Buffy Reflections: Season 6

I think I expected a lighter tone. A decline in quality. Some fun, some tragedy.

I was wrong about everything, especially the tragedy. There wasn’t some; Buffy’s sixth season is dripping with it.

I knew we were in for some real darkness from the two-part premiere alone. It was bleak stuff, with Buffy resurrected amidst an assault on Sunnydale by a group of demon rapist bikers. They were not playful, but even the gut-churning threats one made about “incompatible anatomy” couldn’t compare to the shock of seeing Buffy’s decaying corpse right before Willow’s spell took effect. I knew she would be ok, but actually witnessing our beloved heroine’s rotted face? Not pulling any punches, there.

Coupled with the ending reveal—that Buffy was at peace in heaven (or something like it) and her friends pulled her away to suffer on Earth—made for a pretty tragic set-up. I was worried Buffy coming back to life would feel like a cop out, but no, it took her the entire season and a lot of pain to come to grips with her renewed mortality.

The overall arc was less cohesive than last year, but that was for the best. After fighting off a god for twenty-two episodes it would have felt a bit forced to try and top the threat level right away, so they went in the opposite direction with the Trio. The nerdy losers teaming up to take over Sunnydale? Hilarious, and because it was Buffy I knew it was only a matter of time until things got real.

But before that, the goddamn musical episode. I knew it was coming, and somehow resisted listening to any of the songs until my first viewing. Since then I’ve played the soundtrack every day, and don’t anticipate stopping anytime soon. “Once More with Feeling” was a wonderful gift from Joss that celebrated everything great about the world he created.

Luckily such a high came right before Giles departed, something that could have easily upset me considering he’s been my favorite character since season two. But even I admit it was the right decision—they didn’t really know what to do with him any more. And we even got some last laughs with “Tabula Rasa.”

Then Spike and Buffy got together, and oh my god it was hot. Sorry, visceral reaction. Their relationship this season was destructive, abusive, and awful for the both of them, culminating in a near rape that I still don’t know whether or not they should have depicted. It was believable without ruining either character, but still a very extreme place to go. And as to the “hot” thing, yeah, I can’t think of a TV relationship with more sexual chemistry, which was crucial. As bad as it was for them to be together, I completely understood why they kept going back to each other.

There was a short lull after the fantastic “Dead Things”, with perhaps the worst episode of the series “Older and Far Away” and the unfortunate return of Riley in “As You Were.”

But things picked up from there, with the heartbreaking collapse of Xander and Anya’s relationship as well as “Normal Again,” the episode that suggests the entire show is Buffy’s elaborate, schizophrenic delusion.

Then the season’s endgame was sublime. Tara’s brutal and sudden death unleashed Dark Willow, who proved a phenomenal big bad to wrap everything up. The whole “magic is a drug” thing grated at times, but to actually see the danger realized in such a powerful way was worth it. I don’t think a single moment of violence on the show has shocked me like Warren’s flaying, and the fact that sweet, lovable Willow of all people was the one to do it just made everything more horrible.

Oh, and Giles’ big damn heroes moment? Beautiful. Almost surprising that he lived through the finale, but I suppose they never could have had Willow forgive herself if she’d murdered him.

Only one season left now, and of course it’s a bittersweet feeling. I don’t want it to end yet, but I need to continue on my journey with these wonderful characters. Hey, at least there are still comics to read afterwards.

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Buffy Reflections: Season 5

I’d heard this was the one. The year where Buffy reached its peak and earned its chance to bow out gracefully before a questionable (but still plenty rewarding) change of network and two more seasons that didn’t quite overstay their welcome, but also weren’t as all-around great. We’ll see.

For now, I can say the fifth season was some damn fine television. Maybe not as rewarding as the second or third—in my book there’s just no beating Angel, Faith, and the Mayor—but certainly more refined. The momentum of the central arc was maintained from beginning to end in so elegant a manner that the series felt far less episodic than in the past. Everything moved the story forwards, a definite step up from season four.

Dawn’s introduction at the end of the pilot was a surprise. I knew she was coming, but I thought that happened next season. While I was under the impression that she was disliked by most of the fan base, I was happy to find that I didn’t mind her after a little getting used to. Whenever she was annoying it seemed purposeful.

The same can’t be said for Riley, a major drain on the first half of the episodes. I remember thinking he was alright last year, if nothing special. Here he was unbearable. Thankfully he got the unceremonious sendoff he deserved (sans embarrassing death).

Spike, on the other hand, got a major boost. Last year it was as if they weren’t sure what role they wanted him to fill, but having him fall in love with Buffy was superb, sad, hilarious stuff that gave us episodes like “Fool for Love” and “Intervention.”

As for the Scoobies, Xander was fine, continuing his romance with the ever-more-likable Anya, and Willow in turn grew closer to her girlfriend Tara. A couple of fantastic relationships.

I was a bit disappointed by Giles’s place in the show, now a bit sidelined, but at least there was some good material with him now owning the magic shop.

On the antagonistic side of things, Glory was a great big bad—distinct from any of the other evil forces we’d seen thus far and always a major threat that could still provide some twisted comic relief.

On that note, “Triangle” was another favorite, probably the most fun installment of a dark season that rarely pulled any punches. Case in point, “The Body” lived up to its notorious reputation in how it depicted the characters’ immediate reactions to the sudden death of Buffy’s mother Joyce. Beautiful, heartbreaking, and all around agonizing to watch, it’s among the greatest television episodes I’ve ever seen. Even non-fans of the show owe it to themselves to check it out.

If this had been the last season, I’m not sure what the enduring effect of Buffy’s death would have been. As it stands, it was a perfect finale for this particular story, with our heroine making the ultimate sacrifice to save those she loved.

After a month-long holiday break without the show, I’m more than ready for her resurrection.