I'm on vacation this month so this column will take a bit of a vacation as well. Instead of writing columns about comics, I'm turning my attention to the world of television. For the past three years, my wife and I have been watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel on DVD. Now we"re done and it's time to take a look back at "The Best of Buffy."
To be honest, it was actually kind of hard to pick the best episodes from season one. Maybe it's because its been three years since I watched most of them. Or maybe its because at the time, Buffy was merely a good show that I watched for my wife and not yet a great show that I would consider a favorite of my own. Anyway, after thinking about it a little longer, I decided that there are a few fairly memorable episodes.
The Pack: A field trip to the zoo turns deadly after Xander and a clique of mean-spirited kids become possessed by the spirit of a demonic breed of hyena. There are three good reasons to pick The Pack. One, its the first episode to have one of the characters act out of character due to a spell or some other mystical influence- one of my favorite recurring themes in both Buffy and Angel. Two, its a great example of how Buffy uses magic and horror as metaphors for real world problems- in this case, the high school friend who suddenly turns on his old friends when a new clique lets him in. And three, the death of Principal Flutie. Its the first death of a recurring character on the series, showing the audience that there would be consequences. Plus, the fact that he was eaten is vivid, disturbing and very memorable.
Angel: A moment of passion turns to terror as Buffy discovers Angels true identity and learns about the Gypsy curse that has haunted him for almost 100 years. Its been a long time since I watched this episode but there are a few reasons why its worth noting. This episode represents Angels emergence from "mysterious stranger" to a character in his own right. There's some pretty good misdirection and miscommunication, especially after Buffy thinks that Angel has attacked her mom. Plus, this episode establishes so many elements that will be played with over the years: the gypsy curse, Angel is a vampire with a soul and Angels past relationship with Darla.
Prophecy Girl: As the Spring Fling dance approaches, Giles discovers an ancient book foretelling the Slayer's death at the hands of The Master. I don't think that this finale stands up when compared with later seasons, but I was pretty impressed when I saw it at the time. Again, this episode deals with many of the major themes of this series such as Buffy's struggle with her destiny as a slayer. Plus, its hard to forget certain scenes like Buffy's resurrection, Xanders role in her resurrection and the death of The Master.
School Hard: Buffys mother gets trapped inside Sunnydale High School when a vampire named Spike arrives in town and launches an attack against the slayer. This was the episode that convinced me that Buffy was not merely a good show, but a great one. With Buffy, Joss Whedon had reinvented the vampire slayer. He made the slayer hip and modern. With School Hard, Whedon now turned the same trick for vampires. I had never cared for The Master, but Spike and Drusilla were villains you could love to hate. If any one moment encapsulated that epiphany, it would definitely be Spike' killing of The Anointed One.
Halloween: After renting Halloween from an unusual shop, Buffy and her friends literally begin turning into whatever costume they are wearing. I told you I like episodes in which everyone is changed into a different character. Halloween was an especially good episode for the supporting characters. Giles is given a nemesis in Ethan Rayne. Xander becomes the super-competent soldier man. And Spike has such glee with all of the confusion that he becomes an even more likable villain.
Innocence: Buffy must battle not only the Judge but also Angel, who has lost his soul after experiencing a moment of true happiness. Wow, this show really knows how to rip your heart out. Angel's turn back into Angelus is one of the most dramatic moments of any season. It has such a devastating effect on Buffy, and a domino effect on other characters such as Buffy's mom Joyce. Yet, despite having her heart torn out, Buffy still has to pull herself together and put a stop to Angel, Drusilla and the Judge. The big finale in the movie theatre with the rocket launcher was one of the first scenes I ever saw, and one of the reasons why I thought I might have to give this show a look after all. Not only does this episode have great, big action scenes, but it's another example of something that Buffy does so well: use horror story clichaes as metaphors for real life problems. In this case, it's the boy who becomes a jerk after you sleep with him.
Passion: Angel steps up his torment of Buffy and her friends even as Jenny Calendar searches for a way to restore his soul. Okay, so Innocence topped The Pack as horror story as metaphor for real world problems. Now, it's Passion, which tops The Pack for significant consequences: namely, the death of Jenny Calendar. This was a vicious episode, showing how truly evil Angelus is even before he kills off Giles love interest and Willow's mentor, the likable Jenny Calendar.
I Only Have Eyes for You: Sunnydale High School is haunted by the ghosts of a former student and teacher who reenact their tragic romance through the bodies of the school's current inhabitants. This is one of the most emotionally charged episodes of Buffy as she and Angel are pulled into reenacting an earlier tragic romance. It reminds you of what they lost. It scares you with where they're at now. And it's just so beautifully staged. Definitely a great episode, even if it didn't have the status quo changing affects of School Hard,Innocence or Passion.
Becoming, Part Two: While Angel tortures Giles for needed information concerning a ritual, Spike strikes an unlikely alliance with Buffy to keep Angel from destroying the world. What an incredible finale! Spike turns on Angel because he's losing Drusilla- just the first of what will be many times that characters switch sides. The brutal torture of Giles. Willow coming into her own as a witch and re-ensouling Angel. Buffy stabbing Angel with a sword. I watched season two only a couple of months after watching season one, yet these scenes and episodes are seared into my mind so much more strongly. This finale also shows something that Buffy does so well. It's not just about the big action, and having a fight scene. It's about having emotion behind the fight scene. It's not just about saving the world. It's about having to fight your former lover. It's about saving your friends. Buffy always finds a way to make the fights personal for the characters and emotional for the viewers and that's one of its real strengths.
Homecoming: As Buffy and Cordelia vie for the Homecoming Queen title they are targeted by a group of killers preparing for SlayerFest '98. I remember this episode mostly for the great rivalry between Buffy and Cordelia. Their limo ride together, and especially their time cowering together in a cabin in the woods while hiding from slayer-hunters were both a lot of fun to watch. Plus, I love the ending. It's so Buffy. We're told that there's been a tie for Homecoming Queen. We automatically assume that we've been given a happy ending and both of our characters get to share the title of Queen. Nope, the tie is between the other two contestants and both of our characters are the losers. That little twist, that one extra beat, is so typical of Buffy.This episode also contains one of the most memorable scenes from this season: Xander and Willow's kiss.
Band Candy: Sunnydale's adult population begins acting like immature teenagers after eating candy bars being sold to finance new high school band uniforms. This is another great out of character episode but with an added twist of role reversal. The added twist is that the adults are acting like kids again, while the kids have to take responsibility and stop evil on their own. It's a lot of fun to see Giles as Ripper to see Joyce fawn all over the bad boy, and to see Principal Snyder sucking up to Buffy and trying to tag along.
The Wish/Doppelgangland: After Cordelia tells her new friend Anya that she wishes Buffy had never come to Sunnydale, she suddenly finds herself in a reality where vampires control the town.While casting a magic spell to help Anya regain her powers, Willow and Anya inadvertently summon Willow's evil twin, a vampire, from an alternate universe. What can I say? I'm a comic book fan. I love alternate universes. And the alternate universe of The Wish is a great upside down version of the Sunnydale we know and love. Xander and Willow are evil vampires. Oz and Larry are Giles' lieutenants in the fight against evil. And Cordelia realizes that she didn't exactly get what she wished for. Then, in Doppelgangland, Buffy brings part of the evil alternate reality into our world. The vampire Willow is a great character with great lines (Bored now.) and it's a lot of fun to see the real Willow interact with her evil duplicate.
Earshot: After slaying a telepathic demon, Buffy is bombarded with the thoughts of everyone around her including one student who appears to be planning mass murder. One of the best things about Buffy is the shows versatility. There are very funny episodes, such as Band Candy and Doppelgangland. There are great action episodes. There are scary episodes. And there are episodes like this one that are drenched with drama and tension. A lot of series have done school shooting episodes, but few have done as good an episode as this one. Earshot lets us into the mind of the shooter, and allows us to experience the real fear of other students at the same time.
The Prom: Buffy battles three fearsome hellhounds which another classmate has programmed to attack students during Sunnydale High's senior prom. There are two big reasons to choose The Prom as one of Buffy's best episodes. One, Buffy fighting to save a school dance is reminiscent of the finale from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie. Two, the happy ending. My wife Ana cries easily. I don't. But I'll admit that I teared up during Jonathan's speech about how they all know that Buffy is their Class Protector.
Graduation Day, Part One and Two: To distract Buffy and keep her from interfering with the Mayor's Ascension, Faith shoots Angel with an arrow whose poison can only be cured by the blood of a Slayer. Buffy, her friends, and all the students of Sunnydale High prepare to face off against the Mayor and his hoard of vampires in a seemingly hopeless battle to save their town. I managed to pick only part two of Becoming, but I couldn't do the same with Graduation.The first part had such great twists and turns between Buffy and Angel and Faith. Plus, there was the incredible fight scene between Buffy and Faith in which Faith is finally thrown from the roof. That's easily one of the best fights of the entire series. And then part two is just as good but for different reasons. It's great to see the supporting cast step up, to have Xander, Willow and even Cordelia lead the student body in an anti-monster uprising. There's the great explosion in the library. The finale even gets the little things right, such as having Jonathan do well against the monsters, while Wesley and Harmony don't.
Fear Itself: A Halloween party at a campus frat house takes a frightening turn with the sudden appearance of blood-sucking bats, zombies and a demon that plays on everyone's innermost fears. Season two's Halloween was so good that we might have thought that Buffy should stay away from this particular holiday because there would be no way to measure up to the earlier episode. Well, Fear Itself is a more-than-worthy successor. It's a great haunted house story, with the characters separated and fighting on their own. And I simply loved Anya's bunny costume. That still makes me laugh.
Beer Bad: Buffy starts behaving strangely after sharing a pitcher of Black Frost beer with a group of fellow college students at the campus pub where Xander bartends.Buffy had done a great job of using horror stories to examine the real world high school problems. Now, its time to do the same for college. There are a couple of other episodes that do this such as The Harsh Light of Day and the party gone awry in Where the Wild Things Are. But Beer Bad is one of the best. I just think the Neanderthal Buffy was funny. Also, foamy and beer bad are a couple of great catchphrases. Plus, there's a great scene dealing with the fall-out of The Harsh Light of Day in which Willow tricks Parker into hitting on her only to turn around and berate him for being an idiot.
The Initiative: Buffy begins a relationship with Riley Finn unaware that he is part of a military organization tracking down and experimenting on the demons and vampires of Sunnydale. This is one of the best sense of wonder episodes in the entire series. When Riley first walks into The Initiative, I kept thinking to myself, Wow! wow! just wow. This episode did a great job of bringing so many things together, showing us the secret behind the military guys who had been running through the background throughout the earlier episodes while also bringing Buffy and Riley together as a couple.
Something Blue: When Willow casts a spell in hopes of getting over the pain of losing Oz, the exact wording she uses causes mayhem among her friends. Something I never thought I'd say: I love magic episodes. Usually, I love the out of character episodes, but I have to admit that this is just as good as any of those. Willows miscast spell creates mass confusion, and its a lot of fun to watch. A blind Giles, Buffy and Spike in love, and easily the best of the bunch: Xander as a demon magnet. Also, this episode shows why I can never be mad at the show for its significant changes. Did I want to see Oz leave Willow? No, I didn't. They were great together. But these significant changes have consequences and often result in great episodes like this one.
Hush: From out of a fairy tale comes a group of murderous creatures know as The Gentlemen: first they steal everyone's voices, then they being to collect human hearts. Usually, the horror elements of Buffy are the setting, while the main stories are mostly humor or drama. But every once in a while, Buffy (and Angel, for that matter) comes out with a truly scary story. Hush is easily one of the best. Its one of those keep you up at night kind of scary stories. Truly creepy. Plus, I really like Riley's role in this episode as he comes in to help Buffy with guns ablazing.
Superstar: Buffy suspects reality has somehow been altered after an unpopular former Sunnydale High student named Jonathan becomes the coolest and most popular person in town. I think that the opening credits are a big reason why I like this episode so much. I just appreciated that they went that extra step and incorporated Jonathan into the opening credits. Otherwise, this was just a good funny episode with a standard horror twist. Though, it was also nice to see another of the Sunnydale High students again.
That's Part One. Stay tuned for Part Two.
Join the Discussion either in Fluit Notes: The Best of Buffy and Angel discussion thread or read what other Superflous Heros have to say about the Whole Whedonverse at That Whedonverse Thread in the Captain Comics Message Board !
All synopsis quotations are taken from the liner notes on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Season One through Four DVDs.
All Images are thanks to the hard work of folks over at www.screencap-paradise.com
All Images are thanks to the hard work of folks over at www.screencap-paradise.com
(Originally Published at CaptainComics.us, The Best of Buffy, Part One on April 13, 2007.)