Every season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, ranked by how perfect it is
I’d take a stake to the heart for any of them
Buffy The Vampire Slayer made an excellent decision in its seven season run that not many TV shows make, or get the option to choose. It never once went shit. It’s quite rare to find a Buffy fan’s ranking of the seasons matching up with another’s, mostly because the quality is so consistent it just comes down to personal taste. If you preferred the school era to the post-college years and the darker tone that came with it, it’s clear which seasons you’d lean towards. But the general consensus is that Buffy never stopped pushing television boundaries and breaking new ground with its storytelling, genre-bending and brave writing. And that makes getting the seasons of Buffy The Vampire Slayer ranked difficult, because you’re not ranking from worst to best. You’re ranking from perfect to even more perfect.
It’s a show I’ve had an unparalleled affinity for since as long as I can remember, and all these seasons I’ve watched so much that I feel like they’re ingrained into my DNA. This is a ranking I’m overqualified to write. Get your stakes, get your crossbows, get your red leather pants and let’s go.
7. Season One
It hurts my heart to put season one last, because it’s got such a big place in my heart. If this season wasn’t so instantly charming and the cast so immediately lovable, we’d never get the seasons that followed it and expanded on its greatness in unprecedented ways. Season one is so rewatchable when you’re a fan. It’s a comfort blanket. But also it’s a bit cringe. When you try and make someone new watch Buffy, you already apologise for season one before they even begin. “STICK WITH IT!” is bellowed, and promises of better days ahead. It’s got naff music, corny costumes and it’s like a 90s culture time capsule. As a little 12 episode season of TV, it’s a campy blast – it just can’t compete with the ambition and scope of the other six.
6. Season Seven
After the scope of the villains of seasons five and six, season seven had a hard job following them and maintaining the same level of threat. The choice to return to The First Evil as the villain of the season is obviously a climactic one – how do you get anymore final than thwarting the thing that gave evil its capital E? Even if The First’s presence here makes its little appearance as a one episode villain in season three quite laughable. The First is a cheap villain because he doesn’t take corporeal form, so we basically get to see it taunting the cast in the guise of other cast members gone by. It’s fun for nostalgia, but wears thin quite quickly with how often The First chooses to appear imitating Spike or Buffy.
What holds season seven back, despite an excellent start and a really satisfying end, is a convoluted middle chunk containing endless episodes all set in the Summers’ house, where plots and narratives bleed into one. It often feels like this season is just killing time before its final resolution, but what a resolution it is when we finally get there to one of the greatest shows ever made.
5. Season Six
Arguably the most polarising season, six is a brutal and bleak pill to swallow. I personally love the dark tone. It makes complete sense to take all the characters to the harrowing place they go to in all their lives in season six after everything they’ve been through, and although it doesn’t make for the most laugh-a-minute rewatch it does consistently prove that this show can and will go there. Alyson Hannigan does incredible work as Willow this whole season, and it feels like her swan song, with the cast rotating as players around her self destruction.
The issue with season six is that there’s a handful of duff episodes in the middle chunk that let down its intriguing start and showstopping ending. The slog that is the unrelenting run of Doublemeat Palace, Dead Things and then As You Were is a glum one. Of all the seasons, it’s six that moves around the most in everyone’s list of Buffy The Vampire Slayer ranked. For me, everything above it is that little bit more polished, that little bit more fun.
4. Season Four
It’s easy to see why season four is mostly quite unpopular. People do not like change, and season four brought change in unrelenting spade loads. After three seasons of Buffy establishing itself as a high school show, suddenly our main characters are graduated, dispersed and changed forever. There’s a disorientating and sometimes isolating nature to four, but that’s intentional. Moving to university is an isolating time. High school is not forever, and it’s an adjustment period. For the characters, for Buffy’s writing team and for the audience. But season four ages like a fine wine the more you watch it, and deserves a reconsideration if its not high in your Buffy The Vampire Slayer ranked seasons list.
Buffy suddenly had BUDGET. The Buffy VS The Initiative plot isn’t as flop as you may remember, despite Adam as the physical villain being a bit naff. Riley isn’t as hell as he is in season five here, and for a long time feels like the perfect boyfriend for Buffy. Willow has her gay awakening and TV is changed forever, and the season features truly revolutionary pieces of television like Hush and Restless. Honestly? Great stuff.
3. Season Two
Season two of Buffy The Vampire Slayer belongs to Buffy and Angel’s relationship. In its most simplistic form, it’s a coming-of-age horror movie about an abusive boyfriend and a young woman coming to terms with losing her virginity and having to fight off the man she loves. Angel losing his soul and becoming the most brutal vampire the show has ever seen is a brave move for a show in its second season, and the transition in the acting, writing and scope from season one to two is unbelievable. So many would argue this is Buffy’s greatest season, and that’s because the overarching story is so emotional, so personal and so focussed.
For me, season two is a bit too unpolished. Too many standalone episodes that suffer from early Buffy-itis, corny dialogue and writing. Almost a third of this season is filler, and even though that filler is frequently a daft hoot, it just makes it lose out to two seasons that barely put a toe out of place.
2. Season Three
In the words of George Michael, you gotta have Faith. Eliza Dushku is a revelation as Faith – the antithesis of everything we know Buffy to be, and despite her being a murderous rogue slayer there’s something about her that always feels redeemable and likeable. The definition of “I could fix her”. Buffy The Vampire Slayer finally reaches its peak of the high school years, and the decision to blow the school up at the climax is one that’s as symbolic as it is satisfying narratively. Buffy is tightly written and a well oiled machine here.
Little to no episodes that don’t add something important to the story, an excellent villain in Mayor Wilkins, maturity from every core character, great writing and direction. A perfect season of television that the majority of shows would kill to have.
1. Season Five
I will go to my grave shouting that season five of Buffy The Vampire Slayer is one of the greatest seasons of television ever made, and it takes the top ranked spot with pride. As much as I nurse at the breast of the other six, it’s five that cannot be touched. So much so, that if Buffy had ended on season five I would potentially argue it would have finished an even better show. Everything about it feels so final. The risks taken? The stories told? The sheer scope of the threat and emotional stakes? It doesn’t get bigger or better than this.
The core gang are in their prime. Tara, Anya and Spike bring so much to the cast. Not only in humour and charm, but in plot and depth. Glory is the best villain the show ever saw – an unrelenting force of Cordelia-level narcissism with unprecedented and unstable power. And then we have Dawn. The twist to suddenly change the entire show’s history and give Buffy a little sister and then spend five episodes having the characters act like she’d always been there is one that redefines the word risky. It could and did alienate audiences who thought they’d missed something important. But Buffy is a brave show, and when the risk pays off it is storytelling at its most exciting. And don’t even get me started on The Body. The Body gets an article all of its own.