We might have missed the official 20th anniversary of the Buffy premiere in 1997 (that milestone hit March 10, 2017), but we more than make up for it with a special Required Viewing in which we were forced to pick just one episode apiece to re-watch and write about. Brooke, kick us off with your methodical approach to finding the perfect episode and regale us with why exactly you love this show.
B: I don’t know if my selection approach technically qualifies as methodical, but it did involve a certain amount of agony. At the outset I promised myself I would not pick, Hush, The Body or Once More With Feeling, those are all brilliant episodes worthy of the ink that has been spent on them, but I didn’t feel like we needed to add another love letter to the pile of love they get — there are just so many episodes worth celebrating. And when it comes down it, great though they are, those episodes aren’t the first that leap to my mind when I think of favorites — though Once More With Feeling does make the top ten. (We’ll get there, I’m sure). I wanted a slightly deeper and more personal cut. The easy part was disqualifying season four (the worst, in my opinion) and season one (solid, but with lower stakes because there’s less history).
Next I thought through the episodes that I come back to time and again. The list of titles that run through my mind when I want a quick fix or need a pick-me-up. This cross-section of episodes stars seasons two and three, with supporting performances from seasons five and six, and a few bit parts from season seven. I think that was a very curious way to choose to present that information, but I’m going to let it ride. Anyway … I started fairly broad, pulling in the greatest hits from season two and probably 70 percent of season three. I whittled those lists down, added my late game picks and ended up with ten titles going into our Required Viewing meet up. My plan was to go on my feels in the moment and also in reaction to your pick, AM.
I think I’ll wait on the reveal of the list and what we ultimately watched until you share your selection process and why you have the deep feels for the show. So, I’ll wrap my intro here with why I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer so fiercely. I came to watch Buffy routinely around the middle of its run. I actually watched the first few seasons binge-style, on DVD while waiting for a new season to run live. An awkward middle schooler, Buffy confirmed what Harry had always told me: It’s okay to be different. I watched the assorted catastrophes befalling Buffy and the Scoobies and I felt understood. Yes, there were demons and vampires, but Joss Whedon’s great power has always been in bringing the very real demons of youth to life in a creative manner. Every monster was a metaphor. The show was empowering. And complex. And full of wonderful characters and wit. All these years later, it’s as relevant as ever. In some cases even more so than it was at the time. I still learn from Buffy every time I watch the show, and it’s still an inexhaustible source of comfort. Okay, your turn AM. If I don’t stop now, this won’t end for some while.
AM: I definitely would categorize your method as methodical. I went the opposite route. I knew there were two or three episodes that are still my absolute favorites, ones that I’ve re-watched the entire season on DVD just to see again in context. And since I knew you’d be forced to also narrow it down, I figured if we had overlap we could just watch the two episodes we both agreed were the best, or some compromise like that. Like I said, complete gut reaction.
I’ll also hold off just a moment before revealing my top favorites to talk about why I love this show. I stumbled upon re-runs of the second season (remember re-runs?!) and started watching season three live when it aired later that fall. I went back and watched season one as well as the remainder of season two at some point when the show was on the air. I watched Buffy’s formative high school years as I was in high school, albeit slightly out of order, so I echo your sentiments about how powerful the show was, how awesome it still is and how much esteem I hold for everyone who worked on it. The agony and the ecstasy of high school and growing up are why my favorite seasons as a whole are two and three and why I’ve watched them multiple times.
However, I am not as big of a fan of the later seasons. I’ve only watched seasons five through seven once through. I know I skipped an episode or two of season seven and I’m honestly not sure if I ever watched them. This is a lot of background information really only to say that high school Buffy is the best Buffy, and I knew that my picks would all be in those seasons. That’s not to say there aren’t wonderful, heartbreaking and hilarious episodes (or scenes in episodes) from later seasons, but dammit, they just got so depressing. (Doublemeat Palace, anyone?)
Without further ado, my completely unscientific favorite episode list is as follows:
- Becoming, Parts I and II — The exquisite heartbreak of Buffy killing Angel a minute after his soul is restored is a sequence that still completely wows and floors me at the same time.
- The Prom — Giles said it best: “I had no idea that children en masse could be gracious.” This one is rough with the breakup and all, but that moment with the Class Protector Award and Buffy’s slow dance with Angel makes this one a top pick. Buffy gets one perfect high school moment, and I love it.
- Graduation Day, Parts I and II — The stakes had never been higher, and the battles between Buffy and Faith, and then between Buffy and the Mayor are so much fun to watch. Plus Willow and Oz take the prize for the absolute cutest ever, a feat that won’t be topped until we get Willow and Tara later.
- Restless — What a weird and wonderful episode. We get to explore the core gang after a season in college when they’re increasingly scattered as they battle the First Slayer. And I still have no clue what the deal was with the cheese guy, and I don’t even care.
We agreed that we’d only stick to one episode, so to be fair and follow the rules, I decided I’d lobby for only Part II for both Becoming and Graduation Day. Brooke, don’t leave us in suspense. Which eps did you pick for your list and why? Then, let’s talk about what we watched. Our audience awaits.
B: Okay, here’s the list I came in with:
- Halloween — I’ve watched this episode every Halloween season for as long as I have watched Buffy. I love these one-shot, monster-of-the-week style episodes where something wacky happens and all of Sunnydale gets swept up in the madness.
- Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered — There aren’t a ton of Xander-centric episodes in this universe, and some of them are downright weird, but this one stands out as the best. It finds Xander learning an important lesson about what he wishes for, but it ultimately reveals his good guy nature too.
- Passion — Talk about your heartbreaking hours of television. I have probably seen this episode more than any other in the Buffy canon because it is so reliably devastating, but it also makes me laugh out loud every single time. The banter between Spike and Angel, the heartbreak of Buffy realizing what he’ll do to everyone around her, the brutal death. It’s all Buffy at its very best.
- Becoming, Parts I and II — Like Annemarie I have a deep love for seasons two and three, and this two-part finale stands out as one with two equally strong hours (I actually prefer the first hour of Graduation Day pretty strongly). If it comes down to it, you have to go to part two for the closure, the team-up with Spike and the Joyce reveal, but it’s all wonderful.
- Band Candy — I already mentioned that I love the zany one-offs, and I especially love them when Ethan Rayne is involved, it would seem. I would argue that this is the lightest, funniest episode in the entire series run. I love dark Giles and I love Buffy’s irritation about having to be the mature one in town.
- Bad Girls — If you follow Required Viewing it will come as no surprise to you that I am a big fan of Faith. She’s effortlessly cool and totally badass, and I adore this brief moment in the sun where she and Buffy really get to bond and let loose for a while. Buffy is always painted as a bit of a rebel herself, but really, she’s a rule follower, and she feels burdened by her strength, not really empowered by it. This episode is brilliant in that it asks what would happen if Buffy’s instincts were different.
- Gingerbread — Buffy is as endearing and powerful as it is because it blends the real and the supernatural so seamlessly. This episode strikes me as essential because it feels 100% true to the kind of response that probably would take hold of a community like Sunnydale. It’s heartbreaking, powerful and full of sick burns about MOO.
- Fool For Love — This episode is brilliant in a couple of ways: lots of banter between Buffy and Spike and lots of Spike backstory with guest appearances from Angel, Darla and Drusilla. Also, Billy Idol-style Spike is a total fox.
- The Gift — If it seems like this list trends towards things that rip the viewers’ heart out, you’re not wrong. Buffy’s clarity and sacrifice were stunning, but so impactful. Joss Whedon’s willingness to do the thing you can’t believe he would do is what gives the show so much punch. When you see Buffy there at the end, dead for her friends and the world, remember that this was written as a series finale. Yes, it wasn’t the ultimate end, but Joss WAS willing to go there.
- Tabula Rasa — As AM noted, season six is darker than dark. Deliciously dark. So yeah, I love it. This episode is another of those one-offs (albeit on a smaller Scooby-only scale), and it is a brilliant repositioning of the dynamics of the group. I love watching their assumptions unfold, particularly as it relates to what they correctly and incorrectly assume about their lives based on the clues at their disposal.
- Normal Again — Dammit, Joss. That’s all that really needs to be said about how brutal and brilliant this episode is. Just make us question everything forever, why don’t you?
And now, since I can’t think of any further adieu to inject here, let’s get to our selections. We ended up watching three episodes. Passion, Becoming Part 2 and Fool For Love. We mostly picked them based on the overlap and the fact that Passion makes a brilliant lead-up to the resolution in Becoming. And as AM has only seen season five once and didn’t remember Fool for Love all that well, I insisted we spend some time there.
What we didn’t think of at the time is how well these all line up thematically. All of these selections are turnkey episodes for Buffy as a character. In each of them she is forced to look her destiny square in the face, deal with it, and then deal with the fallout it has on her personal life. We didn’t watch Becoming Part I, but I would argue that those “big moments and what you do after them” that Whistler talks about in his V/O are fully on display in all of these episodes. What say you AM, how did this trio work together, and how did you like Fool for Love this time around?
AM: We not only had a Buffy mini-arc, we had a Spike & Dru mini-arc. We see Spike first as Angel’s almost-lackey in Passion, where he’s still “just” the bad guy teamed up with two other bad guys. Buffy has to come in and save Giles from being burned alive as the episode winds down, but we also get a wonderful moment from Spike and Drusilla where they bail on the warehouse the second things aren’t looking good for Angel. You can telegraph that these are two characters that ultimately will only look out for themselves. Then we pick up on Spike “wanting to save the world” in Becoming because he likes Manchester United and wants to have Dru back from Angel’s flirtations, which is one of my favorite sequences of the series. And then in Fool for Love, we get to see some juicy backstory and origin tale, and discover Spike’s true motivation: romantic rejection. It drove him to become a vampire in the first place, guides much of his nutty relationship with Dru and finally informs how he falls in love with Buffy herself.
Fool for Love was I believe a crossover episode with Angel, so I remember it feeling a bit gimmicky at the time. I enjoyed Spike’s analysis of why he beat two Slayers and how he teases out Buffy’s true intentions over the course of his stories. Plus, you get the fun times of Riley and the Scoobies going patrolling, only to have Riley blow up the leftover vamps with a hand grenade. We don’t have to talk about Riley because we all know how we feel about that boyfriend arc, but I can’t decide if a grenade is the ultimate badass move or the ultimate wuss move.
Back to those big moments. Buffy’s life is full of them and they don’t always appear how you think they’d appear. Becoming Part I ends dramatically with Kendra slayed effortlessly by Drusilla, the whole gang gets attacked and things look perfectly awful for our heroine. What I love about this show is that the resolution to that, what we watched in Part II, isn’t neat and clean. Sure, Angel’s soul is restored, but only after he’s started the world-ending process and only just before Buffy sends him to hell. Buffy gets accused of human murder, is expelled, and her mom FINALLY learns the truth about her life, and in her pain and rejection, she ends up leaving town. Those storylines also aren’t resolved neatly or how we expect, and that’s another Joss brilliance move. Give us the thing we want but also make it awful so we don’t want it anymore.
Brooke, any final thoughts on what else our mini-watch revealed, other than the absolute brilliance that is this show? As far as favorite episodes go, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the series finale, Chosen. When the stakes just keep ratcheting up, and all you want to talk about is what you’ll do after the apocalypse is managed, again, you know you’re in Joss’ presence. This wasn’t a perfect series finale, and it was appropriately heart-wrenching, but I think it was absolutely the right tone to end the series. Agree? Disagree?
B: Hold everything. I first have to register my disbelief that Fool for Love was an Angel crossover episode. We’re going to have to go to the instant replay on that one. At best, it’s a companion episode to Darla, but it’s not really a true crossover, as both episodes can stand alone, and you don’t have all of the Scoobies showing up in LA to meddle in the affairs of Wolfram and Hart. Likewise, I don’t think Angel and his pals were privy to Buffy getting staked, or Riley having his only cool moment ever when he quipped while throwing the grenade, “You know what they put in museums? Mostly dead things.” Sick burn, Riley. Okay, </contrary assessment>.
I also adore Chosen, I still remember the capsule EW review that concluded “Here endth a magnificent series, magnificently.” I didn’t pick it for inclusion on my list here because I actually want us to watch a bunch more Buffy and that feels like a good capper to save for later. I actually think it was pretty damn near to perfect for where the series was at that point in time. Yes, we have more characters in play than ever, but this final hour put the focus with the core group, broke our hearts and delivered an incredible message of empowerment all in one fell swoop.
I think all that’s left to say is: Grrrr, Arrgh!