Saturday, November 1, 2014

Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Season Seven)

Warning: This post contains spoilers from the seventh season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. If you have not seen the seventh season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer in its entirety, then continue at your own peril. For a spoiler-free introduction to Buffy The Vampire Slayer, click here.

Season seven is all about passing the Slayer torch to the next generation, and as such, is an excellent season to end the series on. It begins with Dawn entering high school - the newly rebuilt Sunnydale high school - and finally being taken seriously as an ally in the war on evil (which is awesome, but a real strain on my screencapping impulse...). She even starts out getting vampire slaying lessons from Buffy, although she totally gets shafted later on in the season when she gets passed up for the potential Slayers and resumes her background status (though it does make for a great tearjerker of a scene between her and Xander in the episode Potential).

The episode Conversations With Dead People is one of the highlights of this season, and also introduces the latest Big Bad. This time, rather than a vampire or a demon - or even a god - it's the first evil (a.k.a. "The First"), or evil itself, which can only manifest in the incorporeal form of a person who has died. This is also a sneaky way to bring back some crowd favorite characters - especially villains who have been killed in past seasons - even if just for short cameos in this final season of the show.

In addition to its psychological warfare, the First also utilizes two prominent corporeal entities - one being a race of "ubervamps", the paleolithic ancestors of modern vampires. The design is partly reminiscent of the Master from the first season (but without the human intellect), and also probably heavily inspired by the look of Nosferatu. The first one that shows up is suitably badass, although by the end of the season they sadly begin to be treated as cannon fodder. The other agent of the First is a badass preacher named Caleb (Nathan Fillion), whose overbearingly misogynistic ramblings serve as a counterpoint to the final conclusion of the series.

The First's plan is to wipe out the Slayer line once and for all, and it utterly destroys the Watchers Council in the process. It also sends an army of "Bringers" to hunt down and kill all of the potential Slayers that haven't been activated, and so the surviving ones (led by Giles) seek out Buffy (the chosen Slayer) for sanctuary. Buffy makes a lot of dubious decisions of an anti-authority bent in this season, including turning down a power enhancement from the men who initiated the Slayer line, and even alienating Giles (whom she was afraid she couldn't get by without, just last season). It's only at the end of the season that the point of all these decisions becomes clear.

Caleb (inexplicably, and not too smartly) clues Buffy in to the existence of a super slaying weapon (part axe, part stake, all awesome) that was built by a Goddess and kept secret from the patriarchal order of the Watchers. In the finale, she gets Willow to cast a spell (which finally opens her up to white magic) on the weapon, which has the effect of essentially changing the rules about how Slayers work. Instead of one Slayer being born to every generation, now every potential Slayer will have the powers of the chosen one. It skirts dangerously close to overly saccharine feminist pandering, but who can argue with a message as empowering as that?

Other developments in this final season include Anya's reconciliation with the group, after returning to her vengeance demon ways as a result of being left by Xander at the altar. A new character is introduced in the form of Sunnydale High's new Principal Robin Wood (D. B. Woodside), a uniquely charismatic authority figure with mysterious loyalties. A newly-reformed Faith also returns in the latter part of the season, to get in on all the Slayer action. And then there's Spike, who now has a soul. His madness at the beginning of the season was expertly handled, even if it ultimately proves to be more of the First's influence, than that of his newfound conscience.

As great a villain as Spike makes, it's kind of nice to finally see him as a nice, upstanding sort of person - the kind you can get behind. Of course, seeing Buffy's confidence in his goodness is inspiring, too. It's kind of a bummer that he dies in the finale, thanks to a deus ex machina Angel brings in at the eleventh hour, although he finally got redemption in the end, dying in a noble way, and it does kind of leave room in fan's imaginations for Buffy and Angel to maybe get back together again sometime in the indeterminate future...

There were some fun one-off episodes this season, such as Him, in which Dawn and the rest of the girls fall under the influence of a jock with a love spell (although I call it the "slut-shaming episode", for what Buffy says to Dawn, I still like it since Dawn is at her downright sexiest), and Storyteller, where Andrew (Tom Lenk) gets to shine. Did I mention that Andrew (the most forgettable of the nerd trio from the last season) returns and [slowly] earns his redemption among the Buffy gang? I ended up liking Andrew; he's a funny character, and I'm glad that he turned out to be not really evil when everything is all said and done.

On the other hand, much of this season ditches the heavily episodic, monster-of-the-week format - which the primitive first season relied so heavily on - opting instead for a heavy focus on the unfolding events related to the main conflict (and with the gang centralized in Buffy's house this season), thus completing its evolution to a mature, fully-realized serial drama. There's barely any room for "filler" here, and what filler there is, is clever and entertaining.

All in all, it's a fitting ending to the series (although I find myself curious enough to turn my eye toward the [canonical!] continuation of the series in comic book format). It was exciting to see Sunnydale completely destroyed at the end of the season, although with all the emphasis on the Hellmouth, I was disappointed that we did not see the tentacle monster we saw in the first season again. Still, it closed on a nice, uplifting shot of all the survivors. I must say that watching through these seven years worth of television has definitely made me a Buffy fan.

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