2.2.09

Top Buffy episodes

Many moons ago I made a list of my top Buffy episodes (see note waaay below) where I was a little bit in awe of season 7. This was mainly a nostalgia attack. I had only seen season 7 once, when it originally aired on the BBC. I've just finished rewatching it again, and it has made me wanna do an updated list, with season 7 highlights. After that, I can finally bury this strange obsession and get on with my life (or what remains of it). Well, that is until Dollhouse comes to our screens later this year.

Here we go:

2.7 Lie To Me
The first episode I ever watched. It's my favourite, but not just for that reason. This was the point at which the series became something bigger. Before it, there was decent mileage from the teenage angst equals monsters set up. But that was pretty much the only level being played. Here, the show really blasted into the stratosphere. With a simple scene at the end, the writers touched on truly poignant and profound ideas. The chaos of life, and our need to make sense of it -- by telling stories, and believing them even though they are lies. Don't take my word for it. Read this and tell me it's not a work of genius:

Buffy: Does it ever get easy?
Giles: You mean life?
Buffy: Yeah. Does it get easy?
Giles: What do you want me to say?
Buffy: Lie to me.
Giles: Yes, it's terribly simple. The good guys are always stalwart and true, the bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and, uh, we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies, and everybody lives happily ever after.
Buffy: Liar.

2.16 Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered
How hilarious is this? And also completely ridiculous. The jokes and the situations just build and build, but in the end it really revolves around a gooey, warm, heartfelt centre. Teenage relationships done the Joss Whedon way. Confusing, sexy, a little scary. It's the way it should be done.

2.18 Killed By Death
There is something to be said for the creep factor. The show rarely gets to be scary. The horror stuff gets crowded out by all the other genres Buffy works off of. But here there's a monster killing little children in a hospital. And you're at the edge of your seat every step of the way.

3.9 The Wish
Anya and Vamp Willow first make an appearance here, but that isn't the selling point of the episode. It's wonderful how it moves from Cordelia's feelings of betrayal to the sci-fi concentration camp dystopia at the end, and yet manages to build a unifying theme out of such disparate parts. Wishing for vengeance is not the way forward. Wishing for a better world is.

3.10 Amends
Christmas, family and a christmas miracle. This is the episode that gave Angel his own spin off tv show. Good and evil are given a divine transcendent dimension. And both forces are fighting over Angel's destiny, one bringing despair, and the other, hope. The writers of Angel will eventually grow uncomfortable with it, but here is the Buffyverse at its most overtly religious. This is interesting not because the episode is preaching, but because it uses Christian mythology and symbol to layer personal pain and anxiety, and so demonstrates the way in which religion works.

4.10 Hush
The gentlemen are terrifying. In other news, this is the one where everyone loses their voices, and we see how inept we are at truly communicating, even when we are able to speak to each other. A simple idea, executed brilliantly.

4.16 Who Are You?
This is amazing partly for the really rather terrific impersonation Sarah Michelle Gellar pulls off. Secondly for the really rather earth-shattering transformation Faith's character goes through, to be continued at the end of Angel's first season. And finally because the idea of the body swap can keep a philosopher occupied for days discussing what really makes us who we are.

4.22 Restless
A weird season finale, to be sure (and what's with the Cheese Man?). The rather cliche idea of dreams revealing your inner insecurities is at the heart of proceedings, but it is nonetheless exciting to discover new shades and perspectives in what are well established characters. And the whole thing is masterfully put together.

5.6 Family
The title says it all, really. Sometimes your biological family isn't your true one, and it's great to see Tara discover that and really become part of the gang. Also, the oppressive force of patriarchy is shown in all its ugliness, and a distinction is made between it and the values of Buffy and her friends -- love and along with it an acceptance of people's differences and eccentricities (homosexuality, magic). Also, Spike is hilarious.

5.16 The Body
The show's finest achievement. Its pinnacle. It's brutal, and it's beautiful. Nowhere has the process of bereavement been captured so well in television. And this is a show about vampires.

5.22 The Gift
Buffy sacrifices herself so that her sister, her friends, and the world can live. Sound familiar? Whedon doesn't spare the Christian symbols, but he stresses that they aren't the important bit. They just visually convey the emotions being played out. And those emotions really hit you. This may well have been the final episode of the series. The writers were not sure if it was gonna be picked up for another season. And so the fundamental ideas of the show are restated, more brilliantly than ever. Selflessness, friendship, family. The gifts we give one another.

6.7 Once More, With Feeling
Joss Whedon didn't know how to play an instrument six months before writing and shooting this episode. But he wanted to do it, and so he learned. And then he wrote the songs. And then he made the episode. This guy is a genius!

6.17 Normal Again
I bet loads of fans hated this. It turns out the Buffyverse is an elaborate fantasy playing out inside Buffy's head, while she spends her days comatose in a mental institution. The dangers hinted at in 'Lie To Me' are explored here. Sometimes telling stories -- lies -- to shield yourself from the evils of the real world prevent you from living at all. They imprison you. I bet the Buffy writers weren't too comfortable with this episode either. Hits close to home. But there is other stuff going on here. Buffy comes face to face with her mother, and the possibility of regaining her childhood. But she rejects it. She grows up and chooses to live in her own world. What season 6 was all about.

7.02 Beneath You
You know this James Marsters guy? Yeah, he's pretty awesome. His performance here is kinda powerhouse. It's dynamite. It's stand back in awe when the credits roll stuff. It made me want to applaud my computer screen. Give this guy a show already!

7.12 Potential
Dawn got a pretty raw deal season 6, after being a big part of season 5. And she was a big part of why season 5 was amazing, so it's nice to see the character get her moment. Much of the episode is pretty standard, and then Xander starts to speak at the end and I'm weeping into my keyboard. In a season all about power, it's deeply moving to see the regular people gain a kind of grace the powerful will never have.

7.16 Storyteller
I'm in awe of Tom Lenk's comedy chops. I don't think he can really deliver on the emotional stuff, which brings the episode down somewhat. But it is still a landmark episode, because (like 'Normal Again') the writers get to talk about the limits of storytelling. Actually doing something is what is vital. Also, a wonderful symbol at the heart of the episode: atonement isn't achieved with blood, but with tears.

7.22 Chosen
Most tv shows go out with a whimper. Buffy goes out with a bang (and what a bang...). It says a lot about the series that the last episode can be ranked alongside its best. What is the final message? That women everywhere can use Buffy's example and become Slayers, overcoming the forces of patriarchy that oppress them. And Buffy? She can finally go on and live her life. She seems pretty happy about that.

Right. Enough of this nonsense. I'm done. Time for me to go live my life.

2 comments:

  1. Hmm, some very interesting choices. I don't know that I'd agree with the assessment that Lenk can't do emotional. They never really gave him a chance, but when he admits what he did at the very end of Storyteller and just shuts the camera off, I really felt for him.

    That moment of Lie to Me is so wonderful, and is my second favorite exchange of the pre-"Innocence" breakthrough, after that "Giles, I'm 16 years old. I don't want to die."

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  2. Becoming is not on this list? :O

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