As luck would have it, Digital Spy recently had the chance to sit down with Whedon and chat about his favourite episodes, which got us thinking it was a perfect time to celebrate the very best of Buffy.
We're already anticipating plenty of debate, since it's physically impossible to pick five top episodes of a show this consistently smart, inventive and emotionally sharp without some major omissions. So take a look at our picks, and let us know yours by voting in our poll and sounding off in the comments below.
'Passion' - Season 2, Episode 17 - First aired February 24, 1998
We're going straight in with the really cheerful stuff here. It was a tough choice not to include the two-part episode in which Buffy's first sexual experience with brooding vampire love interest Angel (David Boreanaz) transformed him into a soulless killer overnight, but 'Passion' is the brutal pay-off to that heartbreaking development. The murder of Jenny Calendar marked the show's first significant casualty, and the emotional fallout that follows was the first indication of just how dark Whedon & co were willing to get. It's also a crucial episode for Anthony Stewart Head as Giles, whose relationship with Buffy would remain one of the show's most consistent strong suits.
'The Wish' - Season 3, Episode 9 - First aired December 8, 1998
We had real trouble deciding between two 'alternative universe' episodes - in season six's fascinating 'Normal Again', Buffy wakes up in a mental institution and we're faced with the possibility that the entire show has been her delusion. But It's A Wonderful Life takeoff 'The Wish' just pipped it to the post in the dark, inventive 'what-if' stakes. A wounded Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) inadvertently wishes herself into a parallel, Buffy-free version of Sunnydale, and let's just say it is not a desirable destination - vampires rule the town, humans live in terror of nightfall, and Buffy herself is a hollowed-out shell of the spunky, quippy firecracker we know and love.
'Hush' - Season 4, Episode 10 - First aired December 14, 1999
The Gentlemen (perma-grinning ghouls who take away your voice before cutting out your heart) just might be the most terrifying creature ever featured in the Buffyverse. But that's not all that stands out in the largely-silent 'Hush', which was the first really experimental episode of many Whedon would go on to write and direct. He doesn't stop at scares, instead employing the silence to wonderfully comedic and romantic effect. For an example of the former, look no further than the clip above; on the romantic side Buffy and Riley, stripped of the ability to make small talk, finally share the first kiss that's been eluding them. Shame he turned out to be such a drip.
'The Body' - Season 5, Episode 16 - First aired February 27, 2001
For much of its run, Buffy's emotional power came from its metaphors - high school is hell (literally), your boyfriend turns evil after you sleep with him (literally), and so forth. But increasingly as the show matured, its most powerful moments were the ones that had nothing to do with the supernatural at all. Case in point, the death of Buffy's mother Joyce (Kristine Sutherland) from a brain aneurysm. The episode was inspired by Whedon's loss of his own mother, and its portrayal of the numb, minute-to-minute reality of grief is flawless, every scene a different kind of gut punch. If you can get through the sequence above without tearing up, you're made of sterner stuff than us. You may also want to check your soul is still intact.
'Once More, With Feeling' - Season 6, Episode 7 - First aired November 6, 2001
Okay, we're cheering up now! Look, there's singing and dancing and everything in this one! On the other hand, this is an episode in which pretty much all the characters are on a downward spiral and - after a demon compels them to spill their guts through song - end up singing a series of ditties about isolation, despair, lying, abandonment, unrequited love, and wanting to die. So not so much with the fun. Nonetheless, this is an undisputed boundary-pushing triumph, with music and lyrics penned entirely by Whedon and performed by the game cast, and the song 'n' dance numbers are a catalyst for one narrative bombshell after another: Giles leaving, Willow's magic addiction, and the beginning of Buffy's steamy affair with Spike.