The 20 Most Iconic Episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer has turned 20 and we’re all very old and much closer to death. And I’ve written a lot of things about this show. But there’s a reason the show is being celebrated for it’s 20th—it’s absolutely iconic in every way. So, here we are now, entertain us…

20. Homecoming: “The point is, I haven't even broken a sweat. See, in the end, Buffy's just the runner-up. I'm the Queen. You get me mad, what do you think I'm gonna do to you?” This episode shows that the demons on Buffy can also be modern—with Mr. Trick creating Slayerfest 98 to hunt down Buffy and Faith. But, the most fun part is, they mistake Cordelia for Faith and it gives viewers some of the best Buffy/Cordelia moments of the entire series. Best Scene: Cordelia, after Buffy being knocked out, using her sharp wit to intimidate Lyle Gorch. Best outfit: Cordelia’s homecoming dress. Part That Makes You Cry: This episode is just really funny, no tears!

19. Selfless: “Vengeance is what I am.” This episode is really big for two reasons: it’s Anya’s long-overdue origin story AND Buffy, Willow, and Xander finally have the long-overdue discussion about Xander not telling Buffy the truth about Willow trying to give Angelus back his soul at the end of season 2. The episode is everything you’d want from an Anya episode—hilarious, bloody, and really heartbreaking. Best Scene: All of the Anya flashbacks. Best outfit: Definitely Anya and Halfrek’s St. Petersburg dresses. Part That Makes You Cry: Halfrek’s death and Anya being left human and alone at the end.

18. Fool for Love: “Every day you wake up, it's the same bloody question that haunts you: is today the day I die?” Spike gets the really great origin story he deserves. We learn what we kinda already knew, that Spike is actually a really fragile ball of emotions. His whole persona is basically him making up for his life as a human. We also get introduced to the incredibly underused Halfrek (kinda) and finally see some other Slayers on-screen. Best Scene: Spike’s fight with Nikki Wood on the subway. Best outfit: Spike’s 70s punk look. Part That Makes You Cry: Spike, after deciding to kill Buffy, finds her crying on her back porch and just sits with her in silence.

17. Family: “What kind of demon is she? There's a lot of different kinds. Some are very, very evil. And some have been considered to be useful members of society.” We finally figure out one of the weirder lingering season 4 questions about Tara—she thinks she’s a demon because her family is a bunch of insane misogynists. This episode is the only Tara-centric episode we get and it’s fantastic. It’s all about growing up and truly seeing who your family is—and about your chosen family. Also, it has Amy Adams. Best Scene: The end where everyone stands up for Tara. Best outfit: Amy Adams in a pink ‘Hi, I’m a shitty conservative’ look. Part That Makes You Cry: see: Best Scene.

16. This Year’s Girl/Who Are You?: “'Cause I'm a stuck-up tight-ass with no sense of fun?” The first part of this episode brings Faith back into the mix, waking up from her season 3 coma. We then get a really great confrontation between Faith and Buffy (and Willow) on campus at UC Sunnydale—where even Willow adorably hits Faith with her bag in an attempt to help Buffy out. We then get a really great smash-everything-on-set fight between Buffy and Faith back at Joyce’s house (after not really having seen Joyce much all season). The second half then shows just how great Sarah Michelle Gellar and Eliza Dushku are—both having to act as the character the other played. Oddly, Faith-as-Buffy is the first character on the show to realize Willow is gay. At the end, Faith ends up doing the right thing—the thing we all knew she wanted to do from the beginning. Best Scene: The fight scene at 1630 Revello Drive and Faith-as-Buffy talking to herself in the mirror. Best outfit: Faith-as-Buffy’s black leather-y number. Part That Makes You Cry: Faith’s breakdown at the end.

15. The Wish: “We have to find Buffy. She'll figure out a way to save us. She was supposed to be here, and as much as it kills me to admit it... things were better when she was around.” Alternate universe episodes aren’t anything new but this one is done ridiculously well. It revolves around Cordelia wishing away Buffy and finding out just how bleak things at Sunnydale would be without her with the Master having taken over the town. We see nearly all our favorites get killed in this episode and boy is it painful to watch. Also, bonus points for introducing us to Vampire Willow and special favorite Anya. Best Scene: The entire end fight sequence. Best outfit: Willow’s leather vampire look. Part That Makes You Cry: Watching Alt-Universe Buffy get her neck snapped by Alt-Universe The Master.

14. Passion: “Looks like I get to kill two birds with one stone. And teacher makes three.” Angelus brutally murders Jenny Calendar and raises the ::ahem:: stakes for the show. This episode shows just how evil Angelus is, he kills Jenny just to torture Buffy and Giles. We see our heroes literally mourning the loss of their teacher and it’s exactly what Angelus wanted. Also, we see Giles recklessly go for revenge and Buffy save him. This episode showed how serious the show could get and how much Joss Whedon loves torturing his heroes and his audience. Best Scene: Angelus chasing Jenny through Sunnydale High. Best outfit: Jenny Calendar’s final dress. Part That Makes You Cry: Buffy saving Giles and telling him how much she needs him.

13. Prophecy Girl: “I may be dead, but I'm still pretty. Which is more than I can say for you.” This episode really raises the stakes for the rest of the series. The Master would’ve never worked as a villain in later seasons, he would’ve been dusted within one episode, but he works so well as our first season Big Bad. He even briefly defeats our hero—who is later revived by Xander, so this is a big deal for Buffy. She learns there’s a prophecy that she will die and, after giving her heart-wrenching dialogue of being sixteen and not wanting to die, she willingly faces death so she can save her friends and the world (something nearly every season finale will show her doing). After coming back from her defeat by The Master, she’s more Buffy than ever and tells him he has “fruit punch mouth” before dusting his wrinkley vampire ass. Best Scene: Buffy’s banter with The Master on the roof of Sunnydale High. Best outfit: Buffy’s white prom dress, leather jacket, and crossbow ensemble. Part That Makes You Cry: Buffy’s argument with Giles over the prophecy.

12. The Prom: "I'm going to give you all a nice, fun, normal evening if I have to kill every single person on the face of the earth to do it." Angel, in an extremely dick move, breaks up with Buffy right before prom. He’s suddenly feeling too old for Buffy (which, legally, he probably had been since the start of their relationship) and Buffy is heartbroken. Anya comes back into the fold, but this time as Xander’s prom date. Cordelia gets a plot that leads into her story in Angel—and everyone looks so great. Who doesn’t love a good prom episode? And this prom episode is about as good as they get! Best Scene: A tie between Buffy getting her class protector award and Angel coming in at the last minute to dance with Buffy to “Wild Horses.” Best outfit: Our babies all look SO GOOD—but Buffy and Cordelia look exceptionally prom-y and gorgeous in this episode. Part That Makes You Cry: see: Best Scene.

11. Tabula Rasa: “Bloodsuckers. They kill by sucking blood. Take it easy, Joan.” There are a lot of great ‘spell gone awry’ episodes—but this one is takes the blood-sucking cake. Anya and Giles thinking they’re an unhappily married couple is so perfect you almost wish it were a thing (almost). This episode is basically the beginning of the not-so-fun Magic As Drugs metaphor that the rest of the season relentlessly beats you over the head with—but this episode is fun and silly and Buffy thinking her name is Joan is hilarious. Best Scene: The Scoobies opening the door to the Magic Box and seeing the vampires and screaming in terror. Best outfit: Spike’s absurd Randy Giles outfit. Part That Makes You Cry: The ending when Tara leaves, “Goodbye to You” starts playing, and everything is terrible for our beloved Scoobies for the rest of season 6.

10. The Body: “I was having fruit punch, and I thought, well, Joyce will never have any more fruit punch ever, and she'll never have eggs, or yawn or brush her hair, not ever, and no one will explain to me why.” This episode is incredible, painfully realistic, and incredibly hard to watch. The entire episode is just one long painful goodbye to Joyce Summers, Buffy’s beloved mother. As to why this episode didn’t win the show and most of the cast god damned Emmys… Best Scene: Willow and Tara sharing their first on-screen kiss, Buffy’s terribly realistic helplessness after finding her mother, and Anya’s monologue that will tear your heart to pieces. Best outfit: TOO BUSY CRYING TO NOTICE! Part That Makes You Cry: LITERALLY THE ENTIRE EPISODE—but especially Anya’s monologue .

9. Surprise/Innocence: “That was then. This is now.” Buffy loses her virginity to Angel after her birthday and soon finds out that this true ‘moment of happiness’ (yes, it sounds like a cheesy heavy-handed metaphor when typed out BUT IT WORKS) makes him lose his soul. It kicks off the second half of the 2nd second and boy is it a doozy. Few things in the series are as memorable as Buffy with that god damned rocket launcher. Best Scene: The Judge asking, “What’s that” as Buffy pulls out a mother-fuckin’ rocket launcher. Best outfit: Drusilla’s red dress (which she wears quite a few times). Part That Makes You Cry: Buffy getting blown off and mocked by Angel/Angelus after losing her virginity to him and the great Supportive Dad speech Giles gives Buffy at the end.

8. The Gift: “…the hardest thing in this world is to live in it.” This episode is intense. It’s the culmination of a really terrific season long story-arc that has the final few episodes all starting right where the last one left off. Dawn has been captured by Glory, Tara’s mind has been drained, Buffy learns that death is her gift—it all comes together in this season finale. Xander proposes to Anya, Willow uses her powers to hurt Glory, Spike tells Buffy he loves her, Giles kills Ben (who is Glory)…it’s all pretty damn epic. It ends with Buffy making the ultimate sacrifice and all the characters (and you sitting on your couch eating chips) crying over our beloved main character’s death. Best Scene: The opening “Previously on” where we see scenes from every episode that came before—that leads into the oddly calm before the storm opening of the episode where Buffy helps a young man from being attacked by a vampire and she’s as calm as ever (but also, like, the entire episode). Best outfit: Buffy’s white top and grey pants or Willow’s killer butch turtleneck look. Part That Makes You Cry: Buffy re-inviting Spike into her home, Willow saving Tara, Buffy’s speech at the end, and everyone crying over Buffy at the very end.

7. Chosen: “Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?” While season 7 may get shit on—and we might not have gotten as many final cameos as we deserved—this finale was a really great end to a really god damned great series. Buffy’s speech is some empowering shit, man. The deaths are brutal—but the stakes here are high. It also gives our hero the happiest ending we could hope for her. Best Scene: Buffy’s speech to the Potential Slayers being played over them all getting their Slayer powers. Best outfit: Buffy’s beige-ish pink-ish jacket and white shirt—a perfect goodye outfit for Buffy. Part That Makes You Cry: Buffy telling Spike she loves him (and him saying she doesn’t), Anya’s brutal fucking death, Spike’s final sacrifice, Buffy’s empowering speech, Willow’s hair turning all white, the throwback “the world is definitely doomed” dialogue to the end of the first episode (well, second but shut up), and nearly every other scene…

6. Becoming Part 1 & 2: "The big moments are gonna come. You can't help that. It's what you do afterwards that counts. That's when you find out who you are." This two-part finale really set the stage for all other Buffy finales and had lasting effects on both Buffy and Angel. Angelus lures Buffy into a trap while Drusilla and Co attack the Scoobies in Sunnydale—murdering poor Kendra, kidnapping Giles, and putting Willow in the hospital. And Buffy’s slow motion run is forever classic, as is her entire fight with Angelus. Best Scene: Buffy slow-motion running in that stellar blue coat through the halls of Sunnydale, knowing her friends are in danger while the audience already knows she’s too late. Best outfit: Buffy’s blue coat number (duh). Part That Makes You Cry: Buffy having to kill her newly ensouled boyfriend, sending him to a hell-dimension (with that slow-motion run being a close second).

5. Conversations with Dead People: “Remember that time on the bridge when you sang to each other? Well, she says even though you can't hear it, she still sings to you.” This episode is intense and scary and everything that makes this show perfect. Seeing Joyce return as The First is so spooky scary and hearing Cassie speak for Tara to Willow is so absolutely fucking heartbreaking. And this episode really addresses all the loner bullshit Buffy has always felt. Best Scene: Buffy’s therapy session ending with her finding out Spike has been feeding on humans again. Best outfit: Buffy’s denim jacket (which she wears quite often and quite well in season 7) and white turtle neck number. Part That Makes You Cry: Willow crying and thinking she’s speaking to the ghost of her recently deceased girlfriend (RIP SPECIAL FAVORITE TARA)

4. Graduation Day Part 1 & 2: "Oh my God. He's going to do the entire speech." Faith finally murders someone and shows zero regret—and then targets Angel. Buffy’s fight with Faith is possibly the most iconic fight scene in the entire series. It’s also such a big deal too—after a season long relationship of going from frenemies to BFFs back to frenemies then to bitter enemies, they finally have one long epic battle that ends in bloodshed. Buffy officially quits the council, Willow and Oz consummate their relationship, Angel feeds off Buffy (tbf, she lets him), Cordelia slays her first vamp… oh, and the Scoobies officially graduate high school! And speaking of epic battles, the last 20 minutes or so are insanely action packed and it’s so wonderful to see all our babies going into battle together. Best Scene: Buffy yelling, “Now” and the entire Sunnydale class of 99 pulls off their robes to reveal they’re battle ready. Best outfit: Buffy’s red leather pants and black top are the ultimate Buffy outfit and that’s not up for debate. Part That Makes You Cry: Honestly, if Buffy yelling, “Now” doesn’t give you some feelings…

3. Restless: “Well, at least you all didn't dream about that guy with the cheese.” An episode all about dreams that brings back a lot of characters like Oz, Harmony, Joyce, and Principal Snyder. Every one of these dreams is perfectly true to each member of our fantastic four. The episode foreshadows Dawn (who doesn’t deserve the hate so stop right there) and introduces us to The First Slayer. If only we’d gotten to see Angel and Cordelia come back for this episode. Sigh. Best Scene: Willow stumbling into a production of A Death of a Salesman and it starring all her friends (plus Harmony) and, well…it not being so accurate to the play. Best outfit: Buffy’s cute cherry dress she wears in the desert. Part That Makes You Cry: Willow having to give an oral report in front of class and being made fun of by her dream classmates—Anya, Harmony, Tara, and Oz.

2. Once More, with Feeling: “Uh, so, did anybody ... uh ... last night, you know, did anybody, um ... burst into song?” The fact that this show so flawlessly weaved into it a plot about a demon that makes everything become a musical is so god damned impressive. And the songs are actually really really catchy too. And it’s the first time Spike and Buffy kiss—a kiss that had been a really long time coming. Best Scene: Anya’s “must be bunnies” interlude. Best outfit: a tie between Buffy’s red number and Anya’s sequin-y butterfly outfit. Part That Makes You Cry: The gang finding out Buffy wasn’t in hell, but in heaven.

1. Hush: “I don't know. I get nervous and I start babbling, and he starts babbling, and it's a babblefest.” This one is a big duh. This episode is hands down the best episode of the entire series. From Anya’s “orgasm friend” comments to the most terrifying monsters to ever come to Sunnydale, The Gentlemen—this episode is perfect. It’s also one of the scariest episodes of Buffy. And, not to mention, we’re introduced to special favorite Tara. Best Scene: Giles doing his overhead projector presentation is maybe the best scene of the entire series. Best outfit: Buffy’s weird, wonderful turquoise Flintstone’s lookin’ number from the opening. Part That Makes You Cry: Tara and Willow joining hands to combine their magics and fling the vending machine across the room and barricade themselves inside a room, safe from the Gentlemen.

Special Iconic Mentions:

Most Iconic Ending: "Lessons" (EVERY BIG BAD—I wish season 7 had done way more of this OR waited to use it for the finale)

Most Iconic Speeches: Giles lying to Buffy "Lie to Me," Buffy’s inspirational speech at the end of "Bring on the Night" (THAT’S BECOME V RELEVANT TO OUR CURRENT POLITICAL CLIMATE), and Anya’s monologue from "The Body"

Most Iconic Terribly Sad Ending That Is Painful to Watch and We Cry a Lot About It: "Seeing Red" ("Your shirt")

Most Iconic Halloween Costume: Anya’s bunny suit (duh)

Most Iconic Celebrity Cameo: it’s a tie between Amy Adams ("Family") and lol Ashanti ("First Date")

Most Iconic Throwback: Spike tackling Buffy with her rocket launcher from season 2 in "Him"

Most Iconic Big Bad: Glory

Most Iconic One-off Villain: a tie between The Gentlemen and Dracula

Most Iconic Honorable Mentions (episodes it HURT to leave out): "Welcome to the Hellmouth/The Harvest" (a GREAT first episode that does a great job of introducing us to all the characters), "Storyteller" (Andrew making us laugh and then breaking our hearts), "Something Blue" (a real great predecessor to "Tabula Rasa"), "New Moon Rising" (Willow’s coming out scene with Buffy is one of the best on television), "When She was Bad" (Buffy smashing The Master’s bones and dealing with her trauma from season 1, oof), "Halloween" (Cordelia is hilarious this entire episode), "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" (Xander, you stupid straight man), "Two to Go/Grave" (THE YELLOW CRAYON FEELINGS), "School Hard" (Spike’s first episode! Joyce with the axe!), "Band Candy" (Sassy Punk Giles!), "Earshot" (Buffy’s speech to Jonathan and the lunch lady twist!), "Hell's Bells" (this episode is so funny and cute until it turns into cruelty porn with Anya alone in her wedding dress), and "Villains" (“Bored now!”)

Most Iconic Teaser: The one for "The Gift" that shows scene from every episode ever.

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ianxcarlos's picture
on March 10, 2017

Buffy Summers in her prom dress holding two pugs.