Buffy at 20

This is an additional post to my normal schedule, as I learned that its 20 years since Buffy first aired on television, and I wanted to pay tribute to a show that’s played a big part of my life.

I remember first watching Buffy on BBC2. It used to be shown at 6pm on a Thursday, and me and my sisters used to watch it after we’d had our tea whilst my mom tidied up. I was only maybe 8 (and possibly too young to watch it and understand it properly) but I used to love watching Buffy fight demons and vampires.

Later on when I was in secondary school, we used to watch it after it moved to Sky1, and by this point even my mom watched it with us! I loved the characters and their relationships with one another, and how they used to have this whole other life alongside their usual school and college issues.

I’ve watched this series countless times, and have them on both VHS and DVD, and even now I’ll put Sci-Fi on if there’s an episode on, to see which one it is and have it on in the background whilst I’m working.

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I wanted to pay tribute to my favourite episodes, and the impact they’ve had on my enjoyment of the show over the years.

10. Band Candy (Season 3, episode 6)
This is one of the light-hearted moments on the show, and reminds us all that Buffy was able to do comedy and humour just as well as they managed sadness and anger. This particular episode makes fun of the age gap between parents and children, and the fact that once upon a time we weren’t all that different. Seeing all Sunnydale’s adults acting as reckless and carefree as their younger counterparts makes for entertaining viewing, and whilst it works alongside the darker main plot, it provides a little light relief seeing Buffy take her mothers role and disgust at how her seniors are behaving. Especially look out for the scenes with Giles – it’s hilarious seeing how he used to be before ending up as a Watcher in Sunnydale.

9. Tabula Rasa (Season 6, episode 8)
Again, another episode that manages to perfectly use humour to lighten up an otherwise sombre mood. Set amidst the metaphor for addiction and the catastrophic effect it has on all involved, Willow casts a spell to erase the memories of Tara and Buffy, to whom she promised not to use magic and to forget the Heaven she was brought back from respectively. But when the spell goes awry, the memories of her nearest and dearest are gone and they don’t remember who they are. And whilst very funny amidst all the chaos and bumbling humour there are several moments of clarity for all involved; it forces them all to view Willow’s magic in a different light, and for Willow to face the consequences of her actions. It also allows Buffy a moment of peace as she forgets the trauma of her death and the confusing feelings she’s been having for Spike. The last three minutes are torture as we see Tara leave Willow and Giles leave for good. All to the tune of “Goodbye to you”. Awful.

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Something Blue (Season 4, episode 9)
This episode plays on the hilarious wish-fulfillment of a heartbroken Willow, whose attempts to heal her broken heart after the departure of Oz compels everyone to take her seriously. Cue Xander being a ‘demon magnet’ in the literal sense, and a hilariously loved-up Buffy and Spike planning their engagement – a far cry from the usually fraught relationship. This has no actual purpose in terms of plot development, but it is pure enjoyable entertaining TV at its best.

The Wish (Season 3, episode 9)
I really liked this episode because it centered around Cordelia, who in Angel quickly became one of my favourite characters (apart from in later season. We don’t talk about that). When she makes a wish to Anya (a then-vengeance demon) that Buffy had never come to Sunnydale, the whole town is plunged into this alternative reality where Vampires run the town, people are too scared to wear bold colours or stay out past 4pm, and Buffy is not there to save them. I liked the fact that it highlights all the good Buffy has done for Sunnydale; without her, the Master would be alive (in a manner of speaking) and ready to create the town’s first all-you-can-eat human buffet. It’s massively far-fetched, but puts the entire show into perspective, and highlights the need for a hero.

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Earshot (Season 3, episode 18)
This episode was – quite rightly – delayed from airing due to the Columbine disaster in America, but despite the serious undertones to the episode (Highlighting bullying, loneliness, depression, murder) it’s the comedic forefront that takes centre stage. When Buffy is infected with the blood of a telepathic demon she learns the finite details of her friend’s life and what lurks in their inner thoughts (NOTE: Joyce’s thoughts = hilarious for us, not so much for Buffy). It’s this comedy that leads to a great conversation between her and Jonathan about loneliness, but also showcases a great script. This was one of the first episodes I remember watching, and I still enjoy it to this day.

Conversations with Dead People (Season 7, episode 7)
Whilst gearing up for the final showdown with the Ultimate Evil, this is a haunting episode which features several scenes with each character individually, having “conversations with dead people” but also having to deal with their own issues and heartbreak simultaneously. Dawn faces a demon she thinks is harming her mother, Willow meets with Cassie to have a terrifying conversation about suicide in order to be with Tara, whereas Buffy spends time with a Vampire she once knew from school, opening up to him about her life. Whilst this doesn’t specifically develop the plot (Other than the murder of Jonathan at the end and the revelation of Spike’s betrayal), it’s great to see the characters development as they face a new ‘type’ of monster – their own demons.

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Hush (Season 4, episode 10)
This is probably the most terrifying episode of the entire show. When the arrival of “The Gentlemen” plunges the town into a silent movie nightmare, it forces the characters to think more about how they fight and live their lives, which demonstrates some superb acting talents. This could quite easily fall into the realm of comedy – and does – but also creates some of the most terrifying villains I’ve ever seen. Not being able to scream or communicate your distress utterly terrifies me, and that lack of communication is at the forefront of this episode; both literally, and as a metaphor for several of the underlying themes of this show.

Whilst this episode both subverted the format we were used to from this show, it merged the comedy in their situation with the horror of Gothic fairy-tales, and succeeded beautifully.

Passion (Season 2, Episode 17)
Season 2 is probably my favourite season of them all, so it’s no surprise that quite a few of these episodes will appear here. I particularly like this one as it contrasts so strongly with the version of Angel we’re used to; up until now he’s been caring, selfless and noble, but this is the episode where we witness him as a true monster. He steps away from the abusive boyfriend/vampire bad guy we’ve seen up until now; the way he murders Jenny Calendar shows Angelus’ pure glee from the action, and the vindictive nature in which he leads Giles to her body goes beyond malicious behaviour and borders psychopathic.

It’s also a turning point for Buffy, as I think she finally realises that the Angel she loves is gone for good and isn’t coming back, and she knows has to kill him. But I especially like the ending of this episode, between Buffy and Giles, where they comfort each other in their grief and Buffy tells him “I can’t do this without you”. It just perfectly captures their relationship as more father/daughter than watcher/slayer, and is heartbreaking to watch.

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The Gift (Season 5, episode 22)
This is such an amazing episode for several reasons: 1) Next to Angel, Glory is probably one of my favourite villains, 2) This series had a great plot and superb acting, which resulted in one of the most gripping finales ever and 3) It led to Buffy’s death. There’s a kind of poetic finality to the end of this season, with Buffy finally realising what she had to offer the world, and coming to terms with her sacrifice. For so long she’s fought to live, but willingly offers herself in her sisters place, so she can experience what Buffy never got to experience.

It’s the final 30 seconds or so that really gets me; after Buffy has finally gone, the reactions of those she loved and who loved her, coming to the swift realisation that she is gone, and the lingering shots on her gravestone. “She saved the world. A lot”.

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Becoming part 1 and 2 (Season 2, episodes 21 and 22)
I couldn’t decide which one was better than the other, and as they are technically two parts to the same episode I’ve counted them as one. These episodes are just beautiful; cinematically perfect, scripting perfect, acting perfect. Part 1 establishes what we’ve all forgotten over the course of season 2; that Angel used to be a likeable guy until he lost his soul. And through the use of flashbacks showing details of Angels past life – both alive and dead – fits in with the idea of growth and ‘becoming’ someone. This is Buffy’s biggest moment, and the choices she makes here set the course for the rest of the show.

And then we have Part 2. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite so tragic as the final 10 minutes of this show. It has everything. Willow finally showing her powers and becoming this bad ass witch for the first time (of many), Xander’s hatred of Angel getting the better of him, and Giles’ love for Jenny making him vulnerable for the first time. This episode is firmly rooted in the development of character for better and for worse, and for Buffy marks a turning point. She knows she has to kill Angel – and does eventually do so – but even right up to the final moments we see her hesitancy, her hopes that he will come back to her still peeking through. What devastates me is the fact that Willow’s spell was a success but was too late; Angel is returned to her as sweet and loving as ever, but still has to be sacrificed to save the world. It all leads up to the final eventuality – Angel’s death – that causes her to leave everything she has (thinking she has nothing left) and is what makes this episode truly heartbreaking.

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But most of all, what I loved about Buffy was her. She was this amazing warrior who saved the world countless times, protected those she loved, but was just a normal woman with the same issues and worries that I at the time was having; friendship issues, school, relationships. And whilst her experiences weren’t always easy she still came out stronger on the other side.

It was so empowering to me, to see a female character who could look after herself. She showed a generation of women what it looked like to be able to take care of yourself. When most female characters were being portrayed as damsels in distress, Buffy was able to walk into a dangerous situation and come out relatively unscathed. Whilst I was growing up struggling with the various issues that teenagers face, she was young, pretty and confident – all the things I wanted to be. She was the hero I needed and still do occasionally. With the help of her friends, she was able to face her demons – literally and metaphorically – whilst all the while trying to remain true to herself. And that was something that resonated with 8 year old me. It still does.

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