The Best Episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Part 2

07/21/2012

Episodes 21-25

For 26-30 click “here”

25. Consequences
Season 3, Episode 15
Writer: Marti Noxon
Director: Michael Gershman

Consequences isn’t a great standalone episode of Buffy, but it is an exquisite piece of a larger puzzle that showcases many of the qualities that make Buffy great. It begins where Bad Girls ended, in the immediate aftermath of Faith’s accidental murder of the deputy mayor. And it does exactly what a story should do when following up such a shocking moment: it lets things simmer for a while. It maddeningly goes through the motions with all the regulars at all the typical haunts. Buffy has a conversation with her mother in her bedroom. She has a meeting with the Scoobies in the library. She tries to talk to Willow in the high school cafeteria. But something is seething around all this normalcy and she feels like she’s drowning in it (a concept handled in a very literal dream sequence). Faith seems to be having an easier time, at least pretending that everything is okay. She boldly tells Buffy things like, “I don’t care!” and “We are better than everyone else!” which Buffy has the presence of mind to realize are actually pleas for help. Too bad Faith doesn’t have that same presence of mind. She’s already been established as a loose cannon (rocking the boat?) so this spark, when considered with her, you know, being a superhero, is kind of a scary prospect.

And so this episode achieves what too many movies and TV shows have tried unsuccessfully before, taking at least a somewhat sympathetic character and turning her into a “villain”. But it’s more than that. Faith is a mirror to Buffy, and so Buffy’s guilt reflects the overpowering emotions Faith is trying to repress; just like Faith’s demise reflects possible negative ways Buffy could have dealt with her guilt from the events of season 2. And that’s ultimately why this story works: it doesn’t have to rush the complex developments for either character because essentially it has two characters conveying two sides of one arc. That’s just fundamental economic storytelling at work — making every character a reflection of the others — but season 3 of Buffy is a particularly economic masterpiece. Joss has some very ambitious aims for his show, including painting a complete existentialist view of the world with protagonist who creates her own reality that is meaningful, fulfilling, and self-sustaining. In order to do that his writers have to practically hit every moment right on the head. Consequences is an example of one very difficult moment that they absolutely nailed.

BEST LINE
Mayor (running his shredder): “It’s not working.”
Mr. Trick: “Is it supposed to do something? Beside shred?”
Mayor: “It’s supposed to cheer me up! Usually using a shredder gives me a lift. It’s fun.
Mr. Trick: “And today you’re not getting the ya ya’s.”
Mayor: “No. It will take more than this to turn my frown upside down.”

24. School Hard

Season 2, Episode 3
Writer: Joss Whedon/David Greenwalt
Director: John T. Kretchmer

In season 1 of Buffy the line between hero and villain was simple. Humans have souls and are therefore good. Vampires and other demons don’t, hence they are bad. Every now and again a sympathetic high schooler might cross over to the dark side, but typically there was some kind of monster or enchantment behind it and they were either not in control of their actions or very clearly “in the wrong.” But then season 2 introduces additional layers of complexity and ambiguity, and quickly another conflict emerges: dogma and ritual vs. emotions and instinct. In Buffy’s world this means Principal Snyder and his stringent idea of what a “good student” is (something certainly not Buffy) against Buffy’s willingness to buck rules and authority when she feels it’s for the greater good.

But that division also exists on the “evil” side of things, something we discover for the first time in School Hard. His name is Spike (played brilliantly by James Marsters) and over the course of the next five seasons he would effectively steal the entire show. Even in his debut episode he’s positioned as the Buffy of the vampires: maintaining ties to the world in the form of his girlfriend Drusilla, spurning rigid vampire traditions like “chanting with the fellas” and attacking on “the festival of Saint Viges,” and refusing to offer his life to The Anointed One after a strategic failure. Other vampires brag about attending the crucifixion. Spike brags about feeding on a flower person at Woodstock and getting high. So right off the bat Spike is kind of the hero of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. More even than Buffy, he represents Whedon’s worldview of rejecting pre-determined, dogmatic ideologies and charting one’s own path through love and feeling. Of course, he’s also a bloodthirsty killer intent on destroying the hero, so there’s that to consider as well. Anyway, this is Spike’s introduction, and his presence might have been the biggest leap in quality the show ever made. So it’s kind of a big deal.

BEST LINE
Spike (to Angel): “You can’t fool me! You were my sire man! You were my… my Yoda!”

23. Pangs

Season 4, Episode 8
Writer: Jane Espenson
Director: Michael Lange

At her best Jane Espenson challenges Joss Whedon for best comedic Buffy staff writer, and with Thanksgiving-centric Pangs she really outdoes herself. This episode prominently features Willow decrying Thanksgiving as “a celebration of slaughter” and then later has her beating a Native American spirit over the head screaming, “Why won’t you die!” It has Anya loudly talking about sex, which is always good (“Soon he’ll be sweating. I’m imagining having sex with him again,” “Imaginary Xander is quite the machine.”) It has Xander using, “You know, I think my syphilis is beginning to clear up,” as a come on. (Buffy: “And they say ‘romance is dead.’ Or maybe they just wish it.”) It has Spike wrapped in a blanket outside in the cold, looking in on his idea of a perfect Thanksgiving where a traditional-looking vampire family devours a screaming captive on a table. It’s so consistently hilarious that it almost cancels out an egregiously unnecessary and annoying Angel cameo. Almost.

It’s also an interesting episode thematically. Season 4 was always about moral ambiguity, and this entry — which addresses the mistreatment of Native Americans — kind of takes that to its most intense conclusion; albeit with lots of jokes and a guy who turns into a bear. Willow thinks Thanksgiving is a sham for this reason (“but it’s a sham with yams! A yam sham!” protests Buffy who really wants a Thanksgiving with the gang, to which Willow replies, “You’re not gonna jokey rhyme your way out of this one!”) When a Chumash vengeance spirit arises and starts killing people, the gang — including Spike whose chip implant forces him to rely on the Scoobies for feeding — argues about what course to take. This is a lot of talk for one episode, but it’s essential that the characters discuss these issues at some point. And it helps that the dialog is just wonderful. For instance…

BEST LINES
Willow: “You know, I don’t think you want to help! I think you just want to slay the demon and go ‘la la la la la’”
——————–

Xander: “He’s a vengeance demon! You don’t talk to vengeance demons! You kill them!”
Anya: “I didn’t know you felt that way.”

——————–

Giles: “Well let’s give him some land. I’m sure that will clear everything right up.”
Buffy: “Giles, the sarcasm accomplishes nothing.
Giles: “Well, it was sort of an end in itself.”

——————–

Spike: “Oh someone put a stake in me!”

22. The Replacement

Season 5, Episode 20
Writer: Jane Espenson
Director: James A. Conter

If I had one complaint about Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a whole, it would be that there are far too few Xander-centric episodes. Xander is one of the series’ most flexible and durable characters (like a good garbage bag). He can hold the weight of both the heaviest drama and the sharpest comedy (like a slightly more metaphorical good garbage bag) and The Replacement is specifically plotted to remind us why. The story begins like every good thing in Xander’s life: with something that’s really about Buffy. A demon called Toth (whose name Riley constantly confuses as a British insult for moron) creates some sort of magic staff that shoots out bolts of energy. True to form Xander gets in the way and absorbs the blow for his friend. The next day he wakes up, still in the dump (where he believes everyone left him) and when he returns to his apartment he finds someone downstairs who looks just like him. Clearly it must be some kind of “evil robot thing!” (or, Willow suggests, maybe “Toth” is a more logical answer).

Anyway, this new “demon robot” Xander seems to be a lot better at life than the real thing. He dresses well. Women seem to be into him. He has a good credit rating. And instead of getting fired from his construction job as Xander expected to, he gets promoted. Oh yeah, and he convinces Buffy and the gang to go out and look for the other Xander and kill him. Real Xander is pretty beat up by all this, and in a very touching moment with Willow he confesses, “I’m starting to feel like he’s doing everything better. Maybe I should just let him have it. Take my life please!” This is a sweet Willow/Xander moment (something else I feel the show doesn’t have nearly enough of) but it’s also a great moment of realization for Xander. Other Xander asks Anya to join him at the apartment he’s just bought and “real” Xander decides that’s the last straw. He can give up on himself, but he can’t give up on Anya. (“Really?” Willow asks, and if it were Arrested Development she’d add, “Her?”) So in true Xander form, we get an episode that is both hilarious and incredibly touching; and it has almost no significant bearing on any of the other characters’ lives.

BEST LINES
Xander: “Yeah, maybe it’s time to look for a new place. Something a little nicer. Buffy you’ve been to hell. They had one bedrooms, right?”

—————————-

Anya: “I mean what happens next in our lives? When do we get a car? And a boat? No wait, I don’t mean a boat. I mean a puppy. Or a child. I have a list somewhere.”
Xander 2.0: “There’s no hurry.”
Anya: “Yes there is! I’m dying!”
Shocked Xander face.
Anya: “I may have as few as fifty years left!”

———————-

Riley: “Psychologically this is fascinating. Doesn’t it make everyone wanna lock them in separate rooms and do experiments on them? …just me then.”

———————-

Willow: “What should we do if it doesn’t work?”
Xanders: “Kill us both Spock!”
Buffy: “They’re kind of the same now.”
Giles: “Yes, he’s clearly a bad influence on himself.”

21. Who Are You

Season 4, Episode 16
Writer and Director: Joss Whedon

Bringing Faith back might seem like an odd detour for Buffy season 4, especially considering her arrival completely derails the main plot for two episodes right after the big reveal of Adam the messianic Demo-Robo-Man. And then when it’s over it’s over. She’s just gone and her problems never really pay off in a larger way, story-wise; which seems pretty wasteful for a show I just praised for economy. But as the preceding two-parter The I in Team and Goodbye Iowa was the plot centerpieces this season, this two-part Faith saga is the thematic. In the preceding episode This Year’s Girl, Faith woke up from a coma and picked her life up exactly where she left it: with the whole kidnapping and killing people thing. At the end of that episode Buffy narrowly rescued her mother, but Faith used a device — left to her by the late Mayor — that enabled her to switch bodies with Buffy and take over her life instead.

And that’s when things get interesting. The second part was written and directed by Joss Whedon, and it’s clear why he’d want his own personal touch on this chapter. Sarah Michelle Gellar is playing Faith now and Eliza Dushku is playing Buffy. They both capture each other’s mannerisms quite well, just like Joss brilliantly implies that they’re slowly turning into each other by spending a day in the other’s shoes. Faith gives up a flight out of the country (that she bought with Joyce’s credit card) to save churchgoers attacked by vampires, while Buffy beats several members of the Council (even threatening to kill one of them) and then goes on the lam. There’s a particularly great scene where Faith (inside Buffy) does a Buffy impersonation in the mirror. For a while she repeats the line, “You can’t do that because it’s wrong!” with varying degrees of snark. I just about lost it when she repeated the line sincerely later.

Additionally this is quite a funny episode. Faith/Buffy asks Riley how he responded to the church emergency so fast. “I didn’t. I was just late to church.” Giles distracts a police officer with a faux protest, yelling, “We have family in there! Babies… tiny, tiny babies!” And it’s also particularly risque — the way only the showrunner is typically allowed to be. Faith/Buffy sexually mocks Spike, saying things like, “I’d ride you til your knees buckle,” and, “I’d squeeze you til you pop.” She also makes fun of Tara and Willow, saying, “So, Willow’s not driving stick anymore.” When she’s trying to mimic Buffy, she assumes the kind of things Buffy might say about her: like rejoicing that she could fall into the hands of “a big ol’ Bertha” in prison. Yikes! And she also sleeps with Riley to see what it’s like. Double yikes! It all culminates with a stunning moment of realization where Faith as Buffy attacks her own body (admittedly with Buffy inside) yelling, “You’re nothing! Disgusting, murderous bitch! You’re nothing! You’re disgusting!” Triple yikes.

BEST LINE
Spike: “You know why I really hate you Summers?”
Faith (as Buffy): “Because I’m a stuck-up tight-ass with no sense of fun?”
Spike: “Well… yeah. That covers a lot of it.”
Faith (as Buffy): “Cause I can do anything I want, and instead I choose to pout and whine and feel the burden of Slayerness? I mean, I could be rich. I could be famous. I could have anything. Anyone. Even you, Spike. I could ride you at a gallop until your legs buckled and your eyes rolled up. I’ve got muscles you’ve never even dreamed of. I could squeeze you until you popped like warm champagne, and you would beg me to hurt you just a little bit more. And you know why I don’t? (pauses) Because it’s wrong.”

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