Buffy the Vampire Slayer series review

Series ran 1996 to 2003

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Commentary

Season 1 not included
Season 2 – DVD review (1997–98)
Season 3 not included (1998–99)
Season 4 -DVD review (1999–00)

Season 5 (mid-point)

2nd favourite show

Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy

Buffy is always worth watching, of course (especially with Spike as a regular character), but this season is taking a while to get going. I was a bit alarmed that the opening Dracula episode bordered on cheesy; fortunately, that didn’t continue. I’m not at all enamored of the new Dawn character, though. She’s just irritating. And Riley is starting to get dull.

Season 5 (end)

Favourite show

Weak spots first: Too many characters, resulting in occasionally uneven character development. A relatively uninteresting (though attractive) villain. And some weak episodes, although the slide into cheese (Dracula) didn’t last long.

Strengths: The Spike character arc was a season-long delight. Dispensing with Riley improved the show. And some individual shows were among the best of any programs anytime, anywhere, particularly these three:

  • The Body (aka Buffy’s Mom dies): No soundtrack, few special effects. Just the shock of suddenly losing someone you love.
  • Fool for Love (aka Spike flashback episode): Spike gains a back story, and depths previously unimaginable for a soulless demon.
  • The Gift (aka Buffy dies): Buffy saves the world by sacrificing herself. The scattered season (mostly) comes together with a stunning finale.

Season 6 (mid-point)

2nd favourite show: A

Buffy and Spike

Strengths

A great start, and already two classic episodes.
Buffy usually stumbles out of the gate. This year, though, it actually had strong opening episodes, leading to two amazing ones: Once More with Feeling (the Musical) and Tabula Rasa (everyone loses their memory).

Spike and Buffy.
This isn’t a healthy relationship, but it certainly is an interesting one. Bring it on.

Weaknesses

The biggie: Willow’s magic = drugs plotline.
This might have been OK as a subtle metaphor, but treating magic as an exact equivalent of drugs, complete with pushers, withdrawal shakes, and dehydration, is very “after-school special” and rather stupid. It does not follow from what’s been depicted about magic before, it ignores the fact that Willow’s magic skills have been crucial in past battles (unless that’s an upcoming dilemma), and worst of all, it has deprived us of the “Willow goes evil” plot that seemed to be brewing and would have been much more interesting.

The weak villains.
Apparently there will be no “big bad” this year. Considering we haven’t had a really good “big bad” since Faith and the Mayor in Season 3, that would be OK—if only the “little bads” weren’t so lame (the geek trio, the wig lady…).

Season 6 (end)

2nd favourite show: A

After an incredibly compelling start, Buffy stumbled mid-season. Willow’s addiction plot, stemming from the ludicrously over-the-top “Wrecked” episode, made the character almost unbearable to watch. Poor Dawn had little to do but whine and throw tantrums. Anya and Xander’s break-up seemed insufficiently motivated, and thus designed merely to surprise.

As for our central characters, Spike and Buffy, the mid-season writing failed them as well. I think what they were trying to convey is that Buffy, having used Spike as a sex toy in order to regain the ability to feel at all, was now trying to bring up the passion and feeling within herself. Unfortunately, Buffy just came across as kind of cold, and her repeated mini-epiphanies became kind of annoying.

As for Spike, I think he was supposed to be getting increasingly crazed and desperate once Buffy broke up with him, such that his evil side was coming out more. Unfortunately, he still mostly seemed the sympathetic, hurt party, which I don’t think was the idea.

Thankfully, the season had one heck of ending. Boom! Spike and Anya have solace sex—on film. Boom! Spike’s attempt to apologize for it turns into an attempted rape. Boom! Buffy literally busts Warren’s balls. And boom! Warren takes revenge on Buffy, but accidentally kills Tara, which leads to…

Evil Willow, who articulates all our complaints about this season (particularly enjoyable was her rant against whiny Dawn) and who kind of, if you squint, makes up for the awful-ness that was her addiction plot. And who gives Giles an opportunity to come back and remind us all how wonderful he was, and how much he was missed. And who gives Anya, finally out of Xander’s shadow, her best episodes all season. And dear old Xander actually gets to save the world.

Leaving the season with Spike getting what he wants, so that Buffy can get what he deserves. Word to Angel: you are no longer the only vampire with a soul in the Buffyverse.

And now I’m so looking forward to next year—though I really hope Joss Whedon can give the individual scripts the attention they’ve obviously lacked at times this year.

Season 7 (mid-point)

Favourite show

Spike and Buffy

Coming off an uneven year, season 7 has been a delight so far. We have the best Big Bad ever: The First, who can take the form of any dead entity, including all vampires and all past Big Bads. As a result, we never really know who’s good, who’s bad—who’s really who. We have an unaddicted Willow, an unannoying Dawn, and an integrated Xander. We have the strongest Buffy in years, admitting to past failings and dealing with current problems head on. We have James Marsters’ unerring skill in portraying the complexity of Spike, who this year has appeared in every guise imaginable, from completely evil to utterly insane. Giles hasn’t appeared enough, but at least he’s still appearing.

There have been a few “filler” episodes this season, but no bad ones, and at least one classic, in “Selfless” (the episode about Anya). And special note must be made of the last 10 minutes of “Beneath You”, in which Gellar and Marsters enact one of the most powerful scenes on television ever.

Season 7 (end)

Favourite show

Buffy in the finale

This season started out very strongly. Did it keep up that pace? Mmm, not quite. Much like last year, it ran into some mid-season problems. Such as…

Poor or non-existent character arcs

This problem was most egregious in the case of Anya. Her very strong early story of realizing she no longer had the heart to be a vengeance demon, and indeed, really needed to figure out who she really was led to… very little, unfortunately. In many episodes, she just had a few quippy lines. Sometimes she wasn’t even there. A fine character wasted until some nice moments at the end.

But original Scoobie Giles didn’t fare much better. Some complained that his occasional absences from a show weren’t always explained. I really didn’t care about that. But I did care that his personality was just off for much of the year, for no apparent purpose. And just as inexplicably, in the last two episodes, he became himself again.

Xander started off the year with this new impression of competence and confidence that was great, and all year he could be relied upon to say the right thing at the right time. But he really didn’t have a lot to do.

And finally, Willow did have a true season-long arc, as she struggled to control her magic without losing herself in it. That was a good and necessary story, and Willow did get entire episodes mostly devoted to it. However, the pacing wasn’t always on. For example, in Get It Done she does a big spell to get Buffy back; then she goes to Angel and does the restoration spell with little trouble. But in the penultimate episode, she’s too scared to even magically scan the scythe? Huh?

Big bad peters out

The First Evil—the big bad who can be any dead person it wants—had the potential to be really interesting. Unfortunately, that potential wasn’t totally realized. Yeah, it was a neat way to get Drusilla, Jonathan, the Mayor, and the others back, but being non-corporeal, it was never really scary. It also wasn’t all that smart. And it was never completely clear, even at the end, what the First’s plan was. Sometimes it seemed to be omniscient, sometimes not so much, and that wasn’t explained well either.

Too many characters

Sigh. The potentials. Again, this could have been an interesting thing to explore, but the actuality was a bunch of annoying teenage girls taking time away from the characters we loved.

So now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, why do I still put Buffy among the best on TV?

Not all character arcs were poor or non-existent

Buffy herself had a strong storyline, and often came across more sympathetically than she has in a while. We could see her struggle to resolve different aspects of herself—the warrior, the woman, the friend—and how isolating that could be. Her victory in the end truly was satisfying.

And going through that journey with her was Spike, coping with a new soul, haunting by the First Evil, love of Buffy, and a strong desire to be a good man. A hero. His journey from insanity in the basement to being the First’s pawn to saving the world on the strength of his soul was truly riveting.

And a few words about Dawn. Probably more could have been explored there about her unusual origins and what powers they might confer. But mainly, I’m just glad that the character didn’t irritate me at all this year. Truly anyone can be redeemed.

Some strong episodes

Not all the great episodes were in the first half of the season. “Get It Done,” with Buffy jumping through a portal to find the origins of Slayer power, was a visual and intellectual feast. “Chosen” was a very satisfying, well-written series finale. And “Lies my Parents Told Me,” while not quite as strong as it might have been, was still an interesting exploration of Spike’s early vampire days.

Not all the extraneous characters were a waste of space

Andrew, of all people, ended up being one of the most amusing and even endearing of characters (who has also happened to get a better character arc than most of the regulars). Given his grating origins, that’s saying something. Principal Wood added some sex appeal and mystery. (It was OK that we were always kind of suspicious of him, cause we hadn’t known him for seven years.) And Faith’s return was very welcome and well-written. I’ve read complaints that her behaviour in Sunnydale was different than on Angel. But I say that moving in to lead Angel’s small band of committed demon-hunters is very different than being faced with an “army” of frightened teenage girls, so her differing reaction made sense.

It’s the emotions, baby

If Buffy sometimes lacked in logical coherence, it rarely failed to make me feel. It was funny, it was poignant, it was infuriating, it was frustrating, it was exhilarating… I cared about this show, right to the end. And that alone makes it great in my book.

Cast

Stars Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summer

Co-stars Alyson Hannigan as Willow Rosenberg, Nicholas Brendon as Xander Harris, Anthony Stewart Head as Rupert Giles, David Boreanez as Angel, Seth Green as Oz (S2–S5), James Marsters as Spike (S2–S7), Michelle Trachtenberg as Dawn Summers (S5–S7), Emma Caulfield as Anya (S3–S7), Amber Benson as Tara Maclay (S5–S6), Marc Blucas as Riley Finn (S4–S5), and Kristine Sutherland as Joyce Summers.

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