Season 5 of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER saw its title character grow up, take on responsibility and learn the meaning of sacrifice. In Season 6, she learns the meaning of suffering. In fact, the whole gang do. If there is a theme to this season then it is personal hell. In the case of Buffy, this is personified by the whole world. She is brought back from what everyone assumed to be a demon dimension, but which turns out to be potentially heaven. This is enough to bring anyone down, but it leaves Buffy disconnected, depressed, self-hating and very little fun at all to be around.
Willow deals with drug addiction (the drug being that of magic), leading to the break up of her relationship and events even more tragic. Dawn's loneliness turns to kleptomania and Xander and Anya's wedding leads to horrible awkwardness and pain. Even Spike, now utterly under Buffy's spell despite himself, manages to suffer and then indulges in a spot of attempted rape. If you're looking for fun time bad guy ass-kicking then rewind all the way back to earlier seasons.
Which is not to say that Season 6 is the worst time that you are ever going to have in front of a TV screen. This is BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and the obsession with darkness is just a side effect of the quality of the plotting and writing that is becoming ever more intelligent and deeper. That inevitably leads to a bit darker as well (well, a lot darker in places). The audience is older by now and so they can take more grown-up stories, well told, well acted and with the trademark cleverness, wit and one-line humour that we have come to expect from the show.
Episode quality is high throughout with one bona fide classic in the shape of the musical Once More With Feeling, which is nowhere near as gimmicky as it sounds. The opening double-episode story Bargaining Part 1 and Bargaining Part 2 is only eclipsed by the dramatic and apocalyptic final trilogy of Villains, Two To Go and Grave. As finale's go, this is as epic as the show has ever attempted and it pulls it off with aplomb. There are also excellent stand alone episodes such as the just for fun Tabula Rasa and the stunning (but deeply dark) Normal Again.
For the first time ever, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER will be difficult for some of the fans, especially younger ones, to watch with the thematic content, but the descent into hell is worth it and pays off in spades.
At the end of Season 5, Buffy had sacrificed her life to save her sister and the world. At the start of Season 6, her friends are trying to keep the passing of the Slayer a secret, mainly through the use of the robot lookalike that Spike had constructed, whilst they look for a way to bring her back. That time has arrived, but a gang of biker demons put a spanner in the works.
Death has never been that much of an impediment in BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, so it's no suprise to see the new series, but this opening episode is a brilliant way to kick it off. Taking the time to deal with the grief and loss that the whole gang are feeling in their unique ways, it re-establishes the characters and really lays on the sombre atmosphere.
Which is not to say that it's all doom and gloom. There are all the trademark witty moments that have made the show a delight to this point (the last urn of Osiris, critical in bringing back Buffy, is found on Ebay), but it is underpinned by a feeling of darker, more adult emotions, brought about perhaps by the influence of spin off show ANGEL.
The cast are as uniformly on song as ever, slipping back into their characters without a moment's hiccup, but this is a writer's episode, the plotting of Buffy's return driving the show and proving that this is likely not to be the season that BUFFY VAMPIRE SLAYER finally slips up.
Brought back from the dead inside a coffin, Buffy fights her way to the surface to find herself in a landscape from Hell. There is demon devastation all around and nothing seems familiar at all. Until she sees the tower, that is, the tower from which she jumped to save the world and died in the process. Perhaps that is what she must do again.
Blimey, now this is dark. Buffy is back, but it's not the sunny, bright Buffy that we used to know. I suppose coming back from the dead can do that to a girl and it's a bravura move to have a shocked, lost and helpless Buffy stumble into scenes such as her own death (in the shape of the luckless Buffybot) and the attack on her friends. Her confrontation on the tower with sister Dawn is what Buffy has always been about. It's pure character drama and nobody is in any rush to hurry it along. It is the high point of the surprisingly dark opening story and points to good things to come.
Buffy is back in the land of the living, but she did not come back alone. Something is possessing her friends, looking for a way to stay permanently. The only way to do that is for it to kill Buffy.
Forget the monster of the week, hitch-hiking in from another dimension and taking over the Scooby gang of friends because that is simply a side story to what the episode is really all about. It does, however, provide the creepy moments of Buffy's attack on Willow and Tara and Anya's self-harming appearance.
Scary as these moments are, this episode is about the emotional fallout of Buffy's return from the dead. She is lost, disassociated, missing something. She is not the Buffy of old and that takes its toll on all of her loved ones. It will take time, but will time be enough?
Because it's all so internalised into the characters' feelings, it's not the most entertaining episode, but it makes up for that with the stunning twist revelation of the true nature of the hell dimension that her friends saved her from.
Buffy continues to struggle with readjusting to life on Earth, not least with the news that her financial situation could be generously described as disastrous. Giles returns to try and help and a trio of gifted losers set a powerful demon on Buffy's trail.
Buffy is miserable. It's only to be expected after being ripped directly out of heaven, but her being miserable is making everyone else miserable and miserable people are rarely the most entertaining.
Fortunately there are the three losers (Warren from I Was Made To Love You, Johnathan from the likes of Superstar and the brother of the demon hellhound trainer from The Prom). Clearly they are going to be around for a while and their ultra-geekiness is very funny. Their sequences are the light moments that make the gloom and despair somewhat palatable.
It's also nice that Giles is back. His dressing down of Willow for playing around with the forces of darkness in bringing Buffy back casts interesting shadows over both characters.
Back from the dead, Buffy looks to find a new place for herself in the world. Going back to school is a bust, working construction proves disastrous and working for Anya makes her wish she was dead already - again. The loser trio of Warren, Johnathan and Andrew use their combined powers to test Buffy for weaknesses.
Buffy is back and in more ways than one. Sarah Michelle Gellar gets to be a bit more fun and peppy in this than in the whole series to date. This makes the whole episode much more fun.
It's also packed with some funny sequences, most especially the groundhog day/mummy hand fun and kitten poker. The loser trio are turning into really fun characters, lightening the tone, coming up with some original tests for the slayer and having fun with some cracking, hilarious dialogue.
The funniest and most entertaining episode of the season to date.
It's Hallowe'en (again) and Xander finally announces his engagement to Anya. Dawn sneaks out of the house on a first date, but the letterman proves to be more than he appears.
This is a story about the characters and not about the plot, which might explain why there isn't much of one. It is, in fact, one of weakest plots that the show has come up with for quite a while. The whole Dawn's first kiss (with a vampire yet, what is with the Summers girls?) is dull and completely predictable, but comes up with an action finale at least.
There is a real feeling of set up about Willow's overuse of magic and fighting with Tara about it, but the rest feels surprisingly like filler.
The people of Sunnydale are bursting into song for no reason. It's supernatural , but is it really an issue?
This is quite rightly the most celebrated episode of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER ever. The show has never been one for gimmicky episodes and those it has produced have always taken the gimmick as a starting point and made so much more of it and that is the case here as well. A musical episode? Yes, but one that works perfectly within the framework of the show's format and wider storyline.
But how do the cast manage? Pretty well in fact. The girls don't struggle at all. Sarah Michelle Gellar's voice isn't strong, but carries the tunes well enough. Amber Benson is a revelation as Tara with her folksy love song to Willow and Nicholas Brendon and Emman Caulfield's duet is very funny despite him being the weakest vocalist. James Marsters has a band and certainly seems at home, though the performance is less rocking than might have been expected. Anthony Head has also aired his vocal chords on the show before, though his success is questionable.
Joss Whedon's songs are wonderful and varied. They are all relevant as well, either revealing the characters' secrets or moving the plot along. The staging is also very effective from Buffy's all-action opening number to the bid broadway show finish.
Once More With Feeling shows everything that makes BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER such an exceptional show. This is not just a memorable high point in the show but in genre television generally.
Following her fight with Tara and the revelation that Buffy was ripped from what might possibly have been heaven, Willow copes with things by making them go away through the medium of puttin another forgetting spell on both Tara and Buffy. This spell also goes wrong, leaving everyone in the Magic Box completely unaware of who they are. Considering that a gang of vampires are after Spike, this is not a good time for Buffy to forget how to fight.
The whole cast developing amnesia isn't exactly the most original plotline in the history of genre television, but BUFFY takes the idea and runs with it to come up with a brilliantly funny stand alone episode. Apart from the completely silly shark-headed gangster, this is a delight from the moment everyone loses their memory. Giles and Anya find their names on ownership papers of the shop and realise that they must be together. The fact that Spike and Giles both have suspect english accents mean they must be father and son (Giles saying that it must be true because Spike arouses feelings of 'familiarity and great disappointment' is a classic line. Of course, when the vampires come to call everyone reacts hysterically and hilarity ensues.
Simple, but great fun and with very clever dialogue.
Willow finds a way to turn her friend Amy back from the rat she has been for three years and enjoys the guilt-free use of magic that she represents. Spike, meanwhile, discovers that the chip in his brain doesn't react when he hits Buffy, meaning that she is no longer wholly human.
It's hard to believe that BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER would ever produce an episode that could be considered wholly as filler, but that's what this feels like. The loser trio of Warren, Johnathan and Andrew steal a giant diamond to create a freeze ray gun, but do nothing with it. Willow's continuing overuse of magic is the main plot strand and the reason why Amy is back after being a rat since Season 3 episode Gingerbread. That still has some way to run and is clearly becoming a metaphor for alcoholism or drug addiction and not a very subtle one either.
Even so, a filler episode of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER turns out to be better than most full on episodes of other shows. The scene where terrorises the loser trio by threatening their favourite action figure is really funny and how can you not like a show where the answers to the deceptively simple question 'how have you been' brings the answers of 'rat' and 'dead'? The fight/love scene literally brings the house down and is a prime piece of BUFFY action.
After her night on the town with Amy, Willow is left unable to cast a single spell. Amy suggest a trip to a place belonging to a warlock who is into heavy dark magic. Willow is instantly hooked, but the magic is beyond her control and she finds that she has put Dawn in danger.
Addiction is bad and the unsubtle play on Willow's growing dependence on magic turns into a full blown morality play in this conclusion to what is effectively a two-part episode following on from Smashed. No slow slide continues here. Willow spends one night with Jim Morrison (OK, it's not Jim Morrison, but it's surely got to be based on him) and she's having the whole bad acid trip, crashing the car losing her loved ones saga in one quick episode. The fact that Buffy is going through the same sort of thing with her one night of passion with Spike is unworthy of such a quality show. Blunt and obvious is something that BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER hasn't been since the early days of Season 1.
Still, it gives Sarah Michelle Gellar and, especially, Alyson Hannigan something to play with to bring out a couple of very strong performances.
The loser trio come up with an invisibility ray and intend to use it for major evil (such as slipping inside the women's changing room at the gym), but manage to make Buffy vanish instead. Buffy uses the opportunity to discredit the woman from social services who wanted to take Dawn away from her, but then finds things gettting a bit more serious when it becomes clear that the ray has a more permanent effect than invisibility - death.
Invisibility first cropped up in the Season 1 episode Out of Mind, Out of Sight, but this time around it's a major character that gets made invisible which leads to some fun moments and some really surreal ones (Xander mistaking Spike's activities as press ups for example). It's all very entertaining, but also lightweight and forgettable.
Buffy needs money to deal with the bills now that her mother has gone and she needs it fast, so she signs up at the local Doublemeat Palace, a fast-food place that sells a burger that has both beef and chicken in it. The other workers, however, seem very strange and some of them just disappear, leaving fingers below the meat grinder. Could it be that the secret ingredient in the Doublemeat Medley is something more sinister than a seasoning?
My, my someone had a bad experience working at McDonalds (or one of the other fast-food restaurants that are in the market. Just about every aspect of working in such a place gets a booting in this episode. The managers are strange, the workers are zombie-like, the fat makes you smell and clogs your ears (apparently) whilst the meat in the burgers might be both cat or human remains. Mmm, super-size me please.
It's a fairly simple 'demon of the week' story blessed with one of the least convincing demons that the show has ever come up with, but the build up is classic BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER with the usual witty dialogue and snappy banter between actors who now fit their characters like a glove. Buffy's continuing depressed dislocation from the world around her (being soothed by doing nameless things with Spike) and Willow's suffering through magic cold turkey (not helped by magical friend Amy) are touched upon, but the main plot is simply the hell that is the fast food business. Work hard in school kids or this could be you.
The loser trio have come up with a device that can turn anyone into their willing sex slave. Warren tries it out on his ex-girlfriend, but when the effect wears off, he ends up killing her. In order to hide their guilt, they plant the body and convince Buffy that she was responsible for the girl's death.
Life has been hell since Buffy was ripped out of heaven by her friends and nothing is making it any better. Her destructive dalliance with Spike, where her disgust at least means that she can feel something, continues, but is actually making her feel worse. She is addicted to it as Willow was to the magic. When she thinks that she killed the girl, it is all too easy for her to walk out of her sister's life to give herself up because really she is in a place where nothing good can happen and making things worse has become almost a perverse comfort.
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER is now as dark as it has ever been. There is no joy in the main character any more and Willow isn't doing much better either. Dawn is feeling rejected by Buffy's distance and only Xander seems capable of coming up with the comedy these days. Deeper and darker is usually better, but there are times when it gets all a bit too much without a bit of leavening lightness. This show is rapidly approaching that point.
When Dawn is called into the school office by the counsellor and expresses a wish that people wouldn't keep leaving, she finds her wish granted in the most unusual way. It's Buffy's birthday and nobody can get out of the house, not even the killer demon that can melt into the walls.
A bit more angst and depression for Buffy as the initially peppier character finds that he sister is shoplifting as a cry for the attention that her disconnected slayer-sis isn't providing her with. On top of that, Willow is faced with a big challenge to her whole on-the-magic-wagon promise and even Anya gets to feeling the pressure.
The witty dialogue manages to keep the darker stuff at bay, but there are times recently that we've been hankering for the younger, carefree days of earlier seasons.
Just when Buffy thinks that her life can't suck anymore (even vampires won't bite her because of the smell from her fast food job) ex-boyfriend Riley Finn shows up asking for her help in tracking down a deadly demon that's about to spawn a whole lot of little deadly demons. Old feelings resurface. Then his wife shows up.
You know, why don't they just take Buffy out and shoot her in the head. It would be a whole lot cleaner and kinder in the long run. There's tons of witty banter in this episode, James Bond references and lots of wedding jokes as Xander and Anya's big day approaches, but even so it manages to be a whole big downer of an episode. If Buffy actually tells Spike that their affair is over just one more time then maybe the audience will do the shooting themselves. Darkness is fine and a sign of the show's maturity, but there has to be a certain leavening of humour and fun or it just gets too damned depressing to watch. The show isn't quite at that point yet, but it does need to lighten up.
It's Xander and Anya's wedding day. His family are embittered and mainly drunk whilst hers are all demons. Stress and friction is almost guaranteed, but Buffy and Willow are faced by much worse than the radioactive bridesmaid dresses when the groom goes missing.
Personal internal darkness may be the theme of this particular season of Buffy, but things are going a bit far. The one bright spot in recent events has been the prospect of the impending nuptuals between Xander and Anya, but even that can't be allowed to happen in the show's determination to be utterly miserable and depressing. Sure there are the usual witticisms (again the bridesmaids' dresses, the wedding vows, the pre wedding nerves, Spike's date etc), but the main thrust of the story seems to be that none of these characters can be allowed to be happy. No, none of them. The unrelenting darkness is getting a touch tedious, which is a word that we never thought we would have to use about this show.
The therapy is finally working for Buffy and she is having longer periods of lucidity where she is contact with the reality of her life in the asylum rather than the imaginary world of Sunnydale and its monsters. As her mental state stabilises, the only things keeping her attached to the imaginary world are her imaginary friends and sister. In order to fully complete her recovery all she has to do is to kill them.
Boy, and we thought previous episodes of BUFFY this season were dark, but this goes about as far into the heart of darkness as the series has ever gone. Only the fact that it is so well done saves us from wanting to slit our wrists and go and watch something less depressing instead. The fact that the world of the asylum is presented as potentially real from start to finish (especially in a chilling last scene) is a masterstroke, making up for the fact that it is revealed to be the sting of a demon quite early on. The deeper stuff lies in Buffy actually wanting that world to be real, not just because both her parents are alive, but also because being mad would be a much better option than the life that she is currently living. How about that for a downer of a thought?
The excellently-written script gives Sarah Michelle Gellar another chance to show what a good actress she can be as she gets to play both a confused lunatic and a clinically depressed slayer. Neither is a barrel of laughs, but she steps up to the plate and gives an excellent performance. It's true that, for a while now, we've been wanting to slap the character and tell her to 'get over it', but this is just too good a story and episode for that to matter.
Anya returns to Sunnydale a changed woman. Returning to her ways as a vengeance demon, she attempts to curse Xander, but remembers that she can't place spells for herself. She tries to get the rest of the gang to wish for him to hurt, but that doesn't work either. A moment's consolation with Spike goes beyond what either of them want and the loser trio's camera shows everyone the deed. It seems that Anya and Spike have found a way to hurt Xander and Buffy after all.
This episode starts off much more brightly with Buffy a more peppy character attempting to return to be more like she was before. Anya's attempts to curse Xander are amusing even though they are dealing with the aftermath of what Xander did to her and when things get serious towards the end it is in a sense of adult drama rather than wallowing in misery like some of the previous episodes have felt like. There's also the bright spark that is Willow and Anya getting back together; for once a happy way to end an episode.
The loser trio gain possession of some magical orbs that make Warren as strong as Buffy. They set out on a series of robberies that will make them rich, but Buffy is there and manages to derail the plans at the first outing. Warren, though, finds a way to deal with his humiliation that leads to tragic consequences.
Oh my God, where to start? At the end of this episode the audience is left stunned by such a sudden change of events that it takes the very breath away. Before this, possibly the ultimate shock cliffhanger that the show has pulled off (well, top 3 anyway), there is a fun story dealing with the loser trio's plans and Willow and Tara unable to keep their hands off each other. A sudden descent into the dark hell of the season is shocking as Spike attempts to rape Buffy Yes, on top of everything else now we have attempted rape. Is there any misery left to tap?
The answer is 'yes, oh yes!'. In a superb twist, Warren takes a mundane approach to his revenge and it just might be the undoing of more than one character and the death of Buffy. Sure, she's been dead before, but you can only come back so many times. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER has been unmissable many times in its history and this is absolutely one of those times. A week is too long to wait.
Buffy is rushed to the hospital and straigt into surgery. Willow, on the other hand, walks slowly and determinedly into the Magix Box and sucks all of the power out of the Black Arts books, becoming the most powerful witch in the world in the process. She visits Buffy in the hospital and then goes after Warren, and not to give him a stern talking to.
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER is too good a show ever to be truly disappointing, but the darkness and depression that has hung over it this season has been hard at times to cope with. All that is gone now as the show kicks into a new gear and utterly blows the audience away. Willow going over to the dark side has been prepared for throughout the series and now the payoff comes. When she goes bad, she goes bad in style. Alyson Hannigan can't quite pull off the being of pure rage that she is supposed to be, but she gives it a damned good go and the writers give her some really good stuff to work with. Her confrontation with Warren in the forest is excellently staged and then what she does when she's got him... Well, it's short and it's brutal and it's shocking. Both times.
And there's still two episodes to go. Bring 'em on.
Evil Willow's attenion now turns to Jonathan and Andrew, even though they were not directly responsible for Tara's death. They are holed up in the Sunnydale jail which means that Willow has to take on the whole of Sunnydale' finest, something of a one-sided confrontation. When Buffy manages to get them out of harm's way, harm follows pretty quickly and Willow makes herself stronger and faster than the slayer herself. With Buffy beaten, what stands between Andrew and Jonathan and death and between Willow and a descent into ultimate darkness? Or, more exactly, who?
Wow! we thought it was going to be hard to top Villains, but the creative team manage it with ease by having a juiced up super-willow take on Buffy in the ultimate dust up, trading quips and insults all the way. It's fast, funny and action-packed. It's also a completely surprising turn of events. Not as surprising, however, as the arrival in the last seconds of a familiar figure who ups the ante for what promises to be an apocalyptic finale. We can't wait. We just can't wait. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER has never been more unmissable.
A magically-enhanced Giles faces down the magically-enhanced Willow, at least for a while, and makes up for not having been there for Buffy through her darkest hours. It's not enough, of course, and Willow breaks free, but Giles is sneakier than he looks. Unfortunately, his solution sends Willow on a quest to stop everyone's pain - by stopping everyone's life.
Coming up with a finale to top off the wondrous trilogy of episodes that were started by Villains and Two To Go is a monumental task, but this show cannot be underestimated and comes up with an ending that is both action-packed, funny, dramatic and emotionally satisfying. Now that's an acheivement. OK, the sudden availability of a hidden, world-ending temple, in Sunnydale is a bit Deus ex machina in the plotting, but the manner in which Evil Willow's plan to destroy the world is subverted is stunning in its subtlety and its execution. Has the world ever been saved before by the simple, heartfelt declaration 'I love you'? Of course, it being BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, it's not quite that bald, but it is also nice to see the Slayer finally begin to come out of her 'life is hell (literally)' funk and it is wonderful to see Xander be the one to save the world this time around. Wonderful and appropriate.
It's to be hoped that the obssession with personal suffering is over now that a new season has been announced, but the final trilogy (or quartet if you count the last few seconds of Seeing Red)has made the prospect as enticing as ever it was.