Buffy's Near Classics

Buffy the Vampire Slayer has a fair amount of episodes that are beloved by fans and consistently featured on "best episodes" lists. But what about those that usually don't make the cut? They are great, they deliver on several fronts, but they either miss the mark of excellence or, for some reason, are not that cherished by fans. I've given it some thought and picked one episode per season that fits those criteria; you can check which right after the jump.

Nightmares (Season 1, Episode 10)


Why it isn't a classic: the "season one quality" harms this episode more than it harms "Angel" or "Prophecy Girl," and the monster is certainly not a memorable one.

Why it's almost there: While "Angel" was the first great episode of the series, "Nightmares" is the first one to encompass the delicious blend of genres that Buffy would excel at. It has wit, drama, horror and comedy, all wrapped up in a clever story. "Nightmares" is so good that two season four episodes borrowed ideas from it – "Fear, Itself" and "Restless" – and fears first introduced here would later come true, such as Giles burying his slayer.

What's My Line (Season 2, Episodes 9 & 10)


Why it isn't a classic: it's just not up there with the many season two classics.

Why it's almost there: This was a hard one to pick, because season two has several classics. I kept wondering "is this a near classic? No, it's totally a classic." So I ended up picking the first two-parter that Buffy delivered, a kick-ass adventure that closed the first section of the season. There is so much goodness here: the introduction of criminally underused Kendra the Vampire Slayer, the beginning of Cordelia and Xander, Buffy and Spike preferring to fight one another. "What's My Line" is always fun to rewatch.

Lovers Walk (Season 3, Episode 8)


Why it isn't a classic: I was never into Xander and Willow's little affair, so the culmination of that story, while well done, doesn't register as series' finest for me. Also, in retrospect, the Buffy and Angel on-and-off deal is kind of boring.

Why it's almost there: it's a great episode that sees the return of the eternal fool for love Spike, who might be love's bitch but at least is man enough to admit it. His interaction with Willow is both hilarious and frightening, and his speech to Buffy and Angel is extremely on point. Oz and Cordelia's team up to rescue their lovers, only to find them smooching one another, produces some good melodrama, and even though I know she doesn't die, I'm always nervous when Cordelia passes out after being impaled. That's good TV right there.

Where the Wild Things Are (Season 4, Episode 18)


Kidding!

New Moon Rising (Season 4, Episode 19)


Why it isn't a classic: I can't quite put my finger at what holds this episode back, but I know there is something. Maybe it's just that the Initiative wasn't interesting anymore and this episode would have been better off without it? Don't know.

Why it's almost there: When this episode is on, it's ON. It's Buffy the Vampire Slayer melodrama at its finest. Willow and Oz' final scene is one of my favorites of the entire series. I mean, "I wrote you so many letters... but I didn't have any place to send them" and "if I'm old and blue-haired, and I turn the corner in Istanbul and there you are, I won't be surprised. Because... you're with me"? Those are lines for the ages. "New Moon Rising" does a great job at officially transitioning Willow's love interest from Oz to Tara, as well as giving Willow and Oz some closure, albeit a bittersweet one.

Crush (Season 5, Episode 14)


Why it isn't a classic: Good question. This is another one of those "I can't put my finger at it" situations.

Why it's almost there: it's freaking hilarious. That scene in the car alone is a must. James Marsters and Sarah Michelle Gellar are so good playing off each other that the screen boils from their chemistry [that was really over-dramatically stated – Anya]. I love it, love it, love it, from Buffy's unease after she finds out Spike is in love with her ("why don't you hit up Giles? Hit. Up. Giles.") to Spike and Buffy's hilarious debate of whether they should be together or not.

Spike: "You can't deny it. There is something between us."
Buffy: "Loathing. Disgust."
Spike: "Heat. Desire."

"Crush" moves the slayer and the vampire's relationship to the next page and does it tremendously well.

Bargaining (Season 6, Episodes 1 & 2)


Why it isn't a classic: the writers didn't come up with enough material for two episodes. There is some stretching of the story and a couple of scenes go on for too long, especially in Part 2.

Why it's almost there: well, duh. Buffy resurrects. Need I say more? I don't need to, but I will. "Bargaining" is easily the best and most eventful premiere of the series. It introduces the audience to the darker atmosphere of season six while aptly dealing with the shadow that Buffy's death has cast over the Scoobies. Giles leaves Sunnydale, Willow, Tara, Xander and Anya plot to and resurrect Buffy, things go south, Buffy comes back emotionally damaged, the Buffybot is destroyed once and for all (aw, I liked her), Buffy breaks our hearts when she asks if she is in hell, and Buffy and Dawn share a tearful moment as Dawn tries to bring Buffy back to reality. It's a damn good premiere that led to the wonderful, series classic "After Life."

Storyteller (Season 7, Episode 16)


Why it isn't a classic: because I don't like Andrew, and I know that's very personal opinion-y, but I just don't like the dude and I resent season seven for featuring him so much in detriment of his soul sister character whom I loved – Anya.

Why it's almost there: Because Jane Espenson rules and she wrote the hell out of this episode. While the focus is on Andrew, "Storyteller" is multilayered with great writing for other characters. Even underused Anya and Xander got a chance to talk about their ill-fated relationship and achieve some closure. Clever jokes abound and the gimmick of the episode is well done. The twisted flashbacks to "Two to Go" are hilarious. For all its faults, season seven had many tight episodes that delivered exciting climaxes and "Storyteller" is one of them. The showdown at the school is tense and grabs your attention. A great episode all around.

8 comments:

Billie Doux said...

These are great choices, Lamounier. I think "Crush" and "Lovers Walk" are my favorites, and what do those two episodes have in common? :) Spike, of course. All of the characters (except Dawn, perhaps) are special, but I wonder if Buffy would have had such staying power as a classic without Spike?

J.D. Balthazar said...

While none of those episode were my favorites for the season, I agree that they all were special and worthy of attention.

Nightmares is a great early example of the creativity and genre-defying storytelling we would get later on.

What's My Line was a really good two parter, sure it wasn't Surprise/Innocence but it deliver a lot of wonderful moments.

Lover's Walk gave us the only glimpse of Spike in season 3, and showed us how he could interact with the group as more than just a villain.

I think Crush changed Spike forever. It was the final step to setting him on the path where he would eventually restore his soul for Buffy, a gesture so powerful that season seven was never fully able to capture it properly.

Great article Lamounier!

Victoria Grossack said...

Thanks for this, Lamounier! Yes, Billie, Spike made a huge difference to the series, didn't it? And I agree, especially about Bargaining - there are a couple of scenes in it that were just incredible. Then, as we know, I really liked Season 6!

magritte said...

Thanks for this thoughtful article. Though I have to say that New Moon Rising is a classic for me.

Chris said...

Great list! I feel like the episodes you have chosen from Season 2, 3 and 5 suffer from the problem that they occur in the show's three best seasons (IMHO) and thus get overshadowed by the many, many amazing episodes that surround them, though they are pretty awesome in their own right. Lover's Walk in particular is a personal favorite of mine.

The only choice I have to disagree with is Storyteller, not because I do like Andrew, but simply because it does already feel like a fan favorite to me; I've seen it on quite a few best episodes lists.

TJ said...

All great choices! But I have to add

Witch, When she was bad, Bad girls, This year's girl, Intervention, Normal again, Dirty girls

Evidently I am a huge Faith fan. I loved her returns in both season 4 and 7, especially in Dirty Girls where she got a Storyteller-introduction and could finally team up with Spike!:)

Anonymous said...

C'mon guys no love for Earshot...
Could possibly be the funniest episode wrapped in a much deeper story. ''you had sex.....WITH GILES'' Buffy listening to everybody's thoughts was hilarious.
Coupled with that beautiful Buffy and Jonathan scene at the end.

Lamounier said...

Anon, "Earshot" is a total classic, that's why it's not on the list. ;)

Billie, what an interesting comment. I never stopped to think how the characters are responsible for the staying power of the series, but I would have to go with Buffy herself, then Willow and Spike. And Giles. And Xander. Okay, I might have to stop.

a gesture so powerful that season seven was never fully able to capture it properly.

Wow, J.D., very well put. I totally agree with this.

Chris, I admit that I'm biased about "Storyteller". It's the best episode on this list, for sure.

In fact, while coming up with the list, the episodes I kept wondering if it were classics or near classics were "Lovers Walk", "Crush" and "Storyteller". I finally decided to include "Crush" to show it some love, I think it's very underrated. And hadn't I picked "Storyteller", it might have been either "Help" or "Dirty Girls".