Seven years is a long time in general, and longer still for a TV show. Few shows are popular enough to sustain fan interest for that long, but Buffy the Vampire Slayer was one of those few.
From 1997 through 2003, Buffy captivated fans and impressed critics with seven seasons of demon slaying, pop culture references and (mostly) doomed love stories. A total of 144 episodes were produced, and many of them are classics that fans still love to relive today.
Hardcore fans of the show can name the best episodes at the drop of a hat. “Prophecy Girl”. “Passion”. “Becoming”. “Graduation Day”. “Hush”. “Restless”. “The Body”. “The Gift”. “Once More With Feeling.” Certain episodes of the series are generally accepted to be among the very best, and that status is well deserved. But there are bound to be some great ones that fade into the background, but still deserve a second look (and a third, and a fourth!).
Here are 15 Best Episodes Of Buffy You May Have Forgotten.
15. Never Kill A Boy On The First Date – Season 1, Episode 5
Like many shows, Buffy struggled to find its footing in its first season. With just 12 episodes, they had limited time to establish the Slayer’s world. Some episodes were great (“Welcome to the Hellmouth,” “Angel”) and some not so great (“Teacher’s Pet”, “I, Robot… You, Jane”), but the series showed enough promise to secure a second, longer (and far better) season.
The first season does contain some hidden gems though, and this episode is one of them. It’s a quintessential “high school Buffy” story, with the new Slayer still struggling to balance her increasingly demanding destiny with her desire for a normal social life.
Buffy is thrilled when the cute Owen asks her out on a date, but naturally her slaying duties get in the way. Giles discovers a prophecy that says ‘The Anointed One’ will rise that very night, and Buffy is forced to patrol a graveyard. When the vampire fails to arrive, Buffy heads off to her date, not knowing the Anointed One will actually rise from the scene of a bus crash unfolding outside of town. When Giles correctly posits the Anointed One is one of the bus victims, Buffy ignores his warning and goes on a second date with Owen, but when she learns Giles went to deal with the vampires himself and is trapped, she rushes to save him, with the oblivious Owen in tow. Giles is saved and a vampire destroyed, but the real Anointed One survives and Buffy realizes she can’t be with someone like Owen, who doesn’t understand the dangers of her world.
14. When She Was Bad – Season 2, Episode 1
Buffy always received some criticism for delivering (comparatively) mediocre season premieres. Season Four’s “The Freshman” and Season Five’s “Buffy vs. Dracula” may deserve that distinction, but the first installment of the fantastic second season certainly doesn’t.
After dying (albeit temporarily) at the hands of The Master at the end of the first season, Buffy has spent the summer with her father. Returning to Sunnydale, she showcases a surprisingly mean and cold new personality as she hides the trauma of her experience with The Master. Her change in attitude coincides with the Anointed One’s quest to exhume The Master’s bones and return him to life with a spell that requires the blood of Buffy’s closest friends. With Buffy dismissive of her friends, they are easily captured, and she must rush to save them.
There are a number of standout moments in this episode, and Sarah Michelle Gellar does a great job portraying Buffy’s anger and pain, especially in the final scene when she takes a sledgehammer and smashes The Master’s bones to powder. The Anointed One’s machinations also prove that the vampire underworld in Sunnydale isn’t going away any time soon, setting the stage for new villains.
13. The Dark Age – Season 2, Episode 8
Giles is one of the most beloved characters in the Buffyverse. Buffy’s faithful Watcher was there from her very first day in Sunnydale, ready to guide her on the path to her perilous destiny as the Slayer. He also served as something of a father figure, not just for Buffy herself but for Xander, Willow, and even the rogue Slayer Faith.
In the early days of the series, Giles was a classic librarian in every way, in dress and manner. He was prim and proper, an unfailing guardian of his Slayer. That’s why it came as such a shock to viewers when, in the episode “Halloween”, he turned on a dime and mercilessly beat his old rival Ethan Rayne, who had turned the town’s Trick or Treater’s into monsters. Where in the world did that violence come from? We didn’t have to wait long to find out.
Just two episodes later, Ethan returns to Sunnydale with the demon Eyghon hot on his trail. We learn that he and Giles were once part of a group of young sorcerers who recklessly called forth the demon Eyghon to possess their bodies, until they lost control and the demon killed one of them. Now the demon is back, and methodically killing off the group one by one. When just Ethan and Giles remain, and the demon possesses Rupert’s girlfriend Jenny Calendar, the Watcher doesn’t know how to save her.
12. Phases – Season 2, Episode 15
Though his time on the series was fairly short, Oz became a very popular character. The teenage musician (and werewolf) who fell in love with Willow brought plenty of laid back charm to Sunnydale before actor Seth Green departed the series in its fourth season.
Introduced in the second season, Oz is a fellow student at Sunnydale High School and guitarist in the popular local band Dingoes Ate My Baby, which performs often at The Bronze. In a charming series of near encounters, he and Willow pass like ships in the night before finally meeting. In “Phases” they are still in the early stages of their relationship, having gone on their first date. But Oz begins to act strange, and Willow believes he is having second thoughts about their relationship. At the same time, a werewolf is menacing Sunnydale, Buffy and friends are determined to find it before a merciless hunter does.
Despite the high stakes, this is a truly funny episode. Xander’s encounter with the bully Larry (and Larry’s subsequent revelation) is a classic moment, and the beginning of a fun running dynamic between them. It’s also fun to see Oz’s remarkably relaxed reaction to his alarming situation, taking his new status as a werewolf in stride.
11. Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered – Season 2, Episode 16
Every guy has entertained the thought, at least briefly. “Wouldn’t it be great if ALL the girls liked me?”
That’s the ‘dream’ that comes true for Xander in this episode, but it quickly turns into a nightmare. When Cordelia breaks up with him to satisfy her disapproving friends, Xander enlists the help of the witch Amy to enact a love spell. His plan is to make Cordelia love him, so he can dump her and get revenge. In the grand tradition of Buffy magic, however, everything goes wrong. Amy’s spell backfires, and Cordelia is the only woman in Sunnydale who doesn’t fall in love with Xander. The rest of them do, and their obsession quickly becomes dangerous.
It’s a testament to the series that a concept that could have easily become creepy and unpleasant manages to stay lighthearted and humorous throughout. It helps that Xander is far too good a person to take advantage of the situation he finds himself in. The scene when Buffy propositions him in the library is a good example of that.
10. I Only Have Eyes For You – Season 2, Episode 19
Yep, we’re still in Season 2 (it was really good!). Set late in the season, this is an underrated ghost story that forces Buffy and Angel (Angelus, at this point) to reenact the tragic love story of a student and teacher who died together in a murder-suicide on the school grounds.
With Angel terrorizing Sunnydale after losing his soul due to he and Buffy’s love, the Slayer is both heartbroken and overcome with guilt, believing herself responsible for Angel’s demise. This state of mind leaves her vulnerable to the ghost of James, a Sunnydale student from the 1950’s who fell in love with his teacher Ms. Newman, only to kill her and then himself after she broke up with him. With the anniversary of their deaths approaching, the two ghosts are possessing students and teachers in the school and reenacting their tragic ending, with violent results.
In a clever twist, it’s Buffy who becomes possessed by James, and Angel who embodies Ms. Newman. When the story reaches its tragic end with James shooting Ms. Newman, Angel’s vampire healing ability allows it to continue. Finding James/Buffy as he is about to shoot himself, Ms. Newman/Angel forgives him and professes her love, and the spirits depart as they share a last kiss.
9. Homecoming – Season 3, Episode 5
The third season of Buffy is right up there with the second in terms of quality, so it’s no surprise it contains a number of great episodes as well.
This one sees Buffy and Cordelia (mistaken for the Slayer Faith) hunted by a group of demons and criminals in what the charismatic Mr. Trick dubs SlayerFest ’98. It’s a clever spin on the classic Most Dangerous Game conceit of humans being hunted for sport, and one of the more unique installments of the series.
With Buffy and Cordelia at each other’s throats in their separate bids to be dubbed Homecoming Queen, the gang is determined to get them to make up, so they trick the pair into taking a limo ride to the dance together. That gives Mr. Trick and his assembled hunters the chance they need, replacing the limo driver and abandoning them in a secluded area. Mr. Trick’s bombastic message to the two (presumed) Slayers is a highlight, as is his initial meeting with the hunters, from the late Ian Abercrombie as a technologically inclined participant to the spiny-headed Kulak of the Miquot Clan.
SlayerFest turns out as well as you would expect for the hunters, with Buffy and Cordelia working together to overcome the odds and survive. And in classic Buffy fashion, neither of them get the happy Homecoming they’re hoping for.
8. Amends – Season 3, Episode 10
The lone Christmas episode the series ever produced, “Amends” is a showcase for David Boreanaz as the vampire Angel, who is dealing with the immense guilt of his actions as the soulless killer Angelus.
As Christmas approaches, Angel is being haunted by the ghosts of those he has killed, from a poor man in Victorian England right up to Jenny Calendar, whom Angelus murdered in the second season. Unbeknownst to him, they are aspects of the First Evil, a malevolent force bent on driving Angel mad and restoring Angelus. Driven to desperation by the First’s torture, Angel ultimately intends to kill himself by standing outside as the sun rises on Christmas morning. Rushing to Angel on a hill overlooking the city, Buffy finds him ready to give up on life, and they argue over whether he’s worth saving. Just as the sun should be rising, however, snow begins to fall — an unprecedented occurrence in Southern California. With the sun hidden behind thick clouds and the city blanketed in snow, it’s seemingly a sign from the ‘powers that be’ that Angel’s life is worth living after all.
Aside from the debut of The First, which will return in the final season, and its Harbingers, this episode really proves that Angel can lead his own series, which he would have less than a year later. There are also great little moments, like Buffy’s discovery of the Harbinger’s lair due to the dead Christmas trees on top of it, and Oz and Willow’s romantic evening (complete with Barry White).
7. The Zeppo – Season 3, Episode 13
Have you ever felt like you don’t matter? Like the world could go on without you and nobody would even notice? In a series filled with powerful Slayers, witches and monsters, regular old Xander certainly feels that way, and this episode is the result.
With Buffy and the rest of the gang dealing with the apocalyptic threat of the Sisterhood of Jhe, Xander finds himself on a much more personal, but no less dangerous adventure. Reluctantly swept up in the destructive wake of local bully Jack, Xander finds himself on an unlikely odyssey with him and his undead friends, who are building a bomb with which to blow up their old school. Xander wants no part of the plot, of course, but his new companions won’t take no for an answer, and he spends a harrowing night in their company as he tries desperately to get some help from his friends. They’re dealing with a bigger problem, however – the opening of the Hellmouth – and they have no time for him.
It’s an episode with its tongue planted firmly in cheek, as the series repeatedly pokes fun at itself by teasing this world-ending conflict just off screen, while we the viewer remain with the seemingly inconsequential Xander. In a fitting microcosm of his role in the series, Xander saves the day unbeknownst to everyone, and using just his courage and no special powers to do it.
6. Choices – Season 3, Episode 19
The conflict with Faith was one of the best stories the series ever told. A troubled Slayer who falls under the sway of the evil Mayor of Sunnydale, Faith betrays her friends and becomes a killer, though she later finds redemption. In the later days of Buffy’s third season, however, she was one of the most fearsome villains the gang would ever face.
In this episode, the Mayor’s plans of ascension are taking shape, and a key element of his plan, the Box of Gavrok, is being delivered to Sunnydale. At the same time, Buffy is growing restless in Sunnydale and wants to leave after she graduates high school. Believing that if she stops the Mayor’s ascension, the town will be reasonably safe without her, she becomes determined to steal the Box of Gavrok. The gang enacts a plan to do just that, and they succeed, but at a high price: Willow is captured by Faith. The Watcher Wesley advises against trading the Box for her life, as its destruction would save thousands of lives, but that’s a sacrifice Buffy and friends aren’t willing to make. In a clandestine meeting in the school cafeteria, Buffy’s team meets with the Mayor and Faith and the swap is made.
Interestingly, Wesley is ultimately proven right for his unwillingness to return the Box to the Mayor. Saving Willow was undoubtedly necessary, but the Mayor’s ascension resulted in many deaths, notably Larry’s and Harmony’s.
5. A New Man – Season 4, Episode 12
Now we get into the later and (generally speaking) lesser seasons. Although ‘average’ Buffy is still better than a lot of other shows on television!
Fans and critics alike have derided the fourth season, and it’s certainly a new beginning for the series. The characters have gone to college, Angel and Cordelia have left town (for a new show) and everything is changing.
It’s fitting that this episode deals heavily with the theme of change. Giles no longer has a library to watch over, and Buffy is outgrowing the need for a Watcher. That leaves him vulnerable, and when Ethan Rayne returns to Sunnydale, Giles lets his guard down and goes drinking with his old friend. Of course, the mischievous Ethan slips Giles something that turns him into a hulking Fyarl Demon who is unable to communicate with his friends and is soon hunted by them.
One of the highlights of this episode is the interplay between Spike and Giles. Spike is the only one capable of understanding Giles in his demon form, and the two temporarily team up to find a solution. Spike, of course, spends most of the time mocking Giles, especially for his remarkably slow car.
4. Family – Season 5, Episode 6
Is family the people who share your blood, or the people you choose to surround yourself with? That’s the question at the heart of this fifth season installment.
Willow’s girlfriend Tara is alarmed when her family arrives in Sunnydale, determined to take her home with them. Her father reveals that all females in their family become demons on their 20th birthday, a fate that Tara has been dreading. She even casts a spell on Willow, Buffy and the gang so they can’t see demonic forces, believing it will hide the demon part of her from them. It backfires when real demons attack, and the gang can’t see them.
When Tara’s father is unable to specify exactly what kind of demon Tara is, the gang realizes (and Spike proves, with a punch to Tara’s nose that sets off his Initiative chip) that she is completely human, and the story is just a legend the men of the family have perpetuated.
Seeing the Scooby Gang (even Spike) come together to defend Tara from her abusive family is touching, as is the dance she and Willow share in The Bronze at the end of the episode. Also notable is the appearance of a not-yet-famous Amy Adams as Tara’s unpleasant cousin Beth.
3. Crush – Season 5, Episode 14
From the moment he stormed into Sunnydale in Season 2, Spike was one of the most intriguing characters in the Buffyverse. A vampire, by all accounts evil, but possessed of far more compassion (at least, for Drusilla) than any other vampire we had ever seen. As the years progressed, Spike became a jilted lover after Drusilla left him, a thorn in the Scooby Gang’s side when the Initiative ‘muzzled’ him with a chip in his brain, and finally a lovesick man following Buffy around.
All of those versions of Spike collide in this installment, when Drusilla returns to Sunnydale in an attempt to reunite with her former love. At the same time, Spike comes clean to Buffy about his growing feelings for her, but she is disgusted and rejects him. Returning home he finds Drusilla waiting for him, and she reintroduces him to the murderous ways of a vampire, taking him to The Bronze and killing a human couple for them to feed on.
The vampires lock up Buffy in Spike’s crypt, but he turns on Drusilla and locks her up too. When they come to, he speaks of the long years he and Dru shared before offering to stake her through the heart and release Buffy if she will admit there’s something between them. In the end, Spike has nobody, as Drusilla leaves Sunnydale and Buffy shuts him out of her life, literally.
James Marsters is fantastic in this episode, from showing Spike’s reluctance to feed off of Drusilla’s victims to his hopeless love for Buffy. His face at the very end of the episode, when he realizes that Buffy has revoked his invitation to her house, is heartbreaking.
2. Life Serial – Season 6, Episode 5
The sixth season of Buffy was arguably its most divisive. Buffy had returned from the dead, and what should have been a happy occasion gave way to some of the bleakest stories the series would ever tell. This wasn’t one of them, though. In a remarkably dark season, this episode was a fun distraction.
The Trio (the combined forces of Warren, Jonathan and Andrew) are out to make Buffy’s life miserable and test her abilities at the same time, and they do so by enacting a series of challenges for her to overcome. Demons attack her at the construction yard where she is working with Xander, she is thrust into a Groundhogs Day-esque cycle in the Magic Box, and they even place a small device on her that speeds up time itself. Needless to say, it’s a series of headaches for the Slayer as she deals with problem after problem.
The real highlight of the episode is the Trio themselves. Though later in the season they become creepy and genuinely threatening (specifically Warren), here they are still mostly harmless and funny as they rattle off pop culture references while they test Buffy from afar. Andrew painting the Death Star on what’s supposed to be a nondescript surveillance van is classic, as is the argument they have over who was the best James Bond, during which Andrew gets a well deserved smack for citing Timothy Dalton.
1. Lies My Parents Told Me – Season 7, Episode 17
We finish our list with an installment from the seventh and final season of Buffy. It’s a Spike-centric episode in which we learn more about the vampire’s past, as well as that of Sunnydale High School principal Robin Wood and his late mother, the Slayer Nikki Wood.
The knowledge of who Robin’s mother was (and the role Spike played in her death) was a ticking time bomb throughout the season. Eventually Robin would find out that it was Spike who killed his mother, and when he did, what would he do? By this point Spike was a vampire with a soul fully on the side of good, but he had also been used by The First thanks to its use of a brainwashing trigger within his head.
In this episode, Buffy and friends try to cure Spike of that trigger problem, while Robin and Giles conspire to eliminate Spike once and for all. To do it, Giles keeps Buffy distracted while Robin takes Spike to his hideout, under the guise of keeping him hidden from The First.
We also learn about Spike’s life as a young man who doted on his ailing mother, and even sired her as a vampire after he himself was turned. The demonic force that took over his mother’s body rejected Spike’s affection, and he was forced to kill her.
All of this leads to a present day battle between Robin and the triggered Spike, though the vampire is ultimately able to exercise the demons of his regret and guilt. Robin is unable to do the same, but Spike leaves him alive, albeit battered and bruised.
It’s another showcase for the talented James Marsters, while D.B. Woodside also shines as Robin Wood.
These are some of our favorite (but less celebrated) Buffy episodes. Did you forget them? Which episodes do you feel don’t get enough attention?