Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Buffy: The Honorable Mentions

So, as I mentioned in my post last Friday about Joss Whedon, I’ve been thinking a lot about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and, of course, watching some of my favorite episodes. As I’ve been doing so, it seems inevitable that I write a post about my top ten favorite episodes—and that’ll come soon enough.

But, for today, I want to talk about some episodes that almost made it into my Top Ten. Some Honorable Mentions, if you will.* I’ll talk about these episodes in chronological order, because I don’t feel like ranking them. Ranking them is for the big leagues—ranking them is for tomorrow. Also, I won’t go into as much detail with these episodes as I will tomorrow, I just figured they were worth mentioning. Honorably. Oh, and SPOILERS FOLLOW, people, you have been warned. So, without further ado…

Season 1, Episode 10: “Nightmares” takes the “High School as Hell” metaphor to a literal level and plays perfectly on the fears of all the main characters (and some not-so-main characters, too). It’s also one of the first great—and successful, for that matter—conceptual/“grand metaphor” episodes**, where a young boy is tormented by, and finally confronts (with the Scoobies’ help), his abuser.

"Bored Now," Part 1...
Season 3, Episodes 9 and 16: “The Wish”/“Doppelgangland” - I kind of combined two relatively separate episodes (Which is kind of cheating I guess, but who cares! It’s Buffy!) because of one common thread: Vamp Willow. She is delightful, and we see far too little of her—and she’s such a great foil to Willow’s actual character at this stage in the series, not to mention the foreshadowing of (1) Willow’s sexuality and (2) her dark turn at the end of Season 6.

Season 3, Episode 13: “The Zeppo” is a special episode in more ways than one, but mainly because it tells the story from Xander’s perspective. He goes off on his own adventure while Buffy and co. fight what would normally be classified as a season-finale-level apocalypse in the background. Seeing things from Xander’s point of view is refreshing, fun, and, well, a bit sad, too. Because he’s Xander.

Buffy Summers: Class Protector
Season 3, Episode 20: “The Prom” - This episode has some solid qualities, but it’s really only on this list for one reason: Buffy getting the “Class Protector” award. Buffy does what she does—she saves the world, a lot—with little to no recognition throughout the series, but this is one of the very few exceptions. That scene makes me feel all the feels and then some. 

Season 3, Episodes 21 & 22: “Graduation Day, Parts 1 and 2” - All of Buffy’s season finales have their qualities, some more than others, but the Graduation Day episodes very nearly made it into my Top Ten list because of Faith alone. Well, Faith and the Mayor. And all the emotions of graduation, moving on, defying the Watcher’s Counsel, the climactic Buffy vs. Faith fight scene, and Angel leaving. Oh, and Anya! So great.

"Because it's wrong."
Season 4, Episodes 15 & 16: “This Year’s Girl”/“Who Are You” - These episodes have more Faith (cue “Faith” by George Michael), and Faith is a reason to put them on the list in and of herself, but Eliza Dushku’s portrayal of Buffy and SMG’s portrayal of Faith in “Who Are You” are stellar and make this two-parter really phenomenal.

Season 5, Episode 7: “Fool for Love” - In “Fool for Love,” we get our first extended glimpse into Spike’s past, and it’s wonderful. Spike goes from almost a throwaway villain at the beginning of Season 3 to becoming one of the most developed characters in the series by the end of Season 7, and seeing him slay the two Slayers provides a lot of insight into his character, especially considering his growing crush on Buffy. We also discover the origin of Spike’s original title, “William the Bloody.” Definitely a turning point in the series for Spike.

...and "Bored Now," Part 2...
The Last 5 Episodes of Season 6: “Entropy,” “Seeing Red,” “Villains,” “Two to Go,” and “Grave” - Okay, I know, I’m really cheating now, but this whole sequence is just…crazy. From Tara’s death to Willow’s murderous rampage (little taciturn shy Willow that Whedon endangered all the time in the early seasons because she was so helpless!), from Giles’ return to Xander Saves Us All, oh, and that little scene between Spike and Buffy that sent an almost-redeemable Spike to a point almost-beyond redemption, these episodes were truly intense. And, of course, who could forget those immortal words: “Bored now.”

Season 7, Episode 7: “Conversations with Dead People” - I think Season 7 rarely gets the credit it’s due, and “Conversations with Dead People” in and of itself is due a lot of credit. The episode is structured well, but the titular “conversations” and how they contrast are the true genius of the thing. Between Buffy’s entertaining—and slightly sad—conversation with Holden, Willow’s foreshadowy and disturbing chat with Tara/Cassie/The First, or Dawn’s horrifying encounter with “Joyce,” there’s a lot to love, and love to hate, about this episode.

A momma's boy at heart.
Season 7, Episode 17: “Lies My Parents Told Me” - “Lies” is sort of Spike’s culminating episode. I’m not a fan of Spike through most of Season 7, but he finally comes back into his own in this episode, and it’s all worth it. Spike has many issues, to be sure, but he has many qualities, too. IMHO, he easily edges Angel out of the “tortured hero” spot. No contest. And who can forget that song…

So there’s the Honorable Mentions, folks! Tomorrow I’ll dive into my top ten Buffy episodes of all time, and on Friday I’ll share some overall thoughts I have about the series. 

* I know what you’re saying—if I talk about ten “honorable mention” episodes, and then do my top ten, aren’t I basically just giving you my top twenty episodes of Buffy?
Yes.  The answer to that is yes.

** While “High School as Hell” is the metaphor that weaves itself throughout the first three seasons, there are some really fantastic episodes that take specific high school “horrors” and turn them into monsters/demons/anything scary. And as the series progresses, these metaphors persist (i.e. the abusive stepfather as robot, cyber boyfriend is actually a cyber demon, etc.). I’ll mention a few of these episodes tomorrow, but “Nightmares” was one of the first successful ones.

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