Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Buffy Rewatch (Season 6a)

Season Six has always been my least favorite prior to this viewing. That does not mean it does not have a lot to say, nor that it is not well made and thought out. It is just some of the hardest good television to watch.

<--Season 5d  Season 6b-->

As the series reached its end on the WB Network it pulled out all the stops and came up with a great, climactic END. When UPN resurrected the series, the storyline suffered much of the same difficulties that the characters were facing. The result is a depressing look at some depressing characters making a bunch of poor life choices.

This is metaphorically seen in the way I am watching the seasons this year. Seasons one through five (and seven for that matter), are all ones I have owned for years and are on region 1 DVDs. They do not contain the “previously on Buffy” introductions before each episode. Season Six, being the one that I never cared for and therefore didn’t own, is region 2 and does have the handy recap scenes included. This serves to heighten the soap opera aspect of the show; which is a bit over the top this year.

The big change/problem of this season emerges right away:

The Set-up: Episodes 1-3: Bargaining Parts 1&2, Afterlife:

For years now, the series has been teaching that magic in the Buffyverse, while useful at times, is a dangerous force that should not be regularly used and always has (usually negative) consequences. This is primarily due to the nature of magic in the Buffyverse. The magic here is not mechanical (the way science appears magical to pre-scientific societies) but rather cultic and requires the help of supernatural beings. Said supernatural beings in the Buffyverse are nearly always bad. Of course the show needs some supernatural way of getting its lead back, so the characters turn to very powerful and very dark magic to seek to free Buffy from the hell where they presume she has been imprisoned.

In doing so, they generate new evil in the world, and unbeknownst to them actually rip Buffy out of a heavenly plane of existence. This leaves Buffy pretty messed up and depressed to be back—which leads to a pretty depressing season for all us viewers.

In saying “them” we really should be saying Willow as she is the driving force behind trying the magic. This is a danger that has been building up for three years now. The season arc formula used in seasons 2-4, where a minor threat occupies the first half of the season with a “Big Bad” looming in the background to emerge at the end, is back. Willow is into some very dark magic here, and she is doing all the typical denial and lying that people knowingly doing wrong always do.

In one sense, the initial antagonist this season is the community of the Scoobies themselves. (There is another minor antagonist this season that we will come to in a minute.) All of the feelings and hidden problems in the group become public and come to a head thanks to two spells activated in episodes 7&8:

The Conflict: Episodes 7&8: Once More with Feeling, Tabula Rasa

It seems wrong to ties these two episodes together, because so much thought and writing has gone into the musical episode on its own. It is an incredibly good episode—an historic episode of television—but thematically they are tightly linked.

In “Once More with Feeling” someone invokes a spell that causes people to sing and dance and share their hidden feelings and doubts in the way that people in musicals always do. Of course, in “real” life this ends up being very disturbing and causes people to share things they would rather keep hidden. Oh, and it eventually causes them to spontaneously combust.

In the case of our heroes, we learn that:

Buffy thinks she was in heaven and is mad that she has been brought back to the flawed, fallen world.

Tara knows that Willow has been using magic on her and that it has destroyed their relationship.

Giles is concerned that Buffy relies on him too much and that he is holding her back.

Xander and Anya have doubts that their love is strong enough to maintain a marriage.


In the next episode, Willow does a spell to cause Buffy to forget she was in heaven and for Tara to forget she has been manipulated by Willow. She excuses herself by thinking it is to help them overcome their sadness, but it is really because she is the cause of both of their pain. Unfortunately, the spell causes everyone in the group to forget who they are and it nearly gets them all killed.

The pair of episodes ends with Giles leaving and Tara breaking up with Willow. This sends Buffy and Willow into:

Downward Spirals: Episodes 9-11: Smashed, Wrecked, Gone

Buffy’s depression, tied to the fact that she believes something is wrong with her following her resurrection, causes her to flee her pain by giving in to Spike’s advances. They begin a sexual relationship that causes Buffy to hate herself which leads to her turning to the very thing that she hates even more. This is something she knows is wrong and she keeps telling herself she will stop. This also causes her to not be aware of the depths that Willow has sunk to—a classic case of someone unwilling to judge lest she be judged.

Meanwhile the depths that Willow has sunk to translate into full on magic addiction. She cannot stop as she is drunk on the power and escapism that magic provides and she ultimately endangers Dawn, causing her to admit her problem and begin a “rehab” of sorts.  More

The Troika: Episodes 4,5&13: Flooded, Life Serial, Dead Things

The apparent and external enemy facing our heroes in season six had to be a joke. We need the lightheartedness and humor with all of the real drama and tragedy going on as our favorite characters unravel. To fit the bill we get a team up of the three biggest nerds in the Buffyverse: Warren, Jonathan and new comer Andrew. Throughout the early part of the season their antics serve to distract the viewer from the real danger lurking in the midst of our heroes and to give us a reason to smile.

They are a pretty good guess as to what would a bunch of immature boys do had they the power to control other people through science and magic. What starts out as laughable turns deadly serious, however, as they eventually cross the line, hurt and Warren even kills someone. At this point things cease to be fun for Andrew and Jonathan and they cease to be funny for the viewer.

The Stand-Alone Episodes: 6&12 All the Way, Double Meat Palace

In the first of two somewhat stand alone episodes this season, it is refreshing to see that the writers can in fact remember the title of their own show. Here we get a rare vampire episode thrown in the mix, and a Halloween one to boot. Ultimately it is not anything we haven’t seen or been taught before by the show, but it is still an entertaining reminder of the simple moral lessons a vampire story can provide.

When Buffy finally goes completely “real world” by having to get a paying job, the jokes and silliness remind one of episodes like “The Freshman” or “Beer Bad,” and that is not a good thing.

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