This is it! Mick reveals his choice for the top spot in his Top Ten Best of Buffy. First, a brief recap of the other spots on the list.
SEVEN: "GRADUATION DAY" part 1 & 2
SIX: "BECOMING" part 1 & 2
FIVE: "THE GIFT"
FOUR: "ONCE MORE, WITH FEELING"
THREE: "FOOL FOR LOVE"
For writing and directing credits, episode and season numbers, air dates, and reviews of each: Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.
Also, before revealing the winner of the number one spot, a few links. I want to thank the folks at Buffy Guide and Buffy World, whose comprehensive episode guides helped me out a lot. Also, inspired by my obsessive ranting, my girlfriend posted her own Bottom Ten of Buffy.
And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for.
Mick’s choice for the best episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is...
ONE: "THE PROM"
Season 3, Episode 20, Air Date: 5/18/99
Written by Marti Noxon, Directed by David Solomon
"The Prom" aired right before the two-part conclusion to the third season, "Graduation Day". Haunted by dark dreams as well as Joyce’s hard words, Angel is finally convinced that Buffy’s attachment to him will destroy her in the end, and breaks up with her. As she’s still dealing with the break-up, the Scoobies discover a Sunnydale High misfit plans on unleashing a pack of Hellhounds on the senior class during the prom. Determined to prevent the attack before so much as one demon can make its way to the school, Buffy orders the rest of the gang to the prom so they can enjoy what she suspects might be one of their final nights on Earth (by this point, the Scoobies are well aware of the Mayor’s apocalyptic plans and aren’t convinced they can stop them).
Buffy succeeds in stopping the hounds - killing the last one even as he tears at the gymnasium door - and eventually makes her way to the prom. Shortly afterwards, some of the most heartbreaking, tear-jerking, and bittersweet scenes ever aired on television unfold. If this show doesn’t make you cry, your heart’s more stonier than Ben Grimm.
As time goes by after your first viewing, the episode just becomes more powerful. For a regular viewer of the show it’s near impossible to watch the final slow dance of the episode without thinking about your own torrential teenage days, particularly when you consider how the assembled heroes would eventually scatter; either through death, transfer to another show, or, er, cheating-by-werewolf.
It’s also an example of how Whedon & Co. mastered the art of suspense. It's difficult for me to read or view any kind of action-oriented story and really doubt that the heroes will prevail. Whedon’s always kept me on my toes. Even more recently, with Serenity, I was all but convinced that he planned on killing the entire cast before the credits rolled. Usually, he keeps his viewers doubts alive with his unswerving willingness to mercilessly slaughter favorite characters, and usually in ways that are not nearly as dignified and heroic as Spike’s (temporary) death in the series finale. While part of me still protests the brutal end Anya met in the same episode, I have to admit that it succeeded in convincing me that the bad guys actually had a chance of winning.
With "The Prom" however, the creative team not only didn’t kill anyone, they gave viewers such a picturesque conclusion that you couldn’t help but think that things were two seconds away from going to complete Hell. It just felt too happy to not be followed up with a slaughterhouse.
The first stop at cheesiness is Buffy’s receipt of the Class Protector Award from the Prom Committee. The creative team, as usual, diffuses the cheesiness with well-placed humor, and after three years of Buffy’s selfless heroics for the sake of a seemingly ungrateful student body, she finally gets the recognition she’s deserved. Like the earlier episode "Gingerbread," it touches upon what might be considered a glaring discrepancy in the series: the sheer number of battles between the heroes and clearly supernatural beasts vs. the town’s apparent ignorance of anything strange going on. You can’t help but wonder, with three years of Sunnydale High superheroism under her belt, why the sheer numbers of students Buffy had saved hadn’t helped her get a notch or two up the social ladder. With the restraints of cliques and high school social status about to dissipate, the students finally show their true colors. It’s not only a surprisingly affecting scene, but absolutely necessary. Without it, the Scoobies’ recruitment and organization of the senior class at the end of "Graduation Day" would never have made sense.
Angel’s appearance in the last few minutes shouldn’t affect you, but it does. You can’t help it. You’re softened a little by Xander’s final peacemaking with Cordelia, reduced to the durability of Nerf by the award ceremony, and when Angel shows up - even though you knew as soon as he broke up with her that he’d show up at the prom anyway - you’re done. It’s over. You’re a weep-monster.
"The Prom" was an example of how Whedon not only wonderfully mixed elements of drama, horror, and humor, but also how he turned the horror genre on its head. Just as Buffy was the young, attractive teenage girl who was predator instead of prey to the monsters and villains of horror and slasher flicks, "The Prom" was both a parody of, and a victorious middle finger to, films like Prom Night and Carrie that made high school proms one of the favorite homes of fictional bloodbaths. It was the perfect embodiment of the conceptual genius behind the series, which is why, in my humble opinion, it deserves the title of Best Buffy ever.
Well, that’s it. I doubt any Buffy fans would ever completely agree with what I didn't include, what I did include, or how I included it. I have no doubt, however, that most fans would agree that all ten episodes are prime examples of why Buffy the Vampire Slayer was one of the best television series of recent memory. Any comments? Feel free to e-mail me or comment here at the blog, and look for a somewhat expanded piece on Buffy over at Comic Book Galaxy sometime in the near future.
Thanks for visiting the Burn during Buffy week!
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