Top 10 Underrated Episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

A list of Buffy episodes that are not appreciated as much as they should be. Number one may surprise you.


10. Anne (Season 3, Episode 1)

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It’s not that Anne is disliked by fans; it’s just that it’s kind of forgotten alongside the crazy onslaught of events that Season 3 throws at us, including but not limited to Angel’s return, the introduction of Faith, great episodes like Dopplegangland, etc. But Anne deserves to be remembered, because it’s the first time in three seasons that we’re seeing Buffy really on her own, completely alone emotionally and physically. It’s disheartening to watch, until the viewer sees, at the same time as Buffy, that she can’t resist helping someone in need. She’s a hero through and through, and even at a time when it’d be completely understandable for her to shirk her destiny and kind of just quit being the Slayer, she dives headfirst (literally) into a whole other world full of people that need saving. And she does it with much sass.

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This episode also reintroduces Chantarelle (known after this episode as Anne, the name she takes from Buffy when she leaves LA) seen previously as a pro-vampire cult member in Season 2’s Lie To Me. Anne goes on to make some notable appearances on Angel, a very unique and interesting arc indeed since she began as a very minor character.

Anne is Buffy in her truest form; standing up for those who cannot help themselves and doing it with audacity and finesse.

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9. Buffy Vs. Dracula  (Season 5, Episode 1)

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This season opener is seen by some as lame and too campy. I think it should be recognized for what it is: A fun, fresh start to the new season after the heavy Season 4 finale Restless.  Though Dracula is a legendary character, his appearance in Buffy the Vampire Slayer is fitting and tons of fun. The episode doesn’t take itself too seriously, which reminds me of the early seasons of the show. Some episodes you shouldn’t have to think too hard about; you should just be able to enjoy them for what they are and appreciate the humor and the homage, something I couldn’t stress more with this episode in particular. The interactions with Dracula are great and very self-aware:

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And bonus points for the adorable Scoobies on the beach opening scene; this is pretty much the calm before the storm, and the last time we see them relaxing and having fun as a group the rest of the series. The end of Buffy vs. Dracula also features an infamous surprise moment: the introduction of good ol’ Dawnie.

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8. The Freshman (Season 4, Episode 1)

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What I like about The Freshman is that tonally, it captures the transition of high school to college perfectly. Everyone except Buffy seems to be flourishing in the new environment; soaking up college life and overly excited to start the new semester. Even Oz, who claims he has no idea what’s going on, is enthusiastically greeted and recognized by kids on campus. Buffy, meanwhile, patrols alone, lightly rebuffed by Giles and detached from Willow. Only Xander is there for Buffy. He’s kind of the odd one out too, not going to college and living in his parents’ basement, so it’s nice to see the two of them bond over their misery.

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Their exchange provides us with one of the most frequently quoted lines from the show.

Buffy also returns home for a bit to see her mom and relax in a familiar setting. I almost felt the same way as a viewer; alas, home after an exhausting new experience! But, as in life, Buffy has to deal with reality-she knows that she can’t stay at home forever and returns to UC Sunnydale. (The fact that Joyce was using her room as storage space probably didn’t make her feel that great either.) Buffy’s little hints that she drops throughout the episode about missing how things were before (“It’s too bad Giles couldn’t be librarian here.”) are heart breaking, and capture the audience viewpoint as well. After becoming attached to Sunnydale High and it’s familiarity after three years, it was tough to transition, and this episode captured that feeling.

The villain in The Freshman, Sunday and her gang of vampires, should have stayed around longer as I still retain that she was much more threatening and entertaining than Maggie Walsh and the Initiative.

This season opener does it’s job well, in that it tastefully mourns the past while simultaneously introducing the new. I think it would have been a disservice to fans and seasons past if Buffy had been all gung-ho about the college life in the early episodes of Season 4. The transition from high school to college is such a vast change, and one that also mirrors the Scoobies’ journey from teenagers into adulthood. The Freshman hits all the right notes rather than sugar coating things for viewers. A hard feat to do but handled masterfully.

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7. Witch (Season 1, Episode 3)

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This episode is hilarious, creepy, and basically everything that makes Buffy Buffy. Buffy singing “Macho Man” and being an ultra hyper cheerleader  is quite possibly one of the comedic highlights of the first season. Amy Madison is introduced and becomes uber important later on. The impending doom in this episode (Buffy running out of time to live due to a witch’s spell) is somehow more suspenseful and interesting than the looming apocalypse in the first two episodes of Season 1. Witch is the episode that got me officially hooked on BTVS because I was drawn in by the outlandishness, great lines (“I laugh in the face of danger…then I hide until it goes away.”), and the sense of a real threat, in the form of Amy’s insane mom. It’s one of the more worthy offerings from Season 1 alongside Angel and Prophecy Girl, and Witch should be thanked for breaking a string of poor episodes: preceded by The Harvest and followed by Teacher’s Pet and Never Kill A Boy on the First Date. Witch is a whirlwind of body switching, voodoo filled fun, and a definite shining light in the sometimes muddled Season 1.


6. Gingerbread (Season 3, Episode 11)

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The stuff with MOO (Moms Opposed to the Occult) is annoying in Gingerbread, but the aggravation ties in nicely with the paranoia infusing the episode. When Joyce is particularly affected by the sight of supposedly dead kids while patrolling with Buffy, she spearheads a campaign to rid Sunnydale of witches, the supposed culprit of the crime.  Because of this, we get to see a modern day witch hunt (accusations, seizing property without permission, etc), largely held at none other than Sunnydale High. It seems foolish but is really quite unsettling as you realize the extent of power that a mob mentality has, especially when Buffy and Willow’s own mothers turn them in to be burned at the stake (albeit possessed by evil Hansel and Gretel, but their actions withstand nonetheless). This episode features another appearance from Amy, the first and last appearance of Willow’s mom, and continuously rolls out some great humorous moments against the backdrop of the very serious dangers of mass paranoia and censorship.

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5. Bargaining Part One (Season 6, Episode 1)

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This is one of the episodes I watch the most, because I think it’s brilliant. It establishes Willow’s need to be in control and the depths she will go to in order to do what she thinks is best, traits that play major parts in the progression of Season 6. I loved seeing the group dynamic without Buffy; as bad as that may sound, it was interesting to see the home Tara and Willow had made for Dawn, the broken but ever loyal state Spike was in, and the defeated and tired Giles. Life just seemed okay for the Scoobies. They were getting by. But it was very clear that there was an essential spark missing from everyone’s lives, and that spark’s name is Buffy.

The scene were Giles leaves is very touching, and I can’t help but tear up a bit when he hugs Xander and Willow. It makes me think of the gang in Season 1, and how much had happened to them since then. Five years later they are parting after going through so much together, Buffy dead and everyone irrevocably changed because of it.

The greatest part of the episode is the resurrection ritual at the end. I remember my jaw dropping when Willow coughed out that snake. The whole thing was terrifying, accompanied by the feeling that the Scoobies really shouldn’t be trying to raise the dead in the first place. When they are interrupted by the demon bikers (which are the single glaringly bad part of this two part season opener), the gang is forced to retreat, thinking the spell didn’t work. But at the end of the episode we see a decaying Buffy, the life slowly crawling back into her with a look of sheer terror on her face. A moment that you would imagine to be triumphant (Buffy’s alive! The Slayer has returned!) is instead very grave and haunting. The Scoobies succeeded all right, but at what cost?

The melancholy, desolate tone of this episode sets the entire stage for the rest of Season 6. It’s gritty, dangerous, and emotional, and leaves you with the feeling that things are not going to be okay for a long time. The magic of Bargaining Part One lies within the fact that it avoids being overly emotional or mopey about Buffy’s death; in fact, the strong yet cracking underneath the surface demeanor that is projected by the Scoobies creates a desolate atmosphere and illustrates the emptiness that permeates their lives rather than telling viewers their feelings outright.


 4. Life Serial (Season 6, Episode 5)

Sarah Michelle Gellar’s knack for comedy is front and center in Life Serial, as we find the Trio putting Buffy through insane situations to test her skill and strength. Buffy, looking for a job, heads to work with Xander. The sight of tiny Buffy in her yellow hard hat on the construction site is funny already, but it becomes even better when she proves all the ignorant workers around her wrong when she amply handles heavy steel beams. Later on poor Buff is fired, but because of that we get to see the hilarious time loop sequence following the construction debacle. As Buffy repeats the same moment over and over in the Magic Box (a customer asking for a mummy hand) she becomes increasingly frustrated and changes up her actions every time there is a loop; she smashes Giles’ glasses with her shoe in one scene, and rips the annoying bell off the front door in another. Pissed off Buffy is always a fun time.

The absolute best thing about this episode is Buffy drinking with Spike. The face and noise she makes every time she takes a shot is so funny, especially when you notice her doing it in the background of a shot.

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The lovable Clem is introduced in this episode, playing poker with kittens as currency.

This is also the only episode in which I find the Trio tolerable. They drop many funny pop culture references, a highlight being Andrew’s awesome design of the Death Star on the side of the Trio’s van.

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Buffy is sarcastic as hell in this episode. She’s frustrated not only with having to find work, but also dealing with the Trio’s shit throughout the day, making an already hard task near impossible. Life Serial is a solid episode because it avoids delving too deep into Buffy’s despair over having to financially support herself and Dawn, alongside being a friend, a mom, and…oh yeah, the Slayer, on top of that whole coming back from the dead thing. It instead just scratches the surface of her inability to cope with these responsibilities and blankets the issue in comedy gold, leaving the more depressing emotions and situations to episodes like Flooded and Doublemeat Palace. Possibly the greatest feat that Life Serial pulls off is that it subtly employs foreshadowing that will be instrumental in the rest of the season (Buffy giving up easily, being overly dependent on Giles, etc) while masquerading as an almost purely comedic episode.


 

3. Ted (Season 2, Episode 11)

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Chocolate chip cookies, anyone?

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What I like about Ted is that it hits very close to home. The whole “Mom gets serious with new guy, her kid doesn’t like him, mom ignores kid, shit ensues” scenario is taken to the extreme in BTVS, and the episode does a remarkable job of combining this relatable situation with a first in the series: Buffy kills a human for the first time, or so she thinks. Because we all know that Ted is actually a robot. But for that time in between when Buffy thinks she killed him and when he shows up again, the emotions and inner anguish that Buffy experiences are a pre-cursor to the Faith/Deputy Mayor situation in Season 3. Her reaction further builds on character development groundwork that’s already been introduced at a more basic level: Buffy isn’t some unfeeling, impenetrable hero; in addition to having a strong moral compass, she’s very emotionally invested in what she does and doesn’t take killing/slaying/death (especially of the human variety) lightly. The situation is a pre-cursor to the conversation Faith and Buffy have in Season 3’s Consequences:

Faith: Nobody’s gonna cry over some random bystander who got caught in the crossfire.

Buffy: I am.

Granted, Ted isn’t a random bystander, but I think the theme applies nonetheless. Ted does a good job of building on this facet of Buffy’s character that won’t be fully revisited again until Season 3.

Joss Whedon (who wrote this episode) creates a very dark, unsettling tone for this episode. As Buffy’s situation becomes increasingly futile; her friends all think she’s overreacting about Ted, and her mom refuses to hear out Buffy’s point of view on him, something that happens all too often in real life in situations like this.  As Ted charms Willow, Xander and Joyce with mini-golf and drugged food, Buffy’s feelings of isolation increase; he’s extremely rude and condescending towards her. Things culminate when he threatens to put Buffy in an asylum after reading her diary (containing Slayer stuff) and hits her. Of course she hits back, and ends up “killing him”, only to have him miraculously return later on. HE LIVES!

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Good thing that after finding out Ted killed four previous wives that he put in a disturbing underground basement lair furnished to look like a 50’s house, Buffy kicks his ass. (Sorry for that horribly long sentence.)

John Ritter does a great job as Ted; he makes a  somewhat cheesy idea of a killer robot authentic, threatening, and genuinely creepy. His nuanced, realistic performance really makes this episode feel as if it’s a mini horror movie, which is actually what makes the episode work: On one note, it’s a horror piece because Ted is a murderer with terribly obsolete views (or should I say programming?) on family, but on another note, it’s a horror piece because to the best of Buffy’s knowledge, a man that is not her dad is abruptly entering her family life. A man she does not like or trust, and that is a very scary feeling indeed.

Also, this episode gets extra points for Jenny accidentally shooting Giles with a crossbow, and Willow being an amazing friend (as always) to Buffy and offering her help with Ted no matter what.


2. Living Conditions (Season 4, Episode 6)

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I don’t think anything is more entertaining than Buffy being pushed to the limit. And no one is capable of pushing her off the deep end more than her wonderful room mate Kathy. The charm of Living Conditions lies within the fact that it’s funny because it’s true. Sure, Tabula Rasa and Something Blue are funny because no one is acting like themselves due to magic mishaps. Pangs is funny because the Scoobies are getting attacked while simultaneously trying to host a nice thanksgiving dinner for once. But how much of that stuff can happen in real life? That’s where Living Conditions gets it right. The episode over exaggerates certain things (Kathy’s toenail clipping is extra loud and shown in slow motion to illustrate Buffy’s annoyance, there are increasingly close up shots of Buffy’s glare as she watches Kathy drop ketchup on her sweater, etc) as we all do when we become increasingly annoyed by someone. It’s endlessly funny to watch The Chosen One unsuccessfully deal with a situation as mundane as a shitty room mate, especially when she retaliates by doing things like this:

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As Buffy slowly loses her soul to Kathy’s demon buddies via sleep (nightmares, really), Buffy becomes insane with taking down Kathy, throwing out ridiculous reasons to kill her such as:

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Who knew a soulless Buffy could be so much fun?

Even if it isn’t a room mate, we all have that one person in our life that never fails to royally piss us off, whether it be a co-worker, a family member, or a friend. So it’s nice to see that Buffy Summers has to deal with that same stuff. Except, since her roomie turned out to be a demon, she got to have her cake and eat it too by kicking Kathy’s ass, something we unfortunately can’t do in real life. Nonetheless, this allows us to relate to Buffy while living vicariously through her. The empathetic nature of Living Conditions and it’s hyper exaggerated comedy is what this comedic stand alone episode has that the others don’t.


 

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

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Yes folks, Where the Wild Things Are is my number one underrated episode. People seem to think it’s god-awful, but I find that it has many redeeming qualities adding up to a pretty solid stand-alone episode. By no means am I saying that I love it (I wouldn’t even list it in my top 30 episodes) but I do think it gets an undeservedly bad rap.

For one, it’s the only episode that delves into poltergeist/incubus/succubus-ish territory; I say incubus/succubus territory because the ghosts are feeding off Riley and Buffy’s sexual energy. Sorry if that’s wrong, I’m just not sure if a poltergeist would be able to drain someone’s life force through sex. Anyway, it’s an interesting concept to go with, and while it could have been done better, we did get some genuinely chilling scenes from the premise: Julie (the girl Xander was flirting with at the party) locks herself in a closet and cuts off her hair. A ghost floats right through Anya as people are leaving the frat house in a panic. The bottle being used in Spin the Bottle abruptly bursts into shards of glass. Though the vines growing outside Riley’s dorm room are hokey, the scene in which Anya gets a vine straight through the hand and then goes to save a drowning Xander is pretty gruesome. These elements come together to create a real sense of urgency and fear.

The Riley/Buffy scenes, while necessary for the plot, didn’t interest me much at all but I actually felt as if they weren’t the main focus of the episode. Yes, their shenanigans in Riley’s dorm room are what triggered the sexually repressed poltergeists to come out and play, but because they are stuck in that room, the other Scoobies get a chance to shine. It was nice seeing Tara play an integral part in the plot resolution, performing a spell with Giles and Willow. Xander and Anya take charge and venture back into the frat house to try and save Buffy. As you may have remembered from my thoughts on Bargaining Part One (number five on this list) I have a soft spot for the Scoobies saving the day without Buffy; they are all heroes in their own right and it’s nice to see them in action sans the Slayer every now and then.

The whole story is put into play by events that happened years ago; Willow finds out that the Lowell House was actually a home for disturbed adolescents. When Giles, Xander and Anya go to pay Mrs. Holt, the lady that ran the house a visit, they find out that she punished kids who displayed any hint of sexuality at all: When girls showed vanity, she’d “remove the temptation to admire themselves.” Hence Julie cutting off her hair in the closet at the party. When Anya asks about the bathtubs in the place  Mrs. Holt “performed baptisms for the most unclean.” So that’s why Willow saw a ghost in the bathtub, and why Xander will be held under when him and Anya return to the house. After hearing about Mrs. Holt’s messed up practices, everything begins to make sense. Even this:

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Actually no. That’s still really dumb. Regardless, I thought it was a pretty solid back story to explain the happenings, and made believable by the very creepy Mrs. Holt.

Where the Wild Things Are also features a lot of humorous moments that are overlooked. The beginning of the episode in which Riley, Buffy, Giles, Willow and Tara are talking at UC Sunnydale has this great little moment with Willow and Giles. When Buffy and Riley hurry off saying they have this “thing” they need to do, Willow smiles, saying “They’re probably going back to–” when Giles interrupts her with, ” Yes. Thank you Willow. I did actually attend University in the Mesozoic era. I remember what it’s like.” And then they exchange these glances that are just hilarious. Xander and Anya having a sexually explicit argument in the ice cream truck unknowingly in front of parents and kids is a classic. We also get to see a bonding moment between Spike and Anya in the Bronze, in which they lament their demon/vampire ways. And of course, this episode also gives us Giles singing for the first time, complete with perfect Scooby reactions:


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I love how Xander is creeped out by the sight, but Willow, Tara and Anya seem to like Giles’ singing quite a lot.

In conclusion, Where the Wild Things Are may not be the best Buffy episode ever made. It’s not even the best episode on this list. But it is underrated for being consistently funny, creepy, and all the while entertaining as the Scoobies get a turn to save Buffy and Riley from almost certain death.


 

Agree with the list? Disagree? Hit the comments and let me know! Be sure to subscribe to the blog by clicking “Follow” on the right-hand side bar, and like The Cynical Slayer on Facebook!

 

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About NoelleKanitz

Writer, film buff, television fanatic, and general fan girl that resides in Franklin, WI with a good book and a box of fine chocolates.
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