Can't believe I hadn't thought of doing this before I saw this ranking of every episode from Buzzfeed: http://www.buzzfeed.com/louispeitzman/ranking-every-episode-of-buffy-the-vampire-slayer?bftw I'm not going to rank every episode, just list some of my favorites.
"Randy Giles? Why not just call me Horny Giles or Desperate for a Shag Giles?" The shot of all the gang screaming when they open the door to a few vampires is one of the best shots of the series.
Fool for Love
Spike backstory is always gold. Love the interaction between him and Buffy at the end.
Spike returns to Sunnydale after Dru cheated on him, looking for a love spell. Reminiscing about killing a homeless guy is disturbingly funny. I don't care about the Buffy/Angel relationship. But it was fun to hear Spike tell them the truth about their relationship. If Spike is anything he's honest.
Angel watching Buffy and Willow get the phone call that Ms Calendar was dead is brutal. And an important episode beyond the feelings because killing her made things more intense and legitimized the threats to Buffy and the gang.
"Blow it off. I'll write you a note." And Snider still kind of being Snider, but younger. And of course young Giles, who apparently had sex with Joyce.
"You made a bear. Undo it! Undo it!!"
Becoming, part 1
They had already killed Ms Calendar by this point. So we knew they weren't screwing around. Heavy stuff is going to happen and they aren't afraid to knock off important characters. But damn, these two episodes really go for the gut. Kendra wasn't loved but she was important in the context of the scene. With her dead, Giles is taken, Willow is unconscious and Xander is beat up pretty good. Great cliffhanger.
Becoming, part 2
Obviously heartbreaking to watch Buffy have to kill Angel, even though at this point I hated Angel and wanted him to die. Even more powerful than that moment to me was when Buffy breaks down talking to her mom about being the Slayer and what that sacrifice has meant for her life. She doesn't always wear the reluctant hero on her sleeve. But we're reminded of what it takes out of her and what she gives up when she kills Angel.
But my favorite scene in this episode and one of my favorite in the series is when Spike confronts Buffy to ask for her help defeating Angel and everything after that until Spike and Joyce sit in the living room together, sharing uncomfortable silence until Joyce asks if they've met before.
A sledgehammer to the heart. One of Anya's best moments. Dawn falling to the ground is the most brutal thing ever.
The ultimate hero moment for Buffy. She was already a great hero before sacrificing herself. But this solidified her status right up there with the likes of Batman for me. And seeing Spike break down and the gravestone was so beautiful.
I loved the nostalgia of this episode. Buffy, Willow, Xander and Giles having a typical Buffy conversation for one last time. Buffy again gets to be the hero, overcoming being stabbed. Spike finally being a hero sacrificing himself. And then fully realizing the main theme of the show, allowing women to realize their inherent power.
The thing about Buffy is that it's great at both the individual episode level and on a season by seasons and overall series level. And beyond being great in and of itself, it's an important show for me personally. I started watching during season 3, at which point I was a bit younger than Buffy on the show. I couldn't really relate to Buffy or anyone since I went to an all guy catholic high school. But I realized that I was watching something different. The hero was a girl, the dialogue was different, and the story was more emotionally stimulating than anything I had experienced before.
Buffy opened the door to a whole new way I experienced tv, and eventually all media. In a way, it also helped me change my view of the world. Part of that is just being exposed to Joss Whedon and then following the rest of his work. But seeing a show that subverted so much of what I had previously seen coincided with my questioning of the rest of the world. Even after the show ended I would come home from class in college and watch reruns to the point where I've seen every episode almost as much as I've seen Seinfeld. Like Seinfeld, it became such a reference point for everything that it's become part of who I am.