It’s hard to follow such an amazing and captivating season as BTVS season five was. After the season ended, the writers et al had few things to deliver, but one of those included the need to show how Buffy was connected to the dark side. Much of season five was spent on telling us over and over again as such, but never really showing us. Since Buffy’s death, it was the perfect opportunity, writer-wise, to have her come back “different.” Season six dealt with that — in Spike being able to harm Buffy, without fleshing that specific aspect out — but only as an excuse.
One of the season’s best moments is when Buffy cries in Tara’s lap after finding out that there’s nothing different about her core. She’s the same Buffy. And it continues to the moment when she’s hallucinating the fact that she’s in an insane asylum back in LA (something I actually would not have minded, to be honest) and believes it to be true because how can someone let someone they hate touch them that way?
In many ways, that’s what makes Buffy season six great. The few episodes leading into the middle part of the season are fantastic. And the final three episodes: absolute gold. And of course, there was sprinkles of genius everywhere in between. The problem? It was always just a bit inconsistent. Imagine my (not good) surprise when I saw the opening credits of the first episode, watching everyone’s Turn Faces and Tony Head was nowhere to be found. And then the ending credits, where a second showrunner was added. No. Already points in the cons column.
(Full disclosure at this point: I’ve already watched all the way to the series finale. And a few episodes into this season, I dropped Angel. Angel was great and all but it was getting in the way of me watching Buffy, and I just could not care less about it at the moment. At some point, I’ll try to pick it up again. But I had to drop it to finish BTVS in time, no matter how cute Amy Acker is.)
Change is good, don’t misunderstand. It’s part of what BTVS does best. But where season six failed, in areas that season five absolutely shined, was its tonality. It’s not that it’s a grim season, though it is. It’s just that it goes from bleak to slapstick and sometimes veers into melodrama. It hits rock bottom when it presents season one-level episodes. Tragic. It’s gravely inconsistent in that regard, all of which can be attributed, I’m sure, to promoted producers and a new network.
That said, I think the season is mostly saved by treating Buffy’s arc quite well. It’s tough to do an entire season of your main character going through a sort of depression, having your supporting characters deal with the dangers of addiction, and the insecurities of imminent adulthood. But at the fringes, season six is fantastic.
Let’s break it up.
Buffy: Self-loathing to epiphany
When Buffy dies at the end of season five, it’s out of admiration for her sister but also out of desire to end her life of being a slayer. A lot of this comes up again during season seven, where the potentials describe that they wouldn’t be able to handle that much pressure… or perhaps that they wouldn’t want to. The same is true for Buffy, even if she’s the chosen one from all of the chosen ones, in a sense. And so Buffy dies. She’s supposed to die; it was her time to die. Someone else is waiting in line and it was her time to be able to let go. She mentions this to Giles during season six, too.
But she’s resurrected by a group of friends who think that what they were doing was for the betterment of Buffy, superficially of course. Much of it, also, has to do with the fact that they just want Buffy back because she’s their friend, disregarding Buffy’s Gift. However, Buffy comes back not from hell but from heaven to a place where everything is hard and violent and the ability to feel grateful for that is nonexistent. She descends into it in “Once More, With Feeling,” where she pleads for Sweet to take her life. This time, it’s not half-because she loves Dawn. It’s just that she plainly doesn’t want to go on living anymore. And it’s bleak.
No one can understand it as much as someone who is pure demon, like Spike, which is why she goes to him in solace (and so does Anya later on). Because Buffy thinks of Spike as someone that doesn’t directly affect her life, or even as someone whose opinions about her don’t really matter all that much, it’s easier to talk to him. It’s also a culmination of letting Spike in her ear, telling her that her friends won’t understand her. But after she lets everyone know, albeit not to her consent thanks to the musical, what she truly feels about her life, her friends, and how she wants to end it… she begins to descend even more to the point of sleeping with Spike in “Smashed.” After Spike’s chip doesn’t work on Buffy, he starts to become a viable option in her eyes. There’s no doubt that Buffy is attracted to Spike before then, but she’s never really seen him as someone that could contend to be a love interest (in a way, he’s lower than Riley). But after he’s a real threat, he’s the only person that allows Buffy to feel again, culminated in physical punches and ultimately sexual prowess when both the structure of the building collapses as does Buffy’s internal temple.
This is when Buffy begins to, basically, loathe herself. And it’s not until she breaks down with Tara that she’s on a road to recover from that, even if we got glimpses that she doesn’t want to die in episodes like “Gone” or that the core of her being thinks vampire slaying isn’t too awful like in “Tabula Rasa.” Of course, not without being tempted back into the easy route out with her hallucinations of being in an asylum. But she chooses to be stronger than her inhibitions and ultimately discovers that she loves her life, her friends, and the beauty of the pendulum-like emotions that come with it.
Thoughts on the others…
Willow: What doesn’t really work for Willow this season is that the writers kind of turned her storyline into an obvious parallel about drug addiction. However, what does work for Willow this season — beyond just being able to be absolutely badass — is that in the end it turns out to be more about Willow’s character and personality than anything else. As we’ve known her, Willow is someone who thinks she lacks the elements it takes to shine in the spotlight. What the middle of the season did was make “magic” something that was changing Willow as opposed to dealing head on with the idea that Willow was actually using magic to become the person she aspired to be. It was a bit whacked in that way. But whatever. Absolute rebound by making Willow the most amazing thing that’s happened to BTVS by season’s end. Update: What I forgot to mention is that towards the end of the season, it works because after all of Willow’s rehab, it still did not help her become “dark” out of nowhere. That’s because the Scoobies were treating it like it were a drug as opposed to treating Willow for who she is. So I liked the switch there and proving that it’s not just an addiction.
Xander: Xander actually has two arcs this season — his entering adulthood and the morphing of his relationship with Buffy. While Willow is off being preoccupied with magic and regaining Tara’s affections, Xander becomes the natural next person in line to sort of just be there. Some of this transpired in season five, from the moment when Xander tells Buffy about the problems she has with Riley in “Into the Woods.” (So much so in season five, actually, that I’m surprised there was no romance brought up again in their relationship, which seemed awfully apparent at times in season five on Buffy’s side of things…) I think that Xander sort of thinks of Buffy as a flawless moral compass, someone he can follow, and someone who is unattainable because of all of these things, that is until he finds out that she and Spike have been sleeping together. There’s also the fact that Xander isn’t quite ready to head into adulthood, which is evidenced by his insecurities in marrying Anya. And, what is mostly a series arc, Xander’s own insecurities about being the only normal human in the Scoobies group. He gets to save the world this season, though! Go Xander!
Giles: Y U NO HERE? (Okay, I get that his absence forces the group to grow up, BUT WHY?)
Anya: Look, I really love Anya, but I sort of don’t like what they did to her at the end of the season here.
Dawn: My favorite thing about Dawn this season is that the writers took a mostly throwaway line about Dawn never having paid for lipstick into something that was real about her character, and added to the arc. But she does get a bit whiny this season.
Tara: A couple of days prior to the episode I had read that Tara dies from a gunshot but still… SO. MANY. FEELS.
Spike: Because Spike is a huge part of the main character’s journey, it’s important to discuss. What Spike does this season is just continuously prove that he’s absolutely evil. The chip hasn’t done anything to change him in any way, which he showcases when he tries to kill a random woman and then tries to kill Buffy (and then tries to rape Buffy). It’s just something that’s a part of him, because he’s a vampire. But his love for her makes him want to become a better person, allowing him to make the decision to get a soul.
The Trio: While I think they were fun, I still don’t think they could match up to Glory’s charisma. And once again, their motivations were ill-defined, just as season-long villains usually are. A lot of what made Glory work was that she very easily tied into Buffy’s journey for that season, while The Trio seriously teamed up just to be a pain in Buffy’s ass, as she put it so pithily. I do however think that Warren transformed into evil quite well, and Andrew was actually one of my favorite parts of season seven. There’s just a lot to this that’s a bit unsettling. It already made almost no sense that these guys would want to harm Buffy, but on top of that Jonathan continued to stay for reasons unknown. Whatever, they were fun.
Season 6’s best episodes
“Once More, With Feeling:” How can someone NOT love OMWF? Everyone has just been telling me to watch it ever since I began season one, but that obviously would have been a mistake. What’s so great about OMWF, beyond it’s hilarity, is that it’s actually an integral episode for the entire season. Everyone has pent up secrets they have yet to speak about but they’re forced to because of the musical.
“Tabula Rasa:” This is an example of Buffy doing campiness and slapstick in later seasons correctly. Let’s just be honest here, this is pure fun. I love the attention to Dawn calling Xander “Alex” while their memory is out. But just like OMWF, this is an important episode for Buffy and Willow’s arcs, too.
“Smashed:” Once again, personally at least, another look into how the series can do the campiness at this point in its run. But I also feel like this is an absolutely fantastic end to the series of great episodes that preceded it which allows the season to enter its second act.
“Older and Far Away:” I like me a good bottle episode, and when it’s as good as this… I LOVE THEM.
“Villains:” COME ON. An episode where someone gets skinned by Willow? A+!
I also sort of like “Normal again.” At some points it veered into some sort of show I don’t think I want to see, but in terms of concept I like it.
And the low points…
“Doublemeat Palace:” Ugh what was this seriously? This was like a lost season one episode that didn’t make the cut because it was worse than season one episodes. Like, just no writers. What were you thinking?
“As You Were:” Leaving and returning did Riley no good in being any more entertaining.
“Hell’s Bells:” The unfortunate descent into melodrama.
“Entropy:” Ugh, no. Just no. That time the show became Gossip Girl.
As well as things like “Gone,” which was really fun in execution but were completely season one-like, and “Wrecked” which was seductive yet at times laughable, and so on. The middle of season six just did not bode well.
Season six is definitely not without its flaws, but at the fringes, it’s a good season. I definitely enjoy it more than earlier seasons, but a lot of that may be because I have come to like the characters. Though, I can’t deny that something was just off about this season. It wasn’t that the characters were disoriented, like season four. It was most definitely a creative offness. Then again, when you have to follow season five, which was fantastically structured and meticulous, it’s not difficult to come off a bit undeveloped and undervalued.
Update: I forgot to mention that I think the writers understood this and knew their problems. In season four, Whedon and Co. decided to end the season arc an episode early and just spend the finale on our core characters, which was a good decision. In this season, towards the end of the season, Buffy and Giles laugh at how ludicrous things got for the Scoobies that season… because at times it’s that whacked.
But I have to admire a season that pushes its audiences this much, so late into the game. I know that many people don’t like this season, and I know many others don’t rewatch too much, because of how dark and grim it gets. But that’s sort of what makes the season great in my eyes, too. It’s the fearlessness with which the writers approached it. It’s just that at points, their decisions aren’t all that great in particular to the middle of the season.
I apologize if I missed anything. I’ll be writing about season seven in a couple of days, a season I enjoyed a lot more, so look out for that. But I am looking for my next series to rewatch. In some ways, I wish I would have done this episode by episode, because including an entire season, it’s sometimes hard to get every little detail you wanted to discuss in. In any case, please begin suggesting another show (if you want)!