I designed Buffy to be an icon, to be an emotional experience, to be loved in a way that other shows can't be loved. Because it's about adolescence, which is the most important thing people go through in their development, becoming an adult. And it mythologizes it in such a way, such a romantic way—it basically says, "Everybody who made it through adolescence is a hero."
A few years out of Wesleyan University's film program with a minor in gender studies, Whedon became a third-generation TV writer (as in, his father and his father before him) when he was hired by Roseanne, and felt so underused he drafted a feature script in his copious spare time. About a year later it was picked up by a female director named Fran Kuzui and the completed film was released by Fox in 1992.
It's a cute movie - not terrible, but certainly not great. Kristy Swanson stars in the title role as a shallow fashion-plate cheerleader whose life is thrown into disarray when Donald Sutherland, mysterious trenchcoated member of an ancient order of mystics, informs her that fate has chosen her to be the Slayer, endowing her with superhuman strength and agility and a responsibility to fight evil. Naturally, she would rather shop. Luke Perry from 90210 is the hunky drifter who helps confront the vampire menace, embodied by Rutger Hauer as creepy overlord and Paul Reubens (unrecognizable if you only know him as Pee-Wee Herman) as his sarcastic armless sidekick. Once Buffy finally accepts the path of justice, her popular friends mock and ostracize her, but she redeems herself by defending the senior prom from an army of the undead.
Though Whedon was closely involved in the development process, which in Hollywood is unusual, he stopped visiting the set after Sutherland insisted on improvising his lines. (When you mess with the mentor's exposition, you mess with the entire mythic underpinnings of your tale.) Also, Kuzui introduced a lighter tone than Whedon's material implied. The film is too cartoony, too of the traditional school that comedy must be brightly lit and overacted. And since Buffy really is pretty dumb, it's kind of hard to root for her.
Five years later, Sandollar Productions, who at that point held the rights to the character, notified Whedon that they were adapting the property into a television pilot. They expected him to decline involvement, but he jumped at the chance to redesign the story. Even though the show was (again) produced under the Fox banner, the network that picked it up was the brand new WB. Since it was chosen as a midseason replacement, only 12 episodes were commissioned instead of 22, and all of them were shot and edited before the first one hit the air in January 1997.
Compared to the feature film, the show's 88-minute 2-part premiere is funnier, scarier, darker, and most importantly, peopled with personalities that are subtler and more genuine. (Though it technically can serve as a sequel to the film, details of Buffy's background were tweaked for dramatic effect.) Also, obviously, it was made for about 1% of the film's budget. The show's DP, Michael Grossman, didn't even have access to 35mm film like most dramas and features. The resultant 16mm stock lent the show's first two seasons a grainy, non-glamorous look that many fans preferred to the high gloss of later years.
(Sarah Michelle Gellar
Yes, she's ferociously strong and nigh-invulnerable. She's also five-two and not as blonde as you think. When the role of a hero was thrust upon her, she accepted it only because no one else could, but she soon grew into it (either that or fate's selection wasn't so random) and proved herself relentlessly, unswervingly, inspiringly brave. She differs from her precursors in that she insists upon having a "normal" social life - where her ass-kicking skills fail to provide her with any confidence. She's very smart, but doesn't excel in school, recognizing (as most of us do) intellectually dead busywork. So she's a rebel, but never one who means to upset the people she loves.
Buffy's best friend is a shy, sweet computer geek who soon discovers she's an adept sorceress as well. Adorably stuttery and spacey. Her constant search to find herself and conquer her weaknesses is what the show's female fans probably identify with the most.
By contrast, Xander is the character with whom Joss identifies. He's a dork with no real skills except his unwavering loyalty, a social outcast who's hung out with Willow since kindergarten. An unhappy home life has caused him to cloak every remark in a veneer of benign sarcasm. His style falls somewhere between Matthew Perry and Bruce Campbell, but he has a gift for comic timing all his own.
(Anthony Stewart Head
Buffy's new Watcher, posing as her school librarian. Generally he's there to tell her You must and You can't, but his stuffy buttoned-up demeanor is an affectation assembled after a wild past in England spent playing bass in a punk rock band and studying dark magicks. He comes to truly care for Buffy, which is as forbidden in his doctrine as her rebellious demands, and assumes the role of her father figure. (Buffy's father soon disappears due to divorce, and it is rumored Whedon based this situation on Gellar's home life.)
Buffy's first lover is a hulking 216-year-old vampire -- Irony! -- whose soul was restored by a gypsy curse. If he ever feels true happiness, he'll become a soulless killer once more, so he mopes a lot. Bearing the guilt for his countless murders, he stays in contact with the shadowy underworld, trying to offer the forces of good a much-needed advantage.
The most popular girl in school, Cordy ridicules the rest of the Scooby gang for being freaks and nerds, but she gets drawn into their adventures more than she'd ever admit, and their close bonds reluctantly teach her how to be human. Her continued presence enforces the "high school is hell" premise.
Another ageless vampire, he's a bleach-blond Brit with a black leather trenchcoat and a Sex Pistols fixation. He's introduced as one of a pair, along with his loony dolltalker demonlover Drusilla (Juliet Landau), but after she leaves him he becomes even more hilariously venomous. For most of the show's run, a microchip implant in his brain prevents him from harming humans, so he eventually joins the Scoobies just to have something to beat up.
Lead guitar player in Dingoes Ate My Baby, he's stoically cool to the point of monosyllabism, masking a frenetically philosophical inner life. He also becomes a werewolf three nights a month, but since he can't control his ferocious alter ego, very rarely has he been able to use this personality quirk to assist the fight against evil.
Another Slayer, with superpowers and sass out the ass to match. (Yes, there's only supposed to be one at a time, but Buffy was technically dead for about 30 seconds, so Kendra got called, and she didn't last very long at all.) Faith's rebellious streak makes Buffy look like, well, Willow. Outrageously flippant and perpetually horny, she has no family or friends and claims she wouldn't want any, but after accidentally slaying an innocent man, her lack of remorse drives her to become a double agent for the evil Mayor, who proudly acts as her father figure.
She's a thousand-year-old vengeance demon trapped in the mortal body of a teenager. Hence, she knows more about the underworld than the rest of the gang put together, including Giles. She greatly misses her old career punishing abusive men, but she doesn't mind helping to protect innocents from an untimely demise. Since she doesn't really know how to act "human", she tends to make wildly inappropriate or insensitive remarks, not unlike Cordelia (who left the show before Anya was brought in as a regular), but I always found Anya to be a much more funny and layered character.
By day, this mild-mannered Iowa farmboy masquerades as a psychology TA, but by night he's a covert operative of the Initiative, a branch of the Marines dedicated to the capture and study of "hostiles": vampires, demons and other assorted monsters. He's strong and athletic, a talented leader, and cool in a crisis - an all-around Boy Scout - but his naivete can get him into deep trouble fast.
As Willow begins to come out of her shell at college, Tara reminds her how she used to be. She's a skilled witch in her own right, but never showoffy - no character was ever as steadfastly kind-hearted and selfless.
Buffy's little sister, only not really. She was originally an ancient ball of sacred energy from another dimension that was given human form by a spell, and the memories of all around her were altered to include her. Any typical teenager with Buffy as a role model would feel at least a twinge of inadequacy, but Dawn's sense of "not fitting in" is understandably compounded by her origin. Hence, she has mega issues. She whines a lot, and needs to be rescued almost as often, but she has showed a surprising amount of resourcefulness for one so young.
(Synopses copied from official DVD booklets.)
Big Bad: The Master
Buffy moves to Sunnydale and sets herself up as the town's guardian. It's built on a "Hellmouth", or unequaled source of demonic activity, which is located directly beneath the high school library. Across town, from the ruins of a subterranean church buried in an earthquake, The Master sends his minions to wreak havoc. He's essentially just a vampire who's older, meaner, and power-hungrier than all the rest.
There's very little here in the way of continuing storylines. Our heroes are positioned in a somewhat typical love triangle - Xander's massive crush on Buffy is equaled only by Willow's unrequited passion for him. Meanwhile, Buffy (who is clearly stuffing her bra) falls for Angel even though she knows it's groaningly ironic. He returns her affection, but not often. Season 1 is cute and charming despite laying on the humiliation aspect of the high school setting, but it gives no clue to what the series would grow into.
- Welcome To The Hellmouth(summary noded) - Buffy Summers, a high school sophomore, transfers to Sunnydale High. There she meets her new “Watcher” and learns she cannot escape her true destiny.
- The Harvest(summary noded) - A stranger named Angel tells Buffy that if she does not stop The Harvest, the Hellmouth will open and The Master will roam free.
- The Witch(summary noded) - In an effort to inject some normalcy into her life Buffy tries out for the cheerleading squad – only to discover the competition wants her dead.
- Teacher's Pet(summary noded) - Xander falls for a beautiful subsitute teacher who is actually a She-Mantis intent on mating with, then decapitating, virginal boys.
- Never Kill A Boy On The First Date(summary noded) - While awaiting the arrival of the warrior vampire called the Anointed One, Buffy’s big date at the Bronze ends with an assault on a funeral home.
- The Pack(summary noded) - A field trip to the zoo turns deadly after Xander and a clique of mean-spirited kids become possessed by the spirit of a demonic breed of hyena.
- Angel(summary noded) - A moment of passion turns to terror as Buffy discovers Angel’s true identity and learns about the Gypsy curse that has haunted him for almost 100 years.
- I Robot, You Jane(summary noded) - Willow unwittingly invites a powerful demon named Moloch onto the Internet where he turns Sunnydale’s computer crowd into his helpless pawns.
- The Puppet Show(summary noded) - Buffy suspects that a ventriloquist’s dummy may be harvesting organs from classmates performing in a school talent show.
- Nightmares(summary noded) - The nightmare world of a comatose child sends Buffy and her friends into a realm where their worst nightmares become reality.
- Out Of Mind, Out Of Sight(summary noded) - As Cordelia prepares for Sunnydale High’s May Queen competition, an invisible force starts attacking her closest friends.
- Prophecy Girl(summary noded) - As the Spring Fling dance approaches, Giles discovers an ancient book foretelling the Slayer’s death at the hands of the Master.
Big Bad: Angelus
Spike and Dru come to town and pick up where the Master left off. When Buffy loses her virginity to Angel, he reverts to his evil self (due to the happiness curse, see above) and joins Spike and Dru, who he used to roam with a century ago or so. This type of allegorical extrapolation, transmuting a teen's anxieties into a literal monster (in this case, "I slept with this guy and suddenly he treats me like dirt"), was a specialty of the show back when it was mainly a horror piece. Though Whedon's initial concept was of the perennial blonde slasher victim turning on her aggressors, genuine horror must be rooted in social fear to have lasting weight. Though a handful of Season 2 eps are silly in a bad way (Go Fish, Bad Eggs), there are moments here as strong as anything the show produced.
Everyone finds someone to be with: Oz discovers Willow in a tortuously slow arc, Xander and Cordelia fight so much they realize there must be a fire buried deeper, and Giles is impressed by spunky "techno-pagan" computer teacher Jenny Calendar. As a parallel, Spike and Dru's hundred-year passion for one another is much more fun to watch than the Master's ranting. More often than not here, the bad guys have admirable qualities too.
- When She Was Bad(summary noded) - Buffy returns from summer vacation with a "major attitude" and recurring nightmares involving the Master - even as the Anointed One and his followers plot their revenge.
- Some Assembly Required - A series of grave robbings leads to a science club member who is trying to create a girlfriend for his brother, whom he has just brought back from the dead.
- School Hard - Buffy's mother gets trapped inside Sunnydale High School when a vampire named Spike arrives in town and launches an attack against the Slayer.
- Inca Mummy Girl - A beautiful Inca princess who was buried alive in a tomb 500 years ago is accidentally brought back to life in a Sunnydale Natural History Museum.
- Reptile Boy - When Buffy and Cordelia attend a fraternity party, they find themselves being offered to a reptile-like creature as human sacrifices.
- Halloween - After renting Halloween costumes from an unusual shop, Buffy and her friends literally begin turning into whatever costume they are wearing.
- Lie To Me - Buffy is lured into a trap by a group of vampire wannabes who hope Spike will turn them into vampires in exchange for giving him the Slayer.
- The Dark Age - Giles' past comes back to haunt him when a demon he and Ethan Rayne summoned in their wild days comes looking for them in Sunnydale.
- What's My Line (part 1) - As career week at school has Buffy wondering what her future may have been like, Spike hires three professional bounty hunters to ensure she has no future at all.
- What's My Line (part 2) - Buffy joins forces with mysterious Slayer named Kendra in hopes of saving Angel from Spike and Drusilla and the deadly ritual they have planned.
- Ted - When Buffy's mother is romanced by a computer software salesman named Ted, Buffy's uneasy feelings cause her to launch a background investigation.
- Bad Eggs - Willow, Cordelia, Giles and Joyce become drones for an ancient beast after its eggs are mistakenly given out as part of a health class assignment.
- Surprise - On Buffy's seventeenth birthday, she and Angel must prevent Spike and Drusilla from resurrecting the Judge, a demon who has the power to destroy humanity.
- Innocence - Buffy must battle not only the Judge but also Angel, who has lost his soul after experiencing a moment of true happiness.
- Phases - Buffy and her friends discover secrets about themselves as they battle a werewolf, its hunter and their own emotions.
- Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered - When Cordelia breaks up with him on Valentine's Day, Xander has a witch put a love spell on Cordelia so he can in turn break up with her.
- Passion - Angel steps up his torment of Buffy and her friends even as Jenny Calendar searches for a way to restore his soul.
- Killed By Death - While hospitalized with a severe case of the flu, Buffy battles a demon that sucks the life out of sick children.
- I Only Have Eyes For You - Sunnydale High School is haunted by the ghosts of a former student and teacher who reenact their tragic romance through the bodies of the school's current inhabitants.
- Go Fish - Xander goes undercover on the Sunnydale swim team after members begin turning up dead, after apparently being skinned alive.
- Becoming (part 1) - Kendra returns to help Buffy when Angel plots to revive an ancient demon bent on sweeping everything on Earth into Hell itself.
- Becoming (part 2) - While Angel tortures Giles for needed information concerning a ritual, Spike strikes an unlikely alliance with Buffy to keep Angel from destroying the world.
Big Bad: The Mayor
Sunnydale's chief official, a true-blue lover of Norman Rockwell flavor apple pie, is responsible for covering up all those mysterious deaths over the years. He's also secretly over 100, and planning an "Ascension", a mystical ritual in which he transmogrifies into a giant serpent, for the end of our heroes' senior year. Due to the shooting at Columbine High School, the broadcast of this finale was delayed (the suggestion of teens united in battle was apparently in bad taste, flaming arrows notwithstanding), though copies circulated widely on the web, and Earshot, in which a student brings a sniper rifle to school, was not shown until months after that.
This seems to be the first consistently strong season, with the horror and soap opera elements perfectly balanced. Faith's arrival shakes up the group, and Willow and Xander's dalliance, far too late, breaks four hearts. The First makes a quick appearance, bringing Angel back from the hell-dimension Buffy sent him to, just to torture her (that is, Buffy). But their whole romance has clearly been played out, and at the end of this season Angel leaves Sunnydale for LA, taking Cordy with him. The spin-off series titled, imaginatively, Angel (not Angel the Vampire?), records his further supernatural crimefighting adventures.
- Anne (summary noded) - Now living in the big city, Buffy helps a woman whose boyfriend has mysteriously disappeared, while back in Sunnydale her friends battle the forces of evil on their own.
- Dead Man's Party - A Nigerian mask that Buffy's mother has acquired from the gallery has the unique power of resurrecting the dead.
- Faith, Hope and Trick - A charismatic Slayer named Faith shows up in Sunnydale and quickly wins over Buffy's mother and all of Buffy's friends.
- Beauty And The Beasts - Buffy's fear that Oz could have killed a student during a full moon is compounded when she runs into Angel, violent and feral, during her nightly patrol.
- Homecoming - As Buffy and Cordelia vie for the Homecoming Queen title they are targeted by a group of killers preparing for "SlayerFest '98."
- Band Candy - Sunnydale's adult population begins acting like immature teenagers after eating candy bars sold to finance new high school band uniforms.
- Revelations - With help from Faith's new Watcher, Buffy tries to destroy the legendary Glove of Myhnegon before it falls into the hands of the demon Lagos.
- Lovers Walk - Spike returns to Sunnydale and kidnaps Willow so she can create a magic spell that will make Drusilla love him once more.
- The Wish - After Cordelia tells her new friend Anya that she wishes Buffy had never come to Sunnydale, she suddenly finds herself in a reality where vampires control the town.
- Amends - As the Christmas holiday approaches, Angel is tormented by visions of his past victims, including Jenny Calendar, who wants him to kill Buffy.
- Gingerbread - After Buffy's mother discovers two dead children marked with a symbol linked to the occult, she begins a campaign to rid Sunnydale of witches.
- Helpless - As Buffy's eighteenth birthday approaches she loses her Slayer powers just as she must go up against a crazed vampire who has kidnapped her mother.
- The Zeppo(summary noded) - While the gang battles creatures from the Hellmouth, Xander has his own adventure when he encounters a group of reanimated corpses out to blow up the high school.
- Bad Girls - When Buffy's new Watcher, Wesley Wyndam-Price, arrives, Buffy takes off with Faith on a rebellious rampage that ends with the staking of the Deputy Mayor.
- Consequences - As detectives investigate the death of Deputy Mayor Finch, Faith's continued denial of any wrongdoing convinces Angel he must help her see the error of her ways.
- Doppelgängland - While casting a magic spell to help Anya regain her powers, Willow and Anya inadvertently summon Willow's evil twin, a vampire, from an alternate universe.
- Enemies - With the help of the Books of Ascension, Faith and the Mayor plot to steal Angel's soul then get him to kill that other slayer - Buffy.
- Earshot - After slaying a telepathic demon, Buffy is bombarded with the thoughts of everyone around her - including one student who appears to be planning mass murder.
- Choices - The Mayor imprisons Willow after Buffy and Angel steal a box containing demonic energy which the Mayor needs for his Ascension Day.
- The Prom - Buffy battles three fearsome hell-hounds which another classmate has programmed to attack students during Sunnydale High's senior prom.
- Graduation Day (part 1) - To distract Buffy and keep her from interfering with the Mayor's Ascension, Faith shoots Angel with an arrow whose poison can only be cured by the blood of a Slayer.
- Graduation Day (part 2) - Buffy, her friends, and all the students of Sunnydale High prepare to face off against the Mayor and his horde of vampires in a seemingly hopeless battle to save their town.
Big Bad: Adam
As Buffy and Willow attend Sunnydale U, the series' focus shifts from horror to sci-fi/adventure, resulting in a season that was widely maligned upon broadcast, but which contains many character developments integral to the direction of the whole story. The main plot concerns a government-funded program called the Initiative which abducts and experiments on monsters, in a misguided effort to control that which it cannot understand. Eventually it is revealed that the program's director, Prof. Maggie Walsh (Lindsay Crouse), has created a hyperintelligent Frankenstein-style cyborg creature she names Adam, who escapes and masterminds a war between human- and demonkind.
In Riley, Buffy finally gets the normal, sane boyfriend she deserves. Willow, who is far more socially comfortable now that she's in a respectable academic environment, gets into heavy spells with Tara and discovers she's gay. Xander, who couldn't afford college, gets a construction job and before long is an actual man. Anya (who's a series regular now) throws herself at Xander and is confused at the attachment she feels. And Giles, well, he's a little lonely since the high school got blown up, but the kids have a harder time adjusting to his bachelor lifestyle than he does, especially when he hosts a newly neutered and heartbroken Spike. Overall, no season better underlines that this show does not allow its people to remain safely static.
- The Freshman - Buffy's initial trouble adjusting to college life is soon overcome when she discovers the only difference between high school and college is that the monsters are bigger and badder.
- Living Conditions - A series of nightmares converging a soul-sucking demon leave Buffy convinced that the best way to deal with her overly perky college roommate is to simply kill her.
- The Harsh Light Of Day - As Buffy begins a new relationship, Spike returns to Sunnydale in search of a fabled ring which allows vampires to walk unharmed in the light of day.
- Fear Itself - A Halloween party at a campus frat house takes a frightening turn with the sudden appearance of blood-sucking bats, zombies, and a demon that plays on everyone's innermost fears.
- Beer Bad - Buffy starts behaving strangely after sharing a pitcher of Black Frost beer with a group of fellow college students at the campus pub where Xander bartends.
- Wild At Heart - Willow's feelings of jealousy over a sexy singer at the Bronze are confirmed when she discovers the woman is a werewolf who has her eye on Oz.
- The Initiative - Buffy begins a relationship with Riley Finn unaware that he is part of a military organization tracking down and experimenting on the demons and vampires of Sunnydale.
- Pangs - Warned that Buffy may be in great danger, Angel returns to Sunnydale just as the spirit of a Chumash warrior rises to avenge the death of his people.
- Something Blue - When Willow casts a spell in hopes of getting over the pain of losing Oz, the exact wording she uses causes mayhem among her friends.
- Hush(summary noded) - From out of a fairy tale comes a group of murderous creatures known as the Gentlemen: first they steal everyone's voices, then they begin to collect human hearts.
- Doomed - As Buffy and Riley struggle to come to terms with each other's secret identity, a Vahrall demon begins gathering objects for a ritual that will reopen the Hellmouth.
- A New Man - Feeling suddenly old and useless, Giles drowns his sorrows at a pub with an old friend and sorcerer Ethan Rayne and winds up with much more than just a simple hangover the next morning.
- The I In Team - As Spike tries to elude The Initiative's commandos, Buffy gets a look at the Initiative's underground complex and discovers she's not as welcome as she first thought.
- Goodbye Iowa - A death inside the Initiative tests Buffy and Riley's relationship, and reveals that there are sinister and deadly aspects of the organization that not even Riley knows about.
- This Year's Girl - As Riley joins Buffy in the hunt for one of the Initiative's creations called Adam, Faith awakens to find she's been given one last gift from Mayor Wilkins.
- Who Are You - After magically switching bodies with Buffy, Faith pays a visit to Riley - leaving Buffy in the hands of the Watcher Council Special Ops Unit who've come to take Faith back to England.
- Superstar - Buffy suspects reality has somehow been altered after an unpopular former Sunnydale High student named Jonathan becomes the coolest and most popular person in town.
- Where The Wild Things Are - While Adam is recruiting an army of vampires and demons, Riley and Buffy's passionate lovemaking unleashes a group of poltergeists inside a frat house.
- New Moon Rising - Oz's surprise return to Sunnydale causes complications in Willow's current love life and leads to his transformation into a werewolf and subsequent capture by Riley.
- The Yoko Factor - As Spike and Adam plot to drive a wedge between Buffy and her friends, Angel returns to Sunnydale, only to be attacked by Riley and a group of Initiative commandos.
- Primeval - Xander, Willow, and Giles join forces to magically imbue Buffy with supernatural powers in order to do battle against Adam and overthrow his plans for creating a "demonoid" army.
- Restless - After battling Adam, an exhausted Buffy, Willow, Xander and Giles all experience dreams in which they encounter a strange, savage woman - and The Cheese Man.
Big Bad: Glory
Buffy’s last two major foes each represented the leadership of a social sphere (city and country) and this one completes the progression by pitting her against, no kidding, a god. Glory’s been incarnated (or, as she would put it, imprisoned) in the body of friendly med student Ben, which she can temporarily possess, emerging as a radiant fashion-plate blonde. While her airheaded abuse of her monkish sycophants is less amusing than it seems intended to be, she does come across as genuinely insane and hence more frightening than anyone we’ve seen in a while. The Key to Glory’s return to her dimension has been disguised in the form of Buffy’s younger sister Dawn, who quickly becomes “she who must be saved”, much the way Willow was in Seasons 1 and 2.
Buffy is kept in plenty of pain. Her mom spends weeks in the hospital and unexpectedly dies. Riley leaves her for a mission in Central America because she’s too distant. And Spike discovers, to his bitter dismay, that he’s in love with her. This is probably my favorite season, though I’m still not sure exactly why. I do appreciate how the details of the main plot are very carefully unveiled over a great deal of time, with plenty of hilarious stops along the way like: Xander’s evil twin, who’s better at everything than him, Buffy’s evil twin, who’s a robot Spike had built for naughty purposes, and the accidental summoning of a troll, who happens to be Anya’s ex.
- Buffy vs Dracula (summary noded) - An uneasy encounter with the legendary Count Dracula leaves Buffy desiring to learn more about herself and thus asking Giles to once again be her Watcher.
- Real Me (summary noded) - As Dawn begins a journal recounting her life with the Slayer, she encounters a madman who tells her she "doesn't belong" and a group of vampires led by Harmony.
- The Replacement (summary noded) - When Xander blocks a Toth demon's magical blast from hitting Buffy, he wakes up the next day to find a doppelganger has taken over his life.
- Out of My Mind (summary noded) - As Riley's friends beg him to see a medical specialist at Sunnydale General hospital, Harmony and Spike kidnap the same specialist with hopes he can remove Spike's chip.
- No Place Like Home (summary noded) - While on her nightly patrol, Buffy finds a glowing orb which leads her to suspect there's an unnatural force behind both her mother's growing illness and her sister Dawn.
- Family (summary noded)- Tara inadvertently puts everyone in danger when she secretly casts a spell on her friends after her family arrives in Sunnydale to celebrate her birthday.
- Fool For Love (summary noded)- After being impaled by a vampire, Buffy turns to Spike, who claims to have killed two Slayers, in an attempt to learn how other Slayers met their end.
- Shadow (summary noded) - Buffy has to face both her mother's critical illness and the growing threat of Glory's continuing search for the Key.
- Listening to Fear (summary noded) - A spider-like Queller demon arrives in Sunnydale and begins killing mental patients at the hospital just as Joyce is admitted for her surgery.
- Into the Woods (summary noded) - Certain that Buffy doesn't love him the same way he loves her, Riley finally decides to confront her and offer her one last opportunity to give their relationship a chance.
- Triangle - While Giles is in England trying to uncover information about Glory, Willow and Tara accidentally summon up an angry troll who used to go out with Anya.
- Checkpoint - Buffy finds out that she has seriously underestimated Glory after Giles returns from England and then the Watcher's Council arrives to review her Slayer skills.
- Blood Ties - After learning that she is the Key in human form, a distraught and disbelieving Dawn makes her way to the hospital's mental ward where she encounters Glory.
- Crush (summary noded) - Buffy is shocked to discover Spike is in love with her, a situation made dangerously worse by Drusilla's unexpected arrival back in Sunnydale.
- I Was Made To Love You - The gang encounters a powerful robot named April who is determined to find Warren, the man who built her to love only him.
- The Body - Buffy, Dawn and their friends find themselves dealing with the painful events surrounding Joyce's sudden and unexpected death.
- Forever - Unable to accept her mother's death Dawn enlists Spike's help in gathering the ingredients needed to cast a spell to bring her mother back from the dead.
- Intervention - While Buffy travels to the desert on a quest to find the Primitive, the gang back home encounters a very realistic Buffybot who seems to be in love with Spike.
- Tough Love - Glory angrily leaves Tara in a mindless state after realizing she is not the Key, an act which pits her against all the powerful and dark magic Willow can summon.
- Spiral - Glory finally realizes Dawn is the Key, and Buffy surprises her friends by telling them best option for staying alive is to leave Sunnydale.
- The Weight of the World - Willow uses magic to try and rouse Buffy out of her catatonic state after Glory kidnaps, and then disappears with, Dawn.
- The Gift (summary noded)- Refusing to believe that killing Dawn is the only way to save the universe, Buffy prepares to do battle against Glory - and finally realizes the true meaning of "her gift."
Big Bad: Willow
It’s difficult to describe the full impact of Season 6, because most serial entertainments have never made such a radical tone shift so deep into their run. This show, which was already chock full of angst, became completely subsumed with hopelessness and despair. At the time, we couldn’t help but feel this was related to 9/11, which was a month before the premiere. Either way, essentially everything goes to shit.
Buffy, who died (again) a hero at the end of Season 5, is resurrected and misses heaven more than a little. She has increasingly depraved sex with Spike, who she deplores, in an unsuccessful attempt to feel anything at all. Giles abandons the fight and returns to England. Xander leaves Anya at the altar, and she goes and gets her old mortal-torture job back. Willow becomes so addicted to black magick that Tara leaves her, and just after the two get back together, Tara is brutally shot dead, sending Willow into an enraged spiral of murderous evil.
What’s even more bizarre is that there was a conscious effort to return to the “light-hearted” silly episodes of the high school years – the decoy Big Bad for 20 episodes is The Trio, three suburban sci-fi nerds who aren’t even evil (well, maybe one of them is, a little), just bored. But this overly jokey slant simply added to the feel that the heart of the series was slipping away. This impression was capped by an insultingly reductive episode in which Buffy believed her life in Sunnydale to be a paranoid delusion and attempted to kill her sister. On the bright side, we do have the musical episode, which puts most of Hollywood’s 2001 efforts to shame.
- Bargaining, Part I (summary noded)- As Giles prepares for his return to England, the gang secretly prepares to resurrect Buffy with a magic spell.
- Bargaining, Part II (summary noded) - But a group of demons interrupts Willow before she can finish the spell - causing Buffy to return to life still buried in her closed coffin.
- After Life (summary noded) - As the gang battles a demon who hitched a ride on Buffy when she crossed back over into our world, Buffy tells Spike that when she died she thinks she was in heaven.
- Flooded (summary noded) - Warren, Andrew, and Jonathan, bothersome geeks who Buffy has had to deal with before, have now banded together to form a "super villains" team whose new mission is to kill the Slayer.
- Life Serial (summary noded) - It's a case of bad timing as Buffy goes out searching for a job just as Andrew, Jonathan and Warren decide to "test her" in search of a weakness they can exploit.
- All The Way (summary noded) - As Willow's constant use of magic causes growing friction between her and Tara, Dawn sneaks out of the house to meet up with a date who is not what he seems.
- Once More, With Feeling (summary noded) - A demon named Sweet descends upon Sunnydale in search of Dawn, his arrival causing everyone to burst into song and dance - and eventually into flame.
- Tabula Rasa (summary noded) - Confident that he has taught Buffy everything she needs to know, Giles prepares to go back to England just as Willow casts a spell which causes everyone to forget who they are.
- Smashed (summary noded) - Lonely now that Tara has left, Willow uses magic to turn Amy the Rat back into her old human form just as Spike discovers something shocking about Buffy's human form.
- Wrecked (summary noded) - A near-fatal accident makes Willow realize she must give up her addiction to magic, even as Buffy realizes she must give up her addictive relationship to Spike.
- Gone - As if a visit from a social services worker concerned about Dawn isn't disturbing enough, Buffy is accidentally hit with Warren, Andrew and Jonathan's invisibility ray gun.
- Doublemeat Palace - When a co-worker at the fast-food restaurant where she works comes up missing, Buffy begins to fear that the "secret ingredient" in the hamburgers is something altogether too human.
- Dead Things - When Jonathan, Warren and Andrew accidentally kill Warren's ex-girlfriend, they use their new cerebral dampener device on Buffy so that she'll think she committed the murder.
- Older and Far Away - The guests at Buffy's birthday party are surprised when they realize they've been at the party for almost a whole day - and even more surprised when they realize they can't leave.
- As You Were - Buffy is delighted when her old boyfriend, Riley Finn, returns and asks her to help him track down a demon - but her delight turns to shock when she learns he is not alone.
- Hell's Bells - All hell breaks loose at Xander and Anya's wedding after a man claiming to be Xander from the future convinces Xander that Anya's future life will be far better without him.
- Normal Again - A demon which Jonathan, Andrew and Warren unleash on Buffy causes her to drift between her friends in the real world and an alternate reality where her mother is still alive.
- Entropy - As the relationship between Tara and Willow heats back up, Anya returns to Sunnydale determined to exact vengeance on the man who left her standing at the altar.
- Seeing Red - The growing jealousy among Warren, Andrew and Jonathan gives Buffy an opportunity to stop them from robbing an armored car - but Warren returns to exact a deadly revenge.
- Villains - Warren, Andrew and Jonathan discover just how strong Willow's magical powers are when the outraged and grief-stricken witch embraces magic's dark side to avenge Tara's death.
- Two to Go - After a horrific confrontation with Warren, Willow finds herself fighting against Buffy and the rest of the gang who want to prevent her from killing Andrew and Jonathan.
- Grave - Giles returns from England in an attempt to stop Willow, but in the end it is her oldest friend who reaches through her pain and stops her from destroying the world.
Big Bad: The First
(Sarah Michelle Gellar
Actually, The First gets played by a lot of different people over the course of the year, as it can assume the form of anyone who’s dead. It’s literally the first evil spirit – if the Judeo-Christian God had ever been a part of this story, The First would be Satan. It’s readying an army of Ubervamps to take over our dimension (these guys make The Master look like a Smurf) and Buffy trains the world’s potential Slayers to battle them. Pretty straightforward.
This season pretty much splits right down the middle. The first half, which is a very deliberate return to the feel we know and love, is great fun and contains some of the highest quality episodes yet. Unfortunately, once the number of potentials in Buffy’s house grows from 3 to 30, we lose touch with them, and we lose time that should be spent with our core cast. Bigger isn’t automatically better. I feel the final battle would have been just as compelling with only a handful of girls, especially considering the decision that Buffy makes beforehand, which reveals why her story is being told, rather than that of any other Slayer.
Spike, who has his soul back now, starts being good for real and Buffy very nearly gives him the love he deserves. She gets a job at the high school (it took them 3 years to rebuild!) counseling distraught and demon-threatened teens, and learns the new principal is the son of a Slayer. Xander and Anya realize no one else in the universe is weird enough for them. Willow surrenders to Kennedy, a brash, spunky potential, in a relationship that carries about one-tenth the gravity of her previous one but hey, that’s how some people move on. Andrew, the only surviving member of The Trio, tries to join the Scoobies but they don’t really let him since he’s a huge wuss. Faith returns for the final five episodes and yeah, we still really like her.
- Lessons - As Giles works with Willow in England, Buffy accompanies Dawn to her first day at the new Sunnydale High and receives two surprises: a job offer and Spike.
- Beneath You - When Spike helps Buffy and Xander battle a gigantic worm-like creature his strange behavior finally makes Buffy realize he is now a vampire with a soul.
- Same Time, Same Place - Willow returns to Sunnydale, but her fear that her friends don't really want to see her inadvertently creates a spell that makes it impossible for them to see her.
- Help - Buffy's first day as a guidance counselor at Sunnydale High proves a bit more difficult than she expected after she meets a young girl who's convinced she's about to die.
- Selfless - When Anya's latest vengeance spell kills a fraternity house full of boys, Buffy realizes there's only one way to stop Anya before she strikes again.
- Him - Even though they know they are under a spell, Buffy, Dawn, Anya and even Willow can't stop themselves from falling in love, and fighting over, a high school quarterback.
- Conversations with Dead People - As Andrew and Jonathan return to save Sunnydale from evil, Dawn is confronted by an image of her dead mother and Tara's ghost delivers a warning to Willow.
- Sleeper - Buffy and the gang begin to suspect Spike may be responsible for the disappearance of a number of young girls just as Spike begins to suspect someone has the power to control his actions.
- Never Leave Me - Buffy's interrogation of Spike is interrupted when the Bringers attack her house, while in England the Watcher's Council comes under attack from The First.
- Bring On the Night - Giles arrives in Sunnydale with three Potential Slayers and with news that The First has murdered most of the other Potential Slayers and their Watchers around the world.
- Showtime - Giles and Anya journey to another dimension to consult with an oracle-like creature while Buffy prepares to show the Potential Slayers they have the power to defeat The First.
- Potential - Dawn's belief that she's not an important part of the upcoming fight changes after one of Willow's spells makes her think she's a Potential Slayer too.
- The Killer in Me - A phone call from a Watcher in England makes the gang fear that Giles is actually The First, and Willow tries to discover why she turned into Warren after kissing Kennedy.
- First Date - As Giles continues training the Potential Slayers, Buffy goes out with Principal Wood and learns that his mother was a Slayer who was killed by a vampire in New York City.
- Get It Done - Buffy travels to another dimension where she encounters the creators of the first Slayer who tell her that without their help she cannot save the world.
- Storyteller - Andrew's videotape recording of the exploits of Buffy and the Potential Slayers suddenly hits a little too close to home after a link between him and the Seal of Danthalzar is discovered.
- Lies My Parents Told Me - When Buffy attempts to figure out the secret behind The First's control over Spike, Principal Wood asks Giles to help him destroy Spike for good.
- Dirty Girls - Although Buffy now has Faith on her side they are still no match for The First who now has a young preacher named Caleb on his side.
- Empty Places - Despite their humiliating defeat, Buffy is convinced the vineyard is important; but when she tries to rally the girls for a second fight, she finds her leadership challenged.
- Touched - While Faith attempts to step into the leadership role Buffy heads to the vineyard alone to confront Caleb - and finds a formidable weapon in an underground chamber.
- End of Days - Buffy confronts Caleb not knowing he has been endowed with the powerful essence of The First, yet as Caleb prepares to deliver a death blow, an old friend comes to Buffy's aid.
- Chosen - In a desperate gamble, Buffy and the Potential Slayers decide that instead of waiting to be attacked they will open the Seal of Danthalzar and take the battle directly to The First.
Joss always wanted Buffy's existence extended into the imagination. Most quirky TV shows these days have a dedicated online fanbase, but the Buffy cult is insanely rabid (and I mean that in a good way, since I’m clearly one of them). Fanfic is distressingly abundant, and the franchise has spread throughout other media. As with Star Trek, there are many tie-in paperbacks available, though Joss admits he has never read a word of one, so basically they’re fanfic as well. The comic books printed by Dark Horse are usually surprisingly good, though. Many of them are written by the show’s core staff of scripters including Joss, Marti Noxon and Jane Espenson. At the close of the series, the main Buffy title was handled by Fabian Nicieza, a man I deeply admire for getting me hooked on X-Men ten years ago.
UPDATE WINTER 2007:
The current Buffy comic is titled "Season Eight". It is an official canon continuation
of the TV show storyline and it is written by Joss. It has all the wild apocalyptic events the show never had the budget to deliver. It is frigging AWESOME.
A few months after the final episode aired, a video game set in Season 3 was released for the Xbox only. (I know a few people who bought the system just to be able to play as Buffy.) The following summer, a second game with an almost identical blend of action and puzzle solving was released for all three major consoles. This time, not only do you play as Buffy, but depending on the level, you can be Willow, Xander, Spike, Faith, and Sid the ventriloquist’s dummy (!?!!) from The Puppet Show. This one’s set near the end of Season 5 and titled Chaos Bleeds. Both games feature voice talent from the show’s cast except for Sarah and Aly, who were obviously busy making Scooby-Doo and American Pie flicks. I will say that beating up vampires in Chaos Bleeds is pretty flippin’ fun.
In closing, I guess I just want to say (though this won’t be a surprise to you or anything) that I love this show. Once it gets to you, it goes in very deep and stays there. As I said before, it’s one cohesive story, so it’s pretty much all or nothing. If you’re interested in being a convert (and you are, or you already are one; otherwise you clicked the hell outta here a long time ago) my advice is this: rent one of the DVDs at random. Any three or four episodes in sequence should grab you and startle you. In fact, don’t focus on an exemplary episode like Restless or The Body, since these usually derive most of their strength from how much they differ stylistically from the whole. I’ve always felt this series was horrendously mismarketed, as though the monster of the week mattered. The complex interrelationships between these well-drawn characters are what keep us coming back.
Oh, and the theme song fucking rocks.
(I am the leader of e2Joss, the usergroup for Buffy and all other things Whedonesque. If you would like to join, or summarize an episode, or both, please /msg me.)