It is 20 years since the debut of the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As a show that has generated much academic and fan-generated writing, I thought I would post this piece that I wrote for All Slay zine back in 2003. So Scooby Gang fans, enjoy!
There has been much analysis and debate over the story arcs of Buffy. As the show developed, the series arcs became longer and longer, so much so that pretty much all of season 6 and 7 progressed the story arcs. On the other hand, some of my favourite episodes are the stand alone episodes. These episodes don’t further the story arc much, or even at all, but still provide come of the best Buffy moments. So I digress into the world of the Top Ten Stand Alone Episodes…
BEWITCHED, BOTHERED AND BEWILDERED (Season 2, Episode 16)
Synopsis: After being dumped by Cordelia on Valentine’s Day, Xander blackmails Amy into performing a love spell. The spell backfires when Xander becomes every woman in Sunnydale’s ‘cuddle monkey’, except for Cordelia. This results in an obsessive mob chasing Xander and Cordelia into Buffy’s basement. The episode resolves with Cordelia rejecting the sheep mentality of the ‘Cordettes’ and choosing to date Xander, ‘no matter how lame he is’.
Why It Works: Like many of the humorous stand alone episodes, Xander stands as the main character of the episode and it is the second time he’s been rejected by a girl in two seasons. The episode starts off slowly and there is suspicion that it might revolve around Angel’s dangerous new obsession with Buffy, but when Buffy and Amy both start flirting with Xander, the fun begins. The soundtrack of ‘Dr. Love’ works a treat and the interaction of the infuriated Giles, the love-stricken Jenny and poor, hopeless Xander is hilarious. Around the ‘Cordettes’, Cordelia’s acid tongue is at its sharpest, but the episode’s conclusion keeps the show’s continuity and provides the basis for almost a season’s worth of laughs.
Xander: “Do you know what’s a good day to break up with somebody? Any day besides Valentine’s Day! I mean, what, were you running low on dramatic irony?”
GO FISH (Season 2, Episode 20)
Synopsis: The Sunnydale High swim team is winning competitions, but also seem to be losing their skin. The Scooby Gang investigate and find the swim team are taking steroids that have the unfortunate side effect of turning them into sea monsters. Xander’s undercover work lands him in danger, resulting in blood transfusion and the excitement of Willow and Cordelia.
Why It Works: An episode full of red herrings, but also full of one-liners. This was David Fury’s first episode for Buffy and is an indication of the humour present in his later episodes. Xander and Cordelia comes through with the funnies again, both taking a side on the issue of the swim team and its various privileges. Of course, Cordelia’s pro and Xander’s con – until he joins the team. A very light episode in between ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ and the season end ‘Becoming’, but very enjoyable.
Xander: And what about that nutty ‘all men are created equal’ thing?
Cordelia: Propaganda spouted out by the ugly and less deserving.
Xander: I think that was Lincoln.
Cordelia: Disgusting mole and stupid hat.
Willow: Actually, it was Jefferson.
Cordelia: Kept slaves. Remember?
BAND CANDY (Season 3, Episode 6)
Synopsis: The Mayor and Mr Trick hire bad guy Ethan Rayne to distract the population of Sunnydale while they prepare a sacrifice for a demon named Lagos. Rayne uses cursed candy bars, sold by the Sunnydale High students to raise money for the band, which turn the adults into teenagers. Giles and Joyce are both affected and although this pleases Buffy at first, it ultimately results in her disapproval.
Why It Works: This episode works principally because the characters’ nuances, well known by this time, change drastically. Although Joyce comes off partially as annoying and whiny, Giles’ reversion to a rebellious cockney and Principal Snyder’s nerdish tendencies make this episode very entertaining. The Scooby Gang play most of this episode straight, even Xander, but the comical performances by the adults are fantastic, especially where Giles and Joyce argue with the ‘mature’ Buffy.
Willow: ‘Kiss rocks’? Why would anyone want to kiss… Oh, wait. I get it.
THE ZEPPO (Season 3, Episode 13)
Synopsis: It’s the end of the world again and the Scooby Gang must assemble for the fight – except Xander. Sidelined for the showdown, Xander borrows his uncle’s car and after a riling from Cordelia, befriends a group of zombie teenagers. While they plan to ‘bake a cake’, Xander is seduced by Faith, before saving the school from exploding.
Why It Works: Like ‘Band Candy’, the humour from this episode lies in its self-referential parodies. Instead of the overly dramatic apocalypse scenario, Xander’s adventure for acceptance and identity is the main storyline. He goes from scene to scene, trying to fit in, but ultimately finds that instead of trying to be someone else, such as ‘Car Guy’, he’s better off being himself. His seduction by Faith is classic comedy and satire of the usual Buffy structure is a great reprieve from the show’s moments of heavy drama, while allowing Xander to find his own place within the Scooby Gang.
Xander: Yeah, great knife. Although I think it may technically be a sword.
Jack O’Toole: She’s called Katie.
Xander: You gave it a girl’s name. How very serial killer of you.
FEAR ITSELF (Season 4, Episode 4)
Synopsis: Halloween once again provides the Scooby Gang with a predicament. The Frat Party’s haunted house has turned into a real house of horrors, due to Oz’s blood being spilt on an ancient rune. A fear demon is trying to emerge, leading to Buffy being dragged into a basement of zombies, Xander turning invisible, Willow’s magic going awry and Oz changing into his werewolf state. Eventually Anya and Giles rescue the gang, before Buffy stomps the miniscule fear demon.
Why It Works: Although the episode is surprisingly similar to Season One’s ‘Nightmares’ with hints of Season Two’s ‘Halloween’, ‘Fear Itself’ is very good episode. Much of the laughs come from the incidents outside of the haunted house, such as Giles’ ridiculous sombrero and dancing skeleton or Xander and Anya’s interaction. Finally, the appearance of the miniature fear demon and Xander’s taunting conclude an enjoyable Halloween romp. Also notable for the first mention of Anya’s fear of bunnies.
Xander: That’s your scary costume?
Anya: Bunnies frighten me.
SUPERSTAR (Season 4, Episode 17)
Synopsis: Jonathan is a world-class superhero, worshipped by all, with Buffy as his sidekick. When a demon arrives that Jonathan is reluctant to fight, Buffy realises something is amiss. With the help of Anya, Buffy discovers that Jonathan has created an alternate reality, which spawned the monster. By Buffy eventually killing the monster, the alternate world Jonathan created disappears, but the advice he gives Buffy and Riley about the Faith incident remains.
Why It Works: ‘Superstar’ removes Buffy as the central character of the show and gives her a secondary role alongside the diminutive Jonathan. As well as Buffy’s venture from the ‘normal’ to resuming her role as the Gang’s leader, the episode’s humour comes from the over-the-top hero worship of Jonathan. Giles’ Jonathan swimsuit calendar and his apprehension in admitting to owning it is perhaps one of the best Giles’ moments ever. Also very enjoyable is the altered opening sequence with Jonathan being very James Bond.
Buffy: Anya, tell them about the alternate universes.
Anya: Oh, okay. Um… say you really like shrimp a lot. Or we could say you don’t like shrimp at all. “Blah, I wish there weren’t any shrimp,” you’d say to yourself…
Buffy: Stop! You’re saying it wrong.
THE REPLACEMENT (Season 5, Episode 3)
Synopsis: A sophisticated demon named Toth aims to separate Buffy into two different bodies, but happens to separate Xander instead. One Xander is smooth and confident, the other is clumsy and self-loathing, but both believe the other is a demon, or an evil robot. Giles ascertains that both are the ‘real’ Xander and they need each other to survive. Before the two Xanders kill each other, the Gang intervenes and Willow reunites them, despite Anya’s interest in kinky sex games.
Why It Works: By the end of Season Five, all three members of the Scooby Gang have had a doppelganger, but the fact that there’s two Xanders makes this episode exceptionally funny. Xander at his most downtrodden and self-loathing is always going to be hilarious and he is. Smooth Xander is also quite funny, especially when he confronts the Lame Xander. Riley has a rare comedic line, as well ass some classic lines from Buffy and Giles. The scene where Lame Xander tries to convince Willow that he’s the ‘real’ Xander is damn well amusing, and you have to love the Snoopy dance. Additionally, some think that Anya’s nightgown is overtly comical.
Lame Xander: It’s a robot. It’s an evil robot constructed from evil parts that look like me designed to do evil.
TRIANGLE (Season 5, Episode 11)
Synopsis: While Giles flies to England to gather more information on Glory, Anya (and Willow) is left in charge of the Magic Box. When Anya disapproves of Willow and Tara’s experimentation with spells, they both turn to Xander, who decides to escape their bickering. Left alone to sort things out, Willow and Anya release Olaf the Troll from a bottle that had imprisoned him. Olaf then goes on a destruction spree, ending up at the Bronze where the gang find out that Olaf is indeed Anya’s ex-boyfriend and she had turned him into the troll. Xander fights Olaf and is rewarded with the ‘insane troll logic’ of having to decide between Anya or Willow’s life being spared. However, a distraught Buffy beats Olaf before Willow sends him to another dimension.
Why It Works: Olaf as a mediaeval troll is one of the best characters that the show has created and his altercation with Xander and Spike over ‘plump succulent babies’ and ‘much hearty grog’ is such cheesy dialogue that is also hilarious. However, ‘Triangle’ is all about Anya and her humorous speech. In the previous episode ‘Into The Woods’, Willow took Anya to task about her speech and now the two are at each other throats, but the results are damn funny. Despite the hilarity of Willow and Anya, it is also pleasing to see the two resolve their differences by the episode’s conclusion. Also, this is the first episode for over a season without Riley. Much rejoicing was had.
Willow (imitating Anya): I like money better than people. People can so rarely be exchanged for goods and/or services!
Anya: Xander, she’s pretending to be me!
TABULA RASA (Season 6, Episode 8)
Synopsis: Xander, Anya, Willow and Tara have learnt that Buffy was in heaven and Willow proposes magic to make Buffy forget. Tara gives Willow an ultimatum to stop using magic. Meanwhile Giles tells Buffy that he is leaving for London. All of the Gang, plus Spike gather at the Magic Box, but succumb to a mind control spell by Willow that goes horribly wrong. The Gang lose their memories and try to figure out who they are and what they are doing. However they are interrupted by a literal ‘loan shark’ and his vampire hoods. The Gang eventually regain their memories and Tara breaks up with Willow.
Why It Works: Again, the humour of this episode arises from the characters’ performing in a totally different way than their usual self. The piecing together of the puzzle and their incorrect assumptions make for amusing viewing. Spike’s realisation that he is a vampire and his parody of the ‘Angel’ spiel is particularly good, but once again the prize goes to Anya and Giles for their routine as a married couple – although one does wonder why Anya remembers her fear of bunnies.
Buffy: I’ll name me, Joan.
Buffy: Did you just ‘ugh’ my name?
HIM (Season 7, Episode 8)
Synopsis: Dawn is head over heels for RJ, the handsome quarterback of Sunnydale High. She starts to obsess about him, even trying out for the cheerleading squad. Only she isn’t the only one after RJ. Soon, every girl who comes into contact with RJ falls under his charm. Buffy, Dawn, Willow and Anya all attempt to show their love for RJ. Xander and Spike realise that the girls are under a love spell, triggered by RJ’s jacket. Before destroying the jacket, they save Buffy from firing a rocket launcher the Principal Wood, Willow from performing a spell and Dawn from being run over by a train. However, Anya’s crime spree goes unprevented, yet unnoticed.
Why It Works: As we saw in ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’, love spells make for humorous watching. Dawn’s cheerleader try out is very amusing, yet totally cringe worthy. There are loads of nerd-ish references to past episodes, which make fan boys (and girls) smile with glee. Just before the very serious story arc on Season Seven, ‘Him’ is totally light hearted and fun. The scene from Principal wood’s window where Spike and Xander take out Buffy before she fires the rocket launcher is priceless.
Buffy: “Willow, you’re a gay woman! And he… isn’t.”
Willow: “This isn’t about his physical presence! It’s about his heart.”
Anya: “His physical presence has a penis!”