Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 16: Hell’s Bells
Written by Rebecca Rand Kirshner; Directed by David Solomon
As I’ve been making my way through this season, this episode has constantly been looming in the distance like a hurdle I’d have to face sooner or later. I kept willing myself to believe that it couldn’t possibly be as bad as I remembered… and yet, here I am, and it’s just as awful, if not more so. Hell’s Bells is worse than Teacher’s Pet, worse than Inca Mummy Girl… yes, even worse than Wrecked. It’s the one episode of Buffy that I can honestly say has nothing - not one single second - that can possibly redeem it. It’s just 45 minutes of worthless, poorly written, indifferently acted, incompetently staged hokum, and I struggle to imagine how anyone could have given it the thumbs-up. It really is, utterly and truly, a train-wreck.
What’s amazing is that it doesn’t even feel like an episode of Buffy. Previously, even the worst episodes of the season, no matter how incompetent they were and no matter how far they went from the original premise, at least had some semblance of still being the same show. This has none of it: I see Sarah Michelle Gellar, I see Alyson Hannigan, I see Nicholas Brendon, I see Amber Benson, I see all the regulars, but they’re like automatons. They bear no resemblance to the characters they usually play. This is soap opera, and it’s awful soap opera at that (which is saying something). It exists for no reason other than to destroy the two characters who actually looked like they might be headed for some happiness. Xander and Anya are broken up, smashed and reduced to shells of their former selves, and absolutely no purpose is served other than to conform to the season’s themes of depression and misery.
What’s worse is that no attempt is made to follow through on the events of this episode. I once read a post on a Buffy forum which argued that the worst thing about Season 6 was that none of the issues it raised were ever dealt with in Season 7. I think this is true. If you’re going to take the entire cast to the depths of despair, you have to show them overcoming it, not pretend it never happened. This is the problem with Xander and Anya. Their relationship has been building for three years now, and all that happens is that they are split up, go through a few episodes of bitterness, and then that’s it. Nothing. They just melt away into the background.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. These are not problems with Hell’s Bells per se. If they were, the final rating would almost certainly be into negative figures. Regardless of what comes later, this episode, whether taken on its own or as one of 144 interconnected episodes, is a piece of god-awful crap that I will never watch again. And the bad news is that the misery isn’t over, not by a long shot.
Overall rating: 1/10.
Next time: Normal Again.