But here's some news! I finished watching all one hundred and forty four episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (Thanks to my Netflix account and their online "Watch Instantly" feature.) (And my lack of employment...so...yay for that...) Having accomplished this arduous task...uh...I can go back to my real life. Which is very structured and disciplined.
Anyway. I thought I would take a few moments to share my thoughts on the series.
FYI, there aren't any real spoilers until I get to the "Favorite Episodes" list (details, but not spoilers). Still, I can't imagine anyone reading this post unless they are Buffy fans, but oh well. It's long, but such is my way. Deal with it! Plus, it's My Definitive Buffy Critique - this way, I'm avoiding writing at least four or five posts about it. (You experience no such luck in regard to True Blood.)
First of all, despite the cleverness of the show, occasionally I had to roll my eyes over an annoying motif or two, like:
- The "Buffy is a bad kid who must be constantly scolded by her mother and/or the principal even though she has done nothing" meme that ran throughout the first three seasons.
- The way Willow does this thing with her voice that comes off as a loopy kind of capitulation, with heavy panting and scrunchy eyebrows, whenever she says something disagreeable. Thankfully this characteristic faded with time, as Willow matured throughout the series.
- Xander is a TOTAL Nice Guy who made me want to punch him at times. Not "Nice Guy" as in "man who is actually nice," but Nice Guy, as in "man who thinks he should be entitled to control the vaginas of the women around him, but who attempts this with shame and guilt rather than violence." (But he did save Buffy's life a couple times, he provided witty quips, and he was generous and eager to fight and defend whenever the Scoobies were in trouble and/or fighting the Big Bad. So I suppose that Joss Whedon can be credited for creating another well-rounded, flawed character. Even if that flaw happens to be an obsession with vagina control that is merely dressed up in "concern.")
- Willow and Tara's relationship
- Mr. Giles
- the spectre of Faith as the darkside of Buffy
- everything that Spike says
- everything that Anya says
- Xander and Harmony's "fight" in the campus woods
- Mr. Giles singing and playing guitar in the coffee house
- Riley Finn (before he got all "Jack Berger" in season five) (I can tell that I liked him, because he appeared in one of my dreams, in the grand tradition of Sawyer and Eric Northman.)
- Mr. Giles
- the hilarious and unnerving Mayor of Sunnydale
- the similaries between Vamp Willow and Dark Willow
- poor lil' Jonathan
- Mr. Giles and Mrs. Summers on the cop car
- Oz's stoicism and sweetness
- Cordelia's supposed happenstance membership into the Scooby Gang
- Buffy's unwavering willingness to die in order to save the day
- Mr. Giles
Mr. Giles was portrayed by Anthony Stewart Head, formerly known to me (and most Americans) as the adorable and cocky half of the Taster's Choice romance saga commercials of the late 80s/early 90s. The following video is a compilation of the British version of the "adverts" - the commercials are the same, but the coffee is sold as Nescafe - on YouTube. I still remember most of them.
(Is he not SO CUTE?!)
But back to Buffy.
I'd been planning to write up a list of my favorite episodes, even before I'd finished watching the show. Now that I have finished, and have subsequently read articles and blogs about the show all over the internets, I fear that my list will probably be similar to other lists. Which means that either I am Not Original, or these are just Great Episodes. So here they are:
Five by Five Best Buffy Episodes
(Okay okay, five by three, since I've listed 15 episodes...which actually consist of 17 episodes.)
1. Passion - Season 2, Episode 17
Evil Angelus narrates the beginning and end of this heartbreaking Season 2 episode, in which his murder of Jenny Calendar, followed by Buffy finally deciding to kill Angelus, rolls out as masterfully coordinated as a symphony.
2. Becoming (Part Two) - Season 2, Episode 22
I cried at the end of the Season 2 finale, which was full of desperation and brink-of-destruction details, such as Willow in a hospital, Spike teaming up with Buffy to defeat Angelus, and Angelus' bittersweet restoration as Angel a moment before Buffy is forced to kill him in order to close the vortex of hell he'd opened as Angelus.
3. Band Candy - Season 3, Episode 6
Evil chocolate bars distributed at school to sell for the band turn all of Sunnydale's adults into teenagers, and Buffy must become a parent to her mother, Mr. Giles, and Principal Snyder. The best part of this episode is when Buffy is reprimanding Deliquent Teenage Mr. Giles, who, in jeans and a leather jacket, makes like he's going to hit her, but glares at her and reaches for the comb tucked behind his ear instead. Heh. Oh, and he hooks up with Buffy's mom on top of a cop car. Twice.
4. The Zeppo - Season 3, Episode 13
The premise of this episode is that since Xander does not have super powers or computer genius, that he is useless, and on the day that he saves the high school and helps Faith, nobody notices, since they're all fighting the Hellmouth, which has opened once again in the library. While the "Xander is useless" meme is another thing that got old throughout the series (he's obviously not useless - he helped the gang constantly, not to mention that pesky little saving-Buffy's-life thing from the Season 1 finale), the genius of this episode is the way that it satirizes its own show's plot devices. Showing the action from Xander's point of view, the opening of the Hellmouth becomes a humorous melodrama taking place in the background.
5. The Prom - Season 3, Episode 20
The neatest thing about this episode is Buffy's recognition by and gratitude from her classmates at school, for being The Protector of the Class. Also, Angel breaks up with Buffy, but then he returns to dance with her at the Prom - after she slays some hellhounds who were about to attack the prom, of course.
6. Hush - Season 4, Episode 10
This masterful episode, which features ghoulish Gentlemen straight out of a demented Brother's Grimm fairytale, who silence the town as they sleep and proceed to collect their hearts, seems to appear on everyone's list of favorite episodes. Throughout most of the episode, no one can talk, forcing people to write on notepads and to pantomime, and forcing the writers to create visual misunderstandings, and the actors to work with only facial expressions and body language to convey their thoughts. Thus, hilarity ensues. When utter creepiness isn't happening.
My favorite moments:
(1) When Riley and Buffy meet in the street as they each patrol for trouble, and under the stress and fear about what is happening to the town, and with no ability to fill up their interactions with nervous banter, they simply embrace and kiss for the first time.
(2) Tara seeks out Willow for the first time, and they clasp hands in order to use their combined power to move a blockade in front of a door, where the Gentlemen are attempting to enter.
(3) Riley and Buffy discover each other fighting demons for the first time, and they work together to defeat them.
7. This Year's Girl/Who Are You - Season 4, Episodes 15 and 16
Everyone had been waiting for Faith to revive from her coma, and it finally happens in this sad, but hopeful, two-parter. We experience the harshness of waking up through Faith's eyes, the jarring realization that she has been in a coma for over half a year, and her aggressive response to the deep-seated guilt she feels about her sins. (How to acknowledge the fact that you killed a bunch of innocent people? Kill more people!) Finally, when she switches bodies with Buffy, and learns what life is like when you are a person who is loved by others, she feels something that she's been wanting throughout her whole life, something that transcends her hatred and guilt, so she can finally work toward making amends, and being a good person who is deserving of love.
8. The Body - Season 5, Episode 16
When Buffy and Dawn's mother dies suddenly, the show examines the banalties, fear and darkness of grief in many of its forms. I thought the part where Buffy throws up after finding her mother, and then simply finds a rag to clean up the mess, was poignant - the same for the moment that Angel joins her alone at the cemetary with no words, but just grabs her hand. Speaking literally for the group, Anya expresses her confusion and existential dilemma over the concept of death.
9. The Gift - Season 5, Episode 22
Against their most impossible-to-defeat foe, Glory, the gang ingeniously uses all of their resources to try to thwart another Apocalypse, including tools from previous episodes (the Dagon sphere, the troll hammer, the Buffybot), and their own powers (Buffy and Spike's strength, Willow's magic, Xander's wrecking ball operation knowledge) to work together. But at the end, the gate between is opened by the key (Dawn's blood) and Buffy decides to close it in order to prevent turn Earth into a literal living Hell, with the stoppage of her own blood. So after one of the saddest, sweetest quotes of the whole series (a little speech to Dawn, ending with "Dawn, the hardest thing in this world... is to live in it. Be brave. Live. For me."), she throws herself into the glowing sphere hell-thing - and dies.
(One of the disadvantages in watching the series years after its completion, is the fact that I knew there were seven seasons, so obviously Buffy was not gone forever. Also, over the years I'd heard many of the plotlines, via pop culture osmosis, so several things had already been spoiled for me, like Angel's transition to Angelus.)
10. Once More, With Feeling - Season 6, Episode 7
Okay, this one is my favorite episode. A musical version of Buffy could have been so bad, but it turned out wonderfully. It honors the premise of the show and the characters, because a curse is what is causing the people to sing and dance - until they spontaneously combust. The gang must discover the origins of the curse and destroy it, before it kills more people.
Eventually it is uncovered that Xander accidentally summoned forth the demon Sweet, who is causing all the showtunes mayhem, with a charm necklace that is later stolen by Dawn, by wishing for happiness with Anya. Sweet, thinking Dawn summoned him, prepares to abscond with her to the Underworld in order to make her his demon queen. He changes his mind when he discovers that the summoner was Xander.
Throughout the episode, Not only do characters sing about mundane ills and joys ("The Parking Ticket," "The Mustard"), but they sing about their problems and fears, inadvertantly confessing them to each other and to themselves. Xander and Anya sing about their nervousness leading up to their wedding ("I'll Never Tell"). After a love song that is both beautiful and dirty, sweetly sung by Tara to Willow ("Under Your Spell"), Tara discovers that Willow literally had put her under a spell, and sings of leaving her, just as Giles sings of leaving Buffy ("Under Your Spell - Reprise/Standing"), since she has become too reliant on him to take care of her responsibilities.
Near the end, Buffy finally reveals that the gang, and notably Willow, had pulled her out of Heaven by resurrecting her, and that she doesn't understand the point of living anymore, because she can't feel anything ("Something To Sing About"). Spike replies to Buffy that the hardest thing in life is to live in it, echoing Buffy's words to Dawn at the end of the previous season.
11. Tabula Rasa - Season 6, Episode 8
This is the episode that finally shows just how "addicted" Willow has become to magic, as she tries to use magic to erase not just Tara's memory, but the memories of pain of all her friends. She reveals herself to be completely untrustworthy in this regard, as not only is this the last of several lies to Tara and her friends about how she will go without magic for a week, she casts a spell on all of them only hours later. In the meantime, however, hilarity ensues, as the gang, having not only lost their memories of pain, but all of their memories, must try to discover their respective identities. Out of this, Spike thinks he is Mr. Giles' son because they are both British, and since Buffy has no ID on her person, she decides her name is "Joan" (interestingly, the name of another female warrior hero). Later, they are terrified to be attacked by VAMPIRES! And while trying to find a spell to restore their memories, Anya keeps filling the store with more and more bunnies, to her horror.
12. Hell's Bells - Season 6, Episode 16
This episode about Xander and Anya's wedding - which ends with Xander, who fears becoming an abusive drunk like his father, leaving Anya at the alter - is filled with the drunken, belligerant relatives of Xander, and Anya's demon friends, including the head vengeance demon D'Hoffryn, who amiably enters the ceremony with kind words to Dawn.
D'Hoffryn: Oh. Hymen's greetings.
D'Hoffryn: Hymen. The god of matrimony. His salutations upon you. May the love we celebrate today avoid an almost inevitable decline.
Other awesome things that happen: Buffy and the demon Krevlin entertain the waiting wedding guests with charades and juggling, the Harrises and the demons (passed off a "circus folk") get into a brawl, and Anya rehearses several different inappropriate versions of her vows with Tara.
13. Villains/Two To Go - Season 6, Episodes 20 and 21
Although these are two episodes (and in fact "Two To Go" is the first part of the finale two-parter, with "Grave"), it's difficult to separate the two, since they run together, and stand equal to each other in awesomeness. Upon the accidental murder (caused by the intended murder of Buffy at Warren's hands) of Tara, Willow becomes Dark Willow, and basically goes on an ass kicking murderous rampage.
While watching, I sort of felt like Anya felt during the episode. She has just become a vengeance demon again, and at first she sides with Willow. Plus, it's not difficult to hate the misogynist Warren, whose past crimes include murdering his ex-girlfriend while attempting to rape her. But when Anya witnesses the horror of Dark Willow torturing and then flaying alive Warren, before killing him, she rejoins the Scoobies to protect Willow's other prey (Jonathan and Andy).
Meanwhile, Andy fills up the background with hilarious allusions from the Realms of Nerdom and Geekery ("Think your little witch buddy's gonna stop with us? You saw her! She's a truck-driving magic mama! And we've got maybe seconds before Darth Rosenberg grinds everybody into Jawa burgers. And not one of you bunch has the midi-chlorians to stop her!") This also marks the brief return of Mr. Giles, who stands in the doorway like a bad ass, thwarting Willow's magic with his own borrowed magic.
14. Selfless - Season 7, Episode 5
This episode is dedicated to the growth of Anya, who in order to prove herself once again as a vengeance demon, causes the bloody deaths of a house of frat boys at the college. Shocked and bereaved over her own actions, she is not surprised when Buffy fights her, but she laments when D'Hoffryn appears, that she wishes she could take it back. During the fight, Buffy stabs her in the chest with a sword, and Anya heartbreakingly recalls singing about becoming Xander's wife during the time when they were all cursed to sing and dance in "Once More, With Feeling."
As a viewer, I'd waited for over four seasons for Buffy to discover that Xander had lied to her at the end of Season 2, when he told her that Willow's message was to "Kick some ass." Willow had actually sent him to tell Buffy that she was doing the spell to restore Angel's soul, so Buffy could stall Angelus' attempt to open to vortex of Hell thing. But like the vagina-controlling dickhole that he is, Xander lied so he could ensure that Buffy would kill Angelus. (Predictably, he acts like a hypocrite when the tables are turned and now his ex-lover might be killed by Buffy.) So imagine my dismay, upon the uncovering of this revelation, when Buffy doesn't hear Willow adamantly denying that she said that, and when Willow fails to tell Buffy what she'd actually said. I mean, what the fuck is up with that?! Xander deserved at least a kick in the balls for that, if not an ejection from the group. I really didn't buy it when the show tried to make him look all honorable throughout the remainder of the series. He has his moments, but in order for me to accept him as a legitimate member of a group, who must be valued and loved, I needed his character to be punished and forgiven, and I needed his character to acknowledge that what he did was wrong, and that was something that never happened throughout the entire show.
15. Chosen - Season 7, Episode 22
This is the series finale. Spike seeks and receives redemption, killing thousands of evil Turok-Han vampires in the process. Anya valiantly gives her life for the humans she pretends to not love. Dawn, Xander and Mr. Giles help fight. Buffy and Faith stand together to hold the line with the Potential Slayers while fighting the Turok-Han vamps. And in the best, if convenient, twist of the series, Willow performs a complicated spell that turns all Potential Slayers into actual Slayers, which resolves the problem of the isolation of the Slayer, which haunted Buffy for seven seasons, and which is mighty handy when battling Turok-Han vampires. Plus, the entire town of Sunnydale caves in and seals the Hellmouth.
Which is awesome.