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The first season, having only 12 episodes, gets the Buffy universe off to a bit of a rocky start. It's not the supernatural aspects that push the show along; indeed, many episodes are far from original. But, as stated earlier, the cast is able to elevate some pedestrian twists with believability. Some brief flashes of the future creative direction the show can take keeps us watching, as much for the quirkiness of the production as simply making sure we're catching everything. An excellent example of this is the end credits for the otherwise largely unremarkable Puppet Show (yeah, a ventriloquist dummy comes to life. There is a plot twist, but not much of one. You're still thinking to yourself, 'Didn't I already see this?'), during which, Buffy, Xander, and Willow re-enact a scene from Oedipus The King for the school talent show, much to their chagrin.
The Buffy/Angel arc is begun but suffers from predictability, not only from the fact Angel's secret is obvious, as is the impending romance. Oddly enough, the season hits its stride and indicates the direction of further arcs in its last episode, Prophecy Girl in which Buffy battles the Master, one of the eldest of the vampires who is bent on wreaking his own kind of havoc on Earth.
The show loses some of its momentum with the first few episodes, brightening when the vampire characters of Spike and his love, the insane Drusilla, are introduced as past confederates of Angel. Despite episodes that feature muddled plots (Some Assembly Required, Inca Mummy Girl, Reptile Boy), the pace speed picks up when episodes that have potentially clichéd storylines - like Halloween, in which cursed costumes cause Buffy and the Scooby gang to be transformed into the roles they decided to play that night, are actually strengthened by showing the characters growing as people, most notably, wallflower Willow.
Effective use of humour balanced with drama is displayed in many of the episodes, such as Innocence, in which Angel goes over to his evil side and helps brings forth the Judge, an unstoppable demon that cannot be harmed by any weapon forged. The creative staff rightfully arms Buffy with, of all things, a rocket launcher. The Judge's last words: "What's that do?"
Willow's ascent into Wicca is further motivated when Angel kills techno-pagan Jenny Calendar, a teacher at Sunnydale High School, and Giles' love-interest as well. The series also touched on Buffy losing her virginity at 17 to Angel... who, as a vampire, is, well, a tad older than she is. But it's dealt only a touch. No preaching, no defensive manoeuvres, which only strengthens the event, and those following.
We get a better start than the past two seasons, but its from the feeling of impending acceleration rather than the power of the lead-off episodes that set up a new Slayer, Faith, coming to town, the Mayor of Sunnydale not being what he seems to be, and the Graduation Day of the senior class. All these things provide a shadow that stretches and looms over the cast, setting up repercussions.
Among the longest shadows: Buffy trying to cope with the fact she can never retire from being a Slayer, it's for life - and that's not especially long for a Slayer. As the series goes on, it is intimated more than once that Buffy is quite possibly the longest-lived Slayer in recent history. Also, Faith goes to the dark side, siding with the Mayor in his quest for power, which entails the sacrifice of the entire graduating class.
We get a peek into what Giles was like before he became Buffy's straight-laced Watcher (as well as what every adult in Sunnydale was like as a teen) in Band Candy, which deals with magically tainted candy. In one of the strongest points, The Wish, we see what Sunnydale would be like if Buffy hadn't moved there. It shows how dark the series can be without having to lose its accessibility. It's unique because our point-of-view character in the episode, Cordelia, is brutally murdered... by vampires versions of Xander and Willow. Further, when Buffy does show up in the last 10 minutes, she is a dark reflection of the one we know. When she goes up against the Master, he kills her by snapping her neck. Gellar's death mask as she falls out of frame is haunting.
Xander and Willow begin a tryst behind the backs of their respective counterparts, Cordelia and Oz. The fallout from that and from the discovery of the affair sends the dynamic of the show as a whole off in a direction we didn't really expect, at least from the unassuming Willow who has had her eye on Xander since they were even younger than they are at this point. The Wish also provides a world we get a closer look at in Doppelgangland, notable when Willow's vampire doppelganger is brought into the Buffyverse; kudos to Hannigan for diving headfirst into her darker half.
We are treated to a Xander slanted episode, The Zeppo, in which issues that fans and critics alike have long felt: what exactly does this guy do in the series, anyway? In The Zeppo we get a very clear idea of the amount of courage Xander has in him, as well as the selflessness he can give to his friends' benefit; he prevents the school from blowing up at the hands of a psycho as well as saving his friends - who are feverishly trying to kill a creature of the dreaded Hellmouth itself, currently tearing up through the school library floor as the rest of the Scooby gang try to kill it. They do, and all wonder where Xander was - even his spurned lover Cordelia can't get his goat as she mocks his lack of apparent potential in the group after his solo adventure. He could brag, but instead tells nobody. It is during scenes of this kind as well as Xander's face-off with the bomber that Nicholas Brendan is allowed to show some kind of range, and pulls it off nicely.
The season was not without some outside complications; due to school violence prevalent in headlines, episodes like The Prom dealing with violence amongst Buffy's classmates were originally delayed and are still difficult to watch now. As the season closed with the graduating clas being armed and prepared en masse (by Buffy's friends) for the Mayor's ascent, we also are left with more than a few stunning images: parents abandoning their children when the Mayor transforms from human to demon snake as tall as the school (the CGI work is nice, but awkward), Cordelia's first kill (she stakes a vampire), schoolmate Larry's death, and a vampire taking down Cordelia's onetime friend, Harmony. Not to mention Buffy's brutal fight with Faith, which leaves the latter in a coma and the former something to consider: in order to defeat Faith, Buffy had to acknowledge the same darkness within her that spurred Faith on.
Some long-term stumbling points and notes: Willow's established as Jewish but goes into Wicca without looking back. Perhaps this is how the turn was to be handled, but it's a bit too subtle. Also, Buffy's schoolmates now know what she is, but there are no repercussions whatsoever. Nothing is made of the fact that people were killed, the school ends up exploding, or that the Mayor has suddenly gone missing. In other words, just another day in Sunnydale, but something would have been nice.
This was the last episode of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer for Charisma Carpenter's character, Cordelia. She would go on to join David Boreanaz in the spin-off, Angel.
The 'Scooby gang' enter their college years. As per most seasons, this one doesn't exactly jump out of the gate. The two primary story arcs, namely Buffy's romantic interest, Riley, and the addition of a new villain, the cyber-zombie Adam don't provide enough backbone as a whole. Riley's just ineffectual and Adam is Frankenstein's monster amped up by the military group Riley is a part of, the Initiative (whose headquarters is conveniently located beneath Sunnydale U).
That is not to say the season is completely compromised. We see humour used again to great effect in episodes like Beer Bad, where Buffy and some classmates revert to Neanderthal intelligence after drinking cursed beer. A bit silly, but watching Gellar turn in her cavewoman performance is well worth it.
It's worth noting here that the most obvious character development in the series is thus far that of Willow. Somehow ironic, since the show isn't called 'Willow, the Wiccan' but her development from nerd to a terribly powerful witch as well as that of girl to young woman who discovers her sexuality in the arms of another woman, Tara, following the departure of her first boyfriend, the werewolf Oz who needs to sort things out after betraying Willow by having an affair of his own with a female werewolf. Not that our lead character doesn't show some growth and depth. It's just in slight deliveries of dialogue or a look or the growing undercurrent that Buffy will some day die in a brutal death. She dresses much the same, talks the same, but there are atmospheric tweaks here and there.
Not much development happens in the way of most of the other characters, although Spike begins to get more screen time as the conflicted villain and Giles' dark side, while not especially overt, rears its head once in a while to great effect from the otherwise unassuming Anthony Stewart Head. This season tended to lean towards the quirky: Something Blue, in which one of Willow's spells goes awry causing, among other things, Xander to literally become a monster magnet and Spike and Buffy to become engaged. Hush, the Emmy-winning, mostly dialogue-less episode, Pangs which featured the brief return of Angel as well as the Scoobies having a Thanksgiving dinner with Spike, and A New Man in which Giles is turned into a demon and the only one who can speak his demon-language is Spike.
Indeed, the drama is most apparent only in episodes like This Year's Girl and Who Are You, which feature Faith snapping out of her coma and ready for revenge. Using an artifact left behind by the Mayor, she switches bodies with Buffy. Ordinarily, this would be unremarkable. But with Dushku and Gellar emulating one another's moves, habits and voice meter, the effect is actually kind of creepy. While the character of Faith is deepened slightly, it is only on Angel that she reaches any kind of resolution.
Restless, the season finale, ventures into the surreal and foreshadows Buffy's fate in a way as the first Slayer haunts the dreams of Giles', Willow, Xander, and Buffy herself; a strong ending to the season, mixing tension and humour to great effect.
It had to happen: Buffy versus Dracula. Or did it? It's really a nothing episode and a weak way to start another season of a show whose characters and plotlines continue to grow stronger. The best part is Nicholas Brendan's performance as Xander under the power of Dracula, making him the Dark One's servant.
The thrust of the show also got more than a jolt from the sudden addition of Buffy's younger sister, Dawn. Further, Joyce Summers fall terribly ill and the focus shifts to that of family life and carries through the season, which stumbles here and there. We learn that Dawn is actually a being of pure energy known as the Key that can be used as a tool for evil (which comes on the scene as the insane goddess, Glory) and has been fashioned into human form and placed within the safest place the monks in charge of taking care of the Key before they themselves fall to Glory's wrath.
Any worries that Michelle Trachtenberg would be unable to keep up with a more seasoned cast were certainly cast aside in Blood Ties as she comes to realise she is not human, but something very different. Her dead-faced expression as she reveals to her friends and family that she has cut her arm open and asks: "Is this blood?" resonates as she falls into a breakdown she really does not recover from.
We finally see Spike's origin as well as the manner in which he was able to dispatch two Slayers by himself. His background as a sad outcast is a bit rote, but it's a good thing to know, even though it would have been better played out a season earlier. Tara is given some much-needed backstory as well as a good look into her own powers as a witch as her family visits her in Family. We see that her stuttering, wounded nature is indeed justified as it is revealed her family assures the females in their clan that they are demons, and must be contained lest they wreak great destruction. The opposite is true. They were simply gifted witches and her family fears the bloodline. Such trauma isn't follow-up on really, just carried by Amber Benson's performance.
The emphasis on the home dynamic is further explored in what is probably the most powerful episode on the lot and the best example of what this truly underrated cast is capable of, The Body, in which Buffy's mother dies. There is no soundtrack, there are prolonged scenes of Buffy wandering the house, going into shock and suffering visions that she wishes she could make come true: that she could somehow save her mother's life by arriving sometime sooner. We watch as she breaks the news to Dawn. We don't hear her words; we just see the younger girl collapse in hysterics.
Each cast member gets to exhibit their range as they all deal with Joyce Summer's death as best they can as it effects not only their best friend's life, but their own. We are in the same room with these people. We are fostering their emotions. Detractors of the series should watch this episode and try not to feel something.
Other revelations include Spike's admission of love for Buffy, something that is less than a welcome story arc save that it will provide a better look into Spike's convoluted, dark logic and how Buffy may actually fit into it. Also expected is the Buffyverse's version of The Monkey's Paw in that Dawn enlists the aid of Spike to try to bring her mother back. The sole twist is that when the time comes for one of the Summers' girls to answer the tell-tale knock at the door, it is Buffy that goes running to let her mother in and it is Dawn who show the strength enough to break the spell herself.
Following soon is the episode Intervention, in which Buffy enters a vision-state where she meets again with the first Slayer in an attempt to find a way to kill Glory. Instead, she is told by the first Slayer, "Death is your gift," foreshadowing future events soon to pass. There is the addition of a small army called the Knights of Byzantium, who are also in search for the Key, but for opposite reasons to Glory. They mean to destroy it before it falls into the wrong hands. An intriguing idea, but as Buffy and cohorts flee Sunnydale in an RV, it looks like a Renaissance Faire is following them rather than a group of highly dangerous men.
Even more of Glory's power is seen when she is not only able to kidnap Dawn (by way of a human male personality, Ben, that shares her body and is completely unnecessary to Glory's arc) but also lay waste to the entire company of Knights.
The much talked about death-of-Buffy episode soon followed, where she sacrifices her life in lieu of Dawn's in order to stay the hand of Glory's doom upon Earth. We see the definitive moment of how dark Giles can become when he kills Glory's wounded mortal side, Ben, with a matter-of-fact hand over the mortal's mouth and nose - holding it there until Ben's struggles cease. The series could've ended there, with the last shot of Buffy's gravestone reading simply 'she saved the world a lot' being all that was needed to stay true to the characters as well as being a definitive conclusion.
Instead, viewers got another season.
A bitter and very public contractual battle between Joss Whedon and the WB network ensued during the 5th season, and while Buffy did indeed die, there seemed to be no doubt to Whedon that she would return, regardless of whether the WB would be broadcasting the new episodes or a competitor. As season six loomed, the UPN network, plagued by poor numbers with nothing encouraging on the horizon in terms of new shows, made their pitch and became the new home of Buffy.
The effect seemed to be immediate in terms of production values. The sets were the same, but seemed somehow cheaper. The scripts as a whole aren't as strong, the amount of first-run episodes are slim, and to date, no real story arc has presented itself outside of the break-up of Willow and Tara and the former's recovery from addiction to magic, once again providing a benchmark for the growth of Willow's character when compared to the others, especially Buffy. Ironically enough, the season opened with the strongest episode to date, Bargaining in which Willow and Co. help bring Buffy back from the dead. Significant not only in bringing the Slayer back, but just how black Willow's powers have gotten and how casual she has become about them.
There are two arcs that never seem to get any real momentum behind them. One of them is Buffy's attempt to give Dawn (and in turn, herself) a family life and face the real world. The second is Dawn's utter alienation from her friends and family, and her kleptomania. The focus on Dawn would provide a fresh shift away from the familiar and allow Trachtenberg to do more than scream and throw fits, which she has proven more than capable of doing. The plotline that has received the most uh, thrust (pun intended) is Buffy's physical relationship with Spike, and while it has provided some of the funniest moments as well as darker moods courtesy of Spike, it doesn't seem to have the momentum such a thing would need to carry over and be as effective as it needs to be. Viewers have also been subjected to the inclusion of three bumbling ex-schoolmates of Buffy's intent on conquering Sunnydale. They're okay for geek-pop-culture references, but the more screen time they garner, the more irritating they become. Further crippling the show was the reappearance of Riley in As You Were. It simply wasn't needed, and the character doesn't seem to be liked enough by the fanbase to pull off a special appearance.
The musical episode, Once More With Feeling was enjoyable enough and the songs Whedon wrote for the episode were fitting in his quirky and creative style, but it seems a little late in the show's lifespan to produce such a thing without it looking like quirkiness for rating's sake. If the scripts surrounding it had been stronger, it wouldn't have seemed quite as desperate. We also discover that Buffy is less than pleased with her friends resurrecting her. In fact, she believes she was in heaven. Odd though; she never mentioned seeing her mother...
Normal Again is another episode that would have had more potential if produced maybe two seasons earlier. It deals with a plot all too familiar to speculative fiction shows - the 'you're not who you think you are; you're quite insane' plotline. The only things that come even remotely close to redeeming this episode is the return of Kristine Sutherland in a small part reprising her role as Buffy's mother and the manner in which she and Gellar act throughout, and the ending, which is a shot of a comatose Buffy in an asylum, while expected, is still surprisingly effective.
The future... Anthony Stewart Head left the series in season six, but plans to work with Whedon again on his own spin-off, 'Ripper', to be produced for UK television. The much anticipated Buffy animated series has been in production with much of the same cast providing voices to the half-hour episodes that are throw-backs to the Scoobie's days in the first season, although where and when the series will air is uncertain. It has not been said that this will be the last season for Buffy, but the stretch marks are well beginning to show. This current season has seen stumbling blocks for the show that have all but killed its momentum. Even the rumours that a cast regular will die this season haven't garnered the Internet chat-room hubbub it would have even a season ago.
Trouble is the only way for Buffy to stop being a Slayer is to become the slain. It's a topic that Whedon has obviously proven himself to be able to deal with, but it seems that the viewers aren't the only ones who don't want to see her go.
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