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Buffy the Vampire Slayer has to be one of the most beloved shows that has graced the television screen, and it’s definitely one of my all time favourites. Once you begin to look back on Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a whole series and pick out key episodes there are a fair few that were really groundbreaking for television at the time, in their representation of women, same-sex couples, and damn good writing. I’ve picked out the seminal episodes so you don’t have to. So without further ado, here are the ten best and most influential episodes of the show (not in any particular order):
1. 'Graduation Day' Parts 1 & 2 (Season 3: Episodes 21 & 22)
Arguably one of the shows best finales, a final showdown with season three’s big bad, Mayor Wilkins. Buffy kills Faith in order to save Angel, a moment of darkness that hasn’t really been shown in Buffy’s character up until this point. This is also an emotional moment for The Scooby Gang, finally graduating from high school, after being through so many life or death situations. However, this tender moment doesn’t last for so long when Mayor Wilkins turns into a giant snake and Buffy enlists the help of her fellow graduating class to defeat him and his minions.
2. 'Once More with Feeling' (Season 6: Episode 7)
You can’t have a top ten Buffy episodes list without the musical episode! The Scooby Gang end up bursting into song because of an all-singing and dancing demon, whose goal is to make humans dance their way to death. The lyrics throughout this extravaganza are full of complexity, in-jokes and meaning which can often be missed in musical episodes, it’s not just a filler episode. Buffy reveals in the final moments of the episode that she feels numb because she was pulled out of heaven, not limbo, like her friends thought. The soundtrack is also addictive!
3. 'The Body' (Season 5: Episode 16)
"The Body" is one the best episodes created in the series, maybe even television history, because of the way it deals with the difficult subject matter of death. The episode focuses on the death of Buffy’s mother, Joyce, and takes the opportunity to explore what it means to mourn, especially for a show that features a lot of death. The way cinematography is used to portray the emotions Buffy is going through is both slightly surreal and realistic at the same time, using almost disorientating levels of sunlight to reflect the sense of feeling lost that Buffy is experiencing. Then Anya’s monologue on human mortality and death is extremely well-written, as she talks through her processing the death of a loved one and what it means to be human.
4. 'Tabula Rasa' (Season 6: Episode 8)
One of the more comical episodes, Willow’s spell to erase Tara’s memory of their fight goes wrong and erases the memory of all of them. They all try and piece together who they are, something quite funny to watch when Spike thinks he’s Giles. Although the episode isn’t without its heartbreak when Tara realises that Willow’s magic addiction is getting out of hand, and in order to help her, she needs to take some time away from Willow.
5. 'The Gift' (Season 5: Episode 22)
The sudden appearance of Dawn, Buffy’s younger sister, in season five becomes clear as she is the key and is the secret to closing the portal in order to stop Glory. However, Buffy, the hero that she is decides she is the one who will sacrifice herself to save the world. This is the second time Buffy dies, the first being at the end of season one.
6. 'The Witch' (Season 1: Episode 3)
I’m going to be honest, their aren’t many great episodes from the first season, although it did manage to keep everyone watching, like a mature wine it got better with time. However, "The Witch" is probably the best episode of season one. The first episode of the season not to contain a vampire, "The Witch," entails Buffy trying to be a normal teenager and try out for the cheerleading squad. However all is not normal, and a student Witch takes out her competitors in order to try and get a place on the squad.
7. 'Hush' (Season 4: Episode 10)
If you ask the cast what the most difficult episode was to film, most likely they’ll say "Hush." Without dialogue, they have to try and time their actions so they don’t rush and end up completing each scene in a few seconds. The episode is largely without dialogue, after "The Gentlemen" take everyone’s voices. This is also the first episode with Tara in, who later becomes Willow’s girlfriend.
8. 'Doppelgangland' (Season 3: Episode 16)
This is one of the episodes where Willow really gets her chance to shine. After feeling like people see her as the reliable one that is sometimes taken for granted, she helps Anya do a spell which leads to Vampire Willow from earlier in the season, entering their reality. She gets the chance to play bad, pretending to be Vampire Willow, and in turn gets a look at her potential bad side, concluding that the dark path is a slippery slope she does not want to partake in.
9. 'Chosen' (Season 7: Episode 22)
Unlike most series finales, that just don’t satisfy the many fans a TV show can gain, Whedon manages to create a good series finale that the show deserves. Although the finale isn’t without the deaths of some well-liked characters they die the only way they know how, fighting. Buffy goes against what she’s been told about their being only one slayer, and decides to awaken the slayer in potential girls, enlisting them to help her save the day. This means one last epic fight scene and the destruction of the hell mouth.
10. 'I Only Have Eyes for You' (Season 2: Episode 19)
An interesting concept, a ghost of a student from Sunnydale High, who killed the teacher he was involved with and then killed himself now haunts the school. The ghost possesses people in the school in order to reenact the tragic moment. The ghost is only freed when Buffy and Angel are the ones to reenact the moment, and with Angel being a vampire he’s not killed by the gunshot, meaning the moment can be fixed and not come to an end. An interesting dynamic as Angel is at this point evil but has no choice but to share a moment of passion with Buffy.