On March 10th it will be 20 years since Buffy the Vampire Slayer first aired with Welcome to the Hellmouth, since becoming one of the biggest cult hits to ever be called a cult hit. Apart from being my favourite TV show, Buffy is also one of the smartest, funniest and nuanced horror shows of all time and with it came multiple episodes that have gone done in the great pantheon of TV classics.
However, The Body, Hush and Once More with Feeling aside, the show has plenty of other great episodes that get far less attention. Here’s to the unsung greats, the ones people don’t tend to talk about.
1. Gingerbread – S3E11
When Buffy’s Mom Joyce comes on patrol and discovers the bodies of two children, she begins a group to outlaw all references to the occult in Sunnydale.
Apart from being pretty funny, for a while, it’s quite shocking to see Buffy’s slayer life be torn apart. Giles has his books confiscated and anybody with even the slightest connection to magic is taken for questioning, even Willow. It’s a witch hunt episode basically and though the ending hits the reset button (Imagine this story but as a season-long arc) it makes for a pretty interesting and compelling episode.
2. Helpless – S3E12
Exploring the father-daughter relationship between Buffy and Giles, Helpless drains Buffy of her powers as part of a horrendous test started by the Watchers Council and implemented by Giles. The tension between them is real as Buffy feels completely betrayed by her surrogate father yet when he refuses to take the test any further, losing his job in the process, the episode tenderly acknowledges their strong bond.
It also features one of the most ingenious vampire kills of the show as Buffy tricks Zachary Kralik into drinking holy water. Nasty!
3. The Freshman – S4E1
Season four feels tonally very different from the previous high school years and it’s immediately felt in this season opener. Smartly choosing to focus on Buffy’s feelings of isolation and loneliness as she begins college the episode is strewn with fantastic imagery, on point writing and excellent performances.
The key villain Sunday is snarky and delightful whilst the re-introduction of characters like Giles and Xander are tinged with humour and pathos. A great beginning to a bold new future for the Buffster.
4. Fear Itself – S4E4
Fear Itself is one of the best examples of Buffy as a proper horror show as the Scoobies take part in an on-campus haunted house. Apart from having delightfully eerie music (courtesy of Christophe Beck) and fantastic sound design, the episode also wonderfully sets up the drifting apart of the gang that will take up the season’s key story arc.
Also, Anya as a bunny and Giles with a chainsaw is always a win.
5. The Initiative – S4E7
As maligned as the Initiative storyline eventually became (primarily due to Adam) it’s building story at the beginning of season four was intriguing and helped to set the show on a brand new course. It gave Spike his chip, told us Riley was one of the commandos and featured a number of funny and action packed scenes.
Also, Spike and Willow in the bedroom is still a series highlight.
6. Who Are You? – S4E16
Part two of the Faith returning storyline features Faith in Buffy’s body, finding out what its like to be loved by friends and family. It’s a funny episode but is also deftly written and has some wonderful character development for the rogue slayer. The repetition of “Because it’s wrong” is fantastic.
7. No Place Like Home – S5E5
I don’t get why people find Dawn annoying. I mean, I get WHY people find Dawn annoying but also that’s entirely the point, at least in her early episodes. The thing is, by this episode, when we find out her true origin, I care about her. The emotional resolution as Buffy and Dawn embrace at the end is beautiful and finding out about Dawn and Glory is jaw dropping.
Also, it begins the story of Joyce’s illness and sets up the best season of Buffy.
8. Spiral – S5E20
Glory knows Dawn’s the key so the whole gang go on the run in a motor home. The chase scene is one of Buffy’s biggest set pieces to date and the episode is chock full of great moments including the shock ending in which Glory arrives to take Dawn away.
9. Selfless – S7E5
Finally, we get some Anya backstory and it’s wonderful. Apart from the fascinating jaunt through history, as we witness her bloody trail through Europe, she gets a Once More with Feeling reprise and gets to fight Buffy. Also, the animosity between her and the slayer is well played and the cut from her singing to waking up with a sword in her chest is brilliant.
10. Lies my parents told me – S7E17
Season five’s Fool for Love was a true classic as it gave us Spike backstory. Lies my Parents Told me is a great sequel and essentially serves up a story as to why The First can manipulate Spike in the way it can. It also has a great final scene as Principal Wood tries to kill Spike in a room full of crosses.