Television Nostalgia – Buffy The Vampire Slayer welcomes you to the Hellmouth!
The next television show I wanted to revisit in this series of posts on my favourite shows is another classic that started in the 90s. Originally a fairly terrible (in my view) film from 1992, Buffy The Vampire Slayer was refreshed and rejuvenated by its film scriptwriter Joss Whedon (who had been dismayed by how his original concept had been altered for the film) and the new series arrived on television screens in 1997.
The series follows the life of teenager Buffy Summers (played by Sarah Michelle Gellar) as she deals with the usual angst of teen life, while having to deal with a more bizarre calling – she is the latest vampire slayer, chosen by fate to battle the forces of darkness. She has recently moved to Sunnydale, California, which also happens to sit upon the mouth of hell, a gateway for demons and other worldly dark forces to come through to our world.
In line with tradition, Buffy is guided by her Watcher Giles, the school librarian, played superbly by Anthony Head. His job is to train her to be a better slayer, but in reality he becomes her surrogate father figure (and their relationship is a highlight of the series). As well as Giles, Buffy soon develops a close group of friends who know her secret and aid her where they can, who became known as the “Scooby Gang.” Willow is the clever, bookworm and Xander the goofy guy with a crush on Buffy. We were also introduced to supporting characters, who over time became more and more important to the story, particularly the mysterious Angel (tall, dark, brooding in the shadows, who clearly has an attraction to Buffy, but who has a dark secret) and Cordelia (the stuck up, mean, rich girl, who unexpectedly became a member of the gang she used to taunt).
The series was received extremely well and soon had a loyal army of devoted fans (although, personally I wasn’t truly a fan until season two, when I thought the stories became much stronger). It was brilliantly written, weaving drama and serious story lines within a world revolving around demons and the supernatural, as well as comedic and light-hearted aspects as well. The writing was sharp and intelligent and presented characters who continued to evolve during the seven seasons of the series and for whom you genuinely cared. It was also fantastic to see a strong female character in the central role of a new television drama and Sarah Michelle Gellar played her wonderfully, tackling every emotion during the run. The series genuinely raised the bar on television dramas and proved audiences would love something intelligently written, witty, dramatic and heartfelt that was always superbly acted. It also had a fantastic soundtrack, attracting lesser known (to me anyway!) bands to play at The Bronze, not to mention its beautiful score music by Christophe Beck.
And so here are my favourite episodes of the series. It’s been a tough task to leave out some and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments section!
1. Becoming (season 2)
I’m a big fan of the season finales of Buffy (as you’ll soon see) but, out of all the episodes, Becoming remains my favourite. It has all the elements that made Buffy a success – dramatic battles, emotional scenes, surprise losses, humour, a hint of doomed love and examples of strong friendship. Sarah Michelle Gellar has some lovely scenes in this, particularly the emotional scene with Joyce struggling to accept her daughter’s secret life and the heartbreaking moment she has to kill Angel (made all the more sad through the inclusion of Sarah McLachlan’s song Full of Grace).
2. Graduation Day (season 3)
Another two-part finale in my list had to be this one from season three. It’s the end of an era as the gang prepare to leave Sunnydale High, but not before battling the evil Mayor! The highlight for me is always the fantastically exciting fight between Buffy and Faith, which everyone had been waiting for, but the episode contains lovely moments for all the regulars as the Scooby Gang prepares to go its separate ways and grow up. The shot of Angel disappearing in to the mist is also a lovely poignant moment (but at least he was off to LA to star in Angel).
3. Hush (season 4)
Probably the most terrifying episode of the series and one of the scariest of any television series, Hush was a daring experiment, in which no character utters a word for most of the episode. The evil creatures known as The Gentlemen have arrived in Sunnydale to obtain seven hearts, but first they steal everyone’s voice so no one can scream (as this is the only thing which can stop them)! These creatures are truly disturbing – tall, thin, demon-like men in suits, gliding silently around the city with a hideous grin (and who must have inspired the recent Whispermen in Doctor Who!). The episode also has some light moments. I especially enjoyed the scene in which Giles has to explain who thy are fighting through slides and charades (although I can’t be the only Jonathan Creek fan to be thrown by the inclusion of its theme music)!
4. The Gift (season 5)
The finale of season five saw the gang face a God in the form of Glory, who was determined to sacrifice the mythical key (Dawn) in order to become all powerful. I always thought the series was brilliant at producing high quality, action episodes that raised the stakes and this was certainly one of those with the series ending with Buffy’s apparent death as she sacrifices herself to save her sister and the world.
5. Once More, With Feeling (season 6)
After season four’s quirky experiment in Hush, Joss Whedon tried another totally different style in this musical episode. It could have been awful having every character sing throughout but it worked brilliantly and with some hilarious moments (Willow is not a great singer and Anya passionately hates bunnies)! Some of the musical numbers are truly wonderful, particularly Xander and Anya’s duet. The other great aspect of the episode was that it wasn’t just a gimmick as it also moved the story lines along, including Buffy’s revelation that she was happy in the afterlife and is thoroughly ticked off to have been brought back!
6. End of Days / Chosen (season 7)
As the series drew to a close, I hoped it would have a well deserved satisfying ending and in my opinion these last two episodes do just that. The stakes are high (pun intended!) as Buffy faces the First Evil and the biggest fight of her life, while having to lead a gang of potential slayers. These girls acted as a way to highlight just how much Buffy had grown up since the first season. The end of the show also meant we saw the return of Angel (albeit briefly). I liked how his relationship with Buffy was dealt with here. It acknowledged its significance, but also showed that they had both moved on. The final scene with just Giles, Buffy, Willow and Xander at the school was also a lovely nod to the end of the season one opening story and there’s some lovely moments between Buffy and Spike (whose relationship with Buffy surprised me initially, but after a while seemed far more realistic and right for her than the one she’d had with Angel). Add to that, Buffy is left in the final moments with a hopeful future, exactly as we’d all hoped.
7. Surprise / Innocence (season 2)
This two-part story from the second season marked a significant shift in the show, as Buffy sees the results of her night of passion with Angel, as he loses his soul to become Angelus once again. It’s superbly played by them both, as they go from lovers to enemies and David Boreanz is able to bring so much more to the screen during this new dynamic with Buffy and her friends. Not to mention the fact that Buffy destroys the enemy with a rocket launcher! It was clear that the show wouldn’t be quite the same after this storyline.
8. Helpless (season 3)
This is another rather dark episode from the series, in which Giles reluctantly has to deceive Buffy in order to subject her to an old Slayer tradition devised by the Watcher’s Council – that on her 18th birthday she must face an enemy without her powers. The enemy here is a terrifying vampire, who was a mentally ill patient, who is kept in a ruin of a house, in a straight jacket being fed his pills. However things go badly wrong when he escapes and kidnaps Buffy’s mother. Seeing Buffy making her way around the dilapidated house to find her as he taunts her is very disturbing and more akin to horror than other episodes. It also includes some emotional moments between Buffy and Giles, as she realises his betrayal and he is wracked with guilt and a need to protect her that highlights just how special she has now become to him.
9. Tabula Rasa (season 6)
A rather silly episode, but one of my favourites as we again get to see the characters in a different light. Due to magic caused by Willow everyone forgets who they are and their inaccurate deductions have some very funny consequences (Giles and Anya thinking they are engaged and Spike thinking he is Giles’s son). The episode also has a more serious side as we see Willow’s return to magic against Tara’s wishes cause Tara to leave her and Buffy, still fragile after her return, succumb to her growing attraction to Spike.
10. Passion (season 2)
We see just how cruel Angelus can be as he stalks Buffy at her home and then Giles’s girlfriend Ms Calendar around the school before killing her and leaving her in Giles’s bed for him to find, thinking she has arranged a romantic evening. It’s a shocking development and devastating for Giles and we see his usual calm, measured attitude disintegrate in favour of revenge, leaving Buffy to save him from Angelus and himself.
11. Villains / Two To Go / Grave (season 6)
I couldn’t really split these episodes as they flow so easily from one in to the next. Willow’s magic addiction was a very clever way of highlighting to its audience the dangers of addiction, but still within the context of the series. You wondered just how far it would go and the murder of Tara triggers a fantastic run of episodes, which sees the nicest character of the series become a powerful practitioner of black magic. Evil Willow was a great part of the show and her fight in the shop with Buffy and Giles was exciting television. By this point the audience cared about everyone so much, it was worrying to wonder what would happen. I still think the end is a bit ridiculous, but having simple, ordinary Xander be the one to finally reach her was quite sweet.
12. Doppelgangland (season 3)
Linked to earlier episode The Wish (set in an alternate reality), this one sees Willow’s vampire doppelgänger transported to Sunnydale, leading to some wonderful scenes between Willow, Xander and Vampire Willow in particular! It also allows Alison Hannigan to explore a whole new side of Willow, which was a welcome addition to the series, especially when the story required Willow to pretend to be her doppelgänger to try and save the lives of people at The Bronze!
13. Angel (season 1)
I wasn’t a big fan of season one and sometimes wonder how I stuck with the series until the much stronger season two. The strength of the writing and the fact I loved the characters was what ultimately kept me watching and this mid season story was one of the stronger ones from that first season. We learnt more about the mysterious Angel, who Buufy was growing increasingly attracted to and who up to this point had simply stayed in the background watching. The revelation that he was in fact a vampire was a great twist, as was the inclusion of his soul, which led to one of the iconic romances on television at the time. Forget Twilight – this is the ultimate human / vampire romance!
14. Fool For Love (season 5)
An interesting episode, which set the groundwork for Buffy and Spike’s relationship in the next season. Mainly set in the past, we learn more about Spike’s past and how he became a vampire and went on to kill two slayers, as he shares his history with Buffy. I also love how the episode weaves in where he gained his leather coat (a plot point that became more significant in later seasons with the arrival of Principal Wood).
15. The Body (season 5)
I almost didn’t include this episode because “favourite” seems to be the wrong description for it, as it is so difficult to watch and so upsetting. An absolutely stunning piece of television that deals with grief and loss better than anything else I have ever watched, The Body saw the death of Buffy’s mother and the immediate shock and aftermath of those closest to her. Everyone is superb in this epodes and Sarah Michelle Gellar perfectly conveys Buffy’s numb reaction to her loss, to the event that you almost forget that you are watching a television show due to its realism. Anyone who dismissed the series as silly fantasy should watch this episode to see just how broad the emotional spectrum of the show was.
So that’s my list (ten was too tough so I bumped it to fifteen). Unlike many shows I continued to enjoy Buffy until the end, which is reflected by the fact that this list includes episodes from across the entire series. Others that should really get a notable mention are Hep (season 7), I Only Have Eyes For You (season 2), Amends (season 3), Fear, Itself (season 4) and Nightmares (season 1) and no doubt everyone’s list is different due to the quality of the show and the range of episodes. So if you loved the series at the time, why not revisit some of these episodes or introduce someone else to this classic television series.
There are some great videos on You Tube, celebrating the brilliance of Buffy and here are links to just a couple of them:
Buffy – Seven years of Hell – http://youtu.be/47Zz9VeefLI
Buffy Montage – http://youtu.be/rmpTKNSgKsw