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Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 1: Lessons
Written by Joss Whedon; Directed by David Solomon (England sequences directed by Joss Whedon)
It’s always difficult to know precisely what went on behind closed doors during the break between Seasons 6 and 7, but it seems fairly safe to say that there would have been some heated discussions to say the least. What is known is that Joss Whedon and his writers were more than a little put out to discover that, as it happens, people don’t generally like being depressed and seeing characters they’ve grown to love pushed into the mud and trampled on. Whedon likes to say that he “gives people what they need, not what they want”, but it’s pretty clear that, in more than a few areas, he realised he was going to have to listen to the fans.
And it wasn’t just the fans. James Marsters threatened to quit because he was sick of having to stand around in a jock-strap for hours on end all day. Sarah Michelle Gellar went to Whedon and told him she was sick of playing a manic depressive and wanted a return to the light-hearted fun and fancy free of the first three seasons. Emma Caulfield said that, no matter what happened, she’d be gone after the season ended. Amber Benson was busy becoming a martyr for a sizeable portion of the audience. Michelle Trachtenberg wanted to wear high heels. Oh, and there was the slight problem of the advertisers saying they’d pull out if the Doublemeat Palace ever reared its ugly head again.
So, prior to the new season starting, a whole lot of grand promises were made. Season 7 would be more light-hearted and fun (a natural progression, Whedon claimed, to the doom and gloom of Season 6 - although frankly I have my doubts), heading back to high school and dealing more with monster of the week cases. Giles would appear in more episodes and be put to better use. Buffy would stop being depressed. Amber Benson, Eliza Dushku and a bunch of others would be back. Oh, and the “magic as drugs” metaphor would be dumped.
The first episode comes around, and it’s a competent but completely unremarkable season premiere. Basically, it’s a monster of the week episode that introduces the new Sunnydale High and begins to hint at the Big Bad of the season, the First. It also serves as something of a pilot for a “Dawn the Vampire Slayer” spin-off that never came to fruition: by the end of Season 7, there was no way Michelle Trachtenberg was going to agree to ever play Dawn again, and I doubt many people would have objected to this decision. The funny thing, though, is that the development of Dawn is one of the few things I like about this season. Okay, “development” probably isn’t the right word, as she doesn’t really progress in a meaningful way, but she does become considerably less annoying (then again, maybe that’s because she gets considerably less screen time). Anyway, it involves Dawn hooking up with a couple of kids who can only be described as Willow Lite and Xander Lite, although some people have nicknamed them the Scrappies (to the original gang’s Scoobies). They never appear again, and Dawn the Vampire Slayer is pretty much buried in the episode Potential, but it does show that, mindful of the fact that this could well be their last season, Whedon and co were busy executing various contingency plans so they’d have something to fall back on. Of course, none of them ever panned out, but that’s another story.
What bugs me about this episode is the inability to address any of the events that took place during the previous season. Yes, it’s good that the episode is largely upbeat, but the fact that everyone seems to have had a memory wipe does not bode well. Tara is never mentioned - actually, it takes till the seventh episode for her name to be spoken, for the first of something like three occasions in the whole season - and Willow’s murder spree has been conveniently forgotten. Actually, Buffy, Xander and Dawn never even mention Willow in this episode (she’s off in England with Giles, learning how to not kill people, as Anya puts it in a later episode). I’m sorry, but for people who went to Hell and back the previous year, everyone’s just too cheerful. If the writers went through the five stages of acceptance regarding Tara’s death, this would have to be Denial - ignore the angry lesbians and maybe they’ll go away. (Trouble is, judging by the drop in viewing figures, that’s exactly what they did.)
The final scene, which features the dead Big Bads of every previous season, is definitely the highlight of the episode. It’s too bad only a handful of them ever ended up showing up for subsequent episodes - yet another example of the unfulfilled potential of the season.
Overall rating: 6/10.
Next time: Beneath You.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6 (2001-2002)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6
Season 6 reviews:
There’s really not much for me to say that hasn’t been covered in the individual episode reviews. To put it bluntly, I am not a fan of Season 6. It’s the worst so far, bagging an average rating of only 4.95 out of 10, which even Season 1, with its 5.67, was easily able to beat. The sad news is that I have another 22 episodes ahead of me, and, despite what minimal pleasures the first few might hold, none of it seems to matter, because I know that all the mistakes made in Season 6 are not going to be undone, and indeed very few of the issues raised are even going to be broached.
I’ll be honest right now and say that the only thing motivation me to make my way through the final official season is the knowledge that there is an unofficial continuation waiting for me, written by a group of dedicated fans, that is of a higher calibre than anything the “real” Buffy writers were able to come up with in Season 7. I don’t normally read fan fiction, but The Chosen does the seemingly impossible task of salvaging the wreck of a show that Buffy had become by the end of its seven-year run, making the central characters likeable again and righting countless other wrongs. Pretty sad when a bunch of fans, in their free time, can put together a better season and a half (and counting) than fully-paid professionals, but there you go: that should give you some idea of how bad Buffy got before the end.
Anyway, I’m done for now. You can probably expect my viewing of Season 7 to begin in a few days, but right now I feel like a break. And a cold shower.
Update, December 19, 2006 05:35 PM: Fixed a bunch of dead links.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 22: Grave
Written by David Fury; Directed by James A. Contner
Grave is undoubtedly the crummiest season finale of Buffy’s entire seven-year run. The only question is how crummy. Okay, so it’s not Hell’s Bells bad, but it’s still pretty damn awful, as Willow continues her ruthless campaign of lesbian revenge, until Xander halts her with a cringe-worthy speech about a yellow crayon. (Guess all that crazy lesbo needed was a big strong man after all, huh?) The “magic as drugs” metaphors continue here and are as bad as ever, but at least the presence of Giles brings back some of the classic Buffy feel. His response to learning that Buffy has been screwing Spike (gales of uncontrollable laughter) is right on the money, by the way, and kind of sums up my view of the season as a whole. Oh, and at the end, Buffy re-emerges from a grave as melodic Sarah McLachlan music plays in the most hollow happy moment in the show’s history (and this is coming from a Sarah McLachlan fan). I get the metaphor of her being “resurrected” yet again, but this time wanting to live, but what precisely is it about the events of the last few episodes that has suddenly convinced her that this world is worth living in? (Or indeed, given her abhorrent behaviour, why it is that she even deserves to?)
Overall rating: 4/10.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 21: Two to Go
Written by Douglas Petrie; Directed by Bill Norton
More random comments:
- The recap at the start of this episode, which covers every terrible thing that happened this year, set me off laughing again. Season 6 is ridiculous enough on its own terms, but when you boil all its tragedies down into one montage you start to wonder who the writers were trying to kid. Buffy gets ripped out of Heaven by her friends, Dawn turns into a shoplifter, Giles goes back to England, Tara leaves Willow, Willow turns into a crack whore, Buffy starts fucking Spike, Xander leaves Anya at the altar, Anya becomes a Vengeance Demon again, Spike tries to rape Buffy, Willow and Tara get back together, Tara gets shot and dies, Buffy gets shot and almost dies, Willow relapses into black magics and becomes Dark Willow, Willow flays Warren alive… give me a break.
- “Willow’s got an addictive personality,” says Buffy, like it’s common knowledge. Well, as of Wrecked, I guess, but “an addictive personality” is not how I’d normally describe this character.
- “We’ll all be a lot happier without listening to the constant whining.” Dark Willow threatens to get rid of Dawn permanently, and in doing so says what’s been on everyone’s mind for the past season.
- I cannot believe they made Andrew one of the main characters (and a good guy no less) in the seventh season. The boy is annoyingness personified and a complete creep at that. He is an accomplice to murder and not the least bit remorseful.
- The tests Spike faces are lameness incarnate. What, fighting muscle men is the best they could come up with?
- Giles’ surprise return at the end is probably the coolest moment of the season.
Overall rating: 5/10.
Next time: Grave.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 20: Villains
Written by Marti Noxon; Directed by David Solomon
I only ever watched the last three episodes of the season once (I wonder why), so my memory of them was pretty poor. A few random comments because I don’t really feel like saying anything constructive:
- Dark Willow is actually pretty damn creepy: the eyes, the black hair, etc. I know Alyson Hannigan actually has black hair in real life now, but it’s got nothing on this.
- The misleads, to make people think Spike is trying to get the chip out of his head rather than regain his soul, are ham-fisted. I’m sorry, but this is the sort of “Forget what you heard/saw, it was all designed to mislead you” crap they pulled with the lame “Is Giles the First?” puzzle in Season 7.
- Dawn, who discovers Tara’s body and is the only character to actually show any genuine remorse after her death, is the only genuinely sympathetic character in this episode. Jeez, I never thought I’d be saying that.
- Xander actually utters the epithet “Christ!” in this episode. I thought that was verboten on US network TV.
- Even when he’s being flayed alive, Warren is still annoying.
Overall rating: 4/10.
Next time: Two to Go.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 19: Seeing Red
Written by Steven S. DeKnight; Directed by Michael Gershman
Sorry, guys. This one’s going to be an essay.
This is the episode where Buffy died for me. Seriously, I could take Dawn the kleptomaniac, I could take the Doublemeat Palace, I could even just about tolerate crack whore Willow, but this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Watching Seeing Red for the first time was the moment at which it suddenly occurred to me just how much I was being manipulated. It got to a point where I actually started laughing at what I was seeing. The writers had overshot with their message of pain and suffering so much that they’d turned what, with a little restraint, could have been an effective story about the perils of growing up, into an absolute farce of epic proportions.
There are two nails in this particular coffin. One is the dead lesbian lying in a pool of lesbian blood at the foot of the Evil Bed of Lesbian Lust just after having sinful lesbian sex with another lesbian, whose eyes flash red as she turns into an evil lesbian killing machine (see, I’m trying to make a point here). The other is Spike the Redeemed Vampire turning into Spike the Rapist because the writers suddenly remembered “Hey, soulless vampire - got to be evil! Quick! Make him do an evil thing because, you know, all those times we portrayed Spike as a sympathetic, selfless hero - guess what? You weren’t meant to like him. Because he’s not good - he just wants to get into Buffy’s pants.”
There are several problems with this, and they all stem from the fact that the writers have proven themselves completely incapable of portraying Spike in anything approaching a consistent manner. The attempted rape, presumbably, is meant to remind us that he is, deep down, still an evil, soulless monster. Okay, but why then is he in “human” face throughout the attack? (Which, before anyone asks, was, in my opinion, an excellent move. It firmly establishes rape as a crime committed by human beings rather than mythical monsters. The only problem is that it contradicts everything that follows.)
The writers then send him on a quest to get his soul back, presumably because they want to show that a soulless creature can never be redeemed. Okay, so then you negate two and a half years’ worth of character development. But fair enough: let’s assume it’s true and that, deep down, Spike really is evil, and that getting his soul back will turn him into a completely different person. Okay, but then why does his personality not change one jot after he regains his soul (see Season 7)?
More crucially, why is Buffy, the stronger of the two, allowed to abuse Spike and not have to pay for her crimes? Please note that the issue here is not to try and excuse Spike’s actions, but rather to ask why Buffy should be excused from doing exactly the same thing. The impression given here is that domestic violence can only ever be something that men do to women. What it all comes down to is that Buffy is the victim because she’s the girl, and Spike is the villain because he’s the guy. Which, for a supposedly feminist show, is jaw-droppingly misogynist. (Domestic Abuse and Gender Role Reversal in Season 6: My Letter to Mutant Enemy by Kristen Smirnov is a great article, by the way, and one from which I cribbed a number of the points made above.)
Having discussed the whimsies of Spike the Rapist, let’s move on to Tara the Dead Lesbian. If you don’t know what the Dead/Evil Lesbian Cliché is, I strongly suggest you read this FAQ compiled by Stephen Booth. It overstates the case on a few occasions, and there are a couple of points that I strongly disagree with, but it’s an invaluable read anyway. The crux of the matter is that, in TV (and indeed the arts in general), lesbians always ended up either dead, or murderers, or indeed dead murderers. I do think that things are improving in this regard - I think Channel 4’s Sugar Rush is a great series, and hey, even Holby City of all shows managed to give its sole lesbian character a happy exit recently, that didn’t involve her killing anyone or dying (on the contrary, it involved her getting a girlfriend and going off to medical school) - but for a long time fans had thought that Buffy was going to be the light at the end of the tunnel for gay women.
My point here, though, is not to debate the wrongs of the cliché (the FAQ does a pretty good job of that on its own), but rather to discuss Tara’s death and Willow’s campaign of murderous revenge as a piece of piss-poor storytelling. Watching Seeing Red again, it’s jaw-dropping how blatantly Tara’s death is telegraphed, and I can’t imagine anyone being particularly surprised when she popped her clogs. This is, after all, a Joss Whedon show, which should have warning signs lighting up in neon whenever anyone suddenly gets happy - especially in a season in which no-one has been allowed to be happy. Willow and Tara spend at least half the episode in bed together, professing their undying love and doing all sorts of naughty things, and putting Amber Benson in the opening title sequence for just this episode should have been a dead giveaway (and a rather nasty trick too). But hey, this is Season 6, so it can only end in tears. (I’ll give them credit, though, for pushing the boundaries of American television with this episode. Okay, so it’s not the “naked lesbian sex scene” Marti Noxon was busy bragging about before it aired, and a scene of implied fellatio was apparently cut, but it is two women, nude, in bed together, on American network TV. Good god, wonders will never cease!)
And end it does, despite the fact that the trajectory of the bullet that kills Tara being physically impossible. And once again I have to wonder why the writers were so fixated on having Tara dying in the bedroom. Surely it would have been more logical to just put her in the garden. Unless her dying right in front of the bed in which she’d just had sex had some sort of significance… But I digress. If killing Tara so Willow could go on a murderous rampage was the only way to inject some life into this turgid season, then, well, perhaps this just wasn’t a story worth telling. I find it more than a little stomach-churning that Whedon thought sacrificing a beloved character (and someone who served as a message of hope to a minority desperate for some positive portrayal in the media) was a suitable exchange for a mediocre three-episode finale to a tedious and monotonous season. But hey, maybe that’s why he went from having three shows on the air to none in the space of two years. Either way, he overestimated his audience’s willingness to swallow whatever shit he fed them.
On a message board, one fan once said that Willow without Tara is pointless. I think that’s true: Willow without Tara is a shell of her former self, as is Xander without Anya, the show without Giles… The show never recovers from this episode, and from hereon in, everything else seems hollow.
Overall rating: 3/10.
Next time: Villains.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 18: Entropy
Written by Drew Z. Greenberg; Directed by James A. Contner
Less heavy than the episodes preceeding it, this episode is unfortunately marred by the fact that it is complete soap opera. Buffy has always placed a lot of emphasis on the relationships of its characters, but this takes the cake. Ooooh, Spike and Anya for some reason decide to have sex in the Magic Box. Ooooh, the nerds are spying on them with hidden cameras and start giggling. Ooooh, Willow coincidentally happens to hack into their feed (using QuickTime, by the looks of it!) at the very time it’s happening, and Xander and Buffy both happen to be in the room at the same time and both happen to see their respective exes getting in on. Ooooh, Xander takes a sharp weapon and attacks Spike. Ooooh, Buffy’s shameful secret is revealed to all. Ooooh, I think I’m going to be sick.
Overall rating: 4/10.
Next time: Seeing Red.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 17: Normal Again
Written by Diego Gutierrez; Directed by Rick Rosenthal
This is another of those super-dark episodes, but it’s also handled with considerably more skill than most. The basic premise is that, after being stung by a demon, Buffy begins to hallucinate, going back and forth between the world of the show as we know it and an alternate reality where she is locked in a mental institution, and has imagined the last six years. Many people consider this episode to be a travesty that destroys their suspension of disbelief and renders the entire series a joke. I, as it happens, think it’s pretty good. And it’s nice to see Kristine Sutherland again. There’s another gaping hole in the show that was never properly filled.
Joss Whedon stated that his intention was to make the institution/Sunnydale split 50/50, so neither one seemed more real than the other. However, a lot of people can’t get around the fact that the episode’s final scene shows Buffy back in the institution. “If it ends like that,” they claim, “then it’s obvious that the institution must be real and the rest of the show must be a figment of her imagination.” I think these people are, frankly, missing the point, and are probably the same people who ask why Naomi Watts and Laura Harring’s characters’ names change half-way through Mulholland Dr. My interpretation of this scene, which features institution Buffy lapsing back into a coma (“I’m afraid we lost her,” says a doctor), is that this is her relinquishing the institution reality and returning to Sunnydale reality. Is that really so difficult to understand?
What I don’t like, though, is the insinuation that, regardless of which world is real, Buffy did in fact spend time in an institution before coming to Sunnydale, because she told her parents about vampires. No, that doesn’t wash, I’m afraid. When Joyce learned that Buffy was the Slayer at the end of Season 2, it was clear that the subject of vampires had never before been raised. It’s this sort of internal inconsistency - a willingness to sacrifice the very foundations of the show and characters in order to reach a certain plot point - that came to mar Season 7, and I happen to be one of those crazy individuals who believe in staying true to the rules of the universe you’ve created. And Jesus Christ, Dawn, stop your whining for one second! No-one cares.
On a side note, this episode was directed by a guy called Rick Rosenthal. Back in 1981, he directed the first sequel to Halloween. Now he directs episodes of TV shows like Smallville and Veronica Mars. I guess someone’s career took a down turn.
Overall rating: 7/10.
Next time: Entropy.
I will shortly be starting the task of converting the rest of my site over to the new (version 9) format. The heavy work - i.e. the Movies and DVDs sections - is now done, so the rest should be a much more peaceful affair. Still, I’m looking to streamline things a bit, and will be getting rid of the following sections:
- Gialli and Schitty Movies. I added placeholders for these to the Writings section in 2004 and 2005 respectively, with the assumption that I would have something to show for them before too long. To be honest, it’s simply not going to be possible. I already write reviews for DVD Times on a regular basis, in addition to other external commitments, which means that I simply can’t start to think about maintaining another two review databases.
- Opinion. This section contains two articles - one on the quality of that fine British television channel ITV2, and another listing things I hate. It hasn’t been updated in over a year, so I see no reason to keep it around.
- CD Collection. I don’t write music reviews, and I don’t buy CDs on a regular enough basis for this to be worthwhile.
- Jokes and Funny Quotes. It hasn’t been updated in ages, and most of them aren’t that funny anyway (although I do like the Emma Caulfield one referring to Sarah Michelle Gellar).
Sorry, folks. I know you’ll struggle to cope without them, but we’ll get through it.
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.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 15: As You Were
Written and Directed by Douglas Petrie
And Buffy sinks to yet another low. I’m serious, but is anyone actually enjoying this any more? The performances are comprised of nothing but the barest essentials, the direction is so perfunctory that I can only imagine Douglas Petrie - whose episodes used to be so fun - was in autopilot, and the audience… well, I’m sure someone out there likes this episode, but it’s not a position I can even begin to fathom.
This week, Riley shows up in town with his new wife on tow, on the trail of a demon. Why, you may ask? Presumably to contrast his got-together new lifestyle with Buffy’s, to show how totally screwed up she is. All well and good, but, as was recently pointed out to me, could they have picked a worse character to do this with? When Riley left Sunnydale in Season 5, he was the king of all fuck-ups, allowing vampires to feed on him and offering Buffy the sort of “convince me not to leave you” ultimatum that is hardly a solid foundation for any relationship. And yet, despite leaving Sunnydale an absolute wreck, and despite apparently having taken a year to get over Buffy (roughly the same amount of time he’s been gone), he seems to have got himself back into gear, picked up a new wife, and been happily married for four months. Huh?
Tack on an utterly stupid plot involving Spike being some sort of demon egg trafficker, which makes absolutely no sense and is never referenced again, not to mention the sheer unbelievability of Riley taking Buffy on a demon hunt and not bothering to tell her that he wants it alive (this is Buffy, whose profession is to kill demons, we’re talking about), and I find myself wondering if anyone bothered doing any quality control on this episode. It feels like the first draft of a hastily-penned filler episode, and yet I know for a fact that Marc Blucas’s guest return was being heralded as a big deal long before it happened, so I find it hard to believe they just pulled this one out of their asses.
Overall rating: 2/10.
Next time: Hell’s Bells.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 14: Older and Far Away
Written by Drew Z. Greenberg; Directed by Michael Gershman
Yet another of those “the gang get trapped in an enclosed space and are forced to openly confront their issues” episode, and, due to the fact that it revolves around the insufferably whiny Dawn, not a good one. Oh, and the writers suddenly remember that they decided to make Dawn a kleptomaniac several episodes ago, because, you know, she’s a Tearaway Trouble Teen! Jeez, I just don’t care, okay? And this is yet another episode in which we are given the impression, at the end, that the situation has improved, that Buffy and Dawn’s relationship has overcome a major hurdle… and yet, the very next week, they’re back to square one again.
Random good moments: yes, this episode is mildly funny at times. Tara’s comments to Spike (“You’ve got a cramp… in your pants?”) make me smile, especially given that they show a hitherto unseen side to the character, and I like Clem, the demon with skin like a Shar-Pei. Still, all of that kind of pales into insignificance when you have to put up with another round of “Get out, get out, get ouuuuuut!”
Overall rating: 4/10.
Next time: As You Were.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 13: Dead Things
Written by Steven S. DeKnight; Directed by James A. Contner
This episode isn’t perfect, but it’s a big step up from the ones directly preceeding it. It’s perhaps the darkest episode of the entire season, but it’s handled considerably more competently than many of its brethren. Chiefly, it tips the Trio over the edge from comic book dork villains into actual murderers (actually, manslaughter is a more appropriate label for the crime they commit) who try to pin the blame on Buffy. This may indeed be Buffy at her lowest ebb, not only being bum-raped by Spike (and I can’t think of any other way to describe what happens, given that she quite clearly says “Don’t” and yet he persists in buggering her), but also believing herself to be guilty of murder and being willing to hand herself into the police.
The inconsistent characterisation of Spike is the biggest problem here. One moment he’s a cold-blooded killer who wants to do everything he can to make Buffy feel worthless, pulling her down to his level as it were, and the next moment he’s taking care of her, doing everything he can to persuade her not to turn herself into the police, and even concealing the body. Obviously, this is to some extent appropriate to a character who, despite being devoid of a soul, is clearly capable of doing good deeds, but it’s frustrating nonetheless, and it shows the extent to which the writers are no longer able to stick to the basics of their own mythology. In the past, they’ve clearly stated that a creature without a soul can never be good, because they’re incapable of feeling compassion for others, but Spike’s behaviour continually contradicts this. (He did, after all, stick around and fight alongside the gang all summer when Buffy was, as far as he was aware, dead for good, so such behaviour could hardly be considered an attempt to get into her pants.) It’s amazing to say, but, bum-rape and all, Spike is actually the more appealing character at the moment, and the scene in which Buffy all but beats him to a pulp in an alleyway shows just what a repugnant person she has become.
The best scenes in the episode are those with Tara, who, unlike the rest of the main characters, is still her old self and not a whiny, self-obsessed automaton (of course, this is only so Joss Whedon can manipulate the audience’s emotions further in a few episodes’ time when he needlessly kills her off). Her chance encounter with Willow outside the Magic Box is well-written, and her non-judgemental response when Buffy confesses to her what she and Spike are getting up to reminds me why I like her so much. By the way, the final scene, in which Buffy, unable to believe that there’s nothing wrong with herself, begs Tara not to forgive her, is horrible to watch, but extremely powerful. (She gets Tara to do some tests, because she’s convinced that the reason Spike can hurt her without his chip kicking in is because she’s come back as some sort of demon or creature of darkness. Discovering that she is, in fact, just the same old Buffy only makes things worse for her, because in her eyes it means there’s no “excuse” for what she’s been getting up to with Spike.)
Overall rating: 7/10.
Next time: Older and Far Away.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 12: Doublemeat Palace
Written by Jane Espenson; Directed by Nick Marck
Wow, this episode is even worse than I remembered it. It’s hard to believe that Jane Espenson, who wrote great episodes like Band Candy and Earshot, churned out this tedious stinker about the thrills of working in fast food. And once again I’m wanting to know why Buffy has to work while Willow, who’s still living in her house, can lounge about all day trying not to take drugs… I mean trying not to do spells. And why does Buffy have to work in the lowest-paid, most unpleasant job possible? Oh, that’s right, because this season demands that everyone be as miserable as possible. Hey - why doesn’t she get Amy or Tara to magic some dollar bills into existence? If you can turn a man into a dancing strawberry, I’m sure creating money is a doddle.
Other complaints: the interaction between Anya and her vengeance demon buddy Halfrek feels like something out of those tenth-rate sitcoms like Will and Grace or Friends. And what’s with the running gag that Xander is greedy? I presume it has something to do with Nicholas Brendon’s noticeable weight gain, but really, it feels tired and desperate. It’s pretty clear that they’ve run out of interesting things to do with this character. And I’m really starting to notice how bored Sarah Michelle Gellar is getting. Not that I blame her - I’m sure anyone would eventually get sick of playing a character who barely so much as cracks a smile.
Overall rating: 2/10.
Next time: Dead Things.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 11: Gone
Written and Directed by David Fury
At the start of this episode, Buffy and Dawn are clearing magical paraphernalia out of the Summers residence. This includes candles, and when Dawn objects, Buffy explains that “To you and me they’re just candles, but to witches they’re like bongs.” Um, since when? Oh, that’s right, since Wrecked.
This week, Buffy is turned invisible as a result of the Trio’s Invisible Ray (yeesh). It’s just like that Season 1 episode Out of Mind, Out of Sight, only Willow is slouching around like a depressed junkie, trying not to take any drugs… I mean do any spells; Buffy is hacking off her hair and having invisible sex with Spike; Dawn is whining and attacking Buffy for no apparent reason; and Giles is nowhere to be seen. Seriously, this is all different kinds of lame, the only funny part being the way everyone wants to hear about Buffy’s new haircut rather than her invisibility status. At least it’s not as bludgeoningly depressive as the previous episode, though - although that’s not exactly saying much.
What really annoys me about this episode, and so many of the ones that follow it, is that it ends with Buffy making an important step, claiming that she’s getting over her problems and no longer wanting to die. All well and good, but the problem is that, as soon as the next episode comes round, she’s right back where she started. Just gets a little repetitive after a while, is all.
Overall rating: 4/10.
Next time: Doublemeat Palace.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 10: Wrecked
Written by Marti Noxon; Directed by David Solomon
There’s nothing I can say about Wrecked that hasn’t already been said in Boils and Blinding Torment’s review, so I highly recommend you give it a look. I’ll be making a lot of the same points, but with a lot less class.
If last week was Sabrina Week, this week is After-School Special Week, with the pompous moralising and condescension that go with such matters. This is the episode that really sets the show off on its downward spiral, pushing the characters into the darkest, most depressing places possible.
A lot of Season 6’s defenders claim that those who dislike it simply can’t handle the darkness and seriousness, but to that I say “bollocks”. Nothing in Season 6 is profound, or mature, or anything like that: it’s just angsty for the sake of being angsty, depressing for the sake of being depressing, and filled with as much sex and near-nudity as possible simply because UPN were less strict about that sort of thing than the WB.
It’s also the episode in which magic for some reason becomes equated with drug addiction. The problem with this is that there is no precedent for it. We’ve seen that the power that magic endows in a user can be addictive, which is fine - but, to quote one fan at the BuffyGuide forums, here there isn’t even a metaphor, just a poor analogy. Magic isn’t a metaphor for drug addiction: it is drug addiction, complete with magic dealers, magic houses, and Willow shivering on her bed as she goes through withdrawal symptoms.
I wouldn’t mind the complete bastardisation of the series’ internal consistency if it had actually been enjoyable to watch. But, no, instead it’s as boring as hell and infuriatingly condescending (did I mention that already?). We’re treated to lots of oh-so-serious talk about how Willow’s acting different and going through all sorts of stuff, Willow endangering Dawn in her careless drug-induced frenzy, Willow sobbing “I need heeeeelp!”, and me banging my head on the desk. To tell the truth, I’m reminded of the Drugs episode of Brass Eye and its portrayal of the effects of Cake. This is getting points only for Alyson Hannigan’s performance, which somehow manages to rise above the material in the final scenes. By the end of the season, when she, like Sarah Michelle Gellar, seemed to get completely fed up, even that would fade away.
If you want to know what so many viewers’ beef with Marti Noxon is, just watch this episode. This is not entertainment, and I’m getting absolutely no pleasure out of watching it. It’s like a kick in the face to everyone who stuck with this show for five and a half long years.
Overall rating: 2/10.
Next time: Gone.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 9: Smashed
Written by Drew Z. Greenberg; Directed by Turi Meyer
In this episode, Buffy turns into Sabrina the Teenage Witch. The sight of Willow snapping her fingers and turning men into giant dancing strawberries has got to rank as one of the most risible moments in the series’ entire seven-year run. Still, Sabrina Willow is better than crack whore Willow, who emerges in the next episode.
The Trio appear again, pulling off some sort of tedious jewel heist with the aid of a freeze ray. I’ve never been a fan of Buffy’s appropriation of comic book “technology” - magic and vampires I have no problem with, but for some reason things like freeze rays just don’t work for me. And don’t even get me started on the scene where they fawn over their Boba Fett figurine. This is the sort of writing I’d expect from a third-rate sitcom.
Spike also discovers that the chip in his brain no longer kicks in when he hits Buffy: a byproduct, it would seem, of her having been brought back to life via unnatural means. Unfortunately, the episode ends with the pair of them having sex in a house, whose very foundations collapse as a metaphor for the destructive nature of their relationship. The scene in question, as it happens, was investigated for “indecency” by the FCC, the watchdog body in charge of regulating American television. If you ask me, the only indecent thing about it is the complete lack of subtlety in the metaphor.
Overall rating: 5/10.
Next time: Wrecked.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 8: Tabula Rasa
Written by Rebecca Rand Kirshner; Directed by David Grossman
In a season of doom, gloom and sheer boredom, I’m amazed they managed to come up with something this fun. It’s one of those traditional “memory loss” episodes, but I always find these appealing, as they help break up the monotony and allow the characters to do and say things they normally wouldn’t. I especially enjoy Giles and Anya jumping to the conclusion that they’re a couple (because they own the Magic Box together), and Giles and Spike believing that they’re father and son. It’s also very nicely photographed, considering how flat and mundane most of the rest of the season looks. Marks off, though, for the incredibly hokey villain: a loan shark who… you guessed it, is a shark. Yeesh.
It must be said that, for all its strengths, this episode sets in motion some of the worst aspects of the season.
Number 1: it’s the episode in which Giles leaves, and it’s amazing how integral he was to the show’s success. Take him out, and it feels like there’s a huge gap. The writers, to their credit, admitted that they didn’t realise how much the show would suffer without him till it was too late, and as a result made the most of Anthony Head’s limited availability in Season 7 by spacing his appearances out better (not that it helped, though, because they utterly desecrated the character in that season). Another problem is the complete lack of logic in Giles’ decision to leave: he’s just learned that Buffy was pulled out of Heaven (rather than Hell) by her friends, and despite her needing him now more than ever, he simply walks out on her. I know Anthony Head was going to leave either way, but you’d think the writers could have come up with a better excuse.
Number 2: they split Willow and Tara up. I’m not one to proclaim my undying love for TV relationships (believe it or not, I think there’s more to a character than who they happen to be having sex with), but I like this one. It’s believable and realistic, and Alyson Hannigan and Amber Benson have considerable chemistry. Tara’s leaving deprives the show of a great character (although she does pop up here and there until her short-lived reunion with Willow later in the season), and turns Willow into a shell of her former self, to the point that she becomes a whiny, self-obsessed junkie (more on that in my review of the deplorable Wrecked).
Number 3: at the end of the episode, Buffy and Spike get together. The two shared a sweeping Hollywood smooch at the end of Once More, With Feeling, but this is the episode in which the relationship gets underway. I’ll explain in the reviews of subsequent episodes precisely why I dislike it so much.
Given all these negatives, I’m slightly surprised to be rating the episode so highly. When all said and done, though, while this episode sets up many of the season’s biggest problems, they don’t really begin “for real” until the next episode. This is really the last time we see the whole gang together, so it’s a moment to savour.
Overall rating: 8/10.
Next time: Smashed.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 7: Once More, With Feeling
Written and Directed by Joss Whedon
This is the last great hoorah of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and it’s strong and unique enough to give me reason to reconsider my desire to consign the final two seasons to the scrap heap. In this very special episode, a spell is cast that causes the inhabitants of Sunnydale to pour out their hearts in song, saying everything that they otherwise wouldn’t dare to say. As such, with its literalism and pushing of the subtext out into the open, it’s very much a Season 6 episode, but it’s handled with enough skill here for me to wonder if the season would have worked after all has Joss Whedon been in charge of it. (This was the only episode he wrote and/or directed during this season, with Marti Noxon handling day-to-day showrunning responsibilities, although Whedon undoubtedly signed off on everything that made it to the screen.)
Tacky as it sounds, it’s an undeniable hoot to see the cast members stretching their vocal muscles. Everyone provides their own voice for the musical numbers (Sarah Michelle Gellar was originally going to be dubbed, but she changed her mind when she read the lyrics and saw how integral they were to the characters), and some sing more than others depending on their relative talent. Gellar has the hardest time, since, as the lead, she obviously has to do a fair amount of singing. She’s not great, but she’s considerably better than I expected. In comparison, Alyson Hannigan and Michelle Trachtenberg are pretty bad, but thankfully only get a couple of lines here and there, while Nicholas Brendon and Emma Caulfield sing like troopers and generally do far better than one would expect. Unsurprisingly, it is the three cast members who have sung in a professional capacity - Anthony Head, Amber Benson and James Marsters - who impress most.
Bad points? Well, as unique as it is, it’s not a bona fide classic like Hush or Restless, and that’s because, despite how high it aims, it doesn’t always succeed. Giles’ sudden decision not to help Buffy, after Dawn has been kidnapped, lacks motivation (yes, we know he feels that, by always being there to prop her up, he’s “standing in the way”, but her sister has just been kidnapped by a demon from the depths of Hell, for god’s sake). Likewise, the revelation that Xander summoned the music demon (Xander casting a spell - pull the other one) and then didn’t say anything, despite it resulting in fatalities, is so out of character it’s laughable. Additionally, the inconsistent quality of the vocal performances does jar at times, while a sequence in which Marti Noxon actually appears on screen to sing about getting a parking ticket is the kind of self-indulgent crap that I highly doubt she would have submitted to had she known that, a few episodes down the line, jaded viewers would be baying for her blood. It’s ultimately the best episode of the final two seasons, though, and, although I said I never wanted to see these last two years of Buffy ever again, I would be willing to make an exception for this episode.
Overall rating: 9/10.
Next time: Tabula Rasa.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 6: All the Way
Written by Steven S. DeKnight; Directed by David Solomon
In this episode, Dawn goes out on a date with a boy… who turns out to be a vampire! No, not the most stunningly original premise ever, but at least this episode has a decent enough sense of humour, something that will disappear all too soon. It also has a nicely choreographed fight scene, in which even Giles gets to practice some slick moves. When did he become so adept at staking?
Besides that, Dawn turns into a shoplifter in this episode, presumably because in this, the season in which everyone gets so monumentally screwed up, something has to go wrong with her life (apart from losing her mother, then her sister, then getting her sister back and discovering that she’d rather be dead, that is).
Overall rating: 6/10.
Next time: Once More, With Feeling.
Category Post Index
- Film review: Twilight (long post)
- Hello, Dolly!
- When the hunter becomes the hunted
- The dead will continue to waken
- Waking the Dead: Series 6, Episodes 1 and 2: Wren Boys
- Operation red menace
- Anything goes
- Buffy the Cartoon Slayer
- Transmission interrupted
- The Waking the Dead Project
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 14: Wolves at the Gate, Part Three
- Actually, it really is that bad
- Turn that frown upside down
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 13: Wolves at the Gate, Part Two
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 12: Wolves at the Gate, Part One
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 11: A Beautiful Sunset
- Sex and Death
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 10: Anywhere But Here
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 9: No Future For You, Part Four
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 8: No Future For You, Part Three
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 7: No Future For You, Part Two
- In sickness and in health...
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 6: No Future For You, Part One
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 5: The Chain
- Remember me?
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 4: The Long Way Home, Part Four
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 3: The Long Way Home, Part Three
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 2: The Long Way Home, Part Two
- Buffy's comic capers continue
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 1: The Long Way Home, Part One
- Buffy the Comic Book Slayer
- The Year in Review
- Lovers, Liars and Lunatics: suburban dystopia
- Veronica Mars, take two
- The Buffy ratings graph
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7 (2002-2003)
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 22: Chosen
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 21: End of Days
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 20: Touched
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 19: Empty Places
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 18: Dirty Girls
- Angel: Season 4, Episodes 13, 14 and 15: Salvage/Release/Orpheus
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 17: Lies My Parents Told Me
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 16: Storyteller
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 15: Get it Done
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 14: First Date
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 13: The Killer in Me
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 12: Potential
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 11: Showtime
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 10: Bring on the Night
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 9: Never Leave Me
- How it feels to be wanted
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 8: Sleeper
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 7: Conversations with Dead People
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 6: Him
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 5: Selfless
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 4: Help
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 3: Same Time, Same Place
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 2: Beneath You
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 1: Lessons
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6 (2001-2002)
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 22: Grave
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 21: Two to Go
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 20: Villains
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 19: Seeing Red
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 18: Entropy
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 17: Normal Again
- Cleaning house
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 16: Hell's Bells
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 15: As You Were
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 14: Older and Far Away
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 13: Dead Things
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 12: Doublemeat Palace
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 11: Gone
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 10: Wrecked
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 9: Smashed
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 8: Tabula Rasa
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 7: Once More, With Feeling
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6, Episode 6: All the Way