In the golden age of television, there are more shows than any person could possibly keep up with. That’s why your friendly neighborhood FANGRRLS have pulled together a list of the queerest episodes of one of our favorite shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Whether you’re a first-time viewer or a die-hard mega-fan, these episodes will make your heart sing with queer glory (as opposed to queer icon Glory) — and with so much TV to watch, why not cut to the good (read: queer) stuff?
Since 1997, Buffy has stolen the imaginations of viewers, many of who have found the show as young adults. In the series, a teenage girl named Buffy Summers moves to Sunnydale from LA after she burns her school gymnasium to the ground. It was all to stop a bunch of hungry, homicidal vampires, but whatever. Parents just don’t understand.
Once in Sunnydale, Buffy meets Rupert Giles, her Watcher and the school librarian, who will train her on how to fight vampires and contain the Hellmouth that, what do you know, just so happens to be located directly under Sunnydale High. Still being a teenage girl, Buffy doesn’t just want to train, she also wants to cheer, flirt, and have friends. Enter Willow Rosenberg and Xander Harris, a couple of random, unremarkable high schoolers who rapidly become Buffy’s besties—even if there is an annoying period of time where Willow likes Xander likes Buffy likes Angel (Buffy’s vampire boyfriend with a soul). Together, Buffy and her friends become the Scoobies.
At first blush, this may not seem like such a queer tale, but what unfolds is the campy, moving story of Buffy’s journey to not only accepting her role as the Slayer, but as the leader of her friends and family. Like many superhero types, Buffy’s dual life can be read as a metaphor for being queer, where part of oneself, sometimes the best part of oneself, is kept hidden and disconnected from one’s day to day identity. (I’ve written elsewhere about how Buffy’s journey and struggle with her multiplicity remind me of being bisexual.) And, while it’s not until the canonical graphic novels that we see Buffy explore her sexuality with a woman, we don’t have to wait until then to enjoy women loving women goodness.
The queerness Buffy is generally known for is not so much the metaphorical queerness of Buffy, but the actual queerness of Willow and Tara Maclay. While there’s a lot to love about their relationship, the highlight is probably how their relationship is treated within the narrative. Willow and Tara’s relationship evolves slowly, as the two find themselves wanting to be together more and more. Their “slow burn” relationship, used neither for ratings nor punchlines, is widely considered to be one of the first authentic representations of queer women in a relationship on network TV.
Of course, Buffy is not perfect, by any means. In addition to all of the bad and terrible “nice guy” bullsh*t that is 99% of Xander’s being, the way the narrative handles Willow’s sexuality smacks of bisexuality+ erasure. However, the most problematic element is probably when Tara is killed by a stray bullet shortly after she and Willow reconcile post-breakup, a two-for-one example of the Bury Your Gays trope and fridging, all wrapped up into one depressing plot point.
But, let us not lose the queer goodness of Buffy to its worse parts. Regardless of the problematic aspects, Buffy forwarded the representation of queer folks on network TV. Notably, the series featured one of the first women loving women kisses on screen (see Season 5, Episode 16: “The Body”). And, in Season 7, Episode 20: “Touched,” Willow and her new girlfriend Kennedy become the first women loving women to appear in a sex scene on broadcast TV.
In celebration of the campy, groundbreaking classic, here are the 5 queerest episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Season 2, Episode 22: “Becoming, Part 2”
Up until this point, Buffy has been able to keep her mom out of the slayer loop, but the world is on the verge of ending thanks to Buffy’s ex-boyfriend, so everything is in flux. Her mother, Joyce, has always been a bit too willing to accept Buffy’s flimsy excuses for late nights of fighting demons, but there’s no hiding the fact that Buffy kills vampires when she dusts one in front of her mom.
While Buffy balances the weight of the world on her shoulders, plus a tenuous partnership with her nemesis and bleach enthusiast, the vampire Spike, Joyce has questions about what this all means, including:
“Honey, are you sure you’re a vampire Slayer?”
“Have you tried not being a Slayer?”
“It’s because you didn’t have a strong father figure, isn’t it?”
Being out about being a Slayer may be the least of Buffy’s worries, but she has a pretty stellar response. “It’s just fate, Mom. I’m the Slayer. Accept it.”
I don’t know about you, but that all sounds pretty queer to me.
Season 3, Episode 16: “Dopplegangland”
An extremely pissed off vengeance demon named Anya (who is now stuck being a teenage girl) wants to punish Buffy and her friends for ruining her last curse. So, what does she do? Well, she tries to recall her magical vengeance necklace that bestows upon her unfathomable power, all with the help of Willow. When the spell doesn’t work, but does seriously creep Willow out, Anya is left pouting. That is, until vampire Willow, from an alternate reality, finds her way into non-Bizarro Sunnydale. Soft and fluffy, agreeable Willow meets her badass doppelgänger and learns a thing or two about herself, including the fact that vampire Willow is kinda gay.
In this hilarious episode, Willow’s journey toward coming out is foreshadowed—well, and Alyson Hannigan proves she looks good in anything.
Season 4, Episode 19: “New Moon Rising”
Perhaps best known as the episode where Willow comes out to Buffy, “New Moon Rising” brings Willow’s ex-boyfriend Oz back into town. The two had broken up earlier in Season 4 when Oz decided he needed to cure himself from being a werewolf. (Did I not mention that?) As a newly under control Oz tries to woo Willow, she must struggle with her formerly very real feelings for Oz and her newly very real feelings for Tara. This episode has coming out, choosing love, and sexy innuendo all wrapped in one.
Season 6, Episode 7: “Once More with Feeling”
What isn’t queer about this episode? An unknown demon enchants the people of Sunnydale, causing them to sing and dance themselves to death all while performing classical musical numbers. Amidst the many confessions this art form causes the Scoobies to utter, Tara sings a very sexy love song called “Under Your Spell” to Willow. Sadly, this is also the episode where Tara discovers that Willow is continuing to abuse magic and thus begins their completely gutting breakup. So, you know, grab some tissues.
Season 7, Episode 13: “The Killer in Me”
After Tara is killed at the end of Season 6, Willow gets her Dark Phoenix on and flays Tara’s killer alive, not to mention trying to end the entire universe. Much of Season 7 deals with Willow’s battle with her own magic and her formerly unhealthy relationship to it. But, when potential Slayer Kennedy joins the Scoobies and their band of merry potentials, Willow finds herself falling in love again.
After their first kiss, Willow turns into the man who killed Tara, a physical manifestation of her guilt and grief. While trying to undo whatever magic caused her appearance to change, Willow finally faces her pain at losing Tara comingled with her hope at finding Kennedy. For anyone who’s ever loved and lost and found love again, “The Killer in Me” will resonate.