“In every generation there is a Chosen One. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer.” And so begins the tale of Buffy Summers.
On March 10, 1997, the first episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” debuted on the WB Network. It was a revamped concept of the movie of the same name from 1992. No one really took it very seriously. But now, 20 years later, Buffy is a part of the cultural zeitgeist.
Creator Joss Whedon tapped into something that was needed at the time as he crafter the tales of the Slayer. The show was a comedy, a drama, a tragedy, horror and an action series all at once. But despite the fights with vampires and other monsters, the heart of the show was the interactions between the main characters. Over the course of seven seasons, the main characters grew and evolved along with its audience. They found love, lost loved ones and, of course, fought a LOT of monsters.
Each of the show’s seven seasons has its highlights and lowlights, but which seasons were the best and which were the worst? Let’s take a look.
7. The Worst: Season 1
The first 12 episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer laid the ground work for the mythology of the show and introduced us to the world of Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar), her friends Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Xander (Nicholas Brendan) and her trainer, the Watcher Giles (Anthony Stewart Head). But while the characters attending Sunnydale High School were all pretty much fully-formed when the show debuted, nothing about the first season is what I would call “good.” The show was finding its footing and working towards something great, but it wasn’t there yet in the first season. In fact, if not for being on the fledgling WB Network, it probably wouldn’t have survived into a second season.
The first season built to a showdown with The Master, a centuries-old Vampire who helped create the main Vampires featured on the show (The Master sired Darla, who sired Angel, who sired Drusilla, who sired Spike). There are hidden charms to the season, but the first season is easily explained away at the start of season 2 and, for the most part, isn’t necessary to watch when doing a series rewatch to understand what’s happening with the show. In fact, when I introduced my wife to the show, I skipped season 1 entirely and started with season 2.
“The Puppet Show” – The ninth episode of the season revolved around a living dummy named Sid trying to kill a demon that eats brains while the Scooby gang takes part in a talent show. The end scene alone makes the episode a near-classic.
“The Pack” – Xander and a group of school bullies get possessed by a pack of demonic hyenas. The concept is as ridiculous as the episode is awesome.
6. The Darkest Timeline: Season 6
The sixth season took the show off the WB Network and over to UPN and had to deal with the repercussions of the end of Season 5 (which we’ll discuss much later). The season kicked off with the gang doing what they could to bring Buffy back from the dead. You wouldn’t think you could get much darker than necromancy, but they found a way. The sixth season dealt with the complexities of life, and for someone who spent the last five years fighting vampires, werewolves and even gods, the day-to-day battles can be tougher than the ones against the monsters.
While the message was good, it unfortunately featured a darkness that seeped into the whole season brought everything down a lot and the characters felt nearly unrecognizable from their previous incarnations.
“Once More, With Feeling” – The seventh episode of the season almost single-handedly brings S6 up to sixth place and not dead last. The musical episode features several catchy tunes as the gang battles a dancing demon (no, something isn’t right there) who was summoned by Xander so the group “could have some fun.”
“Tabula Rasa” – The next episode was a bottle episode, where the gang gets hit with amnesia after Willow’s magic goes awry again. The episode had a few callbacks to the season 4 finale and gave glimpses of a return to form for the show, but it didn’t last.
5. The End: Season 7
After the dreariness of the sixth season, “Buffy” showrunners promised a return to form with the seventh and final season. The season’s big bad – the First Evil – even ended the season premiere with a declaration that they were going “back to the beginning.” And so they did. Buffy became a counselor at the rebuilt Sunnydale High School and the show had a renewed focus on empowerment and battling the supernatural forces of evil.
The season faltered, though, with some plot developments that seemed to be shoehorned in for the sake of drama, like the slayerettes doubting Buffy’s leadership, which led to some serious unnecessary melodrama.
“Him” – A magically-enhanced jacket gives a high school boy the power to attract all the women around him, including counselor Buffy, lesbian Willow and vengeance demon Anya, while Dawn watches the older women fight over the guy she digs. Xander and Spike try to get the jacket and stop the women from being crazy in one of the most fun episodes of the season.
“Conversations With Dead People” – Buffy, Dawn, Willow and Andrew all have those titular talks, as Buffy battles a vampire she used to go to high school with, Willow gets a warning from a dead student, Dawn talks to her mother and Andrew with Jonathan. How much of that was the First Evil manipulating the Scoobies? The best episode of the season, hands down.
“Lies My Parents Told Me” – As we head towards the end of the line, episode 17 gives us the backstory on Principal Robin Wood’s vendetta against Spike and the principal works with Giles to put Spike down as the First seems to be able to control him.
4. The College Year: Season 4
After graduating from high school, Buffy, Willow and Oz enroll in UC Sunnydale to find themselves while Xander and Giles search for their places in the world. Buffy learns to cope with Angel leaving for LA and joins The Initiative, a paramilitary group that fights monsters. Willow loses Oz but finds Tara and Xander’s relationship with Anya progresses. For Spike, he becomes a regular character on the show after the Initiative put a chip in his head to keep him from attacking humans.
While many fans of the show find the fourth season disappointing, with a big bad who was essentially Frankenstein, the season has a lot of great episodes that affected the mythology of the show. And the season finale, “Restless,” while not a traditional season-ending battle with the Big Bad, was a fun romp through the psyches of the core Scooby gang and gave some hints of what was to come.
“Pangs” – The Thanksgiving episode saw Buffy determined to make a nice dinner for her friends, while the ghosts of a Native American tribe looks for revenge. Spike is tied up, Xander gets the funny syphilis, the gang fights a bear (“UNDO IT! UNDO IT!”) and all the while Angel is watching and helping from the shadows.
“Hush” – One of the shows best episodes, with the majority of the cast silent for most of it. The Gentlemen come to Sunnydale looking for hearts and can only be defeated by the scream of a princess, so they take everyone’s voices away. The silent episode could have been a standalone, but instead it moved the story of the season forward, with Buffy and Riley discovering each other’s secrets.
“Superstar” – Perennial high school loser Jonathan casts a spell to make him cooler and everything is thrown off-kilter. Even the opening credits are changed to focus on Jonathan. The standalone episode saw everyone fawning over the former nerd until his plot for popularity was popped.
That’s four seasons down, with three to go. Come back tomorrow for the second half of the list, with my three favorite seasons of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Which season will get the top slot?