From Adam to The Mayor to Glory, ranking of every Big Bad on ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’
The iconic Sarah Michelle Gellar is not only returning to TV screens, but is returning to the realm of monster-hunting with the Paramount+ series Wolf Pack. One way of marking this occasion is by revisiting Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the series that made her a household name and was a game-changer for on-screen female heroines. As part of its cultural imprint, it inspired countless spinoff novels, video games, and scholarly academia used to study the show’s themes known as “Buffy Studies.”
This post will be an overview of the primary antagonists from each season known as the “Big Bads.” A ranking based on their personalities as well as their fright factor, this list acknowledges the foes that gave Buffy the most Hell as she stood above the Hellmouth in Sunnydale. These monsters play into how the series used the supernatural as a metaphor for the horrors of adolescence and eventually, adulthood.
From the perils of dating to the themes of grief and depression, the Big Bads reflect how in real life, we’re all standing above a Hellmouth. When going on in our day-to-day lives, there are always heavy forces from outside and within meant to handicap us and make us feel defeated. Thankfully, as the one and only Buffy showed, we can always combat them and move forward.
Besides Sarah Michelle Gellar’s dynamic performance as the titular heroine, the Big Bads are a main reason that the series which initially served as a midseason replacement, and was a continuation of a 1992 cult horror hit, maintains its lasting legacy. As the old saying goes, a hero is only as good as its villains.
7. Adam/The Initiative (Season 4)
Ironically, Season Four is one of my favorite seasons. However, the season’s recurring/one-off villains prove to be more compelling than The Initiative and Adam, its Frankenstein-esque creation. Even Buffy’s former demon roomie Kathy Newman gets extra points above The Initiative just for acknowledging that “Believe” by Cher is a bop. The Initiative playing a prominent role does allow an interesting “science vs. magic” debate as their methods for combatting monster life greatly contrast with the ways of Buffy and her Scoobies. But the idea of the government having hidden agendas is hardly an original horror concept.
6. The Master (Season 1)
Thanks to his authoritative nature and ancient age, The Master easily lives up to its title. When adding how he has more powerful abilities than the average vampire including telekinesis, he’s an intimidating foe for someone who’s the first Big Bad that Buffy faces. Especially when considering Buffy nearly died trying to defeat him. Despite The Master spending most of the shortened season trapped in an underground cave, he’s made all the more compelling by his sneering wit in addition to his imposing command over his subordinates.
5. Dark Willow (Season 6)
There may be some debate as to whether The Trio or Dark Willow is the true Big Bad of Season Six. However, Dark Willow being the one combated in the climax, along with the shock value of Willow’s villainous turn, is enough to give her that title despite her late arrival. Thanks to Alyson Hannigan’s Emmy-worthy work as the dutiful sidekick-turned-temporary adversary, Dark Willow is a lingering incarnation of what grief and addiction can do to a person.
As she enters a relapse after recovering from her dependence on the dark arts due to the sudden death of her partner Tara, Dark Willow serves as an embodiment of the aforementioned demons we combat from within. The next entry on the list plays into similar territory.
4. The First Evil (Season 7)
Having The First Evil as the final season’s main villain is one way of raising the stakes. One reason is because it’s, well, The First Evil. Plus, as it rallies various forces including Ubervamps, the Bringers, and a psychopathic preacher named Caleb, The First Evil goes a step further by engaging in psychological warfare. It has no physical form and can’t be combatted. Yet, it still takes the form of deceased figures from the pasts from everyone in the Scooby Gang as a way of getting into their heads and tearing them apart.
Besides being an apocalyptic villain, The First Evil feels like a metaphor for the pesky voice from within that plagues one with self-doubt, kicking them when they’re already feeling down. As Buffy showed in the series finale when she mouths off the First as she literally gets off the ground after being wounded, such a voice can be drowned out if we just ignore it and keep going.
3. The Mayor and Faith (Season 3)
Given how Sunnydale is a town overrun by monsters, it’s fitting that an evil sorcerer would be the town mayor. Even more ideal is his own plot for destruction involving an Ascension, a transformation into a monster done through a series of rituals. The Mayor’s dubious nature also becomes offset by his uppity family man facade. A man who’s as much about manners as he is about mayhem, The Mayor becomes a more intricate character once he takes on a paternal role for rogue slayer Faith (Eliza Dushku).
An id-driven foil acting as Buffy’s dark half, Faith begins on the good side before feeling so isolated from the Scooby Gang that she sides with the Mayor to have a camaraderie with someone and simply for the thrill of being evil. The surrogate daughter-father dynamic between her and the Mayor is what helps make them a richly diabolical pairing.
2. Angelus, Drusilla, and Spike (Season 2)
Besides our hero’s best friend turning evil, Buffy’s first love joining the dark side was another paralyzing turn. After experiencing a moment of happiness when he and Buffy had sex, causing him to lose his soul, Angel reverts to his sadistic alter-ego Angelus. What makes Angelus scarier than any typical vampire is how he enjoys psychologically torturing his prey as much as traditional bloodthirst. Additionally, him swiftly tormenting Buffy after they went further into their relationship allegorizes the anxieties that teenage girls likely have about relationships.
Creating more trouble is the demented duo of quippy, hedonistic Spike and his beau Drusilla whose unbalanced mind is outweighed by her desire for bloodshed and, eventually, the apocalypse. Once the three join forces, we get a tension-filled love triangle as well as pure chaos.
1. Glory (Season 5)
If villains like Angelus are meant to reflect the terrors of adolescence, Glory is a forceful leeway into the perils of adulthood. Once Buffy cares for her illness-stricken mother, she must now combat another force she can’t easily defeat. A force that is an invulnerable goddess from a Hell dimension in pursuit of the Key which’ll unlock not just a portal into her own world, but that of many worlds. Thanks to the efforts of actress Clare Kramer, Glory is as charismatic as she is menacing, routinely cracking sharp one-liners (“Did anybody order an apocalypse?!”). Between that, her immense power set, and even her killer fashion sense, the mighty Glorificus is a dimension above the rest.