In a comment recently, Allison suggested that I add some posts ranking such things as my best/favorite episodes, etc. I’ve gone back and forth on whether to do this, but her comment kind of pushed me into doing it.
The big reason for my previous reluctance was that my attitudes about these things change over time. Any ranking I give today would probably differ substantially from one I gave 10 years ago. However, I’ve decided that enough time has passed that my evaluation of the episodes is reasonably stable. I might still switch an episode from 8th to 15th, but it’s very unlikely that I’d switch one from 103rd to 15th or even to 41st. Still, don’t take the exact order too seriously. There’s a real risk of being more precise than accurate when making up these lists, and in any case I might change my mind again next week.
I’m going to rank the top episodes in two different posts, one today and one next Thursday. The distinction I’m making between these two lists is between “best” and “favorite”. To illustrate the distinction, consider The Body. As you can see below, I rank it no. 1 on my “best” list (no surprise there). However, I can’t consider it a “favorite” because it’s simply too painful to re-watch. The “favorites” list will be those I enjoy watching the most.
I created today’s list by putting on my critic’s hat and trying to evaluate the “best” episodes. Don’t be fooled into thinking this list will be “objective”; I’m certainly under no such illusion. All it means is that I’m trying to put some constraints on my own subjective views, not that I’ve succeeded in eliminating subjectivity (which is, in my view, impossible).
As you’ll see very quickly, the “best” list contains mostly dramatic episodes rather than comic ones. This is consistent with my comments about the relative longevity of drama and comedy in the Introduction. However, my “favorites” list will be much more heavily weighted towards funnier episodes – or at least those less dark and disturbing – for reasons which are probably obvious.
In two cases below I treated a two-part episode as one for purposes of the rankings. That may seem unfair, but I find it hard to separate the relevant episodes and I don’t know how I’d rank them if I had to split them.
SPOILER WARNING: There’s at least one major spoiler below and any comments will likely include more.
T1. The Body
Once More With Feeling
4. Becoming 1 & 2
5. Lies My Parents Told Me
7. Normal Again
8. Dead Things
10. Fool For Love
12. The Gift
I couldn’t do just 10. It was too hard for me to separate out 11-15 from the top 10. For that matter, it was pretty hard to separate 11-15 from the ones I’d put at 16-20, but I felt a little better about breaking it at 15. Purely arbitrary.
Many of these episodes appear on lots of “best” lists, and their appearance won’t be a surprise, though some will disagree with the ordering. I’ll just comment on three of them, in reverse order of their ranking. Chosen is on the list because I was on line obsessively before it aired and I’m confident that nobody, except those who were spoiled, saw the twist coming. Changing the whole nature of the show like that was daring, in my view, and I loved it.
I know plenty of viewers who hate Smashed. From what I read, a lot of that is associated with the story line: they just don’t like the decision to have Buffy have sex with Spike. That’s ok. I’m not critical of that decision, but even if I were, I’m trying to base my judgment more on the execution than on the plot. Overall, I have to judge the episode as well-executed, and the final 15 minutes or so (the whole fight plus the ending) as brilliant.
Storyteller is the third one which gets, well, less love in fandom. A lot of that comes from dislike of Andrew. Andrew doesn’t bother me, and I think my post on that episode explains why I rank it so high.