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The Guardian Picks its Top 20

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  • The Guardian Picks its Top 20

    20. Chosen (season 7, episode 22)

    I did not love the final season of Buffy, which was the most disposable, largely because it laid waste to much of the humour and spark that had made the show so fun. But wrapping up the whole series by binning the central idea of a chosen one, and turning teenage girls all over the world into a collective chosen, was a neat and satisfying note to end on.

    19. Prophecy Girl (s1, e12)
    The early episodes gave only hints of the greatness to come, but the first season finale showed that Joss Whedon was willing to go to dark places – killing off the lead character. It was only temporary, of course, which is something of a Whedon trope nowadays. Plus, without this, there would be no Faith (Kendra, we hardly knew you).

    Xander (left) and Angel (right) lend Buffy a hand after she comes back to life. Photograph: 20th Century Fox

    18. The Zeppo (s3, e13)
    Poor Xander tended to be Buffy’s clown, a serial if accidental trouble-maker who did things such as falling in love with a giant praying mantis. This episode rounded him out and saw him go it alone as he defeated a milder, more human evil, while the rest of the Scoobies were distracted by yet another apocalypse.

    17. Innocence (s2, e14)
    As metaphors for nightmarish teenage experiences go, Buffy’s boyfriend immediately turning into a bloodthirsty killer after they have sex for the first time is up there. David Boreanaz really ramped up the brood for his first outing as Angel’s soulless alter-ego, Angelus.

    16. New Moon Rising (s4, e19)

    Willow and Oz, subjects of a painful werewolf-related breakup. Photograph: Getty Images

    There were many break-ups in Buffy, but Oz and Willow’s werewolf-related split was one of the most gutting. Throughout season four, all of the characters failed to communicate, again and again; Oz’s brief return led to some of the best heart-to-hearts in the series for everyone.

    15. I Only Have Eyes For You (s2, e19)
    This is classic early Buffy: on one level, a self-contained story of a ghostly doomed affair between student and teacher, but written so cleverly as to move on to the bigger story of Buffy and Angel/Angelus.

    14. Halloween (s2, e6)
    For all of its experimentation, sometimes the most straightforward conceits worked best. Here, the gang turned into their Halloween costumes, but even when it was wrapped up, it set storylines in motion that would play out until the 144th episode.

    Xander as a gun-toting soldier – skills that would stay with him for the rest of the series. Photograph: WP

    13. Band Candy (s3, e6)
    Pesky Ethan was back to cause more Halloween-related mayhem. I am a sucker for characters acting out of character, and this was one of the most fun incidents of it, with Giles and Joyce getting the ultimate munchies and regressing to their teenage years.

    12. Doppelgangland (s3, e16)
    The vampire Willow, first introduced in The Wish, makes another appearance in Sunnydale. For all of Willow’s evil iterations, this was easily the most jolly – and it gave the world of The Wish another brief outing.

    11. Normal Again (s6, e17)
    This divisive episode played out to an uncertain “was it all a dream?” premise and it showed Buffy at its bleakest. But the setup – that Buffy might be in a psychiatric hospital and that Sunnydale could be a figment of her disturbed psyche – was a haunting one, not least because the ending was outrageous enough to keep the possibility of it open.

    10. The Gift (s5, e22)
    Hey, she died twice: the 100th episode saw Buffy make the ultimate sacrifice, again, in order to save the world and her sister/the key, Dawn, while sending Glory, the show’s campest big bad, packing at last. It could have been mawkish, but it got its levels of sentimentality just right.

    9. Becoming (s2, e21 & e22)
    It is almost sacrilegious to admit it, but often I could take or leave most of the Angel-centric episodes, with the exception of this season two closer. This was the first time Buffy really flexed its dramatic muscles and proved that, while it was a teen supernatural show, it was as emotionally sophisticated as the best dramas. It was so good you could even forgive the flashback accents.

    8. Graduation Day (s3, e21 & 22)
    This two-part finale marked the closing chapter in the first half of the Buffy story; it was the last of the old guard. It started small and intimate, as Buffy and Faith squared off, and ended as big as it gets, with the mayor’s ascension and the students of Sunnydale High banding together to defeat him. While the final-ever episode destroyed Sunnydale itself, destroying the school was a good place to start.

    7. Tabula Rasa (s6, e8)
    For all the darkness of season six – and this is horribly bleak, at the episode’s start and end – this memory loss episode managed to harness the perfect Buffy silliness that buoyed everything. Considering it had to follow Once More, With Feeling, it showed that season six certainly had its moments. I would watch a whole season of the adventures of Alex, Umad and Joan the vampire slayer.

    6. Restless (s4, e22)
    While previous season finales built towards a grand finish, this bucked the trend, dispensing with the big bad in the penultimate episode and leaving the gang to dream their way out of a tumultuous season. Few shows can pull off dream episodes, but this had the perfect balance of surreal silliness and profundity – and, of course, it neatly foreshadowed the arrival of Dawn.

    5. The Wish (s3, e9)

    Cordelia gets more than she bargained for with the vampire Xander.

    This is one of the most rewatchable episodes of the whole series. Of all the forays into alternative realities, this was by far the best. Cordelia wishes that Buffy had never come to Sunnydale, a wish that a new vengeance demon is happy to grant. Cue apocalyptic chaos, good characters turned evil and the arrival of the brilliant, bunny-hating Anya.

    4. Who Are You (s4, e16)
    Buffy as Faith leads to some confusion for Giles.
    I am a sucker for Faith-heavy episodes, and this body-switch saga showed Sarah Michelle Gellar and Eliza Dushku acting their socks off as each other’s character. The only downside of all the lovely chaos was that Mean Buffy, as played by Faith, didn’t get to stick around for nearly long enough.

    3. Once More, With Feeling (s6, e7)
    This remains one of the most extraordinary episodes of any TV show, never mind Buffy at its peak. This musical entry – made long before musical episodes were a thing – seemed to crunch down every facet of the show into its purest essence, from its humour and its playfulness to its increasingly tortured sensibilities. Most importantly, the songs were not imitators of a musical style, but worthy bangers in their own right.

    2. Hush (s4, e10)

    The Gentlemen were the stuff of nightmares. Photograph: 20th Century Fox/Kobal/Rex/Shutterstock

    The secret underground military bunker did not do much for the reputation of season four, but even against that backdrop this was an astonishing feat of creativity. Although not the toughest enemies Buffy battled, the Gentleman were by far the scariest, stealing voices as they eviscerated victims, and this was a genuinely frightening mini horror movie. Given that the show made its name on quick, witty dialogue, to put out a near-silent episode and still have it be phenomenal was just showing off.

    1. The Body (s5, e16)

    One of the most devastating episodes of television ever made.
    Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a witty show: funny, dry, sometimes silly and perfectly at home with embracing the absurdities of its supernatural setting. It evolved to become a brilliant show, though, because it was also capable of tackling the big stuff with tremendous skill and ingenuity. Joyce’s death is the first time a major character dies, and the ordinariness of it – an aneurysm, nothing supernatural and, crucially, nothing to be done – is utterly wrenching. There is no music, just the confusion and panic that follows a catastrophic event; it remains one of the most honest depictions of grief that I have ever seen on screen. It is certainly the most difficult episode of Buffy to watch, but in terms of the writing, the performances, the direction and the sheer emotional impact, this episode is peerless.

  • #2
    The writer really likes the special episodes and the episodes where characters are not themselves. Picking Tabula Rasa over Becoming and Halloween over Innocence is a bit odd IMO. Same with the high ranking of Band Candy while by example FFL and Passion are missing.


    • #3
      I am surprised Amends is missing. It's not an episode I particularly like but it is usually high on lists like these. I am also surprised Band Candy has made it onto the list. And I agree with Nina that Passion should have been on it.

      The Body in a way deserves to be on top but on the other hand, this means an episode was listed as the best episode that is just very different and not typical for the show.

      ................................ Banner by buffylover


      • #4
        A lot of the comments to the article are pointing out all the episodes the writer missed. As with all these things, I wonder how much of a fan Rebecca Nicholson is.


        • #5
          There are always things to agree with and disagree with in these kinds of lists and with so many great episodes people can look to subjectively justify so many. But FFL and Passions not being present is particularly surprising. And yeah, there are others on there that wouldn't be in my person top twenty, New Moon Rising, IOHEFY, Halloween and Band Candy certainly wouldn't. I'm not sure I'd include Graduation Day either. But it is always fun to have a look at what people pick. The usual suspects are in there too of course.


          • #6
            Originally posted by Priceless View Post
            A lot of the comments to the article are pointing out all the episodes the writer missed. As with all these things, I wonder how much of a fan Rebecca Nicholson is.
            I think she is a fan, otherwise the list would be filled with the usual episodes. But she does seem to have a certain type of episode she adores.


            • #7
              No Fool For Love
              No Passion
              No Selfless
              I don't agree with her list to put it mildly


              • #8
                Her episode picks are conventional and center primarily on the concept of high school/college is hell with almost all being ensemble efforts. I like many of her choices, but it’s very blatant that the vampire-centric scripts are missing here and there’s too much emphasis on whimsical episodes. I think if someone were to watch all of her choices to get a sense of Buffy, the cuteness would become cloying in excess.

                Agree that Passion, Amends and Fool for Love should be here Instead of Halloween, Band Candy and Tabula Rasa. Another underrated script is Dead Things - rarely mentioned in these lists in favor of the light and ironic. Selfless is great, too.

                Becoming (Both Parts) should be in the top five (Or even No. 1) as it is the best structured script of all Buffy episodes with some of the best dialogue Whedon & Co. ever wrote and wonderful performances from the entire ensemble. Harder to do than it looks.
                Last edited by American Aurora; 01-06-20, 08:57 PM.


                • #9
                  Eh, as far as lists go there's certainly ones I have disagreed with more. My Top 20 would also include;

                  Prophecy Girl
                  Becoming I & II
                  Graduation Day
                  Who Are You
                  The Body
                  The Wish
                  The Gift

                  I'm not sure on some of the others (I'd have to think about it harder as to whether New Moon Rising or IOHEFY make the cut as I like both episodes very much) and I can say for certain that neither Band Candy or Tabula Rasa would be anywhere near my list as I dislike both episodes quite a lot. However, I agree that there's some significant omissions here including;

                  Fool For Love

                  which would all absolutely be in my Top 20.

                  I've certainly seen lists that have shocked me more. I agree with those that would radically change the order of these episodes though. Innocence is my Number 1 episode of the show so that of course would be first but The Gift and Becoming would also rate much higher. I'm a big fan of the Big Four 'special episodes' but they're such a departure from the usual tone of the show that I can never bring myself to rank them as my favourites (though definitely Top 20 material).

                  I agree with Nina that the writer definitely appears to be a fan of the show, though. The Guardian has always been very supportive of BtVS and the fact that she picks some peculiar episodes (IMO of course) suggests to me she's a fan, as opposed to copying the standard lists we normally see. Ultimately everybody has different tastes.
                  "The earth is doomed!" - Banner by Nina


                  • #10
                    The writer puts all the unusual episodes in the top three and I think that vampmogs is right that The Gift, Becoming and Innocence should be higher because they represent the real heart of the show. All three are about Buffy changing and growing and learning to deal with the power she’s been given. The Body, Hush and Once More With Feeling are all great, but I find the end of Innocence and Becoming and the end of The Gift more haunting because Buffy’s grief is so internalized and...well...effulgent.


                    • #11
                      I don't think the writer picks any unusual episodes. Tabula Rasa is one of my favourites. All the other episodes are pretty universally loved or thought of as important/clever. Nothing of the writers personality can be gleaned from this list. She neither loves nor hates any one character, all characters are covered and all big moments covered.


                      • #12
                        I meant unusual in the sense that they are different from a regular Buffy episode. Hush is silent, Once More With Feeling is a musical and The Body isn’t about Buffy fighting demons but about Buffy accepting death. I was just pointing out that they are always at the top of any best list because they’re obviously ‘special’ and so well done. But The Gift and Innocence and Becoming aren’t as recognized for how great they are because they’re more conventional.

                        I love Tabula Rasa. It is my favorite episode of Season Six.


                        • #13
                          I wonder if there is another show where an standard Top 20 made by critics has, always (aaaalways), the same 3 episodes around Top 5 (Hush, Body and the musical) and so many season finales around Top 10. And if there is another show where his creator/showrunner wrote the vast majority of this episodes.


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Synch View Post
                            I wonder if there is another show where an standard Top 20 made by critics has, always (aaaalways), the same 3 episodes around Top 5 (Hush, Body and the musical) and so many season finales around Top 10. And if there is another show where his creator/showrunner wrote the vast majority of this episodes.
                            Mad Men lists come close. Those usually have the same top episodes (The Suitcase, The Wheel, Shut The Door, Have a Seat). And Matthew Weiner is nearly always the (co-)writer of the popular episodes. Not as many season finales in the top 10 though, but The Wheel and Shut the Door, Have a Seat are both finales.

                            And Mad Men lists usually include Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency. A fine episode, but it earned it's high place on all those lists because of one moment:


                            • Priceless
                              Priceless commented
                              Editing a comment
                              Is that the one with the sit-on mower? Great episode

                            • Nina
                              Nina commented
                              Editing a comment
                              Yep, that's the one. It's a fun episode, and this scene was everything.

                          • #15
                            There's no point in arguing about lists, people are always going to pick different episodes. Tastes differ.
                            I guess I'd probably choose (in chronological order) -

                            Prophecy Girl
                            Lie to Me
                            I Only Have Eyes For You
                            Becoming Part Two
                            The Wish
                            Something Blue
                            Who Are You?
                            No Place Like Home
                            Fool for Love
                            The Body
                            The Gift
                            Once More, With Feeling
                            Dead Things
                            Conversations with Dead People

                            H,M. - Becoming Part One, Selfless, Doppelgangland, Graduation Day Part Two, No Place Like Home, Anne...
                            You keep waiting for the dust to settle and then you realize it; the dust is your life going on. If happy comes along - that weird unbearable delight that's actual happy - I think you have to grab it while you can. You take what you can get, 'cause it's here, and then...gone.