Earlier this year, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the debut of Joss Whedon’s beloved series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This revolutionary show tackled all of the tried-and-true tropes of your average teen drama (love, heartbreak, friendship, betrayal), but did so under the premise of a teenage girl battling vampires, demons, and all sorts of other supernatural beings.
Looking back, there are a number of standout episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer but generally, most fans seem to be in agreement as far as which of them manage to shine brighter than the rest. How does our list compare with yours? Here are our picks for the 10 best episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
Conversations with Dead People
In this episode, we see Buffy strike up a conversation with a vampire who used to attend Sunnydale High, learning something interesting about Spike in the process. We also see Dawn communicate with her dead mother, as well as Willow receiving a haunting message from The First. Still, despite the multiple plot points throughout this episode, none of them featured fan-favorite Xander, which is really the only negative aspect. Otherwise, this is very much an enjoyable episode.
The Season 5 finale sees Buffy and her friends prepare for an epic battle as another imminent apocalypse approaches thanks to Glory, who plans to use Dawn to break down the walls between dimensions and unleash Hell on Sunnydale. This episode marks the second time that Buffy sacrifices herself to stop a cataclysm, finally understanding what the first Slayer meant when by saying, “death is your gift.” Spike’s reaction to the sight of Buffy’s dead body is positively heartbreaking, capable of bringing even the most hardened BTVS fans to tears
Graduation Day (Parts 1 & 2)
In this two-part finale to Season 3, Buffy and her friends are forced to face off against the Mayor and stop him from wiping out all of Sunnydale High’s graduating class of 1999. The episode also marks a turning point for the series in so many ways. It’s a transition from high school to college, from being one show two shows, and from Angel being Buffy’s one true love to the ex whom all future boyfriends will be compared against.
“Passion” is a rather traumatic episode that sees the death of Giles’ love, Jenny, thanks to Angeuls. It’s one of the series’ first ventures into truly dark territory, as we see Angelus take absolute glee in snapping Jenny’s neck before leaving her in Giles’ bed for him to find. In fact, this was the first major death to occur in BTVS, taking the series to a whole new extreme and cementing the fact that none of our favorite characters were off-limits.
Thanks to a wish by Cordelia for a Buffy-free Sunnydale, the town becomes overrun by vampires in this hellish take on It’s a Wonderful Life. However, Cordelia’s eventual death means that it’s up to Giles to save the day, with a final battle that sees all of the show’s main characters kill off their evil doppelgangers. Still, it’s an episode that’s equally as fun as it is dark, and it shows just how integral Buffy is to the stability of Sunnydale.
Serving as the precursor to “Passion,” “Innocence” sees Angel transform into the soulless, psychotic Angelus thanks to a gypsy’s curse after he experiences a moment of true happiness. This moment of happiness, of course, is sleeping with Buffy, which leaves the Vampire Slayer just as heartbroken as the audience. Make no mistake, Angelus is an absolute MONSTER, and this episode, perhaps more so than any other, establishes that fact brilliantly and disturbingly.
When everyone in Sunnydale finds themselves completely mute, it’s up to Buffy and friends to figure out what happened to their voices. It’s a mostly silent episode, forcing the actors to rely largely on their physicality and body language to further the story and convey their emotions. This is also the first episode to feature Tara, who goes on to play in important role in the series and whose relationship with Willow is much loved by viewers. While this episode admittedly doesn’t have as much humor or as many hard-hitting emotional beats as others, it’s still a fan-favorite.
Once More, with Feeling
This musical-themed episode finds the residents of Sunnydale bursting into uncontrollable song and dance, with some actually bursting into flames. This was the first real attempt at a musical one-shot episode of a television series and thanks to Joss Whedon, it was executed to perfection. The music and lyrics are humorous, memorable, and even heartbreaking at times, helping to balance out what ends up being one of BTVS’s most beloved episodes.
Becoming (Parts 1 & 2)
Forced to choose between restoring Angel's soul or saving the world from an awakened demon, this two-part finale to Season 2 is most notable for Buffy killing the love of her life, setting the stage for his eventual spinoff series. Flashbacks of Angel sprinkled in throughout the episode and Buffy leaving Sunnydale after her fateful decision make it all the more heartbreaking, but the emotion isn’t exclusive to this one plot point. There’s also Jenny’s return from the dead and the death of Kendra, as well as some more positive aspects, such as the alliance of Buffy and Spike and Willow’s first spell. The twists, turns, drama, humor, and heartbreak all help to cement Becoming as one of the best BTVS episodes of all time, and certainly establish Season 2 as the best of the series.
After Joyce’s death, Buffy, Dawn, and the rest of the crew are forced to deal with the emotional aftermath. This episode is an incredibly visceral exploration of the grief one experiences upon the loss of a loved one – especially one’s mother – as Buffy’s shock initially leave her in too much of a daze to process what’s happened. Meanwhile, while her world feels like it’s crumbling beneath her feet, the rest of the world goes on as if it’s business as usual. There have been a number of deaths on BTVS, but none of them seem to hit quite as close to home as this one, making The Body one of the most compelling episodes of modern television to ever air under the banner of “teen drama.”
What about you? Do you agree with this ranking? Let us know in the comments section!