Weekend Superhero: 20 Years of Buffy
Yesterday, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of my favorite show of all time, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. Premiering on March 10, 1997, Joss Whedon’s career-defining series has over time become a cult classic and a benchmark of feminist storytelling. I know with a column titled “Weekend Superhero” you’re expecting tights and comics and Marvel and so on, but to steal an old cliche, not all heroes wear capes. In seven seasons, Buffy Summers (played irreplaceably by Sarah Michelle Gellar) took down hundreds of vampires, ghoulies, ghosties, and long-legged beasties using advanced strength and agility – and with a little help from her friends. That makes her a superhero.
With 20 years to reflect on, I wanted to talk about some of my favorite episodes of the series and why they hold a special place in my heart. (Note: these recaps will be heavy on spoilers).
The Body (S5, Ep16) – Starting off with a heavy hitter here – this might be my favorite episode of any show ever. The episode opens with Buffy finding her beloved mother Joyce dead on the couch in their living room. There’s no blood, no broken bones, or any supernatural enemy to fight. In a show full of bizarre ways to die, Joyce passed away from an aneurysm. For the first time in her life, Buffy has to come to terms with the fact that not all danger comes down to fighting off a monster. Sometimes, there’s just nothing that you can do.
The episode is brilliant in showing the different reactions of all the characters, who come from different backgrounds and have different ways of coping. But my favorite easily comes from Anya (Emma Caulfield), a form vengeance demon that was removed from humanity for so long that even basic social cues escape her. When the gang is in mourning, Anya continues to act in this oblivious, unintentionally rude manner. When she’s reprimanded for it, she delivers a monologue that makes me cry every single time I hear it.
“I don’t understand how this all happens. How we go through this. I mean, I knew her, and then she’s- There’s just a body, and I don’t understand why she just can’t get back in it and not be dead anymore. It’s stupid. It’s mortal and stupid. And-and Xander’s crying and not talking, and-and 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.”
It may seem silly out of context, but Caulfield’s performance paired with the innocence of the final sentence will always gut me.
Once More With Feeling (S6, Ep7) – “Buffy” was always really brilliant at balancing humor while remaining serious (it is a Joss Whedon show, after all), but this episode in particular stands out as exceptional. For a mysterious reason, everyone in Sunnydale is uncontrollably breaking out into full musical numbers, revealing their deepest thoughts and secrets in the process. That’s right, it’s a musical episode!
It’s a tremendous amount of fun watching this episode, considering how serious “Buffy” could be at times. Information that is usually reserved for cloyingly dramatic exchanges is delivered here with energetic choreographed dance sequences. For my personal favorite song, click here.
Hush (S4, Ep10) – Appearing smack dab in the middle of the worst season of the show, “Hush” stands out as a tremendous achievement in minimalist storytelling. The complete antithesis of “Once More With Feeling”, “Hush” involves everybody in Sunnydale completely losing the ability to speak. The cause is a group of eerie, Slenderman-type ghouls known as The Gentlemen (led by frequent Guillermo Del Toro collaborator Doug Jones) that have stolen everyone’s voice. And so, in complete silence, Buffy and the Scoobies have to figure out how to stop these demonic, fairy-tale monsters.
This episode may be the most well-balanced of the entire series, displaying distinct cleverness, creative humor, and actual honest-to-goodness horror. Seriously, The Gentlemen are terrifying.
There are so many more fantastic episodes contained within “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, I obviously couldn’t touch on them all. I also love “Tabula Rasa”, “The Zeppo”, and “Band Candy”. Oh, and I love “Hell’s Bells”, because it gives me a great reason to hate Xander (how could he do that to Anya? How?!)
Let us know your favorite episodes in the comments section.