Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Watch This! Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Pt. 4)

I had originally intended for this to be a seven part posting series--seven parts for seven seasons. However, once I finished my marathon re-watch of the entire series, I kind of felt like it might be time to close this off and move on. And what better way to finish off the series than with a top ten list? So without further ado, my top ten favorite Buffy the Vampire Slayer Episodes.

#10: The Zeppo

Season 3, Episode 13

I haven't really had a chance to mention yet that Xander is one of my favorite characters in this series--he'd rank somewhere in the top ten characters of the buffyverse. He's the heart of the group, the most normal member, the down to earth jokester that restores a measure of reality to the world. Unlike most of the cast, he has no special powers, and his feelings of inadequacy are brought up in several episodes, but never so much and so hilariously as in this one. There is a potential apocalypse on the rise, and Buffy is all caught up in that epicness, but the episode does not focus on that story arc. Instead we follow Xander as through the mishaps of encountering dead, now resurrected bullies. The bullies are trying to make a bomb to blow up the high school, and Xander is the only one available to stop them. I loved the campier tone, the shift in focus, and the respect for the little guy that this episode displayed.

#9: Hush

Season 4, Episode 10

In this episode, everyone in Sunnydale loses their voice, causing mass panic, and the mysterious
beings known as "The Gentlemen" are responsible. They use the silence to steal the hearts of their victims. This episode is unique in that it features almost no dialogue, with close to 30 minutes of relative silence. The team is forced to communicate in gestures and writing, which is hilarious. This is also one of the absolute creepiest episodes of Buffy. The silence is down right eerie. Watching it this time through, I couldn't help but sit up and pay attention.

#8: Restless

Season 4, Episode 22

Season 4 had a relatively weak over-aching big bad story, compared to the other seasons. The finale is a positive note that has almost nothing to do with that arch. Instead, it follows our main characters through a series of dreams in which they encounter the First Slayer. I liked the style of this episode, and how it felt very dreamlike and creepy. I liked that it hinted at the depth of Buffy's power and origin, and that it heavily foreshadowed things to come. Most of all I liked the glimpses into each character's psyche. We get an idea of what they must feel deep down--Xander's insecurity, Giles' fatherly concern for Buffy, Buffy's feelings of isolationism, and so forth.

#7: The Prom

Season 3, Episode 20

At first glance, this appears to be just another common high school experience amplified Buffy style,
but there's actually a lot going on in this episode emotionally. A shot early on shows Buffy's notebook, where she's written "Buffy+Angel Forever" on the cover, and that startled me into remembering that Buffy is still painfully young. She wants to have a normal youth, with normal experiences--like attending prom with her boyfriend. At the same time, Angel is realizing that there's really no place for him in Buffy's life, that he'll only end up hurting her. Despite Buffy's insistence that she doesn't mind the sacrifice, Angel makes the choice to leave. This is completely heartbreaking, and yet inarguably the right thing to do. My favorite moment, however, is when Buffy is awarded the "Class Protector" award, her classmates applauding all the good she's done. After the many episodes where we saw Buffy worry that she'd never amount to much socially, never be remembered, and that she was giving up everything to be the slayer, this moment of validation is incredibly powerful. It's a bittersweet episode, and that's why I love it.

#6: Graduation Day

Season 3, Episodes 21&22

This episode proves once again that the creators understand the significance of all of the milestones of young adulthood, and that they're very good at giving them a supernatural twist. Buffy declares her independence from the council of watchers, and leads the fight against the big bad of the season (The Mayor). All of the students fight back, and it's awesome and hopeful and empowering. I liked the callback to Xander's military training (obtained through a spell that turned him into a soldier temporarily). I also appreciated that Buffy had to appeal to The Mayor's human side, through his connection to faith, in order to defeat him. This episode is good, action-y fun.

#5: The Body

Season 5, Episode 16

This is the only episode that actually made me cry this time around. Buffy arrives home to find her
mother still and lifeless. She calls 911, she tries to revive her, in the end Joyce is just dead. Nothing supernatural is going on--it's a simple case of natural death. The entire episode is slow and somber--even the music is absent, and that silence is deafening. It captures grief and shock perfectly--with Buffy in denial and then sick with sadness. Her friend's reactions are also very well done, just as miserable and helpless. Willow loses it over not knowing what to wear when she sees Buffy, and her performance is absolutely heartbreaking. No one knows how to deal with ordinary, unexpected death, when there is no enemy to fight and no villain to blame. This is one of the saddest things I've ever watched on TV.

#4:The Becoming

Season 2, Episodes 21&22

Buffy loses her virginity and Angel loses his soul. If you know nothing else about this show, you probably know that. It's the ultimate cautionary tale of teenage sex, of boyfriends gone bad, and of what happens when a relationship can't overcome bad circumstance. You can't help but revel in the angsty goodness that is this story. But what makes this story a cut above Twilight and the like, is that Buffy has to make this impossibly hard decision to kill Angelus (evil Angel). As I've said before, Buffy is just your average teenage girl--she get's self absorbed, has brainless moments, makes mistakes---but when it counts, she's strong as hell. And not just physically strong, but emotionally strong.

#3: Normal Again

Season 6, Episode 17

I always like the stories that delve into themes of insanity and reality, and this one is no exception.
Buffy is exposed to a venom that splits her mind into two realities. In one, she's in a mental institution being treated for extreme delusions--her entire nightmarish, demon filled life is a delusion, as are her friends and her powers. Her parents are there, begging her to come back to reality and be normal again. In the other reality, she actually is living this life with demons and monsters that want to kill her friends. The magic of this episode is the fact that it's completely plausible to have a teenage girl with schizophrenia build an entire fantasy life around having superpowers and being able to safe the world. It speaks volumes that there's a part of Buffy that may want to choose the reality in which she is insane but ordinary, just for the sake of being normal.

#2: Chosen

Season 7, Episode 22

What can I say about the series finale? It's a great conclusion to an incredible story (though the story does go on in comic book form after the show ends). Buffy and the crew fight the biggest bad of all, The First, the ultimate in evil world destroying demons. They are joined by all of the potential slayers. It's a big girl power episode, with all of this young ladies getting strong and kicking ass. They suffer their share of loses, with characters dying and sacrifices being made, but in the end Buffy finds that she can smile. She's overcome all of the odds and survived the worst of the worst, and she's not alone anymore.

#1: Once More, With Feeling

Season 6, Episode 7

What can I say, I love a musical. The musical episode of Buffy is pure fun, but also strangely sincere.
Tara and Willow glow with love and magic (they are my very favorite couple in the series). Xander and Anya sing about their secret doubts for their married life. Spike sings of his unrequited love for Buffy. Giles sings of needing to let Buffy find her independence. And then, the big reveal, Buffy confesses that she had been in heaven before she was brought back to life. I love that this episode is able to poke fun at musicals, showing people singing about sidewalk sales and parking tickets, while still acknowledging the power of singing out what's in your heart.

So, that's my top ten. You guys, this was ridiculously hard to put together. There are 144 episodes of Buffy. In the process of doing this, I initially just made a list of all the episodes I found memorable or emotionally jarring, and that list included close to 40 episodes. I had to do a lot of narrowing down, and I still feel like I'm leaving out a lot of excellent stories. I'm going to finish off with a quick list of honorable mentions. If I still didn't hit your favorite episode, go ahead and talk about it in the comments. Happy Watching!

Honorable Mentions

Angel (Season 1, Episode 7)--First glimpse at Angel's backstory.
Surprise/Innocence (Season 2, Episodes 13&14)--Angel experiences perfect happiness and loses his soul.
The Wish (Season 3, Episode 9)--Cordelia wishes Buffy had never come to Sunnydale--Anya's first appearance.
Earshot (Season 3, Episode 18)--Buffy gains the ability to hear people's thoughts.
Wild at Heart (Season 4, Episode 6)--Oz learns that his control over his wolf side is slipping, and he betrays Willow.
The Replacement (Season 5, Episode 3)--We see two versions of Xander--the successful one, and the total loser.
Fool for Love (Season 5, Episode 7)--Buffy asks Spike how he killed two slayers.
The Gift (Season 5, Episode 22)--Buffy sacrifices herself so that Dawn may have a shot at a human life.
Two to Go/The Grave (Season 6, Episodes 21&22)--A grief stricken Willow turns evil and threatens to destroy the world.
Selfless (Season 7, Episode 5)--Anya's backstory.

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