My Favorite Buffy Episodes

In chronological order...

The Witch
A great plot, two amazing guest stars in Elizabeth Anne Allen and Robin Riker, and the swirling-light effect used when Catherine tries to banish Buffy (my favorite visual effect on Buffy) add up to make this my favorite episode from the first season.

This plot just screamed "fun", plus it was a wonderful confidence-boosting episode for Willow.

Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered
Another fun plot, more swirly lights, and the moment when I first really liked Cordelia: when she claims that the necklace Xander gave her is in her locker, but once she's sure that he can't see her, she removes it from around her neck. Despite having dumped him, she really cared for him, and that melted away any icy feelings I still felt for her.

I Only Have Eyes For You
Some really scary poltergeist scenes, and the beautiful, tearjerking scene as James and Grace possessed Buffy and Angel, when we suddenly realized just how well the words fit their situation. My favorite episode of the second season.

Becoming (part 2)
As far as I'm concerned, this has the best ending of any episode of any show ever. Major wow. Major sobs. And, talk about your torturous summers...this was the worst.

Band Candy
I love the episodes that play with our well-loved characters, and besides, I'm a Joyce-Giles 'shipper.

The Wish
Speaking of episodes that play with our characters...! Plus, I had been wanting to see Alyson in vampire makeup ever since I heard that she had had it applied one Halloween. And Cordelia's naughty laugh after she's transported to the new Sunnydale is hilarious!

There is not enough good in the world to be said about this episode. Every moment is delightful. Alyson Hannigan rocks (but then, what else is new?) in her quadruple role, delivering every line perfectly - I think it's her best performance yet, and that's saying a lot! Not just my favorite episode of the third season, but unquestionably my favorite episode ever.

This episode had a lot of elements that just made me feel warm and had a first-season feel, I thought. There's an interesting plot with action for each character, some clever twists, finally more recognition of Buffy's superpowers, and a villain that I didn't realize I had wanted so much. Along with the abundance of recurring characters, the interesting use of Buffy's telepathy and lots more zingy one-liners, this is one to remember. Or, maybe it was just the wait.

What is "Buffy" without the dialogue? That was the question I posed to myself when I first heard about Joss' experimental episode - but I knew if anyone could pull it off, it was Joss, and he did an amazing job. Creepiness runs rife throughout the ep (the little girl's rhyme, the Gentlemen in their entirety, the shock moments, and especially watching the villains glide up behind Tara). Add to this one great old-timey scene in the classroom, Willow's burgeoning powers and a liberal dash of riotous humor (I love the petroleum line!), and you have a classic ep. Plus, great title. Easily my favorite fourth-season ep.

Nice to finally see Tara get the spotlight and be fully integrated into the group (although she still has to make it into the opening credits!), and I'm relieved at the way things turned out!

An episode that focuses on Willow and Anya cannot be bad, especially when Jane Espenson is writing it. Highly enjoyable stuff to be had here, especially the uncommon character pairings. I was only sad we didn't get any swirly lights or a mention of Anya's accidentally summoning VampWillow, but we did get namechecks for Amy and the World Without Shrimp, so I'm happy!

The Body
I can't even read a synopsis of this episode without bawling. Unquestionably the most torturous pain Joss Whedon has ever put us through, but it's absolutely wonderful and honest and true to the characters. Anya's desperate attempt to understand death turns me into a wreck every time. As much as I hate to say it, and as terribly as I miss Joyce, this has to be my favorite fifth-season episode.

Jane Espenson, how I love you. The Buffybot was a sorely-needed laugh riot, with fantastic perky lines, and Sarah Michelle Gellar plays her to maximum effect.

The Gift
There's some rewriting of continuity that makes me rank this season-ending cliffhanger lower than "Becoming, part 2" but the ending comes close to being just as wonderful. I didn't realize what was coming until Buffy saw the sun start to rise...and after that, I was a goner.

Once More, With Feeling
Is it possible for anyone to not love this episode?! I especially adore Tara's beautiful ballad to Willow
(and what a lovely dress she's wearing, too). My favorite episode from the sixth season.

Tabula Rasa
A riot from beginning to - well, almost the end. Anya gets my favorite line:
"Bloodsuckers. They kill by sucking blood. Take it easy, Joan."

Honorable Mentions

Inca Mummy Girl
Ampata was such a tragic and sympathetic villain, and the contrast of her plight with Buffy's was wonderful. However, this one makes into the history books for one line: "Not her...the Eskimo!"

Dead Man's Party
I find the bickering scenes hard to watch - poor Buffy just can't get out the right words as she's attacked and humiliated from all sides - but I had been wishing for a zombie episode, and this delivered!

Witch episodes, it seems, are guaranteed to make it into my list of favorites. It must be those lights...slowly materializing out of thin air, swirling around Amy faster and faster...neat. When is Willow going to get the Power of Swirly Lights? So much more fun than pencil-floating.

Living Conditions
This ep grew on me gradually, but the demon-roommate theme is near and dear to my heart. What I would have given for a dimensional portal... (Except, eep, I actually kinda relate to Kathy.) High point: the clever visual and auditory exaggerations of Buffy and Kathy's quirks.

Fear, Itself
You know how sometimes you can hear about an upcoming episode and you instantly know it's going to be great? That happened to me here, and the ep didn't disappoint. I would have enjoyed seeing more of the gang's struggles inside the frat house, but despite a few flaws, this was still a great ep with some good character moments and effective scares. Plus, Anya's bunny suit is hilarious.

Nice to see a Thanksgiving episode, and the dialogue is wonderful. I love Buffy's desperate determination to have the perfect holiday! I do wish the killing-Native-Americans issue had been addressed a teensy bit more, but still a great episode. Never has syphilis been so funny.

Something Blue
Oh, a light-hearted Willow episode...always of the good. Plus...the return of Amy! But can I tell you how upset I was when she went poof back into a rat? If this is her only fourth-season appearance, heads will roll. I need my annual fix of swirly lights.

Who Are You
The episode that finally made me like Faith, which nearly put it in the "favorites" list. Sarah's performance was impressive, but somehow not as impressive to me as Eliza's Buffy, which I utterly believed. Rivetting viewing, and I look forward to seeing more of Faith for the first time in my life.

Listening to Fear
A good showing for the whole gang, a great performance by Kristine Sutherland and a really funny script ("I'd rip it in half and stick it in bed with me!") add up to a highly enjoyable episode.

After Life
Here mainly for one scene: a possessed Anya giggling and cutting her cheek with a knife. *shudder* Very Evil-Dead.

Life Serial
A wonderful episode all around, but classic primarily for its third-act mummy hand repeat-o-vision. My favorite moment: Buffy staring mournfully at the hand as it mockingly clacks the tongs at her.

Amy gets de-ratted!!! Hooray!!! Yet still no swirling lights. However, aside from Amy's most-welcome return, I wasn't hugely fond of this episode...

Doublemeat Palace
A fun and enjoyable episode - Buffy's mystery-meat theories ("number five: cat burgers") were a hilarious way to enable them to pile on the menace without being ridiculous, and still I was trying to figure out the culprit up until the end! Loved the monster, too.

Older and Far Away
Possibly the first Buffy-birthday episode I've really loved, and a large part of that is due to wonderful performances by Emma Caulfield as a freaked Anya turning on Willow, and especially Amber Benson as Tara with quite the spine, offering pointed comments to Spike ("Maybe you wanna put some ice on it.") and defending her girlfriend from the aforementioned Anya. Woohoo, Tara!

Well, first, we've got Anyanka back, and I'm shockingly excited about it! But watching her scheme to get Xander's entrails for party decorations is highly entertaining. And there's also the very sweet reconciliation of Willow and Tara, even if it isn't destined to last long... *sniffle*

Seeing Red
Amber Benson finally makes it to the credits! (although without the head-turn "I am, you know...yours" shot from "Who Are You" that I had predicted would be part of it.) And, seeing as how the episode ends, that is the only reason it's on this list. But Tara's final words are perfect: caring to the end.

And my least favorites would be...

Well, actually, there aren't any Buffy episodes that I find painful to watch. That's why I love this show. Even episodes that I consider pretty sub-par, like "Killed by Death", have elements that I adore (in that case, Cordelia's flirtation with the security guard!). I will say, though, that I tend to not love episodes that strongly feature my least-favorite characters, like Angel ("Amends"), Faith ("Enemies") or Riley ("Goodbye Iowa").

Are there any common denominators here?

Well, I certainly think so. Let's take a look...

Written by... At the moment, my all-time favorite Buffy writer is Jane Espenson. She's had a higher ratio of hits to total episodes than anyone else. Besides, she's a fellow linguistics major, so I have to love her. With only one exception so far ("The Harsh Light of Day"), I know I'm going to completely enjoy any episode that bears her name. Coming in second is Marti Noxon, who was soaring high during the late second season but has faltered since "The Wish" as she hasn't done many stand-alones (see the next point). Then we have Joss, whose writing is consistently good but who never all-out astounded me until "Dopplegängland". Since then, he's had a pretty good ratio as well.

Stand-alones. In general, I never really enjoy the mythology episodes of any series. I find the government-conspiracy-and-aliens storyline of The X-Files dull, but give me a monster-of-the-week episode and I'm happy. Most recurring villains on Star Trek, like the Romulans, Jem'Hadar and Hirogen, are distinctly unexciting. And as great as Spike and Dru are, episodes that center around them, or the Master, or Faith and the Mayor, or the Initiative, generally fail to thrill me. There can be exceptions to this rule - the Bajor episodes of Deep Space Nine always held my interest - but in general, if a Buffy episode is a stand-alone with an interesting new monster or supernatural phenomenon, I'm much more likely to be a fan of it. So far, "Who Are You" is the only exception to this, but it's because of the body-switching and the dramatic shift in Faith's character.

Holiday episodes. This isn't always a factor, because a holiday theme is more like the icing on the cake and must accompany the other factors - but, aside from "Amends" and "All the Way", all holiday episodes thus far have been lots of fun, so the holiday theme only enhanced them. Episodes that feature Buffy's birthday or homecoming/prom have, so far, not overly thrilled me, but they're not technically holidays so I don't have to count them.

All of Sunnydale is affected. For some reason, the episodes in which something happens that causes the whole town to go wonky seem to work amazingly well. "Halloween", "Bad Eggs" (which I actually did like), "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered", "Band Candy", "Gingerbread", "Hush" and "Once More, With Feeling" so far all fall into this category. And, wonder of wonders, most of them are on my list.

Twists on our beloved characters. On a smaller scale, when something happens to our regulars and we see their differing reactions, we usually get good character insights as well. Here we've got "Nightmares" (well, eh), "Halloween", "Fear, Itself" and "Something Blue". A related phenomenon is when our regulars are somehow altered, as in "The Pack" (eh), "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered", "I Only Have Eyes For You", "Band Candy", "The Wish", "Gingerbread", "Dopplegängland", "Beer Bad" (eh), "A New Man" (eh but good), "Who Are You" and "Tabula Rasa".

Recurring characters. It's always a treat to see recurring characters pop up again, like Jonathan, Harmony, Larry and Percy. In the case of some episodes, like "The Wish" and "Earshot", they give it that extra little oomph.

Amy and witchcraft. So, naturally, my favorite recurring character always lifts an episode. But the writers have, so far, also been able to wring some amazingly good storylines out of witchcraft in general, and Willow's experimentation in particular. Now that we're getting a more semi-regular witch in Tara, I'm looking forward to more success in this area. And maybe more Amy. Hurry it up with the de-ratting, already.

Effective scares. Scariness doesn't have to be part of a Buffy episode for me to love it, by any means; I just require a clever plot, good character moments and witty lines. But when true creepiness comes along, it can really give the episode a boost. Such is the case in "I Only Have Eyes For You" and "Hush".

Poignancy. Again, not required, but highly effective. Emotional wallop is usually great, although when it gets into major angst, I have a hard time enjoying it. But in cases like "Inca Mummy Girl", "Lie to Me", "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered", "Passion", "I Only Have Eyes For You", "Becoming" part 2, "The Wish", "Who Are You", "The Body", "The Gift", and "Two to Go / Grave", it makes a lasting impression and can be as wonderful as the humor that Buffy employs so skilfully.

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Well, look at me. I'm all *fuzzy*.

Photo and episode pages courtesy of The Complete Buffy the Vampire Slayer Episode Guide