Buffy The Vampire Slayer is returning… in some form. Whether it is the (second) reboot of the premise or a spin-off remains to be seen. However one thing is certain: no matter what path it takes, it has a lot to live up to. The Joss Whedon TV series starring Sarah Michelle Gellar as the titular slayer is one of the most beloved shows of all time.
So while we wait for news on what the new Buffy The Vampire Slayer might bring, we’ve decided to revisit the classic show, looking at the very best of each season. Continuing now with season two, this is the year where the show achieved classic status. With more mature storytelling, darker themes, broader comedy, and rich character development, there is something wonderfully epic about year two that was rarely rivalled (the exception being season three).
This was the year that Spike and Drusilla turned up in Sunnydale; that Willow met Oz; that Xander and Cordelia fell for each other; that Jenny and Giles’ love story took a number of tragic twists, and Buffy and Angel fell in love. This was the year that the vampires stole the show; that new slayer Kendra turned up; that Joyce finally found out the truth about her daughter; and most dramatic of all, that Angel reverted to Angelus, killed a close member of the Scooby Gang, and then was killed and sent to Hell by Buffy just as Willow restored his soul.
Picking the top five of season two is an almost impossible task; so many of the show’s greatest episodes took place in its second year. But here we’ve attempted the impossible and chosen the absolute cream of the crop…
There are a lot of great episodes in the first half of season two: Spike and Drusilla’s debut in ‘School Hard’, the supernatural shenanigans and debut of Ethan Rayne in ‘Halloween’ and of course the debut of Kendra the Vampire Slayer in ‘What’s My Line’. But thanks to the Angelus arc, the episodes in the second half of season two are some of the strongest the show ever did. It all kicks off in the preceding episode, ‘Surprise’ (an episode that narrowly missed this list), as Drusilla resurrects the Judge to end the world on Buffy’s birthday, and Buffy and Angel sleep together.
It turns out that this is the get out clause for the pesky curse, as Angel loses his soul and reverts back to Angelus. It’s horrible to watch, with the episode taking the concept of the guy changing his personality after sleeping with the girl to a whole new level, as he mocks Buffy, threatens her friends, and then allies herself with her greatest enemies. On first viewing it was a shocking turn of events and Sarah Michelle Gellar was rarely better than she was here, conveying the heartbreak of her loss. But she also gets to be totally badass too, taking out the Judge with a rocket launcher and saving the world once again.
Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered
While there is some pretty dark stuff in the Angelus arc, there is still time for humour, and Buffy The Vampire Slayer delivers one of its comic greats in an episode that sees every woman in Sunnydale fall madly in love with Xander thanks to a pesky love spell. It’s a wonderful way to explore the somewhat twisted relationship that is Xander and Cordy, kicking off with a rejection over Valentine’s Day, the case of worst timing ever, (only made worse by Angelus’ own gifts for Buffy).
It’s a terrific return for Amy, with giving a more assured performance as she attempts to follow in her mother’s footsteps and cast a spell on Xander to make Cordy love him. Naturally it backfires and over the course of the episode we are treated to one hilarious, cringeworthy encounter after another, teasing a potential romance with Willow (much to Oz’s confusion) to more outlandish attractions in Joyce and even Drusilla!
‘Innocence’ and ‘Becoming’ might be crowned the greatest episodes of season two in many fans’ eyes, but for me ‘Passion’ is the triumph of the season and perhaps my favourite episode of all. It shows just how dark the Angelus arc would take Buffy The Vampire Slayer, in an episode that is both macabre and beautiful. Because not content with turning Buffy’s one true love into the season’s villain, ‘Passion’ goes one further and has him kill one of her closest allies.
Okay, so perhaps Techno-wiccan school teacher Jenny Calendar wasn’t Willow or Xander, but she was an integral part of the show at this point; she has quite the emotional journey with Watcher Giles, first inhabited by a demon from his past, then revealed to be part of the Gypsy tribe that cursed Angel. ‘Passion’ sees her seek redemption by attempting to restore Angel’s soul just as she and Giles seek a reconciliation. Angelus turning up in the school, hunting her down and then snapping her neck is a shocking, thrilling moment. But it is the moment Giles returns him to his apartment filled with candles, roses and music and discovers her corpse laid out on his bed that is the most gut-wrenching scene in the show’s history to date. It’s an action that sees Giles go full Ripper and Buffy barely able to save him, as she realises that the man she loved is gone forever…
I Only Have Eyes for You
Another haunting episode, ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ deals with the fallout of Buffy and Angel’s doomed relationship, caught up in the tragic love affair of two ghosts that haunt Sunnydale High. At this point Buffy is broken, consumed with guilt over what has happened to Jenny, while the Scooby Gang try to solve the mystery of why seemingly good people have turned and killed each other on the premises.
It soon transpires that the ghosts are of doomed lovers – teacher Grace and student James – who re-enact their final tragic moments by possessing others. While the Scoobies encounter full-on horror-movie vibes in their attempts to exorcise the ghosts, it is Buffy and Angelus that become possessed – their roles reversed as Buffy plays the boy and Angelus the murdered teacher. Their re-enactment is a haunting reflection of what is really happening now, Buffy venting her grief and guilt while Angelus’ immortality enables him to survive the shooting and allow James and Grace to have their final goodbye. This is as beautiful as the show ever got and an underrated classic in an already classic season.
Becoming (Parts 1 and 2)
Okay, so maybe I’m cheating here, but both parts of the season two finale deserve a top spot in this list. ‘Becoming’ is the culmination of a momentous year of storytelling that is so epic, heart-breaking and jaw-dropping it was never bettered (though next season’s ‘Graduation Day’ came very, very close).
So part one first. This is an episode packed with tension as Angelus and Drusilla locate the demon Acathla, that would swallow the world into Hell if awakened. It raises the stakes considerably, and the return of slayer Kendra, and Willow discovering Jenny’s spell sets on her on the path to becoming a witch, only amps it higher. This sense of desperation culminates in a truly shocking cliff-hanger that sees Angelus lure Buffy away with a trap and Drusilla attack the scoobies, killing Kendra and kidnapping Giles. It is brutal and violent; Xander has his arm broken, Willow is put in a coma and Buffy returns too late to find herself arrested for murder. And that’s not without the wonderful flashbacks to Angelus’s siring and Buffy’s pre-Sunnydale days when she became the slayer.
Part two takes the story to a whole other level. It’s a satisfying finale in so many ways, while simultaneously tearing everything apart. Buffy finds herself on the run, teaming up with the most unlikely of allies in Spike, and culminating in Joyce finding out her daughter is a slayer and the delightful scene where she asks Spike if she has met him before. Giles’ torture at the hands of Aneglus is deeply shocking, Drusilla’s manipulation by pretending to be Jenny the most cruel moment of all, while Willow really steps up more confident than ever to create the spell to return Angel’s soul. That final fight at the mansion is just perfection – the score electric and the tension palpable. And has there ever been a moment more harrowing than Buffy being forced to kill a soul-restored Angel, kissing him goodbye before sending him to Hell to stop Acathla destroying the world?
If season one’s ‘Prophecy Girl’ ended relatively upbeat, then this is the polar opposite, with Buffy leaving Sunnydale for good in the episode’s closing moments, accompanied by the haunting ‘Full of Grace’ by Sarah McLachlan. At the end of the credits, the mutant enemy monster needed a hug and so did the rest of us after that traumatic experience…
After that high note, it almost seems wrong to consider the worst episode. While there are a few less thrilling episodes, (‘Some Assembly Required’, ‘Inca Mummy Girl’ or ‘Reptile Boy’), there are still terrific moments in every episode. Arguably, there isn’t a bad episode in seasons two or three. However, there is one that is somewhat less than stellar compared to its counterparts…
This episode should be fun: evil monster eggs possessing people leading to a quasi Invasion of the Body snatchers-style showdown, but everything about the episode feels half-arsed. There is far too much time spent on Buffy trying to care for an egg, and the addition of cliched cowboy vampires Lyle and Techtor Gorch make for a less than thrilling threat. This is an episode that may have fared better in the slightly more hokey first season. But here it fails to meet the standard season two had set and would elevate with its next episode ‘Surprise’.
And that’s the best episodes of one of Buffy The Vampire Slayer‘s greatest seasons. Did you agree with the choices? Or are there others you would have picked. ‘School Hard’ ‘Halloween’, ‘Lie To Me’, ‘What’s My Line’, ‘Surprise’, ‘Phases’ and ‘Killed By Death’ – the choices are numerous. Though is anyone really going to disagree with our pick for worst episode of season two?