[Review by Mike Marinaro]
Here’s a bold statement for you: Season 5 is the best season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer so far, and I expect it to stay that way. This is something I could not say with clarity before I had reviewed the entire season, but after looking back on it all it’s finally clear. Each season that preceded this had something hampering it, whether that was S1’s corniness or S2’s first half or S3’s relative emotional void or S4’s plot arc. In contrast, S5 has it all: a solid intriguing plot, strong thematic consistency, fantastic character development, huge emotional turmoil, plenty of laughs, and unparalleled payoffs. It’s not without flaws, but when thinking of the entire season as a whole, what we’ve got is damn near perfect — definitely worthy of my first, and likely only, ‘A’ for an entire season. Honestly, with S6’s mid-season consistency problems and S7’s plot slip-ups, it’s hard to imagine either of them topping S5 in overall greatness.
While S2 heavily explored the personal side of Buffy Summers, S5 tackles the other half and dives head first into what it really means to be the Slayer. From the violence to the sex to the power to the love, S5 offers us a painting that defines the role of the Slayer and how Buffy as a person frequently subverts what is expected of her. In addition to this in-depth look at the Slayer, we also get a lot of personal development for Buffy. This is explored via the end of her relationship with Riley and subsequent revelations about relationships. Buffy is where the season’s focus lies, but that’s not to say everyone else was pushed aside. It turns out we actually get some of the best development in the series for Willow and Spike as well.
In S4 we saw the Scoobies slowly separate while trying to define themselves. Here we see the group working together more as a family than a group of friends. Although everyone seems pretty tight this year, what with the Willow/Tara and Xander/Anya relationships, there’s a lot of sneaky and subtle problems that are brewing underneath the surface. A lot of these underlying issues are character flaws that began fostering much earlier in the series, most notably present in Willow and Xander. Spike also got an impressive amount of development, probably the most of any season. He goes from trying to kill Buffy to being a reliable ally in Buffy’s fight against Glory.
The introduction of the Magic Box as a gathering place for the Scoobies was a fantastic move, which helped facilitate this more familial feel. After the library in Act I (S1-S3) I was ready for a change. S4 delivered by leaving the group fractured, occasionally gathering at Giles’ place. But because of Joyce’s illness and the appearance of Dawn, Buffy moves back home (I had really missed the Summers’ home in S4) and Giles buys the Magic Box which functions as a new ‘headquarters.’ This set is rich and beautiful making way for something fresh yet interesting.
Unlike S4, where stand-alone episodes kept the season afloat, S5 sports excellent stand-alones along with an amazing story arc. Here’s a quick break down of the vital stuff that happened. The season opens with a thematically stirring episode in “Buffy vs. Dracula” [5×01] which immediately opens up a can of interesting ideas involving the nature of the Slayer’s power and the connection between blood and life. All these elements turned out to play a major role in future episodes and in the finale, “The Gift” [5×22] . Dawn also suddenly appears at the end, which sets up some fantastic mystery and confusion surrounding what she is. The following three episodes each touch on a specific character and delves deeper into their minds: Dawn in “Real Me” [5×02] , Xander in “The Replacement” [5×03] , and Riley (and to an extent, Spike) in “Out of My Mind” [5×04] .
The season’s arc doesn’t fully begin until the underrated masterpiece “No Place Like Home” [5×05] in which Glory makes her presence known, severely thrashes Buffy, and a monk reveals what Dawn really is. Shortly after this, we get a character masterpiece for Buffy and Spike in “Fool for Love” [5×07] which adds entirely new layers to Spike while also imparting valuable insight into the nature of the Slayer from his perspective. “Shadow” [5×08] deals with Glory’s hunt for the Key and the seriousness of Joyce’s illness while “Listening to Fear” [5×09] directly tackles the latter. Riley departs in a fascinating look at Buffy’s relationship issues in “Into the Woods” [5×10] . The Watcher’s Council and power games are brought up in “Checkpoint” [5×12] . The theme of blood and life is returned to when Dawn discovers what she is in “Blood Ties” [5×13] . It’s not until “The Body” [5×16] , though, when the series changes forever. From this shocking piece of life onward we get strong thematic and plot cohesion right until the beautiful finale, “The Gift” [5×22] .
- The occasional stretch of episodes where Glory isn’t doing anything when she has motivation to be pummeling Buffy and friends.
- The Knights of Byzantium.
- A couple episodes involving a tiny bit of sloppy character work.
I must say how amazed I am by how very little is wrong with this season. I’m extremely critical in my entertainment and can usually always point out a bunch of things that really bother me (just read my previous season reviews), but S5 just gets it almost all right. “Almost” is the key word there, as the season still has a few things that hold it back from being perfect.
The most prominent of these things is the occasional mis-management of Glory’s search for the Key. Although I feel the amount of screen time this plot got was perfect, I just wish more of an excuse was made for why she was never going after Buffy. I get that she shares her body with Ben and that she’s extremely lazy, but you must remember she’s also extremely temperamental. You’d think after Willow teleports her into the sky in “Blood Ties” [5×13] Glory would be furious and go after Buffy the moment she got the chance. But after four episodes go by Glory is still putting together the basics. After the middle part of the season I oftened wondered why Glory won’t just get up and finish her business. Either the writers botched up an explanation or they made Glory far too stupid. Either way, not good.
What I’d call the biggest missed opportunity this season would be the Knights of Byzantium. Most of my problems with them are outlined in my review of “Spiral” [5×20] . Simply put they are excessively hokey, unrealistic (even for the Buffyverse), one-dimensional, and under-used. If these guys had been a bit less hokey and gotten a bit more intelligent attention, they could have been another excellent layer in this wonderfully textured season. As it stands, it just feels like the writers bit off more than they could chew.
The only remaining issue I had with the season worth mentioning is a couple moments of surprisingly bad characterization. We see this seep out in mostly Jane Espenson’s episodes, which is a shame because otherwise I really enjoy her work. The primary issues that bothered me in this way were Buffy’s crying in “Triangle” [5×11] and all the Scoobies but Buffy and their reaction to the BuffyBot in “Intervention” [5×18] . On other shows this kind of out-of-character behavior is common and almost even expected. But Buffy has been operating on a different level since S2 — I genuinely expect more than these odd displays. Fortunately they are, indeed, rare and it doesn’t really bother me very much because of it.
- Amazing thematic continuity and power throughout the season.
- Great character work, especially for Buffy, Willow, and Spike.
- Excellent season-long arc, which is used to intelligently augment the characters’ journeys.
- Smart stand-alone episodes.
- Overall? Emotional, powerful, intelligent, shocking, funny, and compelling.
The fact the lowest score I gave out in this entire season was a 70 says it all. A lot went right this season; heck, nearly everything went right this season, hence its well-deserving score. All the flaws present in previous seasons are exonerated and what we’re left with is nothing short of amazing. The season opens strong and closes strong. Probably the thing that impresses me the most is the well thought-out and fascinating themes which permeate the season. From “Buffy vs. Dracula” [5×01] to “The Gift” [5×22] , these messages are potent, vivid, and consistent.
The subjects of death and love are mingled together in dark, complex, fascinating, beautiful, and at times even downright scary ways. The firsts hints of this direction are dropped in the foreboding “No Place Like Home” [5×05] . It isn’t until “Fool for Love” [5×07] , though, that the subject gets direct attention. It’s here where Spike informs Buffy of the Slayer death wish as he tries to “dance” with the dark side he knows she has. Spike’s haunting speech really opens up a well of discussion: “Death is your art. You make it with your hands, day after day. That final gasp. That look of peace. Part of you is desperate to know: What’s it like? Where does it lead you?” Buffy confirms her curiousity of the subject matter with her scared yet silent response. This is ultimately a question most of us ponder at some point in our lives, whether religious or not. This subject alone could easily be the topic of an article or an essay of which I may write something about someday.
This subject gets even more attention later on in the season. Riley’s departure in “Into the Woods” [5×10] , which at first appears to be completely unrelated to the themes of the season, turns out to actually be quite integral in forcing Buffy to think about her ability to love. I’ll go more into the specifics as they relate to Buffy a little bit later. For now I can say that issues surrounding Riley play a huge part of some big realizations Buffy makes in “Crush” [5×14] and especially “I Was Made to Love You” [5×15] . Death stands, quite nakedly, in Buffy’s face during “The Body” [5×16] which gives her time to think about just how worried she is that being the Slayer is turning her “into stone.”
This leads into the potent message given to her by her Spirit Guide in “Intervention” [5×18] . There she is told that love will bring her to her gift of death, which is initially completely misunderstood. What the Spirit Guide meant was that Buffy’s deep resevoirs of love that she’s had over the years — two examples being her sacrifice of “boyfriend love” for the world in “Becoming Pt. 2” [2×22] and her sacrifice of blood, or life force, so that Angel could live in “Graduation Day Pt. 2” [3×22] — will lead her to her final gift to her sister, friends, and the world: her sacrificial death. It’s not easy for Buffy to arrive at this realization as her trials in “The Weight of the World” [5×21] prove, but “The Gift” [5×22] shows that “I figured it out. And… I’m okay.” Death and love become one in the same, which brings the season, and to an extent the entire series, full circle in a stunning finish.
As powerful as the death/love connection is, there’s some other noteworthy themes running through the season, all of which intelligently overlap with the other themes. An example of this is the focus on the thought of blood as life. This is brought up and explored in the season opener and gets fairly steady attention throughout the season culminating in “The Gift” [5×22] , in which Spike himself points out its importance. His speech sums up what has been subtley woven into the season: “Blood is life, lackbrain. Why do you think we eat it? It’s what keeps you going, makes you warm, makes you hard, makes you other than dead.” This theme blends together with the importance and connection between blood relatives, a subject touched on most notably in “Blood Ties” [5×13] . Buffy later says of Dawn, “She’s me. The Monks made her out of me. I hold her and I feel closer to her than… It’s not just the memories they built, it’s physical. Dawn is a part of me” (“The Gift” [5×22] ).
The blood relations tie directly into another prominent theme in the season: family. Although it is noted how special blood relatives are, Whedon makes sure to point out that created families can be nearly as potent and important. This is brought to the forefront in “Family” [5×06] when Tara’s selfish and dominating family come to impose themselves on her life. They attempt to control her with lies which shows how the bonds of direct family, when abused, can be as destructive as they can be beautiful. It’s at times like these when the importance of a created family, like the Scooby Gang, makes itself known. This entire season the Scoobies function as a make-shift family — always there for each other in the darkest of times. This feeling is brought home not only in “Family” [5×06] but also in “Checkpoint” [5×12] . Even so, as Buffy tells Giles in “Blood Ties” [5×13] when he asks if he can help out with the Dawn situation, “this is a family thing.” In general, blood reigns prime.
A slightly more subtle theme is one that sneakily sets up S6 without us even realizing it, and that is how the Scoobies, specifically Buffy, are being forced to grow up prematurely. Joyce’s death, Tara being brain sucked, the responsibility that is Dawn, and marriage are all events and actions that spur abrupt growth in the characters, even though the development that led to them was not abrupt. For Buffy, her care-free era ends abruptly when she learns of Dawn’s origins in “No Place Like Home” [5×05] . It’s not until after “The Body” [5×16] , though, when she’s forced to stare adulthood in the face. With Joyce’s passing, she’s now unexpectedly Dawn’s surrogate mother and must not only protect her from Glory, but also do all the day-to-day chores of raising a teenager. This is complete overload for Buffy and we see her trying, and mostly failing, in both of her duties. “The Body” [5×16] didn’t just alter Buffy, it altered the entire series. From that point on the series got a lot more adult and forced its characters to be adults when they weren’t ready yet. All this in tandem with Buffy’s death in the finale, and we’ve got a great setup for a dark, chaotic S6.
As genius as the themes of the season were, they’re not the only reason why it succeeds. How about the excellent character work? Buffy loses a lot and at several point wants to just give up, Willow has finally unleashed her dark magic resevoirs, Spike’s murderish yet sexual obsession of Buffy slowly morphed into love, Riley left, and Xander proposed to Anya! That’s a lot of huge stuff! I’ll go more into each of their plights in their respective sections.
What I want to talk about now is the surprisingly tight season-long plot. Notice how I haven’t talked about Glory much? That’s because she’s not even remotely close to the reason why S5 is as amazing as it is. With that said, I feel that, overall, Glory performed her duties to the season just fine. The entire plot involving the Key and Glory’s wish to go home laid the basic framework to put all the more important, character-related, pieces into play. A great example of this is how “Blood Ties” [5×13] uses Dawn’s unique situation as the Key as a stunning metaphor for adoption. Not surprisingly “The Gift” [5×22] is also a standout.
“No Place Like Home” [5×05] introduces Glory in a fascinating and foreboding manner and some of the moral complexities explored later through Ben provided some interesting things to think about. “But what are some big effects Glory had on the Scoobies” you might ask. I would respond by saying she spurred the Watcher’s Council to get involved, forced Willow into using more dangerous magic than she’s ever used before, made Buffy think about entirely new ways to fight an enemy, and, oh yeah, indirectly caused Buffy to die. I don’t know about you, but I’d call that a pretty successful villain. I’ll get more into Glory’s personality, a topic of much debate, later.
So, okay, the plot worked. Cool. What about those silly stand-alone episodes that plague shows so often? Well, that problem is non-existent this season. There are stand-alones, but amazingly they deeply add to the character work being done throughout the season. Nearly every stand-alone in this season contains focused and vital character work. Just some of these highlights are “The Replacement” [5×03] , “Fool for Love” [5×07] , “Into the Woods” [5×10] , “Crush” [5×14] , and “I Was Made to Love You” [5×15] .
Even after all that praise the season could still be missing what S3 was missing: emotion. But nope, we got plenty of that this year too. We got powerful episodes, both heart-breaking and funny, intelligent and shocking. This season’s got heart, its got smarts, its got darkness, and its got consistency. All in all? S5 simply wins in my book. I’m not sure I can give enough praise out to Joss and the entire Buffy team for this season’s near-perfect work. What a stunning season of television.
Ah, Buffy. Poor, poor Buffy. This may be obvious, but I have a deep love for the character of Buffy. I will go over why I have so much love for her when I write a comprehensive series review someday (and you think the season reviews take a while to write…). For now, I’m going to limit my answer to simply ‘writing.’ The way Buffy has been characterized from the beginning of the series until now has been perfect. So when Buffy jumps to her death, I find myself deeply moved and inspired. While in my review of “The Gift” [5×22] I mentioned many of the pieces that led Buffy to this kind of sacrifice, here I’m going to go into a bit more detail.
I’m going to begin with the Buffy/Riley relationship. Throughout the first half of the season we see Riley getting increasingly frustrated with an increasingly distant Buffy. This problem isn’t one-sided, as Riley has issues of his own which hurt their relationship from progressing and will be discussed in his section. Buffy, though, is emotionally shut down, which we get proof of from her own mouth in “I Was Made to Love You” [5×15] . Why is Buffy’s soul so guarded from being hurt? Quick answer: “Becoming Pt. 2” [2×22] . If you look closely at all her relationship progress since then, from Scott Hope to Riley, it really comes into focus just how cut-off she is on that deep level. Buffy got hurt in such an intimate way during the events of S2 that she’s still closed up from it, which is a testament to both the excellence of that arc and all the development the character has gotten since.
To Buffy’s credit, she warned Riley a lot in “Doomed” [4×11] about where the likely result of a relationship between the two of them would end up. Although it may have appeared that she was willing to open herself up by going out with Riley, it’s obvious she never really did. Sure she’s ‘into’ him during S4, but that’s all just boyfriend/girlfriend excitement, nothing more. Buffy never showed the kind of emotion and passion with Riley that she did with Angel. Riley doesn’t begin to notice problems in their relationship until they get over that initial ‘moon eyes’ stage. It happens though, and right from the start of S5. Although Riley’s seeing the problems Buffy’s almost oblivious to them, and for a good reason: she’s on overload this season with too many life-altering events happening for her to focus on Riley. The first time she notices something is in “Out of My Mind” [5×04] but then quickly returns to thinking all is well again. Well, it wasn’t. “Into the Woods” [5×10] came rolling in and Riley went rolling out leaving Buffy initially perplexed by what just happened.
Buffy’s lack of serious emotion after Riley’s departure further went to prove she was never truly invested in him as she was with Angel. Although, I respect Buffy for running after Riley, which showed that she was genuinely willing to try to fix the problems they had. Riley’s departure is important in the overall scheme of the season because it’s the first piece of the nice routine Buffy had gotten comfortable with to go. Also, it’s what truly gave Spike a chance to make advances on Buffy and show his feelings for her without being staked on the spot (Riley almost did anyway).
Riley’s departure also provided Buffy the initiative to explore herself, in regard to relationships, and what she needs to do looking towards the future. At this point in the season Buffy has already been deep in her exploration of what it means to be the Slayer. The other piece is finding out who she is as a person, which I’m going to touch on first. The episodes relating to this worth taking a close look at are “Crush” [5×14] and “I Was Made to Love You” [5×15] . The former forces Buffy to begin thinking about the dating process as she thinks about initiating contact with Ben. The latter, though, is where the money’s at, providing Buffy with some excellent self-analysis of herself.
Much of this self-analysis involves discovering just what it is she needs in her life at this time. At first she thinks that she needs to change herself to impress and keep a guy. But, as Xander tells her earlier and she eventually realizes later thanks to the good use of plot, “maybe you could just be Buffy, he’ll see your amazing heart, and he’ll fall in love with you.” The AprilBot was constructed for the sole purpose of providing Warren a girlfriend, yet Warren still didn’t love her. The AprilBot proves to Buffy two important things: being submissive in a relationship can open yourself up to some serious abuse, and that it’s important to be yourself. Real love isn’t about lusty impulses, it’s about compromise, understanding, and mutual sacrifice. Buffy finally realizes that she’s really not ready for that yet. That, first, she needs to find out who she is. This is information that, unfortunately due to traumatic life experiences, Buffy won’t get to fully enjoy until after “Chosen” [7×22] .
Now we get to the primary focus of Buffy’s development this season, which is a big focus of the season as a whole: the exploration of what it means to be the Slayer. She trains harder than ever, reads up on Slayer history, consults the Spirit Guide, and learns how her duties as the Slayer often intersect with those of just being a human being. While the season explores many nuances of this development, three episodes in particular are the biggies: last season’s “Restless” [4×22] , “Fool for Love” [5×07] , and “The Gift” [5×22] .
Buffy’s dream in “Restless” [4×22] really beautifully set up her experiences to come in S5. From the reminder of the “7-3-0” on the clock in “Graduation Day Pt. 2” [3×22] to the hint of Dawn’s arrival to Buffy not completely trusting Riley, hinting at their future issues, to Adam essentially telling Buffy that she is part demon like him, which turns out to be somewhat true. The spirit of the First Slayer also tells her that the Slayer has “no speech. No name. I live in the action of death, the blood cry, the penetrating wound. I am destruction. Absolute…alone.” All these hints really go to not only get us viewers thinking about these things, but the characters as well. Much of this is reaffirmed in the S5 opener, “Buffy vs. Dracula” [5×01] . But, the episode which deeply explores these themes is the incomparable “Fool for Love” [5×07] .
While also a big episode for Spike’s history and development, “Fool for Love” [5×07] provides Buffy with some vital information through Spike’s eyes. Spike’s experiences are very relevant and even frighten Buffy. He talks about how slayers have a death wish, and that the only thing preventing Buffy from reaching that point is her “ties to the world.” The two of them also share a load of potent sexual tension (I always take a cold shower after watching it… okay, no I don’t, but I do in my head… just ignore me already, K?). This speech of his, in many ways, sets up what is to come. What’s impressive, though, is that while she does come close to this death wish several times, she doesn’t give into it.
We don’t see this character thread picked up on seriously again until after Joyce’s traumatic death in “The Body” [5×16] . As pointed out in that review, this episode marks a jolting turning point into darkness for the series. It’s also at this point that Buffy must become Dawn’s surrogate mother, which she’s obviously not ready to do. Her primary support system drops away and she buckles. A lot. With a crisis at hand, though, she manages to plough through regardless of her mistakes. After Joyce’s funeral in “Forever” [5×17] , Angel arrives to help Buffy with her grief. After telling him “it’s tomorrow that I’m worried about,” Angel gives her some crucial advice: “You’ll find your way. I mean not all at once, but…” And she will find her way in time. But with nothing supernatural to immediately deal with in S6, we see her state of mind in its fully depressed state which is even much worse than her mental state here.
But before we get there Buffy picks up some key pieces of information. The vital one is the Spirit Guide’s message in “Intervention” [5×18] to “Love. Give. Forgive. For it will lead you to your gift… death is your gift.” At first Buffy doesn’t get any of this, but slowly over the following group of episodes she starts to put it all together. At the end of “Intervention” [5×18] , she forgives Spike for his use of the BuffyBot and kisses him as a reward for nearly sacrificing himself to protect Dawn. In “Tough Love” [5×19] she tries to step up and give of herself to help Dawn, as she also does in a physical capacity in “Spiral” [5×20] . The love component of this word trio comes into play during the final episode of the season, “The Gift” [5×22] . All of this is entwined with the other themes of blood as life and family as they relate to Dawn.
At the end of “Spiral” [5×20] , having lost Dawn to Glory after just promising to protect her, Buffy decides to ‘quit’ and goes into catatonia. This is the closest Buffy ever got to the death wish the way Spike envisioned in “Fool for Love” [5×07] . At this point, deeply explored in “The Weight of the World” [5×21] , she’s lost enough and just wants it all to end. In this frozen state, we can clearly see the resurfacing early-series desire of Buffy’s to just be a girl — where others can take care of all the responsibilities. Buffy’s adulthood is being forced down her throat at this point and she’s fighting it every step of the way. Repeated here is also her misconception of the meaning of the message given to her by the Spirit Guide involving death. She believes killing things is her gift, and that now she let Dawn die. For a moment, though, she wanted it all over, for Glory to win, which is what is killing her now.
It turns out, though, that thankfully Buffy had it all wrong. In the magnificent finale, “The Gift” [5×22] , she discovers what her true nature is — not the nature of the Slayer, but rather this Slayer. And that nature is, as I put it in my review, “blood being irrevocably tied to life, Buffy’s blood connection to Dawn, and the Spirit Guide’s true meaning. Death, here, now, is Buffy’s gift of love to Dawn, her friends, and the world. Pure, undiluted love … The Slayer is not just a killer, but if used wisely is an instrument of love; a hardened fighter who is blinded by the very love she is full of — the gift she gives to the world.” Buffy ultimately chooses to sacrifice herself, or die, rather than kill Dawn, which was her original assumption of the Guide’s message. This realization is the beautiful culmination of a season’s worth of carefully written character work, and the emotional payoff is simply phenomenal.
The final thing I picked up on this season is an introduction to the topic of power. “Checkpoint” [5×12] almost plays as a trailer for S7’s primary theme in my mind. This connection is made more evident when looking at Buffy’s initial realization about power in “Checkpoint” [5×12] and comparing it to the S7 opener “Lessons” [7×01] . In the former we hear her say to the Council, “Everyone is just lining up to tell me how unimportant I am. And I’ve finally figured out why. Power. I have it. They don’t. This bothers them.” In the latter, we hear Buffy explain to Dawn, “It’s about power. Who’s got it. Who knows how to use it.” Buffy definitely takes another step into maturity during “Checkpoint” [5×12] and learns her first important lesson about power, which is used as the launching point to her knowledge and growth on the subject in S7. This represents a really cool advance setup, even if it likely wasn’t originally conceived that way.
Overall this is quite a huge season for Buffy and is likely the most life-changing of all the seasons, although S2 comes in a close second, then followed by S6. S5 ends with Buffy’s real death, which appears to not really set anything up for next season. It turns out it’s just the opposite. “She saved the world. A lot,” but this beautiful discovery made about herself in “The Gift” [5×22] , which represents all of S5’s development, is turned upside down as a painful memory of what she used to be. Now she’s living in the shadow of her former self… her former peace. It’s not going to be pretty, nor pleasant. Nor is it intended to be. S6 shows a dire time when she must save herself instead of the world.
Where’d cute little Willow go!? Well, that was then. This is now. It’s called character growth. Since very early in the series we’ve seen Willow undergo big, but gradual transformations. The last couple seasons, though, have really begun to sieze that early development. The focus on her character in S5 is very focused on one particular theme: magic. Although Willow’s relationship with Tara is also a big part of her life, it turns out Tara’s actually unknowingly fueling Willow’s need for power by being a somewhat submissive magic partner, at least for a while. In a way, this entire season’s a giant setup to the giant power overdose we see her indulge in during S6. Right from the start, in “Buffy vs. Dracula” [5×01] , things are brewing within her.
As a rare sunny barbeque on the beach ends in an abrupt dark storm passing over the Scoobies, we hear Willow immediately take defensive posturing yelling, “I didn’t do it! I didn’t do it!” Whether or not she actually caused the storm isn’t terribly important, but her defensiveness is perfectly representative of how protective Willow is of herself and her use of magic. She doesn’t want anyone telling her she’s messing with nasty stuff or that she can’t handle it. Throughout S5 we see this strategy of hers in effect each time Giles expresses concern for her in regard to her magic with comments like “That was an incredibly… dangerous spell for an adept at your level.” Giles has been expressing these concerns since all the way back to S2 when Willow was initially getting into magic. We’ll see both of these issues directly confronted in a wonderful scene in “Flooded” [6×04] as Giles finally doesn’t just warn Willow about her magic use — he yells at her about it, and she snaps right back in a chilling display of anger.
So Willow’s power continues to increase. That much is obvious. The real question is, what is it that is fueling this growing obsession besides just her own motivation? The answer lies in two very distinct things: Glory and Tara. Now, Glory is a big part of this because the Scoobies are presented with an enemy so strong, Buffy can’t touch it — no one can. This forces Willow’s hand and gives her an excuse — a permission slip — to start really pulling off some deeply dark spells. Although Willow does these spells out of good intentions, which has always been one of the reasons she began using magic, what she fails to see is that the black magic is fundamentally changing her personality. This change happens so gradually that she doesn’t even notice it’s happening. The rest of the gang starts to take notice towards the end of the season (see “The Weight of the World” [5×21] ), but they’re too steeped in the immediate crisis to dwell on it.
It turns out Tara unintentially fuels Willow’s magic obsession as well. When Tara’s introduced in S4 we see a character who is in many ways very similar to the Willow we saw in S1. At this point in time, Willow wants to be the dominant partner in any relationship she has. Tara provides this… for a while. Throughout S5 we see Tara gaining more and more confidence in herself, just as Willow did throughout S2 and S3. As Tara grows confidence she begins to start speaking up to Willow and expressing her concerns with Willow’s abuse of magic. All of this builds up to their first major fight, in “Tough Love” [5×19] , which is where Tara expresses how unsure she is of where Willow’s headed — and not just with witchcraft. Although these problems are brewing largely beneath the surface through S5, Willow and Tara ironically prove to be one of the most traditionally normal relationships in the entire gang.
All of the build-up and teases (see “Blood Ties” [5×13] ) involving Willow’s power over the course of the season finally come to a head in “Tough Love” [5×19] when Willow goes all out in rage and vengeance on Glory for brain-sucking Tara. This magic spree at the end of the season really leaves her with a lot of power running through her system and it doesn’t just go away. Usually after a draining period immediately following its use, Willow seems to retain much of the power she had last reached. We see her continue to pour out powerful magic in each of the final four episodes culminating in her bringing Tara’s mind back out of Glory accompanied with some new telepathy skill. Both Willow’s demeanor and attitude throughout these episode is strikingly different than before them. The magic she accessed in “Tough Love” [5×19] has permanently changed her.
All of this is directly picked up at the beginning of S6 where we see Willow using magic heavily and frequently. Her personality is much darker and edgier as well. S5 proves to be a huge piece in Willow’s character development that began all the way back in S2. Although I know some people wish the series had ended with “The Gift” [5×22] , which is understandable considering how amazing that episode is, I for one am incredibly pleased we got more. If it had ended here, we’d never get to see Willow’s development play itself out. What lies ahead for Willow? Power, the taste of death, addiction, and dispair. Sounds fun!
“Kill us both, Spock!” the two pieces of Xander joke to each other about in “The Replacement” [5×03] , a huge episode for Xander. But where the nice development really begins is in the season opener, “Buffy vs. Dracula” [5×01] , when he declares to all he isn’t going to be the “butt monkey” anymore. It’s awesome that he mostly lives up to that statement. Xander isn’t the complete goofball he was prior to S5 ever again. There is not a huge focus on Xander in S5, but what he does get is very potent and leaves me very satisfied.
“The Replacement” [5×03] showed us a Xander split into two equally genuine but extreme sides of his personality. The plot device works perfectly in allowing Xander to finally find full sight of what he’s always posessed. We saw a glimpse of this Xander in “The Zeppo” [3×13] , but here [S5] we see him finally see that side of him literally face-to-face and he’s forced to deal with it. Xander learns from this experience and is never the same again. From this point on we see a guy who’s still a little goofy and fun, but has much more control over several aspects of his life including steady construction work, which will lead to management and an overall boost in self confidence. He hasn’t, however, overcome all his inner demons, which we see the full extent of in S6.
Although I know it’s in S4, “Restless” [4×22] really provides such detailed analysis and foreshadowing of the core four characters that I feel like it’s fair game to heavily reference in any season. Its take on Xander is of particular importance, because here in S5 he’s only partially overcome what was hinted to us. While he’s overcome the slight depression of being stuck in his parents’ basement, he still hasn’t faced — or for that matter, recognized — his root fears: that he’ll end up just like his family: bitter and somewhat abusive to those he loves. This particular character flaw isn’t directly addressed until S6. Here in S5, we get a chance to see Xander really beginning to get some of his life together. I’ve already touched on his construction job, but the other key to his growth is his increasingly real relationship with Anya. Midway through S4 we discovered that Xander really does care about Anya a lot. It’s not until this season, though, when we see that caring transform into undiluted love. There’s one shining example of when this information is made known: the very end of “Into the Woods” [5×10] .
Xander beautifully tells Anya, “I’ve gotta say something… ‘Cause… I don’t think I’ve made it clear. I’m in love with you. Powerfully, painfully in love. The things you do… the way you think… the way you move… I get excited every time I’m about to see you. You make me feel like I’ve never felt before in my life. Like a man.” From that point onward, this couple was in a very serious relationship, which is why when Xander proposes to Anya in “The Gift” [5×22] I’m not terribly surprised. It’s just unfortunate that Xander thinks pure love alone is enough reason to get married. Love on its own will only take you so far, as the percentage of failed marriages these days proves, and Xander realizes this far too late.
What lies ahead for Xander is a struggle to overcome where he came from. All those years of just cracking jokes about his family finally comes back to bite him in a serious way. They aren’t just joke-fodder, but rather a real influence on him that presents itself as an important obstacle for him to overcome. Before he can overcome it, though, he has to fully recognize its existence, which he does in S6.
Early in “Buffy vs. Dracula” [5×01] Giles explains to Willow he’s moving back to England because he wants a life again and he feels Buffy has learned enough to be competent in fullfilling her responsibilities as the Slayer without his help. This desire of his to return home, stemming from his overall uselessness in S4 and really brought home in “Restless” [4×22] , is something that doesn’t just disappear once Buffy decides she really needs Giles’ help again. Instead it’s just pushed to the backburner, because if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Giles by now it’s that his devotion to help Buffy is as unwavering now as it was back in S2, maybe even moreso. So with Buffy reaching out for help in learning more about the nature of the Slayer, which also is a byproduct of “Restless” [4×22] , Giles decides to really settle into Sunnydale again.
The second episode, “Real Me” [5×02] , does a good job at showing this progression. Giles gets himself a shiny red sports car, ends up taking ownership of the Magic Box (previously referred to only as the Magic Shop), has begun successfully training Buffy in new techniques, and dives head first into new territory for Buffy’s training. The new car makes Giles feel sportier and is also reflected in his overall look. The duties at the Magic Box really give him something to do aside from just being there for Buffy — a day-to-day job like he had when he was a Watcher under the Council’s thumb.
As the season progresses we see Giles very firmly established as the patriarch of the entire Scooby family, and much more evidently than before. Even though he’s still the main guy in the group, I don’t get the feeling that Buffy sees him as a father figure as much as an extremely personal, family-like, friend. The two of them have such a mutual warmth and respect for one another, built on years of trust and committment to each other and their respective duties, that I can’t help but be warmed by it myself. A scene that reflects this respect and care without being explicit about it is in “Fool for Love” [5×07] when Buffy is reading up on past slayers and Giles points out that she can’t find much information about their final battle because they, well, died. There’s a glace between them here, the look on their faces, that says everything about their relationship: concern, care, commitment, and love. Simply beautiful.
Although we always knew Giles will go really far to do what is needed, we didn’t know specifically how far. “The Gift” [5×22] gives us that answer as we see Giles’ training as a Watcher seeping heavily into his care for the Scoobies. He makes it blatantly clear that if left with no other option, he would kill Dawn to close the portal — something Buffy cannot do, under any circumstance, at this time. Although it fortunately never came to that, because Buffy sacrifices herself in place of Dawn. But Giles still proves that he would have been capable of going through with it by suffocating Ben to death when he reappears. Although he placed his life above Dawn’s, Ben really wasn’t a terrible person — he just wanted to live. And Giles killed him showing no sign of emotion in the process because he knew it had to be done. What’s more shocking than the act itself is Giles admitting how unheroic it is and placing himself at the same level as Ben, the man he’s killing.
Where does all this leave Giles in S6? Mostly only hanging around Sunnydale to grieve with the other Scoobies over Buffy’s death. Eventually he realizes it’s time to move on with his life, just as he planned in “Buffy vs. Dracula” [5×01] , so he flies back to England (see “Bargaining Pt. 1” [6×01] ) hoping to re-establish old ties, make new ones, and put the Watcher stage of his life behind him. It doesn’t quite work out as smoothly as I’m sure he would have hoped, though, what with Willow resurrecting Buffy and all.
Murder, sexual obsession, and love. These are three radically different things that you’d never expect to find within the same individual. Amazingly Spike somehow manages to possess all these qualities, the amount of each in constant flux, at the same time. This is a huge season for Spike in which he gets truck loads of depth, complexity, and intrigue. He’s always been extremely entertaining, but now in addition to that he’s a fully fleshed out character that has an arc and journey of his own. This is accomplished through the usual great writing and some well-timed transitions throughout the season. In “Buffy vs. Dracula” [5×01] we see a very bored Spike who has simply resigned himself to an unlife without, well, life. This is where he begins the season at.
In “The Replacement” [5×03] Spike is seen gathering the parts to make a female mannequin. In “Out of My Mind” [5×04] it becomes obvious that Spike is trying to take his frustrations out on the mannequin he has now dressed up like Buffy. We see the full extent of his murderish and slightly sexual obsession with her in this interesting episode. Spike tries to capitalize on Riley’s illness to get the chip out of his head, but alas Buffy spoils his plans again and he’s just had enough. This represents a key turning point for him as he yells, “Buffy, Buffy, Buffy! Everywhere I turn, she’s there! That nasty little face, that… bouncing shampoo-commercial hair, that whole sodding holier-than-thou attitude… I can’t get rid of her! She’s everywhere. She’s haunting me.” Shortly after this outburst is when Spike has his first dream about Buffy that purely involved sexual passion, and he immediately knows how much trouble he’s in.
Knowing something is one thing, but dealing with it is another. It’s completely in character for Spike to let his feelings, no matter how disturbing (even for him, a soulless vampire), rule him. Starting in “No Place Like Home” [5×05] Spike’s desire to kill Buffy has largely transformed into a sexual obsession. He’s watching her more in a sexual way than he ever did before. What’s most impressive is that this revelation is actually completely believable. From the moment Spike first saw Buffy, dancing at the Bronze in “School Hard” [2×03] , it was obvious there was some sexual desire there. Then in “Who Are You?” [4×16] , when Faith in Buffy’s body sexually taunts him, we see just how much it actually tempts him to indulge in. During the run of “No Place Like Home” [5×05] through “Intervention” [5×18] Spike’s feelings begin to gradually develop into genuine love (to the extent that a soulless being can love), even though his sexual obsession doesn’t take the back seat until “Intervention” [5×18] .
During this run of episodes that comprise most of the season, Spike: steals Buffy’s clothing (underwear included), touches her as much as he can get away with, fantasizes about having sex with her, tries to establish a connection with her, and even occasionally helps her in an attempt to gain affection. There’s moments where the sexual tension flies off the both of them, prime examples being in “Fool for Love” [5×07] and “Crush” [5×14] . In “Into the Woods” [5×10] , Spike and Riley share a fascinating “passing of the torch” speech. The big point to arise out of this is that Spike would rather not be with Buffy if he can’t be close to her in the way that Riley isn’t close to her. When Riley asks him point-blank if he thinks he has a chance with her, he quickly replies “No, I don’t. Fella’s gotta try, though. Gotta do what he can.” And try Spike does.
All of this interesting material proves to just be prime setup for when Spike finally ‘gets’ what it is Buffy is really looking for. This moment occurs in “Intervention” [5×18] after Spike gets to sexualize Buffy to the max via the BuffyBot. Glory captures and tortures Spike trying to get him to divulge who the Key is. But Spike doesn’t budge in his devotion to Buffy, even though she rejected him in “Crush” [5×14] . This act proves to Buffy that Spike really has changed and that he, at the very least, is someone she can trust not to hurt her. As she perfectly put it, “The robot is gone. The robot was gross and obscene … That thing… it wasn’t even real… What you did, for me and Dawn… that was real. I won’t forget it.” Then she kisses him, that “crumb” he asked for in “Crush” [5×14] , therefore launching their relationship into a new place.
What is this “new place” you might ask? Well, it turns out that is a complicated question. A few things that come out of this is Buffy actively counting on Spike to assist the Scoobies in their fight against Glory and beyond. We see this when she lets Spike protect Dawn in “Tough Love” [5×19] and then she brings him with them on their crazy Winnebago run in “Spiral” [5×20] . Although Spike is rough with her in “The Weight of the World” [5×21] , trying to break her coma, he is genuinely trying to help her snap out of it in his own way. He’s not wrong in pointing out that Buffy’s not exactly weak either. Though I’ll leave his interesting comment, “Buffy likes it rough,” for next season.
It’s not until “The Gift” [5×22] , though, that Buffy and Spike really have something unique together. It’s an amazing scene with Buffy on the stairs in her home. Spike walks up to the door and reminds Buffy she de-invited him. He’s willing to stay there and let Buffy hand him the weapons he’ll fight at her side with. This is important to take note of, because it shows Spike is completely willing to fight on Buffy’s side and help her even though he won’t be able to have a romantic relationship with her. Buffy recognizes this change in Spike and invites him back in. In return, Spike tearfully admits “I know you’ll never love me. I know that I’m a monster. But you treat me like a man, and that’s…” enough. This is a place Spike is happy with, having the respect of his affection. Sure he wants much more, but he’s satisfied with what he has right now. This is extremely heartwarming to see.
While in S5 we get some major development and some resolution with Spike’s love arc, it also proves to be a great setup to what’s to come in S6. Although Spike is satisfied with where he stands with Buffy at the end of S5, when Buffy starts coming more and more to him it gives him the opportunity to have what he wanted from the start. For all Spike’s improvements this season, he’s still a demon. He’s not doing good things to be outright selfless, but simply to please Buffy and gain her respect and affection. This becomes ever more obvious as we get well into S6, where he learns more about who Buffy really is on an intimate level than he ever imagined.
Anya. Definition: fun machine. I pretty much see Anya as the ultimate in consistent humor. Nearly every line that comes out of her mouth is an utter joy to listen to. It’s fortunate that that’s not the only thing driving this character though. Although not one of the heavily focused-on characters, Anya proves to get a nice little, albeit unfocused, character arc of her own. This arc comprises of three main things: her relationship with Xander, her quarrels with Willow, and discovering exactly what it means to be alive through Joyce’s death. Throughout the first half of the season Anya and Xander are much like they are in S4: very much a couple, but not in undying love. S5 changes that, and it really begins during a magnificent speech by Xander at the end of “Into the Woods” [5×10] where he proves the full extent of his love, and Anya returns it in kind. From this point on we see her as much more integrated in the group and much more accepted. Anya’s devotion to Xander continues to strengthen all season long, which is why she responds like she does in “The Gift” [5×22] . I’ll get to this in a bit.
First I want to talk about Anya’s concerns about Willow. Throughout much of S4 and S5 they were having quite a few disagreements and unkind exchange of comments. This finally comes to a head in “Triangle” [5×11] when they’re both forced to air out their concerns. It turns out both of them are concerned about Xander’s well being. Anya knows about Willow’s “illicit smoochies” with Xander because of the entire Cordelia break-up back in “The Wish” [3×09] and is worried that Willow will take him away from her like she did to Cordelia, gay or not. Willow, on the other hand, is concerned that Anya’s just another demon that wants to take advantage of Xander. It turns out both of their concerns are completely valid, but also completely unnecessary. This allows Anya to come to a new place of trust in her relationship with Xander and his friends that she never had before, therefore strengthening their relationship.
Re-establishing what it means to be human has been a fairly big theme for Anya since the end of S3. Thanks to Joyce’s death we see her get some massive insight into the beauty and dispair of life and death. In “The Body” [5×16] she expresses her utter confusion at how human mortality works. in “Forever” [5×17] , though, she discovers something truly profound: that life and love would be meaningless in the absence of the permanent nature of death — that the cycle of human life, from conception to death, is something that is precious and beautiful. Instead of being confused and scared, Anya is now comforted and more excited about being human than she ever was before.
All of this wonderful discovery is what leads her to not run from this apocolypse in “The Gift” [5×22] like she did in “Graduation Day Pt. 1” [3×21] . It’s important to note, though, that she isn’t sticking around because of her desire to fight for humanity, but rather out of her love of Xander and her own desire to live and love. While still a big improvement for her, it shows she still has a ways to go to complete her understanding of humanity, and the hope for some kind of redemption for her years as a vengeance demon. Much of this is developed and addressed throughout S7. But, overall, Anya developed excellently this season while always providing that added injection of laughs.
It’s interesting to me that Dawn is the most universally hated main character in the Buffyverse, with the possible exception of Angel‘s Connor. Why is it everyone hates this poor girl so much? Granted, she can occasionally be a bit over-the-top annoying, but most of the time the writers hit just the right chords. Her thorough introduction in “Real Me” [5×02] gives us the usual top-notch ‘inside the character’s head’ look at who Dawn is, why she thinks the way she thinks, and what her goals are. This is a girl, two years younger than Buffy was in “Welcome to the Hellmouth” [1×01] and with no apparent powers of any kind, who is really just the average annoying little sister (I’m not saying all little sisters are annoying, only that in the category of annoying little sisters, Dawn’s an average one). She wants what many young girls want: love, attention, and friends.
Early in the season she has all but the latter, as Dawn’s never seemed to have very many friends of her own. As the season moves along, though, she begins to see that love and attention switching in meaning. While it’s far too convenient that the only times we see Dawn spying on the Scoobies talking is when they’re talking about her, it does lead to her slowly realizing that everything’s not what it seems. Eventually, in “Blood Ties” [5×13] , she becomes determined to discover exactly why everyone’s always talking about her in private. This, of course, leads directly to the discovery of her nature as the Key which is excellently played as a metaphor for adoption. All of the sudden Dawn really feels like her life, her entire history, is completely meaningless. Honestly, who can really blame her — in a way her entire past is meaningless. That would be enough to shake anyone up, let alone a 14 year-old girl.
Dawn comes to term with her unique existence impressively quickly, although she’s certainly not completely over it as Joyce’s death brings out. In “Tough Love” [5×19] Buffy discovers that Dawn’s been skipping classes and not doing any of her homework, thus risking Buffy’s claim to Dawn’s guardianship. Without Joyce around, Buffy is completely overwhelmed by sudden responsibility and can’t give Dawn the attention that she wants, which is interpreted by Dawn as a lack of caring and couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s at this point that Dawn’s not getting any attention and doesn’t have any consistent friends. Also, the love she’s getting from Buffy right now isn’t as completely obvious as the ‘mommy’ love she got from Joyce, which is why Dawn doesn’t see it right away. Under the tragic circumstances, who can blame her for acting out?
What defines who Dawn is to me arrives in “The Gift” [5×22] . Even though she’s caught up in cataclysmic events that aren’t her fault, she’s still willing to sacrifice herself to save the world. As Spike says in “Forever” [5×17] , “Well what do you know. Bitty Buffy.” This moment proves to me that Dawn’s got a lot more in her than everyone gives her credit for, and I respect her greatly for it. I feel that Dawn being an integral part of the plot worked extremely well, especially in giving Buffy an external branch of herself so she could not only die for her friends and the world, but for that piece of herself that hasn’t been barraged by loss and darkness. This combined with the generalized effect of mixing up the core Scooby interactions helped provide a positively fresh season from tone to plot. Overall, I’m quite pleased with Dawn’s addition to the gang here in S5. I felt the writers handled her excellently.
Trust and and the mysterious lure of darkness dominate Riley’s development and subsequent departure this season. These themes are handled in a very linear way and were thoroughly discussed in my episode reviews, so I’m just going to briefly summarize what is discussed in more detail there. With no job other than, as Graham puts it in “Out of My Mind” [5×04] , “boyfriend? Mission’s true love?,” Riley finds himself too focused on Buffy — to the point where he’s not fair to her. The blame in this relationship goes both ways though.
Although there were subtle issues in their relationship in S4, it becomes very evident here in S5 right from “Buffy vs. Dracula” [5×01] that these issues are beginning to get bigger. Riley is thrown by Buffy’s apparent lure to Dracula, which makes him a tiny bit jealous. This raises questions about the extent of Buffy’s interest in vampires which, of course, foreshadows where Riley’s headed. This immediately opens up some trust issues for the two of them, which get heavily discussed in “Out of My Mind” [5×04] . But what sets this up is a conversation the two of them have in a car in “The Replacement” [5×03] . Riley can see Buffy just doesn’t have a ton of faith and trust in him — she clearly doesn’t love him, of which he reveals to Xander at the end of the episode.
All of these troubles, which Buffy is aware of now but still too occupied due to her mom’s illness and Dawn’s nature, mutate into a danger streak from Riley which begins in “Fool for Love” [5×07] when he goes solo to take out a nest of vamps. This naturally leads to his encounter with a vampire (Sandy from “Doppelgangland” [3×16] no less) in “Shadow” [5×08] and then vampire suck jobs in “Into the Woods” [5×10] . All of this comes from Riley selfishly trying to understand what Buffy’s undeniable attraction to vampires is, and he fails miserably at it. Although her nature as the Slayer does create unique impulses for Buffy, that nature doesn’t rule her. To be fair to Riley, Buffy has kept him out of the loop and hasn’t been there with him, side-by-side, tear-for-tear, like she was for Angel. That stems directly from S2 and, more specifically, “Becoming Pt. 2” [2×22] and is something that will be very difficult for her to overcome.
So, overall, the circumstances of Riley’s departure were not one-sided. Both Riley and Buffy were to blame for not communicating enough and not emotionally opening up enough, respectively. I’ll be honest: I was a bit sad to see Riley go and actually wanted Buffy to catch him at the helicopter and try to resolve their differences. While I would have found that experience fascinating, I found what resulted in Riley’s departure just as, or even more, fascinating. I know Riley’s not a popular character, but to me his relationship with Buffy was a necessary and fascinating piece of the series. I, for one, want to speak up for Riley and say he’ll be missed (until “As You Were” [6×15] , where his cardboard way-too-pretty for a peace-woman-turned-military wife will annoy the crap out of me).
Aside from “Family” [5×06] , Tara is primarily just Willow’s girlfriend and doesn’t get much development of her own. With that said, Tara still gets some subtle development that will be vitally important come S6. All this surrounds her strong opinion on the use of magic and her concern about Willow’s abuse of it. But before all that, her family comes to town and claims she’s a demon that will only show her true form when she turns 20. It turns out the men in her family are just full of lies intended to dominate and control their women. I can’t help but ponder the possibility if how she was raised, with deceiving and dominating men constantly around and only her mother to show her genuine kindness, contributed to why she’s gay. Although I think it’s unlikely in this case, it sure couldn’t have helped anything. Regardless of that, though, it’s definitely obvious that Tara got her extremely shy personality as a reaction to her family.
All the same, all this time spent to herself gave her ample opportunity to establish her personal moral code in her use of magic, which I assume she probably got from her mom before she died. We know that her mom was “pretty powerful” which could mean two distinctly different things: she was powerful in the dark sense or she got powerful in the light sense, but based on Tara’s father and Tara’s natural use of magic I’m definitely leaning on the light side. The extent of Tara’s involvement with magic can be excellently summed up by herself in “Forever” [5×17] : “witches can’t be allowed to alter the fabric of life for selfish reasons” and “we [witches] don’t mess with life and death.” Willow is shown to not be in agreement with this philosophy even if she doesn’t make it obvious that’s how she feels. This difference is what directly leads to their fight in “Tough Love” [5×19] .
This fight directly involves Tara letting it slip that Willow’s increasing use of the black arts is beginning to scare her. It scares her in the sense that Willow’s becoming edgier, darker, and more dangerous. Tara is aware of the dangers of black magic, which is why she, like Giles, warns against it and only practices natural magic. The dark magic Willow is using is changing her extremely quickly, and who can blame Tara for worrying that Willow might not only lose herself to it, but also change her love of Tara as well. Although Willow claims this is ludicrous, S6 proves that Tara wasn’t so wrong when she has to leave Willow for engaging in self-destructive behavior along with hurting her (the “All the Way” [6×06] memory spell, for example). When Tara steps up and confronts Willow with her concerns here in S5, it’s a big maturation step which sets up the stableness and strength she is able to show Willow, Buffy, and Dawn during their incredibly rough times in S6. Unlike everyone else, Tara only gets stronger next season.
Well, we’ve finally arrived at the season’s primary villain: Glory. You may have noticed just how little I’ve mentioned her up to this point. There’s a good reason for that: in of herself, Glory isn’t all that interesting. Like the villains before her (excluding Angelus), she just doesn’t have a lot development or a personal tie to Buffy. Many people even find her staple stupidity annoying or simply blame it on the actress. My take is that Glory feels very purposely written as a dumb god with incredible strength, and I honestly feel that she very much succeeds because of this. If she had been as powerful as she is and had brains, Buffy and gang wouldn’t have had a chance. In the Buffyverse there’s always a price — no one person has everything: ultimate smarts, ultimate strength, and ultimate skill. For example, the more powerful you made Buffy physically, the stupider and less human she’d become.
What value, then, did this type of character bring? Well, Glory’s power forced Willow to drastically accelerate her development in the black arts while also giving Buffy added motivation to continue training hard and exploring her slayer roots. Glory’s insanity, on the other hand, brought about some fantastic insight into how nuts a lot of humanity is. We see both of these characteristics outlined in Glory’s introduction episode, “No Place Like Home” [5×05] . From that point on Glory is shown to also be extremely lazy, superficial, and quite dumb — not willing to do anything herself, therefore accomplishing very little. To me, Glory’s shining moment as a character comes in “The Weight of the World” [5×21] when she gives her speech about how compared to humanity, her insanity is nothing. It’s quite compelling and insightful, and leads to some interesting back and forth between her and Ben, a decent guy who’s forced to make tough decisions. In the end Ben takes the selfish route, which is on his soul, but Giles would have killed him either way to prevent Glory from resurfacing.
In the end, Glory really works as she’s intended. You may not love her personality, but when looking closely at the writing it’s obvious she was intended to be that stupid. Although I could have done without her sitting around doing nothing as often as she did, what’s more important is that she successfully spurred development out of the characters that really matter. Glory lacks the personal tie of Angelus and the unique characterization of the Mayor, so on her own Glory is not a favorite villain of mine. But as a piece of the S5 puzzle, she unequivocally succeeds.
Alas, we’ve finally reached the end. This season’s been quite an amazing journey. Highlights for me include the heaps of character development, brilliant use of important and layered themes, darker exploration of both theme and character, a great balance of plot and stand-alone episodes, and a ton of heartfelt emotion, both joyous and painful (well, mostly painful). Consistency-wise S5 scores huge, even better than the impressive S3. As a whole this season is also noticeably better than its separate parts due to its clear focus of theme and characters; my decision to award it a solid ‘A’ is firm. While not perfect, S5 represents a full season of television that is just about as close to perfect as you can humanly get.
From Buffy’s exploration of the nature of the Slayer to Spike’s doomed lust for Buffy to Willow’s long-time-coming darker edge and power outbursts, S5 delivers some huge character payoffs and some shocking moments. Riley leaves, Buffy’s mom dies not from anything supernatural but rather complications from a brain tumor, Tara gets mentally violated, Giles kills an innocent man, and Buffy, our inspirational title character, sacrifices herself for us — every human being including her family and friends. The season ends on an incredibly mournful yet beautiful note of Buffy’s grave. This is not a “I technically died but got immediately brought back” thing. Buffy is dead, buried, and has transcended into heaven — she really deserves it too. It’s such a shame that the ignorant and selfish Scoobies didn’t leave her to this peace. But that, my friends, is for another season. 😉