Top 25 Episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The Top Five.

This is it, the end of the list. If you were saving your comments for the list in full, speak now. I don’t really mind if few people were reading this, it was fun to put together either way. If you wanna see all the screen caps I made, including episodes that didn’t make the cut, you can see them HERE. If you want them for yourself, feel free to take them. It’s not like I own the copyright. Just don’t hotlink.
#25- “School Hard”
#24- “Passion
#23- “Doppelgangland”
#22- “The Replacement”
#21- “The Prom”

#20- “Prophecy Girl”
#19- “Who Are You?”
#18- “Villains”
#17- “Two To Go”
#16- “Grave”

#15- “Normal Again”
#14- “Earshot”
#13- “Chosen”
#12- “Innocence”
#11- “Once More, With Feeling”

#10- “Conversations With Dead People”
#9- “The Wish”
#7 (tie)- “Graduation Day” parts 1 & 2
#6- “Restless”

#4 “Becoming” parts 1 & 2Druscilla kills Kendra
Episodes 33/34 – Season 2
Featured Performers: Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers, Nicholas Brendan as Xander Harris, Alyson Hannigan as Willow Rosenberg, Charisma Carpenter as Cordelia Chase, David Boreanz as Angel, and Anthony Stewart Head as Rupert Giles.
Recurring Performer(s): Seth Green as Oz, Kristine Sutherland as Joyce Summers, Robia LaMorte as Jenny Calendar/Janna Kalderash, James Marsters as Spike, Juliet Landau as Drusilla, Bianca Lawson as Kendra, Julie Benz as Darla, Armin Shimerman as Principal Snyder
Guest Star(s): Max Perlich as Whistler, Jack McGee as Doug Perren, Richard Riehle as Merrick, James G. MacDonald as Detective Stein
Writer(s): Joss Whedon
Director: Joss Whedon
Synopsis in 100 words or less: Angel discovers the remains of the demon Acathla, planning to use it to suck the world into Hell. Giles is kidnapped to help Angel and company, after Drusilla kills Kendra and hospitalises Willow and Xander, making Buffy the prime suspect by the Sunnydale police, and resulting in her suspension from school. Meanwhile, Willow succeeds in restoring Angel’s soul, but is too late to stop him from awaking the Acathla, leading Buffy to have to kill Angel. Now wanted by the Buffy kills Angelpolice, expelled, kicked out of her house, and having killed her boyfriend, Buffy leaves Sunnydale.
Why it’s on the list: Easily one of the best episodes of the series, this two-part season finale is a laundry list of classic Buffy moments. It began with Angel’s origins, continued to show Willow using magic for the first time, then had Drusilla’s awesome killing of the unpopular Kendra, Giles standing up to Angel’s torture, Drusilla tricking Giles into thinking she was the slain Jenny Calendar, Spike helping Buffy, Joyce learning that Buffy was the Slayer, Buffy and Angel’s big fight, then finally Buffy having to killed the re-ensouled Angel. Buffy’s heroic decision might be the most heartbreaking moment in the series’ history.
Snappy quote:
Angel: I want to torture you. I used to love it, and it’s been a long time. I mean, the last time I tortured someone; they didn’t even have chain saws.

#3 “The Gift”
Episode 100 – Season 5
Featured Performers: Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers, Nicholas Brendan as Xander Harris, Alyson Hannigan as Willow Rosenberg, Emma Caulfied as Anya, Michelle Trachtenberg as Dawn Summers, James Marsters as Spike, and Anthony Stewart Head as Rupert Giles.
Recurring Performer(s): Clare Kramer as Glory, Charlie Weber as Ben, Amber Benson as Tara Maclay, Joel Grey as Doc, Todd Duffey as Murk
Guest Star(s): Craig Zimmerman as Minion #1, Josh Jacobson as Teenager, Tom Kiesche as Vampire
Writer(s): Joss Whedon
Director: Joss Whedon
Synopsis in 50 words or less: It’s the final battle with Glory, who plans on using Dawn to open a portal to hell so she get back to her own dimension. Working together, the gang succeed in defeating Glory, but not before the portal is opened, leaving Buffy to sacrifice her life to close it.Buffy is dead. Long live Buffy
Why it’s on the list: The culmination of the season-long arc involving Glory and Dawn, “The Gift” could have easily served as the series finale (as the WB was billing it, since it was leaving for UPN), and would have been considered one of the best series finales ever. Of course, I was happy to get two more seasons, so you won’t hear me complain. What I like best about this episode is how everyone and everything comes together to play a key role in the final battle against Glory, which is very X-Men-esque. From Anya’s planning, to Willow’s magic, to Tara leading the gang to Glory, to Spike’s muscle, Giles’ moral dilemma, and Xander’s swell bowling skills—all the gang help Buffy in her fight with Glory. They even bring in two elements from earlier, self-contained comedy episodes to help, with everything culminating in Buffy’s biggest sacrifice yet.
Snappy quote:
Xander: I’m looking for something in a broadsword.
Spike: Don’t be swingin’ that thing near me.
Xander: Hey, I happen to be…
Spike: A glorified bricklayer?”
Xander: I’m also a swell bowler.
Anya: He has his own shoes.
Spike: The gods themselves do tremble.

#2 “Hush”
Episode 66 – Season 4
Featured Performers: Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers, Nicholas Brendan as Xander Harris, Alyson Hannigan as Willow Rosenberg, James Marsters as Spike, and Anthony Stewart Head as Rupert Giles.
Recurring Performer(s): Marc Blucas as Riley Finn, Emma Caulfied as Anya, Leonard Roberts as Forrest Gates, Phina Oruche as Olivia, Amber Benson as Tara Maclay, Lindsay Crouse as Professor Maggie Walsh
Guest Star(s): Brooke Blume as Nicole, Jessica Townsend as Cheryl, Doug Jones as Gentleman
The GentlemenWriter(s): Joss Whedon
Director: Joss Whedon
Synopsis in 50 words or less: As Buffy and Riley have a hard time communicating their feelings, a group of fairytale demons called The Gentlemen steal the voices of everyone in Sunnydale, so they can steal the hearts of seven people without being interrupted by anyone’s screams.
Why it’s on the list: The only episode in the show’s history to have been nominated for a writing Emmy. It’s also the creepiest and most genuinely frightening episode in the show’s history, while at the same time having one of the funniest scenes in the show’s history. This is the famed “silent” episode, which contained no spoken dialogue for over half the episode. This, along with the look and movement of The Gentlemen (think: Tim Burton directs Nosferatu), is what led to the creepiness. “Hush” is also an excellent examination of communication in general, a theme it hits before, during, and after everyone loses their voice. This is also memorable as the show that Buffy and Riley both learn that there is something up with the other and the first appearance of Tara.
Snappy quote:
Forrest: We have a gig that would inevitably cause any girl living to think we are cool upon cool. Yet, we must Clark Kent our way through the dating scene never to use our unfair advantage… thank God we’re pretty.

#1 “The Body”
Episode 94 – Season 5
Featured Performers: Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers, Nicholas Brendan as Xander Harris, Alyson Hannigan as Willow Rosenberg, Emma Caulfied as Anya, Michelle Trachtenberg as Dawn Summers, James Marsters as Spike, and Anthony Stewart Head as Rupert Giles.
Recurring Performer(s): Amber Benson as Tara Maclay, Kristine Sutherland as Joyce Summers
Guest Star(s): Randy Thompson as Doctor Kriegel, Kevin Crisalton as First Paramedic, Stefan Umstead as Second Paramedic, Loanne Bishop as 911 Operator, J. Evan Bonifant as Kevin, Kelli Garner as Kristi, Rae’Ven Larrymore-Kelly as Lisa, Tia Matza as Teacher
'Where'd she go?'Writer(s): Joss Whedon
Director: Joss Whedon
Synopsis in 50 words or less: After coming home to find her mother dead from complications due to her recent brain surgery, Buffy and friends have to deal with the immediate after-effects associated with death.
Why it’s on the list: Quite simply, 42 of the finest minutes the medium has ever produced. The show made the bold decision to kill off a supporting character, and do it in the most normal and mundane way. In the middle of an arc where they are battling an all-powerful god, her mother dies from medical complications, just like anyone’s mother (or anyone, for that matter) could die. Showing that, on top of vampires, demons, and gods, the people of Sunnydale also have to worry about illness and death. Then, at the end of the show, when the characters are dealing with the numbness of death, Buffy has to kill a vampire in the morgue, showing that evil in Sunnydale doesn’t just show up when it’s convenient. There is nothing about this episode that isn’t brilliant, from the long shots that follow Buffy after the paramedics are unable to revive Joyce, almost grotesquely invading her privacy, to Willow’s desperate attempt to distract herself with the inane pursuit of the most appropriate grief-wear before collapsing into Tara (incidentally, this is the first time they kissed on air—making the show’s first lesbian kiss a natural, comforting one, instead of a sleazy ratings-grab), to the voyeuristic shot of Buffy telling Dawn the news through the window of another room, to the brilliant decision of having no accompanying score for the entire episode. An emotional score would let people out of the moment, guiding them with their emotions as a viewer. But, amongst all this greatness, I think the best moment of episode was Anya’s heart-breaking, child-like soliloquy about how, as an ex-demon, she can not grasp the concept of death and mortality. It’s impossible to be a fan of this show and not cry when watching this episode, unless you’re like me and have been socially programmed to not reveal basic human emotional responses. Then, you suck them back and swallow a great big lump in your throat. Yet another example of how Buffy the Vampire Slayer took chances that few other shows ever have.
Snappy quote:
Xander: The Avengers have to make with the Assembling.

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34 thoughts on “Top 25 Episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The Top Five.

  1. Pingback: Top 25 Episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Numbers 10-6. « Critically Speaking

  2. Honestly, if I were to do this list again, I’d probably rank it higher. But basically, while “Passion” was the first episode to hit such strong marks and reveal that this was a darker, deeper show than it had been, the show would hit those marks (and do it better, in my opinion) several more times in the episodes that succeeded it.

    But as I said, if I were creating this list today, it would probably at least be in the top 20 (in fact, you could probably just swap it with “Normal Again”, and the reason they’re swapped here probably has to do with the simple fact that I watched “Normal Again” more recently than “Passion” when I made this list).

  3. I agree very strongly with most of the episodes on this list. ‘Hush’ and ‘The Body’ are two of my favorite episodes, though I’m surprised ‘Once’ isn’t higher…it’s in most people’s top 5. ‘Graduation Day’ is probably my third favorite, and I’m glad ‘The Prom’ made your top 25, because it’s pretty underrated. Though I wouldn’t have included ‘Normal Again’–not a big fan–and wasn’t a big fan of the dark Willow arc, and probably WOULD have included ‘The Zeppo’, this is still a fantastic list.

    • Thanks for the comments. I’m guessing a big reason why I respond so well to the dark Willow arc is that I grew up an X-Men fan, so it pushed all the right fanboy buttons.

      As for “The Zeppo”, it never sat well with me simply for the way it seems to mock the show and its self-seriousness. Obviously, that’s what a lot of people like about it, but for me it was too self-referential. In my opinion, BTVS isn’t the type of show that should point out its own ridiculousness, as it relies so heavily on its audience accepting some of its tropes and then investing in the drama. So while I enjoyed the Xander comedy parts of it, I didn’t like the melodramatic parts with the rest of the gang.

    • Oh, and I fully realize that I’ve probably ranked OMWF way lower than anyone else. Basically, I don’t respond as well to musicals as most (although I still enjoyed this, and Dr. Horrible), so it gets no bonus points from me. Also, it always bugged me a bit that Xander’s actions that led to a few deaths on the show (or at least one that we saw), ended up having no consequences. Neither were deal killers, just enough to push it out of my top ten.

  4. Pingback: 10 Memorable Episodes of ER « Critically Speaking

  5. Very good list :)Lot of my favourite episodes in here but i’m suprised tabula rasa wasn’t there! One of the most funny episode’s in the who buffy saga! :P and Once more with feeling, i thought would have been higher and something blue was missing too :( another one of my favourites.. i love how spike find it so discuting that he “loved” buffy then goes on to actually really loving a while later, there is a few more episodes i miss from here and while the body was a good and emotional episode, i wou;dn’t have put it at number.. but despite these opinion i still think you made a fantastic list and i enjoyed readiing it :)

  6. Just wondering.. where is number 5? lol

    but good list, some episodes not in there i would have put in but alot of great episodes in there

  7. I like a lot of the episodes you picked, I am very glad you put “Nightmares” in there as it is personally one of my favorites. I am shocked myself to find that in not one listing of top episodes have I found “Helpless”, but I guess I am biased as it’s one of my favorite episodes because of Giles part in it, just because he is my favorite character, anyways I guess that’s why no one else sees it as a top episode. Anyway, other than that I think you did pretty well, as I agree on most of your opinions. Thanks for writing! I enjoyed reading it!

    • Sorry, screwed up in my comment. I was thinking of another list when I said “Nightmares”. (Oops) :( Anyways, I wish that episode would have made in the top 25 because it is one of my favorites, again sorry about that.

      • No problem. I probably underrate most of season one, so that’s probably why it’s overlooked here. The monster of the week storylines didn’t interest me as much as the mythology-building ones, but “Nightmares” is an excellent example of a MOTW done well. Probably better than in season four’s “Fear, Itself” episode, which repeats the premise, but I’ll admit I have a soft spot for that one due to Anya in the bunny costume and “actual size”.

        Thanks for reading.

  8. Wouldn’t Family (Season 5 Episode 6) qualify as a top episode? It reconfirmed that the Scooby Gang are a surrogate family, and while members come and go, they are more family to Tara, despite their limited interaction with her, then her own ‘blood related’ family. Best quote of all being; Mr. McClay: “This is insane. You people have no right to interfere with Tara’s affairs. We are her blood kin! Who the hell are you?” Buffy: “We’re family.”

  9. “Smashed” was one of the best hours of television in the last 10 years. Spike discovers he can hurt Buffy and says “Nothin wrong with me. Somethin wrong with her.” They go on the have and exciting and passion filled fight that leads to them sleeping together for the first time. How can that not have even made the list? And “Once More With Feeling” should at least be in the top five. I do agree that “The Body” was increbidle. It was the most realistic depiction of death and it’s aftermath that I’ve seen on TV.

    • Didn’t care for Smashed at all. I’m guessing it was a big episode for Spuffy shippers, but since I never got on board with that relationship (which to me felt more like fan service than something that grew organically between the characters), the episode where they fucked a house down never did much for me.

  10. I commend you for making such a fabulous list. I loved that you had episodes representing everything that Buffy was about. I don’t really care where the episode is, as long as it is ranked on a list, so that being said, if I had made one I would have included Fools For Love because it gave us Spike’s origin and just added more depth to Angel, Drusilla, and Darla, and it juxtaposed nicely with the events happening in present day Sunnydale. I also would have added Pangs and Something Blue. Pangs being the first Angel crossover episode and dealing with Thanksgiving, and Something Blue because it is just so funny. :) Tada

    • All three were contenders for the list. I know a lot of people don’t like “Pangs”, but I do, largely because of Xander’s funny reactions to getting syphillis and Spike’s Thanksgiving commentary. As for “Fools for Love”, I think it was too difficult to parse from the Angel episode “Darla” to judge it on its own. That, and I had a lot of season five on the list.

  11. Great piece! I love Buffy, there’s never been a show like it since. I really miss the characters and love watching the re-runs of a weekend! I would find it really difficult to pick an all-time top 3, let alone 25. I think Becoming (Part 2), The Gift, Tabula Rasa and any with Dark Willow would be up there…I love the weepies! :)

  12. Pingback: Critically Speaking 2010 blogging in review « Critically Speaking

  13. It’s funny because every episode but one are all of the ones I watch randomly throughout the year because I love them. The one I would take off the list is Restless. Although it had a lot of symbolism and all that, I would have to say that Tabula Rasa blows it out of the water. Such a lighthearted episode after the musical and it was just funny. Just a thought…

    • I think a big reason why I tend to rank “Tabula Rasa” lower than many Buffy fans is that I feel that Angel did the whole “the gang loses their memory” thing better with “Spin the Bottle”. Still, it’s a strong episode.

      • Fair enough. I also thought Something Blue was a great episode. I don’t know.. I guess I just didn’t enjoy Restless as much as most people. I thought it was kind of a waste of an episode.

  14. Love this, and I tend to agree with most if not all the choices here. But my personal rankings would place some of the lower rated ones in higher tiers, and vice versa. ‘Prophecy Girl’ encapsulates in the one image of Buffy’s prom dress, leather jacket and crossbow the formative, vulnerable Buffy–really the spirit of Buffy as a character is understood by that shot. Totally riffing off John Hughes vibes with that shot and the whole “I’m 16 and I don’t want to die” quote. ‘Restless’ would be bumped up to 5 or even 3 on my list simply because of its strong Lynchian overtones and really demonstrates the incredibly tight writing and self-referential cohesiveness Whedon et al. put into the show. I’m hesitant on placing ‘Earshot’ in the top 20, or even on the list at all, and I do understand it establishes a connection with Jonathan’s character. ‘The Body’ is a tour de force indeed, and can be slotted anywhere in the top 5, to each his/her own preference. I could see a whole lot more complication if this list gets merged with a ‘Best of Angel’ top 25, though I would like to see the two sister series’ compared.

    Good job on this :)

    • Buffy’s speech in “Earshot” is one of my favourite of the series, so that vaulted it up the rankings. I agree that in terms of iconicness and significance, “Prophecy Girl” probably ranks higher, but for me, it’s still an example of a very good show still learning how to be great.

      I actually started to put together a Top 25 Angel episodes list years ago, but got sidetracked by life. Also, while putting it together, I noticed that Angel didn’t lend itself to such a list as easily. As the series developed, it was less about memorable episodes, and more about continuous storylines that practically defy the idea of episode divisions.

  15. Hey, just letting you know I’m a big fan of this list, even if I disagree with it a bit here and there (all at the bottom of your list). Specifically, I’d replace School Hard (which just barely misses my Top 25), The Prom (one amazing scene does not an amazing episode make, and it’s fairly blah otherwise), and Prophecy Girl (it’s great for Season One, but not great overall) with Intervention, Selfless, and Storyteller. And for a Xander-centric episode, I’d make The Zeppo The Replacement’s replacement.

    In my just-missed would be Halloween, School Hard, and Tabula Rasa.

    Thanks again for the list! Very thought-provoking.

    • Fair enough. “Storyteller” was a very close contender for my list, while I found “Selfless” to be a little too problematic with the resolution (Anya basically gets away with murder) for me (although it’s possible that the ethical questions it raised are what appeal to you). I do like that instead of just saying “why didn’t this episode make the list”, you identified what you’d replace it with. Too many people forget that in order for one things to be recognized, another needs to go unrecognized.

      Thanks for the response.

      • The question of who gets to redeem themselves and who doesn’t has always been an interesting one in Buffy. Spike, Angel, Faith, Anya, Willow, Andrew… I don’t know, it seems to me, thinking about it now, that Buffy isn’t interested in punishment for past crimes. She’s ready to kill Anya when she’s a threat, but as soon as she gives up her vengeance-demon-y ways, she doesn’t really enter Buffy’s idea of the Slayer’s purview anymore. She seems to look at it as STOPPING evil, not PUNISHING evil. You see this with every one of the aforementioned “sinners”. Once they promise not to do it again (or, in Spike’s case, can’t), she’s willing to support their redemption if her help is asked for, but doesn’t view them as a threat any longer.

        It would have been interesting to see how she’d respond to someone who repeatedly promises that they’re working towards redeeming themselves, while continuing to recidivize.

        Another interesting thing would have been a Slayer who’s interested in PUNISHING evil deeds. Perhaps just by killing anyone whose crimes don’t fit the “straight world’s” legal system… or perhaps by setting up a system of her own.

        But to get back to the original point, that’s why I buy the events of Selfless (and Storyteller, for that matter). It’s totally in Buffy’s character (and, seemingly, the show’s universe) that people who stop committing supernatural crimes are left alone, to redeem themselves or not, as is their desire. And while they’re judged on their past deeds, there’s no effect from that judgement.

  16. Great read, and great list. I think I have a fairly unique perspective on BTVS right now because I just finished watching the series – all 7 seasons in a row – for the first time ever at the age of 26. When the show first started I would have been only 10 years old, and while I remember being aware of it, and maybe even seeing an episode here and there on TV when I was a bit older (for example, I somehow knew that eventually Angel would be sent to hell, and I knew Willow would become a witch, and I distinctly remember the “bad, blonde vampire”), it was never something with which I was more than vaguely familiar.

    I don’t think I could have picked a better age to start watching, however, as I am now mature enough to understand the themes, recurring motifs, and darker elements of the show, but still young enough to relish in the silliness and appreciate utter sexiness that is Spike (ok, that is just because I am a girl!). It was also a great opportunity to enjoy a certain “blast from the past” nostalgia, especially in the earlier high school days. And while I think it would have been great to have been able to get caught up in the hype and fandom of the show while it was still on the air, I think that I almost got more out of it because I was more than 10 years removed from it. I have been able to form my own ideas about the show without being influenced by popular opinion.

    For instance, since finishing the series I have learnt that people seriously disliked the dark nature of season 6, whereas it was probably the height of the series for me. Or that people were appalled by the attempted rape of “Seeing Red”, whereas I saw it as both a natural progression of the Spike/Buffy relationship and one of the only conceivable ways of developing that relationship (and the character of Spike in general) any further.

    On the other hand, it is also interesting to see that many of my favorite episodes (influenced by nothing but the episodes themselves) are similarly favorites on many “top” lists (e.g. “Hush”, “Once More, With Feeling”, “Becoming 1 & 2”, “The Body”, “Innocence”). There are a few you have listed here that I probably wouldn’t have included; for instance, while I thought “Restless” was very unique and I like the idea that the season finale wasn’t a “guns-a-blazing” showdown I don’t think it would make my top 25, and “The Replacement”, while entertaining, certainly doesn’t top my list of funniest episodes (but I may need to re-watch it). I probably would have also added “Seeing Red” for the reasons involving Spike mentioned above, but also because I was completely blindsided by the death of Tara – to the point that it actually took a few minutes for the tears to come because I was so surprised and unsure of what had happened. I was also completely emotionally shaken by Spike’s monologue (to Buffy) in “Touched” (although admittedly that scene alone may not be enough to warrant a space on the list). I was, however, completely happy with the way they concluded that relationship (after I stopped sobbing), despite the fact that I thought it was ridiculous that the surviving characters didn’t make more of a deal over the fact that both Spike and Anya died at the end of “Chosen”(rage!).

    ANYWAYS. I just realized I have almost written a novel. Probably one of the biggest downsides to watching BTVS 10 years after it is off the air – there are far fewer people to gush with about it…or at least they are much harder to find! Right now, I feel that I could go on forever.

  17. I love the series, and probably have to rate once more with feeling as my favorite. I have to agree with many of the posts, I don’t know the history of television, though I think LA law had the first lesbian relationship between characters. I think the development of spike, and his relationship with Buffy was Brilliant. the show matured. Angel turning evil, killing a main character, and Buffy’s killing Angel out of necessity, her relationship with Spike was a natural and emotional progression. I can not think of any other tv series to carry such depth of story

  18. This is the most accurate Buffy top 25 list I’ve read. Of course, it’s all subjective. But this really hit’s this magnificent show’s finest, most moving (and hilarious) points. Also, I always think “The Body” should be number one on the list. It is by far the most devastating, accurate portrayal of human grief I have ever seen.

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