Saturday, November 1, 2014

Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Season Six)

Warning: This post contains spoilers from the sixth season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. If you have not seen the sixth 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.

So, Buffy died in the finale of season five. I had heard that this was originally supposed to be the end of the series, but then it continued on for two more seasons. And, of course, you can't have Buffy The Vampire Slayer without, well, Buffy the Vampire Slayer; so she's resurrected early in season six.

Now, normally, this would be an excellent opportunity to cry "sell-out", but the truth is, the way the show handles Buffy's resurrection is intelligent, not without serious repercussions, and significant to the evolving atmosphere and themes of the show, so it's not cheap at all (like it was in the first season) and therefore I have no complaints. I don't feel, either, that the show ever jumped the shark, right up to its cancellation, so it's not like you'll ever hear me saying, "the show would have been better off if it had ended sooner than it did."

So, Buffy ended up going to Heaven, although her still living friends, consumed with grief as a result of her absence, and partly concerned that she may have been sent to a Hell dimension to be tormented for eternity (like Angel was at the end of season two), decide to resurrect her. Mostly it's Willow, though, who is the only one with the magic power to pull it off. Buffy returns to life, at first thinking she's been sent to Hell, because, after Heaven, Earth is a pretty sucky place to be (a feeling with which I can relate). So Buffy spends most of the season depressed, looking for some way to renew her will to live. She also, being in a darker place, finds herself willing to reciprocate Spike's feelings for a change.

Now as for the repercussions I mentioned, Willow's decision to muck up the way of things by bringing Buffy back has consequences. Not only does this include guilt, after the secret gets out that Buffy was snatched from Heaven rather than rescued from Hell as her friends would have preferred to believe, but it also serves as an excellent example of Willow's unhealthy relationship with magic. The uncovering of her magical potential in the previous seasons was exciting. It was nice to see Willow with some real power - at times rivaling or even surpassing Buffy - elevating her from her less significant role as techy sidekick. But here, her usage of magic is cleverly likened to a drug addiction, which results in some serious turmoil between her and her more magically ethical partner, Tara.

The "Big Bad" for this season is the nerd gang, whose mastermind is Warren (Adam Busch), the man who builds sex bots from last season. I wanted to like him at first, because I like the idea of building sex bots, but he turns out to be the most despicable character on the show - a misogynistic, rapist murderer. The nerd gang includes two other, more redeemable characters - Jonathan (Danny Strong), the most reluctant villain, whom we've seen before, and Andrew (Tom Lenk), who will get his redemption in the following season.

The fact that this season's Big Bad is not a supernatural villain, but a gang of nerds who band together to "take over the world" is perfectly lampooned (along with Dawn's sudden appearance as a little sister in the last season) in the episode Normal Again, which posits this reality to be a figment of Buffy's imagination, while captive in a mental institution. The cliched device of "it's all a dream; a madman's delusion" is obviously false from the viewer's perspective, but what's so brilliant about this episode is how convincing it makes the alternate reality sound. It's like, you know the episode is going to debunk it in the end (because otherwise, there wouldn't be much of a show left to tell), but what if it's really true after all? The Buffy we're watching is, in the end, just a product of somebody's imagination...

Some other interesting developments in this season include Buffy's stint as a fast food worker, and Giles finally leaving the show as a regular character by flying back to England (although his shocking return at the end of the season, to go head-to-head with evil Willow, was one of the season's highlights). Also, Dawn has her first kiss in another fun Halloween episode - although it turns out to be with a vampire (it must run in the family). And Xander and Anya's loving relationship finally comes to a head, when their wedding is planned and Xander ultimately chickens out and leaves Anya at the altar.

I like Xander as a character - he's a goofball right from the start, but he's funny and he grounds the series. But leaving Anya at the altar is a major strike against him. I mean, I can understand his misgivings, but I just don't see it as being the right decision. It's almost like, in an inverse of "plot armor" which protects important characters from devastating fates (like getting killed off), characters on Buffy are forced to make bad decisions (like Buffy letting Riley go) and endure suffering because it makes good drama. But it does make good drama, so what can I say?

One of the stand-out episodes in this season (and the show on the whole) is the infamous musical episode, titled Once More, With Feeling. I had heard a lot of accolades about this episode from other fans of the series. To be honest, I was dreading it, because I am not a fan of musicals. But finally, I came to it, and I have to say that it wasn't that bad. And, in fact, I appreciate it greatly because, instead of just being a filler episode just for the sake of being able to do a musical, the plot of the episode and the songs themselves all tie in to the dominant themes of the series and specifically the characters' struggles and motivations at this point of the series, and also drive the plot forward (examples: Buffy's lack of passion, Spike's conflicted feelings for her, Giles' motivations for leaving the country). So, kudos.

Season six also features the most infuriating episode of the whole series - not in a "good drama" but in a plain pissed off sort of way. The title of the episode is, appropriately, Seeing Red. Having salvaged her sense of self-worth and broken things off with Spike, Spike attempts to rape Buffy. You could say a lot of things about this scene, not least of which whether it was worth including. And one of the hardest things is understanding that this is really not out of character for Spike - who is, after all, still a bloodsucking freak, in spite of the chip in his head and the pain in his cold, dead heart. But it still feels out of character for him (maybe because by this point you've really begun empathizing with him), and the way it's filmed is just...really soap opera-y. I did not like it - but then, I don't think you're supposed to. It's just one of those things where it's like, this is going to happen, you're not going to like it, but just sit through it and see where it takes these characters in the long run.

The other thing that happens in this episode is that a vengeful Warren gets a gun and fires some shots at Buffy, wounding her and inadvertently killing Tara in the process. If it were some supernatural curse it would be different - like when Glory sucked Tara's mind out in the last season (which I thought was going to be it for her, only she eventually got cured). But this is just some unexpected gang-violence-type run-by shooting! And just after Tara and Willow were reconciling after Willow's magic addiction had tore them apart...

All along I had heard that Willow at some point in the series "goes bad", and I'd long wondered what would make such a good character undergo such a drastic transformation. I was hoping it would be something like the vamp Willow from an alternate reality we saw in season three, and that it would be a more lasting transformation (I secretly harbored some hopes that Willow would be the Big Bad in season seven...). But it makes perfect sense that the senseless murder of Tara in cold blood - right in front of Willow no less - would be the thing to turn her into a mad, apocalypse-desiring sorceress.

Her treatment of Warren was completely justified, by the way, and his death couldn't have been any more justified at anybody else's hands. I know that Willow has to feel remorse, and her friends can't simply accept that she killed a human being easily and all that, if she's to remain human herself, but I still can't help feeling that Warren got entirely what he had coming. No tears will be lost mourning for him.

Finally we come to the season finale, which is a bit of a twist, with Willow trying to destroy the world, and only Xander being capable of talking her down. Very emotional, and probably a much more satisfying ending than anything the lame nerd gang could have come up with. Another twist involves Spike leaving town to find a way to turn himself back to "the way he was", after being rebuked and utterly rejected by Buffy. I had presumed that he was looking for a way to get his chip removed and become truly bad again - a somewhat exciting prospect, considering that he makes such a good villain. But then in the last moment of the finale, it's revealed that he's got his soul back - essentially making him "the way he was" even before he became a vampire, all those years ago! What a shock!

Continue to season seven!

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