Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the best example of a supernatural teen drama, and most of its cast are still beloved 25 years later. Angel was the perfect vampire boyfriend years before Twilight or The Vampire Diaries became popular, and Buffy was essential to the rise of strong female characters. Likewise, Giles is considered one of fantasy’s best mentors, and Willow is both the nerdy best friend and a powerhouse in her own right.
Given how much fans love the Scooby Gang, it was all the more disturbing when they became the villains. The group struggled daily against the forces of evil, but they were by no means purely good. They got mean and mean at times, and that turned exciting and powerful characters into terrifying threats. In some episodes, Buffy and her friends became far scarier enemies than the demons and monsters they were meant to fight.
Season 6, episode 8
This episode marked the beginning of Willow’s journey into villainy. After Buffy and Tara confront Willow about the harm her spells have caused them, Willow decides to cast a more powerful spell that made everyone forget who they were. It’s one of Buffy’s funniest episodes, but what it says about Willow is concerning.
While trying to regain their memories, the Scooby Gang must confront a demon loan shark, but he is just an obstacle. Willow is the problem. She is completely addicted to magic and refuses to take responsibility for her actions. Instead, Willow’s pursuit of a happy life comes at the expense of others’ free will.
Season 5, Episode 3
After being attacked by a demon, Xander splits into two, with one lazy and emotional version and the other highly driven. The two Alexes think of themselves as the “real” Alex and their doppelganger as a demon, which immediately causes them to try to kill each other.
The real villain of the episode is a demon named Toth, but he is quite easily defeated by Buffy and Riley. As one of the show’s many real-life metaphors, the episode is most meaningful for what it says about Xander, who feels deeply conflicted with two different ways of life. The fact that both versions immediately turn to murder, however, is an ominous statement about what years of working with the Slayer does to a person’s instincts.
Bewitched, disturbed and bewildered
Season 2, episode 16
As Valentine’s Day approaches, Xander intends to show Cordelia how much he cares. But when Cordelia dumps him because she was facing social backlash for their relationship, he blackmails an aspiring witch into putting a love spell on him in revenge. However, the spell backfires, causing all the women except Cordelia to fall in love with him instead.
Xander has a habit of pushing his feelings on his crushes and overreacting when they reject him. This episode highlights this, as the biggest threat to the town isn’t the evil vampires intent on killing Buffy, but rather an insecure high schooler with too much knowledge of the supernatural world.
Season 4, episode 2
When Buffy moves into her college dorm, she becomes obsessed with her roommate, whose every action drives Buffy crazy. They go through some relatively normal roommate disputes before Buffy decides Kathy is a demon she needs to kill.
Although Kathy ends up being a demon, Buffy is the scariest in this episode. She becomes increasingly violent over minor frustrations, which escalate into physical fights and death threats. It might be a side effect of Kathy trying to steal her soul, but mostly it seems like Buffy can’t handle normal human conflict, which is a terrifying prospect.
Season 6, episode 18
After her disastrous near-marriage, Anya has turned back into a vengeance demon and attempts to wish Xander unimaginable agony. When she can’t get anyone to make that kind of wish, she ends up sleeping with Spike. Xander then decides to kill Spike, which eventually leads everyone to find out about Buffy and Spike’s relationship.
Both Anya and Xander respond to the pain of a breakup with a desire to torture and kill the person they blame for their pain, showing their worst impulses. Spike attempts to sexually assault Buffy in the next episode. Human relations issues are answered with a violence that leaves viewers wondering if there are any heroes left.
Lies my parents told me
Season 7, episode 17
The newly animated Spike has joined the fight against the First, but not all Scoobies accept him. Robin Wood, the son of a once-killed Slayer Spike, teams up with Giles to kill him. Spike defeats Wood and spares his life, but threatens to kill him if he tries again. Buffy says she would let him.
The group faces the most powerful enemy they have ever encountered, and rather than working together, they try to kill each other. The first is incredibly powerful and dangerous, to the point that “winning” means the total destruction of Sunnydale, but this episode shows the Scoobies far darker because their moral codes have been abandoned in favor of “the end justifies the means”.
Season 3, episode 17
Faith and Buffy had a complicated relationship, but “Enemies” certainly showed Faith at her worst. After killing a demon in cold blood, Faith attempts to seduce Angel and rid him of his soul, believing he will then torture and kill Buffy. Although she doesn’t kill Buffy when she has the chance, she certainly seems willing to watch her die.
Faith and Buffy quickly formed a friendship when Buffy learned she wasn’t the only Slayer anymore, and it made Faith’s betrayal that much worse. While the real villain is the mayor, the audience already knows he’s evil. Seeing how far Faith was willing to go is far darker and the first true betrayal within the Scooby Gang, as she had no supernatural excuse for her actions.
Season 6, episode 17
As Buffy tries to find the Trio, she gets attacked by one of their demons and begins to flash between the world of the show and the one where she’s been in an asylum for years for delusions. The alternate universe becomes more likely and Buffy learns that she must kill her friends and family in Sunnydale to regain “health”.
Buffy’s ruthless efficiency in trying to destroy her friends is hard to watch. She knocks them out, ties them up in the basement with the demon, and sets it free to kill them. Buffy is generally seen as powerful and inspiring, but this episode shows that with shaken morals, she’s just a slayer.
Season 3, Episode 9
After finding out that Xander was cheating on her (and then got impaled), Cordelia complains to a new friend about her troubles. Unknowingly, she talks to a demon who grants her wish: “I wish Buffy Summers had never come to Sunnydale. In this alternate universe, Willow and Xander are vampires and they kill several of their old friends.
While Anya is the villain of this episode, Willow and Xander’s vampires are much scarier. Willow in particular is malevolent, torturing Angel and celebrating how many humans she has killed. Plus, the Buffy of the world is hardened to conflict, mindlessly killing. It’s a grim take on the characters, especially since they could easily end up as themselves.
Bad guys ; Two to go; The fall
Season 6, episodes 20-22
This trio of episodes is the climax of Dark Willow’s arc, with the Scoobies sticking around to save the season’s villains while Willow brings destruction and mayhem. After Warner accidentally killed Tara, Willow absorbed as much magic as she could, saved Buffy from her injuries, and then skinned Warren alive. Over the next two episodes, she kills almost every one of her old friends and tries to end the world.
Through this arc, Willow proves that the Joker’s “one bad day” theory is correct. Despite all her progress with her addiction and all her love for her friends, Tara’s death pushes Willow to become everything they fight against. More than that, Dawn and Xander agree that Warren’s death was justified. Dark Willow is terrifying, far surpassing the Trio or any previous villain as a threat.