Thursday, July 23, 2009

Buffy Season 5 (will contain spoilers)

Been a while since I've written one of these.

Season 5 is really Buffy's first move to a darker place. While everyone notes the sixth season as being heavily depressing, season 5 has a lot of sour notes, and plain sad episodes. Most notable, of course, is the fantastic "The Body", in which Buffy discovers her mother, dead on the couch. This was not only a fantastically done episode, really exploring grief in what felt like a very realistic manner, it was also a real surprise; Joyce has been set up to die earlier in the season, and when it didn't happen, it seemed like she had got through. Having her condition relapse unexpectedly was a stroke of genius.

Dawn is another new addition to Buffy, and a brilliant one. A new character appearing from nowhere introduces a lovely level of mystery, which is actually allowed to continue from episode 2-5, rather than instantly spoon feeding the answer. What's great about the addition of Dawn is that it forces Buffy to act as a protector, a mothering figure, a level of responsibility she has yet to take on. This is of course underlined when Joyce dies, leaving Buffy alone as a single parent (a theme which would continue later).

Willow meanwhile, is still being set up for her fall in season 6. While some people have claimed Willow's actions had no foreshadowing, this is of course miles from the truth. From the very moment she restores Angel's soul we see her tap into a darker magic, and she does so in this season. Her first argument with Tara is about the subject of magic, with Tara expressing some fears about the rising level of power Willow is displaying. Of course, following this up with Tara's mind being sucked by Glory was a brilliant hammer blow. Tara is also developed a bit here, becoming a bit more open as a person. Sadly, her stand alone episode, Family, is a bit weak, but she has a nice moment talking to Buffy in the Body.

Xander also gets to grow up, finally. Having lost his way in season 4, he now finds a job, gets serious about his relationship with Anya and matures greatly. This is nice, as it means he is no longer just the butt of everyone's jokes.

This season also sees the departure of Riley. I guess many would say good riddance, and he really has nothing to do. I maintain that as a character he is fairly perfect. His entire purpose is to provide a more mature relationship for Buffy, but ultimately not one of love. Buffy is still hung up on being hurt.. after all she had to KILL the man she loved. That's got to cause some emotional scars, and the only councillor she ever spoke to got murdered. He did need to go, of course, to drive Buffy to finally realise what she was missing. And while Riley makes the wrong choices, you can sort of see why- he is aware that Buffy treats him as an obstacle, and wants to prove himself. He gets angry and confused, at a very bad time for Buffy, who is coping with her mother's illness.

Glory, I also liked. I know some people disliked her as a villain, but I think she is rather glorious, and brilliantly powerful. The only issue with her is her lack of violence. While initially Glory doesn't like fighting Buffy because it's tawdry, once she becomes aware that Buffy has the key, I'm not entirely sure why Glory doesn't kidnap and torture Buffy. She does, admittedly, do this with Spike, but it does seem like she's holding back somewhat. Still, she was a strong, dangerous villain who, unlike other bad guys, did cause real hurt to the scooby gang, mind sucking Tara and torturing Spike.

Man, this season really is full of character arcs, because I've realised I've got to talk about Spike now! In the previous season we saw Spike joining the others out of boredom, now he begins to develop a purpose. Despite being soulless, he realises he loves Buffy, and begins to change because of it, to the point where becomes a trusted member of the team. This transformation is awesome, and works very well (and is UTTERLY undermined in season 6).

So are there bad points to this season? Well, yes, there are some weak episodes, and the Knights are frankly bloody bizzare. I guess they exist to create the dilemma that drives the plot forward, but why on earth are they using swords and shields? They're fighting a god, not vampires, so standard guns would prove rather effective. They don't really make sense, and stretch credibility a bit.

One final moment that has to be spoken about is Buffy's sacrifice. Buffy refuses to allow anyone to talk of sacrificing Dawn, despite the fact that to do so might save the entire world. From a utilitarian viewpoint, this is wrong. But this misses the point that Buffy is the hero. She always has been, and she simply has not compromised on that point. As she says herself, if these are the choices she has to make she does not want to live in this world. Being the hero is about rejecting these choices, and finding a third way. Yes, Dawn could have willingly chosen to jump herself, but this is not Dawn's story, this is Buffy's. Jumping really encapsulates who Buffy is, and marks a brilliant end to what is the best season.

Funniest episode? As mentioned above, season 5 is not full of laughs. The best are probably Triangle, with Willow and Anya arguing and the hilarious Troll, Olaf, and the Replacement, with the two Xanders.

Best episode? A straight up choice between the Body and The Gift. Both fantastic and powerful episodes for different reasons, so I'd prefer not to choose.

Worst episode? As mentioned, family is weak, and doesn't really work very well. Out of my Mind is also a little bit tiresome.

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