Season 6 of Buffy was all about degradation — the characters debased themselves, their relationships disintegrated, and the Big Bad herself was a nightmare version of Buffy’s beloved friend. Season 7, on the other hand, exudes synthesis and uplift. “I have so much strength, I’m giving it away,” says Buffy, and strength is what we see, both within and without her. Friendships mend, and it’s once again the strength of Buffy’s team that allows them to fight the forces arrayed against her. The routine of Good vs. Evil battling it out in Sunnydale has become a bit worn by now, and consequently this season can’t quite reach the peaks of the show’s extraordinary middle period (seasons 2-4.) Nevertheless, I was really happy with season 7. It was a satisfying and well-executed end to a terrific journey.
1. First, The First. I thought The First was a great Big Bad, for several reasons, the most important of which is that its emergence resolved a plot dangler that had always bugged me. Way way back in my Season 3 review, I wrote:
Another thing that I thought was a weak spot is the way the idea of The First was introduced, then immediately dropped. I was happy to have an explanation for Angel’s (inevitable) return, but the notion of the Biggest Evil In The Freaking World doing this as sort of a halfhearted gesture toward hurting Buffy, then vanishing away without a trace, was lame. I hope they follow up on that.
Only four years later, I get my wish! Hurrah! Thanks to those of you who resisted the temptation to drop any hints about this to me at the time.
Something else that worked really well with The First was that its ability to take the form of any dead person (well, make that “any person who has died”) provided a fantastic outlet for recapping the many twists and turns of the series. I loved seeing some of those folks again — The Mayor, Adam, The Master, Joyce, Glory, Drusilla. I would love to have seen some other dead characters like Jenny Calendar and Tara, but oh well — the nostalgia was still great from all the cameos we did get. Oh, and speaking of nostalgia, another aspect of The First that I really enjoyed was the comicbooky feel of a supervillain returning from an old episode, bigger and badder than ever. This was the first Big Bad for whom the groundwork had been laid so far in advance.
2. As I mentioned in my summary, Season 7 returned to that team feeling that I loved so much in the early seasons. Season 6 felt like “Scoobies Disassembled“, but this season brings them all back together, even adding some welcome new faces. In classic superhero team fashion, they accumulate gradually, each one stepping into the spotlight briefly to be illuminated for what’s lovable about them and what they bring to the team. Here’s my inventory of team members, their key episodes, and perhaps a few words about them:
- Xander and Dawn – The season opens with Dawn being trained and then escaping jeopardy at the new Hellmouth High, so arguably Lessons is her spotlight episode. Xander is around from the beginning, too, and features heavily in Beneath You. As he mentions in that episode, the two of them plus Buffy are pretty much the gang at that point. However, when I think of the episode that really illuminated these two, it has to be Potential, one of the best moments for both characters. Dawn, happily, was also much more tolerable this season than in the previous two. Thank god she finally stopped whining.
- Willow – Spotlight episode: Same Time, Same Place. This is not my usual sort of comment, but I absolutely love the outfit Alyson Hannigan wears in that episode. In general, Willow is back to being the girl I loved in seasons 1-5, and just smoking hot to boot.
- Anya – Spotlight episode: Selfless. Again, the plot follow-up here is quite pleasing to me. As I mentioned in my season 6 review, “Anya with her powers back, at least if she’s on the job in the way I imagine D’Hoffryn expects her to be, doesn’t really belong as a major character, let alone one of the Scoobies. In fact, I think she’d be a villain — again, assuming she was doing her job.” Selfless did a wonderful job of rehabilitating Anya in a way that felt emotionally authentic and that came with a serious price, as redemption in the Buffyverse often does.
- Andrew – (Yeah, he’s a member of the team… eventually. Sort of.) He returns in the excellent Conversations With Dead People but isn’t really accepted (if he ever is) until the end of Storyteller, another great episode which was clearly Andrew’s moment to shine. I think Tom Lenk is absolutely hysterical as Andrew — what can I say, the geek humor really works for me.
- Giles – Spotlight episode: Bring On The Night, though there’s some doubt about him that gets resolved (unconscionably late) in The Killer In Me. In general, I love Giles — the more Giles, the better. I still wish he’d been a regular cast member, but I was grateful for what we got of him.
- The Potentials – I’m going to treat them all as a group and say that Bring On The Night was their spotlight episode, except for my favorite, Amanda, who first shows herself in Help but finally comes into her own during Potential. By the way, boo for killing my favorite potential (Amanda) while heavily featuring my least favorite one (Kennedy). At least, I think Amanda’s dead. Wikipedia says she’s dead. However, on the whole I really dug the concept of the Potentials, and it helps clear up some of the confusion I suffered in season two when Kendra suddenly showed up with a lifetime of slayer training. Some, but not all — more about that later. Anyway, Buffy’s role in training them, and certainly in empowering them during Chosen, signified her advancement to a more mature and adult role in her life. Like her job as a Sunnydale HS counselor (a lovely choice, by the way), it passed the mantle, changing her from apprentice to master. That her path was still rocky retained the meaty drama that the show’s always delivered.
- Robin Wood – First Date. The slow series of reveals on him was charming, too. Linking him to the Slayer that Spike killed (in flashback) during season 5’s Fool For Love was a brilliant continuity choice.
- Spike – Well, he’s present from the beginning, but he earns sympathy (for the first time, with me anyway) in Beneath You and really comes back back in Lies My Parents Told Me. Being Spike, he does so in a thoroughly unlovable way. (It’s also fairly illogical, about which more later.) I have to give him his props for his apparent self-sacrifice at the end of Chosen, and for his most loving treatment of Buffy ever, in Touched. (Of course, his death would be much more affecting if not for the fact that he’s prominently featured on the cover of the Angel season 5 DVDs.) There is still something under my skin about Spike in this season though. He still maintains the pretense that he went out and undertook a lot of effort in order to get a soul all for Buffy’s sake. In fact, he actually was trying to get the power to kill her. At least, that’s sure how I interpreted all his “make me what I was so I can give the Slayer what’s coming to her” business.
- Faith – Spotlight episode: Dirty Girls. Hooray for the return of good-guy Faith — I really enjoyed her role in the last few episodes, and though hero Faith is less compelling than villain Faith, she was still written with a reasonable amount of entertaining edge.
3. So, as I mentioned, way back in season 2, I had some questions:
Okay, I’m confused about the second vampire slayer thing. I can accept that in the Buffyverse, once a slayer dies, the next one is called. What does “called” mean, though? Kendra says that her parents sent her away as a very young child to go train with her Watcher, but Buffy only died a few months ago in story time. What gives? I think I’m missing some key piece of lore. Are slayers-to-be somehow notified at an early age of their status? Did Buffy’s notice get lost in the mail or something? Also, what if a slayer lives to a ripe old age? Or middle age, even? Are there potential slayers who train and sacrifice but are never called?
So, clearly, the answer to the last question must be “yes.” (At least until the nifty mojo gets worked in Chosen.) There’s still a lot that’s unclear to me, though. Like, why do some Potentials have Watchers and others don’t? It seems like Kennedy and Kendra had one, but others (like Rona) didn’t. Certainly Buffy didn’t. Is it a K-name thing?
Clearly, there’s some way to identify Potentials, since both the Council and the First were doing so. Are there just not enough Watchers to go around? And if not, how do they choose where to concentrate their resources? Oh wait, I already know — they sort their list by first name, start with the K’s, and work their way down the list from there. And they don’t even get to the R’s. I guess there really aren’t enough British-librarian-types to go around. Speaking of Watchers, why didn’t Giles take a more active role in the Potentials’ training? He is the only remaining Watcher, after all. I would have liked to see him in that teacher role again — it’s been awhile.
4. Speaking of confusion about slayer lore, I would still like a clearer answer to why another slayer wasn’t called after Buffy died at the end of season 5. Is it because Faith was still alive? Is it because the magic doesn’t account for a slayer dying twice? Is it that Buffy’s resurrection was an abberration, so Faith is the true slayer (having replaced Kendra)? I kept waiting for that to be addressed, and inexplicably, it never ever was. The Belijoxa’s Eye bit was very vaguely cryptically touching on that, I think, but I would have preferred it much less vague and cryptic.
5. If you have a houseful of people and you’re facing a non-corporeal enemy, wouldn’t you institute a “touch everybody’s head each morning” rule or something? The fact that they were not using this extremely obvious strategy made the stretching out of the Giles subplot quite annoying.
6. Hooray for crossovers with Angel! I’ve really missed them, and I enjoyed them on both sides. Since I never watched these shows while they were on the air, I have only the vaguest idea why they had to stop intersecting — something to do with the two shows being on two different networks? Anyway, I’m very glad they worked it out for this season. It was absolutely right to have Angel on the scene at the end, and also quite right for him not to swoop in and fight alongside Buffy.
7. Buffy’s “addressing the troops” speeches were great the first couple times, and got very tiresome after that. In particular, I thought the “you’re all gonna die” speech in Potential was clumsily written and thuddingly delivered.
8. Boy was this season awesome with the foreshadowing. I counted at least four different episodes that hinted at events in the finale:
- Buffy in Same Time, Same Place: “I have so much strength, I’m giving it away,” prefiguring Willow’s nifty mojo on the scythe.
- Cassie in Help, to Spike: “She’ll tell you. Someday she’ll tell you.” And, in Chosen, Buffy does indeed tell Spike that she loves him. Of course, Cassie failed to mention the whole “being burned to a crisp immediately afterward” thing.
- D’Hoffryn and Anya in Selfless. Anya: “You should have killed me.” D’Hoffryn: “Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that. From beneath you, it devours. Be patient. All good things in time,” predicting Anya’s death.
- Even Joyce/(maybe)The First in Conversations With Dead People, in a sense, anyway: She tells Dawn that when it’s bad, Buffy won’t choose Dawn, and indeed, Buffy does try to pack Dawn and Xander off and out of danger… albeit unsuccessfully.
9. I came to Whedon fandom through a back door: I saw Serenity in the theater, and liked it so much that I sought out Firefly, and from there to Buffy and Angel. Consequently, it was very freaky for me to be watching season 4 of Angel and season 7 of Buffy in tandem, and encountering therein both Gina Torres and Nathan Fillion, in roles totally different from their Firefly characters. No doubt it must have been equally bizarre for longtime Buffy/Angel devotees to tune into the new Whedon show and find that it starred Caleb and Jasmine.
10. Finally, some episode-specific comments:
- Help: I loved this episode — it really spoke to me. I think part of the reason I relate so strongly to superhero narratives like Buffy is that I have kind of a rescuer complex. My urge to swoop in and take care of everything for somebody who feels needy or vulnerable can be a good thing, but it can also cause trouble on both sides. One way it can backfire: what if the person can’t be helped, or doesn’t want to be helped? That resonance made this episode very powerful for me. Plus, Azura Skye is adorable.
- Him: kansasjenny is a fan of episodes like Tabula Rasa, Halloween, and Something Blue because, as she says, “I love the wacky.” Now I’m a convert. Kind of like The Beatles always set aside at least one song per album for Ringo to sing on, Buffy always seems to set aside one or two episodes a season devoted to “the wacky,” and this season’s candidate was most certainly Him. It was lots of fun to see everybody go crazy with the love spell, and Buffy in particular was quite funny. Oh, I also really enjoyed the crazy split-screen in the final act.
- The Killer In Me: Um, I thought the Initiative complex was filled in with concrete? Government must have hired a low bidder on that job. This was not my favorite episode, partly because I find Kennedy annoying and didn’t want to see Willow get together with her, and partly because its overall plot didn’t make a lot of sense to me. It just felt all a bit fast and loose. Though at least it FINALLY gave resolution on the Giles dangler. Sheesh!
- Storyteller: Here was my favorite episode of the season, I think. Certainly it has its own dose of “the wacky” — Andrew’s fantasy sequences are hilarious, and there are so many comic details that are just perfect. Also, I think my own version of “I love the wacky” has to be “I dig the meta,” because I always do. (Examples include Normal Again, Superstar, and lots of little postmodern moments sprinkled throughout the run.) The metalevels were great in Storyteller, questioning the basic idea of the show itself. Finally, the resolution was excellent, a wonderful dramatic moment where Andrew’s essential humanity is finally allowed to shine through.
- Lies My Parents Told Me: I feel like there’s a logic problem here. Spike says to Robin, about Spike’s mother, “I turned her into a vampire… so we could be together forever. She said some nasty bits to me after I did that. Been weighing on me for quite some time. But you helped me figure something out. You see, unlike you, I had a mother who loved me back. When I sired her, I set loose a demon, and it tore into me, but it was the demon talking, not her.” This assertion hearkens way back to The Harvest, from season 1, where Giles tells Xander, about Jesse, “You have to remember that when you see him, you’re not looking at your friend. You’re looking at the thing that killed him.” But… if that were strictly true, why would Spike have still loved his mother just as much as ever, even after Drusilla sired him? If Spike has a continuity of experience and emotion even after he’s become a vampire, it stands to reason that his mother did too. He tells himself that he loved his mother, and she loved him, but somehow believes that even though they both became vampires, she (and her love) were replaced by a demon, but he wasn’t. His reasoning doesn’t hold up.
- Chosen: A great finale. I loved the concept (breaking down the “one in every generation” model), and I loved the execution. The whole episode was wonderfully funny and dramatic — quintessential Buffy. The Turok-Han certainly seemed less formidable than they were in, say, Showtime, but I was able to go with it, since the First’s power seems to wax and wane anyway.
Same Time, Same Place — The parallel opening segments was a clever bit of structuring. Also the Spike scene — his already-established insanity makes it work perfectly.
Same Time, Same Place — Willow: “I found a dead body near the school.” Anya: “Yes, that can happen.”
Same Time, Same Place — Buffy: “I have so much strength, I’m giving it away.” A lovely ending, and an extra-lovely foreshadowing of the final episode.
Help — Naming the prognosticating teen “Cassie” was a nice touch.
Selfless — The argument between Xander and Buffy
Selfless — D’Hoffryn: “The flaying of Warren Meers? Oh, truly inspired. That was water cooler vengeance.”
Him — Buffy (to slut-bomb Dawn): “So, do you have plans later, or are you just gonna go down to the docks and wait for the fleet to come in? … Anna Nicole Smith thinks you look tacky.”
Him — The goofy physical comedy of Buffy, Spike, and the bazooka outside Principal Wood’s window.
Conversations With Dead People — Jonathan: “Desde abajo te devora.” Andrew: “It eats you, starting with your bottom.”
Sleeper — Aimee Mann: “Man, I hate playing vampire towns.”
Never Leave Me — Xander [about the interrogation of Andrew]: “He’s primed. I’ll be pumping him in no time. [Awkward pause] He’ll give us information soon.”
Bring On The Night — Xander inadvertently bonding with Andrew on Wonder Woman.
Showtime — Rona: “Why is that guy tied to a chair?” Xander: “The question you’ll soon be asking is, why isn’t he gagged?”
Potential — Willow: [re Dawn & Buffy] “Remember that thing about they share the same blood or whatever?” Anya: “Yeah, I never got that.” Amen, sister.
Potential — Xander’s talk with Dawn at the end.
The Killer In Me — Giles: “Now wait a minute… you think I’m evil if I bring a group of girls on a camping trip and DON’T touch them?”
First Date — Super kick-ass Giles in the opening sequence!
First Date — The “bidet of evil” dialogue
First Date — Spike: “Never much cared for picket fences, anyway. Bloody dangerous.”
Get It Done — Xander’s role in speaking back to Buffy. Xander is generally awesome in his Xanderness this season.
Storyteller — The set design in the opening sequence is just classic. The entire section before the opening credits of that episode is purely great.
Dirty Girls — Spike’s defensiveness at being compared to Angel. “Angel’s dull as a table lamp. And we have very different coloring.”
Empty Places — Willow’s teary moment at Xander’s hospital bed
Empty Places — The coup scene at the end.
End Of Days — Giles (about the scythe): “I can’t imagine how something like this could exist without my having heard of it.” Buffy: “Well, the good guys are not traditionally known for their communication skills.” Once again: amen, sister.
End Of Days — Buffy (to Xander) “Of course I’m not putting you out to pasture. What does that even mean?” Xander: “Well, you know, it’s like, uh… when a cow gets old and loses an eye, or its ability to be milked, the farmer takes it and puts it in a different pasture so it won’t have to… fight…with the priests.”
End Of Days — Faith: “There’s only supposed to be one. Maybe that’s why you and I can never get along. We’re not supposed to exist together.” Buffy: “Also, you went evil and were killing people.” Faith: “Good point. Also a factor.”
End Of Days — Buffy: “I guess everyone’s alone. But being a slayer? There’s a burden we can’t share.” Faith: “And no one else can feel it. (beat) Thank God we’re hot chicks with superpowers.” Buffy: “Takes the edge off.” Faith: “Comforting.”
End Of Days — Angel (to Caleb): “You are so gonna lose.”
Chosen — Angel (muttering about Spike): “That’s great. Everyone’s got a soul now. You know, I started it. The whole having a soul. Before it was all the cool new thing.”
Chosen — Buffy (about kissing Angel): “It was a hello.” Spike: “Most people don’t use their tongues to say hello. Or I guess they do, but—”
Chosen — Robin (to Faith): “Oh, please. I am so much prettier than you are.” The whole scene where he takes her down a peg was great.
Chosen — The Dungeons & Dragons fakeout gag. Oh my lord I loved that scene. And, as a bonus: Trogdor!
Chosen — The core Scoobies’ conversation before facing the Big Bad, starting with Buffy: “So, what do you guys want to do tomorrow?”
Chosen — The makeup and special effects on Bright Willow.
Chosen — Buffy’s speech revealing the purpose of the spell, and the visuals that Joss puts along with it, especially the grin on the baseball girl.
Chosen — Andrew: “Why didn’t I die?” Great moment, and great story choice.
Least favorite moments:
Potential — The “you’re all gonna die” speech. Man, that speech grates on me.