Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My Big Bad Buffy Countdown: #5-1

Here's why we're doing this.

And here are #s 30-26. And #s 25-21. And #s 20-16. And #s 15-11. And #s 10-6.

#5: "Who Are You?"
Season 4, Episode 16
Written by: Joss Whedon
This would be the second half of the two-part Faith Returns (!) arc that stood as a bright, shining beacon in the middle of Season 4. By this point, Faith and Buffy have switched bodies, via some doohickey the Mayor pothumously bequeathed to Faith. So she's running around town, enjoying the hell out of being Pure Hero Buffy, while Buffy (as Faith) is being herded by the Watcher's Council and generally treated like garbage. The great thing about Joss Whedon is that he is almost never content to rest on a good gimmick. While there's no shortage of high-concept moments -- Faith-as-Buffy outs Willow and Tara and rubs up on Spike (which likely kicked off the Spuffy concept but whatever it was awesome); Buffy-as-Faith getting Giles to know it's her by referencing him sleeping with her mom ("what's a stevedore?") -- Joss uses the body switch as a way to really dig into Buffy and Faith and how the sometimes blurry lines between "good" and "bad" help inform who they are (hence that title). Bonus points for two great bits of dialogue: Tara's "I am, you know? Yours." and Giles's exagerrated "Damn it, man! Our families are in there. Our mothers and tiny, tiny babies!"

#4: "The Body"
Season 5, Episode 16
Written by: Joss Whedon
We're now getting into serious "what can I say?" territory, as anything that can be said about the episodes at the top of my list have already been said. Here's what's still fresh in my mind about "The Body": the silence of it, with no score and long wordless stretches; the excruciating ineffectuality of Buffy's friends, exemplified by Anya's heartbreaking monologue; Dawn looking utterly adrift (does Michelle Trachtenberg get enough credit for her work here? I don't think she does). Best of all, it never felt like it was trying to prove a point -- "See? Buffy can be regular family drama too! Give us those Emmys now!" -- just dealing with the worst moment in its protagonist's life in the most appropriate way.

#3: "Graduation Day, Part 2"
Season 3, Episode 22
Written by: Joss Whedon
I talked a bit in this post about how this episode got pulled and delayed until summer due to Columbine. (Oddly enough, in that post I express my preference for Part 1; I've changed my mind since, but that Buffy/Faith fight really is the bomb.) This episode contains the single most rousing moment in the entire series, one that the series had been building toward for three seasons. When Buffy stands up shoulder-to-shoulder with her classmates, at long last, and face down the Mayor, I get chills upon chills. And then Angel and Wesley show up as backup? And then Harmony gets bit? And Cordelia stakes a vampire? And then Buffy uses the Mayor's fatherly feelings towards Faith to bait him into his own destruction? The show fired on all cyllinders that night, guys.

#2: "The Gift"
Season 5, Episode 22
Written by: Joss Whedon
So. Confession time. I bawled like a baby at the end of "The Gift." The whole thing was presented like a series finale, from the super-cut "Previously on" segment that traced the history of the show, to the thank-you message from the network at the end, to ... well, you know, what actually happened in the episode. Yes, the series would make the jump to UPN, but somehow, I got caught up enough in the reality of the episode that I still reacted like it was the last we'd see of Buffy. It's no wonder I got enveloped so completely. The Gift was the culmination of a breathless six-episode ramp-up to the finale, immediately following The Body; stakes got raised, pieces got put into place. Buffy's great swan dive into the abyss was well prepared for.

#1: "Becoming, Part 2"
Season 2, Episode 22
Written by: Joss Whedon
The whole series of Buffy is about growing up. How hard that is. How dangerous. How goofy. Nowhere was that better accomplished than with the Buffy/Angel arc, and watching her have to permanently cut ties with her first love so that she wouldn't lose everything else could not have been more heartbreaking. So many indelible moments, in fact, from Buffy "coming out" as Slayer to her mom, to Drusilla's cruel manipulation of Giles (making him see her as Jenny), to Xander's callous/pragmatic refusal to tell Buffy that Willow still might restore Angel's soul. But the whole is even bigger than the sum of its parts here. Buffy has to do the hardest thing, and it almost breaks her, but she's the Slayer, so she pushed that sword through. Bonus: easily the best acting of David Boreanaz's Buffy tenure (that "...Buffy?" after he's been re-ensouled).


Josh said...

Joe, this countdown has been so good! Thank you for making me fall in love with this series all over again.

Karen said...

Every time I watch "The Body," I manage to hold it together until Anya's monologue. She just kills it. Your description of it as heartbreaking is spot on.

The Pretentious Know it All said...

This is a great countdown. I really appreciate the absence of "Conversations with Dead People," which really fails to hit it as far as the "concept" episodes go.

Not to be "that guy," but I think the episode you're actually talking about that was pulled because of Columbine is "Earshot," when Buffy could hear thoughts and she overheard someone thinking they were going to massacre the school (Jonathan in the clocktower, but it turns out it was the cafeteria lady).

MattPatt said...

Pretentious Know it All (okay, it just feels weird to type that):

Both episodes were actually pulled, believe it or not. "Earshot" was originally scheduled to air the week after the Columbine shootings, and wound up not showing at all until a rerun the next fall. "Graduation Day, Part 2" at least aired in sequence... although quite a bit later than it was supposed to have. And I vaguely remember people pirating both on the Internet even back in the day, although it was much less common to have a good enough broadband connection to make that worthwhile.

Jenn said...

They also reshot some portions of "Graduation Day, Part 2" to take out some of the violence.

The Pretentious Know it All said...

My bad. I grew up in Canada, where "Graduation Day: Part 2" was not delayed, but "Earshot" was.

Tom said...

My three favorite moments from the series are in this post: The entire graduating class standing up and pulling out weapons, the look on Angel's face as he gets sucked in to hell, and Anya's speech. Great list, Joe.

Kristin said...

Such a great list and a great top five! Thanks for helping me relive I show I would've never believed I would like so much. :D

bcarter3 said...

"Becoming, Part 2" has always been my choice as the best Buffy episode, and I think your other selections are excellent, too.

I've always thought that "The Body" was brilliant, but fatally flawed by the gratuitous monster-fight-of-the-week near the end. Joyce's death was horror enough,

Glenn Dunks said...

Amazing stuff. I need to go back and watch it all because a lot of the early episodes feel like vague memories to me. "The Body" would be my favourite - the scene where Buffy tells Dawn at her school just slays (oh HAHA).

par3182 said...

a reasonable person would agree that #4 on any list is quite high...but buffy freaks need not be reasonable and #4 is an insult to 'the body'

although 'becoming part two' is an excellent alternative for the top spot

Stephanie said...

I have to go back and watch "The Body" again. I'm a huge Buffy fan and it left me cold the first (and only) time I watched it. Not sure if it was my general distaste for season 5, or I never really liked Joyce as a character. Also, the fact that the paramedics left her there with the body (which I can't see ever happening) always rang false for me.

But Becoming and Graduation Day - both parts - would be on my desert island DVD player. Perfect television.

Rbelle said...

@bcarter, I always liked that fight scene in The Body because it serves as a reminder that just because this horrible, non-supernatural thing has occurred, it doesn't mean Buffy gets to stop being the Slayer. Life still goes on, even when you think the world should stop.

This list just makes me want to cry, in a good way. But also in a way that says, I just moved and somehow misplaced one of my Season 3 DVDs, and now I can't show my husband all the great eps from that season. And thanks to the countdown, I really, really want to!

spacecitymarc said...

Honestly? I thought "The Gift" WAS the series finale. From the full-series previouslies, the thank-you card and, more than anything, Buffy dying -- I had long been convinced that the only proper ending for the show was for Buffy to die and the next Slayer to get called (which: half-right, sorta) -- I was struck with the feeling that the reports of moving to UPN were just a smokescreen to keep the fans from going apeshit so that Whedon could secretly end the series on his own terms, without distractions. (Something that, ironically, seems more and more in Whedon's nature as the years go by.) I didn't believe that there would really be a season six until it actually began.

quint said...

I see you are obviously anti-Spike (or anti-James Marsters), which is unfortunate. Episodes such as Fool for Love, Something Blue and Crush (to name a few) were by far, some of the best episodes. I can't really see how Triangle, Life Serial, and especially Him can be on any top 30 list."Him" was IMO, one of the worst episodes in the series. Suffice to say, my top 30 list would be radically different from this list.