Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Jay & Matt Pick Their Top 10 Favorite Episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Matt here!

March 10 marked the 20-year anniversary of Joss Whedon's epic movie-turned-TV-series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer! Whedon stated the idea came to him when he wanted to take the stereotypical popular, blonde cheerleader and make her into a badass! The 1992 film (of the same name) was a bit of a bomb, although it has gone onto cult status, and is canon in marking the beginning of protagonist Buffy Summers.

Now, most of you reading this might instantly roll your eyes or dismiss the show as some lame teenage/sci fi-type. But you'd be severely presumptuous to do so. Whedon's Buffy came to be a heroine which would go on to inspire many other female pop culture heroes: the right blend of strength, wit, and vulnerability. Heavily influenced by characters such as Ellen Ripley from Alien, and Kitty Pryde from X-Men, Buffy is a force to be reckoned with ... but not all-powerful or all-knowing. Despite her faults and the fact she's a character in a supernatural fiction, she's endearing and relatable. The characters all have aspects of which we can sympathize. And that makes for great characters ... and a wonderful show!

WARNING: The descriptions are spoiler-y so you may want to skip those if you either haven't watched the episodes or haven't watched the series at all, but plan to.

So, here are Jay's and my favorite 10 episodes:

Jay's Picks

10.) "Selfless"
Season 7, Episode 5

This truly was an impossible task. There are so many great episodes of Buffy that I love for different reasons and inevitably some had to be left off the list. So, I decided I would help things by picking ones that showcase each of the major characters at their best. "Selfless" is the primary Anya chapter and foreshadows her death in the series finale. After being jilted at the wedding altar by Xander in Season 6, Anya tries to return to the life of a Vengeance Demon. She goes slightly overboard though when she manages to slaughter an entire fraternity. When Willow (Alyson Hannigan) discovers what Anya has done, she has no choice but to inform Buffy who must face off against the former Scoobie member in an epic fight which feels at times more painful than entertaining. Emma Caulfield took what was supposed to be a minor character back in Season 3 and turned her into a true fan favorite. Her comic timing was impeccable, making her the funniest character on the show and at times she would also be the most poignant. "Selfless" sprinkles in flashbacks into her origin and how she met D'Hoffren and became a Vengeance Demon. It's both sad and funny, and the best showcase for all that Caulfield does well.

Anya: "I don't talk to people much. I mean, I talk to them, but they don't talk to me, except to say that, 'your questions are irksome,' and, 'perhaps you should take your furs and your literal interpretations to the other side of the river.'"

9.) "The Zeppo"
Season 3, Episode 13

This, for me, is the definitive Xander Harris episode. It encapsulates everything that is great about his character and also is a pivotal turning point for how he would progress for the rest of the series. Before "The Zeppo," Xander was often relegated to the goofy sidekick role. He was the bumbling man-child who had an unrequited crush on the heroine and was, for the most part, the weak link in the Scoobie Gang. In this episode, Xander finally gets to prove his worth as he goes it alone to stop a group of undead corpses from creating a bomb to blow up Sunnydale High. Nicholas Brendon is fantastic in this episode, proving what an indispensable role he played throughout the series even if he lacked super strength and magic powers. It wouldn't be the last time he saved the world from certain doom.

Xander: "Why is it that I've come face-to-face with vampires, demons, the most hideous creatures hell ever spit out, and I'm still afraid of a little bully like Jack O'Toole?"
Cordelia: "Because, unlike all those other creatures that you've come face-to-face with, Jack actually noticed you were there."
Xander: "Why am I surprised by how comforting you're not?"

8.) "Fool For Love"
Season 5, Episode 7

I'll take a Spike-centric episode over an Angel one any day. The incomparable James Marsters takes center stage in this one as we get a deep look into Spike's past and how he became a vampire. After she is beaten by an ordinary vampire, Buffy seeks out Spike to find out how someone like him was able to kill two Slayers in the past. Before giving up all his secrets, Spike first flashes back to his human origins as William Pratt in the 19th century. We get to see how William was a hopeless romantic and awful poet who happens upon a wandering Drusilla (Juliet Landau) one night. She turns him and the rest is history. Spike has probably the most dramatic character arc throughout the season, going from straight-up villain to comicial-bad-guy-who-reluctantly-helps-the-good-guys to finally a full-fledged good guy and Buffy love interest. Spike is one of my favorite characters on the show and this was his episode to truly shine.

Spike: "The only thing about the dance is, you never get to stop. Everyday you wake up, it's the same bloody question that haunts you. Is today the day I die? Death is on your heels, baby, and sooner or later it's gonna catch you. And part of you wants it... not only to stop the fear and uncertainty, but because you're just a little bit in love with it. Death is your art. You make it with your hands, day after day. That final gasp. That look of peace. Part of you is desperate to know, what's it like? Where does it lead you? And now you see, that's the secret. Not the punch you didn't throw or the kicks you didn't land. She merely wanted it. Every Slayer... has a death wish. Even you. The only reason you've lasted as long as you have is you've got ties to the world. Your mum, brat kid sister, Scoobies. They all tie you here but you're just puttin' off the inevitable. Sooner or later, you're gonna want it. And the second - the second that happens, you know I'll be there. I'll slip in. Have myself a real good day. Here endeth the lesson. I just wonder if you'll like it as much as she did."

7.) "Graduation Day" Parts 1 & 2
Season 3, Episodes 21 & 22

"Gun to my head," Season 3 of Buffy is probably my favorite season. The introduction of Faith (Eliza Dushku) as a dark reflection of who Buffy could have been is a great way to push our heroine in new ways. Season 3 also happens to boast my favorite "Big Bad" in the series, Mayor Richard Wilkins III (played with gleeful perfection by Harry Groener). He's a sorcerer who made a pact long ago with the demons of the Hellmouth for immortality. His ultimate plan is to bring about his Ascension, or to become a pure-bred demon by performing several rituals. Once complete, he plans his transformation to take place during his commencement speech at the graduation ceremony of Sunnydale High. I love Wilkins for how he represents a kind of allegory for the smiling politician who hides his evil intent inside. I also love his relationship with Faith, acting as a surrogate father figure to her in a warped twist that also brings to mind Buffy's missing father. The season finale, "Graduation Day," is brilliant in so many ways. Buffy finally faces Faith, the Slayer-gone-bad she helped inadvertently create by dying in Season 1. And the Mayor changes into a giant snake demon only to be stopped by the entire senior class at graduation, who all finally stand with their "Class Protector" and fight the evil that threatens to destroy them all.

Mayor Richard Wilkins III: "My god, what a feeling. The power of these creatures... It suffuses my being. I can feel the changes begin. My organs shifting, merging, making ready for the Ascension. Plus, these babies are high in fiber and what's the fun of becoming an immortal demon if you're not regular, am I right?"

6.) "The Gift"
Season 5, Episode 22

No show did the season finale as well as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Even the seasons that aren't regarded as highly as others (Seasons 1, 4 & 7 come to mind) all had fantastic finales. This one, the end of a brilliant Season 5, very well might have been the end of the entire series had not the UPN network taken over the show from the WB and carried it forward for two more seasons. So, when you watch this one it very much feels like it could have been the end to this whole story. All of Season 5 concerned the addition of Buffy's younger sister, Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg). A big step forward in trying to help Buffy (and the show itself) grow up a bit, Whedon decided that the new love story for his heroine would not be some hunky, brooding new boyfriend but instead a sister that, until now, had never been seen or mentioned before. I love the story behind Dawn and how she was "given" to Buffy and her friends to protect. The stakes in saving her feel more urgent and real than even Buffy's need to save Angel from himself in Season 2. In this finale, Buffy and her friends face off against the banished god, Glory (Claire Kramer) who plans to sacrifice Dawn to open a portal back to her home dimension. Buffy's fight to save her sister is moving and her own sacrifice in the end would have been a fitting end to the show. But lucky for us, it was not the end of our favorite Slayer.

Anya: "It's an omen! It's a higher power trying to tell me through bunnies that we're all gonna die! Oh god!"

5.) "Tabula Rasa"
Season 6, Episode 8

There was seriously no shortage of laughs in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I would argue that there has never been a show that has been so self-aware, self-deprecating and self-assured. It always knew precisely when to turn on the funny and when to turn on the tears. That's a credit to Joss Whedon and his entire writing team. This episode gets my award for the funniest of the whole series. After Tara (Amber Benson) finds out that Willow used a spell on her to make her forget their recent fights, Willow tries again to use a memory spell on Buffy and Tara that backfires and causes the entire gang to develop amnesia. Gathered in the Magic Shop, the team spends the entire episode trying to piece together their identities to hilarious results. Also, this episode gets extra marks for having an actual Loan Shark (I'm not kidding he's an actual man-shark) come after Spike to recover a debt. "Tabula Rasa" is farce at it's very best and all of the actors here do their best and wittiest banter. It's probably more quoted than an other chapter of this show.

Spike: "*Randy* Giles? Why not just call me Horny Giles or Desperate-For-A-Shag Giles? I knew there was a reason I hated you."

4.) "The Wish"
Season 3, Episode 9

I have a soft spot for Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life. I really liked the idea of a man getting to truly find his worth by seeing a vision of the world where he didn't exist. This Season 3 episode continues the arc of Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) as she journeys from shallow, self-absorbed Mean Girl to a kinder, more heroic version of herself. "The Wish" is a big step for her on that path. After befriending a new girl at school named Anya (yes, that Anya; this is her fist appearance), Cordelia, in a middle of jealous rant, wishes that Buffy Summers never came to Sunnydale. Anya reveals herself to be a Vengeance Demon who grants scorned women their wishes to get revenge against the men who wronged them. Anya grants the wish and immediately Cordy finds herself in a dark, post-apocalyptic version of the town, where the Master (the "Big Bad" from Season 1) was never destroyed by Buffy. Xander and Willow are revealed to be vampires, Angel is tortured and chained up in a cell, and Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) and Oz (Seth Green) are members of the losing resistance that tries to fight back. Buffy does show up but it's too late. The only one who can put things back is Giles who figures out that this world is wrong. There would be a follow-up episode later in the season, "Doppelgangland," that is equally great and should not be missed. Vampire Willow takes center stage in that one as well, to much hilarity and foreshadowing.

Cordelia: "You know what I've been asking myself a lot this last week? Why me? Why do *I* get impaled? Why do I get bitten by snakes? Why do I fall for incredible losers? And, you know, I think I've finally figured it out. What my problem is -- it's Buffy Summers."

3.) "Becoming" Parts 1 & 2
Season 2, Episodes 21 & 22

While the Mayor from Season 3 may be my favorite villain, the most terrifying and evil adversary Buffy ever faced also happened to be the man she most loved. The breaking of Angel's curse and his subsequent reverting back into the monster that is Angelus was the most important story arc in the series and I would argue that, without it, the show would not have survived. Season 1 had moments of brilliance but they were few and far between and it wasn't until Season 2 and the introduction of Spike, Drusilla and Angelus that the show found its legs. This two-part season finale saw Buffy finally facing the terrible decision that she has no choice but to kill Angel to stop him. She would find an unlikely ally in Spike, and it would forever change their relationship as well. The final confrontation between Angelus and Buffy is awesome and heartbreaking at the same time. Even more so when our heroine has to run her sword through his heart, even when she knows that Willow's spell has succeeded and restored his soul. A brilliant allegory for a young woman's first love and sexual awakening that culminates in the obvious metaphor of the uncaring young man who changes once he has gotten what he wanted, Season 2 remains the most important for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the moment it became more than just a campy teenage horror show.

Buffy: "Open your eyes, Mom. What do you think has been going on for the past two years? The fights, the weird occurrences... how many times have you washed blood out of my clothing, and you still haven't figured it out?"
Joyce Summers: "Well, it stops now!"
Buffy: "No, it doesn't stop! It never stops! Do-do you think I chose to be like this? Do you have any idea how lonely it is, how dangerous? I would love to be upstairs watching TV or gossiping about boys or, God, even studying! But I have to save the world ... again."

2.) "Once More, With Feeling"
Season 6, Episode 7

Ah, the infamous musical episode! It's been copied and repeated so many times over the years but no other show even came close to pulling off this feat as well as Joss & Co. did for "Once More, With Feeling." When a demon comes to Sunnydale that forces everyone to reveal their innermost feelings through song, Buffy and the gang at first are amused. But then the demon kidnaps Dawn (must be Tuesday!) and the gang have to all come to her rescue in a big ensemble musical number at the end. What makes this episode more than just a gimmick is how seamlessly it fits within the overall story arc of Season 6. Buffy's feelings of disappointment and emptiness at being resurrected by Willow take center stage. Her opening song, "Going Through the Motions," speaks to this emptiness and how disappointed she is to be back in her old routine of easily slaying vampires. Willow's increasingly disturbing reliance on powerful magics comes to a head when Tara discovers she is literally "Under Your Spell." Giles is conflicted about whether he has become too much a crutch for his Slayer ("What You Feel"). And Xander and Anya work out their wedding jitters with "I'll Never Tell." It all culminates in the kiss that everyone was waiting for between Buffy and Spike as the curtain closes. The songs are all so catchy, the jokes all so clever and the character beats are all resonant. It's a stunning feat in the annals of television and could have been outdone by only one other episode .....

Dawn: [excited] "Oh my God. You will never believe what happened at school today."
Buffy: "Everybody started singing and dancing?"
Dawn: [pauses, deflated] "I gave birth to a pterodactyl."
Anya: "Oh my God, did it sing?"

1.) "The Body"
Season 5, Episode 16

Matt and I have both written about this episode, "The Body," as one of the very best hours of television you will ever watch. That still holds true. Unlike, "Once More, With Feeling" though, this is not an entertaining ride by any means. The grief of suddenly losing a parent prematurely would be hard for any show to convey in a genuine way, but Joss Whedon and Sarah Michelle Gellar deserve all the credit for making us feel every ounce of Buffy's confusion, shock, numbness and sadness as she comes home one day to find her mother, Joyce (Kristine Sutherland), dead on the living room couch from a brain aneurism. It was a hard left turn for a show where a young girl saves the world by fighting vampires and demons every week to have her laid low by something so natural and so unavoidable. Gellar has never given a better performance than in the opening scenes of this episode as she frantically tries to react in the appropriate way to her mother's lifeless body. After her friends arrive on the scene, it is interesting to see the different ways they all handle Joyce's passing. Willow frets over what she should wear, Xander punches things, and, surprisingly, most poignantly, Anya struggles to know how she should behave having never experienced the loss of someone so close. The fact "The Body" was not nominated for an Emmy is travesty as it is today often cited as one of the key episodes that defined Buffy the Vampire Slayer as not just a silly horror show for teens, but one that dealt with real issues and serious themes that all of us go through someday.

Anya: "I don't understand how all this happens. How we go through this. I mean, I knew her, and then she's- there's just a body, and I don't understand why she just can't get back in it and not be dead anymore. It's stupid. It's mortal and it's stupid. And - and Xander's crying and not talking, and - and I was having fruit punch, and I thought, well, Joyce will never have any more fruit punch, and I thought, well, Joyce will never have any more fruit punch ever, and she'll never have eggs, or yawn or brush her hair, not ever, and no one will explain to me why."

Matt's Picks

Some of my picks will definitely mirror Jay's, but I've added some others definitely worth checking out!

10.) "The Zeppo"
Season 3, Episode 13

One of my favorite characters on the show has got to be Xander (Nicholas Brendon) -- if merely for the fact that he never fully feels special (a feeling I, and many others, have felt at one time or another). In a world where he's surrounded by a nearly-superheroic slayer (two now with Faith being added), a budding witch, a vampire, and a werewolf, Xander is usually the guy who brings the donuts. He has no discernable "power," little is expected of him and he often has to be rescued. So, in this episode, while the rest of the gang is busy fending off the next apocalypse, Xander finds himself sucked into a seemingly insignificant (hey, it's no apocalypse!) struggle, having to prevent a foursome of zombies from blowing up a bomb in the school, which would inadvertently kill his friends. There are so many levels of great to this episode: the fact that Xander tries to hang out with more guys, only to feel out of place; his awkwardness with women; the fact that Xander selflessly handles his own life-threatening crisis (which would also kill his friends) without any bragging or recognition, knowing he bested his bully and saved his friends; and that smile he flashes an insulting Cordelia as he walks away, knowing his true worth. What I also liked was the fact that the episode writer wrote the scenes with Giles, Buffy, Willow, and Angel as meaning to express the grave situation of the latest apocalypse, but makes them sound rather melodramatic to the point of amusement (the best is the one of many times Angel and Buffy have a tense romantic moment, only to be interrupted by Xander). One of the best comedic episodes next to "Tabula Rasa," "Halloween," and "Band Candy" ("Summers! You drive like a spaz!")

Xander: "Yeah, great knife. Although, I think, um, it may technically be a sword."
Jack O'Toole: "She's called Katie."
Xander: "You gave it a girl's name. How very serial killer of you."

9.) "Hush"
Season 4, Episode 10

Not much was noticeable about season 4 (although, it's still Buffy, so it's worth watching!), but one of the best to come out of that season had very limited spoken dialogue! "Hush" would go on to gain an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series (the fact Buffy didn't get nominated for more than this once, especially for "The Body," proves the inadequacy of awards shows). In the episode, also the first appearance of fan favorite Tara Maclay (Amber Benson), Sunnydale is visited by a fairy-tale-like monster -- or group of monsters -- known as The Gentlemen. With their creepy rictus grins, the Gentlemen silence the townspeople in each generation they visit so no one can scream when the Gentlemen steal their hearts. The episode uses techniques such as an homage to Wes Craven's Nightmare on Elm Street (the little girl singing the nursery rhyme), as well as the underlying theme of communication breakdown in an age of cell phones, where talking can be constant. The other greatness of this episode is that it furthers the relationships between Xander and Anya, Willow and Tara, and Buffy and Riley (Marc Blucas). Communication is definitely at the forefront in this episode, exploring the overabundance of it, the lack of it, the attempt at killing it, and the many ways we take it for granted.

Little Girl Singing Rhyme: "Can't even shout, can't even cry/The Gentlemen are coming by/Looking in windows, knocking on doors/They need to take seven and they might take yours/Can't call to mom, can't say a word/You're gonna die screaming but you won't be heard."

8.) "Becoming" Parts 1 & 2
Season 2, Episodes 21 & 22

Whenever I introduce anyone to Buffy, I tell them the first season is good enough for introductions, but the show really takes off in season 2! Looking at my list too, it's easy to see which seasons I favor. In the first part of this episode, we see the highlights of Angel's journey from being turned into a vampire by Darla (Julie Benz) in 1753 to the curse of gaining his soul back in 1898 to his arrival in Sunnydale. I know Jay and many others give their vote to Spike as their favorite vampire on the show -- and the one who deserves to be with Buffy. Hell, even creator Joss Whedon has said it! But, to me, in the battle over who's the best vampire (and is best for Buffy) -- Angel (David Boreanaz) or Spike (James Marsters)? -- Angel wins. His vampiric alter ego, Angelus, is a definite badass, someone who just wants to watch the world burn. Plus, Angel the good vampire has proven time and again that he's willing to look at "the big picture" and sacrifice his own wants and needs for the greater good -- something Spike does not do as everything that drives him has to do with his emotional need. The end of this episode sees some major earth-shattering events, which up the show's reputation into being more than just a teen show. The second part involves Buffy's mom, Joyce, find out her daughter's a vampire slayer (in a dialogue which could easily be substituted for anything different: "Have you tried not being a slayer?"); the gang gets help from Spike for the first time; and the gut-wrenching decision Buffy has to make when Angel's soul is restored, but the only way to close the vortex is Angel's blood, all played to Christophe Beck's Emmy-award-winning score, "Close Your Eyes." The show ends on a somber note with so much uncertainty, played to perfection with Sarah McLachlan's "Full of Grace" in the background.

Angelus: "No weapons ... no friends ... no hope. Take all that away and what's left?" [lunges sword at Buffy]
Buffy: [catches sword, flat, between her palms] "Me."

7.) "Innocence"
Season 2, Episode 14

At the end of the previous episode, Buffy and Angel decide to take their relationship to the next level by having sex for the first time. Because of this, Angel experiences one moment of true happiness and the gypsy curse which restored his soul is broken, thus causing him to lose his soul once more, turning back to the evil, manipulative Angelus, one of my top ten TV villains of all time! It goes without saying that nearly every story in an episode of Buffy is a metaphor for some kind of pang of life. "Innocence" is one of the first noticeable ones. The concept of a man changing his personality right after having sex is, unfortunately, very common-place -- especially in high school. This is what happens to Buffy; what is most painful is watching the scene when Buffy finds Angel after his change, and asks, "Was it me? Was I not good?", only to have him chuckle at her and tell her he thought she "was a pro" (it sounds just like something out of the high-school-girl-confronts-frat- guy-after-one-night-stand playbook). When Buffy goes home and breaks down crying in her room, she showcases something so important to round out her character; if she was just merely some tough hardass young woman, but didn't show such vulnerability, it would make her quite one-dimensional (but, don't worry, she has many literal kick-ass moments in this episode). The episode also continues the story arc of a wheelchair-bound Spike being cared for by his lover, Drusilla (Juliet Landau), as they prepare for the destruction at the hands of The Judge, a demon who burns the humanity out of those with souls; Willow's discovery of her crush, Xander, making out with Cordelia; and Giles' love interest Jenny Calendar (Robia LaMorte) and her family's involvement with Angel's curse. But the best part of the episode, in my opinion, is the surrogate father-daughter talk between Giles and Buffy at the end of the episode after he's found out she had sex with Angel. The end is so bittersweet as Buffy realizes she's older but still wishing she could maintain the innocence and idealism of youth. This episode helps show how Buffy grows emotionally stronger, and it's done so damn well!

Giles: "It's not over. I suppose you know that. He'll come after you, particularly. His profile, uh, well, he's likely to strike out at the things that made him the most human."
Buffy: "You must be so disappointed in me. This is all my fault."
Giles: "No. I don't believe it is. Do you want me to wag my finger at you and tell you that you acted rashly? You did. And I can. But I know that you loved him. And ... he ... has proven more than once that he loved you. You couldn't have known what would happen. The coming months are ... are gonna be hard -- I suspect on all of us, but ... if it's guilt you're looking for, Buffy, I'm - I'm not your man. All you will get from me is my support. And my respect."

6.) "Passion"
Season 2, Episode 17

To me, this was the episode where the series stepped up its risks a considerable notch. After the debacle in the shopping mall with the Judge (episode 14, and the entry above), Angelus decides to step up his game and go after Buffy with a vengeance! He does this by going after those she cares about -- namely Willow, Joyce, and Giles. But he doesn't merely physically hurt them (that would be too easy); but rather he tortures them psychologically. I love how the episode begins with Buffy feeling threatened and feeling useless against Angelus' mind games. Giles advises Buffy to try not to let Angelus get to her and maybe he'll go away. However, later in the episode, when Angelus attacks too close to Giles' figurative home, Giles goes against his advice to Buffy and proves that passion can overtake us all. What stands out most here is the segment that -- as a comic book fan -- I can't help but reference 1994's Green Lantern #54, in which hero Green Lantern Kyle Rayner comes home from saving the day only to find a romantic note from his fiancée, Alexandra; but when he looks in the refrigerator, he finds her dead and stuffed inside (this is when comics officially showed they could go dark, and this method of shock value came to be known as the "Women in Refrigerators"; really, look it up!). So it happens to Giles as he comes home to find romantic opera music playing, a romantically-enticing note, roses, champagne -- only to find Jenny dead in his bed. A brilliantly cruel and horrific scene all set up by Angelus, who wanted to stop Jenny from finding a way to reinstate his soul. I have to say, the way Angelus psychologically terrorizes Willow and Buffy are creative, and proves even more how much more evil he is compared to Spike or any other Big Bad on the show. Again, the greatness of the episode also comes in two more parts: when Buffy and Willow find out what happened to Jenny (Alyson Hannigan is one of THE BEST criers! I get chills every time I watch that scene), and when Giles decides to show a glimpse of his young "Ripper" days and goes after Angelus to kill him, then gets confronted by Buffy, admitting how much she needs Giles.

Angelus: "It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion, maybe we'd know some kind of peace. But we would be hollow. Empty rooms, shuttered and dank ... without passion, we'd be truly dead."

5.) "Once More, With Feeling"
Season 6, Episode 7

Yes, it's the musical episode. But my reasons for liking this episode aren't mostly about the music (although I like that a lot)! It's the overall story going on here: an important entry into the arc of the season and Buffy's life -- namely her sour feelings and bitterness she feels towards her friends for pulling her out of the afterlife. It tears down the façade of the group being united and supportive of each other. Anya is at her funniest here ("It MUST be BUNNIES!") and the episode ends with that climactic confrontation between Buffy and Spike. Favorite songs here include the duet ballad of "Under Your Spell/Standing" by Tara and Giles, Anya and Xander's wedding day jitters duet of "I'll Never Tell," the Cast's "Where Do We Go From Here?," and, of course, the dry cleaning customer's "The Mustard!"

Buffy: [singing] "There was no pain/No fear, no doubt/Till they pulled me out/Of heaven/So that's my refrain/I live in hell/'Cause I've been expelled/From heaven/I think I was in heaven/So give me something to sing about/Please, give me something ..."

4.) "Villains"
Season 6, Episode 20

This episode was SO close to its preceding episode, "Seeing Red," because that one has so many great, jaw-dropping moments (Spike's attempted rape, and THAT ending!) it and starts a brilliant story arc. But I had to pick this one merely due to the fact of the reveal of the Big Bad for the season: not "The Trio" ("You've heard of us!") -- a geeky trio of troublemakers Warren (Adam Busch), Jonathan (Danny Strong), and Andrew (Tom Lenk) -- but rather Willow! The trio is mostly there for humor throughout the season, but things get serious as leader Warren begins showing all of the tell-tale signs of being a misogynistic, selfish, insecure killer. This comes to a head after Buffy defeats Warren in the preceding episode, causing Warren to take his revenge in the most unimaginative, tragic way: with a gun. He shoots Buffy and accidentally hits Tara, killing her. This episode shows Willow on her manhunt for Warren, while gathering strong black magic along the way. When she does catch up to Warren, the $#!& hits the fan. The dialogue between the two perfectly outs Warren as the misogynist coward he truly is, and Willow's description of a gunshot is great writing! I also love the way the show addresses gun use and the irony of these people with powers who are still just as vulnerable to a gun as anyone. The final result of the episode is one of the most brutal killings in Buffy history!

Willow: "Wanna know what a bullet feels like, Warren? It's not like in the comics." [The bullet Willow extracted from Buffy appears and slowly begins to dig into Warren's chest.]
Warren: "No. No."
Willow: "I think you need to. Feel it." [The bullet digs deeper into Warren.]
Warren: "Oh, God! Stop it!"
Willow: "It's not going to make a neat little hole. First, it'll obliterate your internal organs. Your lung will collapse. Feels like drowning."
Warren: "Please! No."
Willow: "When it finally hits your spine, it'll blow your central nervous system."
Warren: "Oh, please! Stop! God, please--"
Willow: "I'm talking. [Willow casts a spell which sews Warren's mouth shut.] The pain will be unbearable, but you won't be able to move. Bullet usually travels faster than this, of course. But the dying? It'll seem like it takes forever. Something, isn't it? One tiny piece of metal destroys everything. It ripped her insides out ... took her light away. From me. From the world. Now the one person who should be here is gone ... and a waste like you gets to live. Tiny piece of metal. Can you feel it now?"

3.) "Grave"
Season 6, Episode 22

Most fans and critics really panned season 6, but, honestly, it was one of my favorites. I like the idea that most of the Buffy and her friends' biggest threat can arise from within. After a quick wizards dual with (the triumphant return of) Giles, Willow decides rather than kill the remaining survivors of the Trio, Jonathan and Andrew, the best thing to do is put everyone in the world out of their misery by destroying it. So she gathers more magic from what Giles borrowed from a coven of witches; her fill of Giles' magic brings out another metaphor of the season: treating Willow's addiction to magic like a drug addiction. This episode best exemplifies how hate can be a strong source of power, but, ultimately, love wins out. A great storyline has Buffy and Dawn underground, fighting for their lives (Buffy chooses to fight for her life and to rise out of the ground, giving her the control and choice she didn't have when her friends resurrected her at the beginning of the season), and when the fight is done, Buffy -- the parental figure to Dawn -- admits she doesn't want to protect Dawn from the world anymore, but instead show it to her. Overall, the best for me has to be when Xander confronts Willow while she's trying to end the world, to talk her down from her anger, but nothing seems to work ... except when he admits that even if she kills him and the world, he'd still love her. Sure, it's no epic battle or Big Bad, but it's one of the best finales of the series!

Xander: "If you wanna kill the world, well, then start with me. I've earned that."
Willow: "You think I won't?"
Xander: "It doesn't matter. I'll still love you."

2.) "The Gift"
Season 5, Episode 22

As Jay said, this finale was almost the complete end for the series if it hadn't been for the UPN network picking it back up. And thank God they did! I mean, although this episode was one of the best episodes, I would've had mixed emotions if this episode would've been it. Nevertheless, a masterful episode! I loved the idea that rather than Buffy's "love interest" for the season being some guy, it was a familial love for her sister, Dawn. Season 5 was one of my other favorites because this was the first time Buffy faced a threat so huge: a god! There seemed to be no way of winning ... until she figured out what she had to do. In the final scene, her courage is palpable. The episode is a heavy examination in trying to find an alternative means to an inevitable end and accepting what we all must face.

Spike: "Blood is life, lack-brain. Why do you think we eat it? It's what keeps you going. Makes you warm. Makes you hard. Makes you other than dead."

1.) "The Body"
Season 5, Episode 16

Buffy is used to slaying demons and battling other disgusting monsters. And when any of her friends or acquaintances died, it usually was due to supernatural means. So it was a major surprise when Buffy’s ailing mother, Joyce, died – not from fighting monsters – but from a brain aneurysm. In the aftermath of realizing she does not need a boyfriend, Riley, and everything is all hunky-dory, Buffy returns home to find her mother’s lifeless body on the couch. What follows in this episode is one of the best written and produced pieces on death in TV history. The scene where Buffy informs Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) of their mom's death alone is wonderfully, emotionally done so well! The entire episode was a gut-punch to Buffy fans everywhere, but also a wonderful piece of art, as it explores the major steps of grieving. This is not just the best episode of Buffy but is one of the best TV episodes of all time!

Buffy: "We're not supposed to move the body!" [Buffy puts her hand over her mouth, in shock.]

Was there one we missed or you think should've made the top ten? Let us know in the comments!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Maybe the Superhero Show You Should Be Watching is "Legion"

Jay here.

Noah Hawley is one of the best showrunner's currently in television. He proved to all the naysayers that he could take a beloved film, like the Coen Brother's, Fargo, already considered one of the very best American movies ever made, and turn it into a recurring mini-series that is arguably even better than that darkly violent and comical picture. After two seasons, FX's Fargo is the best television has to offer.

Hawley, most likely, had the power to green light any project he wanted to. What he did though was take a bit of left turn and instead tackle of genre which many would say is in serious jeopardy of overexposure . . . . the comic book, superhero one.

But, being Noah Hawley, he would obviously choose one of the most obscure and unlikely comic book characters to focus his attention on;  David Haller, a.k.a. Legion, the estranged son of Professor Charles Xavier, founder of the X-Men.

My first thought when I heard this news was . . . . "Huh?"

Legion? Really??

Not exactly a guy that is going to win the award for "Most Awesomely Badass Comicbook Character Ever Award", you would be hard-pressed to find a solid Marvel fan who had heard of him.

Created by the legendary writer of The Uncanny X-Men, Chris Claremont, Legion first appeared in 1985 in New Mutants #25. He is the son of Charles Xavier and Gabrielle Haller. He is significant because he is, arguably, the most powerful mutant in existence due to his extraordinary psychic powers and ability to absorbs the psyche of others into his own, along with their powers. What makes him unique, though, and what most likely attracted Hawley to him for his new show, is that he suffers from dissociative identity disorder which manifests itself in his multiple personalities and severe mental illness.

 Taking on a character with superhuman powers who also happens to be severely schizophrenic allows Hawley to do so much creatively and artistic with a lot of aspects of the show. Watching the first episode I was immediately taken by the art direction and editing. If he was obviously channeling the Coen Brothers with Fargo, it seems to me that he is certainly drawing on aspects of the films of Wes Anderson and even Stanley Kubrick for the visual style of Legion.

David (Dan Stevens) and Syd (Rachel Keller) meet at the Clockworks Mental Hospital. Hmmmmm . . . "Clockworks"? I'm sure there is nothing to that . . . .

The show takes place in a indeterminate time period. There is plenty 60's and 70's era design on display in frame after frame, but the technology used would indicate we are still in modern times. Also the music selection is purposeful and spot-on with several key moments involving actual musical numbers for the characters to perform.

All of these stylistic choices serve the overall story very well. We are introduced to David Haller (Dan Stevens), an obviously troubled young man who is trying hard to overcome the schizophrenia he has been diagnosed with. Committed to the Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital he spends his days working though his problems with his therapist and making fun of the other inmates with his best friend among the patients, Lenny (Aubrey Plaza).

Then David meets Sydney Barrett (an homage to Pink Floyd's original front man, Syd Barrett, who quit the band due to a crippling psychosis possibly brought on by experimenting with LSD) a young woman, new to the hospital, who tries to tell him that he is actually a mutant and so is she. Like the X-Men character, Rogue, Syd cannot touch skin-to-skin or her power will manifest itself. Unlike Rogue, contact with Syd results in switch places with her. Think, Freaky Friday.

Syd and David ultimately end up in the company a team of mutants, led by Dr. Melanie Bird (Jean Smart) who are determined to help him control his awesome powers which they firmly believe is the cause of his mental issues, not schizophrenia.

The questions around his fractured mind and weather or not he is truly psychotic is the central theme of Legion and it allows Hawley to have a lot of fun with the narrative structure. Many scenes take place inside David's mind (or do they?) and the twists and turns the writers can employ here are nearly limitless. Let me clear, even though this story does take place within the X-Men universe, it' connections to it are slim to none and just inferred. Hawley is not interested in simply making an X-Men TV show, he is much more concerned with playing with realties and unrealities of being a man who could be them most powerful mutant in the world or just simply a madman.

It works so well on so many levels and is the most cleverly written hour of television your likely to find today.

Kerry Loudermilk (Amber Midthunder) is one of the mutants determined to help David and then use him to take down the evil "Division 3".

I would be remiss if I didn't bring up the performance of Aubrey Plaza as well. It is tough to write much about her without going into SPOILER territory. So, if you plan on watching Legion and don't want anything spoiled please skip this next paragraph . . . .

The first season is not quite over but I'm pretty sure that Aubrey Plaza's character of Lenny, who happens to live in David's head and appears to him at various moments, is actually Amahl Farouk, the Shadow King. A creature of pure psychic energy and a parasite that lives off the suffering of telepaths, Farouk was an early nemesis of Professor Xavier. Their early clashes led the Professor to form the X-Men. In this show the Shadow King has taken on several forms in David's mind. The most used is as Lenny, who David and Syd inadvertently killed in the very first episode. Plaza is obviously having a blast playing the villain and she dives into the role with menace and humor. I can't wait to see what she has in store for her mutant adversaries.

Lenny (Aubrey Plaza), posing as his therapist, confronts David (Dan Stevens) with a sliver of truth about who and what she really is.
So, to sum up, if you are looking for an inventive, unique and deeper-than-most take on the superhero genre then Legion is definitely your show. It proves again that Noah Hawley is one of the most original voices bring smart and creative programming to the small screen.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Jay Makes the Case for Christmas and Die Hard

Jay here.

I am here to make the case for Die Hard as a Christmas movie.

At the dinner table tonight as one of the fam declared Elf as his favorite holiday film, I brought up Die Hard as a personal fav of mine. Everyone stopped eating and looked at me. 

“I don't think that's a serious Christmas movie.”

‘What the hell?’, I thought. How could anyone not see that Die Hard is a perfect movie for the holidays? In fact, I submit to you, the jury, that John McTiernan’s 1988 action masterpiece about a group of terrorists who take over a Los Angeles skyscraper and hold 30-40 hostages at gunpoint on Christmas Eve, has all of the essential qualities that make it America’s and Santa Claus’s himself, first choice to watch on December 24th with a glass of eggnog and a fully loaded Beretta 92F by your side.

To prove it I will now list the ways that Die Hard meets all the necessary criteria for holiday categorization:

1. It takes place on Christmas Eve (duh!). Yes, it's California, but we still do celebrate it out here in our beautiful 60 degree weather.

2. It has a kick-ass Xmas soundtrack with such breakaway hits like Run-DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis”, “Let it Snow” and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”.

3. At its heart, Die Hard is really a movie about family and how the McLane’s are brought back together by John’s undying commitment to save his estranged wife by ensuring she gets home to their kids. Even if it means he has to kill every single terrorist on every single floor of Nakatomi Plaza.

4. “Now I have a machine gun. Ho-Ho-Ho.”

5. Every character has been living with a moral crisis of some kind (Al killed a kid and can't bring himself to shoot someone again, John is a misogynist who can't come to grips with the fact his wife is more successful than him, the Deputy Chief, Dwayne T. Robinson is just a douchebag) but they all are changed irrevocably by this most important of holidays. Al blasts Karl away, John saves everyone and his wife learns her place, and Deputy Chief, Dwayne T. Robinson? Well, he's still a douchebag, but he met some FBI guys who were bigger a-holes then him.

6. Hans Gruber (played by the late, great Alan Rickman) is possibly the greatest Christmas villain of all time. F the Grinch and his plans for Whoville. You think Mr. Potter was evil? Hans is out to destroy everyone’s holiday (and make a few hundred mil in the process) by blowing up a building with dozens of innocent people inside. And, by the way, death by Rolex is the most 80’s way to bite it on any day of the year.

7. “Now I have a machine gun. Ho-Ho-Ho.”

8. So, Matt has picked It's A Wonderful Life as his favorite Christmas film of all time. A solid choice, I must say. But let me ask you this, Matt, do you think George Bailey could take John McClane in straight up fight? Because that's what's really important here. Bruce Willis would backhand Jimmy Stewart off of that bridge and tell him to stop f’n whining damnit! Do you think McClane would have given up when things got tough? No way! Old Johnny Boy doesn't need any Clarence the Angel to tell him how bitchin’ he is. He would have lifted Mr. Potter out of that wheelchair and pistol whipped him through the streets of Bedford Falls.

9. So, I said this is America’s Christmas movie and that's true. Think about it. An off-duty New York cop, takes on a group of foreigners who dare to come into OUR country and ruin the Christmas Party of corporate America. All he has is a pistol, a wife beater, no shoes and the grit and determination to outsmart all of them. Thank goodness, that in the future, thanks to “extreme vetting” no groups like Hans Gruber’s killers will get through our borders and allow another Nakatomi to happen. 

10. “Now I have a machine gun. Ho-Ho-Ho.”

So, that's my case for Die Hard as the best Xmas movie to watch with the family this year and every year. Force them if you have to. And if you still think it doesn't qualify, then ……

Yippie-Kay-Yay, motherfucker!