So folks, after counting down from number twenty to eleven in the two previous parts to this list, it’s now time to explore the selections in the bottom half of the top ten.
As always, the choices made in these posts are subjective and do not reflect the opinion of a mass public audience, merely myself and that funny old head of mine. Your thoughts on the choices made and the reasons for their selection are extremely welcome, however.
10 – Fool for Love
Season 5, episode 7
Buffy sustains an injury during a fight with a regular vampire and in order to make sure it never happens again, as well as make herself stronger in the mean-time, she questions Spike about how he killed two slayers in the past, leading to a history lesson concerning the formerly vicious killer.
Make no mistake about Fool for Love – this is the Spike episode. The whole thing, almost from start to finish, explores in vivid detail a variety of events from Spike’s past that contributed to shaping his future, least of all the two encounters with slayers that he subsequently murdered. James Marsters got the chance to show off what he can do, as well as highlight for the umpteenth time just how interesting and fantastic a character Spike was in a way he hadn’t been able to before and everything about it just worked.
Perhaps the strongest element to Fool for Love is how many different ways it manages to show Spike’s character. We see him at his meek and ridiculed pre-vampire self (complete with terrible poetry skills), then at his brutal self when he used to ride shotgun with Angelus, Darla and Drusilla, and finally at his besotted self in the present. The beauty of it is that no matter which version of Spike we’re observing, the magnificence surrounding his character never ceased. Buffy’s disgust at his tale of how he used the secret wish of death of the slayers to kill them is enough to make him obtain a shotgun and prepare to finish her off but at the end, he instead chooses to comfort her when she receives bad news regarding her mother’s health. It was a significant step in Spike’s character development, as well as in he and Buffy’s incredibly turbulent relationship, and Fool for Love excelled in what it set out to do.
Oh, and that fight sequence in the subway train with slayer Nikki also didn’t disappoint. One can’t forget that scene when thinking of this episode.
9 – This Year’s Girl/Who are You?
Season 4, episode 15/16
After being beaten into a comatose state during her fight with Buffy at the end of season three, Faith wakes up from her vegetative state and is on the warpath, and Buffy and co. are on that same path. She taunts the group, attacks them and eventually takes Joyce captive before having another fight with Buffy that results in the two switching bodies, leading to disastrous consequences for the two of them.
There are many reasons as to why this two-parter absolutely deserves a position as high as it is on this list but the first and foremost reason would be because of Sarah Michelle Gellar and Eliza Dushku. A body switch storyline can only be a success if the actors in either role are capable of portraying the characteristics of the other in a believable manner, which both of the aforementioned actresses excelled at. SMG took on Faith’s mannerisms and vicious attitude with a skill that was spooky to witness. Also, Eliza Dushku also changed her entire character to suit Buffy’s calmer and friendlier demeanour. Together, both were exceptional in their roles and provided the wavering fourth season with the injection of brilliance it needed.
As well as containing incredible acting from both of the actresses at the centre of the storyline, the switch of bodies also allowed Faith’s character to develop significantly. She starts off absolutely intent on ruining Buffy’s life by walking around in her skin, even going as far as to sleep with Riley – Buffy’s boyfriend – but after seeing the love and compassion her friends and family give to Buffy, she finds herself disgusted with her actions, leading to an incredibly powerful scene with Faith literally hitting herself out of hatred for what she has done. I have always maintained the mantra that Faith, even when she was working alongside The Mayor, was never a character to be considered evil. She was lost along the way when she committed human murder in season three but there was always some semblance of wanting to do right, even when all evidence pointed towards her wanting the opposite. Switching bodies with Buffy allowed her to see and feel what she had always wanted and it changed her.
The two episodes that form this two-parter provide a huge stepping stone for Faith’s character and as well as achieving that, the magnificent acting of both Sarah Michelle Gellar and Eliza Dushku made the experience as compelling and exciting as it needed to be. Season four had its flaws but this wasn’t one of them.
8 – Chosen
Season 7, episode 22
After seven years of fighting the good fight and struggling with the progression from girl to woman, it is time for Buffy to head into battle one final time. With The First plotting to end the world with an entire hellmouth of uber-vamps, the stakes had rarely been higher for the slayer and her friends but that wasn’t about to stop them…
Buffy the Vampire Slayer had no shortage of excellent season finales before its final season came to be. However, season seven’s finale had the added pressure of not only bringing the season to a conclusion but the entire show as a whole. It’s a pressure that any show, no matter how good it is, can struggle with. Look at The Sopranos, for example. It remains one of the most critically praised shows but many considered its series finale to be underwhelming. Ending a show that’s gathered such a large, dedicated and passionate following is extremely difficult but for BtVS, it was nothing more than an obstacle.
Chosen can be praised for a wide range of reasons but one of the strongest is how it brings things to a close for the characters, as far as the audience is concerned anyway: Buffy, after destroying the hellmouth and the entirety of Sunnydale with it, finally seems happy as the show rolls to a close, no longer feeling alone in the world as she rides with a force of newly-created slayers; Willow, who after spending the entire season living in perpetual fear that she would succumb to the dark magic again, finally harnesses the power she has in a way that doesn’t involve her roots turning black; and of course, let’s not forget the deaths of both Anya and Spike. While Anya was killed off in a fashion that was a little too quick for my liking, Spike’s death comes at the pinnacle of his character redemption that had been building for numerous seasons, also resulting in Buffy’s acceptance of him as he burns to dust to save the world. Chosen represented his complete transformation from villain to hero. It was unfortunate that he was resurrected for Angel in its fifth season. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed him in Angel but after an ending like the one he received in Chosen, dragging him back seemed wrong somehow.
In order for a series finale to be considered a success, it has to bring things full circle for both its characters and the story. Chosen succeeded on both counts while also providing numerous scenes that will forever withstand the test of time, such as Willow casting the spell to turn all the potentials into full slayers, the Helms Deep-like battle inside the Hellmouth, plus Spike sacrificing himself to save everyone else. The stakes were raised and the message of the episode was that good, no matter how outnumbered and underpowered it may be, can still win over evil, which in some ways was the message the show had pushed throughout its seven season run. Chosen simply didn’t underwhelm at all.
7 – Conversations with Dead People
Season 7, episode 7
In one evening in Sunnydale, Buffy and the gang have individual encounters with those that are dead. Buffy engages in conversation with a vampire she used to be vaguely familiar with, Willow is visited by someone claiming to be speaking on behalf of Tara and Dawn is traumatised by her supposedly dead mother’s spirit being attacked in their home. All, however, is not as it seems…
Conversations with Dead People is one of those unique and different episodes that BtVS did. For example, it is the only episode of the entire show where Nicholas Brendan (Xander) did not appear, as well as the characters involved in the episode having no scenes together for the entire duration. Regardless of the things Conversations did differently compared to other episodes, the majority of things it did, it did right.
Buffy’s conversation with the vampire added a unique twist to the familiar ‘go out at night slaying beasties’ concept, as well as giving her valuable insight into her troubled and turbulent relationships and her life. Willow, still grieving over Tara’s death in season six, is understandably quick to believe that Tara was the one visiting her, adding emotion to the scenes surrounding her and Cassie’s interactions (the dead girl claiming to be a conduit for Tara). Although their scenes were powerful enough to evoke an emotional response, I do feel, however, that the producer’s inability to secure Amber Benson to return to the role harmed the impact the conversation in the episode had. Nevertheless, Dawn’s encounter with a malevolent spirit that shakes the family home to the core was a violent and dramatic alternative to the calmer atmospheres of the other conversations that took place in the episode. Also, Kristine Sutherland returning to the role of Joyce, albeit very briefly, made the scenes much better and emotionally damning to Dawn herself.
The strength of Conversations lies with the way in which it took the characters on troubling rides, as well as finally establishing just how dangerous and threatening a villain The First actually was. By intertwining the establishment of the villain and exploring story elements concerning the characters, Conversations secured itself a place so high on this list for providing a compelling, different and influential episode that left an impact on the characters even after it had finished. The theme was on being ‘alone’, which was evident by the song that plays over the end scenes – ‘Blue’ by Angie Hart and written by Joss Whedon himself – as it collected forty minute’s worth of excellence and sent it off with a memorable tune. Season seven had its moments of weakness but Conversations simply cannot be classed as one.
6 – Passion
Season 2, episode 17
Friends are lost, relationships are torn apart and new villains are established in an episode full of death, despair and anguish as Jenny Calendar loses her life to the evil Angelus.
Where do I even start when talking about Passion? There are so many moments of true brilliance in this episode that reducing them to a few hundred words is a monumental task. I suppose we can start with how Angelus’ absolute evil is finally established in such a brutal fashion. At this point, the viewer already has a modicum of an idea that Angelus is a ruthless killer but when he catches up to Jenny in a chase through the school and snaps her neck, all doubts that Angelus wasn’t ‘fully evil’ were destroyed. It also solidified the notion that nobody on the show was safe, and that by having Angelus relinquish the group of an ally, it finally made Buffy realise that dealing with her former lover’s alter-ego was a problem she needed to resolve, and fast.
Outside of the excellent way of making the audience aware of Angelus’ wickedness, the writing on Passion is simply fantastic. From start to finish, the way in which Angelus was portrayed and how Jenny’s murder affected the entire group, all the while with David Boreanaz’s narration over the top, provided forty minutes of truly compelling television, written and shot beautifully in equal measure. Events were never the same for the group after Jenny’s death nor for the characters involved in the plot, namely all of them. So not only was Passion a massive accomplishment in terms of the writing and production, it was also an integral point for the gang and the story of season two.
Special mention also has to go to Anthony Stewart Head as Giles’ realisation that his lover had been murdered hit the viewer’s emotional fabric hard. Angelus displaying Jenny’s body in Giles’ home as a gift of sorts was a despicable act that naturally would’ve rocked Giles in a way that he hadn’t experienced on the show up until that point, and Head’s performance made the act hit that much harder.
Passion took BtVS to a place it hadn’t been to before that point; to a place where friends are killed. The show had shown semblances of being able to be darker in tone before Passion but it hadn’t truly explored that area until that point. The sudden switch in atmosphere turned BtVS into a different kind of show; one that wasn’t afraid to take risks. To say it worked would be an understatement of huge proportions.
So, we’ve now established three-quarters of this top twenty list and the next, and final, part of this series will explore my choices for the five best episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I think that some of you can already guess what episodes you might see there but regardless, make sure to return for the final part if you want to see.
As usual, your opinions on these selections are completely welcome and hopefully we can kick off a discussion at the same time!
For the previous part in this series and positions 15-11, click here