Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7 (2002-2003)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7
Season 7 reviews:
So what happened? I wish I knew, but one thing’s for sure, Season 7 takes away the grand prize as the worst season of Buffy ever. Actually, I’d be willing to extend that to the whole Buffyverse, since, while Angel was never as good as Buffy at its best, it never plunged to these depths. Season 7 walks away with an average rating of 4.68/10, which is lower even than Season 6’s 4.95. To tell the truth, I’m actually surprised by this, since, while Season 7 is in my mind definitely the weaker of the two overall, it never gets as bad as Hell’s Bells. I said it before, but it’s worth repeating: Season 6 has a trainwreck quality to it where it’s actually interesting to watch, provided you can detach yourself from the events enough to see how ridiculous it all is, whereas Season 7 is, for the most part, just plain tedious. Yes, the characterisation is inconsistent, the adherence to continuity non-existant and the direction often inept, but these issues could probably have been somewhat excused had the whole thing not been so flipping yawn-inducing. I’m serious, I’ve lost track of the number of times during the final few episodes I considered just hitting the fast-forward button and getting it over with.
So, to return to my original question, what went wrong? The most popular theory is that Joss Whedon stopped running the show on a day-to-day basis, and the other writers were lost without him. I think this idea has considerable merit, and the massive difference between Chosen and the 14 or so episodes preceding it certainly substantiates it somewhat, but I don’t think this solution is really getting to the depths of it. Whenever a show or a movie is successful (or not), there is a tendency to attribute this to a single visionary person - the auteur theory, if you like. I think people like the notion that there is a guiding hand behind it all, an all-powerful creative force who makes all the big decisions and knows exactly where everything is going. Why? Because they like to think that someone is in control. Take them out of the mix, and they become the fall guy for the subsequent downfall. As much as I’d like to subscribe to the Joss=God theory that so many of his bumlickers espouse, though, I find it overly simplistic.
My theory is this: the writers didn’t really know what to do after Season 5. They thought the show was finished, only to discover that they had another two years to fill. They didn’t have to stick around - they could easily have found new jobs, I’m sure - but they were kind of enjoying the whole cult status they’d been raised to by a small but extremely vocal fan community. Therefore, thinking that they could do no wrong and excited by the creative carte blanche UPN had given them, they decided to go all-out and take the show in a completely different direction. In Season 5, The Body had been a massive success, as had The Gift, despite it featuring the death of the show’s main character, so the writers thought the fans would lap up a whole season of doom and gloom. Problem is, they were mistaken. People didn’t like seeing their favourite characters degraded and crapped on. (As one person, whose name I’ve forgotten, so eloquently put it, no-one wants to watch Superman flipping burgers at McDonalds.) Undeterred, though, they continued on their merry way, beating the characters and their fans into submission in the naïve belief that more is more and that, if things got really dark, the fans would come around. The only problem is that all they did was succeed in driving more viewers away, and, with the death of Tara, suddenly found themselves faced with something they’d never experienced before: a coordinated hate campaign and mass boycott from a demographic that, at one point, had been comprised of their strongest supporters.
Along comes Season 7, and apathy sets in. The odds are stacked against them. No-one is really running the show, or cares to. They know people didn’t like their grand scheme of doom and darkness from Season 6. They know there are now people who actively hate their guts and have stated that they will boycott any shows with which they are involved. They know that a number of their actors aren’t happy with the direction in which they’ve gone. They don’t know whether or not Sarah Michelle Gellar wants to be involved with another season, and they know they can’t continue without her. However, they can’t reconcile the fans’ demands for more lighthearted Season 1-3 style fun with the fact that they need to go out with a big finish. So, they head off down an awkward path without any real firm grasp of direction. Along the way, the viewing figures dwindle. Amber Benson, who put up with a hell of a lot of crap, including a death she had strong misgivings about and a paycheck dwarfed by that of her co-stars, refuses to appear on the show on their terms, and starts becoming a martyr figure for the demographic that is boycotting the show. And so on and so forth. These are hardly ideal conditions under which to produce a show, so it’s ultimately hardly surprising that the final season sucks as bad as it does. If Season 6 failed because its writers thought they were untouchable, then Season 7 failed even more drastically because they realised, the hard way, that they were only too human. And yet the arrogance continued: one of the most stomach-churning things I ever read was a post by Jane Espenson in a thread where people were arguing about Tara’s death, where she bluntly told hurt fans that, because she held an English Literature degree, she was right and they were wrong.
In the end, I can only repeat what I’ve already said: Buffy should have ended with Season 5. The story was told. There was no point in flogging a dead horse. And yet they continued to do it anyway. As a result, they turned what could have been one of the few shows to generally go out on an all-time high into something that plodded on for another two years before dying with a whimper, which is a really sad legacy.
Update, December 19, 2006 05:52 PM: Fixed a bunch of dead links.