Every Season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Ranked From Worst To Best

Disclaimer: Mega spoilers incoming!

Ah, Buffy…truly one of the greatest live-action shows ever made, or at least in the top 10. In a lot of ways, Buffy changed television and what we could expect from it. It took the overdone 90s sitcom, tossed it out the window, and offered people something completely new. However, not all seasons of Buffy are created equal. While the show is entirely deserving of the praise and love it still receives, it’s an unfortunate fact that the show has suffered from some truly terrible writing blunders, and some less-than-stellar seasons. I’m here to judge them.

Absolute Worst: Season 7

I’m sure many of you Buffy fans reading this aren’t surprised to see Season 7 at the bottom of the pile. I’ll get into why in a moment, but let’s start with the few positives about this season. There are some notable episodes, like ‘Help’, reminiscent of classic Buffy, and ‘Conversations with Dead People’. The concept of Buffy discovering the origin of the Slayer line was also an interesting one…but that’s where the positives run dry.

To put it simply, the main plot was not executed well here. The Potentials, characters we don’t know and aren’t invested in, take up a lot of screen time – screen time that we don’t necessarily want to give up during the final season. Becoming invested in them is a struggle within itself – they’re whiny, annoying, and doubt Buffy from the get-go despite her gleaming track record of saving the world a bunch. Putting it simply, a bad cast of characters can easily make a show unwatchable, especially if those characters are supposed to be our heroes. At least there’s a good villain though, right?

Well, not really. The First is essentially a faceless villain. I get it, they didn’t know how the ‘embodiment of evil’ should look, but it had to look like something other than Spike and Buffy. It’s not a particularly charming big bad, either – no real personality outside of what it emulates when impersonating the dead. Even Caleb, ten times more charming and interesting than the First, isn’t enough to save the season because he’s inexplicably introduced in episode 18, four episodes before the end.

Robin is one of the more well-written characters and has a lot of potential, but he’s mishandled. His vendetta against Spike for a mother he barely remembers gets in the way. Speaking of Spike, there’s hardly any change explored in him despite having regained his soul. And I won’t delve too far into Kennedy and Willow’s romance because I could go on and on, but needless to say, it doesn’t work.

Perhaps the most egregious thing about Season 7, however, is the character assassination that takes place in ‘Empty Places’. Besides the fact that this mini-drama feels unnecessary, seeing the Scoobies treat Buffy the way they do is a hard watch – not only that, but it feels downright unrealistic considering how long we’ve known the Scoobies. Decisions here are made to further the plot without really reflecting on whether or not the characters would make those decisions. It comes close to ruining the characters, which isn’t a particularly welcome feeling so close to the end. Add to that the pathetic deus ex machina revealed by Angel at the last minute and the rushed finale, and you’ve got one terrible season.

Bad: Season 6

Admit it, you knew it was coming. The battle for last place was a close call but Season 6 came out better off only because of a few saving graces – namely, ‘Once More with Feeling’, ‘Tabula Rasa’, and ‘Doublemeat Palace’. You may not agree with the last one, but in this bog of misery I have to take whatever light-hearted fun I can get. Of course, the season openers are semi-decent, and the finale itself has many redeeming moments. Say what you want about Xander saving the day, but you can’t deny that the moment is heartfelt.

Season 6 is heavy, and while a season may benefit from darker episodes, too much of that can be overwhelming. Not only is Buffy utterly depressed after being ripped from Heaven, Xander ends up leaving Anya at the altar, Tara is killed off and there’s a distinct lack of Giles. Seeing our favourite characters undergoing major changes in their lives and dealing with difficult times is a must, of course, but throwing everything at us in one fell swoop is exhausting. It takes away much of season 6’s rewatch value. After all, nobody’s going to come back to an episode like ‘Normal Again’ or ‘Seeing Red’ on a whim. No matter how well-written the episodes may be, they’re just so unbearably bleak.

Perhaps the hardest thing about Season 6, though, is Willow’s arc. The magic-as-drugs metaphor was always going to be clunky, considering how it originally represented love between Willow and Tara – it doesn’t make a lot of sense to have magic stand for both of those things. Not only that, but seeing Willow fall deeper into addiction is simply a hard watch. She does things that we’d never expect from her, like putting Dawn’s life at risk and betraying Tara. I think I speak for most Buffy fans when I say that Willow is an adored character, which is why seeing her as the villain is unnatural. It doesn’t correlate with the Willow we know.

Then there’s the trio, none of whom are exactly oozing with charisma. They may have their funny moments but villains have to win us over just as much as heroes do, and as a unit, the trio don’t quite do that. Jonathan is perhaps the most likeable of the bunch because we’ve known him the longest, and he certainly seems the least diabolical. Andrew, on the other hand, isn’t particularly memorable and anyone who finds Warren agreeable in the least sense must be crazier than he is. As villains, they’re simply another bad piece of the puzzle that is season 6.

Semi-decent: Season 1

Season 1 is a strange one. It’s where it all begins and so wins the nostalgia vote, but a lot of it really doesn’t stand the test of time. For one thing, there are far too many one-off episodes, meaning the big bad of the season, the Master, gets lost in the background a little too much – for another thing, quite a number of those episodes are just plain cringey. ‘I Robot, You Jane’, anyone? How about ‘Teacher’s Pet’? Understandably, the show was only just beginning and special effects could only look so… special. But a giant praying-mantis posing as a sexy high school teacher? Where’s the logic on that one?

There are a number of good episodes, and season 1 is special in the sense that we meet all of the Scoobies, as well as other characters like Cordelia and Amy, for the first time. There’s that feel of classic Buffy about the episodes, which means that, even though they’re not the best, they have a certain rewatch value. They’re still well-written, with all the characters we love and great dialogue with some funny moments – the premise just isn’t quite there. It’s nowhere near, in fact.

The Master as a villain makes sense for season 1. It’s rather an obvious choice, that the vampire slayer has to defeat the master of all vampires, but considering that Buffy was in its infancy and unsure about where it was headed, it’s not an awful choice. He’s certainly charismatic and his scenes are engaging, making him a far more interesting character than some of the later villains. And of course, Buffy has her iconic moment in the finale with her gown, leather jacket and crossbow, a look that has proven to be one of the most memorable from the show. Still, as much as season 1 has its moments, it doesn’t quite stand up to the following seasons.

Decent: Season 2

Now, I know season 2 is a favourite for many and its place in this ranking may cause some outrage. Some of you may have expected season 4 to be here and it was certainly a close call between the two. But there’s a good reason for the way things turned out. Allow me to explain.

As far as villains go, season 2 boasts some great ones. The introduction of Spike and Drusilla is brilliant and the two share an entrancing chemistry. Drusilla herself is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating characters on the show, as funny as she is unnerving. Then, of course, we have Angelus, who’s an enchanting villain in his own right – darkly playful, psychotic and persistent in his tormenting of the Scoobies.

So, it goes without saying that season 2 undoubtedly has a great overarching plot. ‘Passion’ is a masterpiece of an episode with the murder of Jenny Calendar being an unexpected twist, chronicling the first (irreversible) death of a major character. Similarly, Buffy’s decision to kill Angel in the finale is a tragically beautiful one, and a powerful note to end the season on. Angelus as a villain is a great choice, not just because he’s purportedly the most sadistic vampire to have ever lived, but because we, the audience, love him and know him well. We love Buffy, too, and we’re invested in her journey through grief. It makes for powerful viewing.

That being said, however, much of season 2 is so plot-heavy that we’re almost suffocated by it. There aren’t a ton of episodes that stand apart from the major plot, and only half of them are really worth watching, namely ‘Halloween’, ‘Lie to Me’, and ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’. The others, like ‘Bad Eggs’ and ‘Phases’, are complete cringe fests. What that means is that if you don’t find the main plot particularly compelling or if you happen to dislike Angel, season 2 can be quite a chore. Because of the focus on plot and the darker themes of this season, it also suffers from a lack of humour compared to the next season on this list.

Good: Season 4

Again, some may disagree with season 4’s place here, and admittedly, the plot in 4 is…lacking, to say the least. Maggie Walsh’s death (prompted by the actress, Lindsay Crouse, having to bail on the show) is certainly a big factor when it comes to the overarching plot falling apart, not to mention the testosterone-addled Initiative getting in the way of Buffy. It’s also fair to say that Adam may be one of the least memorable villains of the entire show – part demon, part robot, part human, seemingly built to make cardboard Riley more interesting than he actually is.

However, the military plotline makes sense – after all, you have to wonder how long the bizarre goings-on in Sunnydale could continue before being picked up and studied by some kind of government agency. Buffy may be good, but we see demons slipping through the cracks all the time. Still not your cup of tea? That’s fine. Overlooking the negatives of this season seems easy once you consider the outstanding quality of the standalone episodes.

For one, you have ‘Hush’. If you need me to explain why this episode is brilliant, maybe even one of the best, shame on you. Then there’s ‘Fear Itself’, a treat because it has Giles wielding a chainsaw and Anya in an Easter bunny costume. ‘Wild at Heart’ is a wonderful, heart-wrenching episode dealing with the end of Willow and Oz’s relationship, ‘Superstar’ is simply pure hilarity, and ‘Restless’ is a fascinating deep-dive into the subconscious of each Scooby. There’s also ‘A New Man’, ‘Living Conditions’, ‘New Moon Rising’, ‘Who Are You?’, and ‘Beer Bad’, the last of which you may disagree with, but seeing Sarah Michelle Gellar lumbering around as cave Slayer is always going to be funny. It’s admittedly one of my guilty pleasure episodes.

There aren’t many standalone episodes that are bad, but when they’re bad, they’re bad. The insensitivity of ‘Pangs’ towards the Native American culture was surely considered too much even back in 1999, and ‘Where the Wild Things are’ is basically an hour of Buffy and Riley having sex with an orgasmic house (?) and an oddly confused plot about child abuse. It could also be said that the Riley-centric episodes, like ‘The Initiative’ and ‘The I in Team’, are not great, and are even worse if you’re one of the many who actively dislike him.

Still, this season is one of the best for me. The major plot undeniably suffers from the loss of Maggie Walsh, Adam’s complete lack of charm as a villain and perhaps too much Riley, but the plot can still be enjoyed to a degree because of its novelty. The show is taken into new territory and while that’s not always good, it is usually interesting. Plus, the excellence of so many episodes in this season that all have incredible rewatch value is crazy. It’s perhaps the season with the highest number of good-quality episodes, and that secures its place in this ranking.

Great: Season 5

I think many Buffy fans would agree that season 5 deserves to be known as one of the greatest seasons of the show. In contrast to the blandness of Adam, we have Glory, a fantastic villain second only to Mayor Wilkins. She’s colourful, fully dimensional and as adorably quirky as she is terrifying. She’s also a God, and, up to this point, the strongest opponent that Buffy has ever faced. Oh, and she’s a female, a nice change from the typically masculine role of the big bads in the show.

The overarching plot in general is a winner. Dawn is properly introduced in this season, and while she may be a polarising character, the storyline of where she comes from and how she is the key to the apocalypse is brilliant writing. Seeing her at the very last moment of ‘Buffy vs. Dracula’ is a true double-take moment, and learning of the truth of her presence along with Buffy is a journey. Of course, Glory is hell-bent on getting her hands on Dawn for her apocalyptic plans which keeps the stakes high.

Many of the Scoobies have standout moments of their own in this season, too. During the finale, Giles makes the hard decision to kill Ben in order to destroy Glory, because he knows Buffy can’t, or won’t. Spike shares a touching relationship with Dawn, particularly after the death of Joyce. Xander finally leaves the basement, gets a steady job and proposes to Anya. And who could forget the first lesbian kiss shown onscreen on Buffy, between Willow and Tara in ‘The Body’?

However, for all its good points, season 5 does have some bad ones. For one thing, there isn’t a huge number of fun, one-off episodes, and not many with rewatch value. A few good ones include ‘Family’, ‘The Replacement’ and ‘Fool for Love’, which has perhaps one of the coolest fight scenes in the whole show - you know which one I mean. There are some truly amazing episodes like ‘The Body’ and ‘The Gift’, which is, in my opinion, the greatest of all the Buffy finales. But they have little rewatch value, particularly ‘The Body’, because of all the…you know, death.

Yes, Buffy’s sacrifice is beautiful, and I wouldn’t change it. And yes, the episode on Joyce’s sudden death is incredibly well done. But Joyce’s illness takes up several episodes, not to mention the aftermath of her passing, and the whole thing is a very hard-hitting storyline. We suffer because we love Joyce, but we also suffer because we love Buffy. Couple that heavy sub-plot with a lack of light-hearted standalone episodes and season 5 doesn’t quite make it out on top.

Absolute Best: Season 3 

Finally, in first place, we have season 3. This is perhaps the only season of Buffy which truly has it all – a strong overarching plot, a wealth of fun standalone episodes, a stellar villain and great individual moments for the Scoobies.

Firstly, ‘Anne’ does a good job of opening the season. The death of Angel has taken its toll on Buffy, and we see her attempting to live out a completely different life as a completely different girl. Of course, her abstinence from slaying doesn’t last long, and after her return to Sunnydale, the season goes on to give us several treats. ‘Band Candy’ brings us the hilarious escapades of ‘young’ Giles, Joyce and even Principal Snyder, ‘Lovers Walk’ sees Spike struggling with a broken heart, and ‘The Wish’ introduces us to our beloved Anya for the first time – we also meet vampire Willow here for the first time, and again in the great ‘Doppelgangland’.

And the standalone episodes aren’t just light-hearted hijinks. Some of them deal with some much heavier issues while also retaining their rewatch value. ‘The Zeppo’, ‘Bad Girls’, and ‘Helpless’ are all perfect examples. In these episodes, we see the likes of Xander saving Sunnydale High from certain destruction and finding his place in the Scooby gang, Buffy developing a rebellious streak thanks to Faith who ends up murdering a human, and Giles betraying Buffy per the demands of the Watcher’s Council. All of these episodes provide the Scoobies with interesting arcs and the audience with moral dilemmas regarding their favourite characters. Nothing is black and white, and good writing knows that.

Faith, of course, is a fantastic part of season 3 in her own right. She’s multi-faceted, full of great catchphrases and has her own devil-may-care attitude to both life and slaying. Her relationship with Mayor Wilkins, the greatest villain to grace Buffy, is fantastically handled, too. It’s equal parts sweet and creepy because, although we know how evil the Mayor is with his plans of Ascension, he’s also full of charisma and just plain funny. As much as he enjoys sending people out to commit cold-blooded murder, he’s also grieved by the death of Allan, his Deputy Mayor. He buys Faith gifts and treats her like his daughter. He has layers, to put it simply, and that’s what makes him so brilliant.

The finale is a great send-off to Buffy’s High School era, and seeing the school come together to fight Mayor Wilkins and his crew of vampires is special. Seeing Buffy have her hard work acknowledged in ‘The Prom’ is a poignant moment, but so is seeing her classmates decide that she won’t be the only one to fight this particular battle. It’s heartfelt, and it does well to top the twenty amazing episodes that preceded it. It fittingly serves as the season’s crowning moment, and ultimately makes season 3 the show’s crowning season.

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