Sep 22, 2010

Buffy The Vampire Slayer - Season 6

WARNING: Hideous and unavoidable spoilers for the ending of Season 5! You have been warned!

Things are not going so well in Sunnydale. The Scoobies are doing their best to hide the truth of the Slayer's death by using the Buffybot, but it is only a matter of time before someone realizes that the real Buffy is gone. Willow, however, is preparing a spell to bring her friend back from whatever hell dimension claimed her when she sacrificed herself to close the gate, opened by Glory. So Buffy is back. But is she the same as before? And where was she when she was gone?

Season 6 is by far the darkest, most controversial and most realistic of the whole show. Gone are many of the comfortable allegories, many of the symbols, only to be replaced by cold, unwelcoming reality. Buffy's return from the grave leaves her emotionally scarred, not in the least because of the fact that it was heaven - and not hell, as her friends assumed - that Willow dragged her back from. Now, with her mother gone, she is forced to face real life with its simple and cruel problems - paying the bills, caring for a volatile younger sister... basically becoming an adult.

Being adult and facing your problems is the theme of the season, and it is the reason why many people hate it so much. Season 6 is the farthest Buffy has ever been from the roots of vampire-slaying smart comedy. There is a lot of drama here, and not all of it is of the epic saving the world kind. Actually, this is among the worse seasons in the show - many of the themes get overly repetitive, some of the concepts just miss the target, and at times the darkness seems inappropriately overwhelming. But Season 6 is bold television, of the type rarely seen these days. It goes into forbidden territories, tackling themes like rape, sexual frustration, coming out, admitting painful truths to yourself, the purely human lust for humiliation and domination, and the shallow desperation of minimum-wage life. And more often than not the journey is worth it.

Buffy's turning into an adult that can face her problems without outside help is central to the plot. She is at her lonest - not only denied Giles' help (he leaves her in the first third of the season for the very purpose of not becoming her emotional crutch), but also feeling distanced from her friends. It is no surprise that in the end a sick relationship between her and Spike emerges - one to define both of them for the whole year and beyond. The beautiful circular structure of the season sees Buffy rise from a grave again, in the final episode, but it is a true rebirth this time, triumphant and filled with hope.

Spike, in contrast, is unchanged and unchanging, as all the soulless are in the Buffyverse. His love for the Slayer is undeniable, yet he simply can't be something that she could love, no matter how much he wants to. The cliffhangery ending to his story-arc is one of the biggest surprises in the show, and had lasting repercussions not only in Season 7, but also in Season 5 of Angel.

The other Scoobies all play major parts in the theme of the season. And both Willow and Xander fail spectacularly. After a fashion, Season 6 sees the lowest points for both of them, but it also gives resolution to Xander's uncertainty of what his place in the group is, while leaving Willow's future unclear and turbulent, after the grief-fueled trauma of the finale. Even with Buffy's rising from the grave to return to the hell of everyday life, it is Willow who suffers the most. Her addiction to magic in this season doesn't even try to hide the obvious allusions to drug abuse, using words like "tripping", "dose" and "supplier" to sometimes overstate the simple truth that behind the facade of a reliable, honest and supportive person, Willow Rosenberg is by far the weakest in terms of personality. It ruins her life in more than one way, and then, when it seems that things are looking up, a stupid accident destroys her completely.

However, it is not all gloom and doom. The season's "villain" is actually a trio of geeks - Jonathan (Danny Strong), Warren (Adam Busch) (who we knew from before) and Andrew (Tom Lenk) who just decided one day (over a D&D session) to take over Sunnydale. Jonathan's magics, Warren's technology and Andrew's demons actually give Buffy quite a run for her money, because the intent was never for them to be just comic reliefs, but still The Trio is one of the funniest in television. Their constant bickering about James Bond actors, comic book plot points and bruised egos is hilarious, while their immaturity grows to form three very different people - one who desperately craves to be loved, one horrified with himself, and one very twisted murderer. Still, much of their interaction is made of funny, and besides, they add to the theme of real-life. It is not a vampire, a demon or a god that threatens the Slayer in Season 6, but three confused and bitter teenage outcasts she went to school with.

Very few episodes in this season deserve special mention, and not because it is generally bad, but because there are almost no stand-alones to speak of. The whole year is a seamless tour of tragedy and repetition, which could be taken as both an unclear season concept and a clever allegory of the confused loops that teenagers' lives sometimes are.

I've already posted a review of the most spectacular episode in the season - the musical Once More With Feeling - so that leaves me with just a few to list. Tabula Rasa is both funny - with the whole gang losing their memories due to Willow's addiction to magic - and sad, as it signifies the end of her relationship to Tara. Still, it is hilarious to see the absurd leaps of logic the Scoobies make when faced with each other. Willow decides she must be dating Xander, while Giles and Anya think they're engaged, and most brutal of all - that Spike is Giles' son!

Gone is a repetition of Season 1's Out of Mind, Out of Sight, but this isn't Buffy lacking originality. With Buffy suddenly turned invisible by - I kid you not - the Trio's invisibility ray (!!!), Gone uses the opportunity to show just how much she wishes she could escape herself and the life she's thrust into. Hell's Bells sees the conclusion to Xander and Anya's story-line in what is one of the most infuriating of Whedonisms. I have already mentioned the guy's distaste with happy endings, but it is hardly describable the extent to which this particular one was NOT necessary.

If we don't count Once More With Feeling, then the highlight of the season is definitely Normal Again. A demon, summoned by Andrew, poisons Buffy, and she starts having hallucinations about being in a mental institution where the doctor and her parents (both alive and together) tell her that the previous six years have all been a schizophrenic fantasy she has closed herself into. As you can easily guess, the opportunity to do a surgically cold dissection of the whole show is too good to pass up, and Buffy uses this episode to not just mock, but at times cruelly ridicule its own absurdly cheesy concepts. Normal Again could also be viewed as an angry retort to all the people who denounce the show without ever having seen enough of it. The existentialism-driven story is painful, and it is not easy to watch, but although somewhat ruined by a Jack Torrance-like psycho-killer plot-twist, it is still among the very best episodes in the show, particularly with its postmodernist ending. Plus, breaking the fourth wall - always awesome!

Season 6 is the hardest to endure, especially if you are the type of person who uses the show as an escapism vehicle. It forces you to face many uncomfortable truths about life and - in some cases - yourself, while at the same time you see beloved characters going dark paths that you would never wish for them. The season is very mature (to an 18+ level at times), and there are a few particular scenes that seem almost inappropriate for it with their cruel brutality and very human ugliness.

And that is why I love it so much. True, it is a flawed masterpiece, but a masterpiece none the less. It goes boldly where even "mature" and "dramatic" shows don't dare go, and still manages to mix comedy and social critique in the very painful and personal stories that it tells. And what's even more important - it is relateable. Uncomfortably so perhaps. The ride is rough and not always pleasant or easy. But it is so very much worth it!


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