#30: Caught in the Act
2x14 - "Innocence"
Poor Willow. Bad enough that Xander never notices her, but to discover that he's been sucking face with Cordelia on the side is one hell of a blow. As much as it hurt her to discover the two of them, this is a pivotal and necessary event for her, since this is pretty much the moment when her crush on Xander ends. Their confrontation after she runs away is the icing on the cake. She's so upset that she can barely speak, but when she does, they hit like a fist: "You'd rather be with someone you hate than be with me." Plus, this is when we find out about the "We Hate Cordelia" club, of which Xander is the treasurer. I think that says a lot about the two of them, I'm just not altogether sure what exactly.
#29: "You can't leave me."
2x17 - "Passion"
Never before and never since have we seen Giles this upset. This is a broken Giles at his absolute worst and is the moment when Giles becomes something more to us. Before now he was the guy with the answers. Giles was the support beam for the Scoobies, the father figure. And like any parental-type, we held him up to certain standards that are inevitably unfair and impossible to live up to. Here though, Giles shows that he's not just the guy with the answers, he's a man who has suffered a cruel, calculatedly painful blow. He's a human. His attack on Angelus is fueled with such fury and his inevitable collapse once all the anger has left him is almost too much to bear. The tables turn in this moment, and suddenly Buffy is the adult with the clear head who must support Giles. Her cries to him to not leave her because she can't do this alone strike a powerful chord that continues to resonate between them, even when Giles finally does leave many years later.
#28: Willow's Power
2x22 - "Becoming, part 2"
Up to this point, I liked Willow. She pretty much became my favourite character from the first episode. I mean come on. She's just so gosh darned funny and adorable! I followed her development over the two seasons, and was content. Then came this moment, and suddenly I wasn't just content any more, I was intrigued. I think this was the moment that Buffy transformed for me from "show I kind of like" to "show I really want to see more of". Willow's sudden burst of power from seemingly nowhere, practically transforming her into an entirely different person for a second or two ... well, it's pretty incredible to think that they started laying the foundation for season 6 four years earlier (but then, that's one of the best things about the show). When I saw this, I knew that I had to know more. I figured that Willow was going places, and I wanted to be there when she did. (As an aside, you have to wonder just how much of an impact that head wound had on her magical prowess, but that's speculation for another time and place.)
#27: So Far, and Yet...
5x07 - "Fool for Love"
It was a first -- I felt sorry for Spike. "Fool for Love" is really the definitive Spike episode, where we get to see him from his humble pre-vamp beginnings, follow him through Europe with Angel, Darla and Dru, and all the way to the present. He's such a cocky bastard throughout the episode, staying pretty much true to form. Even the revelation that he was the Victorian-era equivalent of a geek doesn't stop his swagger. He revels in the stories about how he killed two Slayers, and never doubts for a second that he'll one day be able to add Buffy to his body count. In other words, he's Spike, through and through. Then the unthinkable. He tries to kiss Buffy, and she rejects him in the most painful way possible, speaking the words that echo through the centuries: "You're beneath me." And we realize that when you strip away the coat, the scar and the bravado, all that's left is the same William the Bloody Awful who is utterly unable to win the love of the object of his affections. He's spent all that time, come all this way, and yet gone absolutely nowhere at all.
#26: First Kiss
5x16 - "The Body"
I adore the way Willow and Tara's first on-screen kiss just slipped in out of nowhere. No "special event", no specifically composed orchestral score, no fanfare. Just two people who love each other, taking and giving comfort when it's needed most. To me, it's the perfect way to handle the moment, and makes their relationship feel that much more real. Willow and Tara have a tangibility that is utterly unique to any other coupling on Buffy either before or after, and it's the expert way that moments like these are handled that helped make me love the two of them so much.
#25: The Slayer's True Strength
4x22 - "Restless"
The effect here is neat, don't get me wrong. The tarot cards with the sleeping Scoobies is nifty. But what I really like about this scene is that it's the moment where Buffy realizes and embraces what it is that makes her different from every other Slayer before her: her friends. One of Buffy's primary themes throughout the series is her struggle with a destiny that she never wanted any part of, and the show itself grapples time and again with what it means to be a Slayer. The embodiment of the Slayer force, the Primitive, is pretty seriously pissed off that Buffy refuses to become a solitary killing machine, and this is the moment that Buffy realizes that by refusing to be alone, she is in fact the strongest Slayer ever. The destiny she reads in the tarot cards -- the very cards that she rejected earlier because she doesn't want to believe in destiny -- is herself surrounded by her friends. Even if she doesn't quite remember everything upon waking up (we never get to know how much of the dream they remember ... except the Cheeseman, of course) and even when this lesson learned gets fuzzy over subsequent seasons, her (and my) realization here remains a powerful one, and is at the heart of why I love the show.
#24: Too Much to Form Words
4x06 - "Wild at Heart"
Up to that point, this was probably Willow's darkest moment. She's discovered Oz and Veruca, and instinctively turned to magic for revenge. She ultimately can't do it, which doesn't make the hurt ebb in the slightest. And then to top it all off, Veruca comes and bitch slaps her around a bit, Oz gets wolfy and rips the girl's throat out, and then despite it all, the wolf starts to turn on Willow. But suddenly Buffy's there, and she protects Willow like she always does. What hits me so hard in this moment is the way these two characters come together. The danger averted, Buffy drops everything to comfort Willow, who realizes that she really has lost Oz -- not to Veruca but to the werewolf -- and finally breaks down, sobbing her little heart out as Buffy just tries to hold her together. It's a painful but beautiful moment of friendship between two best friends.
#23: Two Willows for the Price of One
3x16 - "Doppelgängland"
If you've seen "Doppelgängland" then I shouldn't even have to explain this. It snuggles comfortably among my all-time favourite Buffy episodes. I loved it the moment I watched it, and have loved it ever since. It is, of course, largely all about Vamp Willow. She's evil, skanky, and kinda gay, but she's so disarmingly charming while running around and trying to kill people. But it's not really about Vamp Willow, it's about Alyson Hannigan. She manages to pull of something incredible in this episode, playing four aspects of the same character: regular Willow, Vamp Willow, regular Willow as Vamp Willow, and Vamp Willow as regular Willow. And every single last aspect is subtly different and remains true to itself. I shake my head in wonder at how she does it, but more than that, I enjoy the hell out of it. Double your Willowy goodness, double your fun.
#22: What Am I?
5x13 - "Blood Ties"
This was the exact moment that Dawn won me over. Up until this point she'd been occasionally amusing, but mostly irritating. Of course, she's supposed to be; she's the bratty kid sister, that's her job. We'd only really seen Dawn through Buffy's eyes, and Buffy's eyes are tainted with perpetual irritation. Dawn says things she shouldn't say, she threatens to tattle, she does stupid stuff like invite vampires into the house, she splits her mom's attention. These things were annoying, but served their purpose because Dawn felt real. She didn't feel like a big bundle of green energy, she felt like a 14-year old kid you wanted to slap. Right here though, everything changes. Dawn discovers that she's the Key and everything she's ever known in her entire life was made up by a bunch of monks. It shatters her. Her speech in this moment was exactly what it needed to be: questioning, angry and so very afraid. I was finally able to stop looking at Dawn through Buffy's eyes and see her through my own. I saw a scared little girl who has lost absolutely everything, and my heart finally went out to her.
#21: It's Their World
1x12 - "Prophecy Girl"
"Prophecy Girl" is probably the episode that convinced me to keep watching this odd little show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The previous episodes had been interesting enough, but there was a fine layer of fluff I hadn't seen though enough. Fluff can be good, of course, and even necessary, but for something to become a favourite of mine, it has to strike a deeper chord. That's exactly what "Prophecy Girl" did, and this moment played no small part in that. Up until now, we'd sort of laughed at the monsters and the danger. Xander and Willow in particular took everything in an admirable and almost unbelievable stride, which I never really questioned (every work of fantasy has to come with an amount of belief suspension, after all) but never sat quite right with me. With this moment, it all comes crashing down around Willow. "I'm not okay. I knew those guys. I go to that room every day. And when I walked in there, it ... it wasn't our world anymore. They made it theirs. And they had fun." This is a powerful speech. These aren't just bumpy people with oversized teeth and a sunlight problem anymore, they're monsters. Willow's world changes here, and she's forced to grow up, just a little. Perhaps even more important to this scene, though, is that Willow unintentionally reminds Buffy why she fights this fight -- to protect people like Willow who can't fight the monsters without her. "What are we gonna do?" Willow asks. "What we have to," Buffy replies, not hesitating to take back the destiny she threw in Giles' face earlier. Buffy's fated to die at the hands of the Master, but she knows that she can't live with doing nothing if the cost is her friends' happiness and security. It's in this moment that Buffy steps up into the role she was born for, regardless of what it will cost her.
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