The season finale is one of television's most challenging beasts. Any finale worth its salt has to not only be a faithful representative to the season's prior episodes, but also go above and beyond, abound with excitement, revelations, and juicy twists. These days, with often over a year in between many seasons, finales are expected to end on a cliffhanger enthralling enough for the viewer to return.
There's extra pressure on shows with cult followings. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff show Angel have leagues of fans. Surely Joss Whedon, iconic showrunner, has perfected the recipe for the season finale, right? Mix equal parts epic final battle and groundbreaking character development, sprinkle in some Whedonisms, garnish with a cliffhanger and presto! Works every time, right?
Not exactly. There are some Buffy and Angel finales that left viewers cold. But on the other hand, when Whedon and his team nailed it, they knocked it out of the cemetery. Some of these finales are true masterpieces of television. Which finales ascended and which would be best left to perish in the Hellmouth? Here is Every Season Finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, Ranked.
12 Angel Season 2: There's No Place Like Plrtz Glrb
Pylea the hell dimension was all kinds of fun. It introduced the viewer to fan favorite Fred, showed a glimpse of Lorne's home life, and Cordelia was crowned queen. Basically, Pylea was like a trip to a theme park: all kinds of fun, but you don't want to stay there forever. You also certainly don't want to set your season finales there. This episode feels like a really solid filler piece, complete with ridiculous title. Also, no finale should feature talking heads, figurative or literal.
Ultimately, the bulk of this episode, spent in Pylea, was just killing time until the gang returned to L.A., at which point Willow informed Angel of Buffy's death. This is hardly revelatory as anyone who watched the Buffy finale already knew already. Angel Season 2 may have been solid, but this finale has a serious case of the sophomore jinx.
11 Buffy Season 6: Grave
The best Buffy finales are known for their legendary smackdowns between the Scooby Gang and the Big Bad. That, among a cornucopia of other reasons, is what makes Season 6 so problematic. There is no Big Bad. Any seasoned fan has likely participated in the debate over whether it was the Trio or Dark Willow.
According to cast and crew neither are correct—life is Season 6's Big Bad. Eye roll. For those adamant that it was Dark Willow, the "final battle"—if you can call it that—certainly points to that argument. But for the love of Sunnydale, shouldn't Buffy, aka the Slayer, be involved in the final battle? Instead she was trapped in a hole with Dawn while Xander saved the world by blubbering about yellow crayons. Okay okay, that was really sweet...unlike the rest of this season finale.
10 Buffy Season 7: Chosen
If season finales are difficult to pull off, series finales are near impossible. How to best encapsulate years and years of a beloved show and leave the viewer satisfied? Many a stellar show have died on this hill. Buffy is one of them. Is "Chosen" terrible? Not at all. But is it a good representation of the show's previous TV excellence? Alas, no.
On the positive side, the final battle was top notch. Willow's spell turning every Potential into a Slayer was all kinds of badass, proof that she's the show's best character. The final shot of the whole episode was perfection. But there's also the problem of all these random Potentials running around, hogging screen time—an unfortunate throughline for the entire season. Then we have Buffy's awkward, forced love confession to Spike, which he rejects, making the viewer wonder why we needed it in the first place. Also, way too much time is chewed up by Buffy and Angel blathering on about relationships, complete with trite food metaphor. If Buffy is cookies, than this finale is half-baked.
9 Angel Season 3: Tomorrow
Any season finale that leaves the protagonist in dire straits is a surefire way to get viewers to tune in next season. "Tomorrow" definitely delivers, as the events leading up to Angel's grim fate are just as thrilling.
The "will they or won't they?" romance plot is a TV staple. Overdone, yes, but almost always effective. How heartbreaking was it that Angel and Cordelia were this close to getting to be together? Sadly, with the unique circumstances of their world, it just wasn't meant to be. It was a stroke of TV brilliance watching the two would-be lovers getting farther and farther away from each other as Cordelia ascends to a higher plane and Angel sinks to the bottom of the ocean. Even to the Angel-Cordelia naysayers who believe they're just a poor man's version of Angel and Buffy, nobody can deny that "Tomorrow" was riveting.
8 Buffy Season 4: Restless
This is unlike any season finale...ever. A surreal dream episode? Who could pull that off? Joss Whedon, duh. It may be unconventional, but this episode actually works. Season 4 is far and away Buffy's weakest. Adam the Big Bad was a total snoozer, making it A-okay to vanquish him in the season's penultimate episode. Season 4 was also sorely lacking in character development of the core four.
That's what makes "Restless" such a delight. The viewer really gets to delve deep into the minds of the show's beloved characters as their dreams expose their longings and fears. In less capable hands, "Restless" could have been a piece of pretentious dreck, but with Whedon steering the ship, even the moments that couldn't be explained felt emotionally poignant. Except of course for the Cheese Man. "Restless" didn't do much to gear the viewer up for the next season but if anything, it was a celebration that Season 4 was over.
7 Angel Season 4: Home
What is it with Joss Whedon and shoddy Season 4s? Angel's was loathed even more than Buffy's. Cordelia sleeps with Angel's teenage son and gives birth to a demon woman? What the Hellmouth? While "Home" had viewers wondering where this premium TV quality has been hiding all season, they were happy to snap up this gem.
It seemed like Angel Investigations made a deal with the devil when they agreed to take over Wolfram & Hart, priming viewers for the next and final season. While Cordelia would be sorely missed by fans, Connor definitely wouldn't be. Fans may have been happy to see him get a normal family, but they were likely happier to get him off their TV screens.
6 Buffy Season 1: Prophecy Girl
As groundbreaking a show as Buffy was, its roots were rather humble. It struggled to find its footing throughout the entirety of Season 1, finally doing so in its season finale. Sarah Michelle Gellar was acting gold as Buffy and her reaction to the prophecy of her death easily should have won her an Emmy.
For viewers who considered tapping out of the show after tolerating Season 1, hope was restored. Bonus points to the hilarious scene when Cordelia gets to the library safely by driving her car through the school. Buffy came back to life right along with its titular character.
5 Angel Season 1: To Shanshu in L.A.
Unlike Buffy, Angel found its groove right out of the gate. Admittedly, it took until Wesley's arrival for the show to take off, but Season 1 really soared. "To Shanshu in L.A." was a total coming out party for Cordelia. She had her character-defining and evolving moments on Buffy, but this marked her most significant shift on either series.
After narrowly missing death's door with the pain of her visions, Cordelia swore to henceforth do her solemn best to rescue people from danger and pain. She completely shed her selfish cheerleader skin and became an even stronger character. Then there's that nail-biting cliffhanger which saw the return of Darla. For a show about a vampire, this finale didn't suck.
4 Angel: Season 5: Not Fade Away
Buffy may be considered a superior show, but Angel is definitely stronger in terms of beginning and ending. "Not Fade Away" is a powerhouse of a series finale. Season 5 overall was a breath of fresh, undead air, especially with the integration of Spike. He, along with every main character, was in top fighting form.
It helped not having a bevvy of superfluous characters—ahem, Buffy. Wesley's death, and pseudo-reunion with Fred, was one of the most tear-jerking moments of the season. And then there's that last scene. Fighting evil is a job that can never truly be completed, so as Angel put it, "Let's go to work."
3 Buffy Season 2: Becoming, Part 2
No Buffy fan's heart fully healed after this gut-wrenching season finale. Both Big Bad and romantic storylines were expertly interwoven as Buffy found herself having to battle Angelus in a gripping sword fight that would make Game of Thrones proud.
And Buffy having to sacrifice Angel to save the world just as she got him back? It's not fair! She couldn't even go back home because her mom kicked her out, and she was kinda wanted for murder. Talk about a season finale that left the viewer's stomach in knots. "Where is Buffy going to go...and how am I going to get through four months of not knowing?"
2 Buffy Season 5: The Gift
How to guarantee the most dramatic season finale ever? Kill off your protagonist, of course. Buffy sacrifices herself for the good of the world. Talk about a cliffhanger. No fan could properly enjoy their summer as they were dying to know if and how Buffy would continue without Buffy.
Besides Buffy's heroic leap, "The Gift" was jam-packed with adrenaline, start to finish. Every Scooby had their moment in the spotlight as they fought against Glory, hell goddess and best Big Bad ever. Even Xander, the glorified bricklayer, had his stand-up-and-cheer moment when he hit Glory with a wrecking ball. But as valiant as they were, the Scoobies couldn't save everyone. Death really was Buffy's gift. She saved the world. A lot.
1 Buffy Season 3: Graduation Day, Part 2
Whoever thought Graduation Day was boring didn't go to school on the Hellmouth. For the first three seasons, Buffy's central theme was "high school is hell". The show taught us that to get through it, we have to band together...and that's exactly what happened. The Mayor was Buffy's most formidable Big Bad to date. Just her and the Scoobies weren't enough to defeat him. Buffy recruited the entire graduating class to fight off the Mayor and his cronies. Jolts of adrenaline coursed through the veins of the viewer as vampires' jaws dropped when they saw students armed to the teeth and ready for battle. Nerds and jocks, wallflowers and cheerleaders all put aside their differences to stick it to the vamps who ran their town for way too long.
The biggest question of all was what would happen after graduation. Would the show continue the high school hell theme? Buffy answered this question articulately by blowing the school to smithereens. She and the Scoobies defeated the Mayor. But more importantly, they survived high school. And it was a hell of a battle.