Now there are already a metric ton of lists from people declaring their favorite Buffy episodes--or going so far as to declare them the greatest episodes. I'm only hear to give my opinion, and despite the seven seasons of episodes to choose from, I'm sticking with the fave five format.
If you've read other lists of Buffy episodes, you probably won't find any surprises with my list--except maybe one. I think there's something about the show that causes us fans to kind of march in lockstep when it comes to the truly stellar episodes. So, here are my favorites:
#5 "Graduation Day Part 2" (Season 3, Episode 22) - The third season is where I jumped on the Buffy bandwagon and stayed on, and the season finale cemented my love for the show. The entire season had been building to this unholy graduation ceremony in which the mayor was supposedly going to kill off the entire graduating class, Buffy included. To see how he planned to do it, and to see him come damned close to succeeding was just riveting. After being burned for years with cliffhanger endings to season finales from different shows, it was nice to see a show give me a payoff to head into summer. The CGI might be terribly dated by today's standards, but I think it's still worth checking out.
#4 "Normal Again" (Season 6, Episode 17) - What if the whole slayer thing was a delusion in Buffy's mind? When Buffy wakes up in an asylum and is told that her memories of being a vampire slayer are all made-up fantasies, there's this surreal moment as I watched when I actually thought: Are they actually going to pull a Dallas on me, here? This one tip-toed into Twilight Zone territory, which may be why I liked it so much. Buffy is wrestling with one reality where she is the Chosen One, and another where she's a lunatic--but her parents are alive. Tough call. It was episodes like this and my #3 pick that made the sixth season such a head-and-shoulders improvement over the previous season which kind of trod water in my view.
#3: "Villains" (Season 6, Episode 20) - Willow goes ballistic. And that's putting it nicely. The sixth season had an odd appeal to me, as the main villains were the three schleps who took up the dark arts in order to take down Buffy--like if Revenge of the Nerds was a villain's tale--and not the usual supernatural super-baddy. Buffy's gets shot, but Willow's squeeze Tara gets killed thanks to a stray bullet through the chest. That tears it with Willow who embraces her dark side and not only goes after the three nerdy villains, ripping the flesh off of one in one of the most graphically memorable scenes in the show's history, but she ends up trying to destroy everyone else in her insane rage. I love Willow, but I lust evil Willow.
#2: "Fear Itself" (Season 4, Episode ??) - Halloween, and the Scooby gang are going to their first college campus party. A costume party, no less. "Nightmares" was a similar episode of note from the first season, but this one had a better blend of funny and frights. And seeing Anya (Emma Caufield) prancing around in that bunny costume in a flagrant "f*ck you" to all the slutty costumes women wear on Halloween was a nice touch. The only thing better than watching each character contend with their greatest fear was finally discovering the fear demon responsible for their torment. Definitely a classic.
#1: "Hush" (Season 4, Episode 10) - One of the key factors that made this show so damned fun to watch was the dialogue. So, when an enemy comes to Sunnydale that robs everyone of their voices, this episode might have been asking for trouble. Instead, it absolutely shines. The dread and suspense as those well-dressed zombie-ish creatures floating around town offing people is amazing. If these guys had been recurring characters something would have been lost, but it exemplified how good Whedon and company were at creating compelling antagonists for stand-alone episodes. Love, love, love this episode.
Well, that's my list. Out of seven seasons, there are many episodes worth mentioning that are conspicuous by their absence, I admit. Which episode did I leave out that you would absolutely have to include in your fave five?