TV lists

Buffy The Vampire Slayer – The Top Five Episodes Of Season Three

Bax Greenland continues his look back at his favourite series with his top five episodes of Buffy's triumphant third season...

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 three, this is often regarded as the golden age of the show. It is a reputation well deserved; while it might not quite reach the heights of the Angelus arc from the second half of season two, it is tonally more consistent, littered with classic episodes throughout.

Season three was the year that dealt with the fallout of Buffy killing Angel; he is resurrected by the First Evil while she returns home and attempts to readjust to life, and Willow begins to develop her skills as a witch. But it is the debut of fan favourite vampire slayer Faith (Eliza Dushku) that really shakes things up. She acts as a mirror to Buffy, and her descent into darkness makes her such a fantastic villain. And of course, it’s the year that the often referenced Mayor of Sunnydale makes his debut. Harry Groener is possibly Buffy The Vampire Slayer‘s greatest villain: the earnest, straight-talking man with a darker side; his ascension into a demon makes for a thrilling climax to the season.

Like season two, there are some difficult choices ahead. How can you pick just five episodes out of so many greats? Well, let’s see what you think of these choices.


Homecoming

Season three had some of the show’s greatest darkly comic episodes and they feature heavily in this list. ‘Homecoming’ is the first of these: an episode that sees Buffy and Cordelia go head to head to become homecoming queen. Buffy’s ruthless side is unleashed, but even then it is no match for Cordy and there’s something wonderful about seeing them in a battle of wills as they strive to gain every vote possible.

This would be entertaining enough, but then we have new recurring vampire Mr Trick who unleashes Slayerfest 98, a brilliant macabre tournament where vampires, demons and assassins battle it out to slay Buffy and Faith. Except of course, Cordelia gets mistaken for the second slayer and we see the two frenemies face one ordeal after another. Cordy more than proves herself. The ending is a delight too, with the two bloodstained weary contenders for the throne staggering into the school hall in their tattered dresses, ready to take the crown, only to face the dismay of losing to the other two contenders.


Band Candy

‘Homecoming’ might be the first comedy classic of the season, but it is immediately topped by the next episode ‘Band Candy’, which sees the return of Robin Sachs’ brilliant British villain Ethan Rayne. This time, he’s put a spell on candy being sold to adults, turning them all into hormonal teenagers. Cue Snyder transforming into a hyperactive geek desperate to be in the cool gang, Joyce as a sassy good girl with a wannabe bad streak, and Giles reverting to bad boy Ripper “Ooo, copper’s got a gun!’

I’m not sure what is funnier: the ‘grown up’ characters running amuck (including Giles and Joyce having sex on the bonnet of a police car – twice), or the horrified reactions of the teenage characters to what is happening. Either way, it’s a lot of fun with an insidious undercurrent – the adults being distracted so the mayor can steal and sacrifice a load of babies in tribute to a giant snake demon – that progresses the main arc while being a blast from beginning to end.


The Wish

‘Lovers Walk’ which saw the return of Spike, was another episode that narrowly missed the list and saw the break up of every key relationship in the show – Buffy and Angel, Willow and Oz, and Cordelia and Xander. ‘The Wish’ deals with the fallout as Cordy returns to full queen bitch mode and vents her betrayal by Willow and Xander by turning the blame on Buffy. Cue the debut of Anya as a vengeance demon, who fulfils Cordy’s wishes and creates a world where Buffy never came to Sunnydale.

What emerges is a delightfully dark and twisted alternate reality where Mark Metcalf’s The Master is still alive and rules Sunnydale. Angel is a chained pet, Giles is fighting a desperate battle against the vampire population, and most horrifically, Willow and Xander have become vampires. It’s both funny and tragic. Cordelia being drained by Willow and Xander half-way through is a shocking twist, and the emergence of a battle-hardened Buffy fails to turn the tide. It’s only Giles that is able to save the day, destroying Anya’s power source in the final battle as the Master kills Buffy (again), Oz stakes Willow, and Xander is dusted, as all our favourite characters meet their grizzly demise. And it also gave us ‘Doppelgangland’, which saw the return of leather-clad vampire Willow later that season.


The Zeppo

‘The Zeppo’ is a fantastic episode, flipping the A and B stories to tell a very different type of narrative. Cordelia calls Xander the Zeppo, the one Marx brother that failed to measure up, and the episode explores what happens to the one powerless member of the group when the rest fight to save the world. Cue a twisted case of zombie resurrection, a sexy hook-up (and loss of virginity) with Faith, a crime spree and a showdown with a bomb.

‘The Zeppo’ really has fun dipping in and out of the apocalypse story (something which some fans who didn’t get the premise complained about), and it really has fun at Buffy The Vampire Slayer‘s expense. Xander walking in on a tearful moment between Buffy and Angel really pokes fun at their tragic relationship, and the snippets of the rest of the team fighting the demon from the Hellmouth give a sense of the stakes at play. But this is Xander’s story and it’s not about saving the world. Sometimes, all you need to do is stand up to a bully and that’s the real message behind this episode. Even if that bully is a zombie with a knife…


Graduation Day Parts 1 and 2

Faith’s descent to the dark side is a brilliant mirror to Buffy’s story and provides some real momentum to the second half of season three. But unlike season two, the real gems are found in the first half. Still ‘Bad Girls’, ‘Consequences’ and ‘Enemies’ are all strong contenders, along with ‘Earshot’ and the aforementioned ‘Doppelgangland’. But the highlight of season three is in the two part finale ‘Graduation Day’, and like season two’s ‘Becoming’, I’m choosing to pick both parts because they are as equally as great as each other.

The first part is filled with high tension, dealing with Faith poisoning Angel as the Mayor prepares for his ascension. It raises the takes higher than ever, leading to possibly the greatest fight in Buffy The Vampire Slayer‘s history as Buffy and Faith go head to head in one final confrontation. Buffy emerges bloody but triumphant, stabbing Faith with her own knife; the rogue slayer manages to escape, falling into a coma and leaving Buffy without the cure to save Angel – a slayer’s blood.

Part two ups the ante. Buffy letting Angel drink from her is a huge moment before the final battle at Sunnydale High. It’s a terrific swansong for the setting that has given three years of near-perfect storytelling, culminating in one final brilliant performance from Harry Groener as the Mayor before he transforms into the giant snake demon – and eats Snyder, repeating a Sunnydale High tradition. The entire student population pulling back their robes to reveal an arsenal of weapons is a hugely triumphant moment, ending in a climatic battle that sees Harmony vamped, students and vampires going head to head in battle, and the Mayor dying as the school is blown up. This was a hell of a way to end the school years and nothing would be the same again.

As for the worst episode. Again, there are great moments in every entry and there isn’t one story as bad as season one’s failing ‘Witch’ and season two’s ‘Bad Eggs’ (not that either were terrible). But in the worst of a great bunch, there is one episode that does stand out…


Beauty And The Beasts

There’s nothing inherently bad with this episode but it’s all a bit too grim and dour to be fully entertaining. It also doesn’t help that it focuses on Buffy’s bland new boyfriend Scott Hope and his equally uninteresting friends, as she tackles the subject of domestic abuse in a Jekyll and Hyde style case. The return of a feral Angel at the end is a nice surprise, but it doesn’t quite have that sense of fun and energy that all the other episodes in season three have.

As with season two, there are so many great episodes in season three of Buffy The Vampire Slayer that everyone’s top five are likely to be different. Do you agree with this selection? Are there others you would have picked? Let us know in the comments below…

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