The third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is arguably the best of the whole series. It has found its footing as a show, and things get a little dark when Faith comes to town. But what are the five best episodes?
5. The Zeppo- This episode has to be included on the list because it showcases the self-referential humor that Joss Whedon is so good at. In The Avengers, it’s Tony Stark accusing Thor and Loki of doing “Shakespeare in the park.” In “The Zeppo” it is the apocalypse that happens off-screen, to hilarious effect, and Buffy and Angel having another “I can’t live without you and I don’t want to lose you!” type conversations. “The Zeppo” exemplifies the smarts of Whedon, and lets the audience know that he is aware of some of the camp and cheese factor.
4. Dead Man’s Party- The best thing about “Dead Man’s Party” is also what is so nerve-wracking about it. At no point does the show pretend that everything can go back to normal. Buffy spent all summer in L.A. and her family and friends didn’t know if she was alive or dead. A lesser show would ignore that and let everything continue all la-di-da. Buffy calls it out, and the characters let Buffy know that she really hurt them when she left town. Not only do we see that the actions of a character have emotional consequences on another character, but that the hero of the show isn’t always right.
3. Lover’s Walk- This Spike-centric episode feels like a breath of fresh air in the first half, for Spike fans. After sitting through the first seven episodes of a completely Spike-free season, suddenly his car crashes into the Sunnydale sign and he tumbles out, drunk. Things get dark towards the end, and Xander and Willow’s bizarre tryst pushes the relationships of the Scoobies in an interesting direction.
2. The Wish- The alternate universe of Sunnydale without Buffy is perhaps the darkest It’s A Wonderful Life reference that I have ever seen. It is obvious that Sunnydale would be lost without Buffy, and the logical step is knowing that the Master would’ve risen. But the episode takes us down even darker pathways of alternate universe imagination. It’s fascinating, and it comes up later.
1. Band Candy- This was difficult. I wanted to put “Graduation Day” (both parts) on this list (as well as “Dopplegangland”). But I was trying to keep it to five, and though every Buffy season finale deserves ranking, I can’t ignore the greatness that is “Band Candy.” Yes, this episode is 100% camp. And it brings back the conveniently bad Ethan Rayne (something weird, supernatural and yet funny is going on? Must be Ethan!). But, I can’t resist Giles and Joyce and Snyder being hilarious together. And the timing of this episode works. Buffy has just spend a whole summer living on her own, but by seeing the adults act her age, she realizes she has a lot to learn. And by the end of season three, she learns quite a lot about making tough choices.