” was showing us how great writing doesn’t necessarily need dialogue.
2. The Body, Season 5, Episode 16
This episode starts with Buffy discovering that her mother, Joyce (Kristine Sutherland) has died of a brain aneurysm. The rest of the episode unfolds as Buffy must inform everyone of her mother’s death, and their reactions to the news.
“The Body” really makes you feel everything. You suffer along with Buffy and the Scooby Gang as they come to terms with the fact that death is inevitable, and no matter how many monsters they kill, no one can stop death. This episode completely takes viewers by shock as it opens with a death no one expected. It feels so realistic in how it deals with the unexpected death of a family member or close friend. Every emotion is felt by the group and viewers.
1.Once More, With Feeling, Season 6, Episode 7
The demon Sweet (Hinton Battle) compels everyone to sing and dance, which reveals secret feelings and truths. After seeing and revealing their truth through songs, Sweet’s victims usually dance themselves to death. Buffy has been hiding a major secret that’s in danger of coming out with this new curse.
“Once More, With Feeling” is the most ambitious episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and more than delivers on its promise. Not only does Joss Whedon write original music, but the whole cast has to sing and dance, they use a bunch of dancing extras, and the songs and the storylines both work. Some of the songs could even be radio hits. They are that good.