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Every episode of Buffy, ranked, in honor of its 20th anniversary

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

20th Century Fox

Exactly 20 years ago today, a little-watched network called the WB premiered a midseason replacement show based on a 1992 movie that flopped at the box office. That show would go on to become one of the most beloved and revolutionary TV shows of all time, one that would shape the way we talked and thought about the medium for years to come, and help establish the golden age of television.

But back on March 10, 1997, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was just that scrappy little show about a cheerleader in SoCal who was destined to hunt and slay vampires, demons, and other assorted creatures of darkness. It was a weirdly high-concept premise designed first and foremost to restore agency to the archetypal blonde girl who dies in horror movies. But over the next seven seasons, it became clear that Buffy, as helmed by showrunner Joss Whedon, also lent itself to uniquely emotional explorations of the demons of adolescence.

Other teen soaps of the era could talk about being so ignored you feel invisible, or being worried that after you sleep with your boyfriend he won’t respect you anymore. Only Buffy could give those anxieties the apocalyptic stakes every teenager knows they deserve.

So in honor of Buffy’s 20th anniversary, we’ve ranked its 144 episodes from worst to best. We looked at what made the show great and at what it never exactly figured out how to handle, at the themes it elevated to art and the ones it poked at a couple of times and then abandoned.

Of course there were disputes. How do you choose between a brilliant formal experiment like “Hush,” with its 20 minutes of dialogue-free action, and an episode like “The Gift,” which does nothing formally unusual but advances the themes and characters Buffy is built on really, really well? Is season six brilliantly dark or willfully bleak? And which of Buffy’s boyfriends is best?

We argued, kvetched, and agonized through several rounds of voting to bring you a complete and definitive ranking. Let’s get to it.

We all know a bad episode of Buffy is better than a lot of other TV. These are still some pretty bad episodes!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Down goes Parker.
20th Century Fox

144. “Beer Bad” (season 4, episode 5)

It speaks volumes about the quality of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that the episode almost universally agreed to be the worst of the series still manages to boast some sharp dialogue, physical and verbal humor, and even a dang Emmy nomination (for Makeup and Hairstyling). Still, let us not gloss over the bad, which, as this show goes, is very bad: We get yet another episode of Buffy moping over terrible Parker, the introduction of the odious she-werewolf Veruca, and a very silly, very preachy story about the awfulness of college students drinking beer (oh, the horror). — Tanya Pai

143. “Where the Wild Things Are” (season 4, episode 18)

Also known as the episode where Buffy and Riley have sex for 45 minutes. There’s also a fun Xander/Anya subplot that deals with them struggling to define their relationship outside of sex (they realize they really like each other, aw!), and you get to hear Giles sing, all of which is just barely enough to keep this episode from the bottom slot. That’s how bad the rest of it is. — Constance Grady

142. “I, Robot … You, Jane” (season 1, episode 8)

The internet is possessed by a demon robot, and wow are we in 1997. “I, Robot” is the first episode to really spotlight Willow, and she’s such a lovely and complex character that saddling her with this piece of ’90s low kitsch is a bit of a letdown. On the plus side, it also introduces us to Jenny Calendar. — CG

141. “Doublemeat Palace” (season 6, episode 12)

In which Buffy takes a job at a fast-food restaurant where something nefarious may or may not be going on. Buffy’s frustration at her inability to hold down a real career has shades of season two’s “What’s My Line,” and there’s an appealingly bleak idea here about true evil being the unceasing grind of day-to-day existence. But as this is Buffy, there are… also demons. Some funny and even poignant moments don’t keep “Doublemeat Palace” from being one of the show’s sillier installments. — TP

We’ve got a lot of overly literal and unhelpful metaphors here, folks

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Bye, Riley!
20th Century Fox

140. “Inca Mummy Girl” (season 2, episode 4)

Buffy’s intense, operatic season two has arguably the best season-long arc of the entire series, and is leaps and bounds ahead of the charming but limited season one. But it did take a while for season two to outgrow season one’s reliance on fun-but-dumb monsters of the week, and “Inca Mummy Girl’s” Inca … mummy … girl (look, there just aren’t a lot of ways to describe her) is one of the dumbest and the least fun. The episode still has a few redeeming moments, though: There’s the introduction of Oz, and Jonathan’s first appearance on the series proper after he showed up in the unaired pilot. — CG

139. “Go Fish” (season 2, episode 20)

To be honest, some of that dumb-but-fun stuff stuck around into very late season two. “Go Fish” is oddly placed: It’s a silly little piece of nothing about how steroids are bad that seems designed mostly to get Xander into a Speedo, but it shows up right between the heartbreaking ghost story of “I Only Have Eyes for You” and the two-part season finale’s box set of clinical depression. On the one hand, it gives viewers a bit of breathing room and a chance to emotionally heal as they prepare themselves for the rigors that lie ahead in “Becoming, Parts 1 and 2.” On the other hand, it sure does kill the momentum. — CG

138. “Empty Places” (season 7, episode 19)

Say this for season seven: It has a message, and it sticks to it. But that’s also one of the season’s biggest weaknesses. It picks a theme (Buffy’s giving too many inspirational speeches! She’s acting like a general instead of a friend! She needs to be less isolated!) and pounds away at it unvaryingly, which gives most of the episodes a disconcerting sameness. “Empty Places” in theory takes that theme to its climax, but the execution is off. The only thing that distinguishes this iteration of the theme from its earlier counterparts is that here, Buffy’s friends all gang up on her and throw her out of her own house. Which is thematically consistent, sure, but … c’mon, dude, it’s her house. — CG

137. “Gone” (season 6, episode 11)

One of the biggest problems of season six is its attempt to be simultaneously slapstick and silly (the Trio) and unremittingly dark and grim (everything else). Rarely are those two themes so poorly integrated as they are in “Gone,” in which Buffy, recovering from the apparent rock bottom of “Smashed”/“Wrecked,” goes on a series of wacky invisible adventures and also deals with her suicidal impulses. But this episode also gives us Warren grandly proclaiming, “We are your archnemesises … ises!” and that’s worth the price of admission. — CG

136. “Bad Eggs” (season 2, episode 12)

Most of “Bad Eggs” is straightforward and serviceable-enough horror. As a health class project, the kids have to carry around eggs to practice being parents; the eggs turn out to contain baby monsters that hatch and possess them, and it’s all goofy and forgettable in the way early Buffy tends toward. But it’s also an interesting prelude to what’s to come in “Surprise”/“Innocence,” one of TV’s most thoughtful and heartbreaking explorations of teen sex. Here, as Buffy and Angel make out in graveyards and Xander and Cordelia snark between kisses in utility closets, sex is silly and campy, but very much on the horizon. — CG

135. “Reptile Boy” (season 2, episode 5)

“Reptile Boy” is a bit of a learning episode for Buffy. The monster of the week is a silly, slightly overliteral phallic symbol, with the whole storyline functioning as a glib, slightly overliteral metaphor for fraternity date rape. But in the fledgling Buffy/Angel storyline, you can see the show working out exactly how it’s going to integrate its episodic stories with its serial plots and reach the balance it would perfect in seasons three and five. It hasn’t quite nailed it yet here, but it’s getting there. — CG

134. “Killed by Death” (season 2, episode 18)

There are a lot of season two episodes that feel like leftovers from season one, but “Killed by Death” actually is a season one leftover. It was written for a goofy, campy point in the series’ run, and then lightly revised for the darker second half of season two through the addition (most likely by Whedon) of a few scenes of Xander and Angel facing off at the hospital where a feverish Buffy is recovering. That’s probably why those scenes feel exponentially stronger than the rest of the episode — but the rest of the episode is still perfectly fun TV. Plus, Der Kindestod and his extendable eyeball stalks are genuinely creepy. — CG

133. “Into the Woods” (season 5, episode 10)

Riley is few people’s favorite Buffy love interest*, and this tonally odd episode is his swan song. Riley spent most of season five deconstructing toxic masculinity: His macho military identity meant he couldn’t deal with a girlfriend who was stronger than he was, and he could tell Buffy wasn’t madly in love with him, and all of the ensuing insecurities sent him spiraling into a vampire brothel/crack house metaphor. But “Into the Woods” discards that darkness in its conclusion, which sees Buffy racing toward Riley’s departing helicopter as Xander monologues about how Riley is the pure, innocent, and selfless love of Buffy’s life. It’s a weird bit of framing that doesn’t quite fit the rest of the story season five was telling about Riley. — CG

*Possible exceptions include Emily VanDerWerff and Julie Bogen of this very article, but they didn’t volunteer to write about this episode, so they can’t like him that much.

132. “Teacher’s Pet” (season 1, episode 4)

By 1997, the student/teacher love affair was already a well-worn teen soap trope, and “Teacher’s Pet’s” twist of having the teacher be a literal predator is only mildly clever. But in the show’s fourth episode, the core Scooby dynamics have really started to gel: The scene where Giles corrals the kids into researching the two monsters decapitating and shredding their way through Sunnydale (“Fork Guy doesn’t do heads,” Buffy notes) hits all the classic beats the researching scenes will hit throughout the rest of the show’s run. This is also the first episode to really show off the Buffy/Angel chemistry that will drive much of the next season, with the two flirting between foreboding warnings over Angel’s leather jacket. — CG

131. “All the Way” (season 6, episode 6)

“All the Way” is easily the weakest of Buffy’s semiannual Halloween episodes (there’s one in every even-numbered season). It spends a lot of time on Dawn and her teen angst — which is certainly understandable under the circumstances but also one of the least-developed arcs of season six — and it wastes a pre–Joan of Arcadia Amber Tamblyn. But the scenes of the Magic Box celebrating Halloween are fun, and Xander’s spontaneous declaration that “I’m gonna marry that girl” while he watches Anya do her dance of capitalist superiority is one of that relationship’s most sweetly romantic moments. — CG

And here we have some episodes that advance boring plot lines

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Dark magic Willow is kind of a bummer.
20th Century Fox

130. “Bring on the Night” (season 7, episode 10)

You know how when you think of any given episode of season seven, you can be pretty sure Buffy made an inspiring speech and Spike sat sadly in the basement and the Potentials were irritating, but you’re not really sure if anything else happened from week to week? Here’s where that starts. (The first third of season seven is actually pretty solid, which is easy to forget given what a slog the middle section is.) Not coincidentally, the interminable sameness begins with the introduction of the Potentials, who are an interesting thematic addition to the show in theory, but in practice take up a whole lot of dramatic space without adding much. — CG

129. “The I in Team” (season 4, episode 13)

Season four contains some of the best standalone episodes of Buffy’s run, but it has easily the weakest overall arc. And “The I in Team” is an arc-heavy episode: It’s the one where Buffy joins the Initiative but then Professor Walsh decides to kill her for vague, Oedipal complex–related reasons. As Whedon admits in his season four DVD interviews, the issue with the Initiative and Adam as Big Bads is that no one in the main cast has an emotional connection to them except for Riley. And as Whedon has not directly said, but most fans can agree, Riley is not a compelling enough character to drive a whole season’s worth of plot on his own. — CG

128. “Goodbye, Iowa” (season 4, episode 14)

And here’s where Adam kills Professor Walsh and takes over as the season’s Big Bad, while Riley grieves for his mentor and goes into withdrawal from his Initiative-supplied “vitamins.” Riley is mostly inoffensive, but as a character, he serves the show better as a supporting player than as a central figure who is integral to the story. It’s not a coincidence that season four’s best episodes mostly keep Riley to the side and let Buffy and her concerns drive the story instead. — CG

127. “Wrecked” (season 6, episode 10)

The sixth season is one of Buffy’s most polarizing, in large part because of the events of “Wrecked” and its partner episode, “Smashed,” where Buffy and Spike finally have house-destroying sex and the “Willow is a magic junkie” storyline really kicks off. Of the two, “Wrecked” is noticeably weaker, mostly because it spends so much time on scenes of a spaced-out Willow in a magic crack house. Willow’s growing infatuation with the power that magic brings her is compelling on its own, but the drug metaphor is clumsy. It lacks the elegance and nuance of this show’s metaphorical storytelling at its best, and it flattens Willow’s characterization instead of enriching it. — CG

126. “Get It Done” (season 7, episode 15)

“Get It Done” gives us the origin story for the First Slayer: She was created by the first Watchers Council, who endued her with a demonic essence so that she could fight vampires for them. It’s an interesting wrinkle to the Slayer mythology that will pay off beautifully in “Chosen,” but a) this episode suffers from the dread season seven sameness, and b) it’s kind of weird that the origin story for the Slayer power that the show treats as empowering and beautiful comes with so much rape imagery, no? — CG

125. “Sleeper” (season 7, episode 8)

“Sleeper” does a lot of heavy lifting on Spike’s season seven redemption arc, and it’s, you know, fine. Spike has been programmed by the as-yet-unnamed First Evil to kill people without realizing it, and this is where he figures it out, as Aimee Mann plays the Bronze. (Shoutout to Aimee Mann, who is the lone Buffy musical guest to get her own spoken dialogue: “Man, I hate playing vampire towns.”) The First is most compelling as a villain when it gets a chance to prey on our heroes’ psychological weaknesses, which is why it’s so effective in “Conversations With Dead People.” But at this point in the series, we don’t yet know why it’s able to affect Spike the way it does; that won’t be clear until “Lies My Parents Told Me.” And without that extra layer, “Sleeper” never rises above the level of “functional and mostly inoffensive.” — CG

124. “Smashed” (season 6, episode 14)

In contrast to “Sleeper,” “Smashed” does its thing in the most polarizing manner possible. There’s Buffy and Spike’s violent smackdown/foreplay, which depending on your point of view is either sexy or horrifically violent and disturbing (or both). There’s Willow and Amy going on their magic spree at the Bronze, in a move that is either intriguingly morally ambiguous or kind of silly and unpleasant to watch. Buffy embraces the grimdark a lot in its sixth season, but “Smashed” and “Wrecked” walk right up to the line of too much — and for some fans, they mark the point where the show tipped over. — CG

123. “First Date” (season 7, episode 14)

Traditionally on Buffy, there’s a major twist right around this point in the season: Angel loses his soul, or Faith kills a guy, or Buffy and Spike have sex. Season seven eschews that structure, which is partly why it feels so monotonous, but this quiet episode has its charms. It brings back a little of the Scooby camaraderie that made the early seasons so fun: There’s Willow and Xander sweetly teasing Buffy about how Principal Wood is way too young to be her type, and Anya struggling fruitlessly for someone to talk to about how jealous she is of Xander’s date with Special Guest Star Ashanti — who, as stunt-casted celebrities goes, does not embarrass herself. — CG

122. “Living Conditions” (season 4, episode 2)

“Living Conditions” is a mostly uninspired episode, which is unfortunate, because it comes at a vulnerable point in season four, when the show is still hashing out what its tone will be in the post–high school era. The jokes about Buffy’s demon roommate are serviceable but a little on the lazy side (She’s into Cher — she must be evil!), and there’s no compelling subplot to compensate. — CG

121. “Never Leave Me” (season 7, episode 9)

Andrew doesn’t always work as a character — he can be one-note — but he injects some much-needed levity into season seven here. It’s less what he does himself than what he brings out in the main cast: First, there’s his confrontation with Willow (“I am a very powerful she-witch! Or ‘witch,’ as is more accurate.”), and then there’s Xander and Anya’s good cop/bad cop routine, which is a sheer joy to watch. — CG

These episodes aren’t perfect, but they’re pretty charming

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Presenting Xander and Harmony’s battle to the death.
20th Century Fox

120. “Older and Far Away” (season 6, episode 14)

The intense misery and pain of season six can get a little claustrophobic, and boy does “Older and Far Away” lean into that, with all of the main cast trapped in Buffy’s house at her birthday party. There are fun moments — Tara gently teasing Spike over his affair with Buffy is lovely — but the main feeling this episode leaves you with is exhaustion. — CG

119. “Beauty and the Beasts” (season 3, episode 4)

The fact that this is season three’s first appearance on this list says a lot about how consistently good season three is. Sure, the monster of the week here is a little bit ham-fisted: it’s a Jekyll and Hyde metaphor about how abusive relationships are bad — not the best thing episode writer Marti Noxon ever did. But the rest of the episode does a fantastic job of balancing the episodic stuff with the Willow/Oz and Buffy/Angel stuff, and continuing to explore Buffy’s grief and guilt over having killed Angel last season. It’s just a shame it takes until season seven for Buffy to try talking to a therapist again after Mr. Platt dies, because lord knows that poor girl needed one. — CG

118. “Some Assembly Required” (season 2, episode 2)

“Some Assembly Required” is a solid entry into the goofy/campy/silly stretch of early Buffy, in this case with a dead football player turned Frankenstein’s monster who wants to make Cordelia his bride. It’s nothing earth-shaking, but it does see Giles and Jenny on their first date, and it lays some groundwork for Xander and Cordelia’s relationship later in the season. — CG

117. “As You Were” (season 6, episode 15)

Now this is a good use of Riley: less focus on his pain and internal psychological struggles, more focus on the healthy normalcy that he represents for Buffy and her own ambivalence thereto. Season six has been wallowing in its own misery for a while when Riley returns, but his sunny all-American presence reminds Buffy of who she used to be and who she thinks she would like to be again. Like much of season six, the execution is not exactly subtle or nuanced, but the idea is solid, and it’s a relief to have a little light in the show after episode on episode of bleakness and pain. — CG

116. “The Initiative” (season 4, episode 7)

As plot-heavy season four episodes go, “The Initiative” isn’t too shabby. It has a kind of slapstick charm to it: There’s the newly escaped and bechipped Spike trying to bite Willow, only to suffer from some performance issues; there’s Xander and Harmony’s slow-motion slap fight. And then there’s the stuff with the Initiative itself, which is pretty much par for the boring military course. — CG

115. “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date” (season 1, episode 5)

Season one spent a lot of time talking about how Buffy’s slaying adversely affected her desire for a normal life, but episode five is one of the first times it really shows us what that looks like. Buffy desperately wants to go on a date with an unmemorable boy (he reads poetry, so he’s deep), but first she has to cancel to handle a prophecy, and then she has to take him to the morgue for a little unscheduled slayage. And even though the boy is into her whole scene — he’s an adrenaline junkie — she has to dump him to protect him. It’s the kind of sweet, wistful little story that Buffy first cut its teeth on while it was still figuring out how to go mythic and grand. — CG

114. “Wild at Heart” (season 4, episode 6)

Oh, this one hurts. This is the episode where Oz cheats on Willow, then kills a girl, and then finally decides to leave town, all of which means that we spend a lot of time watching Willow cry. Reader: There is nothing more painful than watching Willow cry. Oz’s character motivations are a little fuzzy — the writers threw together his arc on the fly after Seth Green asked to be released from his contract, and it shows — but the emotional core is solid. — CG

113. “The Puppet Show” (season 1, episode 9)

“The Puppet Show” is a weird, weird episode. It’s mostly built around Sid the talking dummy, who’s possessed by a demon hunter. He spends the first half of the episode skittering around creepily, and then in the second half he turns out to be secretly heroic and gets a poignant death scene. It’s goofy and fun and not quite coherent, and always leaves me feeling a little like the newly introduced Principal Snyder: “I don’t get it. Is it avant-garde?”

Also of note: Buffy’s first and only tag scene, which sees the Scoobies doing the world’s worst staged reading of Oedipus and makes me howl with laughter every time. — CG

112. “Nightmares” (season 1, episode 10)

“Nightmares” takes a classic nightmares-come-true premise and lurches around wildly in its execution. Some of it is fine but uninspired — Willow has stage fright, Xander’s afraid of clowns, Buffy misses a test — but at its best, “Nightmares” locks in on the specific yet universal adolescent fears that makes Buffy such a classic. In particular, there’s Buffy’s nightmare vision of her rarely seen father, who kindly and reasonably tells her she’s the reason for her parents’ divorce — because “You’re sullen and rude, and you’re not nearly as bright as I thought you were going to be.” Buffy’s quiet devastation in response is a stunner. — CG

111. “Welcome to the Hellmouth” (season 1, episode 1)

Here’s where it all begins. “Welcome to the Hellmouth” has to lay the groundwork for Buffy’s winding, convoluted mythology and introduce its main cast, and it more or less manages: It’s a little awkward here and there but mostly just fun. And the opening scene, with Darla playing a meek little schoolgirl before she turns on her prey, shows you exactly how funny and scary and subversive Buffy will turn out to be. — CG

The show is trying some things here. Maybe not entirely succeeding, but trying!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy and Spike do battle in the background, while Principal Wood does boring paperwork.
20th Century Fox

110. “The Killer in Me” (season 7, episode 13)

Many of season seven’s most significant missteps involve one of two things: trying to find atonement for Willow in the wake of her dark choices at the end of season six, and her new girlfriend, Kennedy, who’s not a terribly interesting character. Here’s an episode where those two things collide, when Kennedy and Willow kiss — and Willow transforms into Warren, the man who killed her last girlfriend. There’s something interesting here about living with guilt from past relationships, but it could have used another draft. — Emily VanDerWerff

109. “Listening to Fear” (season 5, episode 9)

Buffy visits X-Files territory in an uneasy mashup of metaphorical fantasy horror and genuine extraterrestrials. This is the weakest point of the generally impeccable “Buffy’s mom gets cancer” story arc. (Hey, X-Files had a generally impeccable cancer arc, too!) But it gets points for the creepy design of the alien, and the way it seems to feed off the horror and pain of Joyce’s condition. — EV

108. “Out of My Mind” (season 5, episode 4)

Buffy sure tried a lot of things to get fans to warm to Riley Finn, the man who deserved better (from fans, not from Buffy; he was a jerk to her). One of those things was pairing him with Spike for an unlikely team-up episode in which Spike hijacks Riley’s visit to the doctor to have his chip removed. (Surprise! It doesn’t work.) Buffy struggled to know what to do with both Riley and the Initiative once it course-corrected midway through season four. This episode feels like an offshoot of that problem. But at this point in the series’ run, James Marsters could do no wrong as Spike. This episode gets points for that. — EV

107. “Him” (season 7, episode 6)

“Him” isn’t all that great on character exploration, since half the main cast spends the episode under a mind-altering love spell, but it is enormously fun. Every so often, out of nowhere, I’ll think of that shot of Spike silently tackling a bazooka-wielding Buffy in the background, as an oblivious Principal Wood does paperwork in the foreground, and it never fails to make me laugh. — CG

106. “Hell’s Bells” (season 6, episode 16)

In which Xander and Anya break up, because no one can ever be happy in the Buffyverse. (Except Willow and Kennedy, of all people. Kennedy.) The episode handles the breakup well enough — that final shot of Anya sitting heartbroken in her wedding gown and saying, “I’m just so tired of crying,” is killer — but after a season filled pain and grief, in which Xander and Anya’s engagement was a frequent bright spot, adding another breakup to the pile feels almost willfully mean-spirited. — CG

105. “Flooded” (season 6, episode 5)

“Flooded” introduces us to the Trio, allegedly created by the writers in order to make season six sprightlier and less depressing than season five. That move didn’t quite work out as planned, and “Flooded” is a perfect example of why: The Trio and their to-do list (“miniature Fort Knox, conjure fake IDs”) are fun, but Buffy is still caught in her near-catatonic depression, and Willow’s so high on her own power that she casually threatens Giles. Season six will spend the rest of its run struggling to integrate those two tones, and it will only fitfully succeed. — CG

104. “Entropy” (season 6, episode 18)

“Entropy” is a rare season six respite, a calm between the bleakness of the “Smashed”/“Wrecked” era and the horror of “Seeing Red” and all that follows. Sure, it’s sorrowful — the A-plot is Anya trying desperately to wreak vengeance on Xander after being jilted in “Hell’s Bells” — but it doesn’t indulge in that “the world is a miserable place filled with nothing but despair” vibe that much of the rest of the season succumbs to. There’s humor and solace in Anya’s thirst for revenge (“I really don’t think he could feel any worse than he already does.” “Let’s test that theory!”), and there’s tenderness in Willow and Tara’s reunion. Of course, we all know where that’s about to lead … — CG

103. “Two to Go” (season 6, episode 21)

The first half of season six’s two-part finale is perhaps placed a little low here — because Vox’s panel was too harsh on season six in general, if you ask this humble writer. But “Two to Go” genuinely suffers from being placed next to the even better second hour, “Grave,” and it really is hard to watch the Buffy gang chase after longtime compatriot Willow, who’s taken a turn toward the murderous in the midst of grief. The ending shot of this episode — Giles in the door of the magic shop, looking the most badass he would ever look — is a keeper. — EV

102. “Doomed” (season 4, episode 11)

There’s nothing outwardly wrong with this episode — all of the pieces are in the right place, and the central idea of going back to your old high school after you’ve gone off to college and realizing things have changed, man, is a good one for the show to take on. (Buffy’s high school, of course, is in ruins.) But “Doomed” never does much with that idea, and it’s clear the writers are struggling to pull together one of the show’s more difficult seasons. Going back to high school only underlines what a struggle sending Buffy to college was. — EV

101. “Real Me” (season 5, episode 2)

In which we get to know Dawn Summers, the Scrappy Doo of Buffy. As a little sister, I am a Dawn apologist, but her first few episodes are a hard learning curve: Most of her material was originally developed with the understanding that the character would be around 11 years old, before the casting of 14-year-old Michelle Trachtenberg. As a result, Dawn comes off as a little more bratty and hard to deal with than she might have been otherwise. But her presence will anchor season five’s major arcs. And season five — which unites season two’s operatic story arcs with season three’s consistency — is one of Buffy’s three unimpeachable seasons. — CG

Honestly, these are all pretty solid, and we’re not even halfway through the list

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy and Angel enjoy the unusual California snow.
20th Century Fox

100. “Amends” (season 3, episode 10)

Angel-centric episodes tend toward melodrama — something it took Angel the series a little while to figure out how to deal with — and “Amends,” with its tearful clifftop climax, definitely leans toward the overwrought end of the spectrum. But as a way of dealing with the trauma of season two, it’s cathartic, and it remains one of the most effective uses of the First Evil, way before it became a major Big Bad. — CG

99. “The Harvest” (season 1, episode 2)

It’s hard to remember now, 20 years later, exactly how shocking it was when Xander and Willow’s pal Jesse died just two episodes into the show. He looked like a main character, or at least like he could become a major villain; it seemed as though he would be a huge part of the show. And then he died, and not because Xander screwed up his courage and found his inner hero, but because someone accidentally pushed him while they ran by. That moment, plus the shot of vamped-out Darla swinging her arms as she skips toward the Bronze, goes a long way toward defining Buffy’s tone from very early on. — CG

98. “Choices” (season 3, episode 19)

As this hour comes in the middle of what might be the most consistent stretch of Buffy episodes ever, it’s perhaps a bit underrated. But still: Putting a lot of emphasis on the characters’ college choices is a bit of false drama, simply because we know that if the show is to continue, they’ll all end up at the same school. And yet “Choices” neatly underlines one of season three’s biggest themes: Because she must be the Slayer, Buffy doesn’t have the options many of her friends do. — EV

97. “Lessons” (season 7, episode 1)

In its final season, Buffy tries to go full circle and head back to high school. The execution of that story arc will be lumpy, to say the least, but in the season seven premiere, it feels fresh and exciting: The gang is going to go back and slay the demons of adolescence as adults. And the coda scene of the First flashing through all the show’s Big Bads in reverse order is a wonderfully foreboding moment. — CG

96. “The Yoko Factor” (season 4, episode 20)

Every so often, Buffy would be like, “Hey, audience, do you remember that Spike is a villainous, treacherous killer?” and the audience would be like, “LOL, no!” Then the show would try to remind viewers that Spike was not to be trusted. That’s the conceit of this episode, in which season four’s Big Bad, Adam, tries to get Spike to turn the Scooby Gang against each other. It doesn’t really work, and the episode flails trying to make it work. At this point, though, Buffy could do these “time to fight the main villain” episodes in its sleep, and “Yoko” uses that momentum to its advantage. — EV

95. “The Freshman” (season 4, episode 1)

In general, Buffy was better at finales than premieres, and this introduction to college life for the series now mostly plays out as the show introducing a bunch of plot lines it would abandon roughly half a season later. (Buffy continued going to college until midway through season five, but viewers saw less and less of it.) Still, it’s fun to watch this as a sort of alternate-history version of the show that actually aired — one where the series had just as much fun playing with metaphorical demon college as it did metaphorical demon high school. — EV

94. “Normal Again” (season 6, episode 17)

Somewhat appropriately, the most divisive Buffy episode — one that some love and some hate — winds up somewhere in the middle of our ranking. Buffy keeps waking up in a mental institution, where she comes to believe she’s hallucinated the rest of the show that we’ve seen and must kill her friends in order to escape the hallucination. One of the show’s darkest metaphors (for Buffy’s malaise and depression at this point in the run) and a gut-punch ending make this one brilliant, but tough, tough, tough to watch. — EV

93. “Shadow” (season 5, episode 8)

Could Buffy turn cancer — one of the most monstrous of diseases — into fodder for its storytelling? It could, and it would! In this episode, Buffy learns that her mother, Joyce, has cancer and worries about how to break the news to Dawn. (Dawn didn’t even exist a few months ago, Buffy. She can probably handle it.) This is not the height of one of the show’s best storylines, but it’s impressive for how it balances a bunch of complicated tones. — EV

92. “Triangle” (season 5, episode 11)

Jane Espenson, who wrote “Triangle,” is one of the most reliable comic voices in the Buffy writers’ room, and this episode is just about what you’d expect from her: quick-paced, quick-witted, and lots of fun. The tic of Buffy repeatedly weeping at the idea of Xander and Anya breaking up gets old quickly, but Anya and Willow teaming up against Olaf the troll is a terrific use of an underexplored dynamic, and Olaf’s caps-lock rants (“PUNY RECEPTACLE!” he yells at a dumpster) are a solid comedic gag. — CG

91. “Dirty Girls” (season 7, episode 18)

Reportedly, the Buffy writers struggled with how to give a human face to the First Evil — which is just what it sounds like — and send season seven off on an appropriately big climax. The face they settled on was Nathan Fillion’s, because Joss Whedon’s Firefly had just been canceled, and he really liked working with Fillion. Still, as creepy preacher Caleb, Fillion is appropriately terrifying. This is solid setup for what turned out to be a fitful final stretch of episodes. — EV

Here’s where things get a little polarizing

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Oz is a werewolf? Oz is a werewolf!
20th Century Fox

90. “Help” (season 7, episode 4)

“Help” is one of the most solid of season seven’s high school–themed episodes. Buffy struggles to save a girl from the kind of demon-worshiping cult she defeated about a thousand times in high school, and succeeds — but the girl dies anyway, because now that Buffy’s an adult, high school isn’t quite the most dangerous thing in the world anymore. It’s a nice, moody revisiting of the themes that early Buffy explored so well. — CG

89. “When She Was Bad” (season 2, episode 1)

Is there a metaphor in the season two opener about how teen girls sometimes act like total nightmares because of the pervasive, unarticulated trauma of, well, being a teen girl? Maybe. Is the main thing you remember from this episode that it’s the one where Buffy does the cruel and rather nonsensical dance of seduction with Xander that shows up in the opening credits? Almost certainly. — TP

88. “Villains” (season 6, episode 20)

Though Willow’s relationship with magic is clearly a metaphor for addiction, “Villains” serves as morbid wish-fulfillment of the character reaching her true potential as a witch. Willow is blinded by grief after losing Tara to Warren’s stray bullet, and no longer morally tethered by her late lover’s voice of reason. The result: a true force of nature hell-bent on destruction. While it’s satisfying in a “damn, she’s amazing” kind of way, it’s also familiar to anyone who’s experienced unexpected loss. Willow’s sorrow is palpable, powerful, and, most importantly, believable. By episode’s end, it looks as if two more characters are dead (and at least once actually is) purely as a byproduct of Willow’s unbridled rage, and leaves the audience wrestling with a confusing combination of awe, anguish, and anticipation. Sure, it’s scary, but it’s also impressive. — Julie Bogen

87. “Phases” (season 2, episode 15)

After the horror and pain of “Surprise”/“Innocence,” “Phases” is a lighter, sweeter variation on the “my boyfriend’s a hellbeast, what do I do” story. It helps that it’s a showcase for Oz, the chillest werewolf ever to were: His nonchalant, “Is Jordy a werewolf? Uh-huh. And how long has that been going on? Uh-huh,” encapsulates his character perfectly. — CG

86. “Gingerbread” (season 3, episode 11)

“Gingerbread” is another Jane Espenson episode, one that shows off both her strengths and her weaknesses. Espenson episodes are disproportionately likely to introduce a new character detail with little grace, and “Gingerbread” is especially weak on that front. This episode posits the idea that Willow isn’t close with her mom, and while you could infer as much from the fact that Mrs. Rosenberg has never come up before in three seasons, Willow’s out-of-the-blue, “God, your mom would actually take the time to do that with you?” to Buffy makes no sense in a universe where Willow is Buffy’s best friend and knows what her relationship with her mom looks like. But no other writer can make comedic dialogue sparkle quite like Espenson can. “We need to save Buffy from Hansel and Gretel” could only come from her. — CG

85. “Tough Love” (season 5, episode 19)

“Tough Love” features the first time we see Willow’s magic turn her eyes black, when she turns on Glory in a fury after Glory melts Tara’s brain. It’s an early prelude to the Dark Willow arc of season six; a less amoral, more cathartic version, but one that lays the groundwork for the flayings to come. When Alyson Hannigan screams, “I owe you pain,” you get an inkling that Willow is capable of more than we used to give her credit for. — CG

84. “Life Serial” (season 6, episode 5)

Season six is the Buffy season most rich with metaphor. However, those metaphors are all about trying to figure out how to transition from being a child to being an adult, which is nobody’s idea of a good time. Hence this episode, which is maybe more clever than genuinely good, but boy, is it clever! Buffy has her abilities tested both by a drooping bank account and three feisty nerds who want to see just what she’s capable of, mostly because they can. A rare funny episode in a dour season. — EV

83. “No Place Like Home” (season 5, episode 5)

Season five is Buffy’s best (obviously, that’s just my opinion, but you know it’s right), and that’s because it keeps layering stuff on top of its story, but all of that stuff neatly services the season’s central theme of families both blood and chosen. A great case in point is this episode, in which Buffy learns the strange, angry woman who keeps causing problems around Sunnydale is a god intent on finding a magical Key — who just happens to be Buffy’s sister, Dawn. — EV

82. “Seeing Red” (season 6, episode 19)

Few Buffy episodes are as hotly debated as this one, which contains some of the show’s most powerful discussions of power and who has it, right alongside the biggest death of season six, one that proved the breaking point for many fans. Tara, Willow’s sweetly lovable girlfriend, is killed when shot by a stray bullet. The series wasn’t entirely prepared to deal with the implications of telling this particular story, but it’s also hard to deny the raw power of this episode. — EV

81. “The Dark Age” (season 2, episode 8)

Wouldn’t you like to know more about Giles’s past as “the Ripper”? Buffy teased out his darker, younger self plenty of times but never delved into that past entirely. (A long-teased BBC spinoff about the character never materialized.) This is one of the episodes that most toys with the idea of Giles having a super-cool, super-dark hidden backstory, and its conclusion neatly foreshadows the rest of Angel’s arc in season two. — EV

Middle-of-the-road Buffy is pretty good TV

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
A Very Buffy Intervention.
20th Century Fox

80. “Out of Mind, Out of Sight” (season 1, episode 11)

One of the earliest examples of Buffy making someone’s figurative demons literal, this episode makes a neglected girl disappear, leaving her to wreak havoc on the school at will. It’s on the nose but, thanks to some canny voiceover work from Clea Duvall as the invisible girl, surprisingly affecting in the end. — Caroline Framke

79. “Family” (season 5, episode six)

This Tara-centric standalone is maybe the weakest episode of Buffy that was both written and directed by Joss Whedon, but that doesn’t keep it from being incredibly sweet and warm-hearted. (It’s a high standard, after all.) It nicely cements Tara’s place in the Scooby Gang while acknowledging that the character remains underdeveloped — and it features a blonde, pre-fame Amy Adams. — CG

78. “Lies My Parents Told Me” (season 7, episode 17)

As season seven lurches fitfully toward some kind of momentum in its final third, we at last get a little bit of payoff on Spike’s raging Oedipal complex and on how the First is manipulating him. It’s long-overdue character work, and it fits nicely into Wood’s expanding backstory and the legend of his mother, Nikki Wood (my personal favorite of the past Slayers). The fact that Giles and Buffy’s parent-child relationship is also fraught by now isn’t exactly fun to watch, but it’s compelling, and it keeps the shock of “Empty Places” from coming entirely out of nowhere. — CG

77. “Witch” (season 1, episode 3)

“Witch” is the first genuine monster-of-the-week episode, and a bit of a proof of concept. It’s the episode that demonstrates Buffy’s high school–era mission: to take the demons of adolescence — in this case, an abusive mother trying to live vicariously through her daughter — and literalize them into demons that can be killed. And while this episode doesn’t accomplish that mission with the nuance the show will later develop, it’s at least doing so with heart and charm. — CG

76. “Showtime” (season 7, episode 11)

“Showtime” features one of Buffy’s strongest inspirational speeches, delivered mid-Thunderdome-style beatdown on a Turok-Han. It’s a solid action set piece that goes a long way toward relieving the monotony of mid-season seven, and Buffy’s telepathic conversation with Willow and Xander helps recenter the show’s focus on their friendship in the middle of a season of growing distance. — CG

75. “Revelations” (season 3, episode 7)

There’s a scene in “Revelations” that’s just the Scoobies arguing (they just found out that Angel is back and Buffy didn’t tell them), and it’s one of my favorite scenes in the show’s run: Everyone cares about each other, everyone’s extremely upset, and everyone’s a little bit right. It’s a lovely, graceful exploration of character dynamics in a way only Buffy can quite pull off. Plus, this episode features the first Faith/Buffy fight, and that’s always a great well to draw from. — CG

74. “Buffy vs. Dracula” (season 5, episode 1)

This episode has a bit of a bad reputation for wasting Buffy’s one encounter with the most famous vampire of all time. But it’s a crackerjack, very funny hour about Buffy meeting the most famous vampire of all time and finding herself and her friends drawn into his web, even as she rolls her eyes at the whole thing. The episode is now perhaps better remembered for its final reveal — Buffy’s brand new sister — but it’s an enjoyably lighthearted kickoff to an ambitious season of TV. — EV

73. “The Pack” (season 1, episode 6)

This episode is so stupid, but in that early Buffy way where it all kinda works regardless. Xander and his pals are infected by a demon while, uh, visiting a hyena exhibit at the zoo, and they start to act more and more like awful teenage bros. It’s all dumb, metaphorical fun, and the last sentence of Wikipedia’s capsule summary of the episode perfectly sums up its “Whatever! It’s fun!” attitude: “Xander and his pack grow more and more feral until Buffy, Giles, and Willow reverse the spell.” — EV

72. “Ted” (season 2, episode 11)

Remember Alan from Friends, that boyfriend of Monica’s whom the gang was crazy about but Monica herself didn’t really like? Ted is like that, but much more sinister, and Buffy is the only one who realizes it. It’s creepy and frustrating and unacceptable (especially once the slapping starts), and for most people whose parents have divorced, it’s basically validation that all new potential partners are evil intruders who will hurt your loved ones. Maybe don’t go through life believing that, but you can indulge it for approximately 40 minutes. — JB

71. “Helpless” (season 3, episode 12)

The hard-liners of the Watchers Council were always a little much, but their interference in “Helpless” — in which they get Giles to dull Buffy’s strength so she can undergo a fun new Slayer test — is no exception. Add in a whole mess of subplots involving Buffy pining after her dad and Angel doing some of his most self-indulgent moping, and “Helpless” loses some of the spark it could’ve had by making Buffy fend for herself without her powers for the first time since before the show began. But the episode ends on a touching note when Giles gets fired from the Council for being too much like a father to Buffy, a charge he can’t — and doesn’t want to — deny. — CF

We’re getting into a solid groove now

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Monster Giles gives chase.
20th Century Fox

70. “The Harsh Light of Day” (season 4, episode 3)

“The Harsh Light of Day” is the first season four episode to capture the easy chemistry Buffy’s core cast perfected over its previous three seasons. Where “Freshman” and “Living Conditions” felt jittery and out of place, “The Harsh Light of Day” has settled into a groove. It’s helped enormously by the addition of Spike, who brings in a jolt of energy and helps fill the hole Cordelia’s departure to Angel left in the cast. Hey, someone has to tell the Scoobies how dumb their plans are. — CG

69. “Beneath You” (season 7, episode 2)

Speaking of Spike! “Beneath You” is the newly ensouled Spike’s big showcase, and while it’s a mixed bag overall — the show has absolutely no idea how to handle the fact that soulless Spike tried to rape Buffy — James Marsters is always a compelling screen presence, and the final tableau of Spike draping himself over the cross is deeply evocative. — CG

68. “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” (season 2, episode 16)

Love spells seem a lot creepier in 2017 than they did in 1998, don’t they? Ethical questions aside, “Bewitched” is a marvel of tonal balancing: The Xander A-plot is slapstick and funny with a core of heartbreak, and the subplot of Angel musing on the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for Buffy keeps the menace and subtle horror of the season’s central plot running through the background. — CG

67. “Pangs” (season 4, episode 8)

Buffy takes the “main character suddenly possessed by manic need for perfect holiday” trope and raises it a rather uncomfortable story about a Native American vengeance demon, which dances around discussing America’s ugly legacy of genocide but never actually comes to any conclusions. Still, there are some funny moments (“You made it a bear!”) and the enjoyable runner of Angel being back in town and revealing himself to all the Scoobies but Buffy is capped off by the tiny, perfect clink of Buffy’s fork falling on her plate that plays over the final credits, as the ex-boyfriend-shaped cat finally comes out of the bag. — TP

66. “A New Man” (season 4, episode 12)

Giles-centric episodes are generally some of my favorites, and “A New Man,” which sees our favorite tweedy former librarian being turned into a Fyarl demon courtesy of mischievous evildoer Ethan Rayne, may be the most laugh-out-loud funny. The episode is rather light on stakes (we know Buffy isn’t actually going to kill Demon Giles) but heavy on hilarity — Giles chasing Professor Walsh down the street only gets better with every repeat viewing, and everything about his scenes with Spike is gold. Plus, it’s a nice reminder — to the viewers as well as the show — of Giles’s steel bond with Buffy, and just how important to the team Giles continues to be, gainfully employed or not. — TP

65. “Potential” (season 7, episode 12)

Dawn was always a tough character for Buffy to deal with. Yes, season five was built entirely around her, but the show’s final two seasons could never figure out how to balance her teenage self against the increasingly adult stories swirling around the other characters. This is perhaps the finest post–season five Dawn hour, as she hopes, deeply, that she might be a Slayer, only to slowly realize that’s not the case. There were some stories — like living up to an impressive older sibling — Buffy could only tell via Dawn, and it’s a pity it didn’t get to more of them. — EV

64. “Same Time, Same Place” (season 7, episode 3)

Buffy was always good at consequences, and this episode — in which Willow returns to Sunnydale after turning evil and nearly destroying the world at the end of season six — neatly layers in just how terrified Willow’s friends are, both of her and of the idea that she might turn toward evil again. Season seven’s first third is a little underrated, and the delicate character work in this episode is a good indication of just how well the Buffy writers understood the show by this point. — EV

63. “Spiral” (season 5, episode 20)

On top of everything else season five tosses at her, Buffy has to deal with medieval knights. In and of itself, this episode could have felt too over-the-top or silly. But c’mon! It’s Buffy against knights! — EV

62. “End of Days” (season 7, episode 21)

Is that scythe Buffy finds, plus the bonus information from a mysterious, never-before-mentioned mystical lady in a mysterious, never-before-mentioned mausoleum, just a bit of a deus ex machina? Sure is! Is it really cool-looking regardless? Sure is! “End of Days” also features one of the show’s best Buffy/Faith scenes, as the foils and rivals finally reach a kind of peace with each other. “Thank god we’re hot chicks with superpowers,” says Faith. “Takes the edge off,” Buffy agrees. — CG

61. “Touched” (season 7, episode 20)

Buffy’s spent most of season seven isolated and cold, so it’s an enormous relief to see her let her guard down at last in “Touched.” Her long, intimate talk with Spike is a sweetly touching culmination of their troubled and tumultuous relationship, and it’s incredibly cathartic to see the girl finally take a nap for once. — CG

Wow, this is a dark cluster

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Kendra, we hardly knew ye.

60. “Dead Things” (season 6, episode 13)

“Dead Things” has the dubious honor of being the bleakest episode of Buffy ever made. It’s the episode where the nerd misogyny of the Trio crosses from pathetic and silly into threatening and appalling, with Warren mind-controlling his ex-girlfriend into becoming his sex slave. And it’s the episode where Buffy finds out that she didn’t come back wrong, that she’s having rough and violent sex with Spike because she wants to, not because she’s fundamentally changed as a person. It’s dark, is what I’m saying, so thank god for Tara, the one consistent source of warmth in season six. Until, well, you know. — CG

59. “Bargaining, Part 2” (season 6, episode 2)

“Bargaining, Part 2” is where Buffy’s writing staff really starts to take advantage of the laxer standards and practices department of its new network, UPN: The violence is more graphic and bloodier than it ever was on the WB, and the villains are tossing around rape threats. It takes a little while for the show to balance its new ability to go as dark and gritty as it would like to with the heightened, polished tone it established in its first five seasons, and it isn’t quite there yet. But all the same, the new darkness of the tone allows for killer moments like Buffy, having just clawed her way out of her own coffin, watching her robot double get dismembered right before her eyes. — CG

58. “The Weight of the World” (season 5, episode 21)

“The Weight of the World” is mostly just moving the pieces into place for “The Gift,” but it does so with a fair amount of artistry. Willow’s trip into Buffy’s subconscious leads to some haunting moments; in particular, Buffy’s nonchalant, “This is all I'm here for. It's what I am,” as she imagines smothering Dawn, which informs her character development well into the next season. Now, do we suspect there could be any kind of link between Ben and Glory? — CG

57. “Bargaining, Part 1” (season 6, episode 1)

The first half of “Bargaining” is designed to help bridge the gap between benevolent end-of-season-five Willow and the Dark Willow we’ll see at the end of season six: She still means well here, and all she wants to do is get her best friend back, but she’s also killing baby deer and vomiting up snakes which is, you know, ominous. It’s a solid setup for the moral ambiguity that season six wants to explore, even if the rest of the season isn’t able to manage that exploration with quite the nuance that “Bargaining” promises. — CG

56. “Anne” (season 3, episode 1)

“Anne” is mostly a functional season premiere that cleans up some of the horror of season two, but three things elevate it. First, it brings back Chanterelle of season two’s “Lie to Me,” establishing the continuation of one of the Buffyverse’s loveliest background character arcs. (Chanterelle/Lily/Anne will finish up her arc over on Angel in a sweet collection of episodes.) Second, it’s functional by the standards of the stunningly consistent season three, meaning that everything is a smooth, well-oiled machine: The story beats are well-balanced, the tone is assured, and the central cast knows exactly how to do what it’s doing. Third and finally, Buffy’s cheesy, “You want to see my impression of Gandhi? [Smash] You know, if he was really pissed off,” is my personal favorite of her dumb Slayer quips. — CG

55. “What’s My Line? Part 1” (season 2, episode 9)

In a different world, where Buffy never became a heartbreakingly dark exploration of adolescence and power and heroism and addiction, maybe instead it spent seven seasons making pleasantly goofy and charming action-filled mini movies like the “What’s My Line?” two-parter. And in that other world, Buffy might not be one of the best TV shows ever made, but it’s still solidly entertaining. The core ensemble is so well defined at this point that it’s just fun to watch them go: There’s Willow freaking out about her frog fear and meeting Oz at last; there’s Buffy and Angel having mild angst over their potential future together; there’s Xander worrying over his career possibilities (“When you look at me, do you think prison guard?”). It’s not transcendent, but it’s fun. — CG

54. “What’s My Line? Part 2” (season 2, episode 10)

“What’s My Line’s” second half brings us Kendra and her Jamaican-Irish accent. As played by the ageless Bianca Lawson, dutiful and studious Kendra is an illuminating foil for Buffy and her more anarchic slaying style. Season three will discard Kendra to make way for Faith as a more lasting foil for Buffy, but “What’s My Line” establishes the pattern that leads to Faith, which means it’s the source of one of Buffy’s richest recurring plot lines. — CG

53. “Grave” (season 6, episode 22)

“Grave” is the only Buffy season finale not written and directed by Joss Whedon, and it shows a little: Its pacing isn’t perfect, feeling overstuffed in some places and rushed in others, and there are occasional moments of sentimentality (Buffy telling Dawn she wants to show her the world) that don’t quite feel earned. But the episode’s climax, with Xander talking Willow down from her apocalyptic rage, works perfectly: The unquestioning friendship between those two is one of the most stable relationships in all of Buffy, and you feel every moment of that rich history when Xander starts in on his yellow crayon speech and Willow begins to cry. — CG

52. “Primeval” (season 4, episode 21)

“Primeval” has the thankless job of winding up the Initiative plot line, and it manages to do so in a satisfying way by not even pretending to care about the Initiative. The focus of this episode is all on our core four Scoobies and their relationship; the Initiative is just there to give them something to punch. And after seeing them slowly drift apart over the course of season four, it’s immensely fun to watch them merge together into a single unstoppable force. — CG

51. “Blood Ties” (season 5, episode 13)

Buffy fans like to give Dawn crap for her whining and her signature “Get out, get out, GET OUT!” which, yes, does premiere in this episode. But “Blood Ties” is an effective use of Dawn’s angst. It’s warranted, for one thing, with Dawn finally realizing that her past didn’t really exist and that she was created by monks. And for another thing, it helps deepen season five’s thematic focus on family, both born and created. Plus, it continues the proud tradition of giving Buffy a terrible birthday every single season. — CG

From this point on, every episode is pretty stellar

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Two Xanders for the price of one.
20th Century Fox

50. “Faith, Hope, and Trick” (season 3, episode 3)

The first two episodes of season three mostly served to clean up season two. Now Faith is here, and things can really get started. Faith is a vital character in the extended Buffyverse who functions in much the same way that Spike does: She’s Buffy’s foil in the same way that Spike is Angel’s foil, and as a consequence, she and Buffy alternately love and hate each other and are too close to each other to work it out — which also describes the Spike-Angel dynamic. So Spike gets most of his character development over on Buffy and only transfers to Angel after his character arc is mostly complete, and Faith will end up completing the bulk of her arc on Angel and only come back to Buffy for her redemption tour.

But all that lies ahead. In “Faith, Hope, and Trick,” all that’s clear is that Faith is a bolt of energy, and she’s prepared to get Buffy to do things she would never normally do. — CG

49. “New Moon Rising” (season 4, episode 19)

When “New Moon Rising” aired in the spring of 2000, there was an immediate uproar. Willow and Tara barely touched onscreen, but everyone knew what it meant when Tara blew out that candle and the screen went black: They were going to kiss. And maybe more! Outraged conservative viewers demanded an apology, and Whedon sarcastically obliged, assuring Buffy message board readers, “I'm going to take it back, and from now on, Willow will no longer be a Jew." (She stayed Jewish.) Willow and Tara’s love story wasn’t perfect — they were almost never allowed to kiss onscreen, and in its ending, their arc played dangerously into the dead lesbian/evil lesbian trope — but it deserves credit for coming so early, when there were vanishingly few examples of happy and healthy same-sex relationships on television. — CG

48. “Crush” (season 5, episode 14)

“Crush” is the payoff for the story established in “Fool for Love,” and if it isn’t quite so perfectly crafted as its forerunner, well, what is? It’s still smart and funny and spooky, with a gut punch of an ending. The moment when Spike realizes Buffy has disinvited him from her house is a perfect, melancholy echo of season two’s “Sorry, Angel. Changed the locks.” — CG

47. “Dead Man’s Party” (season 3, episode 2)

This is another one of those Buffy episodes with a fantastic argument, like “Revelations,” but this time the argument is the set piece of the episode. It always hurts when the Scoobies fight, but it’s also always fantastic television: The characters are so well-defined that you can see each point of view clearly, and you get why each character firmly believes themselves to be correct. Bonus points for Giles’s “‘Do you like my mask? Isn’t it pretty? It raises the dead.’ Americans!” — CG

46. “Halloween” (season 2, episode 6)

The first of Buffy’s semiannual Halloween episodes inaugurates the tradition in terrifically fun style. Giles’s old pal Ethan Rayne, in his first appearance of several, casts a spell that turns everyone into their Halloween costumes (well, except Cordelia) — giving us Ren Faire Buffy, commando Xander, and, most importantly, ghost Willow, who helpfully retains her memory but gains the ability to walk through walls. She’s instrumental in saving the day, and ends up taking huge strides toward shedding the shrinking violet persona she had during the show’s early going. — TP

45. “I Only Have Eyes for You” (season 2, episode 19)

Sunnydale High is being haunted by the ghost of teenage James and his former teacher/lover, and their spirits possess whoever happens to be at hand, forcing unwitting strangers to play out a doomed romance that ends in murder-suicide. The smart, moving twist, as penned by Marti Noxon, is that when Buffy and Angel (excuse me, Angelus) end up possessed, the gender roles are reversed, with Buffy consumed by the guilt and self-loathing James feels for killing the person he loved. It’s an unexpected, effective window into Buffy’s psyche in the aftermath of Angel’s transformation, and while James’s spirit eventually makes peace with his actions, the episode shows Buffy still has a long way to go toward forgiving herself for her part in Angel losing his soul. — TP

44. “Enemies” (season 3, episode 17)

Via an elaborate ruse orchestrated by Buffy and Angel (with an assist from a demon for whom Giles once played matchmaker), it finally comes out that Faith has been working for the Mayor. The eventual reveal of the Buffy/Angel play-acting is well done, and the fallout for their relationship is believable, but the scheme doesn’t really hold together upon contemplation — meaning “Enemies” relies a bit more on TV-writing trickery than the truly great Buffy episodes do. — TP

43. “Homecoming” (season 3, episode 5)

Buffy, in a late attempt to reclaim some of the high school experiences she’s lost due to slaying duties, wages an all-out war with Cordelia over the title of homecoming queen. Naturally, they end up as the prize kills in “Slayerfest ’98,” thanks to both Mr. Trick and their friends’ well-meaning meddling. Homecoming introduces Xander and Willow’s inevitable, ill-advised romantic dalliance, which reverberates throughout the season. It also, by dint of neither Buffy nor Cordelia winning the crown, underlines that Cordelia — a key player in Buffy as well as, eventually, Angel — is just as much a misfit as the rest of the Scooby gang, try as she might to deny it. — TP

42. “Checkpoint” (season 5, episode 12)

This is the episode that sees the now-irrelevant Watchers Council come to Sunnydale to try to bully Buffy into taking them back. She’s having none of it, of course, and there are few moments in television history quite as satisfying as the one in which Buffy flings her sword into the wall next to a posturing Watcher’s head, murmuring, “I’m fairly certain I said no interruptions.” — CG

41. “The Replacement” (season 5, episode 3)

Life immediately after high school was not kind to Xander: He spent most of season four camped out in his parents’ damp and grimy basement, drifting from dead-end job to dead-end job and getting increasingly bitter about the bright futures his friends seemed to have. In “The Replacement,” when he’s split into two — one Xander is competent, one is not — he at last gets to see that he can have his own bright future, try as he might to sabotage it (cough “Hell’s Bells” cough). It’s a fun episode that puts his character arc back on track and leads us to the solid, dependable Xander who will save the day at the end of season six. — CG

Honestly, these are all classics

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy’s cross necklace leaves a mark on Angel’s vampire skin.
20th Century Fox

40. “School Hard” (season 2, episode 3)

Spike wasn’t supposed to be a permanent fixture in the Buffyverse, but watching his very first episode as Sunnydale’s swaggering new villain makes it easy to understand why the show wanted to keep him around. “School Hard” is incredibly fun, letting James Marsters luxuriate in every ounce of snark Spike has as he and Buffy play cat and mouse around Sunnydale High during a parent-teacher night gone bad. It also introduces more of his and Angel’s fraught backstory, setting up years of top-notch broody glaring. — CF

39. “Angel” (season 1, episode 7)

“Angel” is a bit of a season two practice run: Buffy is at first infatuated with Angel, but then she finds out about his dark past, and in a long, tense sequence, it looks as though she’ll have to kill him. And it all works so well here that you can see why season two would revisit and expand on the storyline. No one would ever accuse young David Boreanaz of being a great actor (good job on Bones, though, dude!), but he and Sarah Michelle Gellar have chemistry compelling enough to keep the audience feeling every bit of their pain. — CG

38. “This Year’s Girl” (season 4, episode 15)

“This Year’s Girl” and its sequel, “Who Are You,” arrive right after a string of dull Initiative-focused episodes like a breath of fresh air. Thank god for Faith, who livens up every story she enters. The first half of this two-parter isn’t quite the tour de force of “Who Are You,” but it still brings out all the confused, unhappy facets of Buffy’s psyche that only Faith can. It highlights again just why the Initiative, which means almost nothing to Buffy, makes for such a poor villain, while Faith is such a great one. — CG

37. “Prophecy Girl” (season 1, episode 12)

Season one’s finale is the first truly great episode of Buffy, mostly because of the scene where an anguished Buffy, having overheard that her death is prophesied for the next night, starts screaming at Giles. When Buffy’s voice cracks as she says, “Giles, I’m 16 years old. I don’t want to die,” the show moves out of its goofy camp mode and into tragic horror, in the kind of tonal transition it would perfect over the next season. — CG

36. “Earshot” (season 3, episode 18)

Buffy is infected with the blood of a demon, which makes her telepathic, leading to, among other revelations, the fact that her mom and Giles had sex on the hood of a police car (twice) and exactly what thoughts lurk behind Oz’s imperturbable exterior. (Spoiler: They’re way existential.) But mostly her newfound ability serves to set up a mystery of who plans to murder a bunch of her fellow students, which leads to a rather heartbreaking conversation between her and Jonathan about the fundamental loneliness and pain of human existence. This episode’s airing was famously delayed after the shooting at Columbine High School; but despite its heavy subject matter and rather clumsy misdirection around the true nature of the threat, for most of its runtime “Earshot” remains on the lighter side of things. — TP

35. “Storyteller” (season 7, episode 16)

Why did the Scooby Gang keep around the genuinely horrible Andrew, after he was part of the trio that killed Tara and made Buffy’s life hell in season six? Even Andrew doesn’t seem to know, which makes this bittersweet reflection on his life all the more powerful. Buffy, in its later seasons, was very interested in the way that stories shift based on who’s telling them, and this Andrew-narrated hour is perhaps the pinnacle of that approach. It also has one of the best endings of a show that’s great at ending episodes. — EV

34. “The Zeppo” (season 3, episode 13)

Though Xander’s been an integral part of Team Buffy from day one, he’s also the only one who’s just a regular guy: not blessed with supernatural abilities or extraordinary brain power, and often largely used to provide either comic relief or judginess. But this episode, which sees him sidelined by his friends as they try to stop yet another impending apocalypse, is truly Xander-centric: Isolated from the gang, he falls in with a bad (read: dead) crowd, has a, uh, romantic encounter with Faith, and eventually averts an apocalypse of his own. Subverting the typical Buffy structure, “The Zeppo” shows the others’ battle only in flashes, and in the end Xander chooses not to tell them about the disaster he stared down. But the episode reminds us that he charges into battle beside his friends time and again not because he’s gifted, or tasked by some higher power, but because he chooses to. Which is, in some ways, even more noble. — TP

33. “I Was Made to Love You” (season 5, episode 15)

“I Was Made to Love You” is almost always overshadowed by the circumstances around it. It introduces Warren, one of the show’s most loathsome villains; it was originally supposed to star Britney Spears as Warren’s robot girlfriend; and of course there’s that ending, which doubles as the opening scene of “The Body.” But taken on its own, “I Was Made to Love You” is a well-crafted comedic exploration of one of the themes season six will take a darker look at: insidious, nearly invisible nerd misogyny. — CG

32. “After Life” (season 6, episode 3)

This episode neatly, elegantly lays out the trauma that season six will spend the next 19 episodes trying to unpack. It will do so with mixed results, but here, when Buffy stands in the frigid-looking sunlight and flatly tells Spike that she was in heaven when she was dead, you feel every bit of her numb anguish. — CG

31. “Intervention” (season 5, episode 18)

“Intervention” is an hour of almost pure silliness between the grief of “The Body” and the escalation to war over the four episodes that follow it. It’s a welcome respite: Buffy’s vision quest keeps the larger plot moving, while back in Sunnydale, the Buffybot is a creepy, funny delight. Her files on Buffy’s friends are particularly fun: Anya’s notes that she loves money (“How is your money?” Buffybot duly asks a touched Anya), while Willow’s says, “Gay: 1999–present.” — CG

This is such a good show, you guys

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
He’s gonna play something off the new album!
20th Century Fox

30. “Superstar” (season 4, episode 17)

Until now, Jonathan has spent the show lurking quietly in the background: He’s the guy the Inca mummy girl almost kills, the guy who pees in the pool to get back at the swim team for bullying him, the guy Cordelia takes out on a date to get over her creepy demon-worshiping frat guy. That paid off beautifully in season three’s “Earshot,” but in “Superstar,” it all reverses so that the entire universe revolves around Jonathan — including, hilariously, the opening credits. It’s a fantastic payoff to a recurring gag, and, incidentally, it introduces another: This is the first episode to mention both the world without shrimp and the world with nothing but shrimp. — CG

29. “Forever” (season 5, episode 17)

“Forever” is a quieter, slightly less devastating and more cathartic exploration of the grief “The Body” delved into. Where “The Body” is painfully realistic and features almost no monsters at all, “Forever” returns to Buffy’s roots and uses a supernatural metaphor for Buffy and Dawn’s mourning: Dawn wants to resurrect Joyce, and while Buffy is working desperately to get Dawn to accept her grief, she can’t help but want her mother back, too. — CG

28. “Lie to Me” (season 2, episode 7)

In this episode, Buffy proves that it can be fantastic even when it’s not working to advance the major season-long plots. “Lie to Me” is the first of the great one-offs, beginning the tradition that would eventually lead to formal experiments like “Hush” and “Once More With Feeling.” Of course, this early on in the show, nothing quite so avant-garde is happening. Instead, “Lie to Me” is just a beautifully executed version of a standard episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with Roswell’s Jason Behr offering a nuanced performance as Ford, Buffy’s morally ambiguous old friend. And the last scene, with Giles sweetly lying to Buffy about the simplicity of life, is a lovely, poignant moment that captures one of the themes of season two: Growing up is about realizing the bad guys are sometimes people you love. — CG

27. “Consequences” (season 3, episode 15)

And sometimes, the bad guys are people who remind you of yourself. “Consequences” is when Faith decides to go dark, and she does it with great style. But before she offers to work for the Mayor, she reminds Buffy of just how easily Buffy could do the same, of how much she enjoys killing, of how much fun she would find it to just slip gently over the edge. “It was good, wasn’t it, the sex and violence?” Faith says, and Buffy slaps her face. — CG

26. “Bad Girls” (season 3, episode 14)

For all she went through in her high school years, Buffy rarely rebelled like a high school girl who’d been through several literal apocalypses might — until “Bad Girls.” With Faith embracing the role of Buffy’s Evil Twin Slayer counterpart, this episode lets Buffy embrace the wild streak inherent in being a teen with superpowers, as she and Faith go slaying and dancing whenever the hell they feel like it. And for being an episode that both introduces Wesley at his stodgiest and ends with Faith accidentally stabbing a human man in the heart — an event that immediately sends shockwaves throughout the show — “Bad Girls” is a significant episode executed with serious balancing skills. — CF

25. “Selfless” (season 7, episode 5)

“Selfless” is the only episode of Buffy to focus on Anya, and it’s such a terrific episode that it suggests the show should have gone back to her more often. We get to see her origin story with the troll Olaf, shot in the style of a bad foreign film from the ’70s; her time gleefully wreaking vengeance and starting the Russian Revolution of 1905 (not the big one, the dress rehearsal); and her blissful happiness with Xander circa “Once More, With Feeling.” All the way through, “Selfless” maintains the humor that makes Anya such a reliably fun character (I always get a kick out of Olaf telling her that she has narrow hips, “like those of a Baltic woman from a slightly more arid region”), but it also develops a thesis about who Anya is and what she needs: She’s always based her identity on those around her, and she needs to figure out who she is on her own. It’s a smart new angle on a character we already know well, and it will pay off beautifully in “Chosen.” — CG

24. “Lovers Walk” (season 3, episode 8)

Some long-gestating romantic complications come to a head in devastating fashion here, courtesy of Spike, who’s back in town moping over Drusilla. Once he realizes Willow can cook up a love spell for him, he kidnaps her and Xander, leaving Oz and Cordelia to search for their respective partners and Buffy and Angel to fight off the vamps who come looking for Spike. By episode’s end, in true Whedonesque fashion, everyone is utterly miserable: Oz and Cordelia walk in on Willow and Xander kissing, Cordelia ends up badly injured, and Buffy realizes she and Angel truly can’t be friends. It dissolves all the core romantic relationships of the show — and sets up the eventual return of Spike, cured of his lovesickness through his yen for violence and back to his old, evil self. — TP

23. “Fear, Itself” (season 4, episode 4)

Where Buffy’s first Halloween episode turned all our characters into what they wanted to see themselves as, the second one puts them face to face with their deepest fears. There are some great visuals, both creepy (in the haunted frat house) and hilarious (the perfect duo of bunny-costumed Anya and chainsaw-wielding Giles), plus a glimpse at the still-mysterious commandos we later come to know as Initiative soldiers. But it’s the hilarious climax — the demon Gachnar coming into being, only to reveal himself as itty-bitty and easily stompable — that makes this my favorite Buffy Halloween episode of the whole bunch. — TP

22. “The Prom” (season 3, episode 20)

Before the big season-ending two-parter comes this lower-stakes episode, full of lovely moments between the core characters. Xander quietly buys Cordelia her dream gown, Oz and Willow continue to be diminutive and adorable, and despite breaking up with Buffy early in the episode, Angel shows up at the prom to give her a “fairy-tale moment.” But all that pales in comparison to the moment when all of Buffy’s classmates gather to watch Jonathan present her with the Class Protector award. It’s a beautiful scene that sees our heroine get some much-deserved recognition for the horrors she regularly endures to keep them alive — and smartly sets up the awareness and camaraderie among the student body that makes the season’s big finish possible. — TP

21. “Band Candy” (season 3, episode 6)

As much as we understand on an intellectual level that our parents and elders were once just as young as we are, it can be hard to truly internalize. “Band Candy” makes hay from this idea by having all of Sunnydale’s adults devolve into feckless, rather stoned-seeming teenagers thanks to some cursed chocolate — Joyce Summers and Giles included. In true Buffy form, the candy-induced chaos is a distraction to allow the Mayor’s cronies to steal babies to feed to a giant snake demon, but it’s also a fun showcase for some of the older actors and a wry commentary on just how much responsibility the teenage Buffy shoulders on a regular basis — even if her mom still doesn’t think she should be allowed to drive a car. — TP

These 10 episodes are all so good, and they’re not even the best ones

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Willow should hang out with herself more often.
20th Century Fox

20. “Fool for Love” (season 5, episode 7)

At their worst, Buffy’s flashback episodes are a minefield of shoddy wigs and terrible accents. At their best, they’re “Fool for Love.” As Buffy reels from a routine stakeout almost going fatally wrong, she finds an unlikely sympathizer in Spike, who lifts the veil on some of his most painful memories as he talks her through an existential crisis — or is he just deepening it? Marsters’s natural theatricality gets plenty of room to stretch between the meek man Spike was before becoming a vampire and the sneering cynic he became after. His final monologue, delivered directly to the camera in between the past and present, is one of the series’ best. And even though Buffy doesn’t want to hear it at the time, his insistence that “death is [her] art” is about to become one of the show’s most revealing themes. — CF

19. “Something Blue” (season 4, episode 9)

The hilarious “Something Blue” takes Willow’s misery over Oz leaving and turns it into some bonkers “what if?” wish fulfillment. Willow’s attempts to heal her broken heart with magic go horribly awry when her spell instead compels everyone to take her literally, making Xander an actual demon magnet and Buffy and Spike a happily engaged couple prone to sloppy public makeouts. But the sneak MVP of this episode (and most, if we’re being honest) is Giles, who spends the episode going slowly blind and reaching peak ornery Brit. But everyone in the cast is aces in “Something Blue,” one of the most purely fun episodes Buffy ever did. — CF

18. “Who Are You” (season 4, episode 16)

If anyone ever tries to tell you that Sarah Michelle Gellar isn’t a sharp actor, show them “Who Are You.” After Buffy and Faith switch bodies, Gellar spends most of the episode channeling Eliza Dushku’s performance without mimicking it entirely, loosening up Buffy’s usual body language and letting her smile relax into a confident smirk. The scene in which Faith-as-Buffy stares down Spike and breathes, “I could ride you at a gallop until your legs buckled and your eyes rolled up,” has such intense electricity that it’d be unsurprising to learn it was the moment the show decided to give in to the obvious chemistry between Gellar and Marsters for real. But “Who Are You” also leans into Buffy’s skill at turning on a dime, allowing Faith’s core loneliness to creep in and make her question everything just when it seemed like she was ready to turn an irredeemable corner. — CF

17. “Chosen” (season 7, episode 21)

There are so many things that make the series finale of Buffy worth talking about — the final arc of our heroine’s relationship with Spike, the loss of our beloved Anya, the return of Angel, the vanquishing of Caleb, the swift kick in the shin that Dawn gives to her older sister after Buffy tries to send her somewhere safe. But the thing that really gets me is the speech Buffy gives the Potentials about what it means to be Chosen. It’s a callback to the show’s roots, a reminder that vanquishing your demons (literally or figuratively) requires commitment, courage, strength, and, above all else, teamwork.

This is especially poignant as it finally reconciles Buffy’s oft-referenced loneliness and emotional Slayer burden with her longtime desire for companionship. It’s also a powerful moment to witness as a woman — Buffy slamming the historical decisions of men in favor of giving women the opportunities they should have been entitled to all along — and softens the blow of saying goodbye to our favorite Scoobies with a reminder to embrace our inner warrior with a little help from our friends. — JB

16. “Surprise” (season 2, episode 13)

“Surprise” is the last episode of Buffy before it becomes a different show. Up until this point, it’s been a smart, charming, and sharply written but also goofy and campy take on adolescence and its demons. After “Innocence,” it’s an immortal piece of television. “Surprise” is the episode that gets it there, and it does so with aplomb. There’s an almost palpable sense of foreboding hanging over everything, starting with Buffy’s recurring nightmares about Drusilla and continuing through Jenny Calendar’s mysterious murmurings about her secret identity. It’s an episode that promises everything is about to change, and while a lot of TV makes that promise, Buffy actually delivers. — CG

15. “Conversations With Dead People” (season 7, episode 7)

“Conversations With Dead People” is a haunting, memorable episode not only because of the, uh, conversations with dead people, but also because the use of individual vignettes sets the scene for each character to have their own breakthrough of sorts, spurred on by a strange, often ghostly, visitation. Dawn fearlessly faces down what she believes to be a demon keeping her mother away; Willow’s response to Cassie’s suggestion of suicide is rage instead of self-pity and consideration; Buffy opens up to vampire Holden for a frank conversation about her emotional needs before killing him. And, though the plot is only moved forward via the murder of Jonathan, there is a clear statement being made about the evenly matched forces of good and evil, and the kind of resolve it will take for one to defeat the other. — JB

14. “Becoming, Part 1” (season 2, episode 21)

“Becoming’s” first half is a beautiful marriage of theme and plot mechanics. For the second part’s climax to be as heartbreaking as it is, the audience has to remember that Angel used to be relatively likable before he lost his soul. And luckily, flashbacks to Angel’s long life (both ensouled and otherwise) fit into this episode’s theme, which is the big moments that, as Whistler says in voiceover, “set the course of who you’re gonna be.” Buffy is about to face one of her biggest moments, and the choices she makes will reverberate throughout the rest of the show. — CG

13. “Doppelgangland” (season 3, episode 16)

What can be said about “Dopplegangland” other than: FORESHADOWING, FORESHADOWING, FORESHADOWING. Watching Willow wrestle with an alternate-reality version of herself is even better when you know what’s to come in later seasons (“Hands! Hands!”), and it would be an understatement to say that Alyson Hannigan shines in both roles. We also get our first look at Anya since she lost her powers — impatient and frustrated and unable to even order a beer — which is endearing even though she nearly sabotages the gang’s plan to save the day. — JB

12. “Passion” (season 2, episode 17)

“Passion” was the first episode of Buffy I ever saw. (Yes, I was confused.) It’s also the episode that makes it clear the transformation that occurred in “Innocence” is permanent: Angel really did go evil, and bad things really are going to happen on this show, and they won’t always be reversible. But they will lead to beautiful, heartbreaking moments of catharsis, like Buffy and Giles breaking down together in front of the burned-out factory while Buffy sobs, “I can’t do this without you.” — CG

11. Tabula Rasa (season 6, episode 08)

Come for the memory loss, stay for the loan shark pun. “Tabula Rasa” is a masterpiece of humor and grief as Willow’s botched and ill-advised amnesia spell pauses the inevitable fallout from “Once More, With Feeling.” It’s a sweet episode with some much-needed laughs — offering up comic relief in the form of bumbling and chaos. But when the spell is broken, Willow is forced to face the consequences of her betrayal, Buffy grapples with her feelings about Spike, and Giles departs to the tune of “Goodbye to You.” The last three minutes are nothing short of agony. — JB

The very best episodes of Buffy

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Hello, sir.
20th Century Fox

10. “The Wish” (season 3, episode 9)

Plunging a show into a parallel universe is bold. Plunging a show into a parallel universe in which everyone we love dies by the end of the episode is some next-level trolling, and it’s entirely Buffy’s level of commitment that lets the show pull this off. When Cordelia makes the mistake of wishing that Buffy had never come to Sunnydale in proximity of a vengeance demon — Anya, in her first episode — we get to see exactly how bleak that scenario would’ve been with a terrifying vampire-ridden dystopia that’s preparing to turn humans into blood juice boxes. It might be a bit hyperbolic, but everything from Vampire Willow playing with Angel as her “puppy” to the episode’s desperate showdown between Giles and Anya is just too gripping for us to care. — CF

9. Graduation Day, Part 2” (season 3, episode 22)

Is there anything better than a triumphant battle scene? Or a scene where the student body prevails over the tyranny of adults? The answer is no. And “Graduation Day, Part 2” has both. In a plan that relies too heavily on Xander’s military memories — remember that time he turned into GI Joe on Halloween? Yeah, the memories are from that — the student body successfully takes down the Mayor and saves the world. The moment where the students strip off their graduation robes to reveal an armory of weapons, accompanied by battle music, is one of the greatest moments in teen TV history. Please disregard the horrible CGI in favor of savoring the moment when Principal Snyder gets eaten. — JB

8. “Graduation Day, Part 1” (season 2, episode 21)

Part two has the big cathartic moment of the whole school coming together against the Mayor, but part one has the Buffy/Faith fight, and that just barely gives it the edge. Buffy and Faith have been mirroring each other all season — gleefully in “Bad Girls,” with trepidation in “Enemies” — and when it finally comes to a head, the release of tension is astonishing. Buffy’s not just fighting for Angel’s life here — she’s puzzling out her own identity between punches. — CG

7. “Restless” (season 4, episode 22)

An episode of TV that boils down to “it was all a dream!” sounds like a terrible idea on its face, which makes what Whedon did with “Restless” all the more impressive. Though almost the entire episode takes place inside the Scoobies’ heads — each trying to outrun the spirit of the First Slayer, though they don’t know it —“Restless” takes care to make each dream unique to the dreamer. It’s meandering and random and significant all at once, exactly as dreams are. And even though it ends on a somber note, with Buffy facing down the First Slayer and all the death she’s wrought, “Restless” also, crucially, manages to be very funny. Years and countless viewings later, I still don’t know what I love more: Giles and Spike on swings in matching tweed suits, the Cheese Man, or Buffy spitting fire in Willow’s hilariously inaccurate Death of a Salesman dream. (Just kidding, it’s obviously the Cheese Man.) — CF

6. “Innocence” (season 2, episode 14)

Buffy made better episodes than “Innocence,” but it never made a more important one. After Buffy and Angel have sex for the first time, she awakens to discover he’s ditched her — then discovers that he’s no longer strictly himself. His moment of happiness cast his soul aside and turned him into the dark, murderous vampire Angelus. If Buffy’s going to survive, she’ll have to nurse her grief and kill her former boyfriend. It’s one of the most famous plot twists in TV history, and everything about this hour of television is Buffy operating at peak capacity for the very first time. — EV

5. “The Gift” (season 5, episode 22)

There are so many great Buffy quotes, but there’s perhaps no single one worth turning to more than the final words she offers to her little sister in this tremendous season five finale (the show’s 100th episode): “The hardest thing in this world is to live in it.” Then she turns, runs, and leaps from a giant tower into a magical vortex in order to save the world. The final shot: her gravestone. How were they gonna get out of this one? — EV

4. “Becoming, Part 2” (season 2, episode 22)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Bye, Angel!
20th Century Fox

Has there ever been a television tragedy quite so earned as the one at the end of “Becoming, Part 2”? We see every single moment that leads to it: Willow’s desire to learn magic leading her to try the soul-restoring spell on her own, Xander’s hatred of Angel and belief that he should pay for his crimes stopping him from telling Buffy about the spell, Giles’s love for Jenny tricking him into giving up the information Angel needs to start his ritual before Buffy can stop him. It’s all firmly rooted in character, which is what makes each moment lead to the next with such terrible inevitability — and yet it’s still difficult to believe that it will actually happen, that Buffy isn’t going to pull some brilliant idea out of her back pocket just in the nick of time, that she is actually going to kill her boyfriend. When it does happen, it’s devastating. — CG

3. “Hush” (season 4, episode 10)

It’s more of a given now that TV shows will eventually break with their own format for the fun of it, but that was far from inevitable when “Hush” briefly made Buffy half silent movie, half straight horror. The Gentlemen — floating skeletons in crisp suits — are exceedingly polite, extremely terrifying villains. When they steal the voices of everyone in Sunnydale, they force everyone to change how they live and fight, resulting in both frightening and hilarious scenes that have rightfully gone down as some of Buffy’s most ingenious moments. — CF

2. “The Body” (season 5, episode 16)

Seen through one lens, “The Body” is one of the 10 or 20 finest episodes of television ever made in America. Whedon wrote and directed, lending the hour of Joyce’s death an austere reverence unusual on American TV. He strips out the music, the quippy dialogue, and the monsters as metaphor, in order to do a rumination on the nature of death, and it works. On the other hand, this could never be the finest hour of Buffy simply because it’s not really an hour of Buffy. It’s a tiny art film, starring the Buffy characters, dropped into the middle of the show. It’s wondrous, but the best episode has to be... — EV

1. “Once More, with Feeling” (season 6, episode 7)

Could it be anything else? The highpoint of season six — and the show — is this audacious musical episode, filled with completely original tunes that are genuinely memorable. It’s a beautiful companion piece to “Hush,” an episode about what happens when you can’t figure out how to tell others your deepest secrets, because it’s an episode about what happens when you can’t stop telling others your deepest secrets. From great dialogue to big heroic moments to tap-dancing demons, literally everything Buffy the Vampire Slayer did well is present in this one episode of television, which also contains the objectively perfect lyrical couplet: “When I get so worn and wrinkly / that I look like David Brinkley.” If you’ve never seen this episode before now, get to Netflix. If you have, get to Netflix anyway. It must be seen again. — EV

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