Exactly 20 years ago today, a little-watched network called the WB premiered a midseason replacement show based on a 1992 movie that flopped at the box office. That show would go on to become one of the most beloved and revolutionary TV shows of all time, one that would shape the way we talked and thought about the medium for years to come, and help establish the golden age of television.

But back on March 10, 1997, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was just that scrappy little show about a cheerleader in SoCal who was destined to hunt and slay vampires, demons, and other assorted creatures of darkness. It was a weirdly high-concept premise designed first and foremost to restore agency to the archetypal blond girl who dies in horror movies. But over the next seven seasons, it became clear that Buffy, as helmed by showrunner Joss Whedon, also lent itself to uniquely emotional explorations of the demons of adolescence.

Other teen soaps of the era could talk about being so ignored you feel invisible, or being worried that after you sleep with your boyfriend he won’t respect you anymore. Only Buffy could give those anxieties the apocalyptic stakes every teenager knows they deserve.

So in honor of Buffy’s 20th anniversary, we’ve ranked its 144 episodes from worst to best. We looked at what made the show great and at what it never exactly figured out how to handle, at the themes it elevated to art and the ones it poked at a couple of times and then abandoned.

Of course there were disputes. How do you choose between a brilliant formal experiment like “Hush,” with its 20 minutes of dialogue-free action, and an episode like “The Gift,” which does nothing formally unusual but advances the themes and characters Buffy is built on really, really well? Is season six brilliantly dark or willfully bleak? And which of Buffy’s boyfriends is best?

We argued, kvetched, and agonized through several rounds of voting to bring you a complete and definitive ranking. Let’s get to it.

We all know a bad episode of Buffy is better than a lot of other TV. These are still some pretty bad episodes!

144. “Beer Bad” (season 4, episode 5)

It speaks volumes about the quality of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that the episode almost universally agreed to be the worst of the series still manages to boast some sharp dialogue, physical and verbal humor, and even a dang Emmy nomination (for Makeup and Hairstyling). Still, let us not gloss over the bad, which, as this show goes, is very bad: We get yet another episode of Buffy moping over terrible Parker, the introduction of the odious she-werewolf Veruca, and a very silly, very preachy story about the awfulness of college students drinking beer (oh, the horror). — Tanya Pai

143. “Where the Wild Things Are” (season 4, episode 18)

Also known as the episode where Buffy and Riley have sex for 45 minutes. There’s also a fun Xander/Anya subplot that deals with them struggling to define their relationship outside of sex (they realize they really like each other, aw!), and you get to hear Giles sing, all of which is just barely enough to keep this episode from the bottom slot. That’s how bad the rest of it is. — Constance Grady

142. “I, Robot … You, Jane” (season 1, episode 8)

The internet is possessed by a demon robot, and wow are we in 1997. “I, Robot” is the first episode to really spotlight Willow, and she’s such a lovely and complex character that saddling her with this piece of ’90s low kitsch is a bit of a letdown. On the plus side, it also introduces us to Jenny Calendar. — CG

141. “Doublemeat Palace” (season 6, episode 12)

In which Buffy takes a job at a fast-food restaurant where something nefarious may or may not be going on. Buffy’s frustration at her inability to hold down a real career has shades of season two’s “What’s My Line,” and there’s an appealingly bleak idea here about true evil being the unceasing grind of day-to-day existence. But as this is Buffy, there are… also demons. Some funny and even poignant moments don’t keep “Doublemeat Palace” from being one of the show’s sillier installments. — TP

We’ve got a lot of overly literal and unhelpful metaphors here, folks

140. “Inca Mummy Girl” (season 2, episode 4)

Buffy’s intense, operatic season two has arguably the best season-long arc of the entire series, and is leaps and bounds ahead of the charming but limited season one. But it did take a while for season two to outgrow season one’s reliance on fun-but-dumb monsters of the week, and “Inca Mummy Girl’s” Inca … mummy … girl (look, there just aren’t a lot of ways to describe her) is one of the dumbest and the least fun. The episode still has a few redeeming moments, though: There’s the introduction of Oz, and Jonathan’s first appearance on the series proper after he showed up in the unaired pilot. — CG

139. “Go Fish” (season 2, episode 20)

To be honest, some of that dumb-but-fun stuff stuck around into very late season two. “Go Fish” is oddly placed: It’s a silly little piece of nothing about how steroids are bad that seems designed mostly to get Xander into a Speedo, but it shows up right between the heartbreaking ghost story of “I Only Have Eyes for You” and the two-part season finale’s box set of clinical depression. On the one hand, it gives viewers a bit of breathing room and a chance to emotionally heal as they prepare themselves for the rigors that lie ahead in “Becoming, Parts 1 and 2.” On the other hand, it sure does kill the momentum. — CG

138. “Empty Places” (season 7, episode 19)

Say this for season seven: It has a message, and it sticks to it. But that’s also one of the season’s biggest weaknesses. It picks a theme (Buffy’s giving too many inspirational speeches! She’s acting like a general instead of a friend! She needs to be less isolated!) and pounds away at it unvaryingly, which gives most of the episodes a disconcerting sameness. “Empty Places” in theory takes that theme to its climax, but the execution is off. The only thing that distinguishes this iteration of the theme from its earlier counterparts is that here, Buffy’s friends all gang up on her and throw her out of her own house. Which is thematically consistent, sure, but … c’mon, dude, it’s her house. — CG

137. “Gone” (season 6, episode 11)

One of the biggest problems of season six is its attempt to be simultaneously slapstick and silly (the Trio) and unremittingly dark and grim (everything else). Rarely are those two themes so poorly integrated as they are in “Gone,” in which Buffy, recovering from the apparent rock bottom of “Smashed”/“Wrecked,” goes on a series of wacky invisible adventures and also deals with her suicidal impulses. But this episode also gives us Warren grandly proclaiming, “We are your archnemesises … ises!” and that’s worth the price of admission. — CG

136. “Bad Eggs” (season 2, episode 12)

Most of “Bad Eggs” is straightforward and serviceable-enough horror. As a health class project, the kids have to carry around eggs to practice being parents; the eggs turn out to contain baby monsters that hatch and possess them, and it’s all goofy and forgettable in the way early Buffy tends toward. But it’s also an interesting prelude to what’s to come in “Surprise”/“Innocence,” one of TV’s most thoughtful and heartbreaking explorations of teen sex. Here, as Buffy and Angel make out in graveyards and Xander and Cordelia snark between kisses in utility closets, sex is silly and campy, but very much on the horizon. — CG

135. “Reptile Boy” (season 2, episode 5)

“Reptile Boy” is a bit of a learning episode for Buffy. The monster of the week is a silly, slightly overliteral phallic symbol, with the whole storyline functioning as a glib, slightly overliteral metaphor for fraternity date rape. But in the fledgling Buffy/Angel storyline, you can see the show working out exactly how it’s going to integrate its episodic stories with its serial plots and reach the balance it would perfect in seasons three and five. It hasn’t quite nailed it yet here, but it’s getting there. — CG

134. “Killed by Death” (season 2, episode 18)

There are a lot of season two episodes that feel like leftovers from season one, but “Killed by Death” actually is a season one leftover. It was written for a goofy, campy point in the series’ run, and then lightly revised for the darker second half of season two through the addition (most likely by Whedon) of a few scenes of Xander and Angel facing off at the hospital where a feverish Buffy is recovering. That’s probably why those scenes feel exponentially stronger than the rest of the episode — but the rest of the episode is still perfectly fun TV. Plus, Der Kindestod and his extendable eyeball stalks are genuinely creepy. — CG

133. “Into the Woods” (season 5, episode 10)

Riley is few people’s favorite Buffy love interest*, and this tonally odd episode is his swan song. Riley spent most of season five deconstructing toxic masculinity: His macho military identity meant he couldn’t deal with a girlfriend who was stronger than he was, and he could tell Buffy wasn’t madly in love with him, and all of the ensuing insecurities sent him spiraling into a vampire brothel/crack house metaphor. But “Into the Woods” discards that darkness in its conclusion, which sees Buffy racing toward Riley’s departing helicopter as Xander monologues about how Riley is the pure, innocent, and selfless love of Buffy’s life. It’s a weird bit of framing that doesn’t quite fit the rest of the story season five was telling about Riley. — CG

*Possible exceptions include Todd VanDerWerff and Julie Bogen of this very article, but they didn’t volunteer to write about this episode, so they can’t like him that much.

132. “Teacher’s Pet” (season 1, episode 4)

By 1997, the student/teacher love affair was already a well-worn teen soap trope, and “Teacher’s Pet’s” twist of having the teacher be a literal predator is only mildly clever. But in the show’s fourth episode, the core Scooby dynamics have really started to gel: The scene where Giles corrals the kids into researching the two monsters decapitating and shredding their way through Sunnydale (“Fork Guy doesn’t do heads,” Buffy notes) hits all the classic beats the researching scenes will hit throughout the rest of the show’s run. This is also the first episode to really show off the Buffy/Angel chemistry that will drive much of the next season, with the two flirting between foreboding warnings over Angel’s leather jacket. — CG

131. “All the Way” (season 6, episode 6)

“All the Way” is easily the weakest of Buffy’s semiannual Halloween episodes (there’s one in every even-numbered season). It spends a lot of time on Dawn and her teen angst — which is certainly understandable under the circumstances but also one of the least-developed arcs of season six — and it wastes a pre–Joan of Arcadia Amber Tamblyn. But the scenes of the Magic Box celebrating Halloween are fun, and Xander’s spontaneous declaration that “I’m gonna marry that girl” while he watches Anya do her dance of capitalist superiority is one of that relationship’s most sweetly romantic moments. — CG

And here we have some episodes that advance boring plot lines

130. “Bring on the Night” (season 7, episode 10)

You know how when you think of any given episode of season seven, you can be pretty sure Buffy made an inspiring speech and Spike sat sadly in the basement and the Potentials were irritating, but you’re not really sure if anything else happened from week to week? Here’s where that starts. (The first third of season seven is actually pretty solid, which is easy to forget given what a slog the middle section is.) Not coincidentally, the interminable sameness begins with the introduction of the Potentials, who are an interesting thematic addition to the show in theory, but in practice take up a whole lot of dramatic space without adding much. — CG

129. “The I in Team” (season 4, episode 13)

Season four contains some of the best standalone episodes of Buffy’s run, but it has easily the weakest overall arc. And “The I in Team” is an arc-heavy episode: It’s the one where Buffy joins the Initiative but then Professor Walsh decides to kill her for vague, Oedipal complex–related reasons. As Whedon admits in his season four DVD interviews, the issue with the Initiative and Adam as Big Bads is that no one in the main cast has an emotional connection to them except for Riley. And as Whedon has not directly said, but most fans can agree, Riley is not a compelling enough character to drive a whole season’s worth of plot on his own. — CG

128. “Goodbye, Iowa” (season 4, episode 14)

And here’s where Adam kills Professor Walsh and takes over as the season’s Big Bad, while Riley grieves for his mentor and goes into withdrawal from his Initiative-supplied “vitamins.” Riley is mostly inoffensive, but as a character, he serves the show better as a supporting player than as a central figure who is integral to the story. It’s not a coincidence that season four’s best episodes mostly keep Riley to the side and let Buffy and her concerns drive the story instead. — CG

127. “Wrecked” (season 6, episode 10)

The sixth season is one of Buffy’s most polarizing, in large part because of the events of “Wrecked” and its partner episode, “Smashed,” where Buffy and Spike finally have house-destroying sex and the “Willow is a magic junkie” storyline really kicks off. Of the two, “Wrecked” is noticeably weaker, mostly because it spends so much time on scenes of a spaced-out Willow in a magic crack house. Willow’s growing infatuation with the power that magic brings her is compelling on its own, but the drug metaphor is clumsy. It lacks the elegance and nuance of this show’s metaphorical storytelling at its best, and it flattens Willow’s characterization instead of enriching it. — CG

126. “Get It Done” (season 7, episode 15)

“Get It Done” gives us the origin story for the First Slayer: She was created by the first Watchers Council, who endued her with a demonic essence so that she could fight vampires for them. It’s an interesting wrinkle to the Slayer mythology that will pay off beautifully in “Chosen,” but a) this episode suffers from the dread season seven sameness, and b) it’s kind of weird that the origin story for the Slayer power that the show treats as empowering and beautiful comes with so much rape imagery, no? — CG

125. “Sleeper” (season 7, episode 8)

“Sleeper” does a lot of heavy lifting on Spike’s season seven redemption arc, and it’s, you know, fine. Spike has been programmed by the as-yet-unnamed First Evil to kill people without realizing it, and this is where he figures it out, as Aimee Mann plays the Bronze. (Shoutout to Aimee Mann, who is the lone Buffy musical guest to get her own spoken dialogue: “Man, I hate playing vampire towns.”) The First is most compelling as a villain when it gets a chance to prey on our heroes’ psychological weaknesses, which is why it’s so effective in “Conversations With Dead People.” But at this point in the series, we don’t yet know why it’s able to affect Spike the way it does; that won’t be clear until “Lies My Parents Told Me.” And without that extra layer, “Sleeper” never rises above the level of “functional and mostly inoffensive.” — CG

124. “Smashed” (season 6, episode 14)

In contrast to “Sleeper,” “Smashed” does its thing in the most polarizing manner possible. There’s Buffy and Spike’s violent smackdown/foreplay, which depending on your point of view is either sexy or horrifically violent and disturbing (or both). There’s Willow and Amy going on their magic spree at the Bronze, in a move that is either intriguingly morally ambiguous or kind of silly and unpleasant to watch. Buffy embraces the grimdark a lot in its sixth season, but “Smashed” and “Wrecked” walk right up to the line of too much — and for some fans, they mark the point where the show tipped over. — CG

123. “First Date” (season 7, episode 14)

Traditionally on Buffy, there’s a major twist right around this point in the season: Angel loses his soul, or Faith kills a guy, or Buffy and Spike have sex. Season seven eschews that structure, which is partly why it feels so monotonous, but this quiet episode has its charms. It brings back a little of the Scooby camaraderie that made the early seasons so fun: There’s Willow and Xander sweetly teasing Buffy about how Principal Wood is way too young to be her type, and Anya struggling fruitlessly for someone to talk to about how jealous she is of Xander’s date with Special Guest Star Ashanti — who, as stunt-casted celebrities goes, does not embarrass herself. — CG

122. “Living Conditions” (season 4, episode 2)

“Living Conditions” is a mostly uninspired episode, which is unfortunate, because it comes at a vulnerable point in season four, when the show is still hashing out what its tone will be in the post–high school era. The jokes about Buffy’s demon roommate are serviceable but a little on the lazy side (She’s into Cher — she must be evil!), and there’s no compelling subplot to compensate. — CG

121. “Never Leave Me” (season 7, episode 9)

Andrew doesn’t always work as a character — he can be one-note — but he injects some much-needed levity into season seven here. It’s less what he does himself than what he brings out in the main cast: First, there’s his confrontation with Willow (“I am a very powerful she-witch! Or ‘witch,’ as is more accurate.”), and then there’s Xander and Anya’s good cop/bad cop routine, which is a sheer joy to watch. — CG

These episodes aren’t perfect, but they’re pretty charming

120. “Older and Far Away” (season 6, episode 14)

The intense misery and pain of season six can get a little claustrophobic, and boy does “Older and Far Away” lean into that, with all of the main cast trapped in Buffy’s house at her birthday party. There are fun moments — Tara gently teasing Spike over his affair with Buffy is lovely — but the main feeling this episode leaves you with is exhaustion. — CG

119. “Beauty and the Beasts” (season 3, episode 4)

The fact that this is season three’s first appearance on this list says a lot about how consistently good season three is. Sure, the monster of the week here is a little bit ham-fisted: it’s a Jekyll and Hyde metaphor about how abusive relationships are bad — not the best thing episode writer Marti Noxon ever did. But the rest of the episode does a fantastic job of balancing the episodic stuff with the Willow/Oz and Buffy/Angel stuff, and continuing to explore Buffy’s grief and guilt over having killed Angel last season. It’s just a shame it takes until season seven for Buffy to try talking to a therapist again after Mr. Platt dies, because lord knows that poor girl needed one. — CG

118. “Some Assembly Required” (season 2, episode 2)

“Some Assembly Required” is a solid entry into the goofy/campy/silly stretch of early Buffy, in this case with a dead football player turned Frankenstein’s monster who wants to make Cordelia his bride. It’s nothing earth-shaking, but it does see Giles and Jenny on their first date, and it lays some groundwork for Xander and Cordelia’s relationship later in the season. — CG

117. “As You Were” (season 6, episode 15)

Now this is a good use of Riley: less focus on his pain and internal psychological struggles, more focus on the healthy normalcy that he represents for Buffy and her own ambivalence thereto. Season six has been wallowing in its own misery for a while when Riley returns, but his sunny all-American presence reminds Buffy of who she used to be and who she thinks she would like to be again. Like much of season six, the execution is not exactly subtle or nuanced, but the idea is solid, and it’s a relief to have a little light in the show after episode on episode of bleakness and pain. — CG

116. “The Initiative” (season 4, episode 7)

As plot-heavy season four episodes go, “The Initiative” isn’t too shabby. It has a kind of slapstick charm to it: There’s the newly escaped and bechipped Spike trying to bite Willow, only to suffer from some performance issues; there’s Xander and Harmony’s slow-motion slap fight. And then there’s the stuff with the Initiative itself, which is pretty much par for the boring military course. — CG

115. “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date” (season 1, episode 5)

Season one spent a lot of time talking about how Buffy’s slaying adversely affected her desire for a normal life, but episode five is one of the first times it really shows us what that looks like. Buffy desperately wants to go on a date with an unmemorable boy (he reads poetry, so he’s deep), but first she has to cancel to handle a prophecy, and then she has to take him to the morgue for a little unscheduled slayage. And even though the boy is into her whole scene — he’s an adrenaline junkie — she has to dump him to protect him. It’s the kind of sweet, wistful little story that Buffy first cut its teeth on while it was still figuring out how to go mythic and grand. — CG

114. “Wild at Heart” (season 4, episode 6)

Oh, this one hurts. This is the episode where Oz cheats on Willow, then kills a girl, and then finally decides to leave town, all of which means that we spend a lot of time watching Willow cry. Reader: There is nothing more painful than watching Willow cry. Oz’s character motivations are a little fuzzy — the writers threw together his arc on the fly after Seth Green asked to be released from his contract, and it shows — but the emotional core is solid. — CG

113. “The Puppet Show” (season 1, episode 9)

“The Puppet Show” is a weird, weird episode. It’s mostly built around Sid the talking dummy, who’s possessed by a demon hunter. He spends the first half of the episode skittering around creepily, and then in the second half he turns out to be secretly heroic and gets a poignant death scene. It’s goofy and fun and not quite coherent, and always leaves me feeling a little like the newly introduced Principal Snyder: “I don’t get it. Is it avant-garde?”

Also of note: Buffy’s first and only tag scene, which sees the Scoobies doing the world’s worst staged reading of Oedipus and makes me howl with laughter every time. — CG

112. “Nightmares” (season 1, episode 10)

“Nightmares” takes a classic nightmares-come-true premise and lurches around wildly in its execution. Some of it is fine but uninspired — Willow has stage fright, Xander’s afraid of clowns, Buffy misses a test — but at its best, “Nightmares” locks in on the specific yet universal adolescent fears that makes Buffy such a classic. In particular, there’s Buffy’s nightmare vision of her rarely seen father, who kindly and reasonably tells her she’s the reason for her parents’ divorce — because “You’re sullen and rude, and you’re not nearly as bright as I thought you were going to be.” Buffy’s quiet devastation in response is a stunner. — CG

111. “Welcome to the Hellmouth” (season 1, episode 1)

Here’s where it all begins. “Welcome to the Hellmouth” has to lay the groundwork for Buffy’s winding, convoluted mythology and introduce its main cast, and it more or less manages: It’s a little awkward here and there but mostly just fun. And the opening scene, with Darla playing a meek little schoolgirl before she turns on her prey, shows you exactly how funny and scary and subversive Buffy will turn out to be. — CG

The show is trying some things here. Maybe not entirely succeeding, but trying!

110. “The Killer in Me” (season 7, episode 13)

Many of season seven’s most significant missteps involve one of two things: trying to find atonement for Willow in the wake of her dark choices at the end of season six, and her new girlfriend, Kennedy, who’s not a terribly interesting character. Here’s an episode where those two things collide, when Kennedy and Willow kiss — and Willow transforms into Warren, the man who killed her last girlfriend. There’s something interesting here about living with guilt from past relationships, but it could have used another draft. — Todd VanDerWerff

109. “Listening to Fear” (season 5, episode 9)

Buffy visits X-Files territory in an uneasy mashup of metaphorical fantasy horror and genuine extraterrestrials. This is the weakest point of the generally impeccable “Buffy’s mom gets cancer” story arc. (Hey, X-Files had a generally impeccable cancer arc, too!) But it gets points for the creepy design of the alien, and the way it seems to feed off the horror and pain of Joyce’s condition. — TV

108. “Out of My Mind” (season 5, episode 4)

Buffy sure tried a lot of things to get fans to warm to Riley Finn, the man who deserved better (from fans, not from Buffy; he was a jerk to her). One of those things was pairing him with Spike for an unlikely team-up episode in which Spike hijacks Riley’s visit to the doctor to have his chip removed. (Surprise! It doesn’t work.) Buffy struggled to know what to do with both Riley and the Initiative once it course-corrected midway through season four. This episode feels like an offshoot of that problem. But at this point in the series’ run, James Marsters could do no wrong as Spike. This episode gets points for that. — TV

107. “Him” (season 7, episode 6)

“Him” isn’t all that great on character exploration, since half the main cast spends the episode under a mind-altering love spell, but it is enormously fun. Every so often, out of nowhere, I’ll think of that shot of Spike silently tackling a bazooka-wielding Buffy in the background, as an oblivious Principal Wood does paperwork in the foreground, and it never fails to make me laugh. — CG

106. “Hell’s Bells” (season 6, episode 16)

In which Xander and Anya break up, because no one can ever be happy in the Buffyverse. (Except Willow and Kennedy, of all people. Kennedy.) The episode handles the breakup well enough — that final shot of Anya sitting heartbroken in her wedding gown and saying, “I’m just so tired of crying,” is killer — but after a season filled pain and grief, in which Xander and Anya’s engagement was a frequent bright spot, adding another breakup to the pile feels almost willfully mean-spirited. — CG

105. “Flooded” (season 6, episode 5)

“Flooded” introduces us to the Trio, allegedly created by the writers in order to make season six sprightlier and less depressing than season five. That move didn’t quite work out as planned, and “Flooded” is a perfect example of why: The Trio and their to-do list (“miniature Fort Knox, conjure fake IDs”) are fun, but Buffy is still caught in her near-catatonic depression, and Willow’s so high on her own power that she casually threatens Giles. Season six will spend the rest of its run struggling to integrate those two tones, and it will only fitfully succeed. — CG

104. “Entropy” (season 6, episode 18)

“Entropy” is a rare season six respite, a calm between the bleakness of the “Smashed”/“Wrecked” era and the horror of “Seeing Red” and all that follows. Sure, it’s sorrowful — the A-plot is Anya trying desperately to wreak vengeance on Xander after being jilted in “Hell’s Bells” — but it doesn’t indulge in that “the world is a miserable place filled with nothing but despair” vibe that much of the rest of the season succumbs to. There’s humor and solace in Anya’s thirst for revenge (“I really don’t think he could feel any worse than he already does.” “Let’s test that theory!”), and there’s tenderness in Willow and Tara’s reunion. Of course, we all know where that’s about to lead … — CG

103. “Two to Go” (season 6, episode 21)

The first half of season six’s two-part finale is perhaps placed a little low here — because Vox’s panel was too harsh on season six in general, if you ask this humble writer. But “Two to Go” genuinely suffers from being placed next to the even better second hour, “Grave,” and it really is hard to watch the Buffy gang chase after longtime compatriot Willow, who’s taken a turn toward the murderous in the midst of grief. The ending shot of this episode — Giles in the door of the magic shop, looking the most badass he would ever look — is a keeper. — TV

102. “Doomed” (season 4, episode 11)

There’s nothing outwardly wrong with this episode — all of the pieces are in the right place, and the central idea of going back to your old high school after you’ve gone off to college and realizing things have changed, man, is a good one for the show to take on. (Buffy’s high school, of course, is in ruins.) But “Doomed” never does much with that idea, and it’s clear the writers are struggling to pull together one of the show’s more difficult seasons. Going back to high school only underlines what a struggle sending Buffy to college was. — TV

101. “Real Me” (season 5, episode 2)

In which we get to know Dawn Summers, the Scrappy Doo of Buffy. As a little sister, I am a Dawn apologist, but her first few episodes are a hard learning curve: Most of her material was originally developed with the understanding that the character would be around 11 years old, before the casting of 14-year-old Michelle Trachtenberg. As a result, Dawn comes off as a little more bratty and hard to deal with than she might have been otherwise. But her presence will anchor season five’s major arcs. And season five — which unites season two’s operatic story arcs with season three’s consistency — is one of Buffy’s three unimpeachable seasons. — CG

Honestly, these are all pretty solid, and we’re not even halfway through the list

100. “Amends” (season 3, episode 10)

Angel-centric episodes tend toward melodrama — something it took Angel the series a little while to figure out how to deal with — and “Amends,” with its tearful clifftop climax, definitely leans toward the overwrought end of the spectrum. But as a way of dealing with the trauma of season two, it’s cathartic, and it remains one of the most effective uses of the First Evil, way before it became a major Big Bad. — CG

99. “The Harvest” (season 1, episode 2)

It’s hard to remember now, 20 years later, exactly how shocking it was when Xander and Willow’s pal Jesse died just two episodes into the show. He looked like a main character, or at least like he could become a major villain; it seemed as though he would be a huge part of the show. And then he died, and not because Xander screwed up his courage and found his inner hero, but because someone accidentally pushed him while they ran by. That moment, plus the shot of vamped-out Darla swinging her arms as she skips toward the Bronze, goes a long way toward defining Buffy’s tone from very early on. — CG

98. “Choices” (season 3, episode 19)

As this hour comes in the middle of what might be the most consistent stretch of Buffy episodes ever, it’s perhaps a bit underrated. But still: Putting a lot of emphasis on the characters’ college choices is a bit of false drama, simply because we know that if the show is to continue, they’ll all end up at the same school. And yet “Choices” neatly underlines one of season three’s biggest themes: Because she must be the Slayer, Buffy doesn’t have the options many of her friends do. — TV

97. “Lessons” (season 7, episode 1)

In its final season, Buffy tries to go full circle and head back to high school. The execution of that story arc will be lumpy, to say the least, but in the season seven premiere, it feels fresh and exciting: The gang is going to go back and slay the demons of adolescence as adults. And the coda scene of the First flashing through all the show’s Big Bads in reverse order is a wonderfully foreboding moment. — CG

96. “The Yoko Factor” (season 4, episode 20)

Every so often, Buffy would be like, “Hey, audience, do you remember that Spike is a villainous, treacherous killer?” and the audience would be like, “LOL, no!” Then the show would try to remind viewers that Spike was not to be trusted. That’s the conceit of this episode, in which season four’s Big Bad, Adam, tries to get Spike to turn the Scooby Gang against each other. It doesn’t really work, and the episode flails trying to make it work. At this point, though, Buffy could do these “time to fight the main villain” episodes in its sleep, and “Yoko” uses that momentum to its advantage. — TV

95. “The Freshman” (season 4, episode 1)

In general, Buffy was better at finales than premieres, and this introduction to college life for the series now mostly plays out as the show introducing a bunch of plot lines it would abandon roughly half a season later. (Buffy continued going to college until midway through season five, but viewers saw less and less of it.) Still, it’s fun to watch this as a sort of alternate-history version of the show that actually aired — one where the series had just as much fun playing with metaphorical demon college as it did metaphorical demon high school. — TV

94. “Normal Again” (season 6, episode 17)

Somewhat appropriately, the most divisive Buffy episode — one that some love and some hate — winds up somewhere in the middle of our ranking. Buffy keeps waking up in a mental institution, where she comes to believe she’s hallucinated the rest of the show that we’ve seen and must kill her friends in order to escape the hallucination. One of the show’s darkest metaphors (for Buffy’s malaise and depression at this point in the run) and a gut-punch ending make this one brilliant, but tough, tough, tough to watch. — TV

93. “Shadow” (season 5, episode 8)

Could Buffy turn cancer — one of the most monstrous of diseases — into fodder for its storytelling? It could, and it would! In this episode, Buffy learns that her mother, Joyce, has cancer and worries about how to break the news to Dawn. (Dawn didn’t even exist a few months ago, Buffy. She can probably handle it.) This is not the height of one of the show’s best storylines, but it’s impressive for how it balances a bunch of complicated tones. — TV

92. “Triangle” (season 5, episode 11)

Jane Espenson, who wrote “Triangle,” is one of the most reliable comic voices in the Buffy writers’ room, and this episode is just about what you’d expect from her: quick-paced, quick-witted, and lots of fun. The tic of Buffy repeatedly weeping at the idea of Xander and Anya breaking up gets old quickly, but Anya and Willow teaming up against Olaf the troll is a terrific use of an underexplored dynamic, and Olaf’s caps-lock rants (“PUNY RECEPTACLE!” he yells at a dumpster) are a solid comedic gag. — CG

91. “Dirty Girls” (season 7, episode 18)

Reportedly, the Buffy writers struggled with how to give a human face to the First Evil — which is just what it sounds like — and send season seven off on an appropriately big climax. The face they settled on was Nathan Fillion’s, because Joss Whedon’s Firefly had just been canceled, and he really liked working with Fillion. Still, as creepy preacher Caleb, Fillion is appropriately terrifying. This is solid setup for what turned out to be a fitful final stretch of episodes. — TV

Here’s where things get a little polarizing

90. “Help” (season 7, episode 4)

“Help” is one of the most solid of season seven’s high school–themed episodes. Buffy struggles to save a girl from the kind of demon-worshiping cult she defeated about a thousand times in high school, and succeeds — but the girl dies anyway, because now that Buffy’s an adult, high school isn’t quite the most dangerous thing in the world anymore. It’s a nice, moody revisiting of the themes that early Buffy explored so well. — CG

89. “When She Was Bad” (season 2, episode 1)

Is there a metaphor in the season two opener about how teen girls sometimes act like total nightmares because of the pervasive, unarticulated trauma of, well, being a teen girl? Maybe. Is the main thing you remember from this episode that it’s the one where Buffy does the cruel and rather nonsensical dance of seduction with Xander that shows up in the opening credits? Almost certainly. — TP

88. “Villains” (season 6, episode 20)

Though Willow’s relationship with magic is clearly a metaphor for addiction, “Villains” serves as morbid wish-fulfillment of the character reaching her true potential as a witch. Willow is blinded by grief after losing Tara to Warren’s stray bullet, and no longer morally tethered by her late lover’s voice of reason. The result: a true force of nature hell-bent on destruction. While it’s satisfying in a “damn, she’s amazing” kind of way, it’s also familiar to anyone who’s experienced unexpected loss. Willow’s sorrow is palpable, powerful, and, most importantly, believable. By episode’s end, it looks as if two more characters are dead (and at least once actually is) purely as a byproduct of Willow’s unbridled rage, and leaves the audience wrestling with a confusing combination of awe, anguish, and anticipation. Sure, it’s scary, but it’s also impressive. — Julie Bogen

87. “Phases” (season 2, episode 15)

After the horror and pain of “Surprise”/“Innocence,” “Phases” is a lighter, sweeter variation on the “my boyfriend’s a hellbeast, what do I do” story. It helps that it’s a showcase for Oz, the chillest werewolf ever to were: His nonchalant, “Is Jordy a werewolf? Uh-huh. And how long has that been going on? Uh-huh,” encapsulates his character perfectly. — CG

86. “Gingerbread” (season 3, episode 11)

“Gingerbread” is another Jane Espenson episode, one that shows off both her strengths and her weaknesses. Espenson episodes are disproportionately likely to introduce a new character detail with little grace, and “Gingerbread” is especially weak on that front. This episode posits the idea that Willow isn’t close with her mom, and while you could infer as much from the fact that Mrs. Rosenberg has never come up before in three seasons, Willow’s out-of-the-blue, “God, your mom would actually take the time to do that with you?” to Buffy makes no sense in a universe where Willow is Buffy’s best friend and knows what her relationship with her mom looks like. But no other writer can make comedic dialogue sparkle quite like Espenson can. “We need to save Buffy from Hansel and Gretel” could only come from her. — CG

85. “Tough Love” (season 5, episode 19)

“Tough Love” features the first time we see Willow’s magic turn her eyes black, when she turns on Glory in a fury after Glory melts Tara’s brain. It’s an early prelude to the Dark Willow arc of season six; a less amoral, more cathartic version, but one that lays the groundwork for the flayings to come. When Alyson Hannigan screams, “I owe you pain,” you get an inkling that Willow is capable of more than we used to give her credit for. — CG

84. “Life Serial” (season 6, episode 5)

Season six is the Buffy season most rich with metaphor. However, those metaphors are all about trying to figure out how to transition from being a child to being an adult, which is nobody’s idea of a good time. Hence this episode, which is maybe more clever than genuinely good, but boy, is it clever! Buffy has her abilities tested both by a drooping bank account and three feisty nerds who want to see just what she’s capable of, mostly because they can. A rare funny episode in a dour season. — TV

83. “No Place Like Home” (season 5, episode 5)

Season five is Buffy’s best (obviously, that’s just my opinion, but you know it’s right), and that’s because it keeps layering stuff on top of its story, but all of that stuff neatly services the season’s central theme of families both blood and chosen. A great case in point is this episode, in which Buffy learns the strange, angry woman who keeps causing problems around Sunnydale is a god intent on finding a magical Key — who just happens to be Buffy’s sister, Dawn. — TV

82. “Seeing Red” (season 6, episode 19)

Few Buffy episodes are as hotly debated as this one, which contains some of the show’s most powerful discussions of power and who has it, right alongside the biggest death of season six, one that proved the breaking point for many fans. Tara, Willow’s sweetly lovable girlfriend, is killed when shot by a stray bullet. The series wasn’t entirely prepared to deal with the implications of telling this particular story, but it’s also hard to deny the raw power of this episode. — TV

81. “The Dark Age” (season 2, episode 8)

Wouldn’t you like to know more about Giles’s past as “the Ripper”? Buffy teased out his darker, younger self plenty of times but never delved into that past entirely. (A long-teased BBC spinoff about the character never materialized.) This is one of the episodes that most toys with the idea of Giles having a super-cool, super-dark hidden backstory, and its conclusion neatly foreshadows the rest of Angel’s arc in season two. — TV

Middle-of-the-road Buffy is pretty good TV

80. “Out of Mind, Out of Sight” (season 1, episode 11)

One of the earliest examples of Buffy making someone’s figurative demons literal, this episode makes a neglected girl disappear, leaving her to wreak havoc on the school at will. It’s on the nose but, thanks to some canny voiceover work from Clea Duvall as the invisible girl, surprisingly affecting in the end. — Caroline Framke

79. “Family” (season 5, episode six)

This Tara-centric standalone is maybe the weakest episode of Buffy that was both written and directed by Joss Whedon, but that doesn’t keep it from being incredibly sweet and warm-hearted. (It’s a high standard, after all.) It nicely cements Tara’s place in the Scooby Gang while acknowledging that the character remains underdeveloped — and it features a blonde, pre-fame Amy Adams. — CG

78. “Lies My Parents Told Me” (season 7, episode 17)

As season seven lurches fitfully toward some kind of momentum in its final third, we at last get a little bit of payoff on Spike’s raging Oedipal complex and on how the First is manipulating him. It’s long-overdue character work, and it fits nicely into Wood’s expanding backstory and the legend of his mother, Nikki Wood (my personal favorite of the past Slayers). The fact that Giles and Buffy’s parent-child relationship is also fraught by now isn’t exactly fun to watch, but it’s compelling, and it keeps the shock of “Empty Places” from coming entirely out of nowhere. — CG

77. “Witch” (season 1, episode 3)

“Witch” is the first genuine monster-of-the-week episode, and a bit of a proof of concept. It’s the episode that demonstrates Buffy’s high school–era mission: to take the demons of adolescence — in this case, an abusive mother trying to live vicariously through her daughter — and literalize them into demons that can be killed. And while this episode doesn’t accomplish that mission with the nuance the show will later develop, it’s at least doing so with heart and charm. — CG

76. “Showtime” (season 7, episode 11)

“Showtime” features one of Buffy’s strongest inspirational speeches, delivered mid-Thunderdome-style beatdown on a Turok-Han. It’s a solid action set piece that goes a long way toward relieving the monotony of mid-season seven, and Buffy’s telepathic conversation with Willow and Xander helps recenter the show’s focus on their friendship in the middle of a season of growing distance. — CG

75. “Revelations” (season 3, episode 7)

There’s a scene in “Revelations” that’s just the Scoobies arguing (they just found out that Angel is back and Buffy didn’t tell them), and it’s one of my favorite scenes in the show’s run: Everyone cares about each other, everyone’s extremely upset, and everyone’s a little bit right. It’s a lovely, graceful exploration of character dynamics in a way only Buffy can quite pull off. Plus, this episode features the first Faith/Buffy fight, and that’s always a great well to draw from. — CG

74. “Buffy vs. Dracula” (season 5, episode 1)

This episode has a bit of a bad reputation for wasting Buffy’s one encounter with the most famous vampire of all time. But it’s a crackerjack, very funny hour about Buffy meeting the most famous vampire of all time and finding herself and her friends drawn into his web, even as she rolls her eyes at the whole thing. The episode is now perhaps better remembered for its final reveal — Buffy’s brand new sister — but it’s an enjoyably lighthearted kickoff to an ambitious season of TV. — TV

73. “The Pack” (season 1, episode 6)

This episode is so stupid, but in that early Buffy way where it all kinda works regardless. Xander and his pals are infected by a demon while, uh, visiting a hyena exhibit at the zoo, and they start to act more and more like awful teenage bros. It’s all dumb, metaphorical fun, and the last sentence of Wikipedia’s capsule summary of the episode perfectly sums up its “Whatever! It’s fun!” attitude: “Xander and his pack grow more and more feral until Buffy, Giles, and Willow reverse the spell.” — TV

72. “Ted” (season 2, episode 11)

Remember Alan from Friends, that boyfriend of Monica’s whom the gang was crazy about but Monica herself didn’t really like? Ted is like that, but much more sinister, and Buffy is the only one who realizes it. It’s creepy and frustrating and unacceptable (especially once the slapping starts), and for most people whose parents have divorced, it’s basically validation that all new potential partners are evil intruders who will hurt your loved ones. Maybe don’t go through life believing that, but you can indulge it for approximately 40 minutes. — JB

71. “Helpless” (season 3, episode 12)

The hard-liners of the Watchers Council were always a little much, but their interference in “Helpless” — in which they get Giles to dull Buffy’s strength so she can undergo a fun new Slayer test — is no exception. Add in a whole mess of subplots involving Buffy pining after her dad and Angel doing some of his most self-indulgent moping, and “Helpless” loses some of the spark it could’ve had by making Buffy fend for herself without her powers for the first time since before the show began. But the episode ends on a touching note when Giles gets fired from the Council for being too much like a father to Buffy, a charge he can’t — and doesn’t want to — deny. — CF

We’re getting into a solid groove now

70. “The Harsh Light of Day” (season 4, episode 3)

“The Harsh Light of Day” is the first season four episode to capture the easy chemistry Buffy’s core cast perfected over its previous three seasons. Where “Freshman” and “Living Conditions” felt jittery and out of place, “The Harsh Light of Day” has settled into a groove. It’s helped enormously by the addition of Spike, who brings in a jolt of energy and helps fill the hole Cordelia’s departure to Angel left in the cast. Hey, someone has to tell the Scoobies how dumb their plans are. — CG

69. “Beneath You” (season 7, episode 2)

Speaking of Spike! “Beneath You” is the newly ensouled Spike’s big showcase, and while it’s a mixed bag overall — the show has absolutely no idea how to handle the fact that soulless Spike tried to rape Buffy — James Marsters is always a compelling screen presence, and the final tableau of Spike draping himself over the cross is deeply evocative. — CG

68. “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” (season 2, episode 16)

Love spells seem a lot creepier in 2017 than they did in 1998, don’t they? Ethical questions aside, “Bewitched” is a marvel of tonal balancing: The Xander A-plot is slapstick and funny with a core of heartbreak, and the subplot of Angel musing on the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for Buffy keeps the menace and subtle horror of the season’s central plot running through the background. — CG

67. “Pangs” (season 4, episode 8)

Buffy takes the “main character suddenly possessed by manic need for perfect holiday” trope and raises it a rather uncomfortable story about a Native American vengeance demon, which dances around discussing America’s ugly legacy of genocide but never actually comes to any conclusions. Still, there are some funny moments (“You made it a bear!”) and the enjoyable runner of Angel being back in town and revealing himself to all the Scoobies but Buffy is capped off by the tiny, perfect clink of Buffy’s fork falling on her plate that plays over the final credits, as the ex-boyfriend-shaped cat finally comes out of the bag. — TP

66. “A New Man” (season 4, episode 12)

Giles-centric episodes are generally some of my favorites, and “A New Man,” which sees our favorite tweedy former librarian being turned into a Fyarl demon courtesy of mischievous evildoer Ethan Rayne, may be the most laugh-out-loud funny. The episode is rather light on stakes (we know Buffy isn’t actually going to kill Demon Giles) but heavy on hilarity — Giles chasing Professor Walsh down the street only gets better with every repeat viewing, and everything about his scenes with Spike is gold. Plus, it’s a nice reminder — to the viewers as well as the show — of Giles’s steel bond with Buffy, and just how important to the team Giles continues to be, gainfully employed or not. — TP

65. “Potential” (season 7, episode 12)

Dawn was always a tough character for Buffy to deal with. Yes, season five was built entirely around her, but the show’s final two seasons could never figure out how to balance her teenage self against the increasingly adult stories swirling around the other characters. This is perhaps the finest post–season five Dawn hour, as she hopes, deeply, that she might be a Slayer, only to slowly realize that’s not the case. There were some stories — like living up to an impressive older sibling — Buffy could only tell via Dawn, and it’s a pity it didn’t get to more of them. — TV

64. “Same Time, Same Place” (season 7, episode 3)

Buffy was always good at consequences, and this episode — in which Willow returns to Sunnydale after turning evil and nearly destroying the world at the end of season six — neatly layers in just how terrified Willow’s friends are, both of her and of the idea that she might turn toward evil again. Season seven’s first third is a little underrated, and the delicate character work in this episode is a good indication of just how well the Buffy writers understood the show by this point. — TV

63. “Spiral” (season 5, episode 20)

On top of everything else season five tosses at her, Buffy has to deal with medieval knights. In and of itself, this episode could have felt too over-the-top or silly. But c’mon! It’s Buffy against knights! — TV

62. “End of Days” (season 7, episode 21)

Is that scythe Buffy finds, plus the bonus information from a mysterious, never-before-mentioned mystical lady in a mysterious, never-before-mentioned mausoleum, just a bit of a deus ex machina? Sure is! Is it really cool-looking regardless? Sure is! “End of Days” also features one of the show’s best Buffy/Faith scenes, as the foils and rivals finally reach a kind of peace with each other. “Thank god we’re hot chicks with superpowers,” says Faith. “Takes the edge off,” Buffy agrees. — CG

61. “Touched” (season 7, episode 20)

Buffy’s spent most of season seven isolated and cold, so it’s an enormous relief to see her let her guard down at last in “Touched.” Her long, intimate talk with Spike is a sweetly touching culmination of their troubled and tumultuous relationship, and it’s incredibly cathartic to see the girl finally take a nap for once. — CG

Wow, this is a dark cluster

60. “Dead Things” (season 6, episode 13)

“Dead Things” has the dubious honor of being the bleakest episode of Buffy ever made. It’s the episode where the nerd misogyny of the Trio crosses from pathetic and silly into threatening and appalling, with Warren mind-controlling his ex-girlfriend into becoming his sex slave. And it’s the episode where Buffy finds out that she didn’t come back wrong, that she’s having rough and violent sex with Spike because she wants to, not because she’s fundamentally changed as a person. It’s dark, is what I’m saying, so thank god for Tara, the one consistent source of warmth in season six. Until, well, you know. — CG

59. “Bargaining, Part 2” (season 6, episode 2)

“Bargaining, Part 2” is where Buffy’s writing staff really starts to take advantage of the laxer standards and practices department of its new network, UPN: The violence is more graphic and bloodier than it ever was on the WB, and the villains are tossing around rape threats. It takes a little while for the show to balance its new ability to go as dark and gritty as it would like to with the heightened, polished tone it established in its first five seasons, and it isn’t quite there yet. But all the same, the new darkness of the tone allows for killer moments like Buffy, having just clawed her way out of her own coffin, watching her robot double get dismembered right before her eyes. — CG

58. “The Weight of the World” (season 5, episode 21)

“The Weight of the World” is mostly just moving the pieces into place for “The Gift,” but it does so with a fair amount of artistry. Willow’s trip into Buffy’s subconscious leads to some haunting moments; in particular, Buffy’s nonchalant, “This is all I'm here for. It's what I am,” as she imagines smothering Dawn, which informs her character development well into the next season. Now, do we suspect there could be any kind of link

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