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.

Cloud Atlas

I just finished David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, a sweeping, genre-spanning work that’s unlike just about anything else out there.

It’s made up of six novellas, opening with the first half of five of them, then the entire sixth at the center, then moving back outwards and presenting all of the conclusions. The story you begin with is therefore the one you eventually end on.

It starts in the 1850s, and is very much written in the style of the day, with each story closer to the center taking place further in the future. The most enticing are probably the center two, which depict some very depressing projections for where society could be headed.

Each story on its own has merit, but the subtle links between them really sell the cohesiveness of the piece. The protagonist of each tale discovers the previous story within their own narrative, and offers commentary on prior events running the gamut from insightful to derisive. The text heavily suggests that the same soul is being reincarnated across time into many different people, and occasional commentary on the nature of the book itself manages to come off as cleverly self-aware as opposed to obnoxious (one of the stories focuses on a composer who happens to be crafting an opus, Cloud Atlas Sextet, structured like the novel’s musical equivalent).

The characters are rich, the constant change in writing style successful, and the wholly unique format constantly manages to work to the book’s advantage.

And get this: It’s becoming a movie. Yes, the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer are co-directing the hugely ambitious novel, helming three stories apiece. The cast is ridiculous, and though we haven’t seen a trailer yet it’s sure to be one of the most interesting movies of the year regardless of whether it succeeds. So watch out for this one.