Buffy the Vampire Slayer has left an unforgettable legacy with its fans, who watch and rewatch its seven seasons and discover new favorite episodes each time. Yet as is the case in most TV shows, Buffy has its fair share of filler episodes, or ones that may not have long-lasting consequences for their characters.
That’s not to say that filler episodes are bad or not worth watching. In fact, the opposite is often true. Plenty of episodes featuring alternative realities and unexpected twists can be viewed out of context from the show’s narrative, making them the perfect episodes to watch in or out of order, whether binging the whole series or reliving Buffy’s glory days.
Ted (Season 2, Episode 11)
Though it doesn’t advance the plot, this episode addresses greater ideas of the patriarchal figure largely absent from Buffy’s life. Joyce introduces Buffy to her new boyfriend, but Buffy quickly feels that something is off with Ted. His old-school vocabulary and lightly veiled misogyny rub Buffy the wrong way until an incident on a mini golf course, in which Ted threatens to slap her for cheating. Things escalate, and Buffy and Ted get into a physical altercation where Ted falls down a flight of stairs.
Buffy deals with both the repercussions of killing a human and her mother’s grief, but soon finds Ted alive and waiting for her. The most memorable part of the episode — besides Ted’s high-level creep factor as the “nice guy” type — is his secret bunker, in which Xander and Willow discover that he was an inventor in the 1950s that created a robotic version of himself that kidnapped and killed his estranged wife, and three more wives before meeting Joyce, in one of the show’s wildest one-off character backstories.
The Wish (Season 3, Episode 9)
When Buffy accidentally embarrasses Cordelia, she tells Anya, an undercover vengeance demon, that she wishes Buffy never came to Sunnydale. This creates an alternate reality in which the town is run by vampires, including Xander and Willow. Giles works with a ragtag group of vampire hunters, and the Hellmouth is out of control and demon-infested.
Before Cordelia can clue Giles and the others into what happened, she is killed. However, Giles recognizes the power of the amulet Anyanka gave her. Most of the main characters are killed in ensuing battles, but Giles summons Anyanka and crushes the amulet, stripping her of her demonic powers and restoring everything to the way it was.
The Zeppo (Season 3, Episode 13)
Xander befriends a group of guys who use him for his new car, only to find out that they are zombies. The episode is filled with moments of comedic relief and some of Xander’s funniest lines, as he walks a lonely path after his breakup with Cordelia and hookups with Willow.
Though Xander isn’t involved with the apocalypse-focused action of the episode, he has his hands full not getting killed and resurrected by his new zombie gang. And though Xander succeeds and proves to himself that he can hold his own on the Hellmouth, he doesn’t brag about his accomplishments, which indicates at least a bit of character development, even if the episode’s events are fairly inconsequential narratively.
A New Man (Season 4, Episode 12)
Giles begins to feel left out when he is the last to learn about the Initiative, the college’s demon-fighting coalition headed up by Buffy’s boyfriend and professor Walsh, who stirs the pot in her first-ever conversation with Giles by asserting that Buffy doesn ‘ t have a father figure in her life. When Giles encounters an old acquaintance in the cemetery and is convinced to go for a drink, he wakes up the next morning as a demon.
After a jaunt around town with Spike, who recognizes him, Giles terrorizes Professor Walsh for the fun of it and seeks revenge on Ethan Payne. Overall, Anthony Stewart Head’s performance in this episode is a knock-out, portraying a complex array of emotions only through his eyes, gibberish, and under pounds of prosthetic makeup.
Superstar (Season 4, Episode 16)
This episode slips so seamlessly into its alternate reality the viewer isn’t immediately clued into the fact that Jonathan — an only semi-likable Buffy side character — has become famous and beloved. Jonathan is the vampire slaying expert instead of Buffy, but he show’s narrative arc continues, and nothing much changes until a mysterious demon appears. The gang slowly realizes that Jonathan has the same mark as the demon and questions his influence.
This episode has some hilarious bits, including Jonathan starring in “The Matrix,” singing at The Bronze, and giving both Buffy and Riley relationship advice. An especially memorable moment occurs when the world is restored, and Buffy calls Jonathan’s name in an intimate moment with Riley as a joke.
Triangle (Season 5, Episode 11)
Willow and Anya begin to butt heads over their relationships with Xander in the Magic Shop, accidentally releasing a troll in the process. Olaf is a silly addition to Buffy’s catalog of monsters, especially considering his former romantic relationship with Anya pre-Buffywhich includes cringe-worthy details, and that he enters The Bronze declaring his desire to drink ale and eat babies.
Spike practices his romantic pitch on his Buffy mannequin, but ends up beating it with a box of chocolates. Willow assures Anya that she is no threat to her and Xander’s relationship, saying, “Hello, gay now!” Though it’s entertaining, this episode is inconsequential in the larger Glory villain arc, with only occasional mentions of research and Dawn as “the Key.”
Life Serial (Season 6, Episode 5)
Jonathan, Warren, and Andrew sabotage Buffy to figure out her weaknesses. Buffy, struggling with her future, audits Willow and Tara’s classes, which she doesn’t understand (though Warren’s fast-forwarding device certainly doesn’t help). Buffy spends a day working on Xander’s construction site, but when she defends the workers against monsters, it bruises their masculinity and makes a mess of the site, so Xander has to fire her. The Magic Box is Buffy’s last effort, but things are less than ideal in customer service.
It can be difficult to assess Buffy’s best decisions in season 6 and 7, but this episode’s outside interference in her life, though its ultimately negligible, makes matters even more complicated.
Gone (Season 6, Episode 11)
A social worker visits the Summers’ home and questions Buffy’s fitness as Dawn’s caretaker. Because of this, Buffy decides she needs to grow up, cutting her hair short, then going to the salon to get it fixed. Unfortunately, Warren’s gang accidentally shoot Buffy with an invisibility gun. She soon she takes advantage of her invisibility, sabotaging the social worker at her job and having sex with Spike.
Buffy eventually faces Jonathan’s invisible gang and uncovers her tormenters’ identities. This episode is filler simply because the viewer is already aware of the trio’s identity, and the main characters only continue to struggle with their prior concerns.
Normal Again (Season 6, Episode 17)
“Normal Again” is a fascinating take on the idea of created realities as a symptom of mental illness. Buffy begins slipping into a reality where she’s in an insane asylum where her parents visit her together, as though her father had never left and her mother was still alive.
Though Buffy phases in and out of this other reality, the doctor tells her that she has constructed Sunnydale in her head over the past six years, and instructs her to eliminate this alternate reality by killing everyone in it. Buffy’s family together and happy, even in the worst of circumstances, makes this one of the saddest episodes of Buffydespite its disconnection from reality.
Him (Season 7, Episode 6)
Dawn is in her hormonal years, so her newfound infatuation with football player RJ seems logical. But when she pushes another player down the stairs so RJ can play in the next game, the gang worries that she is developing an unhealthy obsession.
Buffy talks to RJ at school, but quickly falls in love with him. She is willing to kill the school principal who disciplined RJ, Willow concocts a spell to turn him into a woman, Dawn lays down on railroad tracks, and Anya robs a bank for him. Ultimately, Buffy saves Dawn, proving that her love for her sister is stronger than any spell (or enchanted piece of clothing).
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