15. Fool for Love
Episode: Season 5, episode 7
Buffy getting stabbed with her own stake leads into a Spike-centric episode that fills in his backstory and of Slayers like Buffy. Marsters is excellent throughout, whether quietly comforting Buffy at the episode's end or in a vicious fight on the subway with a previous Slayer. There are several fun nods for fans (the episode could be titled 'how Spike got his leather coat') and it even remembers to hint at the season 5 climax with Spike's belief that all Slayers want to die eventually. For the full story, make sure to watch Angel's season 2 episode Darla.
14. Prophecy Girl
Episode: Season 1, episode 12
If we weren't sure of the consequences of Buffy's life as a Slayer before, we definitely were after the season one finale Prophecy Girl. Put simply, Buffy dies. Granted, she comes right back, fulfilling both the prophecy that she will die and managing to defeat The Master. Gellar does some of her finest work of the season as Buffy takes in the prophecy, before going to her presumed death anyway. The finale also lays the groundwork for the appearance of Faith later in the series when a second Slayer is activated on Buffy's 'death'. Season 1 had its dodgier moments, but it sure ended strongly.
13. Tabula Rasa
Episode: Season 6, episode 8
As with Something Blue, Tabula Rasa is peak comedic Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In an episode that allows the whole cast to let loose to winning effect, Willow casts a spell that causes the entire Scooby Gang to wake up with no memories, a tad unfortunate given a demonic loan shark decides to come to Sunnydale. The reactions of the gang reacting to vampires is brilliant, as is Gellar's expression when she dusts a vampire. What we really fell in love with though was Anya's (Emma Caulfield) spell that conjures rabbits. Now that's the type of magic we want to master.
Episode: Season 3, episode 16
As with Villains, season 3's Doppelgangland gave Hannigan the chance to showcase a different, more vampiric, side to Willow, and she takes full advantage. A disrupted spell with Anya summons vampire Willow from 'The Wish' (more on that in a bit) to Sunnydale to wreak havoc, which leads to a surprisingly deep character study of Willow. It's predominantly just extremely entertaining though, from Willow's assertion that her vampire self is "kind of gay" to Willow pretending to be vampire Willow. Little did we know that vampire Willow's "bored now" line would come back in darker fashion in season 6.
11. The Wish
Episode: Season 3, episode 9
We love an alternate reality storyline, and there are few better examples of it in television than The Wish. After deciding that Buffy is the reason for all her woes, Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) gets her wish of a Buffy-less Sunnydale granted by a demon (Anya's first appearance, fact fans), leading to all manner of weird things. Xander and Willow as a vampire couple? Check. An espresso blood machine? Check. A scarred, battle-hardened Buffy? Check. It's everything a 'what if' scenario should be and, what's more, even packs some emotion in there despite the fact we know it's not real. Buffy's death (again) is so brutal, you can't help but recoil in anguish.
Episode: Season 6, episode 22
Season 6 had its problems in that it never really felt like it knew where it was going post-Buffy's sacrifice in season 5. It's an issue rectified with the emergence of Dark Willow, allowing Willow and Xander to take centre stage in a finale instead of Buffy. We feel every bit of pain as Dark Willow tortures Xander who just repeatedly says "I love you", and we break down as Willow finally realises she can't kill her best friend and cries in his arms. Hannigan and Brendon absolutely knock it out of the park.
Episode: Season 7, episode 22
Chosen always had a high benchmark to aim for given that Buffy the Vampire Slayer sort of already had its series finale in season 5. And while the episode doesn't live up to The Gift, it still does a sterling job of ending Buffy on a high. It's about as happy an ending as Buffy and the Scooby Gang could hope for, despite the death of Anya and the noble sacrifice of Spike. What's best about it though is its message that anyone can be the chosen one as Buffy rebels against the Slayer lineage to create a whole army of Slayers. And to top it all off, the final shot is just perfect.
Episode: Season 2, episode 14
Following directly on from Surprise, Innocence is where we get our first full look at the complete bastard that is Angelus. Boreanaz has a blast at just how evil Angelus is, including completely destroying Buffy emotionally with a traumatic conversation when she doesn't realise just what he's become. It's the dark side of the show's central tragic romance and a showcase of how unpredictable the character's relationships can be. The episode is also lifted by a terrific speech by Giles, showcasing his softer side in comforting Buffy. Go Giles!
7. Graduation Day
Episode: Season 3, episodes 21 and 22
OK, so we bent the rules a little bit with this, yet so much happens in the season 3 finale that it seems wrong to separate either part as being superior to the other. Effectively, it's Xander and Giles who save the day, but there are many other delightful character beats such as Cordelia's first dusting of a vampire and a beautiful ending for Faith. It really felt like a turning point for the show. Not only were its characters moving on from high school, it had finally managed to craft a full season with barely a misstep. Oh, and Angel drank from Buffy. No biggie.
Episode: Season 2, episode 17
No one can break us like Whedon, and he gives the first painful glimpse of that in Passion. Angelus is continuing his evil ways when he crosses paths with Jenny Calendar (Robia LaMorte) and we see just how far he's gone. It's bad enough that he snaps her neck with glee, but then he leaves her in her lover Giles' bed in an otherwise romantic scene. Now we knew: no character was safe in the Whedonverse. Fortunately, Giles is saved by Buffy during his ill-advised revenge against Angelus, but it doesn't make the heartbreak afterwards any easier to watch.