Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a pop culture classic whose legacy and influence extend far beyond Sunnydale. After much consideration and debate, we've ranked the series' best episodes of all time.
There are a number of episodes that could have earned this spot, but "Storyteller" made the cut on the basis that it holds up to repeated viewings and was a much-needed light in the darkness of Season 7. Over the course of its run, Buffy balanced incredibly high dramatic stakes like the end of the world with wit and humor, and it's important that the series didn't lose sight of that even as the Scooby gang prepared for its greatest fight yet. The bulk of the episode was rather silly -- Andrew chronicled his life while being held hostage in the Buffy household because he wanted to leave behind a record of the events leading to this particular apocalypse for the potential survivors of said apocalypse -- but it was balanced by the harsh reality of Andrew's confessions: that he killed Jonathan, would probably die, and probably deserved to. Man, talk about a gut punch.
In "Doppelgangland" Anya's attempt to regain her powers led to Vampire Willow from the alternate reality of "The Wish" making her way to our heroes' reality. Naturally, this led to a lot of fun exchanges and character revelations as the innocent human Willow came face-to-face with her evil counterpart. But the real kicker is the way the episode foreshadows Willow's future, a development made all the better by knowing where the character eventually ends up.
The end of Season 6 saw Willow become Dark Willow and go apocalyptically evil in the wake of Tara's untimely death, and you know what? It was pretty darn great even as it wreaked havoc on our hearts. The end of the season featured a number of memorable moments, including Giles' return to take on Willow, but we have to give the top spot to Xander saving both Willow and the world simply by loving and refusing to give up on his best friend.
"School Hard" could have made the list simply for being the episode to introduce viewers to Spike and Drusilla, a development that would forever change the course of Buffy's life, though it was impossible to know it at the time. But beyond their introduction, "School Hard" is simply an excellent episode that successfully meshed Buffy's home life, slayer life and school life into one storyline. Plus, Joyce hit Spike over the head with an ax, and there's just nothing better than that.
The brilliant and revealing episode "Who Are You?" found Faith, newly awakened from her coma, switching bodies with the Buffster. While this initially led to all the predictable shenanigans -- Faith as Buffy went dancing, teased Spike and even went so far as to have sex with Riley -- it also offered an inside look at who Faith was, especially without the Mayor, and who she could be. We see the first hints at Faith's eventual redemption.
Without any special powers or abilities to contribute to the Scooby gang, Xander was rarely in the spotlight in the show's early days. But "The Zeppo" found Xander, who'd been feeling left out, in a starring role in his own adventure as the rest of the Scoobies attempted to stop yet another apocalypse in a wholly separate B-storyline that we weren't meant to care about. The hour proved that even without magic, slayer strength, or great wisdom, Xander Harris was still a brave, capable, and important member of the team.
The seventh and final season was not the show's strongest, but "Conversations With Dead People," notable for being the only episode in which Nicholas Brendon never made an appearance, proved that there was still greatness to be had as Buffy, Dawn, and Willow all engaged in, well, conversations with the dead. Buffy was psychoanalyzed by a former classmate who'd been turned into a vampire, Dawn believed her mother was attempting to reach her, and Willow spoke with Cassie who claimed to have a message from Tara but was eventually revealed to be the First Evil, the final season's Big Bad.
This episode was initially delayed in the wake of the Columbine school shooting because it featured a plot to kill students and featured a student assembling a rifle in the school's clock tower. But "Earshot," in which Buffy briefly gained the ability to hear other's thoughts, was a powerful episode that ended with a startling and tragic realization: Jonathan only meant to kill himself.
"Band Candy" is a truly ridiculous episode of television -- boxes of candy cause adults like Joyce and Giles to act like immature teenagers -- but by subverting expectations, it also showcased Buffy's trademark sense of humor and made for an incredibly funny (and fun!) episode that continued to pay dividends, like in "Earshot," when Buffy revealed to Giles she knew he had sex with Joyce and he walked into a tree.
As the first season finale, "Prophecy Girl" had a lot to prove -- could it successfully wrap up the Master storyline and convince The WB the show was worth renewing? After Buffy decided she was through with being the slayer, she eventually changed her mind, and the episode fulfilled the prophecy of Buffy's death at the hands of the Master but then subverted it with Xander's quick use of CPR -- itself a development that would kick off another slayer line and cause plenty of problems in the future -- while also highlighting how Buffy differed from all the slayers who came before her: She had the support of her friends.
"Chosen" was not Buffy's best season finale, so it's difficult to declare it a great series finale, but the explosive and memorable hour definitely had its moments, from Spike's sacrifice to save the world (not the least bit marred by the fact he would later show up on Angel) to Buffy and Willow breaking the shackles of the patriarchal system that controlled the slayer line. By giving every woman with the potential to be a slayer the power and strength to stand up, Buffy went out as it had lived: as a vehicle expressing the importance of female empowerment. It's just too bad that not everyone made it out alive.
Spells going awry have led to some of Buffy's most classic episodes, and that list includes Season 4's very funny "Something Blue." When Willow casts a spell to let her will be done, shenanigans naturally ensue, including Giles going blind, Xander becoming a literal demon magnet, and Spike and Buffy becoming engaged. The best gag, though, was Amy the Rat briefly becoming human, foreshadowing her eventual return to the series in Season 6.
"Fool for Love" is framed around the idea that Buffy is nearly killed by her own stake and seeks out Spike to find out how he killed two slayers so she could be better prepared, but that was merely an excuse to finally explore Spike's deep backstory. As the hour progressed, it became abundantly clear that the man Spike used to be -- the hopelessly romantic poet known as William the Bloody -- was the man he still was beneath the bleached hair and black duster (which he stole from the second slayer he killed). This look into Spike's past helped to flesh out a character we'd already grown to know and love, while also hinting at the future of Buffy and Spike's complicated relationship.
Notable for being the introduction of Anya, "The Wish" is also notable for its terrifying "what if?" scenario in which Buffy never comes to Sunnydale as a result of Cordy's wish to a vengeance demon (hey, it could happen to anybody). What unfolds throughout the hour is truly the darkest timeline: The Master runs the town, which is overrun with vampires; Xander and Willow are both vampires (and not the cuddly kind); and Cordy, Angel, and Buffy all die before Giles can destroy Anyanka's amulet. Basically, the lesson of the episode was not to wish away vampire slayers when you live in a town situated on a Hellmouth.
Over the course of its seven seasons, Buffy would see plenty of death. Characters would come and go, but the death of Jenny Calendar at the hands of Angelus in "Passion" was the first time the danger of the situation actually felt real. No one was safe, and there wasn't a shred of the heroic Angel we knew left in the monster that had taken his form. It's one of the reasons Angelus remains one of the show's greatest villains.
Being the slayer meant Buffy didn't have the opportunity to experience many of the milestones that come with being a teenager, and most of what she did happened in the shadows, away from witnesses. "The Prom" revealed — via a touching speech from Jonathan! — that Buffy's actions over the course of the first three seasons hadn't gone unnoticed by her classmates and her award for Class Protector was a nice acknowledgment of their appreciation when Buffy needed it most.
As is the case with real-life graduation ceremonies, "Graduation Day" signaled the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next as Buffy and the entire Sunnydale Class of 1999 battled the Mayor and his cronies. The two-parter and its signature thrilling heroics also set up the Angel spin-off as Angel left Sunnydale for Los Angeles. New beginnings, indeed!
The uncertainty of the show's future at the end of Season 5 actually led to one hell of a season finale as Giles murdered Glory while she was still in Ben form and Buffy recognized the true meaning of her "gift" as she died to close the portal between dimensions. It was an emotionally taxing hour of television, but one that also gave us the very Buffy epitaph: "She saved the world. A lot." Luckily for fans, "The Gift" wasn't actually the end, and the show lived for two more seasons on UPN. But if it had been the series finale, it would have been hard to find room to complain.
The Season 4 finale, a surreal coda without structure that picked up after the destruction of Adam, was a trippy hour constructed from dream logic, which meant it was slightly terrifying, a little liberating, and kind of mystifying as it offered an inside look at the psyches of Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles as they slept. In their dreams, they battled the First Slayer, who eventually told Buffy she had to fight alone, which Buffy immediately rejected, as she had been doing since the series premiere. Also, there was the Cheese Man.
Buffy has always excelled at balancing the supernatural horrors of Sunnydale with humor and wit, and that talent was on full display in "Tabula Rasa," which saw the Scooby Gang lose their memories as a result of one of Willow's spells going south. Buffy hilariously named herself Joan, Anya and Giles thought they were engaged, and Spike thought his name was Randy Giles and that he was Giles' son. Sure, the fallout once the spell was broken was huge, but Buffy wouldn't be Buffy if it didn't rip our hearts out while also making us laugh.
The one-two punch of Season 2's "Surprise" and "Innocence," which saw Buffy lose her virginity to Angel and Angel lose his soul after experiencing a moment of true happiness, was a painful and obvious metaphor for the fears that accompany being intimate with another person. Angel reverting to his Angelus form and becoming a literal monster was a powerful moment that would change the entire direction of Season 2, and one that would also give David Boreanaz the chance to play someone other than the brooding hero, and that was incredibly fun.
The only episode of Buffy to ever receive an Emmy nomination for writing, "Hush" was an experiment in storytelling that remains not just one of the scariest episodes the series has ever done, but also one of the most ambitious as well. An hour largely devoid of the show's trademark dialogue, "Hush" is remembered for its originality but also for the way it highlighted the importance of communication. It will go down in TV history as one of the best episodes of TV ever.
The show's iconic musical episode remains a fan favorite, and with good reason: it's one of the show's finest hours and an amazing episode of television that stretched the limits of what we thought TV could be at a time when everyone else was still thinking inside the box. With all the characters revealing their deepest and darkest thoughts and fears through song and dance, "Once More, With Feeling" was a turning point in the season, but it was not so dark that you couldn't stand to watch it over and over again.
The very foundation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer required its characters to confront death almost daily, and yet the natural death of Buffy's mother from a brain aneurysm in "The Body" stands out for the way the eerily music-free episode portrayed the confounding numbness that accompanies the initial shock of learning a loved one has died. There usually aren't warning signs, there's usually not a big battle, it just happens. That's life — or more accurately, death. And as the episode progressed and the ensuing grief that accompanies losing someone rippled through the Scoobies — Willow was unable to pick a shirt to wear because nothing was right, Anya couldn't understand death or why people had to die having shrugged off her own mortal coil centuries before — "The Body" highlighted how unjust it was that the world stopped for everyone who knew Joyce but went on for everyone else. "The Body" remains not just one of Buffy's best episodes, but arguably one of the best episodes of television, period.
"The big moments are gonna come. You can't help that. It's what you do afterwards that counts. That's when you find out who you are."
Those now iconic words, spoken by Whistler, closed out the first hour of Buffy's epic and emotionally resonant Season 2 finale. And boy, oh boy did the big moments come in the second hour. After being tortured by Angelus for half a season, Buffy made the ultimate sacrifice in "Becoming" when she sent a newly resouled Angel to hell in order to close the portal that was opened after Angelus awakened Acathla. It wasn't just heartbreaking; it was world-shattering. Although Buffy would go on to face bigger evils during her seven-season journey, none were more personal than the battle against Angelus and the knowledge that Angel had been saved just a few minutes too late.
But running the love of her life through with a sword in order to save the world — just one painful example of the cost of being the slayer — was hardly the only thing that happened in the two-part finale. Drusilla killed Kendra, which led to Faith's arrival in Season 3. And Spike's future as an ally was foreshadowed when he assisted Buffy in stopping Angelus — at least enough to kidnap Dru and flee, thus protecting what he wanted. Elsewhere, Willow cast her first spell, Giles was tortured, and Joyce discovered her daughter was the slayer, an event that eventually led to a falling out between mom and daughter and Buffy skipping town. Bottom line: "Becoming" was the combination of everything Buffy embodied — horror, heartbreak, humor — and it was the show at its very best.