Buffy 101
January 18, 2010 11:21 AM   Subscribe

Buffyfilter: What are the essential Buffy episodes?

I want to rewatch Buffy, but I don't have the time patience to do it all start to finish. If you were compiling a core Buffy curriculum, what episodes would you put on it? I'll leave the definition of "essential episode" to you.
posted by sonofslim to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (32 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
The musical episode ("Once More, With Feeling - season 6, episode 7), obviously.

I also like the couple of episodes wherein Buffy and Angel sleep together and then he turns evil (season 2, episodes 13 & 14).
posted by something something at 11:29 AM on January 18, 2010

Hush. Once More With Feeling. Those two for being the best novelty episodes. Surprise/Innocence/Becoming pts 1 & 2 which are the essence of the Angelus story. The Gift, maybe.
posted by larkspur at 11:35 AM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'll leave the definition of "essential episode" to you.

That's all nice, but do you mean "favorite episodes" or "minimum needed to follow the plots"? Those are two very different sets. The favorites are generally the ones that are one-offs, in particular.
posted by smackfu at 11:36 AM on January 18, 2010

For sheer entertainment value, and not necessarily for important series-development moments, here's my picks:

Season One: Teacher's Pet (S01E03), Out of Mind, Out of Sight (S01E11)
Season Two: School Hard (S02E03), Surprise and Innocence (S02E13&14)
Season Three: Band Candy (S03E06), The Zeppo (S03E13), The Prom (S03E20)
Season Four: Hush (S04E10)
Season Five: eh...
Season Six: Once More With Feeling (duh; S06E07), Normal Again (S06E17)
Season Seven: Him (S07E06)
posted by amelioration at 11:40 AM on January 18, 2010

The Body
posted by theDrizzle at 11:40 AM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Have you watched it all already? If so, then I would recommend this. If you have not watched it all from start to finish, I cannot, in good conscience, recommend anything other than watching everything from the beginning to end, even suffering through the lamest of episodes (like Go Fish in season 2), because you won't get the joy of the callbacks that happen throughout the series. There, that's my caveat.

MUST watches are in Bold.

Just skip Season 1.

Season 2:

- School Hard (for the beginning of Spike's arc)
- Halloween
- What's My Line? (Parts 1 & 2)
- Surprise
- Innocence
- Phases
- Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered
- Passion
- Becoming, part 1 & 2

Season 3:

- Beauty & The Beasts
- Homecoming
- Band Candy
- Lover's Walk
- The Wish
- Amends
- Helpless
- The Zeppo
- Bad Girls
- Dopplegangland
- Graduation Day (Part 1 & 2)

Season 4:

- Fear Itself
- Wild At Heart
- Something Blue
- Hush
- A New Man

- This Year's Girl
- Where The Wild Things Are
- New Moon Rising
- The Yoko Factor
- Restless

Season 5: ALL OF SEASON 5.

Season 6:

- Bargaining (1 & 2)
- Life Serial
- Tabula Rasa
- Smashed
- Wrecked
- Gone
- Older and Far Away
- Hell's Bells
- Entropy
- Seeing Red
- Villains
- Two To Go
- Grave

Season 7:

I love Season 7, but I feel like the only really super-watchable episode that stands well outside of the story arc is "Him"
posted by pazazygeek at 11:41 AM on January 18, 2010 [8 favorites]

I just read through the episode summaries here. I think they are all crucial. You should watch them all.
posted by RussHy at 11:49 AM on January 18, 2010

Hush, definitely, and The Body. If nothing else, you must watch those.

I liked the musical too (the death knell to any serious show - the musical - but I liked it.)
posted by patheral at 11:57 AM on January 18, 2010

In order... my personal favorites with my own one-sentence descriptions :) MASSIVE SPOILERS IF YOU HAVE NEVER WATCHED THE SHOW!!!

***start spoilers! you've been warned! ***

The Pack. - Zander falls in with bad crowd who get hyena'd
Halloween - everyone in town becomes their halloween costumes
Surprise and Innocence - The Judge!
Killed By Death - demon stalks the children's ward
Beauty and the Beasts - oz is suspected of nasty murders
The Wish - Anyanka grants a wish to Cordelia
Gingerbread - hysteria rules after two kids are murdered
Helpless - a test for the slayer
The Zeppo - Xander runs with a new gang...
Dopplegangland - vamp-willow comes to "our" sunnydale
Earshot - Buffy's hearing voices
Fear, itself - haunted house really gets haunted... plus, anya in the bunny costume :)
Something blue - willow's spell goes awry
Hush - the entire town is silenced. One of the best.
A New Man - Giles is turned into a demon
This Year's Girl / Who Are You - return of Faith
Buffy vs Dracula - Drac comes to town.
The Replacement - Two Xanders!
Fool for Love - lots of Spike backstory goodness
Triangle - the Troll!
The Body - death of a loved character
Bargaining - time for a little bit of resurrection
Once More, With Feeling - the musical
Smashed - magic binges and vamp sex.
Doublemeat Palace - fun episode with a side of fries.
Hell's Bells - Xander and Anya's wedding day
Normal Again - Buffy hallucinates that she is a normal girl in a mental ward... or is she?
Seeing Red - Tara :(
Two to go / Grave - intense season finale with evil willow going wild
Same Time, Same Place - accidental invisibility and skin eating
Showtime - Buffy bags her first ubervamp
The Killer in me - Willow becomes Warren
StoryTeller - Andrew tells us a story.
Chosen - the series finale

You might notice that I miss a good chunk of the larger plot revealing episodes, especially in the first and seventh seasons. That wasn't intentional, just pointing out my personal favorites episodes. This is intended as a list for someone who has seen the entire series before and doesn't really need to relearn the whole plot, but just wants to revisit some of the best episodes.
posted by utsutsu at 12:02 PM on January 18, 2010

Ummm...personally...any episode that sees Willow and Amber in very close proximity with each other.
posted by AlliKat75 at 12:04 PM on January 18, 2010

This is so funny; we've been watching Buffy straight through the last couple months. Just one note - you might consider alternating an episode of Buffy with an episode of Angel, come the start of Buffy season 4. They play off each other often enough for it to be worth it, and it helps cut the major suck of the first few season 4 episodes of Buffy.
posted by peachfuzz at 12:06 PM on January 18, 2010

I'll leave the later seasons to others (I stopped watching after season 3) but I would suggest these for the first two seasons. These are "essential" in a plot sense, not necessarily the best episodes - although Passion and Becoming Part 1 and 2 were my favorite episodes of Buffy ever:

Season 1
Welcome to the Hellmouth/The Harvest (two-part series opener)
Prophecy Girl (season ender)

Season 2
School Hard (introduction of Spike and Drucilla)
Becoming: Part 1
Becoming Part 2
posted by shaun uh at 12:09 PM on January 18, 2010

Season 1: Prophecy Girl. Season 2: Surprise, Innocence, Passion, Becoming Part 1 & 2. Season 3: Band Candy, Helpless, Bad Girls, Doppelgangland, Earshot, Graduation Day Part 1 & 2. Season 6: Once More with Feeling. I didn't watch the other seasons, so I can't comment on Seasons 4,5, and 7.
posted by qmechanic at 12:16 PM on January 18, 2010

Response by poster: > That's all nice, but do you mean "favorite episodes" or "minimum needed to follow the plots"?

I'm sure the list includes both, which is why I left it open. (Don't worry, this is not a credit bearing course -- although when I was at Wesleyan 10 years ago it might as well have been.)
posted by sonofslim at 12:28 PM on January 18, 2010

The Body can be watched as a standalone, and is one of the most absolutely wrenching hours of TV ever produced.

Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered simultaneously makes me cry and makes my head spin.

I would need to do a search to find the episode titles for all of them, but I love the historical backstory episodes, starting with Becoming 1 & 2 in s2 and Fool for Love in S6, along with its corresponding Angel episode (these were originally aired back to back).

I'm sure there are tons of archived discussions of this nature on Whedonesque.
posted by mneekadon at 12:38 PM on January 18, 2010

Agree with most of the above. I would also add "Selfless" from season 7, which deals with Anya's back story, and has a sweet/sad musical interlude that wasn't included in "Once More With Feeling."

And, of course, D'Hoffryn.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:51 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

All Spike episodes are essential. All episodes with Andrew post-trio are essential. Even if you're not big on the plot in all these, the Andrew moments in season 7 are pure magic (Storyteller is a particularly awesome example of this).

Also in case you didn't see it for some reason, much of Angel is wonderful. Especially everything that doesn't involve Connor. Season 5 is especially awesome (and depresses you knowing they cancelled it perhaps at its best).
posted by haveanicesummer at 1:08 PM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

I always liked Superstar from Season 4, where Jonathan is super-awesome and everyone loves Jonathan. It requires knowledge of the Buffy universe but then spins it all on its head, which I love. It's also got some great funny moments, including the opening.

From the same season I liked Pangs, the Thanksgiving episode. It's got Spike + the chip, which I thought was the high point of the Spike character, and Buffy trying to figure out how to be an adult. It's also at the beginning of the Anya/Xander arc, which I always liked as well. I could do without the "meaning of Thanksgiving" aspects, but it's the lead in to I Will Remember You, one of my favorite Angel episodes.

I also like the alternate-universe episodes, so Normal Again and The Wish are some of my favorites as well.

From season 7, Conversations with Dead People was my favorite. I thought it was a great way to introduce the First.

And yes, Hush, The Body, Once More with feeling, and the Zeppo are absolutely required.
posted by lilac girl at 1:32 PM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Just for perspective, I disagree vehemently with everything haveanicesummer just said. (I strongly suspect only one of us likes boys, so YMMV.)

For me, I'd go with the series opener, the season one finale, season three more or less in its entirety (everything with Faith and most of the rest,) the Willow/Oz and Willow/Tara eps, including "Hush", in season four, The Body, the musical, and the series finale.

I did a complete rewatch a year or so ago, and it was well worth it. All of the DVD commentary was super cool, too, if you're in to commentary.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:53 PM on January 18, 2010

As everyone else has pointed out, The Body (wrenching change of pace to the series, introducing the real world to a world of fantasy) and Normal Again (where the happy ending is Buffy choosing to be insane) are fantastic.

As someone who absolutely hates musicals, though, Once More With Feeling is amazing. The songs, which are witty and intelligently written, but also just good music, go a long way to advancing the plot, and many of the songs force characters to let out secrets they've been holding inside. Even better, the secrets that come out during the episode aren't just forgotten after the demon is killed, and they continue to affect the relationships between the characters for a long while afterwards.

Plus, it's also where the rest of the Scoobies realize that they resurrected Buffy not from a hell-dimension, but quite possibly pulled her out of heaven.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:56 PM on January 18, 2010

The Body is not essential Buffy. It is essential television.
posted by slimepuppy at 3:32 PM on January 18, 2010 [5 favorites]

++ to peachfuzz's suggestion to intersperse some Angel in there.

Season 5 Episode 12 (the 100th episode: "You're Welcome") was awesome on so many levels. Spike playing Donkey Kong was priceless.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 3:44 PM on January 18, 2010

Season 6: Smashed. Buffy + Spike = hottest moment of the series.
posted by dino might at 7:49 PM on January 18, 2010

Just for perspective, I disagree vehemently with everything haveanicesummer just said. (I strongly suspect only one of us likes boys, so YMMV.)
posted by restless_nomad

Uh haha, which one of us? I like the funny, not so much with the boys. However, personally I loathe most everything involving Faith. So I think it's a matter of our vastly differing tastes, not sexualities.

Along those same lines, many Anya episodes have some perfectly pitched humor. Also Xander was hilarious until they started giving his funny lines to other people in later seasons.
posted by haveanicesummer at 8:32 PM on January 18, 2010

Not far off what everyone else has said, but I'd recommend more or less all of seasons 3, 4, and 5, and pick episodes from the remaining seasons based on which characters/plotlines interest you most.
posted by nonliteral at 8:35 PM on January 18, 2010

I love anything that features Spike, but when I think of the episodes that wrang me out emotionally, they both centered on Anya:
Hell's Bells (S6)
Selfless (S7)

But you know, really, even bad Buffy episodes will have something brilliant.
posted by pippin at 9:30 PM on January 18, 2010

Season 1: 'Welcome To The Hellmouth' (ep 1: especially if you're new to Buffy), 'Angel' (ep 7: sets up the Angel backstory), 'The Puppet Show' (ep 9: I just like this episode)
Season 2: Hmm... 'Innocence; (ep. 14: more in the Angel/Angelus storyline), 'Phases' (ep. 15: if you're an Oz fan), 'Becoming' (eps. 21 and 22: essential to the entire show)

[I've got to say.. It becomes harder to choose essential episodes by the second season (and onwards). If I'm just choosing favorites, that's one thing, but if I'm choosing core episodes needed to understand the entire mythos, it's much more difficult. Too many of them are essential, in that sense. You know, it really depends on which characters' stories you want to follow. If you're a Spike fan, I'd suggest different episodes than I would if you want to trace, say, Angel or Willow, etc.]

Season 3: At least 'Graduation Day' (eps. 21 and 22), but you'd need earlier season 3 episodes to understand what's happening there.
Season 4: -- THE COLLEGE YEARS -- 'The Initiative' (ep. 7: intro to the Iniative storyline and a starting point to Spike's relationship with Buffy), 'Hush' (ep. 10: THE best Buffy episode EVER. PERIOD.)
Season 5: 'Fool For Love' (ep. 7), 'The Body' (ep. 16), 'The Gift' (ep. 22)
Season 6: 'Bargaining' (eps. 1 and 2: Buffy coming back from the dead), 'Once More, With Feeling' (ep. 7), 'Tabula Rasa' (ep. 8)
posted by Mael Oui at 11:15 PM on January 18, 2010

I know it doesn't seem to rank with most Whedonites and general Buffy-lovers, but the season one finale Prophecy Girl is one of my favourites.

I've used Buffy's 'I don't want to die' monologue to fair effect in showing why I think SMG can act her ass off when she chooses.

(And..don't judge me!...I also love Beer Bad. Possibly the most reviled Buffy episode ever, but I can't help it; it's delicious, silly fun. And SMG plays campy cavewoman adorably.)
posted by pseudonymph at 5:27 AM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh man.

I mean, I can understand why you're all recommending "The Body", but that's the *only* episode of Buffy I've never sat down to watch properly, and I never will. I mean, I tried, but I had to fast forward to the end. It was way too much of a trigger for me.

For me, I like the episodes that have a strong arc to them. So season 2, from when Angelus comes out etc.

I also love the musical episode - but again, that works better if you have some sort of context for the episode, and have a good grounding in what the characters are feeling when they start singing. (the bit with the mustard is my favourite ever Buffy moment).
posted by jonathanstrange at 5:38 AM on January 19, 2010

My fifteen favorite episodes, chronologically:

Season 1:
The Pack -- This is where the show really hits its stride and figures out what it's going to be. It even has some genuinely creepy moments, which is rare in the first season.

Season 2:
Halloween -- Good fun, with almost every character getting at least one funny moment.

Passion -- A fantastic episode, and a really powerful moment from Anthony Stewart Head.

Becoming -- This is probably the Platonic ideal of a Buffy episode, and despite a few filler scenes, it packs a serious dramatic punch.

Season 3:

Band Candy -- Sure, it's a cutesy episode, but it's hilarious, especially for giving the adult cast members something to do. Armin Shimmerman!

The Zeppo -- Very much a one-off, but an enjoyable one. I always enjoy watching the show parody itself, and it never does it better than in this episode.

Doppelgangland -- Alyson Hannigan's a terrific comic actress, and she knocks it out of the park in this one.

The Prom -- The scene toward the end where Jonathan gives Buffy a Class Protector award is my favorite moment of the series, hands down. The entire emotional arc of the show leads to that bit.

Graduation Day -- A soaring climax to the gang's high school years. This is by far the most emotionally satisfying finale, in my opinion, helped a lot by the Mayor being a fantastic villain. Great stuff.

Season 4:

Hush -- Probably the artistic high point of the series, other than The Body. This is the episode I'd show someone I was trying to convince that the show was worth watching.

Who Are You? -- This is worth it just to see Sarah Michelle Gellar's eerie performance as Eliza Dushku.

Superstar -- Another episode where the show deconstructs itself, to great comic effect.

Season 5:

Fool For Love -- A much better than average episode that fleshes out Spike and Buffy's relationship nicely. (It's much more effective when paired with "Darla," its companion episode from the Angel series.)

The Body -- Powerful, powerful stuff. Emma Caulfield's monologue about not understanding death breaks my heart every single time.

Season 6:

Once More, With Feeling -- I guess. I've never really gotten the love for this episode, but it's okay. I know that some fans think it's an ideal one to introduce people to the show with, but it's really the last one I'd use for that purpose. It seriously turned me off as a non-fan, and it took me several more years to come back and realize the show was brilliant.

Nothing from Season 7, because that totally didn't happen.
posted by EarBucket at 8:47 AM on January 19, 2010

Response by poster: Here's my compiled list, which is basically any episode anyone mentioned by name, weighing in at a tidy 60 hours of TV. Any must-haves you'd add before I start Netflixin'?

Season 1: Welcome to Hellmouth, Teacher's Pet, The Pack, Angel, Puppet Show, Out of Mind Out of Sight, Prophecy Girl

Season 2: School Hard, Halloween, What's My Line? pts 1 & 2, Surprise, Innocence, Phases, Bewitched Bothered & Bewildered, Passion, Killed by Death, Becoming pts 1 & 2

Season 3: Beauty & the Beasts, Homecoming, Band Candy, Lover's Walk, The Wish, Amends, Gingerbread, Helpless, The Zeppo, Bad Girls, Dopplegangland, Earshot, The Prom, Graduation Day pts 1 & 2

Season 4: Fear Itself, Beer Bad, Wild at Heart, The Initiative, Pangs, Something Blue, Hush, A New Man, This Year's Girl, Who Are You, Superstar, Where the Wild Things Are, New Moon Rising, The Yoko Factor, Restless

Season 5: Most or all of season 5

Season 6: Bargaining pts 1 & 2, Life Serial, Once More with Feeling, Tabstronga Rasa, Smashed, Wrecked, Gone, Doublemeat Palace, Older & Far Away, Hell's Bells,Normal Again, Him, Entropy, Seeing Red, Villains, Two to Go, Grave

Season 7: Same Time Same Place, Selfless, Him, Conversations with Dead People, Showtime, The Killer in Me, Storyteller, Chosen
posted by sonofslim at 1:49 PM on January 19, 2010 [4 favorites]

If I were going to recommend watching any season straight through it would be season 3.

I would add "Living Conditions" to season 4, cause that episode is hilarious.

I always thought season 5 was the worst season and when I re-watch the series (something I almost hate to admit that I've done several times) I always get bogged down in season 5. I would only watch Buffy vs Dracula, The Replacement, Fool for Love, Into the Woods, Triangle, The Body, Forever, Intervention, The Gift.

To season 7 I would add Lies my Parents Told Me, maybe Dirty Girls (just cause everything falls to hell), and End of Days
posted by ephemerista at 6:11 PM on January 19, 2010

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