Iconic television series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The show premiered on March 10th 1997 and fans are as in love with it now as they were back then. A game-changer in the world of television; Buffy showed that a woman could lead a show and kick some serious ass along the way. She wasn’t just a hero on-screen though; she inspired many women and men around the world, and still does. But Buffy wasn’t just about female empowerment. Throughout 7 seasons, the series dealt with many other issues like addiction, sexuality, bereavement, and depression.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a revolutionary show, influencing and impacting many that would follow. As such, it deserves to celebrated to the fullest extent. To pay our respects, we’ll be doing a series of articles revolving around Buffy and its anniversary. Kicking things off, we countdown our 20 favourite Buffy episodes.
Warning: The following contains spoilers for those who haven’t seen Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
- The Wish
When: Season 3 Episode 9
Plot: Cordelia wishes Buffy had never come to Sunnydale, which puts her in an alternate reality where The Master rose from the dead and took over Sunnydale.
Why we love it: Alternate reality episodes are always fun, and one where Xander and Willow are evil vampires really amps up the entertainment value. Seeing Buffy as cold and unfeeling, the complete opposite of her usual personality, was very interesting, and the return of original villain The Master was a nice nod to the show’s roots. This episode also marks the debut of Anya, a fan favourite among many.
Highlight: Everything Vampire Willow says and does.
- Fool for Love
When: Season 5 Episode 7
Plot: Spike tells Buffy the story of his life and how he killed two slayers.
Why we love it: Backstory can sometimes be a little boring and expositional. But in this episode the writers manage to find a way to make it thrilling and entertaining. Instead of having Spike explain everything to Buffy, we actually get to see his battles with former slayers. With some stunning fight choreography and an excellent performance by James Marsters, this episode really hits its mark.
Highlight: Spike and Nikki’s fight on the subway.
- Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered
When: Season 2 Episode 16
Plot: Xander attempts to cast a love spell on Cordelia when she breaks up with him, but it ends up affecting every other woman in Sunnydale.
Why we love it: After Angel losing his soul, this episode is some light-hearted fun amongst the darkness. Whilst the show is fantastic at doing the serious stuff, it really excels when it embraces its wacky side, and that’s exactly why Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered is so enjoyable. Plus, who doesn’t love a Xander-centric episode?
Highlight: Drusilla trying to seduce Xander.
- Out of Mind, Out of Sight
When: Season 1 Episode 11
Plot: Buffy has to seek out an invisible girl who is terrorizing Cordelia and her friends.
Why we love it: Out of Mind, Out of Sight was the first episode of Buffy to introduce us to a “villain” that we could sympathize with. Marcie, the invisible girl, was arguably more of a victim despite the bad things she did throughout the episode. The idea that she turned invisible because everyone ignored her was particularly heart-breaking and made the whole episode rather moving. Plus, Clea DuVall, who played Marcie, was excellent in the episode.
Highlight: Marcie getting taken by the FBI to become an assassin.
- Killed by Death
When: Season 2 Episode 18
Plot: While in the hospital for flu, Buffy must fight Der Kindestod; a demon invisible to healthy people that feeds on children.
Why we love it: Der Kindestod was a fantastic villain, purely because he was so scary (I made the mistake of watching this episode when I was very young and had nightmares for weeks). And the fact that he was targeting children in the supposedly safe hospital made the episode that much more chilling. As a result, the entire episode felt very reminiscent of an old horror movie, and we loved every second of it.
Highlight: Buffy making the choice to re-infect herself so she could fight the monster.
- What’s My Line Part 1 and 2
When: Season 2 Episode 9/10
Plot: A new slayer arrives in town, whilst Spike calls upon the Order of Taraka, a group of assassins, to kill Buffy.
Why we love it: Firstly, this two-parter introduces Kendra, one of the most underrated characters in Buffy who was killed off far too soon. Secondly, the diversity of the assassins in the Order of Taraka makes for exciting viewing. Who can forget Norman Pfister; the demon that could turn himself into maggots? Thirdly, this is the start of Cordelia and Xander’s tumultuous but highly entertaining relationship.
Highlight: Maggot man Norman finally getting his comeuppance with the help of a glue trap and Xander’s feet.
- Graduation Day Part 1 and 2
When: Season 3 Episode 21/22
Plot: Buffy has to confront both Faith and The Mayor, after learning of his plans to ascend and become the demon Olvikan.
Why we love it: Both Faith and The Mayor are fantastic villains so it was great to see their reign of terror end so well. We were treated to an amazing fight scene between Faith and Buffy, as well as seeing The Mayor getting blown up with some great special effects. But it was the students fighting alongside Buffy and the gang that really made this episode special.
Highlight: The entire student body removing their graduation robes to reveal weapons, and uniting together to fight.
- I Only Have Eyes for You
When: Season 2 Episode 19
Plot: The ghost of a former student haunts Sunnydale High and tries to re-enact the murder-suicide that led to his death.
Why we love it: The whole episode is both incredibly sad and moving. The parallels between the ghost’s relationship, and Buffy and Angel’s sets up an excellent confrontation between the two. The choice to make Buffy the male killer and Angel the female victim was genius as we get to see both of them very vulnerable. All this leads to one of the best Buffy/Angel scenes of the entire series which is acted beautifully by both Sarah Michelle Gellar and David Boreanaz. In fact, it was this episode that convinced Joss Whedon that Boreanaz could lead his own show.
Highlight: Angel telling Buffy he loves her, and thus giving the ghosts a happy ending.
When: Season 3 Episode 18
Plot: Buffy temporarily gains the ability to read minds and hears someone making a death threat to the whole school.
Why we love it: Jonathan was arguably one of the most tragic characters on Buffy, and this episode really shows how. The constant teasing by his peers and his resulting depression leads to his attempt to commit suicide. His storyline is relevant to so many people around the world, particularly high school students, and shows the devastating consequences bullying can have. This was an important and poignant episode back then, and still is today.
Highlight: Buffy talking to Jonathan about pain.
- The Gift
When: Season 4 Episode 22
Plot: Buffy must defeat Glory in order to save Dawn.
Why we love it: This episode changed the series forever. In a risky move, lead character Buffy was killed off when she sacrificed her life to save her sister. Her inspiring speech to Dawn at the end led to many tears being shed across the world, uncertain of her fate. Before that major shock, we were treated to some excellent fight scenes between Buffy and Glory, as well as seeing a darker side to Giles when he murdered Ben. However, the real beauty of the episode came from her friends’ heart-breaking reactions to her death.
Highlight: Glory getting knocked over by a wrecking ball.
When: Season 2 Episode 14
Plot: Angel loses his soul, reverting back to his former evil self, and teams up with The Judge to destroy humanity.
Why we love it: The aptly named episode was the beginning of Buffy losing her innocence and her journey to adulthood. Her grief over losing Angel and subsequent fight scenes with him were amazing to watch, and the entire episode was acted brilliantly by Sarah Michelle Gellar. Also, it was great to have the fantastic Brian Thompson back on the show (he previously played Luke in season 1), as The Judge.
Highlight: Buffy firing the rocket launcher at The Judge.
- Tabula Rasa
When: Season 6 Episode 8
Plot: After a spell by Willow goes wrong, the gang lose their memories.
Why we love it: With the exception of the sad but brilliant montage at the end, much of the episode is focused on the fun shenanigans that ensue from the amnesia. With Buffy naming herself Joan, Xander fainting at the sight of vampires, and Giles and Anya thinking they’re a couple; there’s plenty of laughs to go around. And with Season 6 being a very dark season of the show, an episode like Tabula Rasa brings some much needed comic relief.
Highlight: Giles and Spike thinking they’re father and son.
- Becoming Part 1 and 2
When: Season 2 Episode 21/22
Plot: Buffy must stop Angelus from awakening the demon Acathla, who will end the world.
Why we love it: So much happens in this two-parter, it’s almost hard to keep up. Kendra dies, Buffy is almost arrested, Spike switches sides, Willow is comatose, Angel gets his soul back, and Buffy is forced to send Angel to hell. It’s an hour and a half of pure entertainment. Between all that action, we get to to see a lot of Angel’s backstory, which makes the ending even sadder. We’re also introduced to Whistler, one of the coolest characters in the show’s history, who sadly only sticks around for two episodes.
Highlight: Whistler’s speech whilst Buffy finds Kendra’s body.
When: Season 7 Episode 4
Plot: Buffy tries to save a girl who has predicted her own death.
Why we love it: Buffy learns a valuable lesson in this episode; that sometimes no matter what you do, you can’t save/help everybody. It’s that lesson, which is so relevant to real life, that makes this episode so good. To have Buffy, the hero, fail and be so vulnerable was a great reminder of both her limits and strengths. And by making Cassie such a likeable character, it made her death and Buffy’s failure that much more painful and poignant.
Highlight: Willow visiting Tara’s grave.
- The Prom
When: Season 3 Episode 20
Plot: Buffy must protect the school prom from Hellhounds.
Why we love it: This episode isn’t so much about the monsters. In fact, they seem rather secondary. The real story comes from the prom itself. Angel breaks up with Buffy leaving her dateless, Xander pays for Cordelia’s dress after finding out that her family lost their money, Buffy learns that the student body realises and appreciates how much she does for them, and Buffy and Angel share one last dance. Between the latter two, it’s difficult to say which is more tear-jerking, but both are incredibly moving.
Highlight: Buffy winning the Class Protector Award.
- Conversations with Dead People
When: Season 7 Episode 7
Plot: Buffy, Dawn and Willow have encounters with familiar faces from their past; all of whom are deceased.
Why we love it: Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a show that’s very heavy on the action which is why this episode, that is comprised mostly of dialogue, is so special. There’s always the risk that an episode that consists of a lot of talking could be boring but Conversations with Dead People was by far one of the most interesting Buffy episodes made. It’s a real testament to the fantastic writing on the show that they could make it so entertaining even without all the fighting and romance.
Highlight: Cassie revealing herself as The First.
- The Body
When: Season 5 Episode 16
Plot: Buffy and the gang are devastated when Joyce suddenly dies.
Why we love it: Apart from a vampire attack at the end, this episode has no supernatural presence. Joyce’s death is natural and Buffy has nothing to fight. It is completely in touch with reality, which is perhaps why it is the most harrowing and painful episode of the series to watch. The writing and directing are superb but it’s the acting that really sells the episode. Each cast member performs so well; it makes the scenes all the more devastating. The Body is also probably the most relevant episode of the show, with most people having lost someone, which is why it still stands up today as an excellent piece of television.
Highlight: Anya expressing her confusion and grief.
When: Season 4 Episode 10
Plot: The Gentleman steal the voices of everybody in Sunnydale, leaving no one able to speak.
Why we love it: Hush might just be the most ambitious episode of television ever made. With no dialogue, the writers and actors were limited in how they tell the story. Yet, it translates wonderfully to screen. Another great element of the episode is that it manages to maintain its witty humour whilst simultaneously being one of the scariest and unique episodes of the series.
Highlight: Buffy and the gang trying to communicate during Giles’ presentation.
When: Season 7 Episode 22
Plot: Buffy goes down into the Hellmouth for a final showdown with The First.
Why we love it: Chosen was, and is to this day one of the best series finales we’ve ever seen. It tied everything up neatly, and gave the audience exactly what we needed to say goodbye to the show. There was a Buffy/Angel reunion, some kickass fight scenes and stunts, an inspirational speech that gave a nod to the show’s feministic nature, and the deaths of some beloved characters. Most importantly, there was a happy ending for Buffy Summers which she deserved because she saved the world, a lot. The last episode was just as iconic as its first, and was the perfect way to preserve the show’s legacy.
Highlight: Buffy’s empowering speech to the Potentials.
- Once More, with Feeling
When: Season 6 Episode 7
Plot: A mysterious demon causes the residents of Sunnydale to break out in song and dance.
Why we love it: Once More, with Feeling is everything you could possibly want in an episode of television. It succeeds on every level. The writing is clever; managing to combine hilarity with much darker undertones. The villain is charming, making us wish he was around for longer. The cast absolutely give it their all. And most importantly, the songs are catchy, so much so that we’re still singing them in 2017. A musical episode was a real risk but it paid off. The result was a completely unique and unforgettable piece of television, which is why Once More, with Feeling is our absolute favourite episode.
Highlight: Every single minute.