Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Buffy Rewatch (Season 5b)

<--Season 5a  Season 5c-->

As season five continues, we see the trend strengthen—this is a season with a strong, interconnected, overarching plot. So where previous seasons have more “stand-out” episodes than five, this season is stronger. The theme of Buffy maturing and coming to terms with her calling grows. She is no longer the slayer because she has been told so, but because she is coming to terms with what that means to her. Looking at the next six episodes, here is some of what we learn:

Episode six, “Family”

Tara has given subtle hints this season that not all is right with her, and in this episode we get to see what is wrong. She is about to have THE birthday, the one where—in her family—women develop their demon half. So she is part demon, she is a bad guy and everyone is about to find out. To make matters worse, her family has shown up to take her home where she can be controlled and hopefully not fulfill her evil potential. To make matters worse, Tara casts a spell that makes it so her friends can’t see demons. Maybe they won’t discover her guilty secret.

Of course the truth is all a little more sinister, and actually more mundane. In a way this is a very real world story about how women—and men—can be controlled by society through religion, legalism and guilt. It is the very real and ugly side of the institutional side of religion.

Episode seven, “Fool for Love”

Fool for love is one of the ground breaking episodes of the series, and a real treat for people watching the show alongside the spin-off, Angel. In two parallel episodes, a centuries-long back-story is revealed showing us the origins and relationships between several important characters.

In this story, Buffy is nearly killed on a routine patrol and goes to Spike—the killer of two slayers—to learn what mistakes cost them their lives. He educates her on what he sees is the slayer’s obsession with death. She in turn begins to better understand what it is about her that has been puzzling her since Dracula came to town. The Slayer does indeed have a darker side, and death may have something to do with who she is. It does… just not the way it appears to up until this point.

Riley and Joyce: Two major subplots

For proof that this season is a bit more closely woven than previous ones, take the Riley and Joyce subplots. We have to look all the way back to episode four, “Out of My Mind.”

Riley is going to die if he continues to live as the souped-up soldier that the initiative made him. His fear is that Buffy does not love him for who he is, but rather for the superhuman that he has become, and he is willing to die in order to not lose her. He has to have the procedure reversed, though, and immediately begins to feel inadequate and unneeded. Meanwhile, Joyce Summers causes a scare when she faints at breakfast one morning. Her mysterious illness continues to plague the family and friends for some time.

In episodes eight, “Shadow” and nine, “Listen to Fear,” Joyce’s tumor is discovered and treated. A Queller Demon is summoned by Ben to get rid of all the crazy people being created by Glory’s presence, and he nearly kills Joyce as her tumor is affecting her mind. Riley gets in contact with the military again while chasing the demon down.

Episode ten, “Into the Woods” sees Riley finally give up completely on the idea of chasing Buffy’s love and decides to find meaning in life by fighting evil with the military again.

So, in the midst of all her struggle to understand her calling as the slayer, Buffy is confronted with difficult, life issues. Her mom is deathly ill just as Buffy is coming to understand that she is responsible, not only for her fight against evil, but also with protecting an important key in the form of her sister. All of this responsibility demands so much of her that she sees her relationship crumble when the man she loves needs more than she can give. Balance is a tough thing to maintain if you only begin to try in the difficult seasons of life.

Episode eleven, “Triangle”

The first half of the season ends with a funny look at Willow and Anya and their strained relationship. Willow, who has been in love with Xander since they were kids, thinks that Anya will only end up hurting him. Anya feels the rejection.

To make matters more complicated, Willow is showing more and more of her lack of judgment. Willow is one of the most well-loved characters on the show, but she does have flaws. Magic serves as an effective metaphor on the show. It is something that can be helpful, but is nearly always dangerous. For Willow, who is naturally adept at doing magic, it offers her a chance to prove her worth and to deal with difficult aspects of life that she wants to avoid. It will not be long before she is completely addicted and moving from questionable decisions to evil ones.

Here, however, she simply accidentally releases a troll to wreak havoc on the town. In one of those story-telling coincidences, it happens to be a man whom Anya turned into a Troll when he was unfaithful to her. The whole thing serves to clear the air between Willow and Anya.

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