Dead Man’s Party
Faith, Hope & Trick
Beauty and the Beasts
Graduation Day: Part 1
Graduation Day: Part 2
After the profound success of last year, Buffy The Vampire Slayer returns for its third season full of entertaining episodes, further character development and another gripping plot line. New slayer Faith (Eliza Dushku) adds another dimension to the show and her dynamic alongside Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) helps elevate this season and drive the show in new and interesting directions. Whilst the finale doesn’t quite reach the same lofty heights achieved last year, the third season is still a decent one and solidifies Buffy’s place among the great shows out there.
The story this year follows a much more episodic monster-of-the-week formula compared to last year. This structure works well for the most part and helps to drive the character relationships a lot more, especially the interesting dynamic between Faith and Buffy as well with Wesley (Alexis Denisof) driving a wedge berween Giles and Buffy as her new watcher. The episode content is good and as well as exploring the relationships between characters, there’s some good episodes involving werewolves, witches, vampires and all manner of demon. Although the overarching story isn’t quite as strong as it was last year, with The Mayor manipulating Faith into working with him the highlight, the individual episodes are arguably stronger.
Once again, the focus this year is on the characters and it’s here that Buffy shines. The new characters fit well in the universe and the various characters inhabiting Sunnydale do a good job of furthering their personas. Joyce (Kristine Sutherland) returns as Buffy’s concerned mother and her rally against the supernatural in Sunnydale is a realistic depiction of what a concerned mother would do in that situation. Oz (Seth Green) features more prominently this year and Angel (David Boreanaz) returns, playing a key role in the conflict between Faith and Buffy, as well as the tense final two parter. Whilst the finale is another good one this year, it doesn’t quite reach the same level achieved from last year’s incredible ending.
Although the story line this year in Buffy might not be as strong as last year, the third season does a great job of developing the characters whilst continuing to push the show in new and interesting directions. Faith is a great inclusion to the hellmouth this year and her dynamic with Buffy and Angel is far and away the most compelling part of this season. Buffy The Vampire Slayer continues its trend as a great supernatural show and although the third season might not be as strong as last year’s effort, its still a great showing and one that makes for a really entertaining watch.
Buffy: 10 Best Episodes Of Season 3, Ranked (According To IMDb)
Season three of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, starts with Buffy not in Sunnydale. At the end of season two, Buffy gets into a fight with her mom and her mom kicks her out of the house. Once Buffy has sent Angel to hell and saved the world, she hops the first bus out of Sunnydale and finds herself in L.A., working as a waitress in a diner.
RELATED: Buffy The Vampire Slayer: 10 Hidden Details About The Summers' Home You Never Noticed
After months of being away from home and having to live on her own, Buffy knows the right thing to do is go back to Sunnydale, which she does. Once back, Buffy has a lot of catching up to do and relationships to mend. Everyone is relieved to see the slayer back in Sunnydale, but also angry with her for leaving in the first place. Season three focuses a lot of Buffy's relationships, both old and new, and these are the 10 best episodes of the season according to IMDb.
10 Band Candy (8.8)
This episode has a big cult following for it's quirky storyline and the scenes where Giles and Joyce make out. Principal Snyder has ordered the students of Sunnydale High to sell candy bars for the marching band's new uniforms.
Buffy, lacking school spirit, sells her candy to her mom and to Giles. Joyce and Giles eat the candy, as do most of the adults in Sunnydale, and they quickly all start acting like reckless teenagers. With Giles incapacitated, Buffy, Willow, and Xander must get to the bottom of what's going on and stop their parents from their destructive behavior.
9 Lovers Walk (8.8)
This episode, the eighth of the season, is full of lovers' quarrels and queries. Drusilla has left Spike and he is desperate to find a way back to her. Xander and Willow have started seeing each other behind the backs of Cordelia and Oz, whom they're dating, respectively. Buffy and Angel can't seem to stay away from one another.
RELATED: Buffy The Vampire Slayer: 5 Villains The Slayer Could Have Hooked Up With (& 5 That Would Never Work)
Spike kidnaps Willow and Xander, seeking Willow's help with a love spell that could get Drusilla back. Willow send Spike for supplies. Worried that they're going to die, Xander and Willow kiss, just as Cordelia and Oz walk in on them. Cordelia storms out, but falls through the stairs and impales herself on a piece of wood below.
8 Enemies (8.8)
Faith has officially crossed over to the dark side and is now helping the Mayor plan his "Ascension" on graduation day. In an effort to get to Buffy, Faith summons a dark sorcerer to take Angel's soul away. The sorcerer is a sham, but Faith doesn't know that, and Angel plays along to get more information out of Faith.
Angel and Faith capture Buffy and bring her back to Angel's lair. While there, Faith reveals all of the Mayor's plan and also fills Buffy in on her history and how she ended up where she is now. Angel reveals he still has his soul and Buffy and Faith fight, but neither one of the slayers is capable of killing the other one.
7 The Zeppo (8.8)
Xander starts to feel pretty left out halfway through the third season. It seems as everyone in the Scooby gang now serves a purpose and has some sort of fantastical powers, except for him. Buffy, of course, is the slayer, Willow is now a witch, Giles has always been the watcher, and Oz is a werewolf.
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After a particularly rough night, Buffy asks Xander to hang back from the patrolling because he's becoming a liability. Xander goes in search of something that could make him useful and stumbles across a classmate named Jack who is plotting something evil that Xander alone must stop.
6 Earshot 8.9
Buffy has a run-in with a couple of demons, and when she kills one, some of it's blood falls on her. The following day, her hand itches, and Giles assumes that she could have absorbed one of the demon's traits, which she does. Buffy now can read minds, which at first seems cool, but quickly becomes exhausting and not something Buffy wants to deal with.
This episode touches on some really scary and difficult issues surrounding high school, in a way that only a Joss Whedon show can address those sensitive topics. The episode ends happily enough with the gang safe and sound, as always.
5 The Prom (8.9)
Every high school girl looks forward to her senior prom, and Buffy is no different. Buffy's plans are quickly squashed when Angel breaks up with her before the dance. Prom plans for another student, Tucker Wells, have also been disappointing. Tucker trains beasts to attack people wearing formal clothing and plans to release the beasts at Sunnydale High on prom night.
RELATED: Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Angel's 10 Best Quotes
Of course, Buffy stops Tucker's plans and saves the dance. Not wanting to miss out on the fun, Buffy quickly changes and goes to prom, where she receives an award from her class for being "Class Protector". Angel shows up at the prom knowing how much it means to be Buffy and the two dance.
4 Graduation Day Part 1 (9.1)
Like it's previous season, the third season finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is also split into a two-part episode. There's an ominous feeling in the air as Buffy and her friends prepare for their graduation day and the Mayor's ascension. With Faith on the Mayor's side, Buffy is once again the only slayer who can save the world.
While discussing these issues and more with Angel, Faith shows up and shoots Angel with a poisonous arrow that will kill him, the only cure being the blood of a slayer. Buffy tries to get Faith's blood and successfully stabs her, but Faith flees so Buffy can't have her blood and the episode ends, leaving its audience with a lot of questions.
3 The Wish (9.2)
This is the first episode where the audience meets Anya. Anya is a vengeance demon, but that hasn't been discovered when she makes friends with Cordelia and gets Cordelia to make a vengeful wish because she is heartbroken after catching Xander and Willow together.
RELATED: Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The 5 Worst Things The Gang Did To Cordelia (& 5 Worst She Did To Them)
Cordelia decides that Sunnydale would have been much better if Buffy never moved there. Anya grants the wish and Sunnydale is quickly turned upside down. Most of Cordelia's friends are vampires, including Willow and Xander, who waste no time killing Cordelia.
2 Dopplegangland (9.3)
This is a pretty fun episode for the audience. And actress Alyson Hannigan, who plays Willow in the series, does an excellent job, not only playing her usual role, but also Willow's evil vampire alter ego.
Anya is once again to blame when she tries a spell to retrieve her amulet, but instead brings Vampire Willow into their current reality, casting a lot of confusion for Buffy and the entire Scooby gang. It's a last ditch effort by Anya to have her powers restored and when it doesn't work, Anya surrenders to the fact that she may be human forever.
1 Graduation Day Part 2 (9.3)
The second part of the season finale has a lot of questions to answer. Buffy forces Angel to drink her blood because he is still poisoned by Faith's arrow. Angel doesn't drain Buffy and rushes her to the hospital to get a blood transfusion. At the hospital, Faith is in a coma, and the Mayor is told Faith probably won't wake up, which only fuels the Mayor's rage.
After careful planning, the Scooby gang and the rest of their graduating class are ready for whatever the Mayor has planned. They defeat the Mayor and as Oz points out at the very end, have survived high school. Angel leaves Sunnydale once the Mayor is dead, and Buffy knows he's not coming back.
NEXT: Every Season Finale Of Buffy The Vampire Slayer & Angel, Ranked
NextThe Simpsons' 10 Best Parodies Of Popular Video GamesAbout The Author
Mel Hall is a writer, blogger, and lover of all things film, television, and theater. When Mel isn't in a theater watching the latest blockbuster or binging the newest hit streaming series from the comfort of their own home, they can be found reading a good book, knowing Hollywood will eventually and inevitably turn into a film or a limited series.
Buffy returns from the big city to find her friends have been battling the forces of evil without her. As she struggles to regain her mother’s and her friends’ trust, a new slayer named Faith arrives in town, quickly winning over all of Buffy’s friends. But Faith’s arrival is just the beginning of new forces Buffy must face. For a few nights later she encounters Angel, who has somehow returned, feral and violent from the hellish demon dimension where Buffy had sent him. But the real demon Buffy must ultimately face is already on this side of the portal, preparing a special graduation day surprise for Sunnydale High.
Binging Buffy: Having faith in season 3
Well, I ended season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer wondering how Angel would get out of hell, but I never imagined the answer would be: He'll fall out of the sky...naked. Thank you, writers!
Season 3 is all about senior year, and for the most part, it worked for me. Much like season 2, the writing felt sharp and the group dynamic was solid. The season-long arc didn't quite have the power/intrigue of season 2, which is why season 2 is still my favorite at this point, but season 1 remains the weakest.
The biggest reason season 3 doesn't soar into the front place for me is that nearly every story had a drawback. First of all, I spent the start of the season frustrated with all of Buffy's friends because I don't think she got nearly enough credit for the fact that she KILLED her boyfriend to save everyone. I know they were upset that she ran away, but come on, people! (I realize they didn't know the whole Angel story at the start, but regardless, I never felt like anyone really understood the weight of that situation.)
But speaking of stories with drawbacks, the introduction of Faith was fun at first, but I quickly grew tired of her. And once she went bad? I was over it. I get the appeal of "what happens when a slayer goes bad" and why that sounds interesting, I just don't think it ... was? Maybe the problem was that I was never a huge fan of Faith, because no part of me was sad when she turned evil. (Although I did start to miss watching her and Buffy practice their synchronized slaying.)
Then there was the Xander-Willow romance, which I'll be honest, I was into at first! Because the first two seasons had spent so much time harping on just how much Willow loved Xander, it felt like it had to come to fruition at some point. And yet, after all that build up, they finally kiss and then just stop when their significant others catch them? The problem with that is that it made it seem like they were ONLY kissing because of the sneaking around aspect of it all, which cheapened it entirely and also made them seem horrible? It felt like the writers just decided they wanted a way out of that story and didn't really care how it happened.
Overall, I will say the larger downfall of season 3 — which again, I liked — was the villain. Evil mayor dude just wasn't as compelling as past villains, and I never really felt like he was a legitimate threat. I didn't dislike him, but I'm not going to remember him by the end of this binge.
Larger arcs aside, there's one smaller thing I'd like to talk about. What might that be, you ask? Oh, just how this show had Buffy and Angel, the lovebirds who already can't have sex lest he lose his soul, go on a date to WATCH A PORNO!!! For a show that loves monsters and torture, this is by far the cruelest thing it's done yet. I mean, accidentally going to see a porno isn't a great date for ANYONE, but for these two it's downright mean. Also, WHAT. Who pitched that?
Now that that's out of my system, as always, some superlatives:
Joyce's greatest moment: "When did you die? You never told me you died!"
Xander's greatest moment: "We're doing crime here. You don't sneak up during crime!"
Episode I'd least like to live inside: Anything with that creepy Balthazar, A.K.A Jabba the Hutt 2.
Best fight scene: Buffy kicking some serious butt while in hell in the premiere.
Favorite episode: The finale. I'm a sucker for everyone coming together to save the day, not to mention the fact that ANOTHER principal was eaten. (It's a good thing they blew up the school, or else they would've hired someone new.)
Alright, I'm off to see how Angel season 1 and Buffy season 4 pair together. Fingers crossed for no more pornos.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Season 3 buffy
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (season 3)
1998-1999 season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Season of television series
The third season of the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered on September 29, 1998 on The WB and episode 22, the second of the two part season finale, aired on July 13, 1999. However, episode 18 "Earshot" did not air until September 21, 1999, shortly before the season 4 premiere. The show maintained its previous time slot, airing Tuesdays at 8:00 pm ET. "Earshot" and "Graduation Day, Part Two", were delayed in the wake of the Columbine High School massacre because of their content.
After attempting to start a new life in Los Angeles, Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) returns to Sunnydale in season three, and is reunited with her friends and her mother. She is no longer a criminal suspect, but Principal Snyder, who took vindictive pleasure in expelling Buffy, refuses to reinstate her until he is told down by Giles. Angel (David Boreanaz) is resurrected mysteriously by the unseen Powers That Be. While Buffy is happy to have Angel back, he seems to have lost much of his sanity in Hell. Buffy helps Angel recover but, having seen Angel's demonic side, Buffy's friends distrust him until he saves them from a monster.
Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) is fired from the Watchers' Council because he has developed a "father's love" for Buffy, and towards the end of the season Buffy announces that she will also no longer work for the Council. Early in the season she is confronted with an unstable Slayer, Faith (Eliza Dushku), who was activated after Kendra's death near the end of season two.
Angel, after getting his soul back, is once again tormented by his guilt and personally by an entity called the First Evil, who takes credits of bringing Angel back for wicked intents and goads him into attempting suicide. Though Buffy is unable to prevent Angel from killing himself, the Powers That Be intervene and convince Angel that he has a greater purpose.
Although the First is still out there, the antagonist of the season is shown to be the affable Mayor Richard Wilkins (Harry Groener), who is near completion of his plan to "ascend" to become a giant snake-like demon – having already gained immortality through a Faustian bargain with demons when he founded Sunnydale a century ago. The final step is to be a massacre of students on Sunnydale High's graduation day.
Although Faith works with Buffy at first, after accidentally killing a human, Faith becomes irrational and sides with Mayor Wilkins, whose charismatic behavior influences Faith's dark side. She helps Wilkins in his plan, and eventually she poisons Angel. The only antidote for the poison is the blood of a Slayer, so Buffy tries to grab Faith to feed her to Angel. Faith, though severely wounded, jumps from her roof onto a passing truck, out of Buffy's reach. Buffy is forced to let Angel drink from her, putting her in a brief coma. Wilkins, who had a fatherly affection for Faith, gets angry and attempts to suffocate her, but is stopped by Angel. During her time in a coma, Buffy shares a dream with Faith where they make peace.
At the climax of the season, Wilkins speaks at the graduation ceremony, as the time for his transformation has come and he finally morphs into the demon Olvikan. He eats Principal Snyder and kills several others; but Buffy and her friends have organized the graduating students to fight back against Wilkins and his vampires. (A solar eclipse allows Angel and other vampires to be out in daytime.) Buffy confronts the demon, taunting him about Faith. She lures the provoked Mayor into the library which has many explosives. The explosion destroys Wilkins in his Olvikan form, as well as the school.
Meanwhile, Angel becomes convinced that Buffy's love for him will be bad for her in the long run. After the battle with the Mayor, he leaves Sunnydale, leading to the spin-off series in Los Angeles. Cordelia also leaves Sunnydale at the end of the season in order to attempt an acting career in L.A., though later becomes a major character on the spin-off.
Cast and characters
Series creator Joss Whedon served as executive producer and showrunner, and wrote and directed five episodes of the season including the season premiere and the two-part finale. David Greenwalt was promoted to executive producer, and wrote two episodes (including directing one of them) and directed another. Marti Noxon was promoted to co-producer and wrote five episodes. New additions in the third season included Jane Espenson, who served as executive story editor and wrote three episodes, including an episode originally pitched from Thania St. John (who receives story credit). Douglas Petrie joined as a story editor, later promoted to executive story editor midseason and wrote three episodes. Dan Vebber joined as a staff writer and wrote two episodes. David Fury returned and freelanced two episodes. This was the last season for Greenwalt as a writer/director on the series, as he departed to be the showrunner for the spin off series Angel. He would serve as consulting producer until the end of the sixth season.
Joss Whedon directed the highest number of episodes in the third season, directing five episodes. James A. Contner and James Whitmore, Jr. each directed four.
See also: List of Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes
Rotten Tomatoes reported an approval rating of 100% with an average score of 8.75/10, based on 12 reviews. The website's critics consensus reads, "Season three perfects the show's winning formula to create an addictive and satisfying viewing experience, episode after episode."
The series received two Primetime Emmy Award nominations, for Outstanding Makeup for a Series for "The Zeppo" and Outstanding Sound Editing for a Series for "Lovers Walk".
The third season averaged 5.3 million viewers, which was its highest rated season.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Third Season was released on DVD in region 1 on January 7, 2003 and in region 2 on October 29, 2001. The DVD includes all 22 episodes on 6 discs presented in full frame 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Special features on the DVD include four commentary tracks—"Helpless" by writer David Fury, "Bad Girls" by writer Doug Petrie, "Consequences" by director Michael Gershman and "Earshot" by writer Jane Espenson. Writers Joss Whedon, Jane Espenson, and Doug Petrie discuss the episodes "Bad Girls", "Consequences", "Enemies", "Earshot", and "Graduation Day, Part One" in interviews. Scripts for "Faith, Hope & Trick", "Band Candy", "Lovers Walk", and "The Wish" are included. Featurettes include, "Special Effects", "Wardrobe", "Weapons", which all detail the title subjects; "Buffy Speak", which details the language and dialogue used on the show; and "Season 3 Overview", a 20-minute featurette where cast and crew members discuss the season. Also included are cast biographies and photo galleries.
- ^"School Daze". Entertainment Weekly. May 25, 1999. Retrieved August 3, 2010.
- ^Ruditis, Paul and Gallagher, Diana G. Angel: The Casefiles Vol. 2. p. 4.
- ^"A Brief History of Mutant Enemy". Whedon.info. May 24, 2004. Retrieved July 30, 2010.
- ^"National Nielsen Viewership (Sep. 28–Oct. 4)". The Los Angeles Times. October 7, 1998. Retrieved April 25, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^"National Nielsen Viewership (Oct. 5-11)". The Los Angeles Times. October 14, 1998. Retrieved April 27, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^"National Nielsen Viewership (Oct. 12-18)". The Los Angeles Times. October 21, 1998. Retrieved April 27, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^"National Nielsen Viewership (Oct. 19-25)". The Los Angeles Times. October 28, 1998. Retrieved April 27, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^"National Nielsen Viewership (Nov. 2-8)". The Los Angeles Times. November 11, 1998. Retrieved April 28, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^"National Nielsen Viewership (Nov. 9-15)". The Los Angeles Times. November 18, 1998. Retrieved April 28, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^"National Nielsen Viewership (Nov. 16-22)". The Los Angeles Times. November 25, 1998. Retrieved April 28, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^"Broadcast & Cable Nielsens: Week Ending November 29, 1998". Ratings Ryan. April 22, 2020. Retrieved April 29, 2021.
- ^"National Nielsen Viewership (Dec. 7-13)". The Los Angeles Times. December 16, 1998. Retrieved April 29, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^"National Nielsen Viewership (Dec. 14-20)". The Los Angeles Times. December 24, 1998. Retrieved April 29, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^"National Nielsen Viewership (Jan. 11-17)". The Los Angeles Times. January 20, 1999. Retrieved April 29, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^"National Nielsen Viewership (Jan. 18-24)". The Los Angeles Times. January 27, 1999. Retrieved April 29, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^"National Nielsen Viewership (Jan. 25-31)". The Los Angeles Times. February 3, 1999. Retrieved April 29, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^"National Nielsen Viewership (Feb. 8-14)". The Los Angeles Times. February 18, 1999. Retrieved April 30, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^"National Nielsen Viewership (Feb. 15-21)". The Los Angeles Times. February 24, 1999. Retrieved May 1, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^"National Nielsen Viewership (Feb. 22-28)". The Los Angeles Times. March 3, 1999. Retrieved May 1, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^"National Nielsen Viewership (Mar. 15-21)". The Los Angeles Times. March 24, 1999. Retrieved May 1, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^"National Nielsen Viewership (Sep. 20–26)". The Los Angeles Times. September 29, 1999. Retrieved May 2, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^"National Nielsen Viewership (May. 3-9)". The Los Angeles Times. May 12, 1999. Retrieved May 2, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^"National Nielsen Viewership (May. 10-16)". The Los Angeles Times. May 19, 1999. Retrieved May 2, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^"National Nielsen Viewership (May. 17-23)". The Los Angeles Times. May 26, 1999. Retrieved May 2, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^"National Nielsen Viewership (Jul. 12-18)". The Los Angeles Times. July 21, 1999. Retrieved May 2, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
- ^"Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 3 (1998-1999)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
- ^""Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (1997) - Awards". IMDb. Retrieved August 2, 2010.
- ^"Final ratings for the 1998-1999 TV season". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on October 29, 2009. Retrieved August 2, 2010.
- ^"Buffy the Vampire Slayer - The Complete Third Season (1997)". Amazon.com. Retrieved July 29, 2010.
- ^"Buffy DVD and VHS". BBC. Retrieved July 31, 2010.
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Every Season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Ranked From Worst to Best
Sarah Michelle Gellar. Photo: 20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett
Buffy The Vampire Slayer turns 20 today, which is hard for me to believe mostly because I can’t remember a world or language without it — without Big Bads, “bitca,” Spuffy, kitten poker, and Giles’s grouchy muttering (“…Pillock!”). Joss Whedon’s tiny, mighty hero and her Scooby gang fought evil, and at the same time became our friends, feminist icons, and family members.
As a cultural force, Buffy’s place in the pantheon is assured. As a show qua show, it’s a very good, almost great monster serial whose ambitions never faltered even when its latter-season execution did big time. I rewatched the entire series a couple years ago, and if I had to pick one season of Buffy in all the world? Here’s how I’d rank all seven, from worst to best:
7. Season seven
You can violate the laws of the universe you created, using a raft of new characters in whom we have no investment (except perhaps in hoping they get killed off, Kennedy), or you can drag nine episodes’ worth of doing so over 22 hours of TV. Not both.
Season seven did both, and when it wasn’t providing a different — but always inadequate — explanation for the Potentials every week, it was overestimating our investment in Spike’s soul-reacquisition project, or belaboring the concept of the First Evil without seeming to understand that a literal fight against a figurative concept is not narratively workable.
The finale came as a relief; I didn’t like that Buffy’s unique “one girl in all the world” power, the foundation of the show, got transmuted into some kind of “Kumbaya” collective consciousness … but at least it was over.
DIG IT UP: “Conversations With Dead People,” “Touched,” “Chosen”
STAKE IT: The other 19 (and “Touched” isn’t that great either, to be honest)
6. Season six
I adore “Once More With Feeling” like it’s a person, but your opinion on season six comes down to your opinion on “Spuffy.” Mine is this: On paper, I like it. Great performances by James Marsters and Sarah Michelle Gellar and the game-recognize-game chemistry they had from the moment the characters met. Plus it makes sense that, in her circumstances, Spike is the only one Buffy can really talk to about having died or being the strongest one in the room.
But m’God does that shit drag on, and the reason it’s apparently so important to the show and Buffy is retrograde horseshit. She’s degrading herself because she’s Doing It with a guy she doesn’t love? In … the 21st century. What? Here again, the Buffy writers start with a complex dramatic conflict (a hero brought back from the dead, with unforeseen consequences) but don’t unpack it all the way. Throw in a different writing team from week to week, writing Buffy all over the place emotionally, and it’s a depressing bunch of episodes, and not in the way the show intended.
And then there’s the bungling of Willow’s “magi-crack” addiction. Buffy had laid years of groundwork for the idea that Willow, an underestimated “nerd” with a gift for schoolwork and coding, would find her calling in magic, then get carried away by new feelings of importance and power. Giles had called her on it. We’d seen her use her powers for petty vengeance as often as in season-finale showdowns. Why not give Willow responsibility for her behavior?
Until Tara is killed to set the climactic events of season six in motion, the Trio are less credible as Big Bads than they are tiresome — an undifferentiated grab bag of clichés about geek culture. And Buffy never really explains why stopping a baddie like Warren by any means necessary is such a blot on Willow’s cosmic ledger. “We don’t kill humans” is too pat an answer to yet another question the writers avoided addressing by putting Buffy in a chicken hat, and having Xander dump Anya at the altar for … reasons. Credit for thinking big, but most of season six is a big miss.
DIG IT UP: “Once More With Feeling,” “Two to Go,” “Life Serial”
STAKE IT: “Doublemeat Palace,” “Hell’s Bells,” “Gone”
5. Season five
I like Dawn more than most fans did, but season five occasionally suffered from its focus on her. It suffered more from not knowing what to do with Riley, then writing him off in highly irritating fashion. It’s completely credible that a Slayer might struggle in relationships with human men who feel threatened by her superior strength, and it’s completely disappointing that the show sells Buffy out with a lecture from Xander of all people about how she should go after Riley because she’s lucky any man loves her. Shut up, Xander. Your crush on Buffy ended, what, 20 minutes before this scene started?
The writers never stepped into that emotional tangle again, putting Buffy back with a vampire (or positioning her as a solitary samurai/social bumbler) for the remainder of the show’s run. If only they’d devoted their energies to the season’s Big Bad, and how to make captivating drama from a literal god. Buffy bit off way more than it could chew with Glory, revealing her true nature too early and then changing its minds from episode to episode on whether she was an omniscient brain-draining villain the Scoobs couldn’t stop, or just a shoe-obsessed brat who liked room service. It’s a waste of Clare Kramer at best.
Season five has its moments — a perfectly eerie and disorienting meditation on grief in “The Body”; the beautiful sadness of “The Gift,” as the gang contemplates Buffy’s broken body. Gellar is a pro throughout, and her Buffybot performance is delightful. The idea that good and justice don’t triumph every time is worthwhile; this treatment of it isn’t quite.
DIG IT UP: “The Body,” “Real Me,” “Intervention”
STAKE IT: “Into the Woods,” “Fool for Love,” “Checkpoint”
4. Season four
When it was good, it was very, very good. When it was “Beer Bad,” it was awful. Okay, the fourth season seldom sinks to outright putridity, and its failure to really catch fire is partly bad luck; Lindsay Crouse, the intended season-four Big Bad, and Seth Green both asked out of their contracts, leaving the writers room scrambling to reimagine FrankenRoboCop, Adam, as the season’s chief villain.
The season’s true villain may be the transition to college, one Buffy didn’t make much more gracefully than other shows that began their protagonists’ lives in high school, but BTVS: The College Years might have worked better if it had pushed the Initiative farther. The governmental-military take on handling matters supernatural had seasons and spinoffs’ worth of fodder in it; the show never took advantage, betting instead on a poorly made villain with a floppy drive over his nipple.
“Hush” is one of TV’s all-time spookiest hours, and “Restless” one of television’s better dream sequences. Willow’s voyage of sexual self-discovery might seem twee to us today, but represented a real departure back then. The body-switching episode works thanks to Gellar and Eliza Dushku. But season four never catches fire. And Veruca is so, so terrible.
DIG IT UP: “Hush,” “Restless,” “Pangs”
STAKE IT: “Beer Bad,” “Where the Wild Things Are”
3. Season one
Most shows take a few episodes, even an entire first season, to hit their strides, but not Buffy, whose truncated first season began with a remarkably confident two-part series premiere. Joss Whedon struck a smart, compelling balance between inverting tropes, like the helpless tiny blonde who meets her demise in a horror-movie alley; and leveraging stock high-school-drama characters and situations, like the bookish nerd and the dark stranger with a secret.
Buffy season one is typical in some ways (funny, well-acted, unable to write 45 full minutes of material for Xander-centric eps) and atypical in others, chiefly its length, though looking at it now, you wonder how a shorter time frame might have improved the meandering and retconned internal logic of later seasons. It has a couple clunkers, but the show’s crack timing and genuine fondness for its characters mean that if it debuted again in 2017, even in its 1997 form, I’d still get onboard for a second season.
DIG IT UP: “Welcome to the Hellmouth,” “The Puppet Show”
STAKE IT: “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date,” “I Robot, You Jane”
2. Season two
I can’t remember why I happened to watch the second-season finale, having never watched Buffy before — probably because it came on before Dawson’s Creek — but I immediately got sucked in, cried at the end despite having zero grounding in the show, and immediately phoned my bestie Juanito, a huge fan who taped every episode, to help me get caught up before season three.
Most Buffy fans have a story like this, one they can’t not tell when the subject comes up, one that usually derives from a season-two episode. So why didn’t I rank the season as the show’s best? You could easily make a case that it is. Certainly it’s the show at its most itself, as the fizzier first-season take on Buffy’s central metaphor — the “monsters” of high school and growing up, shifted to a darker and more mature perspective.
There’s fun in season two, too: Giles’s guitar-god past, the introduction of Oz (and the refreshingly direct way he just calls up his aunt to ask if his cousin Jordy is a werewolf now or what), sarcastic invisi-Willow in “Halloween,” and the campy pleasures of Wentworth Miller’s log-like “acting” in “Go Fish,” a crappish episode that gave viewers a much-needed break from the emotional havoc.
Season two is where Buffy best balances Buffy’s save-the-world destiny and just-fit-in daydreams without letting her descend into pouty self-pity. The cast does its best acting. (We’ll just leave Kendra’s “accent” aside.) It bags the biggest possible dramatic game — you give your virginity to your first true love and it literally turns him into a monster, so you have to kill him — with wry compassion. It’s just not my favorite.
DIG IT UP: “Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered,” “Ted,” “Surprise”
STAKE IT: “Inca Mummy Girl,” “Reptile Boy”
1. Season three
Is season two the better, more consistent season on paper? Probably. Is the imagining of Faith as the Slayer id, in opposition to Buffy’s superego, a little heavy-handed? Probably. Did my rewatch reveal that some historically beloved aspects of the third season — Mr. Trick, “Band Candy,” the ever-shifting explanation as to Angel’s whole … situation — didn’t stand the test of time? Sure did.
A germophobic Big Bad whose occasional lapses into human feeling make him all the more terrifying, the still-chilling alternate-reality episodes “Wish” and “Doppelgangland” that feature some of the most effective slo-mo in TV history, the Class Protector award in “The Prom,” and a final battle that not only facilitated Willow-Oz sex, but smithereened West Beverly High all add up to my favorite season.
Once I hit “Bad Girls,” it’s hard not to keep watching straight through to the season-three finale. The writing can’t always decide how it feels about, say, whether Faith is worth saving, or why sometimes it’s hilarious that vampires are single-minded murderers and other times it’s a threat to humanity. But you can’t deny the writing’s momentum, carefully built over three seasons, the payoffs of dozens of relationship moments, throwaway lines, and nightly patrols.
It’s also the last time the whole gang’s together, before spinoffs, contract kerfuffles, and Joss Whedon’s 42 other shows splintered Buffy’s focus. If the show had ended with “fire bad, tree pretty,” Giles’s paternal pride in his fierce charge, and Angel disappearing in an actual puff of smoke from the hulking crater over the Hellmouth …
But it didn’t. Buffy continued for another four seasons — with diminishing returns, it’s true, but with noble failures, too, and it never stopped trying to tell us something, about heroes’ journeys and the families we create for ourselves, about demons real and metaphorical, and the hope with which we fight them.
DIG IT UP: “The Wish,” “Doppelgangland,” “The Prom,” “Bad Girls”
STAKE IT: “Amends,” “The Zeppo,” “Gingerbread”
Sarah D. Bunting is the East Coast editor at Previously.TV.