TV was forever changed by Joss Whedon’s Buffy: The Vampire Slayer when it aired as a midseason replacement on the WB on March 10, 1997. It’s been 20 years since “Welcome to the Hellmouth” aired, and after all this time, Buffy and the Scooby gang still have something to teach us.
Before Gilmore Girls and their fast-talking pop-culture rants, Buffy was punning and referencing like her life depended on it…”Way to go with the keen observiness, Jessica Fletcher.” Before Alias, Scandal’s Olivia Pope, and all the other badass women on TV, we had Buffy. We have Joss Whedon and Sarah Michelle Gellar to thank for that.
Joss, Buffy, Giles, Willow, Xander, and even Spike taught us a lot throughout their time on air. As the creator behind the show, Joss made Buffy into a vehicle for the acceptance of geek culture – making it something to be proud of it. And whether it was meant to or not, Buffy was also anchored by the power of friendship. Willow, Buffy, and Xander went through hell and back (many times), but they always came through for each other. As a bonafide vampire slayer, Gellar’s Buffy was a role model whose beauty was less so about her looks but her strength. Characters like Willow taught us that it’s okay to change and grow. Xander, through humor and self-deprecation, showed us how vital being the observer can be.
The show is filled with incredible episodes including “Innocence”, “Passion”, “Becoming”, “Band Candy”, and “Earshot”, but as I reflect on two decades of slaying, I’ve narrowed down my favorite episodes below.
The Top 5 Buffy the Vampire Slayer Episodes
- “The Body”, Season 5 Episode 16
Buffy could save anyone from the perils of death, except her mother. This episode resonated so strongly because it showed us how death really is: sudden. Whedon captured the isolation and boredom involved in the minutes and hours after finding a loved one has died. This heartbreaking episode doesn’t feature any music, a deliberate maneuver to make viewers feel uncomfortable. The moment I remember the most is Anya’s desperate speech attempting to understand human grief and human death: “…and no one will explain to me why!”
- “Chosen”, Season 7 Episode 22
Throughout season 7, the show was constantly dealing with the fundamental separation between the Slayer and other people. The series finale, however, flipped that idea on its head. Buffy, now an adult, changes her destiny and shares her Slayer power. The final battle is the most memorable, seeing all these potentials gaining that power and becoming the badass women they’re meant to be. Buffy smiles to herself, knowing that Slayers around the world are sharing this destiny. This finale was everything Buffy fans wanted it to be. It wrapped up Sunnydale and left a positive open-ended last scene.
- “Hush”, Season 4 Episode 10
With only seventeen minutes of dialogue, this episode is praised by critics as one of the most innovative episodes of the series. When the creepiest creatures called The Gentleman glide into Sunnydale, the whole town is rendered silent. This fairy tale-infused episode was nominated for an Emmy and Whedon proved that a network TV show could rival the movies.
- “Once More, With Feeling”, Season 6 Episode 7
The show’s musical episode is probably the most memorable episodes. Not only is it a fun episode where you see Giles and even Spike break out into song, these songs push the narrative forward and reveal relevant character information. This episode also paved the way for the Buffy/Spike story arc that became imperative for the finale.
- “Welcome to the Hellmouth”, Season 1 Episode 1
I think it’s only right that the first episode makes the list. “Welcome to Hellmouth” started the journey for viewers and introduced us to the Scooby gang of Willow, Xander, and Giles. Joss Whedon created a hero, someone that young women could look up to, despite her faults, for seven unforgettable seasons.
As #BuffySlays20 this week, what episodes will you be watching?