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March 15 2017

Buffy at 20: Ranking the seasons. That season you like the best is still number one in your heart.

Ahah. Love the description, Simon.
I didn't agree with the order fully of course but thought it was a pretty competent run through of the seasons.
Maybe I'm in the minority, but I always loved season five more than season three. Three is great, obviously, but so much was paid off in five. I'm glad to see one of these lists actually agreeing with me!
While I wouldn't make the exact same ranking (and the author fails to mention several other great season 4 episodes, particularly my favorite, "Hush"), this was a decent list, unlike that mind-boggling list a few days ago on Vulture. It's especially refreshing to see a list where season 3 is not on the top (it's good, it's really good, but slightly overrated in the fandom).

@basuraboi3: I think season 5 is better than season 3, too.
Yeah, I'd put S5 above 3 too. Perhaps it isn't so uncommon. :)
I wouldn't put S1 so high - it was new, exciting, but very raw. And S4 is much underrated - it's not just Hush, people. Where's the love for Restless, Pangs, Something Blue and Harsh Light of Day? The Faith two-parter?
Season 4 is definitely underrated. I think people negatively remember Adam and The Initiative but forget all the great individual episodes there are in that season. Otherwise this is a good list - I think Seasons 3 and 5 are definitely the strongest and most consistent seasons overall, even if many of us have personal preferences for other seasons.
@Gill: Exactly. Season 4 is an odd one as it has the weakest central arc, but so many great individual episodes, including some of the all time best.

@allthingsaverage: That's a fair assessment. I've always thought season 5 and season 3 (in that order) were most solid, with no outright clunkers (even the weaker episodes are actually fine, they aren't Teacher's Pet or Go Fish/Some Assembly Required or Beer Bad/Where the Wild Things Are or Doublemeat Palace) but I have very strong personal attachments to season 6 and season 2.
I think Season Four works really well between Season Three and Season Five. It's one of those years where, perhaps at the time of airing it wasn't as strong, but retrospectively it still feels very fresh. I appreciate it for doing something different and for the qualities of so many of the individual episodes. I think it also allowed Season Five to 'go back' to classic Buffy. I'd have definitely put it above Season Seven at least.

I'm currently in the process of re-watching the entire series from the start for the first time in many years. It will be interesting to see if my opinion has changed.
I'd have 5 & 6 as the best seasons (6 edging 5 for me personally), 2, 3 & 7 in the middle, leaving 4 and 1 as the weakest. The order I'd put the middle group in may vary now and then but season 1 would probably always be weakest for me. Being shorter S1 has fewer stand out episodes and with less background having passed for the characters there is just less to tie through. But every season is enjoyable and a favourite episodes list would come from all of them.
I really think Season 4 improves with age. For me, at this current point in time, it's: 3 - 5 - 4 - 2 - 6 - 7 - 1

[ edited by aapac on 2017-03-17 21:50 ]
S4 is criminally underrated IMO. I just did a big S4 rewatch recently and I absolutely loved it. Sure, Adam isn't the best Big Bad but is he really any worse than The First? I'd say The First was more of a disappointment because it had the opportunity to be absolutely brilliant but they absolutely wasted it by having it just look like Buffy and Spike most of the time.

S4 has some truly fantastic episodes. It has Hush, Who Are You, Restless, Fear Itself and Pangs. It also has New Moon Rising which is one of my personal favourite episodes ever and I think it so underrated in fandom. Honestly, the episode quality is just top notch and there's hardly any duds throughout the season. A lot of people seem to dislike S4 because it lacks an emotional punch, and I get that, because it's arc is nowhere near as emotionally compelling as something like S2 or S5 (but that's also true of S3 as well). But it does have some really powerful episodes (like New Moon Rising) and it has some wickedly funny episodes. It's a really pleasant season to watch.

They also seem to dislike it because of Adam and The Initiative. I get finding Adam boring and when they focus on the Initiative too much it does tend to drag. I think the writers were aware that The Initiative storyline lacked emotional gravitas which is why it's the only season ever to have the Big Bad/main plot wrap up before the season finale, but when they tackled the moral implications of the Initiative it was actually pretty intriguing.

I'd also just point out that S4 also has the best stunt work by far! It was really noticeable when they changed stunt teams at the beginning of S5 and that side of the show suffered greatly! What I'd give to see Buffy VS Glory scenes with the S2-S4 stunt team!

For me, the worst season is easily S7 by a wide margin. I get people preferring it over S1 but S1 at least had heart. I've been rewatching a lot of BtVS lately and I've been avoiding S7 episodes because I expect to be disappointed. But it amazes me that whenever I see a clip or a screenshot of S7 just how awful it looks in comparison to every other season. For the most part the lighting is absolutely horrific and it's like they just no longer even cared. And that's generally a feeling I get about most of the season when I think the quality of the writing is also incredibly subpar as well. I also remember David Greenwalt admitting that by S7 most of the writers and crew had checked out and had started leaving for other jobs because they knew the season was wrapping up. It's really obvious when comparing it to every other season.

I don't know how I'd rank my seasons because it changes all the time and it really depends on what mood I am in, but S7 is a firm last. It had some really good moments but overall it is a very weak season.
@aspac: You forgot season 6.
Decent list. Agree with others here that Season 4 is generally underrated. I appreciate it more with rewatches-- while I get more frustrated with Season 7 every time I rewatch (the latter half of the season is a mess of plot holes). I would personally tweak this list to:


Season 1 is hard to place because of how short it is (and the fact that it's largely stand-alone episodes and exposition). On some days, I would probably still rank it above 7.
The continuation of Spike's story and the development of his relationship with Buffy is too big a favourite part of the series for me to ever put S7 last. But I really disliked the potentials and felt The First tailed off as a big bad, so it isn't a season I felt was as strong as others. I agree S4 is often underrated. Personally I really liked Adam, George Hertzberg was great, he was a character that just worked for me more than most people seem to find. I can't ever give a firm order to the seasons because it does flex somewhat, and a lot of that is because really when it comes down to it, I love it all. Some season's overall themes are done better, some have more of my favourite episodes, some stronger character developments and favourite stages/moments, some have more emotional punch, some have episodes which give great cohesion across seasons, some have more episodes that make me laugh etc etc. At the end of the day, it is a cracking series. :D
What makes me always put season 4 above season 7 is the fact that, when I try to think of great, or even overall excellent and satisfying episodes that I would put on my top 20 or top 30 best Buffy episodes list, I only think of Conversations with Dead People (maybe Selfless and Storyteller, if I want to be generous, but neither is in my personal top 20). Even Chosen has loads of flaws and problems and I can't really rate it higher than, say, 3.5 on a scale from 1 to 5. There are some great moments and Spike's arc and the development of Buffy/Spike is one of the things I value season 7 for, but most of the episodes come off as lackluster or average, or laden with problems and great only in parts. It's a lot of missed potential, no pun intended.

Then there's also poor pacing. I get what they were going for with Buffy - she tried to be the General and believed she should be colder and harder to fight the ultimate evil and protect everybody and save the world, it didn't turn out to be the right path, she then realizes that what she really should do is share power. But that would've worked so much better if they had not spent so much time on the former and if they had developed the latter more slowly and in a better way. They should have developed the Potentials better, and they should have devoted more screentime to Buffy making up with everyone, especially Giles (that was basically never resolved) and re-building the team relationships, instead of having it happen in an extremely rushed and unsatisfactory way (while screentime was wasted on such things as a completely unnecessary, fanservicey love triangle, in the last two episodes, no less. If they had had Angel come to Sunnydale in episode 18 or something like that, it would've been no problem, but in the finale it was a distraction from the real themes).

With season 4, on the other hand, while the Initiative arc was not great, there are so many great episodes - Restless (best episode of the season and one of the show's best overall. Yes, I think it's better than Hush. Fight me on that if you will), Hush, Who Are You?, Something Blue would be on any of my lists of best episodes, plus The Harsh Light of Day, Pangs, New Moon Rising, Fear Itself...

One of the reasons why I think season 3, while overall very solid and full of excellent and some great episodes, is somewhat overrated (I certainly think it's weaker than season 5, and personally would put it below seasons 2 and 6 as well) is that Buffy, the character, doesn't have a satisfying arc or character development. In fact, what even is Buffy's arc in season 3? Does she have one? Apart from "Anne", where she actually had more development and a stronger arc than the other 21 episodes combined. There are other individual things, like Circumentum, there's the question of identity and her relationship with Faith (the most important dynamic that season in terms of themes and plot), there's her relationship with Angel and her trying to come to terms with what happened in season 2 and decide how to deal with their relationship... But the latter never gets resolved or even really progresses - you can see that the writers weren't sure what to do with Angel before he leaves for his spinoff show, and Buffy either doesn't make any decision, or when she makes a decision (as in Lovers Walk), she goes back on it just a couple of episodes later. It's one step forward, two step back and all over again, with one or two cheesy moments for each genuinely poignant one, and in the end, it's Angel that resolves things by breaking up with Buffy and leaving. Which means no character development for Buffy in that respect. Her relationship with Faith, as the 'shadow' character also doesn't get a satisfactory resolution in season 3, and in fact, Faith ends up stealing the show from Buffy and everyone in season 3. There are other seasons when characters other than Buffy (still members of the main cast) come close to stealing the show (Willow in season 6, possibly Spike in season 6 and definitely Spike in season 7), but it never quite happened, IMO, because Buffy also had strong and interesting developments. I don't feel that way in season 3. And I love Faith, but when a recurring character who's in just a handful of episodes hijacks the season from the protagonists, something isn't working well in the narrative. I'm not sure that any of the other main characters get really strong arcs, either - there are some amazing character moments, but there's very little development for Buffy, Willow, Xander, Cordelia or Oz that did not already happen in season 2. The only one who progresses is Giles, for choosing Buffy over the Council (not that Giles had a big season long arc, either).

On the other hand, one may say that the strength of season 3 is its theme of community and ties between people (it's a running theme from Anne, to The Wish, to Earshot, to The Prom, with a culmination in Graduation Day), so, in that respect, maybe protagonists not having big personal arcs is not such a problem.
I think Season 4, like Season 7, fell victim to external events. Rumours at the time suggested very different paths.
Simon, do you remember what some of those rumours were? I'm trying to remember - if I'm correct, I think Professor Walsh was supposed to play a larger role through the end of the season, wasn't she?
As for season 3, I always felt like Buffy's arc was all about her relationship with authority - and that's part of why having the villain be a government figure feels so powerful to me.

I feel like Buffy's arc is all about her coming to terms with how to rebel against authority without being self-destructive in the process. We see her come up against villains that seek to control her agency time and again throughout the season (Anne, Gingerbread, Helpless, Graduation Day jump to mind) and I think her progression to the finale is about her realization that she can cast off authority without going off the deep end like Faith.
I don't really want to rank the seasons as I'd hate to put any at the bottom! I thoroughly enjoy the series and every season has something to offer.
I used to think Seasons 5 and 7 were my favourites, because I love the building up of the mystery and the threat felt by those Big Bads all the way to the final episodes - it all pays off so well, to me. But last time I watched the whole series, I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed Seasons 4 and 6.
I agree S4 is underrated, I would say the same for S7, I've often seen it placed low or lowest in rankings - I think it's a genius season.
Simon, do you remember what some of those rumours were? I'm trying to remember - if I'm correct, I think Professor Walsh was supposed to play a larger role through the end of the season, wasn't she?

Yes that's right. She was the big bad from what I remember. As for Season 7, I honestly think at the start Joss and co didn't know if it was going to be the last one or not. I think the rumours stated Dawn's friends from Lessons would have been recurring characters and we would have seen more of the old Big Bads. Like Clare Kramer for example. And Xander was supposed to have been killed off and come back from the dead as a monster.

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