In the first part of this series detailing my choices for the top twenty episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, positions from number 20 to 16 were outlined. In this second part, we’ll continue the run-through from numbers 15 to 11. Once again, these choices are all subjective and your thoughts on the selections made are encouraged.
15 – Band Candy
Season 3, episode 6
Buffy and co are tasked, along with the rest of the high school student populace, to sell bars of candy in order to raise funds for Sunnydale High’s marching band. This candy, however, is cursed with magic that turns any adult who eats it into a mischievous, irresponsible teenager. The Mayor, who needs the town to become pre-occupied for a while, employs the services of returning bad-boy Ethan Rayne to carry out the wicked, yet hilarious, plan.
As I said in the previous post, when Buffy concentrated on the humour as opposed to the seriousness of the situation, it excelled. Band Candy was one of those episodes. It took the adults of the show, and by extension their relationships with the gang, and completely switched the roles around, providing a wonderfully hilarious and fun forty minutes of television. Giles suddenly becoming a smoking, will-fight-anything teenager was simply too much of an experience to not place Band Candy in this list. As well as Giles’ transformation, he and Joyce Summers’ interactions with each other provided many of the episode’s highlights, as well as a certain sexual encounter that happens off-screen but is referenced numerous times in future episodes.
Although both Giles and Joyce are a terrific pairing in Band Candy (with Anthony Stewart Head putting it a terrific comedic performance) , it is perhaps Principal Snyder’s teenage version that is the most enjoyable and amusing element of the entire episode. Having him join the gang as they work to stop the threat was nothing short of an inspired decision. In particular, his remark of “Hey Summers, you drive like a spaz!” made me burst out laughing the first time I watched it and continues to after multiple viewings.
While Band Candy allowed typically stern, authoritative figures to be explored in a more fun environment, it also used the role reversals to delve into the concept of responsibility, with Joyce telling Buffy that she cannot drive a car, Giles telling Buffy that she must study for her SATs and so forth. Also when the gang must take it upon themselves to be the responsible figures when all of the adults become the opposite. The core concept of Band Candy is one that is purely comedic from the outside but the episode uses the opportunity it has to explore something the gang eventually have to come across. The result is a lesson for the group and a massively entertaining romp for the viewer.
14 – Surprise/Innocence
Season 2, episodes 13/14
It’s Buffy’s 17th birthday and to surprise her, season two’s big bads Spike and Drusilla begin preparations to re-assemble the body parts of an ancient demon that has the power to annihilate the world and cannot be killed via any conceivable means. If that isn’t bad enough, however, Buffy and Angel spend their first intimate moment together which leads to Angel losing his soul and reverting back to Angelus – his villainous alter-ego that will maul anybody and not feel a twinge of guilt about it.
This two-parter is the first time the viewer gets a true first-hand experience of Angelus and the moment of true despair comes immediately after the moment of true happiness that leads to Angel’s soul being lost, heightening the impact it has. Both Spike and Drusilla were well-established villains at that point but both looked like pussy cats when compared to Angelus, who’s pure evil and kill-first-ask-questions-later attitude was a stark and vicious contrast to the placid version of the character we’d spent time getting to know. Angelus’ emergence also had a profound effect on Buffy herself as her first sexual experience became tainted indefinitely by her lover’s switch to the dark side.
Outside of the interesting way used to introduce Angelus to the audience, the Surprise/Innocence two-parter also made good use of the shared time it had to extend the story it was working with. The Judge – the demon being assembled by Spike and Drusilla – was as threatening and dangerous an enemy Buffy had faced before and having this particular story intertwined with Angel becoming another foe for Buffy to fight with placed all of the odds firmly against the slayer and as a result, made the episodes a strong turning point for Buffy’s character. A particular highlight comes from the group’s confrontation with the Judge in the shopping mall and Buffy and Angelus’ subsequent fight where she releases that she cannot bring herself to kill him – a decision that will come back to bite her in a later episode. Surprise/Innocence represents a pivotal point in Buffy and Angel’s relationship and it succeeds on all counts.
13 – Restless
Season 4, episode 22
After casting a strong and draining spell in the previous episode to allow Buffy to defeat Adam, the gang settle down to watch movies for the night. Before they’ve even begun, however, they all fall asleep and experience vivid nightmares that play on their fears, from Willow’s terror at being thrust onto the stage of an opera without learning the lines, to Xander being a play-toy for Joyce and being verbally abused by those around him.
In some ways, Restless is the most creative season finale Buffy the Vampire Slayer had ever done. Unlike other seasons, the big-bad had already been defeated, the threat that dominated the season had gone and there really was nothing left to do except move on to the next season.
Restless still had something to give, however, whether it be the nightmares themselves that explored the fears the characters had in a typically dream-like manner or the heavy use of foreshadowing, something which almost requires you to watch the episode more than once to catch all of it. For example, Tara saying “It’s always darkest before Dawn” to Willow – a clear teaser for Dawn’s arrival in season five. There is also Joyce living in the wall which also has a hole in it, which may or may not be foreshadowing of Xander putting his fist through the wall during The Body, also during season five. You definitely will not pick up on all of these things during your first viewing – I, for one, didn’t notice any on mine – which is what makes Restless something worthy of the time and effort of multiple viewings.
Restless, apart from hinting at events yet to come, used what time it had to delve into the characters themselves, allowing for strong exposition into their fears and how they had the potential to impact their waking lives, such as Willow’s confusion and fear about her lesbianism. Where Buffy’s typical season finales wrapped up the season’s main story thread, Restless started early work on those of the next at the same time as providing some strong character development for the regular guys. Its creativity and willingness to provide something out of the ordinary has to be appreciated, as well as the foreshadowing that takes place, and its placement on a list of this type had to happen.
12 – Becoming Part One/Part Two
Season 2, episode 21/22
After doing battle with Spike, Drusilla and eventually Angelus for the season, the time comes for Buffy to fight back. The motley crew of vampires plan to resurrect another ancient and deadly demon to suck the world into hell and they target one of Buffy’s friends in order to fulfill it, leading to shaky alliances being created and a confrontation that will scar Buffy for the foreseeable future.
Buffy’s second season brought the goods at every turn, from having more varied stories, excellent villains for the group to fight and to top it off, a finale that gave Buffy her biggest challenge up until that point. The two part finale raised the stakes for the slayer in a way that hadn’t been done before. Not only was her life in danger but also Giles, who had been taken captive by her vampire foes, as well as the world should their plot to end it succeed. Even season one’s battle with the Master didn’t reach such dangerous heights.
As a season finale, Becoming provided all that you could expect from it. Buffy’s fight with Angelus, upon realising that she has to kill him, ends on a tearful, heartbreaking note when Willow succeeds in restoring his soul but Buffy must still kill him as it’s too late, therefore having to kill the man she loves as opposed to the monster he became. The relationship between the two had been one of the stories at the forefront of the season and it needed a conclusion that would be fitting of the progress it made, and that it got, even if it did fracture the emotional membrane with how it came to a head. The entire handling of the Angelus story, from its beginning until its end in the finale, was exceptional.
As well as the tragic end to Buffy and Angel’s relationship, Joyce also found out about her daughter being the slayer which lead to a heated confrontation that ultimately ended with Buffy leaving Sunnydale after having to kill Angel – the cliffhanger to end the season with. Having Joyce find out about her daughter early on was good because it changed their relationship after that point, and mostly for the better. Having her in the dark for multiple seasons wouldn’t have worked, especially as the evidence that something was up with Buffy was staring her in the face for so long.
Becoming was the finale that all subsequent finales had to use as a benchmark for quality and it set that mark higher than what it had ever done before.
11 – Graduation Day Part One/Two
Season 3, episode 21/22
High school is almost over but before Buffy and co can leave, there lies an obstacle in the form of graduation day. A day that’s supposed to be a time of celebration and happiness is turned into a day for battle. The Mayor is all set to ‘ascend’ into true demon form and lay fiery waste to those around him, and the stage is set for the fight to end all fights.
Graduation Day concludes a third fantastic season that contained several brilliant characters, such as Mayor Richard Wilkins III and of course, Faith. As far as villains go, The Mayor was always a different kind of bad guy. While others relied on their physical prowess to exert a threatening demeanour, The Mayor was simply a human guy who couldn’t fight his way out of a paper bag and disliked germs. While he may have given Buffy the least challenge when it came to kicking ass, he gave her the stage for the biggest battle she had faced up until that point.
The whole sequence of the fight with the Mayor – now in his demon form – was very well done and felt every bit as epic as you’d imagine it to be. From the involvement of the student populace to finally burying The Mayor with a collapsed school, the sense of scale was never lost and the tension and excitement was also never lost as a result. This finale wanted things to go out with a bang and that it did.
As well as dealing with The Mayor, Buffy also had to face Faith in order to save Angel’s life, which doesn’t end well for the renegade slayer. All throughout the season, Faith had been developed as the opposing force to Buffy’s moral compass and the character was at the centre of a story concept that the writers couldn’t have done with Buffy’s strong sense of morality. The climax of their clash in the finale didn’t disappoint at all and Graduation Day was just another step in the excellently crafted character development of Faith, which would continue despite the brutal culmination of the slayer-on-slayer battle.
While Graduation Day succeeds in the epic fight, it is also a pivotal point for Buffy and the group. High School is over, their teenage years are over and life must move on. But to where? College? Jobs? Indeed at the very end, the same thoughts must surely be going through the character’s heads as they also ask the same question. They’ve survived High School, some of their friends have moved on (both Angel and Cordelia depart for their own adventures in Los Angeles) and the time to grow up begins. Graduation Day makes good on ending one chapter of their lives and beginning another, with one pulverised school as a by-product.
With that concludes this second post in this series. Now that we’ve got the bottom half of the list done, the time to move on to the top half will begin in part three. Your opinions on these posts and the episodes chosen within them, as well as the reasonings behind the selections, are very welcome. I am curious to hear views on Restless making number 13 because I know the episode is well-loved by many and they would probably have expected a higher placement. Regardless, any of your views would be nice!
For the first part of this series and positions 20-16, click here
For the next part of this series and positions 10-6, click here