Any fan of Buffy The Vampire Slayer can rattle off a multitude of their favorite scenes from many acclaimed episodes and even casual fans can mention Buffy leaping to her death in “The Gift” and hardcores can mention Tara’s death in “Seeing Red” or every single scene in “The Body” but this post isn’t to remember those scenes. Nor is it to remember Jenny’s death or the debut of Principal Snyder.
The list you’ll be seeing in a few moments is all about the moments that don’t get mentioned but had a significant impact on the season at hand or even greater, the series itself as it continued forward. Some of these scenes may seem insignificant to you but I hope the reasoning will still be sound enough that you can see my point.
#10: Season 4’s “The Freshman”
Why: One name – Sunday. From the very start of the episode we see Buffy is out of her element and struggling not only to adapt to college life but the slaying side of mixing said occupation with the need to study and not earn withering looks from Maggie Walsh. So what’s so great about Sunday you ask? She almost broke Buffy’s arm and generally kicked her ass throughout the episode. Sure we had seen Buffy harmed before by vampires (Helpless) but this was supposedly an ordinary vampire not even 15 years old. Sunday probably could’ve broken Buffy’s arm if she really focused on the task and in the second fight, looked to try and break Buffy’s other arm. This was an ordinary vampire but it showed the dangers of slaying and although Buffy’s The Slayer, she’s not impervious to making one simple mistake that could end her life.
#9: Season 1’s “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”
Why: The FBI gets involved to smuggle Marcie out of the school (while she’s still invisible). It’s the freakin’ FBI and I’m sure Mayor Wilkins was well aware of the happenings but this was (and should be) a stunning revelation. The FBI officers didn’t answer when Buffy remarked, “It’s happened before, hasn’t it?” and it also calls into question if Sunnydale was under watch all this time. It would make it easier to understand how something like The Initiative was able to exist and function if the US Government was aware of its role and helped finance some of it.
#8: Season 4’s “Living Conditions”
Why: This is a little Wiffy (BuffyxWillow) but Willow’s moving into Buffy’s room helps not only signify the comfort level the two had and would no doubt have afterwards but also allows for the two of them to become deeper on a friendship level. Buffy could’ve easily just lived life as a single for the school year but opted to have Willow move in, thereby opening an avenue for the two friends to bind tighter (which, ironically, didn’t happen throughout the season). Their closeness is commented on frequently and even Riley makes mention of the pairing, “I only know she likes you,” when talking to Willow about courting Buffy. We later see the sisterly bond between them when Willow and Tara begin living with Buffy and Dawn at the Summers home.
#7: Season 3’s “Lovers Walk”
Why: Oz makes the mention that he can smell Willow’s fear which is inconspicuous by itself but it raises an interesting point about Buffy and Angel’s relationship. Buffy commonly remarks how she’s aware that Angel is there when he appears but if you really watch and study the episodes, there are numerous scenes where one should be well aware of the others presence but nothing is shown. If Oz has such a close feel for Willow that he can differentiate her fear from the smell of other people, why aren’t Buffy and Angel (Slayer & Vampire) highly attuned to one another? The big example would be in “Pangs” where Buffy should’ve sensed Angel the second he showed up but didn’t. Maybe it’s nothing or maybe it’s small evidence that their relationship isn’t as deep as many fans like to think.
#6: Season 3’s “Graduation Day, Part 1”
Why: Faith kills her first human, willingly, and even banters with the victim before killing him at the behest of Mayor Wilkins. It really epitomizes (more than Faith shooting Angel or threatening Willow) just how far her descent has come. She no longer gives it a second thought to kill, period (human or demon).
#5: Season 4’s “The Yoko Factor”
Why: It’s all about the fears surfacing but the biggest fear that strikes me is Willow’s accusation at Buffy that she can’t handle Tara as Willow’s girlfriend. We know the fears of Buffy/Giles/Xander but it’s interesting that Willow’s is not only fresh but it’s targeted to her best friend who’s been living with her in the same dorm room. Buffy pushed Willow towards Oz to make sure that the redhead was happy and Buffy was there to comfort Willow when Oz left. Initially, Buffy was thrown when Willow mentioned Tara but at the time of the comment, Buffy was in a relationship with Riley and clearly just wanted Willow to be happy, whatever her decision. Buffy never looked down on Willow for being with Tara so the only conclusions would be that Willow felt Buffy was jealous of Tara (which would mean that either Buffy had feelings for Willow knowing that Tara wasn’t just a friend but the girlfriend in every sense) or that Buffy was homophobic, which would be a tall leap to come to.
#4: Season 2’s “Ted”
Why: Buffy killed Ted, whom she thought was a human, partly out of self defense but as Buffy says, her powers gives her the responsibility to hold back and keep her emotions in check. We see Buffy’s horrified reaction at his death and the reactions of Xander and Willow (He was evil/a demon), which is in stark contrast to Faith’s cool but run emotion after she kills in Season 3. It’s also an early scene that showcases just how easily a Slayer can use their powers to do something irreversible and shows how easily a Slayer can be virtually unstoppable if they did go bad.
#3: Season 1’s “Nightmares”
Why: It’s a fabulous episode and everybody knows it but two things make it underrated: The litany of fears and it’s the first episode that Joss directed on the show. What struck me were the fears displayed – Xander: Clowns, Willow: Fear of Singing In Public (Also see her nightmare comment in other seasons about being nude, late for a test, and the Hellmouth opening), Giles: Letting Buffy down and essentially seeing her die under his stead (Which does happen twice, one by her own choosing), and Buffy: Being buried alive or turned into a vampire.
#2: Season 1’s “The Pack”
Why: IMO THE absolute most underrated episode in the seven seasons of Buffy from a story standpoint. It brought forth the first instance of a beloved main character going dark/evil when Xander got possessed and verbally crushed Willow while trying his hand at sexual assault on Buffy. It also gave us the first real big death in the series (excluding Jessie) when the hyenas eat and kill Principal Flutie, a suitable surprise when I first saw the episode and helped set up the introduction of Principal Snyder in the very next episode.
#1: Season 3’s “Graduation Day, Part 1 and 2”
Why: I’m using both episodes but there is so much going on. The first big moment is Faith’s shooting of Angel and admitting, “Meant to,” when she’s informed that she missed. This is really telling because if Faith had second thoughts, she very easily could’ve just shot Angel through the heart and instantly staked him while remaining hidden from Buffy. Buffy’s emotions in turn could’ve led to her death or serious injury at the hands of Faith or The Mayor. The second moment is that Buffy tries to kill Faith and we see the hatred and the intensity on Buffy’s face all the way up… to the actual stabbing. It’s like Buffy was Faith at that very moment and immediately realized where she was emotionally. If Faith had died, I’m curious if Buffy would’ve responded much like she had in Ted just almost not being able to handle it (not to mention the reaction from The Council). The final moment is Angel’s biting of Buffy, which ties back to Buffy’s fear of being turned into a vampire. Buffy was literally carried to the hospital and although Angel would never turn Buffy, it raises an interesting question if he would if it meant “saving” Buffy from inevitable death.