Buffy The Vampire Slayer

WB

"She saved the world. A lot."

Believe it or not, it's been 20 years since Buffy Summers first began saving the world with the series premiere of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the now-defunct WB. Bowing midseason as a replacement for the Aaron Spelling-produced Savannah on Monday, March 10, 1997, the iconic series would quickly make Sarah Michelle Gellar a star and help put the fledgling network on the map. Seven seasons, two deaths for its heroine, one spin-off series and a network swap later, creator Joss Whedon and his team delivered 144 episodes of (usually) groundbreaking, thrilling television.

But no one has 144 hours to sit around and celebrate a show's 20 year anniversary—not even one as beloved as Buffy. And let's be honest—no one really wants to voluntarily revisit duds like "Teacher's Pet" or "Beer Bad" anyway. So, in honor of the two decades that she's been in our lives, staking vampire ass, we present the 20 essential Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes for your celebratory binge. Happy watching, Scoobies!

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Prophecy Girl

Season One
"Welcome to the Hellmouth": No Buffy binge would be complete without the show that introduced us to our plucky heroine and her new life in Sunnydale. Watch as the Scooby Gang forms before your very eyes, marvel at all the outrageous hair and take heart at Buffy's first meeting with Angel. From the very first moments of the episode, Whedon signals that BtVS would be subverting all the tropes when the "damsel in distress" in the opening scene reveals herself to be the aggressor, a vampire named Darla.

"Prophecy Girl": Buffy finally meets The Master, the first season's big bad, for a confrontation she knows she's slated to lose, thanks to a pesky prophecy, cementing her status as a fearless protector. What other show would make the bold move to kill off its protagonist in its season one finale? (Don't worry, the slayer is resurrected with a little help from Xander later in the episode.)

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Innocence

Season Two
"Halloween": Buffy delivered some exceptional Halloween episodes during its run, but none more iconic than its first one, where everyone turned into their enchanted costumes. Xander became a real soldier, Buffy's an 18th century noble woman incapable of fighting, and Willow becomes an actual ghost forced to step up and use her newfound ability to walk through walls to help save the day. While notable enough for its fun concept, the episode also introduced us to Giles' foe Ethan Rayne, who would pop up every now and then to torment our favorite Watcher.

"Innocence": AND THIS IS WHY YOU NEVER HAVE SEX, CHILDREN. JK, but just make sure your partner is not a cursed vampire who will lose his soul if he ever experiences a true moment of happiness before choosing to have sex. This is arguably the episode where Buffy went from good to great, and proved it was more than just a teen drama. After losing her virginity, Buffy faces a young girl's worst nightmare: the guy turns into a monster. Except Angel turned into a literal one, changing the course of the series, and the character of Buffy, forever. This episode also strikes the perfect balance of the two side of Buffy: the strong Slayer (Remember the rocket launcher?!) and the naive girl who sometimes just needs her mother to stroke her hair and tell her everything will be OK, even though she knows it won't be.

"Passion": While the Scooby gang would go on to suffer some truly gutting losses, Jenny Calendar's brutal death at the hands of Angelus (who snapped her neck rather than drain her blood), with the heartthrob finally turning into a monster for many fans, was the show's first major loss. While the loss of her virginity began Buffy's journey into adulthood, Angelus' actions and her in this episode cemented it, with her saying she is finally ready to kill him.  Also, this line still gives us chills: "Passion is the source of our finest moments. The joy of love... the clarity of hatred... and the ecstasy of grief." 

"Becoming, Part 1 and Part 2": Wait, first: go turn on Sarah McLachlan's "Full of Grace" and put on your sad overalls ‘cause man, was this two-part finale A JOURNEY. Arguably BtVS' best villain, Angelus, reign of torture on Buffy and her loved ones finally comes to an end…but not without so, so, so many costs: Kendra's (the other Slayer) death, Buffy is expelled from school and kicked out of her house by her mom, and, in the end, has to kill Angel, not Angelus, as Willow is able to reverse the curse and restore his soul, just seconds after the vortex to hell is opened. "Close your eyes," Buffy tells the only man she's ever loved, just before stabbing him, and us, right in the heart.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Graduation Day

Season Three
"The Wish": "I wish Buffy Summers had never come to Sunnydale." In season three's fun and frightening alt-universe episode, fans got to see what would've happened if the Slayer never did show up in town after Cordelia makes that wish to vengeance demon Anya (in her first-ever appearance!). Bonus: Evil Willow's iconic "Bored now" line came out of this outing.

"Earshot": What started out as a lark—Buffy becomes temporarily telepathic, hearing the basic and funny thoughts of those around her—turned deadly serious when she overhears a fellow student planning murder. She narrows the voice down to unpopular student Jonathan (Danny Strong), who has hidden out in the clock tower with a rifle, intending on killing himself. As Buffy tries to talk him down, her dialogue reveals the show's most naked argument for the idea that high school is a living hell for everyone. "If you could hear what they were feeling. The loneliness. The confusion. It looks quiet down there. It's not. It's deafening." Though it was written well before, the episode was pulled from its original air date, which was only a week after the Columbine High Massacre, for obvious reasons. It wouldn't air until the following September.

"Graduation Day, Part 1 and Part 2": The season three finale wrapped up the Scooby gang's years in high school in the most epic way possible: by having the entire senior class hide weapons under their graduation robes so they could defeat the demonic Mayor (and graduation speaker) before blowing up the entire high school, with the Mayor inside. It even mirrored the way the series eventually ended, with Buffy realizing that she worked best when she took advantage of the strength in numbers. Well, gosh.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Hush

WB

Season Four
"Hush": There's a reason "Hush" was the only episode ever nominated for an Emmy for writing. Joss Whedon saw how much the show's dialogue was praised, and decided to give us an episode almost entirely devoid of that dialogue. What resulted is one of the best and scariest episodes of the series ever, all thanks to the Gentlemen—terrifying monster men who steal people's voices so they can't scream when they get their hearts ripped out. "Hush" also includes one of the funniest moments of the series, when Buffy tries to mime a staking and her hand gestures are severely misinterpreted.

"Restless": Season four isn't the most popular among Buffy fans, but it smartly ended its main plot about a cyber-demon-thing called Adam in its second to last episode, and devoted its finale to an ingenious character study framed by all of the main characters falling asleep and having insane but deeply revelatory dreams. The dreams not only connect each member of the Scooby gang to the mythical first slayer (and one man who really likes cheese), but also show just how far everybody has come, and how much further they still have to go.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Body

WB

Season Five
"Fool for Love": Spike (James Marsters) is both one of the most beloved and controversial characters on Buffy, and this episode introduces us to William, the meek and bullied poet in the 1880s who was eventually turned into a vampire called Spike, who eventually fell in love with a slayer named Buffy. "Fool for Love" teaches us a lot about Spike, a lot about Buffy, a whole lot about the mindset and inherent death wish of a vampire slayer, and even foreshadows several of the show's biggest and most important turning points.

"The Body": Without a doubt, "The Body" is the show's most heartwrenching episode. Buffy got really good at dealing with supernatural deaths, but human morality was sort of foreign to her. When she arrives home to find her mother dead on the couch after an aneurysm, her whole world stops, and she's just a little girl who wants her mom. We're crying just thinking about that opening scene and all of the beautiful musings on life and death that this episode gives us—often thanks to our demonic fave and human newbie, Anya.

"The Gift": The end of "The Gift" was not the first time Buffy died throughout the course of the show, but it was the most important, and the most unexpected, and the most lasting. Half a season after losing her mother, Buffy sacrifices herself to save (the ball of living energy who has been disguised as) her sister, accepting that dying will both save the world and finally free her from the burden of being the slayer. It was all she ever wanted, but damn was it hard to watch.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, One More With Feeling

WB

Season Six
"Once More With Feeling": The words "Buffy" and "musical" don't seem like they would go together, but man, the Buffy musical episode was off-the-charts great. Whedon wrote the songs (that are catchy and emotional as hell) that propelled the series forward…and gave us some emo anthems to describe high school drama. "Still my friends don't know why I ignore/The million things or more/I should be dancing for"

"Tabula Rasa": Some quality comedy from Giles and Spike, emotional moments all around and a performance by Michelle Branch that hit right in the feels? Tabula Rasa had it all, including memory loss.

"Normal Again": What if Buffy never left the psychiatric institution and the entire series was in her head? That's the question this episode presented after Buffy was attacked by an hallucinogenic demon. As she went back and forth between worlds, Buffy struggled with what is reality. The episode ended the camera pulling away on Buffy in the padded room, she was gone, living in her head…SO WHAT's REAL?!

"Grave": Dark Willow vs. everybody! Xander, the man with no powers, saved the day. The power of friendship, which was always the core of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Chosen

WB

Season Seven
"Conversations With Dead People": The First Evil was, well, evil. The season seven episode dove right into the psyche of your favorite characters thanks to dead folks. Fun fact: Rumor has it Amber Benson was going to appear as Tara and talk to Willow instead of Azura Skye's Cassie, but she didn't want viewers to see Tara in a bad guy role.

"Chosen": The end. Buffy saved the day in her last TV adventure by empowering women all over the world. Is there a better ending to the televised (the adventures continue in a Joss Whedon-sanctioned comic book) adventures of Buffy Summers?

Which Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes are on your essential binge list? Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments below!

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