The Best Buffy the Vampire Slayer Episodes
If there's one thing that Buffy fans on online forums like to do, it's ranking seasons. According to averages of my episode rankings, I'd rank the seasons as such:
- Season One: 112.66 – No surprise here.
- Season Two: 78.863 – The emotional impact of the main plot of Season Two masks the fact that it's still pretty weak in the first half of the season.
- Season Seven: 74.36 – Too many bad episodes drag S7's average way down.
- Season Six: 69.18 – This season's episodes are all over the place, but it adds up to be much better than its worst episodes would indicate. That's both the math and my gut feeling.
- Season Five: 68.681 – It's got no really bad episodes, a few excellent episodes, but very few really good episodes. So its average is also probably fairly close to its median and mode.
- Season Four: 66.81 – I'm not surprised that it's my second favorite mathematically, because it's also my second-favorite when I list the seasons directly.
- Season Three: 46.863 – I'm certainly not surprised that Season Three is mathematically my favorite, but the math is pretty astounding to me, and I'm the one who rated the episodes! Its episodes are an average of 20 points higher than every other season's average, and the other five seasons are grouped closely together. It only has one episode in the bottom 30. Eight of my top 25 are from the third season – no other season has more than four.
Early-Season Placeholder Episodes
129) #201 "When She Was Bad" – Angsty Buffy is a key component of the show, but it only works when it's well-balanced. Here, it's not.
128) #205 "Reptile Boy" - This is the anti-drinking PSA-style episode that “Beer Bad” usually gets mistaken for.
127) #202 "Some Assembly Required" – Do you remember this episode? Because if so, you're one up on me.
126) #103 "Witch" – I'm glad they got the Buffy-as-a-cheerleader plot out of the way early.
Could Have Been Good Episodes, but Weren't
125) #606 "All the Way" – It's a Dawn-centered episode. A romantic Dawn-centered episode. 'Nuff said.
124) #110 "Nightmares" – One of the first season's most ambitious episodes. But Buffy didn't have the budget – or the characterization, honestly – to really do it well.
123) #710 "Bring on the Night" – Potentials arrive, Buffy starts speechifying. An inauspicious beginning to the main storyline of the seventh season.
122) #508 "Shadow" – The escalation of the Joyce illness isn't bad, but a terrible Season One-quality special effect with a snake monster makes this hard to take seriously. And to make it worse, it starts off the rather silly “Dark Riley” storyline.
121) #502 "Real Me" – Let's all welcome Dawn to the show with a thoroughly mediocre episode. The best thing that can be said about “Real Me” is that Dawn gets so much worse.
120) #406 "Wild at Heart" – Oz's time on the show comes to a quick and forced ending. It all feels a little perfunctory, which is too bad.
119) #220 "Go Fish" – Remember when all the baseball bigwigs complained that “nobody could have known how prevalent steroid use was?” Well, Buffy knew, and it showed it in a horribly awkward metaphor. I've still rated this episode as better than the main plot, because the subplot with Willow as an interrogator finding out Jonathan peed in the pool is both entertaining and ironic in light of later events.
118) #111 "Out of Mind, Out of Sight" – Possibly the most straightforward of the metaphor episodes, and fairly memorable for that, at least. An odd ending could be viewed as foreshadowing the Initiative...or it could be X-Files wanna-be conspiracy stuff.
117) #212 "Bad Eggs" – Has any real school class ever done the taking-care-of-eggs thing? Or is that just a trope that TV shows use in order to show that its characters are whatever needs to be shown at that point?
Nice Try Episodes
116) #715 "Get It Done" - Chloe's suicide is a decent raising of the stakes with the mostly-inert Potential Slayer storyline. Buffy chasing down the shamans who started the Slayer line is a nice touch as well. On the other hand, Buffy's speech problem is getting worse and worse.
115) #708 "Sleeper" – Spike as The First's sleeper agent isn't a terrible premise, but the show doesn't do much more than go through the motions with it. On the bright side, Aimee Mann is probably the Bronze's best musical guest.
114) #611 "Gone" – Making Buffy invisible probably seemed like a good idea at the time. But it's hard to do invisibility in a visual medium. Having Buffy narrate everything she does in a sing-song voice? Not the best way to handle it.
113) #709 "Never Leave Me" – Andrew returns – good! The Turok-Han is raised – very bad.
112) #208 "The Dark Age" – Ethan Rayne's return isn't as strong as some of his other appearances, but this is a good episode for adding some depth to Giles - the first time his "Ripper" past is referred to.
111) #210 "What's My Line (Part 2)" – I really don't like Kendra. She's just a terribly awkward character. That's most of what I remember out of this one, which is probably the most likely to change spots if I ever rewatch the series (and redo this list).
Guilty Pleasure Episodes
110) #613 "Dead Things" – The Trio storyline escalates dramatically in this episode, when their attempts to get girls ends in the death of Warren's ex, Katrina. Conceptually, I like the depiction of Warren's increasing corruption, but this episode doesn't do the best job at portraying it - and it's the most important in that process.
109) #403 "The Harsh Light of Day" – Spike's return is usually cause for celebration, but this episode is far too concerned with being a crossover for Angel's new series. Still, he and Harmony make for some excellent comedy.
108) #509 "Listening to Fear" – A perfectly serviceable monster-of-the-week episode, featuring a Queller demon that preys on the mentally ill. The major point of interest with “Listening to Fear” is that it starts to connect Ben with Glory. Ben's uneven characterization is one of the weakest aspects of the Glory storyline. In this episode, he's a flunky villain. In the rest of the season, he's a good guy, then in the finale, a villain again. Bleh.
107) #405 "Beer Bad" – I like “Beer Bad.” I really do. It takes the overserious metaphor of the worst episodes and almost parodies it. How does the villain get his comeuppance? Xander calls him a “bad, bad man.” And CaveBuffy is all kinds of adorable. “Foamy!”
Really Good Episodes with Really, Really Big Problems
106) #310 "Amends" – How to rate this episode? The good: the First Evil is a good villain; it's great to see Jenny Calendar back; and it marks a turning point in the Buffy/Angel relationship. The bad? An absolutely ghastly deus ex machina with a Christmas theme.
105) #514 "Crush" – How to rate this episode? The good: It's well-written and consistently funny; Drusilla is creepier than she ever was in Season Two; and it ties up several loose ends with the Spike crush storyline. The bad? It's focused on the Spike crush storyline. I liked what it did, but I really didn't like that it had to do it.
These Episodes Have Problems
104) #215 "Phases"
103) #419 "New Moon Rising" – Hooray for Oz as a character! But you know, in retrospect, I'm not sure much good ever came from Oz as a werewolf.
102) #302 "Dead Man's Party" – The main episode isn't that good, but the Scoobie fight about Buffy's return from LA is gold.
101) #510 "Into the Woods" – Riley and Buffy break up, finally. Buffy's single most badass moment occurs in this episode, when she tears through a group of vampires in record time using a pool cue. Xander's transition to the party member who sees and understands things begins in this episode, although his advice to Buffy to run back to Riley is somewhat problematic.
100) #303 "Faith, Hope & Trick" – I'm a big Faith fan, but this episode is pretty perfunctory.
99) #504 "Out of My Mind" – The introduction of Spike's crush on Buffy, which is not a plot I'm a fan of, as you may have noticed.
Important for the Plot, but Not Much Else Episodes
98) #112 "Prophecy Girl" – The Season One finale is a fitting coda to the weakest season of the series. It hits all the important bits, but there's not enough of an emotional core – yet – to make it anywhere near as meaningful as the future finales.
97) #413 "The I in Team"
96) #414 "Goodbye Iowa" – The main storyline of the fourth season starts going off the rails with the introduction of its villain, Adam.
95) #717 "Lies My Parents Told Me" – This episode is one of the few that feels like it's driven more by plot requirements than character development. Buffy has to break with her mentor, so a conspiracy is devised. The follow-through isn't well thought-out, though. The Freudian flashbacks with Spike's mother are also a bit over-the-top.
94) #614 "Older and Far Away" – Trapping everyone in the house is a good idea for an episode, and it generally works. But this may be Dawn at her absolute worst: “GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT!”
93) #505 "No Place Like Home" – The big reveal episode of the fifth season, with Dawn finally explained and Glory introduced. It gets the job done without being especially notable other than its story – a problem for much of the fifth season, unfortunately.
92) #101 "Welcome to the Hellmouth"
91) #102 "The Harvest" – Buffy is introduced in a fairly straightforward fashion. It's very artificial in a basic television form kind of way, but you can see the potential here.
90) #209 "What's My Line (Part 1)" – A fairly effective early look at Buffy's angst over her future as a Slayer. Side note – it was never clear to me whether the assassin Buffy kills at the ice rink is a scarred human or a demon. If it's the former, well, more ammo against Buffy's argument at the end of Season Six.
89) #513 "Blood Ties" – It's an odd thing about the fifth season. The two most annoying characters, Dawn and Spike, manage to come together and form an oddly affecting friendship.
88) #305 "Homecoming" – Some good things going on in this episode. It's the introduction of everyone's favorite villain, the Mayor, and Slayerfest '99 is good fun. The Buffy/Cordelia rivalry is a little bit too forced.
87) #107 "Angel" – The Buffy-Angel roller coaster begins here! Also, Darla is killed, which in retrospect is a pretty bad move from a storytelling point of view, her being Angel's sire and companion and all. Pity that's not something that could ever be reversed.
86) #603 "After Life" – A demon attaches itself to resurrected Buffy. It's a good monster-of-the-week episode, with some even better character-building for Buffy.
85) #411 "Doomed" – Riley's first episode as one of the gang, kind of. Also includes Spike at his funniest, and the traditional Apocalypse-in-a-basement is spoofed.
84) #501 "Buffy vs. Dracula" – A pretty weak premise is salvaged and even turned to good by consistently funny writing. “Dark Master” indeed.
83) #218 "Killed by Death" – Although I don't really like this episode's retcon of Buffy's childhood, the hospital-based monster of the week is one of the creepiest the show has ever done.
82) #703 "Same Time, Same Place" – A fairly straightforward monster-of-the-week episode made fair more interesting by Gnarl, another one of the creepiest monsters in the show's run.
Trying Hard, Not Quite Succeeding
81) #517 "Forever" – Some poignant stuff here, as the mourning for Joyce continues. It's a Dawn-centered episode, though it's largely redeemed by the increasingly interesting Dawn/Spike relationship.
80) #616 "Hell's Bells" – I was pleasantly surprised by this episode after several warnings about its crappiness. There's a lot of good comedy here, and it's not like Xander's cold feet weren't foreshadowed.
79) #213 "Surprise" (Part 1) – The ending is the most memorable aspect of this episode, but the rest of it doesn't hold up to the Buffy-Angel changes. The Judge just isn't effective enough of a threat to hold the rest together. It's not bad, but it could – and will – be so much better.
78) #519 "Tough Love" – Willow attacks Glory, in the first indication that she's become far more powerful than anyone else realizes.
77) #307 "Revelations" – The fake Watcher Gwendolyn Post shows up and ruins Faith's, ah, faith. There's also another good Scoobie fight about Angel's resurrection – with the pretty massive caveat that nobody ever mentions the fact that he didn't have a soul when he was evil and now he does. That tidbit seems like it should be relevant.
76) #421 "Primeval" (Part 2) – The conclusion of the Initiative storyline has its marks to hit, and it does so. Nothing less, but sadly, nothing more either.
75) #604 "Flooded" – The two most distinctive aspects of the sixth season are introduced here: the horror of mundane life, and the Trio as the apparent Big Bad of the season. Neither of them seem like very big deals at first, but it all adds up. I like the concept of Buffy having money problems, but the way the show glides over people who could help her - like Giles, Willow, and Tara - is pretty stupid.
74) #712 "Potential" – This is by far the best Dawn-themed episode in the three years of her time on Buffy. Plus seeing Millie from Freaks & Geeks as a badass? Good stuff – if only there were more like this in the seventh season, then the Potential Slayer storyline wouldn't have seemed like such a waste.
73) #515 "I Was Made to Love You" – I like Warren. I mean, I don't like him, but I think he's a character that the show handled quite well (though it could have been even better). His introduction here is comic with a good tragic core, which fits.
72) #520 "Spiral" – Buffy's speeches about how it's wrong to kill humans in Season Six kind of ring hollow after she spends the best part of this episode throwing axes at the human Knights of Byzantium, huh? It's an effective tension builder, and I think that Ben and Glory may have some kind of connection.
71) #106 "The Pack" - “The Pack” introduces a level of creepiness that the show hadn't had, and with the death of the principal, also said that it was willing to raise the stakes. I may be overrating it, but it's really the only first season episode I have a clear memory of.
70) #720 "Touched"
69) #721 "End of Days" – Season Seven begins to recover from the terribly vote, but it's not enough. There are some good emotions beats to hit, and the most blatant orgasm face of the series, but it's not spectacular enough to place the season among the series' best.
68) #506 "Family" – Almost a year after her introduction, Tara finally gets her own episode. Despite being Whedon-penned, it's straightforward and doesn't do a huge amount to develop her character. He'd do better in “The Body.”
67) #713 "The Killer in Me" – Since most of Willow's recovery from the end of Season Six occurred off-screen, between seasons, it was good to have this episode to show her working through it. Warren remains a dynamic character as well. But something about it seems just a little off.
66) #301 "Anne" - “Anne” is an odd little episode, taking place primarily in L.A. as Buffy recovers from the events of Season Two. It has some iconic moments, but it's still too disjointed to be really great.
Eminently Watchable Episodes
65) #605 "Life Serial" – The Trio's tests for the Slayer show their potential for entertainment.
64) #512 "Checkpoint" - The arrival of the Watchers in Sunnydale leads to some funny moments, and some great Buffy ass-kicking as she redefines the power dynamic between Watcher and Slayer.
63) #412 "A New Man" – Ethan Rayne's last appearance leads to some good comedy when Giles is turned into a demon, but not a great deal of depth.
62) #409 "Something Blue" – Willow's having trouble controlling her magic. Spike and Buffy are an item. Which season is this? It's played for temporary laughs here, and it works well, but it's an eerie premonition of the dark sections of Season Six.
61) #518 "Intervention" – Everyone loves the Buffybot. Vision quest? Not so interesting.
Effective, if not quite Excellent Episodes
60) #521 "The Weight of the World" – With Dawn captured, Buffy retreats into her own mind. It's a good examination of Buffy's growing helplessness, but perhaps a not enough happening for a single episode.
59) #618 "Entropy" – The melodrama of the sixth season peaks here, with sex used as a weapon against others, or as a way to heal what was broken, or both. The comedy and pathos of Spike and Anya doing it is almost equally matched by the tenderness of Willow and Tara reconnecting.
58) #311 "Gingerbread" – For a while, I thought that this episode was Buffy's response to Columbine, due to its damnation of mob mentality and jumping to conclusions. It's a somewhat muddled episode, though it has some interesting application of folklore to the Buffy mythology, with Hansel and Gretel as evil and the witches as good.
57) #315 "Consequences" – Alyson Hannigan may be the best crying actress in the universe. She breaks it out for the first (and best) time this episode.
56) #615 "As You Were" – How surprising is it that Riley's return marks the point of improvement in the sixth season? Crazy.
55) #312 "Helpless" – The Watchers' test for Buffy leads to a painful realization that even her teacher can betray her.
54) #319 "Choices" – The stakes are raised as Willow is captured, and her magical escape shows her growing power as a sidekick for Buffy.
Good For (Several) Laughs Episodes
53) #401 "The Freshman" – A decent introduction to Buffy: The College Years made better by the vampire Sunday. A pity she's killed in this episode, but it would be tough to have a show named after a vampire slayer who never slays.
52) #503 "The Replacement" – I really wish I liked this episode more. It has all the trappings of a classic Buffy episode, but somehow it lands a little bit flatter than it should.
51) #407 "The Initiative" – Spike's return is magnificent, and the Initiative arc hasn't yet gone awry.
50) #216 "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" – Although not quite the first “alternate reality” episode, it really demonstrated the potential excitement and comedy of putting the characters into different situations. Along with "Halloween" it started a trend. “Band Candy,” “Superstar,” “Tabula Rasa,” and more all descend from Xander's little love spell.
Serious/Seriously Good Episodes
49) #702 "Beneath You" – Insane Spike has one of the most riveting acting moments in the entire series. This episode is by-the-numbers until James Marsters turns it on for a bizarre, dark, excellent ending.
48) #718 "Dirty Girls" – The introduction of Caleb and reintroduction of Faith are well-handled in “Dirty Girls,” which promises a fantastic conclusion to the series.
47) #217 "Passion" – Shit just got real. The death of a major character says that this show isn't quite what you had expected.
46) #704 "Help" – Cassie is a fascinating character, and watching Buffy abuse her power as a counselor is pretty entertaining.
45) #221 "Becoming (Part 1)" – Effective as preparation for its stunning second part, but spends a little bit too much time getting ready without enough release. Also, Kendra.
44) #601 "Bargaining (Part 1)"
43) #602 "Bargaining (Part 2)" – A string of poor-to-competent season premieres comes to a halt with this intense, dramatic two-parter.
42) #203 "School Hard" – Spike arrives, and Joyce shows she's more than just a wet blanket as a mother.
41) #317 "Enemies" – Angel faking his soul's removal is excellently done. Faith's resentment and antagonism is just a little bit too over-the-top for me to really call this episode a classic, though.
40) #207 "Lie to Me" - “Lie to Me” is the first episode that really gets at the increasing emotional complexity of the series, when Buffy has an old friend arrive from LA who wants to become a vampire. Prior to this, the central metaphor of the show dominated. After this, the metaphor and characters worked together for more intense and more personal storylines.
39) #619 "Seeing Red" – Joss Whedon is an asshole. This is the only conclusion that can be drawn from putting Tara in the opening credits at the start of the episode, then killing her off in the end. The main storyline of this episode is a little weak, with the Trio getting some magic orbs that make Warren invincible. But the ending is a shocker, and Andrew really starts coming into his own as a character in this episode. His drink at the bar is magnificent.
The Thoroughly Entertaining Episodes
38) #206 "Halloween" – An early alternate reality Buffy, and probably the first really successful one. Xander as Army Guy is great, and Ethan Rayne is an excellent guest star.
37) #420 "The Yoko Factor" (Part 1) – While technically a tension-building episode, in keeping the fourth season's general comedy, it's also one of the funniest episodes of any two-parter. Angel and Riley finally meeting is excellent, especially with everyone's insistence that Angel had turned evil. The Scoobie fight at the end is also amazing. And Giles sings “Free Bird.”
36) #318 "Earshot" – It doesn't always make sense (why would you need a sniper scope to commit suicide?) but there are good laughs and drama to be found when Buffy becomes telepathic. Cordelia stating whatever pops into her mind is classic.
35) #705 "Selfless" – Two things make this episode stand out: the opening scene of Anya's origin, with the superb subtitles, and second, the first and only mention of Xander's lie to Buffy in the second season finale. Other than that, it's an effective end to the vengeance storyline – although Anya is ill-used for the rest of the season.
34) #608 "Tabula Rasa" – A spell of forgetfulness causes expected laughs and drama. It's a good, solid alternate reality episode.
33) #714 "First Date" – By the time “First Date” rolled around, I was able to tell Jane Espenson-written episodes apart from anyone else's. First question: are you laughing much more often than normal? Second question: are there references to little things from previous episodes? Coming after a string of disappointing-to-mediocre episodes, “First Date” was a breath of fresh air.
32) #404 "Fear, Itself" – Giles' “opening spell” is one of the funniest moments in the series. It's the best moment of an episode filled with good character development and better humor.
The Overambitious Episodes
31) #415 "This Year's Girl" (Part 1)
30) #416 "Who Are You" (Part 2) – For those who question Eliza Dushku's acting abilities, this two-parter should be exhibit A that she can do well in the right circumstances. Sarah Michelle Gellar's limitations are a bit more apparent, but she doesn't blow it. Bringing Faith back seemed like it could be a gimmick, but these two episodes more than justify it – and the continuation of the story on Angel is the icing on the cake.
29) #309 - "The Wish" – Buffy goes “Yesterday's Enterprise” or Age of Apocalypse in its most alternate of all the alternate reality episodes. It's fun to see all-business Buffy, evil Xander and Willow, and the return of the underutilized Master, in addition to Anya's introduction.
28) #417 "Superstar" – Conceptually, “Superstar” should be a transcendent Buffy episode, and adjusting the credits to be Jonathan-centered is a great touch. In practice, it's a very good episode that never quite manages to be great.
27) #722 "Chosen" – Although “Chosen” isn't the transcendent experience that a series finale can be at its best, that's mostly the fault of a wobbly seventh season. The little moments that Whedon and only Whedon brings as a writer are what stands out here. Dawn is as likeable as she ever gets in the series. So is Anya, who had been largely wasted after the first few episodes of the season. The game that Andrew runs is kind of the best thing ever. Angel's face when Buffy mentions the word “grandkids.” And, to be honest, Buffy's final plan is genius in the way that it flips both the show's premise and the Buffyverse's balance of power.
26) #620 "Villains" – With Tara dead, Willow seeks vengeance against Warren. Too much of the episode hinges on Buffy's argument that law enforcement should deal with Warren, and that the good guys can't kill humans. This is not advice that Buffy has followed (and it's certainly not true for Angel) but that's never mentioned. Still, Willow's conversion into Darth Rosenberg is riveting stuff.