Ranking Buffy Season 1
Kicking off on March 10th, 1997 came the eventually cult classic beloved show Buffy the Vampire Slayer came on the heels of its box office parent written and directed by Joss Whedon in 1992. A lot of the campiness was played up at the behest of the producers on the project (more B Movie Comedy than B Movie Horror) and that’s partly what initially fueled the show as well, which started off with high television ratings that drastically dipped thanks to some really bad episodes before picking up for the season finale. The actual script of the movie is a fun read and Joss has stated that the original script is canon to the television show. The show arguably peaked in Season 2 ratings wise but remained strong through its seven season run. I adore this show and most of it still holds up really well so let’s kick off things with the worst episode of Season 1 and lead up to its best.
Number 12: 1×05 Never Kill a Boy on the First Date
Writer: Rob Des Hotel and Dean Batali
Director: David Semel
A lot of people tend to not list this episode as the worst but I’m here to argue why it’s the absolute worst of Season 1. It largely centers around Buffy’s very abrupt and sudden crush on a tall, blond boy named Owen whose qualities largely rely on his being “mysterious” and liking Emily Dickinson. There’s a superfluous red herring of who The Master’s “Annointed One” is after a bus accident involving vampires and the reveal is pretty uninspiring despite the clear thought that it would be a shocking twist early in the show’s run. Giles is mostly relegated to an adult parental role and Xander and Willow are largely swept off to the wayside with Xander’s jealousy teased subtly but not really captured fully. The action scene is mostly forgettable and the end with Buffy not wanting to involve Owen in her life because he’s an adrenaline junkie(?) and would only get him killed kind of rings a little hollow dialogue wise, which is unfortunate because it’s a sound concept with some weight given that Buffy’s just a young teenage girl at this time and even remarks that Willow and Xander, “know the score,” in terms of what they deal with.
Number 11: 1×04 Teacher’s Pet
Writer: David Greenwalt
Director: Bruce Seth Green
A completely forgettable episode in which a praying mantis takes over a teacher’s body and wants to mate with teenage boys (who are virgins only) to take over the world? I don’t know. The plot was completely awful and although Miss French was decent, the character was completely one note and the tease at the end was the worst. Blaine, an all-world athlete at Sunnydale, is Xander’s main competition in this episode and vanishes afterwards much like Owen. There are a couple decent scenes between Buffy and Willow over Willow’s crush on Xander and Cordelia makes a brief appearance but when a comedic moment is supposed to be that Buffy is actually going to do her homework (then has to ask where books on bat sonar are), you know you’re in for a rough one. It teases a decent idea of a teacher preying on a student sexually but the costume design is really bad and the characters are largely underutilized in catering to their skills. Xander’s annoyance at Buffy’s telling him the truth about Miss French, proclaiming she’s jealous and can’t handle Miss French actually liking him, comes off as plot necessity/insulting to the viewer considering what he had seen in just the three episodes prior.
Number 10: 1×11 Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Writer: Ashley Gable and Thomas A. Swyden with story by Joss Whedon
Director: Reza Badiyi
Clea Duvall is decent in her guest star performance but the episode can basically be summed up as: girl turns invisible because she thinks nobody sees her. And she seeks revenge on the “popular” kids as a result. It’s a one note plot, at its best, and is largely held up as a result of the nice characterization given to Cordelia Chase whom prior to this episode was largely just a stuck up queen bee type who picked on The Scoobies. We actually get some depth to her and Buffy’s sleuthing is decent albeit wrapped up pretty quickly with the big reveal being she finds the culprit’s yearbook in the attic. One of the fun moments is seeing Government agents take away Duvall’s character at the end in shades of The X-Files but it’s never touched upon again unless you want to argue a tenuous connection to Season 4’s The Initiative. Giles, Willow, and Xander don’t have much to do as it’s largely a vehicle for the Buffy/Cordelia relationship which is nice to see some background fleshed into which is why it’s this ‘high’ on the list.
Number 09: 1×08 I Robot… You Jane
Writer: Ashley Gable and Thomas A. Swyden
Director: Stephen Posey
People hate this episode and I can see why. The costume, the hokey villain infects the internet plot, and the side characters of Dave and Fritz are completely forgettable. With that said, I have a bit of a soft spot for this episode solely for introducing Jenny Calendar and the clearly fun interaction between her computer teacher techno pagan style and Rupert Giles’ librarian research by the books that would set up their relationship for the rest of Season 1 and into Season 2. I also really liked seeing Buffy concerned and somewhat out of her element as Willow started acting more out of character over her crush with Malcolm aka Moloch (the evil villain that gets caught in the internet then trapped in a metal body). The plot did a good job in sowing the seeds of how a shy introvert like Willow could find something meaningful in a relationship over the internet that they couldn’t get in real life. With that said, it’s still not a great episode but it has some interesting moments and Jenny Calendar is an immediate breath of fresh air character wise. I also enjoyed the final scene, a bit of a humorous albeit truthfully depressing glimpse at how their lives would effect their romantic relationships.
Number 08: 1×09 The Puppet Show
Writer: Rob Des Hotel and Dean Batali
Director: Ellen S. Pressman
It’s a decent little twist in that a puppet is running around, presumably killing students and taking out their brains. The twist is that the puppet is actually a demon hunter and if it kills this creature, it will finally be free of its puppet body and move on into the afterlife. The episode is fun with Principal Snyder making his debut in this episode along with his heavy dislike towards Buffy in particular. Giles running the talent show seems somewhat random and plot driven looking back but we get some nice and even funny interactions between him and Cordelia in particular, a strong rarity in this season. Buffy, Willow, and Xander have some solid screen time and the library scene is great too. The plot kind of works but in some ways it actually takes away from the fact that Buffy is our lead character and the puppet somewhat overtakes her role towards the end.
Number 07: 1×06 The Pack
Writer: Matt Kiene and Joe Reinkemeyer
Director: Bruce Seth Green
I make no bones about the fact that I really like this episode. Yes, the plot of the hyena keeper wanting to be possessed by evil hyenas is very, very stupid (and the fact they possess a group of students is equally stupid). This is also one of the darkest episodes of maybe the first 2 seasons, period in what it tackles and the lengths it dares to go. Xander is one of the possessed and cuts Willow to the core with his words, physically pursues her to presumably kill, if not eat, her and also tries his hand at sexual assault towards Buffy. That’s all ignoring that the group physically kills off Principal Flutie in a somewhat disturbing and stunning scene. The end is kind of dumb but I greatly enjoyed actually seeing Xander get a bit of a spotlight episode to himself while pushing some boundaries that the show would later be more willing to explore by Season 3.
Number 06: 1×03 Witch
Writer: Dana Reston
Director: Stephen Cragg
A fun little episode with the introduction of Amy, who’d become an key recurring character throughout the series while furthering Cordelia’s character and her relationship with Buffy. One of the highlights of the episode was the interactions between Buffy and her mother, Joyce, and Buffy’s desire to try and fit in with a normal routine that a teenage girl would do. It’s a great visual representation of the series with Buffy trying to be normal while being confined to the fact that she is The Slayer too. The twist on who the actual witch is and the reason is very well done and came as a true surprise when I first watched this episode. There’s also some great continuation of character building with Xander’s crush on Buffy and Willow’s concern that Buffy could reciprocate it while having her own crush on Xander. The end is a lot of fun with Giles, Willow, and Xander all trying to help Buffy out physically and we see Buffy’s smarts come into play in how she solves the situation.
Number 05 and 04: 1×01: Welcome to the Hellmouth/1×02: The Harvest
Writer: Joss Whedon
Director: Charles Martin Smith for 1×01 and John T. Kretchmer for 1×02
Two very solid episodes that set up the foundation for Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a show. There are touches from the movie but the show is largely its own entity introducing The Master as an old vampire desiring to rise up and come up to the physical ground of Sunnydale. A lot of great little character interactions are set up including Cordelia’s attitude towards Willow and later Buffy, despite Buffy’s best interests to just fit in and not be the Chosen One. We get introduced to a lot of characters including Angel and Joss does a fantastic job at incorporating so much without overwhelming the stakes of the show, namely that Buffy is going up against evil things with the help of Giles and later the help of Willow and Xander, both of whom can’t turn their backs to what they’ve seen and encountered. Jesse is one of the first big deaths but it’s somewhat anticlimactic considering he’s completely forgotten about and he just doesn’t inspire enough caring for fans to be truly invested compared to who dies later and throughout the series itself. The end of The Harvest is a fantastic way of showing how different Buffy was characteristically to most general creature fighters and even female characters in general at the time.
Number 03: 1×10 Nightmares
Writer: David Greenwalt with story by Joss Whedon
Director: Bruce Seth Green
The plot and villain are pretty stupid in a sense, with a young boy beaten by his Little League coach and his coma somehow causes everybody’s fears and nightmares to come to life. The real strengths are the characterization and the sheer display of fears from common ones such as Xander’s fear of being nude (aka dressed in boxers) in front of his class/his nightmare of the clown from his birthday party or Willow’s stage fright or Cordelia’s becoming a nerd to much deeper fears such as Giles being unable to protect Buffy as The Slayer and Buffy’s fear of not only dying but being turned into a vampire instead. Seeing Buffy in vamp makeup is really a unique sight and also marks a point that Buffy, Willow, and Xander all sport vampire makeup at some point in the run of the series. The episode is a lot of fun if you ignore the plot behind what’s going on and just focus on the actual fear aspects. One of the strongest scenes is Buffy’s fear that she was the cause behind her parents divorcing with her father telling her, bluntly, to her face this fact.
Number 02: 1×12 Prophecy Girl
Writer: Joss Whedon
Director: Joss Whedon
A lot of fans rank this tops and I can definitely see the argument. This is the penultimate battle between Buffy and The Master, which is a lot of fun. The best scene of the entire season occurs in this episode when Buffy confronts Giles about the prophecy foretelling her death and it’s a lot of fun seeing Jenny Calendar return to help out Giles. We also get a bow wrapped on Xander’s crush towards Buffy but the end feels a little flat beyond Buffy’s fight with The Master and Xander’s saving Buffy’s life via CPR. With all of that said, the discussion between Buffy and Willow always rubs me as somewhat off and the glimpse of a Willow/Cordelia friendship is nice to see but again doesn’t feel quite natural given prior episodes. Yet the highs of the episode are oh so high and make up for the few moments that don’t quite catch for me.
Number 01: 1×07 Angel
Writer: David Greenwalt
Director: Scott Brazil
A fantastic episode showing the stakes of Buffy’s role as Slayer while exploring the background of Angel, his relationship to the vampire Darla, and the budding romance between Buffy and Angel itself. The reveal has long since been spoiled for most fans but is still quite the revelation for somebody not in the know. I can only imagine how shocking this was in 1997 for fans viewing the series then despite its being teased in prior episodes. The end is a lot of fun and shows a glimpse of what’s to come as Buffy hunts down Angel, thinking strictly in black and white, after his supposed attack of her mother. We also get some good character building with Giles doing research and Xander showing his jealousy and dislike towards Angel for having Buffy’s heart and just being a vampire in general.
So there you have it, my ranking of all of Buffy’s Season 1 episodes from worst to best. Agree? Disagree? Where would you rank the episodes? Comment below