Saturday, March 18, 2017

Journalists are Wrong: The Best Episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Explained

Since its the 20th anniversary people are actually interested in my favorite topic: Buffy. There are so many lists ranking best and worst episodes and thus far I have not agreed with a single one.

This blog post is different than any of the articles I have read this week naming the top Buffy episode because I don’t play it safe and just choose a random season finale.

It is insane to me that not every list of top Buffy episodes is not littered with season 3 picks.  Every person I know who watched season 3 was glued to the screen every week and completely invested.  Over time what draws me back to season 3 is all the tension and twists.  It was when the show deviated from its one theme that a tiny blonde girl can kill everything that goes bump in the night to being a drama about the complexities of coming of age.

The Best Buffy episode of all time is:
Season 3, Episode 7 “Revelations”

From the first time I watched “Revelations” to when I watch it again today it echoes so many themes that would re-occur season after season.  It has all the characters I love to hate and just love.  But it had a trademark that made a show with an already strange premise great, it was an episode filled with misdirection for the audience. 

The three reasons I love this episode are:

1.  The dichotomy between Faith & Buffy
2. The Scoobies challenging Buffy to choose between them and Angel
3. Giles struggling with his choice to be more of a father than traditional watcher

First: Faith Versus Buffy

Buffy is the all American blonde valley girl archetype.  She is a girlie girl that sleeps with a stuffed pig (Mr. Gordo), pouts when she doesn’t get her way and is often costumed in soft colors to accentuate the perception of female fragility.  In contrast, her slayer counterpart Faith is clade in red lipstick and black leather with her bra straps always showing and that lives in a pretty gross hotel room.  The virgin/whore dichotomy seems personified by the two slayers who have nothing but their roles as “chosen ones” in common.

In the last season Faith jokingly asks if she is “the good slayer now?”  But fans first asked this question four seasons prior when Buffy was lying to everyone and having a secret affair with Angel. 

In this episode Faith has a new watcher arrive named Gwendolyn Post.  Before this point the audience never sees anyone who is dedicated to mentoring Faith.  As a fan meeting this new watcher helped me see Faith’s “Spartan lifestyle” as a badge of honor and question what it means to be “the good slayer.”  20 years ago I was sure the show was going to turn its attention to Faith and move towards Buffy as the villain but by the end of the episode I would learn I was completely wrong.


Forever after the episode aired I resented Buffy’s privilege.  She got the watcher father figure.  She had a mom who cleaned her room and washed blood out of her clothes and an absentee father that bought her any pair of shoes she desired. Faith had no one until the evil mayor would later adopt her and she would move further away from the idea of being a hero.  This is the only episode, until the comics that Buffy seems like a brat who does what she wants while Faith makes hard ethical choices in the face of adversity. 

Second: Friends vs. Angel

Buffy is a special slayer because instead of embracing her secret identity she has both a quasi-normal high school existence and slayer support network via her friends.  But this episode is when everything goes to shit because her friends think she is bionking her previously-homicidal boyfriend.    

Many fans, myself included were on “team Angel” and drawn into the dysfunctional love story of an underage girl and her ex sadistic serial killing hundred year old boyfriend. This episode gave me some perspective that even in spite of the  beautifully framed stolen moments that maybe Buffy and Angel finding their way back to one another was a bad idea.

In the episode, Xander comes across Buffy secretly kissing her vampire ex-boyfriend that hurt everyone only months before; until that moment all the Scoobies thought Angel dead.  The next scene is a classic intervention where Cordelia, Willow, Oz, Xander, and Giles confront Buffy about her lies.  Unlike normal quipy exchanges this was one of the first episodes where the Scoobies all turn on Buffy.  Throughout the show run there is tension in the Scoobie ranks but this is the first time it is so pronounced and justifiably against Buffy.

Thirdly: Watcher versus Father

This episode was key to challenging Giles as a successful watcher.  Yes I know a young watcher named Wesley would later come along and unsuccessfully try to usurp Giles but ended up mostly being comic relief

To the dismay of the stuffy ole’ British watchers council, Giles loves Buffy like a daughter.  When a new watcher appears on the scene in this episode Giles seems genuinely threatened.  And as a fan, I feel like Gwendolyn Post is a pretentious powerful British woman who reminded me a lot of “M” from James Bond.  The female watcher successfully shows up Giles at every turn until we find out her evil intentions and she knocks Giles unconscious.

Previously I mentioned an intervention scene in regards to Buffy’s poor dating choices.  That scene ends when Giles abruptly stops the attacks on Buffy and sends her friends away.  Like a good father, Giles was always the one who always stood up for Buffy.  But when they leave and she thanks him, he curtly reminds her that "Angel tortured me for hours, with pleasure. You have no respect for me or the job I perform."   This was one of least fatherly moments of the show for me, in that moment Giles was all watcher and the look on Buffy’s face echoed my own shock as an at home viewer.

Good Slayer versus Bad Slayer 
Friends versus Lover 
Council Way versus Fatherly Way

This episode was not business as usual in Sunnydale.  “Revelations” is the best episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer because it was the one that converted so many of us into lifelong fans.

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