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February 20 2003

Top 10 Buffy episodes of all time, according to Allan, webmaster of So how's about it, Whedonesque? What's your Sacred Ten?

Perhaps this would best be saved until the official end of the show, but seeing as how I'll probably be too emotionally wounded to discuss the show for quite a while, now seems as good a time as any.

Looking at the article, I think there's really only a "Sacred 8." Going in sequential order:

1. Surprise/Innocence
2. Becoming 1&2
3. Graduation Day 1&2
4. Hush
5. Restless
6. The Body
7. The Gift
8. Once More With Feeling

Arrange them however you want, those are the episodes on pretty much everyone's list, then we round out our Top 10 with two personal favorites: he chose 'Earshot' and 'The Wish.' I would choose 'Bad Girls/Consequences' and 'I Only Have Eyes for You.' Equally valid arguments could be made for 'Tabula Rasa,' 'The Zeppo,' 'Fool for Love,' and another 6 or 8 fan favorites.

We should probably do a list of 'Top Ten episodes that aren't the Sacred 8' or something, since that would be a lot more interesting.
I think we have to build a poll feature on the site. :-)

He's got The Wish twice in his list. I think he means Prophecy Girl for one.
On preview, I think the canonical list of best episodes is much shorter than 8, wren. I don't know if I know anyone who wouldn't include Becoming II, but beyond that, I think opinions are rather diverse. I hope we see about that, though. As for my 10, right at this moment I'd say:

10. Fool for Love: Oh yeah, baby. Spike, in all his glory. I wonder if this is when Joss knew once and for all that having Spike around meant Riley looked like a pheromoneless loser. From "sorry, love, I don't speak Chinese" to "You think we're dancing? ... It's all we've ever done" to "Every slayer has a death wish," Spike breathes poetry in a way that William the Bloody could only imagine. A look into the mind of a vampire that speaks to the vampiric impulses within ourselves. Dark and creepy and I love it.
9. Passion: Maybe I love this episode because it comes right after Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered, and I think the two complement each other extraordinarily, seeing as how they present very similar subject matter in two very different lights. Normally, I'd consider the voiceover monologue Angel employs in this episode a cheap conceit. But I have to laud it in this instance because it's used in a very subversive, counterintuitive manner. Voiceover monologues are typically used to launch us immediately into the perspective of a character with whom we are intended to sympathize. Not so in Passion, which puts us into the mind of someone we hate, with the effect of showing us that our emotions probably resemble his in an uncanny, uncomfortable way. This was when the character of Angel/Angelus really got interesting.
8. Who Are You: I'm surprised I don't see this episode mentioned more often in anyone's personal canon. That it's a stunning exploration of identity, abuse and self-loathing already puts it in the running for this slot, as far as I'm concerned. But Eliza Dushku and Sarah Michelle Gellar's absolutely genius portrayals of each other solidify the eppy in this place.
7. Lie to Me: I had to struggle between this and Dead Things, but in the end, Lie to Me just wins out in my mind for the status of Best Morally Complex Episode. "Does the nest of tumors liquefying my brain ruin your righteous anger riff?" The tonal simplicity of the final moments of this astoundingly complex episode gets me every time. Few gestures I've seen depicted onscreen strike me more than Buffy's very effortless staking of the vampiric Ford.
6. Normal Again: I can't help but love something so poignantly reflexive. For a series that has always challenged and called attention to the very act of watching it, Normal Again was a spectacular reinforcement of all I love about Buffy. (The Zeppo deserves an honorable mention here) For more justification of my inclusion of this episode, surf to a Usenet post I wrote once upon a time.
5. Hush: Nothing less than a feat. An exploration of silence and expression much more profound than anything John Cage ever did. What's the point of an amazing medium like television if you're not going to stretch it to its limits? That's what Hush did. And it gets extra points for beating out Twin Peaks to provide the single creepiest image ever shown on t.v. -- the Gentlemen.
4. Selfless: How rich and how beautiful a world where one of its fringe characters has an entire life, an entire history, fears and aspirations as deep as any other character on television. Selfless was jaw-droppingly perfect. That one moment where they jarringly cut from Anya's song to the shot of her pierced with a sword against a wall made me realize that the bastards had succeeded in making me care about someone who in any other universe would be a one-off character. (Earshot deserves an honorable mention here)
3. Once More With Feeling: "I wish I could lay your arms down, and let you rest at last." Is Giles' greatest hope for Buffy that he could allow her to die, once and for all? In musicals, as we all know, songs are opportunities for characters to express feelings that they never would otherwise, for deeply felt emotions to be given form. While that definitely happened in OMWF, the more remarkable thing for me was that as deeply as Joss plunged the psyches of all of his characters, he also pointed towards deeper aspects of their thought about which we can only ever speculate.
2. The Body: Three words have never evoked so much on television -- "Mom ... Mom ... Mommy?" A collection of devastatingly simple instances that broke life itself down into its component parts for 44 dazzling, heartbreaking minutes.
1. Becoming, Part II: Except maybe the three words "Close your eyes." Becoming Pt. II was the moment for me when this changed from a great show to an emotional investment. I rewatched this long ago, and vividly recalled every pang I felt as a senior in high school, watching it that day in May '98 on our class trip to Colorado.

By the way, I reserve the right to edit this list at any time.

[ edited by grrarrgh00 on 2003-02-20 19:46 ]
Nah, see, I wouldn't include Graduation Day--good, yes, but not great--so the Sacred 8 is up for grabs. And where's "Passion"? "When She was Bad"? "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered"? "I Only Have Eyes for You," which, yes, cheesey wasps, but my God, how can you forget the killer ending? --Yes, I'm a something of a second season partisan, but there's other great episodes not getting their due (yet), like season four's "Who Are You?" Hell, I'd even give some thought to listing season 7's Anya-centric episode "Selfless" over "Graduation Day." But I'm weird, and top-ten lists tend to bring out the perverse crank in me.
By the way, I love --k. Perverse cranks rule the roost!
I hate these lists, so here's mine!
1. "Once More with Feeling"--simply a triumph, for reasons already given. It passes one of my tests for a classic--I can watch it again and again and enjoy it every time.
2. "Surprise"/"Innocence"--essence of Buffy. These 2 episodes epitomize the series' mission, once summed up by Joss as "emotional resonance and rocket launchers."
3. "Fool for Love"--Not only does it pass the "emotional resonance" test, but it's very well-directed and the inter-cut sequence with the New York Slayer is just brilliant. I'm not a great Spike fan, but if I were, this episode would have converted me.
4. "Hush"--the only Buffy episode that ever really scared me, and still does. Besides which, clever concept excellently executed with the patented Buffy combination of funny/horror/drama
5. "Who Are You?"--SMG as "Fuffy" is truly remarkable
6. "The Wish"--The vision of a dark, alternate Sunnydale in which we discover the horrifying, yet fascinating VampWillow and VampXander, a desperate Giles, and a Buffy without friends, and the devastating final battle in which they all die, some killing each's just irresistible.
7. "Doppelgangland"--VampWillow! Need I say more?
8. "Something Blue"--all right, I'm a Willow fan. But really, the fun of this season 4 episode is the fun. Maybe it doesn't hold up so well after seasons 5-7+, but in its place, it's very good.
9. "Smashed"--sex the brings down the house, literally and sent Buffy and Spike crashing into the cellar. Metaphor much? If there was any doubt that season six was going to be dark, very dark, episode 9 dispelled it.
10. "Two to Go"/"Grave"--so far, my favorite season ending episodes. I know "The Gift" is better, in a way, but Giles! Xander saving Willow & the world! Spike's soul! Buffy finally getting over it! Sarah McLaughlin's "Prayer of St. Francis"! Worked for me.
Best schmest, but here're the ones I'd watch over and over:
Once More with Feeling.
The Zeppo.
The Pack.
Conversations with Dead People.
Fool for Love.
The Wish.
and The Body, except for the watching it over and over part.

Very nice comment about Normal Again, grrarrgh00.
This is extremely difficult, but I'll give it a go.

1. Passion.
Ty King's supposed to have written this, but have you read his script? Good thing Joss went over it and made it into something beautiful. If I could, I'd probably have 10 episodes of Gilesy goodness, but the man never got a lot of episodes for himself. I love the lines about passion that Angel narrates. The shots from outside the house, making you a voyeur of these people's devastation. Giles striding towards death with intent, wanting revenge. La Boheme.

2. The Wish
The introduction of Anya. Dopey Xander and Willow suddenly looking wild. Giles looking scruffy. 'Some dead ditz.' The music! And how could I forget: "Because it has to be."

3. Hush
Genuinely scary. Groundbreaking television. ShouldagotanEmmy.

4. Fool for Love
Spike when I still loved his character. Wonderful flashbacks. The powershot with Angel, Darla, Dru and Spike.

5. The Dark Age
I'd really want to put in the duo: Halloween and The Dark Age. Halloween cause it's funny and it introduces Ethan Rayne and suddenly shows a whole other side to the fuddy duddy librarian. The Dark Age because - hello - Giles centric episode and it showed the series didn't have to be about school kids all the time. Adults have a life too, you know. Pisses me off they spell Deirdre's name wrong, though. Giles wouldn't make that kind of mistake.

6. The Pack
The first episode of Buffy I ever saw. Hooked instantly - had never seen such acting on TV, those kids WERE canines.

7. Becoming II
Tragic. Still makes me sniffle.

8. Selfless
All Anya, all the way. Very funny, very solid episode. First of series 7 that I wanted to watch again immediately.

9. Who are you
Stunning acting from both Gellar and Dushku, they both have each other down to a T. It's hard to make such a thing believable - and they pull it off magnificently (unlike, for example, Travolta and Cage in Face Off).

10. I only have eyes for you
Melodramatic - but it works. The song does it for me, I suppose, it glosses over any faults the episode might have. Also one of the creepiest episodes for me.

Bubbling under: Conversations with dead people (gimmicky, but solid), Helpless (the ultimate betrayal, very interesting. B/G'ers tend to hate this one, they don't care for the 'father's love') Once More With Feeling (Too different to make the list), The Body (Amazing. Just amazing. Too close for comfort right now to make the list.) The Zeppo (Love the rhythm of this epi.) Family (Says something I feel really strongly about, but does it using a character I could care less about.)

You'd think as a Giles fan I'd put 'A New Man' in, but I don't like ASH as comic relief. I like the episode a lot, until they change him into the monster/buffoon. I enjoy Band Candy, but in general dislike 'adults behaving like kids' stuff.

The order of the list probably changes every day, but I think I've covered all my favourites. Season 2 was best, I think.

Favourite seasons in order:
S2, S3, S1, S7, S4, S6, S5.
Lists are fun! But for brevity's sake, how about a top 5?

5. "The Prom" -- God, I can't believe that no one included this episode. It's. Just. So. Heartbreaking. Other than, um, the entirety of "The Body," this is probably the most emotionally devastating episode of "Buffy" that I've ever seen.

4. "Once More, With Feeling" -- Duh.

3. "The Body" -- I think the bravest thing about the episode (well, aside from the obvious one-scene-per-act structure and the lack of backing music) was how FUNNY it was at times. Like dancing on the edge of the abyss.

2. "The Gift" Buffy confronts the moral cruelty and unfairness of the world, and decides to kill herself. Whoa. And we also get Joss at the peak of his powers, crafting every single moment so that it's goddamn perfect.

1. Graduation Day" -- This one alternates with "The Gift" as my top choice, and I love them both for the same reason: they allow Buffy to reach an epic level of storytelling without sacrificing the smaller, more emotional battles that remain at the heart of the show. The GD two-parter brought all the plot threads of "Buffy"'s best season together, with a brutal Buffy/Faith showdown, Buffy/Angel sex (well, sort of), the beautifully elegiac dream sequence, the wonderfully directed preparations for battle, Mayor Wilkins' cool speech, the final shot of the yearbook. And when the mayor transforms and all the kids stand up to reveal their weapons ... man ...

Other episodes I loved: "When She Was Bad," "Innocence," "Passion," "Becoming, Pts. 1 & 2," "Anne," "Amends," "Gingerbread," "The Wish," "The Zeppo," "Earshot," "Enemies," "The Freshman," "Hush," "Who Are You?" "Bad Moon Rising," "Restless," "Family," "The Weight of the World," "Dead Things," "Normal Again," "Villains," "Selfless," "Conversations with Dead People." Phew!

Favorite "Buffy" moment -- The scene in "Becoming Pt. 2" when Angel asks Buffy, "Take it all away, and what do you have left?" and as he thrusts his, uh, sword at Buffy, she catches it in between her hands. Her eyes snap open and she says, "Me."

Favorite line of dialogue -- From "The Wish": "You fool! How do you know that the other world is any better than this one?" "Because it has to be."
When two episodes have the same name and are both written and directed by Joss Whedon, I count them together; but if two episodes have different names and are written by different people, such as in the case of Surprise/Innocence, I rate them separately, which simply makes sense no matter how related they are plot-wise.

(Exceptions: "Bargaining," two episodes with the same name but written and directed by different people, and "Two to Go"/"Grave." These would have to be rated together, because they really are single episodes, as they were both aired as 2-hour specials. But they aren't on my list, so it really doesn't matter.)

This list only covers the first six seasons. So far in Season Seven, the only episodes that might deserve a spot are "Selfless" (likely) and "Conversations With Dead People" (less likely).

* = Written and Directed by Joss Whedon


10- Restless* 4.22

Imaginative, experimental, this is, like OMWF, very unusual and special television, a perfect example of why Buffy is different from -- and better than -- other shows.

09- The Prom 3.20

A touching capstone to the first three years of Buffy. It managed to recall, clarify, and validate everything that had preceded it.

08- Something Blue 4.09

Come on, people, this episode is so classic. Like Doppelgangland (#5), not the most spectacular, but it's easily the funniest, most successful "Halloween"/"Band Candy"/"Tabala Rasa"-like romp.

07- Fool For Love 5.07

A bunch of backstory done masterfully, evocatively, and suspensefully -- and best of all, it gives important insight into the psychology of the Slayers, an insight that illuminates much of Buffy's development up to that point and so rings true.

06- Becoming* 2.21-22

Buffy kills Angel. The best season ender ever. Probably the second most important episode in the series.

05- Doppelgangland* 3.16

It's true, I have a soft spot for VampWillow. And for good reason. Not the most spectacular episode ever, but Alyson Hannigan's performance is too good to ignore.

04- Innocence* 2.14

The most important episode of the series.

03- Hush* 4.10

Both hilarious and genuinely scary -- sometimes simultaneously. Where OMWF and The Body are not typical Buffy, Hush is the epitome of what a Buffy episode should do.

02- The Body* 5.16

Heartbreaking. A little different from normal Buffy fare, but whatever.

01- Once More, With Feeling* 6.07

This episode accomplishes what should have been impossible: acting not only as a musical, but also as the crux of the season and a pivotal moment for the entire series. Great songs, great dialogue, this is some of the best television ever made. I mean, really, when do you ever see anything this funny, creative, and intense on television? It never happens -- except this once. Sure, the argument could be made that, as with The Body, OMWF stands removed from the usual Buffy fare and thus doesn't deserve to top the list -- like it's a different animal, so you can't rate it with the same scale. I say that's a load of crap. This is the most accomplished, creative, and downright impressive Buffy episode ever.



The Gift, Passion, Graduation Day, Lovers Walk


Worst episode ever: I, Robot... You, Jane

Runner-up: Doublemeat Palace

[ edited by delavagus on 2003-02-21 17:38 ]
What are the best episodes to show the uninitiated (i.e. - 'Potentials')? Do I show the top episodes and possibly spoil whole seasons and make the expectations for other episodes too high (The Body: "Oh yeah, this is from season 5 where Buffy's mom dies" and Restless: "I know this doesn't make much sense but if you watched every other episode it probably would") or do I just give it the first season DVDs and tell it to watch 'em all?
I say don't go with the first season DVD route ... although those episodes were mighty impressive to me when Buffy was in its infancy (and I still think they're a fantastic beginning to a fantastic series), they make it too easy to write the show off as some cheesy-looking, quippy, Monster-of-the-Week thing. Like ... I don't know ... Smallville or something (except for maybe "Angel"; still an absolute classic).

Back in the day, my default conversion episode was "Lie to Me." But I think "Hush" has now become my default ep for indoctrinating newbies ... it doesn't involve having to know a lot of complicated plot history, and it's clearly a one-off type thing ("This is the episode that got nominated for an Emmy for Best Writing; it features 26 minutes of no dialogue"). "OMWF" would be great, except that as it goes on, you find that the viewer has to know more and more about the series to keep up (although the first half in itself is enough to convert the most skeptical potential into a devotee, I'd imagine). God, I can't wait for "OMWF" on dvd.
I've found that Bad Girls is a good intro episode. It's got the humour (Wes!) and the drama ("Faith no!") and tons of great action: Buffy and Faith slaying/dancing, Giles with the sword, "His name's Angel!" and more.

The very first scene when Buffy and Faith are fighting vampires and chatting about sex at the same time is the perfect sexy/funny/actiony hook. Then the ep ends and all your friends cry out: "To be continued? What? But I wanna know what happens to Faith!"

Trust me, I've seen it happen. :-)
I've initiated many people into the mysteries of Buffydom. I've found two successful methods.

1) If the person is primed, if they've heard how good the show is and are pretty enthuastic and open-minded about it, then start with Season One, absolutely. Even if they're not enthusastic, I sometimes prefer this method. It makes the most sense, and the two-parter Welcome to the Hellmouth and The Harvest are very good episodes; if someone can't appreciate them on some level, they might not appreciate any Buffy.

2) The Hook 'Em Right Away Method, whereby you pick key episodes to draw them in. I've done this with a couple pairings: Halloween to Surprise/Innocence worked very well. Also, The Wish and Doppelgangland work, with a bit of explanation about the fallouts in Lovers Walk. Hush is a good bet for a one-episode try. I don't recommend OMWF because it's integrated so deeply inot the development of the characters and their interrelationships that someone unfamiliar with the story wouldn't -- and couldn't possibly -- appreciate it fully.
So, here's the thing: I love absolutely every episode of this show, ever. I will say this, though: I could watch "Restless" 24 hours a day. It's that beautiful and poetic and funny and wonderful.
I think it would be easier for me to say what my favorite season is (that being season 3.)
It may been easier trying to list my least favourite episodes.

But anyway here's my favourites off the top of my head.

Becoming Part One and Two
The Zeppo
The Wish
The Body
The Gift
Once More With Feeling
Two to Go/Grave
Welcome to the Hellmouth

oh and lots more
My Favourite Season, Season 5:

Tough Love
Blood Ties
Triangle (hilarious)
Real Me
The Gift

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