Happy 19th anniversary, Buffy the Vampire Slayer! To celebrate, we look at the very finest episodes of the groundbreaking, and still much-loved, series…
I was something of a latecomer to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, having only started watching it a few years ago, but I learnt to love it just as many longer-running fans have done. Buffy has the features of all the great shows – wit, heart and loveable characters – but I admire it most of all for being the mother of largely every genre show made since. Torchwood, Being Human, Merlin, 21st century Doctor Who and more all owe Buffy a huge debt. Russell T Davies has gone on record saying how Buffy ‘raised the bar’ of television in general. From the way it mixes all the elements so well, it’s hard to disagree.
This week Buffy turned 18 years old so, in celebration, I’m going to talk you through my favourite episodes of the show. And I’ll begin right about… now.
‘Hush’, (Season 4, Episode 10)
The ‘Blink’ of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Inspired by how critics only seemed to praise the show’s dialogue, creator Joss Whedon crafted this episode to be almost entirely silent – as the residents of Sunnydale have their voices stolen. The thieves are the grinning, murderous Gentlemen who I’d wager are the scariest band of TV monsters outside of Doctor Who. ‘Hush’ is so wonderfully creepy it makes you wish Buffy had thought to be properly scary more often but then this episode is so successful that there was probably no point in attempting to top it.
‘Restless’, (Season 4, Episode 22)
Dreams are an oft-used device on TV and film but rarely, if ever, are they portrayed as realistically as here. Unlike, say, Inception which simply uses dreams to play with the laws of physics, ‘Restless’ embraces the random-yet-possibly-meaningful nature of dreams to take a glimpse at the psyche of the four main characters. What’s more, it’s a novel approach to the series finale, acting as more of a coda than a climax. Quite possibly one of the surrealist – and bravest – episodes of mainstream telly ever.
‘The Body’, (Season 5, Episode 16)
A little like ‘Restless’ embraces everything about dreams, ‘The Body’ portrays the grief process with stark reality, particularly that on the very day that one loses a loved one. Inspired by the loss of Whedon’s own mother, this episode looks at how Buffy, her sister Dawn and their freinds react to the sudden death of Joyce. Not from a vampire attack, but an aneurysm. It is the perfect example of how Buffy transcended the expectation of what genre shows could do. This is something that other series have continued since yet none of them have delivered an episode as truly devastating as ‘The Body.’
‘Once More With Feeling’, (Season 6, Episode 7)
But on the other hand, Buffy can be, and usually is, lots of fun. And this musical episode is surely the most gloriously enjoyable Buffy of them all. I’m not a particularly massive fan of musicals, but the way in which the character drama and plot development of a normal Buffy episode is done through song is sublime… and also they’re just really good tunes. This episode teaches a lesson a lot of TV shows could learn from Buffy as a whole – with just a bit more dedication and care, you can turn average television into something really special.
Best of the rest: ‘The Gift’, ‘Doppelgangland’, ‘Chosen’, ‘Graduation Day’, ‘The Wish’ and ‘Becoming.’