[Review by Mike Marinaro]
Sometimes I think about what my life would be like had I been completely happy in each and every moment leading up to the one now. Would I be a happier person because of it? Well, it’s hard to say. I suppose I’d need to quantify what “happy” really meant to me. Too much of a good thing can eventually become boring. Without the struggles I’ve had throughout my life (which, to be clear, are nothing compared to some), I can say with confidence I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I wouldn’t have the drive and determination that I do. I wouldn’t have the need to create that I do. I also think I wouldn’t be a very useful person to have around. Sure, I want to be “happy,” but I can’t help but think being satisfied is something much more difficult to attain and much more rewarding to experience. The road to satisfaction is often riddled with struggle — that’s what makes the end so satisfying!
This thought brings me to the oft deplored sixth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I know there are many people out there who hate this season, and for a myriad of reasons: too much darkness, claims of poor writing, lack of humor, mishandled characters, and more. Some of these complaints have a bit of merit, but I feel that most of them do not. I’m not going to lie to all of you: this is a flawed season of television. That being said, it might just be the most daring and risky I’ve ever seen. Never before or since have I seen a show willing to go so far, so realistically far, to show the depths of depression to a group of established, likeable characters. I can sympathize with those who say that it can be depressing to watch, because it can be. This is definitely best viewed in a condensed time period.
However, I feel this is the perfect season to explore much darker themes, as we’ve got an established group of innately moral (besides Spike, but he’s moving towards the light) and likeable, yet complex characters. This means there’s little risk of having the audience unsympathetic to the characters’ plight, while being able to explore the established flaws of these people in great depth. The tone of the season feels very naturally placed to me within the overall schema of the show.
When I first saw the season, it brought me to tears at several key points, but I was also literally filled with hope and a renewed sense of excitement for the characters and the series as a whole by the end of it. I’ve mentioned this before in a couple of my episode reviews, but without the contrast between light and dark, it becomes impossible to differentiate between them. Translated into TV terms, without showing the reality of darkness in our world and occasionally in our souls, we cannot possibly appreciate the beauty that stands in opposition of it. To show anything different sums up to television that feels fake to me. Additionally, television that doesn’t have extremely well-developed and at least relatively entertaining characters always struggles to find a place in my heart. The characters of Buffy the Vampire Slayer have always had my heart. I care for them, I like them, and I’m rooting for them.
Season 6 contains quite a few episodes with troubled plots, yet I must cheer for these same episodes because they still generally give me a lot to think about. This has caused me to have a much more difficult time awarding appropiate scores. I can’t give the season full marks because it just doesn’t put the complete package together, like S5 did, but I am utterly thrilled to have witnessed it and to have seen these writers go where few have gone before. I would always rather watch a show that’s aiming for something huge and only partially succeeding at it over a show that aims for nothing, and succeeds completely at it (the vast majority of television, people). With this in mind, this is the season of Buffy I have the most respect for, and it may be my favorite season for it.
To further what I’ve already said, S6 is also the most complex of the entire series’ run. The gray areas explored through Spike and Buffy’s relationship were expertly crafted — intelligent, riveting, challenging, sad, and emotional. However, where Spike and Buffy’s journey wildly succeeded, Willow’s unfortunately did not. What started out as an extremely promising continuation of her development got led wildly astray, and easily represents one of the biggest mistakes of the entire series.
S6 opens with an utterly riveting three-part opener that climaxes in “After Life” [6×03] — a darkly quiet and sad piece that kicks off the themes of the season. “Flooded” [6×04] through “All the Way” [6×06] deal with the reality of the young adult world of rules and responsibilties that everyone wants to avoid. It’s in the famous musical, “Once More, with Feeling” [6×07], where what’s been secretly burning away Buffy’s soul bursts out into the open. Spike is the one that gives Buffy a reason to stay alive with a spark of emotion: lust.
This lust boils over in “Smashed” [6×09] when Giles is gone and a fight with Spike leads to something destructively more. In “Wrecked” [6×10] we see Willow go off the deep end with her apparent “addiction” to magic overriding everything else in her life. in “Gone” [6×11] Willow realizes she has a hope of recovery and Buffy comes to learn that she really doesn’t want to die. That discovery, though, doesn’t address the new fractures that have been opened by her conduct with Spike. These fractures are brought to light in a revealing manner with the psychologically rich “Dead Things” [6×13], which also reveals an emerging villain in Warren.
With Buffy now beginning to recognize the damage her relationship with Spike is causing her, she struggles to put a stop to it, but finally does in “As You Were” [6×15]. Although she’s taken the right step forward, her wounds are still open and her depression still something weighing heavily on her. This feeling isn’t helped when her “light at the end of the tunnel,” Xander and Anya’s on-the-surface great relationship and near marriage, doesn’t pan out due to a far too delayed vital moment of self realization from Xander.
Finally, in “Normal Again” [6×17], Buffy must directly face her depression by deciding to painfully turn down a world inside her own head that is so much brighter and hopeful than her real life. This incredibly painful decision allows Buffy to completely return to reality, pull out of her depression, and begin to repair the relationships around her. Although this process begins in “Entropy” [6×18], tragedy soon interrupts her in “Seeing Red” [6×19] as Warren flips out, shoots Buffy, and murders Tara.
This act causes Willow to ditch everything she’s been holding back and entirely integrate herself with black magic. Feeding off rage and hate, Willow literally tears Warren apart (“Villains” [6×20] ) and begins to lose it. Her targets shift to Jonathan and Andrew, followed by Buffy and a returned Giles, who are standing in her way. Giles’ last hope works, as he lets Willow suck his borrowed power dry. This natural magic acts as a catalyst of Willow’s emotions, which gives Xander — lifelong best friend to Willow — the opportunity to either save her or die by her. Fortunately, it’s the former. As Willow finally begins to grieve for Tara’s death and for what she’s done, Buffy pulls herself out of the ground again, but this time to the dawn of a new day and a renewed sense of joy and purpose in life. In the season of darkness, love prevails.
- Willow’s inconsistent character arc.
- The significant mid-season quality drought.
- Too many sub-par plots.
- Dawn. I like the character, but the writers gave her next to nothing to do but justifiably complain.
Although S6 doesn’t have the overall quality problems people tend to claim, I can understand the feeling that there are. This season took a lot of risks — many of which paid off. Some of them, though, did not. As much as I applaud the risks some of the mid-season episodes took with the characters, they just didn’t come together as a whole very well. The biggest problem of the season by far, though, is the mishandling of Willow’s multi-season character arc.
The Willow “magic as drugs” slip-up really brings down what otherwise would have been an extremely stellar season character-wise. Throughout the entire series, Willow’s biggest character flaw had always been her hunger for power and knowledge. Here in the middle of S6, though, we’re told it’s something entirely different. This hurts so much because the one aspect of this series I treasure the most — and is most important to me, by far — is the consistent and intimate evolution of a wonderful group of characters. When the writers’ slip in this area, I really feel it. I’ll get into the specifics of this large mistake when I talk about Willow down below. In short: it single-handedly costed the season an A-range grade.
The other thing of note is the odd concentration of overall mediocre episodes containing some fairly dire plots. Although you’re not going to see me complain about an episode’s plot too often (because I just don’t care about plot when compared to the characters), episodes like “Older and Far Away” [6×14] and “As You Were” [6×15] really don’t inspire my good graces. I really believe the writers could have and should have thought some of these mid-season plots through a little better. With that said, I’d like to point out something frequently overlooked about this season. Are there some mediocre episodes? Yep. But how many are there really? When I first looked at the season breakdown I was a little taken back by how few C-range grades there were compared to how many I felt there were. Was my perception that far off?
This season feels like it has a ton of mediocre episodes, while in reality this is an illusion created by the fact that nearly all of these episodes are clustered around the middle of the season. Being so close together tends to amplify their effect, but if we take a step back and realize this, the truth is that this season has a lot more overall consistency than its given credit for. That being said, the middle of this season is the worst episode drought since S1! Without “Dead Things” [6×13] breaking all these episodes up, the middle of the season would be nearly a complete loss.
If there’s one character besides Willow this season that I felt wasn’t handled right, it was Dawn. Well, let me partially take that back. It’s not that I felt Dawn was handled poorly, but much more so that I felt she wasn’t utilized as much as she could have been. I’ve always had sympathy for Dawn, and I still do in this season. However, Dawn’s lack of action to solve her problems — while relatively understandable — ended up making it difficult to root for her. It really didn’t help that the writers didn’t seem to have any real arc for her this season either, aside from “Dawn is lonely, Dawn’s in pain, and Dawn wants to be treated like an adult.” I did love Buffy’s realization about her in “Grave” [6×22], but it was too little too late for this season.
One last thing that also gives me a little pause about this season is that the character arcs — aside from Buffy and Spike — just weren’t quite as fluid and tight as they were in S5. It’s really hard to ascertain any particular start or end point for the arcs of Xander, Anya, Tara, and Dawn. While I think all of the characters besides Dawn and Willow got very solid development, it just didn’t feel well structured within the season. This isn’t a major complaint as much of a small quibble, but I think it’s worth noting.
- Buffy’s return from heaven into living hell.
- Buffy seeking out Spike for a spark of feeling.
- Buffy’s rediscovery of herself, and the beauty of life.
- “After Life” [6×03], “Once More, with Feeling” [6×07], “Dead Things” [6×13], and “Normal Again” [6×17].
- An intense, emotional, and fascinating psychological exploration of the characters.
- The writers taking risks left and right, many of which paid off.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the major highlight of this season is everything involving Buffy and Spike’s journey and overall development. The season opens with a Buffyless Scooby gang that is doing a surprisingly good job at not only fighting the forces of evil, but also making everyone believe Buffy’s still alive (via the Buffybot). “Bargaining Pt. 1” [6×01] had me completely hooked with Willow’s determination, leadership, and impending darkness. I think I would have even enjoyed seeing more episodes explore the other characters with Buffy out of the picture. That’s not the direction the writers wanted to go though, which is alright by me considering what we got.
When Buffy returns from the dead, we thankfully don’t return to the status quo in a matter or a few episodes or, for that matter, one episode (oh other shows and how you disappoint me). “After Life” [6×03] provides us with a dark, depressing, somber, and painful look into Buffy’s wandering meaningless-feeling renewed life. This isn’t someone who’s been saved from an eternity in hell, like the Scoobies foolishly convince themselves of, but rather someone who’s been pulled out of a blissful heaven, where “I was happy. At peace. I knew that everyone I cared about was all right. I knew it. Time… didn’t mean anything… nothing had form … but I was still me, you know? And I was warm… and I was loved… and I was finished. Complete.” This emotionally heart-breaking speech sets up the season’s focus and themes.
What is that theme, you may ask. Well, I believe it to be what happens when you’ve experienced the final blow to childhood innocence (“The Gift” [5×22] for the Scoobies). When Buffy says she was “complete,” I can’t help but think of the feeling when you just get done with school and are dumped out into the real workforce for the first time. Many people end up in places where they have no friends, no family, no strong relationships to speak of, and just a general aimlessness on what the meaning of life is and what they should be doing with it. Although Buffy’s entire situation is fantasy, the brilliance of this show is that the fantasy plays as an allegory and a metaphor of real life situations. This is what I believe Joss Whedon has always meant when told us the show was about “rocket launchers [the fantasy] and emotional resonance [the reality].”
Buffy’s depression is in full force all the way until “Once More, with Feeling” [6×07], where she makes a decision that allows her to feel something, despite any consequences it may cause down the line. This decision was, of course, initiating a largely sexually-charged relationship with Spike. Without getting into the details too much here (I will in Buffy’s section below), I’ll just say that their journey led Buffy down the path of self-loathing, neglection of others, and a whole lot of pain and confusion. While this did help her start to move past her raw depression, what replaced it wasn’t much better.
Through all this hardship, though, Buffy thankfully finally makes the extremely difficult decision to break off her tie to Spike and reclaim her life. All this culminates in the emotional and character-driven “Normal Again” [6×17], an episode I really love for not shying away from some extremely dark and difficult subjects and emotions while simultaneously developing Buffy in the process. Buffy’s arc this season is definitely the big pull for me and was executed with near-perfection.
Woven throughout the season at critical points were also some of the best episodes of the entire series. It comes as no surprise that these episodes largely focused on the major turning points in Buffy’s near season-long arc. “After Life” [6×03] is quiet darkness at its best, “Once More, with Feeling” [6×07] speaks for itself (although if you want more evidence, read my review of it), “Dead Things” [6×13] is one of the most psychologically complex and intense episodic pieces I’ve ever witnessed, and “Normal Again” [6×17] puts me into an emotional tailspin — all episodes very deserving of their perfect scores.
This brings me to a general praise I have that even goes beyond Buffy’s arc, and that’s the sheer undiluted emotion that’s poured into the scripts and then onto the actors’ faces. Watching this season, especially in quick-succession, often leaves me with a very wet face afterwards. Through those tears comes the big smile and hope I feel when the end arrives and I see Xander hugging Willow for dear life along with Buffy reaching for the daylight again, filled with a renewed sense of excitement and purpose in life. I’m not one to easily get emotionally invested with television (or movie) characters, but this series, like no other, has the ability to emotionally bring me to my knees. This ability is on display this season like no other.
The final thing I want to touch on is the risks the writers took with the direction they went this season. A realistic depiction of depression focused on the main character of the show? Yup. Spending an entire season dealing with the fallout of Buffy’s death in the previous season’s finale? Yep. Seeing around four seasons of character build-up hit an emotionally arousing climax? Yep! Seeing all the characters move completely past their years as children and move full-on into adulthood? Yes, indeed. Having a side villain consisting of mere delusional human geeks desiring control and power? Oh yeah. Seeing Xander’s multi-season insecurities bite him in the ass? Uh huh. Seeing Buffy finally taken off Xander’s pedestal? Yes. Seeing another main character permanently killed off? You better believe it. In summary: wow.
Season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer really does have a lot to admire. Although I sympathize with some of the people who have problems with it, some of which are valid, I simply can’t contain my respect for a show that has run this long and is still willing to take big risks; still willing to challenge its audience; still willing to explore territory the show has never explored before. Whether you love the season or hate it, I hope I’ve made the initial case to allow you to at least respect it. Now, though, it’s time for me to present the rest of my case: character development.
Would Buffy’s death at the end of “The Gift” [5×22] have been a great ending to the series? Although no doubt a tremendously poignant end to S5, I don’t feel “The Gift” [5×22] was the perfect end to the series. I feel, metaphorically at least, “Chosen” [7×22] actually accomplishes this better. One reason why is because by the end of S7 Buffy is a much more mature, smart, and experienced individual. She is also a much more well-rounded and complex character. The pain she experiences throughout S6 helps build her into the person we see in S7 that is strong enough to lead a small army. In the end, I feel her journey here is a valuable one, and one that is complemented by S7 very nicely.
Buffy goes through a heart-wrenching journey this season, consisting of resurrection, failed reintegration, revelation, addiction, dispair, reflection, change, and rejuvenation. This whole experience was brought on by her well-meaning but short-sided friends, who far too casually decided to bring her back from the dead. Only Willow really knew the extent of what they were doing, but already her growing abuse of magic was blinding her better judgement.
Although resurrection from the dead is obviously a fantastical concept for all of us, the metaphor at which it is getting at is very real. As pointed out earlier, I believe the true intent of the season is to give us viewers a window into which we can observe the loss of innocence at he hands of the tumultuous transition from childhood to adulthood. Some individuals are able to handle this transition in our lives with relative ease (e.g. me), while others burgeon into adulthood subconciously kicking and screaming. But, as Whedon himself describes the season, “Oh, grow up!” Easier said than done, big guy, especially when you’re a vampire slayer that’s just been pulled out of Heaven! Although this theme is very relevant to every character this season, Buffy’s arc is, by far, the most defined, complex, and engaging implementation of it.
When Buffy rises from her own grave in “Bargaining,” there’s already no doubt that she left a piece of herself behind. What immediately follows her is shock, confusion, and then finally overwhelming sadness. Buffy’s response to being alive again is excellently summed up by her facial response to Dawn’s opposing excitement at the very end of “Bargaining Pt. 2” [6×02]. In fact, Buffy initially thinks this world — our world — is Hell itself. I guess in contrast to where she’s been, it may seem pretty close, but it’s a startling acknowledgement nonetheless.
This daze that Buffy’s in lingers through the opening arc, and gets the spotlight in the wondrous “After Life” [6×03] , which intimately explores the psychological state Buffy is now forced to deal with. As she comes back into contact with the life she left behind, the pain she feels only begins to mount. This culminates into a pretty substantial depression and a lack of a will to live. This feeling is derived from multiple sources: the fact she’s spent a long time in a much happier place, being reminded that her original biological family is now non-existent, and having absolutely no guidance as to what her purpose is anymore. Although Giles can offer her a little help in these troubled times he, nor anyone else, can fill that hole where Buffy’s innocence once was. Only time and the understanding of a new purpose can truly guide Buffy to salvation now.
Over the next couple of episodes, we see Buffy valiantly attempting to reintegrate into the world around her, desperately trying to recapture her sense of purpose and normality. “Flooded” [6×04] tackles the mundane realities of adult living that no one enjoys dealing with, such as house repairs, insurance, loans, etc. while “Life Serial” [6×05] takes on Buffy’s attempt to get the money to actually allow her to deal with them. Unfortunately, her quick attempts to solve these problems don’t really work out for her — only a long-term solution will. It’s actually somewhat ironic that Buffy yearns for the “normality” of her previous life, despite the fact that while living that life, it didn’t seen normal at all to her. For the first three seasons of the show, Buffy frequently complained about the lack of a normal life due to the burden of her calling. I guess this just goes to show that we should all try to appreciate what we have in life, because it can be quickly and easily taken away from us.
It’s not until the amazing “Once More, with Feeling” [6×07] that Buffy fully realizes the full extent of her depression. Sweet is able to easily ensnare her in his songs, using her lack of desire to live and growing anger about her situation to consume her. This episode really covers a lot of ground, as it not only allows Buffy to finally burst out with what she’s been trying to keep inside since the moment of her resurrection, but it also excellently sets up what’s to come. Even though Spike saves her from doing herself in, Buffy is still filled with a tremendous apathy for life. In light of this, she searches for a scapegoat — a distraction — for her misery, so she capitalizes on her predominantly lusty feelings for Spike. “Tabula Rasa” [6×08] futhers this agenda even further. Unfortunately, letting herself ‘go’ with Spike leads to a much different kind of pain: addiction and self loathing.
“Smashed” [6×09], in what’s somewhat of a microcosm of the entire season, touches on many aspects of Buffy’s journey all at once. Things move along when Spike realizes he can hurt Buffy without his head exploding. At first glance, you’d think that this would concern Buffy and cause her to be even more wary around him. Instead, mostly due to the state she is in, the fact he can hurt her actually turns her on. So she takes the initiative and, appropiately, in the middle of a fight, jumps Spike’s bones (much to his surprise). This begins a mini-arc with a central theme of addiction that spans “Smashed” [6×09] to “Doublemeat Palace” [6×12].
We can see very early on in “Wrecked” [6×10] that her sexual attachment to Spike is forming into this addiction. Here she’s simply cold and cruel to Spike, even going as far as telling him “A vampire got me hot. One. But he’s gone. You’re just… You’re just convenient.” “Wrecked” [6×10] is an episode with addiction very much on its mind. We see Willow get completely lost in her addiction to magic, which parallels Buffy’s situation. These are both friends that can’t see each other anymore; friends that are only bound at this point by their problems. Although Willow recognizes she’s on the wrong path and makes an attempt to alter her course, Buffy’s nowhere close to the point of even trying — in fact, she’s just getting started. As Buffy points out to Giles in “Grave” [6×22], “She was [abusing the magics] – and I barely even noticed.” This is on full display in “Wrecked” [6×10].
Still working through her addiction, we see Buffy make another attempt at escaping from her feelings, friends, and, well, life. Although not technically being suicidal, Buffy’s desire to be “Gone” [6×11] certainly reminds us that this girl hates her life, is now ashamed of her actions, and wants to escape from it. This temporary gig quickly doesn’t work out the way she hoped it would, as real life and real people catch up to her. Dawn is shocked by her cavelier attitude towards serious matters. It takes a message on the answering machine telling her she could die from this invisibility to shock her into realizing that she truly doesn’t want to be dead anymore — an important realization, but still by no means the cure to her current woes. I did genuinely appreciate this closure to the suicide thread running through the first part of the season. I also applaud the writers’ gusty move to realistically persist it for this long. These feelings don’t just go away after a week.
Although Buffy thinks she’s still having a great time using Spike to work out her sexual fantasies, even that appears to be wearing thin on her in “Doublemeat Palace” [6×12]. This episode does an excellent job using working at a fast food joint as a metaphor for her more systemic depression, which is beginning to really weigh heavy on her. Buffy’s job at the Doublemeat Palace, especially in her current situation, is soul crushing. With Spike beginning to lose her interest as a glorified sex toy, her true emotions start to become unmasked to her. This is the moment when she begins to loath herself and her behavior, and falls into the pit of dispair.
Although I feel, as a moment in time, Buffy disposing of her antidote in “Normal Again” [6×17] is where she hits rock bottom, the period of time in which she hits rock bottom is definitely the entirety of “Dead Things” [6×13]. This episode is an extremely compelling and complex look into the psychological motives that are fueling Buffy’s angst. Although wanting to turn away from Spike (“no”), she continues to let him in anyway. At Buffy’s lowest moment — beating Spike to a bloody pulp in a rage over how much she hates herself — I can see flashes of Faith circa S3-S4.
The parallel continues when Buffy thinks she killed a human, only instead of acting out in a murderous rampage, as Faith did, Buffy goes inside herself and tries to lock herself up and wallow in herself for eternity. Fortunately for her, and us, Spike slows her down enough to let luck or some force of good allow her to overhear that tidbit about Katrina from the police. This leads to the heart-breaking final scene of the episode in which Buffy confesses to Tara and completely breaks down. Although painful, this open admission of her behavior and actions is the first step in her recovery.
Although a flawed episode, I enjoy watching “As You Were” [6×15] for the well-timed effect it has on Buffy. It’s very much an episode of reflection for Buffy in that she sees the success Riley’s made for himself and is briefly reminded of what she used to feel. Riley is precisely the jump-start she needed to begin to take charge of her situation instead of allowing it to continue. When she respectfully breaks it off with Spike at the end of the episode, I can’t help but cheer for her. That relationship was only hurting both her and Spike — it wasn’t fair to the both of them, whether they realized it at the time or not. I also appreciate Riley for his very respectful and non-judgemental comments to Buffy over what he’s seen. This is precisely the motivator Buffy needed to make a change.
All of this development beautifully sets up the emotional climax of the season, where Buffy is given one last “out” in “Normal Again” [6×17] — a permanent retreat into her own mind, where she envisions both of her parents as still alive, happy, and together (we know early in the series that their divorce really hurt her). At first, she is torn between what is reality and what is not. All it takes, though, are some brought up memories of her painful past and a poorly timed ultimatum from Spike to make her decision to inhabit the world inside her own mind. It’s devastating to see someone prefer to be a sick girl in a mental institution over having to face her actual life, day in and day out. That’s the burder of life, though, isn’t it? Whether we’re living happy lives or sad lives, we have to go on living. Spike’s words from “Once More, with Feeling” [6×07] seem to resonate now more than ever: “Life’s not a song/Life isn’t bliss/Life is just this/It’s living.”
Although Spike’s words were the savior of Buffy then, it’s Buffy’s memories of her mother that are her savior now. Joyce tells Buffy the exact thing she needed to hear at this moment in time, from the only person who could say it: “Be strong, baby, okay? I know you’re afraid, I know the world feels like a hard place sometimes, but you’ve got people who love you. Your dad and I we have all the faith in the world in you. We’ll always be with you. You’ve got a world of strength in your heart, I know you do. You just have to find it again. Believe in yourself.” Beautiful! I’m also a big fan of how we can see and feel the relief Buffy experiences after this breakthrough in the surprisingly strong “Entropy” [6×18].
Although the end of the season predominantly features Willow, I found myself very pleased with the coda to Buffy’s arc we got in “Grave” [6×22] that is the literal resurrection of herself. This plays as a wonderful book-end to the resurrection of her body in “Bargaining Pt. 2” [6×02]. Buffy’s overall S6 arc is very powerful and moving, along with being incredibly well designed, developed, and directed. This is the one area of the season I feel is utterly flawless. This arc succeeds so much for me not only because of how well done it is, but also because of how not stylized it is. What we have on display here is very realistic, raw, and sad, but by the end is optmistic, empowering, and exciting. This arc is yet another example of Buffy‘s willingness to take risks and break out of its own parameters.
I sympathize with the complaints that this season is very difficult to watch… because at times it is. It’s difficult for me, too, to see Buffy in depression and pain. But I can’t deny that it makes me cheer that much louder when she — sans flashiness — realistically works through her pain to regain that excitement and purpose in life she once had. That purpose being a renewed sense of dedication to the Scooby family along with, more importantly, an epiphany about Dawn’s potential in her life. It’s in this moment that she fully regains the connection she felt to Dawn when sacrificing herself in “The Gift” [5×22] and begins to see the potential for the lasting satisfaction that life can still bring her. Buffy’s truly back, only now she’s a fully realized adult!
One of the overall themes of this season is addiction, which is most evident in regard to Willow’s arc. The concept of a Willow being “addicted” to magic is an excellent one, and is one that is built upon through “Tabula Rasa” [6×08]. Where this arc goes awry is when the writers decide to slam us over the head with a blatant metaphor of magic subbing in for drugs. This begins to be obvious in “Smashed” [6×09], really falls off the rails in “Wrecked” [6×10], and doesn’t recover until the end of the season. I don’t have an inherent problem with the writers wanting to explore drug addiction, but I really dislike the idea and implementation of it here. Plus I’d still have rather seen a more broad study of addiction in general, keeping Willow’s character flaws (i.e. “power hungry”) in close context — look at the brilliant Requiem for a Dream for a great example of the approach I’d have preferred here in S6.
The season opens with a Willow who’s fully in command of the group. There are several moments in the three-part season opener (“Bargaining Pt. 1” [6×01] through “After Life” [6×03] ) that remind us that her confidence in this role is largely based around her magical abilities — not her core personality. I still maintain that Willow’s salvation lies in looking back at the small but vitally important growth she had way back in S2’s excellent “Halloween” [2×06]. This episode proves that Willow is fully capable of being the leader, being helpful, and being vital to the group without the use of magic. But, as we see later in S2, this is not the path she starts on — magic was simply too alluring in its outright power and accessibility. This makes me appreciate how well the writers have naturally evolved Willow’s flaws over the years, as she likely wouldn’t be as exciting of a character to watch had she grown in the healthy way from the start. Magic took over, and what we’re left with is here. The sad truth about entertainment is that sometimes what’s best for the show isn’t what’s best for the character.
Some early S6 moments that excellently set the tone for Willow’s arc include how she hides the details of Buffy’s resurrection from Tara and the entire group (“Bargaining Pt. 1” [6×01] ), the resurrection spell itself, selfishly wanting thanks from a newly resurrected Buffy who clearly isn’t at all right, and abruptly breaking away from a combined spell with Tara because she was being slowed down by the ‘help’ (“After Life” [6×03] ). I also feel the need to make note of the balance provided in Willow’s characterization here. She is not yet completely consumed with her magic, and still cares deeply for Buffy along with those around her. The proof of this is when she breaks down in tears when she believes all hope of bringing Buffy back is lost (“Bargaining Pt. 2” [6×02] ).
This perfect setup is adeptly developed in “Flooded” [6×04] where we find a Willow who snaps at Giles for insulting her magical prowess. It’s really at this moment when Giles, and the audience, realizes just how scary she’s truly gotten. Willow quickly defuses this argument, trying her best to backstep the outburst so Giles doesn’t get too concerned — but the damage is already done. This moment is an important setup for what comes next: the selective memory wipe of a fight Willow has with Tara in “All the Way” [6×06]. This is the first intentional act of violence on her friends, and is a shocking one at that. As Tara will thankfully point out in “Tabula Rasa” [6×08], “How could you Willow? You could you after what Glory did to me? … To violate my mind like that.” Tara’s pain comes from not only the memory wipe, but also in what she has to do because of it.
Now, with Tara out of her day-to-day life, Willow completely loses control of herself. It’s at this point in the season when Willow’s arc begins to head in the wrong direction. The silly magic antics in “Smashed” [6×09] really get the sour train rolling, which is a shame because otherwise it’s a very good episode. The writers could have gone in a whole myriad of directions at this point in the season. Why they those a long-winded drug metaphor is beyond me. I really would have preferred to have seen Willow continue to gradually lose sight of who she is, tyring to control the Scooby Gang with a self-justified sense of superiority. With a Scooby Gang increasingly getting less and less tolerant of her behavior, she could have left the group entirely and had a branch of the season off to herself.
What if Willow tried to use her power to control an army of her own — one that’s ambiguous in nature and only superficially built out of Willow’s desire to “do good.” This, later in the season, could have been used to cause a clash with Buffy that leads to someone important to get seriously hurt or killed. All of this potentially could have made the end of the season that much more powerful, with Xander still saving the day. Additionally, this would have created more opportunites to interact with Buffy’s arc, and also have interesting connotations in regard to the leadership role Buffy plays in S7.
Rather than seeing something like I just described, we instead get “Wrecked” [6×10]: the low point of the season due to how it takes Willow’s character development in the wrong direction and taints the next five or so episodes because of it (with the exception of “Dead Things” [6×13] ). This is not only the cold turkey phase of Willow’s “magic” addiction, but sadly of her arc as well. A large reason why many of the mid-season episodes (mostly “Wrecked” [6×10] through “As You Were” [6×15] ) struggled to keep afloat — besides the obviously troubled plots — was due to Willow acting like someone trying to recover from a drug addiction… and that’s pretty much it for her arc. Willow is not the focus of any of these episodes and all the tension built up from earlier in the season is simply lost to the void. Thankfully we had Willow’s interactions with Tara to keep an inkling of interest around.
The only thing remotely interesting to begin to happen as the season passes its mid-way point is Willow’s gradual reconnection to Tara. We see them bump into each other in “Dead Things” [6×13], and it’s clear they both really want to reconnect. This then eventually leads to a coffee date and then back to full-on reconnection in “Entropy” [6×18]. Of course all of this goes to hell in “Seeing Red” [6×19] when Tara gets murdered by Warren.
These final episodes, fortunately, abruptly grabbed my attention and got me really interested in what was happening with Willow again. What transpires at the end of this season is a flood of emotions. Just in “Villains” [6×20] alone we see complete shock, anger, and then an icy cold detachment from herself. By the time Warren is disposed of — her emotions not sated — “Two to Go” [6×21] gives her rage an outlet as she wrongly goes after Jonathan and Andrew. At this point Willow just wants to hurt people. Finally, in “Grave” [6×22], Xander is able to tap into what’s left of her humanity thanks to a booster shot of light magic from a newly returned Giles, which allows her to finally let all that buried pain be released thereby allowing the grieving process to truly begin.
As a whole, S6 offers Willow a superb beginning and a highly entertaining end, but the writers really dropped the ball on the middle of the season in what should have been one of the most potent section of episodes in the entire series. So while this fact hurts the season a lot more than I’d have liked, there’s still a lot of great material for Willow in S6 — just look around the edges.
Early in “Bargaining Pt. 1” [6×01] we get caught up on the state of Xander’s marriage proposal to Anya at the end of S5. Although still planning to get married, Xander’s essentially forced Anya not to tell anyone else about it. Although I can sympathize with his desire not to be inappropiate in a time of great loss, by time “Bargaining Pt. 1” [6×01] rolls around, a summer later, I think I side with Anya in that “Happy news in hard times is a good thing.” Xander’s not postponing the announcement because of Buffy’s death and pending resurrection — these are all just excuses to buy himself more time from truly being stuck. Having all of his friends hold him to that commitment is clearly a factor here.
Anya is surprisingly patient and is able to contain her excitement for their marriage all the way until, well, “All the Way” [6×06]. One of the highlights of this episode was Xander’s spur-of-the-moment announcement to the entire group that he and Anya were getting married. But, really, who wouldn’t fall for Anya’s dance of capitalistic superiority? Although definitely coming as a bit of a shock to everyone, they are all very supportive of and excited for the both of them.
It’s just a shame that both his proposal to Anya in “The Gift” [5×22] — which was a very genuine moment — and his announcement to the group here were both wrong decisions. Although it’s certainly possible the two of them could have made it work, I’m pleased the season didn’t just conveniently forget about all of Xander’s established issues from years past. I have a hard time blaming Xander for wanting to take his relationship with Anya to the next level; wanting to be ready for everything marriage should be. But wanting to be ready for something doesn’t mean you are ready for it, not by a long shot. This is one thing Xander and Dawn actually have in common this season.
“Once More, with Feeling” [6×07] takes a decent stab at starting to get the two of them talking about this out in the open. Some of these insecurities, from both of them, burst out into glorious song. What’s interesting is that Anya pretty much shoves off these worries as not much of a big deal, while it feels like it has more of an effect on Xander. Unfortunately, instead of dealing with these thoughts and feelings right here, Xander instead just wants to kill the demon so that no more of his thoughts will come pouring out to Anya. He boxes up those concerns for a later time. Although it would be painful to deal with this now, we all know “Hell’s Bells” [6×16] is the alternative.
Leading up to “Hell’s Bells” [6×16], there were a number of subtle moments that continue to foreshadow the inevitable. One in particular I tend to remember is a moment at the beginning of “Doublemeat Palace” [6×12]. Anya is rambling on about money, as usual, and Xander responds to it with, “Welcome to today’s episode of ‘Go Money Go!’ I hear it daily.” Willow then chimes in with the zinger: “Yep, for the rest of your life.” The look on Xander’s face as he’s chewing his popcorn is both very funny, very informative, and, in retrospect, quite sad.
When Xander breaks off their engagement at the last second in “Hell’s Bells” [6×16], it’s painful for everyone involved. Although I feel Xander is completely at fault for not confronting his inner demons earlier, when the signs were evident to him, I still feel he made the right decision to not get married when it finally sunk in that he wasn’t ready. I really wish more people would realize that they really don’t have the maturity to make marriage work. I think there’d be a lot more long, happier marriages if that were the case. So I respect Xander for his decision, but I abhor him for his timing — waiting to the last second is never the way to go.
After this painful break-up, we see a Xander who is genuinely lost yet still very much cares for Anya. He really learned something about himself in this process, but it will take some time for all of it to fully sink in. One immediate benefit of this gained self-awareness is that it ties in with his other thread this season: taking Buffy off the pedastal he’s had her on since well, frankly, “Welcome to the Hellmouth” [1×01]. Although he gets to this point with some big revelations about Buffy in the underrated “Entropy” [6×18], I’d like to take a few moments first to look at how bad his blind eye to all things Buffy had gotten.
Although Xander did, to his credit, have qualms about Willow’s plan to resurrect Buffy, we see shortly afterwards that he’s glad they did it. From this point on he actively turns a blind eye (no pun intended there) towards the suffering Buffy is in, which is obvious from anyone who looks hard enough for it. All the Scoobies were so blinded in their belief that they pulled her out of a hell dimension that it even informed the way they viewed her mental state. Spike at least had a little intuition to know that something was off, but the rest didn’t even want to consider the opposite.
What’s amazing to me is that, even when they all find out about the truth of what’s going on with Buffy, Xander still tries to shirk the blame. He makes his views extremely clear in “Tabula Rasa” [6×08]: “Maybe we were [selfish]. I just feel weird feeling bad that my friend’s not dead. It’s… too mind-boggling. So I’ve decided to simplify the whole thing. Me like Buffy. Buffy’s alive, so, me glad.” This sentence informs how Xander approaches Buffy from that point on.
In “Gone” [6×11], Spike and Buffy are getting a little heated in the kitchen as Xander walks in on them. Xander just assumes Buffy wanted nothing to do with Spike’s advances and that “Only a complete loser would ever hook up with [Spike]. Well, unless she’s a simpleton like Harmony, or a, or a nut sack like Drusilla-” Later (in the same episode) in Spike’s crypt, Xander doesn’t put the pieces together because his mind just isn’t going there. Buffy’s beyond anything like this to him, so the thought that she may actually be fooling around with Spike literally doesn’t even cross his mind.
This goes on until “Entropy” [6×18], in which Spike succinctly reveals everything to Xander (and Anya). The realization that Buffy is not the saint he’s always made her out to be, but rather a human being who can make big mistakes like the rest of us, is utterly crushing to him. This, as I mentioned, completely ties in with his overall growth as a person and as an adult. In “Seeing Red” [6×19], we see a Xander drained of much of the life and fun he once possessed, even resorting to wasting away the moning with a handful of beer cans.
It’s only after Xander sees the pain Buffy’s relationship with Spike has caused her — seing the aftermath of Spike’s attempted rape — that he begins to realize the situation’s much more complex than he ever realized. They have a great discussion about this at the end of “Seeing Red” [6×19], and are thankfully able to reconcile with each other and move past their respective wounds. Now, more than ever before, do these two have a real connection and adult understanding of each other. This new foundation of maturity very much sets up where they start in S7.
I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the fact that Xander saved the world this season! Go Xander! I think this ending works on several levels. First, despite everything that’s happened, Xander and Willow’s friendship is the longest-running in the series. Second, I feel that everything Xander learned this season, as detailed above, and the maturity he gained throughout these experiences, very much contributed to why he had to be the person up on that cliff to save Willow from herself. I feel this is an inspired end to the season, and an inspired end to Xander’s growth this season. Xander ends the season a real superhero, and I’m very happy about it. Although I definitely would have appreciated even a little bit more insight from Xander’s point of view throughout the season, I am still quite pleased with what is there.
Giles doesn’t really have much of an arc in S6, which doesn’t really come as a big surprise considering he’s only in a handful of episodes. One thing I occasionally think about is if Giles’ leaving the Scoobies was the right decision (putting aside the fact that the actor likely wasn’t available). I will say that it was definitely in character, as I’ve made the case for in some of my episode reviews, and I found his absence did allow for a lot of relatively quick character maturity that otherwise would have taken much longer if he was around to always deal with messy situations.
So that leaves us with the development Giles did get in the time he had. In S5, we saw him return to his roots and re-devote his life to helping Buffy become a better slayer. With Buffy now dead, we see him in a little bit of anguish over the decisions he made that, regardless of his best effort, ended in Buffy’s death. In a poignant conversation with the BuffyBot, the big questions of “why I am still here?” and “do I still have a life to go back to?” are more relevant than ever. “Restless” [4×22] showed us that there’s a divide in Giles between wanting to take control of his life again and his steadfast devotion to Buffy. With Buffy gone, Giles’ choice seems pretty clear. This is why he leaves in “Bargaining Pt. 1” [6×01].
When he returns to Sunnydale in “Flooded” [6×04], he’s initially shocked but still obviously pleased to see Buffy alive again. This joy very quickly mutates into caution and then concern and worry. Willow’s actions aren’t fooling him one bit, and he calls her out on the possibilities of what Buffy might be dealing with. The predominant theme for Giles over the next four episodes is how he is very torn in deciding how he can best help Buffy in her struggling situation. The end of “Life Serial” [6×05] reminds us just how wonderful of a man Giles can be. After Buffy struggles to fit into a regular job on her first attempts (the Trio’s tests make her feel worse than she should), Giles gives her a check to allow her to be able to take a little bit of time to get herself together. In addition to that, he’s there for her and actively trying to help.
“All the Way” [6×06] is really an eye-opening experience for Giles though. Dawn gets herself into trouble on Halloween night and, naturally, Giles expects Buffy to make sure Dawn learns from this experience. The problem here is that Buffy isn’t really interested in disciplining Dawn anymore, so she leaves it to Giles to take care of. Giles is both disappointed with Buffy and a little angry at Dawn.
It’s this moment where he realizes Buffy will not live up to any of her responsibilities as long as he is around to deal with them for her all the time. And, clearly, Giles can’t just ignore these things while waiting for Buffy to snap out of it. He gets the final confirmation on his feelings in “Once More, with Feeling” [6×07] when Buffy just tells him, in regard to Dawn’s Halloween adventures, “Oh, I thought you took care of that.” The song Giles sings, “Standing” (or “standing in the way”) is very much about the tough decision he has to make — leaving Buffy so she can grow. In “Tabula Rasa” [6×08], he leaves, and Buffy is not happy about it.
Flash forward now to “Grave” [6×22] where Giles has returned to deal with the Willow situation. Buffy and Giles have a great conversation in the back training room in which they come to a mutual understanding about each others’ mistakes. Clearly, Giles now has some reservations about the decision he made. He tells Buffy “I should never have left.” She responds, “No… you were right to leave. We’re just… stupid.” Giles amusingly comes back, “I know you’re all stupid. I should never have abandoned you … Sometimes the most adult thing you can do is ask for help when you need it.”
Although Giles didn’t develop much this season, his (lack of) presence had a huge impact on the rest of the characters, and the audience. I think that his absence for a good part of the season made for more of an interesting ride than if he had stuck around during all that happened. With that said I think, on a personal level, that he probably made a mistake by leaving, as he freely admits now in “Grave” [6×22]. An unfortunate side-effect of his departure is that his relationship with Buffy is never again as tight as it was, which is very sad indeed. This change in the nature of their relationship will play a large role in S7.
Spike grew as a character a ton during S5, and S6 doesn’t appear to even be trying to top it. Instead, the season stops Spike in place and explores the heck out of him through his responses to Buffy’s troubles over the course of the season. Due to this exploration, Spike learns a lot of fundamentally troubled things about who he is right now — things that lead to changes that will forever effect him. Want specifics? Read on! 🙂
In “Bargaining Pt. 1” [6×01] we see a Spike who is still beating himself up over what happened on the tower in “The Gift” [5×22]. It’s clear he still hasn’t emotionally recovered from Buffy’s death. Spike made a promise to Buffy that he would protect Dawn no matter what happened, so here he is, true to his word. Spike tells Dawn, “No. I’m not leaving you… to get hurt. Not again.” He’s always been a bit of a romantic at heart, so seeing him essentially babysitting Dawn full-time doesn’t come as a surprise to me in the least, although that shouldn’t lessen how awesome it is.
The problem with this cozy little set up is that, in “After Life” [6×03], Buffy returns. Now what!? Spike is expectedly surprised, supportive, and then eventually a little concerned. Buffy’s revelation about her other-worldly whereabouts blindsides Spike — he hasn’t the slightest clue how to respond to it. Despite that, he tries to respond nonetheless, even evoking a rare chuckle out of her in “Flooded” [6×04].
It’s in “Life Serial” [6×05] that Spike starts trying to get Buffy to indulge in her darker side. He enourages her to leave her old life behind and not hold herself to those standards anymore. Spike’s always seen this side of her, but he uses this opportunity to push this side of her out and to the surface. He tells Buffy, “You’re not a schoolgirl. You’re not a shop girl. You’re a creature of the darkness. Like me. Try on my world. See how good it feels.” Although I’m sure Spike thinks he’s doing a great thing by doing this, he obviously doesn’t have the moral capacity to know how wrong he is. “Life Serial” [6×05], although fairly innocuous in of itself, is what plants the initial seeds of their impending twisted sexual relationship.
Spike only has to wait until “Once More, with Feeling” [6×07] to get the beginning of what he’s wanted for over a year now, although it’s not under the circumstances he would have ever imagined or even realizes now. The sexual tension building up explodes in “Smashed” [6×09] where a huge, violent fight between them ends with the two of them rolling around together. This big turning point was only made possible by the revelation that Spike can now hit Buffy without his head exploding — a side-effect of the resurrection spell used to bring Buffy back. Knowing that Spike can hurt her actually turns Buffy on, an effect Spike also did not expect.
A moment that turns out to be signifant in the scope of Spike’s journey this season is when, in “Smashed” [6×09] Spike, thinking he can kill again, tries to murder a young girl. Although the chip fires off, we can see that he still would have done it if he wasn’t stopped! To his credit, he did have to work himself up to bite the girl, but he went for her nonetheless. At several points in the season, the writers go out of their way to make sure we remember that Spike is still a soulless being capable of great evil.
I think what makes us need to be reminded of this is what makes Spike such a wonderfully complex character. He’s not a straight-up villain, but he’s not a straight-up good guy either. Living in this gray area eventually starts to drive Spike insane by the end of the series — he needs clarity in nature and purpose, even if the struggle between both sides will always be a part of him. His lack of a soul prevents him from obtaining redemption and forgiveness, while the chip prevents him from being a monster again. Either way, he’s not being allowed to make choices completely of his own will.
It’s never more obvious than in “Wrecked” [6×10] that Buffy’s just using Spike to scratch an itch, and not much more. Although over the course of their time spent together Buffy will, indeed, grow more attached to Spike, I don’t believe she loves him at any point during this season. This creates a fascinating situation where Spike is increasingly getting fed-up with the way Buffy is treating him, but yet would still take the abuse just because he likes the sex and wants to be with her in any way he can.
As “Dead Things” [6×13] shows us, though, Spike’s not the only one being abused here. Knowingly or not, Spike is not doing much to help Buffy out of her struggles. He keeps trying to pull her further into darkness at a time when she desperately needs to be shown the light again. At one point Spike even tells her to just forget about all her friends so she can join him in the dark. Not exactly a healthy approach to the situation! By the time “As You Were” [6×15] rolls around, Riley shows Buffy a glimpse of that light she so desparately needed to see, so she respectfully breaks it off with Spike, even going as far as calling him “William” — a nice little reminder of Spike’s soul and a hint of what’s to come.
The break-off really throws Spike for a loop. He genuinely doesn’t fully understand why Buffy broke it off and why there was any problem with their relationship. When Buffy starts hallucinating she’s in a mental instituion in “Normal Again” [6×17], Spike — not taking her condition remotely seriously — gets completely fed up with the entire situaiton and throws an ultimatum at her: if she doesn’t tell her friends about their involvement together, he will. Of course, this causes Buffy to want to retreat into fantasty even further. Spike is really not helping anyone at this point. In his confusion and pain, he goes to Anya for a numbing spell and instead gets solace sex.
I found the move to have Spike and Anya briefly get it on in “Entropy” [6×18] extremely inspired. It totally made sense based on where the characters were at this point in the season but, more importantly, it makes complete sense based on the amicable conversations they’ve had in the past. I always remember a particular moment between them in “Where the Wild Things Are” [4×18] where Anya discusses relationships. She says to Spike, “Seen a thousand relationships. First there’s the love, and sex, and then there’s nothing left but the vengeance. That’s how it works.” Talk about foreshadowing!
This encounter obviously causes a whole slew of problems, most of which involve Buffy and Spike’s relationship being made public to the Scoobies. This sends Spike into a tailspin leading him to a desperate attempt to physically connect with Buffy again. He confuses himself into an attempted rape, which obviously completely destroys any chance he may have ever had with her. The scene that most effectively translates Spike’s neverending frustrations is towards the end of “Seeing Red” [6×19], in which he tells a visiting Clem, “Everything always used to be so clear. Slayer, vampire! Vampire kills slayer, sucks her dry, picks his teeth with her bones … But with Buffy… it isn’t supposed to be this way! It won’t let me be a monster. And I can’t be a man. I’m nothing.”
The only source of action left for Spike is a staking or change. Spike, ever the fighter that he is, chooses change in “Grave” [6×22]. And what crazy change he gets! Although he knows he’s fighting for his soul, he doesn’t really have any idea what that truly means yet. That’s what makes this decision so powerful and unbelievable. For a soulless creature to change to the point of wanting to fight for his soul is simply incredible. The Spike we see in S7 is not the same being as the Spike of before. What an amazing journey this character has been on!
Overall, I’m extremely pleased with what we got from Spike this season. Although I have a hard time picking favorites on this series, Spike has definitely got to be one of my favorite television characters ever. I also need to mention that this character would not be as awesome as he is without the phenomenal acting pouring out of the wonderful James Marsters. Fantastic work!
I like Dawn. There, I said it! Wow, what a relief to be out in the open with that! Wait… I hear the Buffy fanbase arriving. Shit! So… the more and more I’ve attempted to be involved in the Buffy fandom over the last few years, the more and more I’ve wanted to run away from it. With the exception of a handful of smart and kind individuals (and most of the people that visit this site), the ruckus people cause over Dawn has frustrated and annoyed me to the point where I really do want to become completely anti-social and return to playing Counter-Strike for five hours a day (you didn’t read that). At least in Counter-Strike there’s a button you can click on to mute all the annoying screeching coming from the players shooting at you… on your own team. I hate to break it to all of you, but Dawn is not that annoying! Hating on this character has become a verifiable fad in the Buffy fandom, and I’m really sick of it.
So those of you expecting to read a several page rant, with caps-lock on, about how much Dawn needs to “shut up” can stop reading this right now. Instead, you’ll get from me what you’ve always gotten from me: a level-headed look at a character’s season-long journey. That journey begins in “Bargaining Pt. 1” [6×01], where we see a very lonely, sad Dawn. The scene where she crawls into bed with the BuffyBot and hugs it is very moving, and speaks volumes to what Dawn’s going through.
Buffy obviously returns to her, but she soon realizes that while Buffy may be back in body, she’s certainly not back in spirit. This leads Dawn to seek out connection on her own, which leads us to “All the Way” [6×06]. This episode tackles Dawn’s growing interest in becoming an adult of her own, even though she’s clearly not ready for all that that entails. It’s somewhat ironic that she’s so oblivious to the fact that the pain she sees in the friends around her is stemming from being swamped by the adult world.
In “Once More, with Feeling” [6×07], Sweet’s sensual dance with her runs with this, as he knows precisely what she’s feeling inside. Although she has feelings that are wanting to burst out into the open, she in no way has the maturity yet to deal with the result of acting on those feelings. The fact all these other people are bursting into flame because of their emotions goes to show many adults can’t even handle it. What’s also problematic here is that a demon has a better grip on what Dawn’s feeling right now than her own friends and family. Not good.
So, as an outlet for her frustration, she decides to steal things. “Older and Far Away” [6×14] takes a look at how everyone around Dawn is so caught up in their own crap, they can’t hear Dawn’s cries of loneliness and pain. While true, Dawn’s not seeing the reverse either. With all that said, I have a lot of sympathy for the girl. Take a moment to consider everything that’s happened to her in the last year. That’s enough to traumatize anyone, let alone a young teenage girl. This is why, when Buffy finally makes the decision to start including Dawn in her entire life in “Grave” [6×22], slayer duties included, I jumped for joy. This sets up Dawn’s S7 arc and gives her something big to share with her sister and Scooby friends. I just think this development was long overdue.
This leads me to some complaints I have about how Dawn was written this season. Instead of being flushed out as a character of her own, we instead see her used as a device to show how much trouble other characters are in. Besides tickling the surface of Dawn as a person, all we got is her being used as a piece on a game board. This is what’s truly a shame. I like Dawn, but I believe the writers failed at making me love her, like I do with all the other characters. Thankfully, S7 is an improvement for her. All I ask is that everyone please stop the hate on Dawn. If she’s not your favorite character, so be it, but don’t have an aneurysm everytime she speaks.
Tara has always been a character I’ve enjoyed watching. I have to admit, though, that she hasn’t been one of the better developed characters. To S6’s credit, Tara gets the most development she’s ever gotten. Her death in “Seeing Red” [6×19] angered a good many fans, and I understand why. Even though Tara’s not the only character I love (as it is for some people in the fandom), I still felt the pain of her death as well. This brings us to the question of why Whedon likes to kill off so many of his beloved characters. This topic warrants its own article, so all I will say now is that, at least in Buffy, I feel most of the character deaths served a greater purpose in the story, Tara included. Could Whedon have found a way to get Willow to the place she went without this happening? I really don’t know, but what transpires is largely effective. If all the characters we love couldn’t die, then what are the stakes? What are the Scoobies even fighting for?
It’s interesting that the bulk of Tara’s development comes as a result of her separation from Willow, who has been abusing magic and is crossing important lines. The creepy moment when Willow breaks away from a joint spell with Tara in “After Life” [6×03] leads to a scene when Tara confronts Willow, in “All the Way” [6×06], about how Willow thinks all her problems can be solved with magic now. This results in a fight between them. Working through problems like this is normal in a relationship. Wiping the memory of the fight from your partner’s mind is not normal in a relationship though! That Willow would do this to Tara after what Glory did to her in “Tough Love” [5×19] — something Tara points out later — is shocking.
After Tara finds out about this violation of her mind in “Once More, with Feeling” [6×07], she confronts Willow about it in “Tabula Rasa” [6×08], giving her one last chance to prove she can let the magic go. Less than a day after Willow promises to stop, she breaks her promise, which leads to another magic-related disaster involving memory loss. This is justifiably the last straw for Tara, so she leaves Willow.
While Tara is on her own, though, a lot of interesting things happen. She makes some new friends, strengthens her bond with Dawn even more (“Wrecked” [6×10] ), is there for Buffy who is in desperate need of a real friend (“Dead Things” [6×13] ), and even defends a Willow who is later on the mends (“Older and Far Away” [6×14] ). During all of this season, but even more so towards the end, we see a Tara with complete confidence in herself that is willing to speak up even when it might be painful. This newfound strength in herself is what, I feel, gives her the ability to forgive Willow in “Entropy” [6×18] and reconnect.
In addition to all that I’ve already mentioned, Tara’s sense of humor really started to come out of its shell this season. I think Tara had some of the funniest moments of the season. One moment in particular that always gives me a smile when I think about it is in “Older and Far Away” [6×14]. She asks Spike, “A muscle cramp? In your… pants?” and then later follows up and asks, “How’s that cramp Spike? Still bothering you? … Maybe you, uh, wanna put some ice on it.” Although I enjoyed Tara when she was introduced in S4, I didn’t come to love her until S6. So, while Tara didn’t get some huge arc of her own, she came a long way… and I will most definitely miss her. Goodbye, Tara!
As should be no surprise to anyone at this point, I think Anya rocks. With that said, this is probably her worst year in terms of both character development and humor. Anya’s character threads can pretty much be summed up by two things: the build-up to the marriage followed by the vengeance that follows it not happening.
Right from the get-go, in “Bargaining Pt. 1” [6×01], we can see that Anya is frustrated by Xander’s inability to tell everyone about their engagement. Athough Anya is largely oblivious to the internal demons Xander has up his sleeves, these lurking problems become more and more obvious as the season progresses. Anya really has learned how to love, as shown by the years of experience as a vengeance demon no longer being relevant to her relationship.
By the time “Hell’s Bells” [6×16] rolls around, Anya is still quite surprised by Xander’s actions. Even though Xander knows the visions he saw were a concentrated nightmare version of what his life with Anya could have ended up like, it’s enough to force him into realizing he’s not ready to take that risk yet. He’s simply too young, and still has issues to work out. As much as I was rooting for the two of them to make this work, I always kind of knew there was no way it was going happen. Also of no surprise to me is Anya’s attempt to return to the vengeance fold after this happens. I say “attempt,” because very soon afterwards we find out that Anya really can’t fully be who she was before — she’s changed. “Entropy” [6×18] takes a direct look at Anya’s pain and her attempt to get back at Xander. After an episode’s worth of trying, Anya finally gets her literal wish (from Spike) and turns it down. This is definitely still Anya we’re dealing with, not Anyanka.
A conversation in “Two to Go” [6×21] sums up where Anya and Xander stand with each other now. Anya tells Xander she can’t hurt him, to which he responds, “Right, ’cause you varnishing the table with Spike — how could that possibly have hurt?” Anya quietly replies, “That wasn’t vengeance. It was solace. Look, I really can’t hurt you, so I’m just gonna have to settle for hating you.” The good news in all of this is that the two of them do find a way to work through this in S7.
Speaking of S7, it begins with an Anya continuing to have issues getting back into the swing of her vengeance gig. “Selfless” [7×05] then goes on to confront all of the issues surrounding her, and then some.
Almost every season of Buffy has a villain that is tailored to themes of the season and often acts as a counterpoint to what’s going on with the Scoobies. Season 6 is no different in this way, with the Trio being perfectly placed as a group of male young adults who are acting anything but adults. While the Scoobies are struggling accepting themselves in the adult world, the Trio’s solution to the pain is to completely avoid it. Why work for something when you can get it for free? Why ask for something when you can take it? These are the central ideas in the Trio’s scheme to “take over Sunnydale.” I feel that the Trio definitely work as the best thematic villain in the entire series, and are only hampered by a few overly silly moments and the extremely long wait to see what they’re really capable of — which happens in “Dead Things” [6×13].
“Flooded” [6×04] introduces the Trio as a group of comic book geeks bent on not actually working and moving on with their lives post high school. Their self proclaimed “mission statement” consists of the following: “Control The Weather, Miniaturize Fort Knox, Conjure Fake I.D.s, Shrink Ray, Girls, Girls, The Gorilla Thing, and Workable Prototype Jetpacks.” In “Flooded” [6×04] they’re able to successfully con a brute demon into robbing a bank for them. One thing to note is that, even in this introduction episode, there’s a sense that Warren is different than the others — he doesn’t have a problem with Buffy ending up dead.
What’s funny to me is that the Trio’s undoing is essentially outlined in “Life Serial” [6×05]. At the end of this episode, they genuinely believe they easily threw Buffy off her game with their little tests, even though they have no clue what’s actually going on in her life right now. Underestimating Buffy is always a poor move, and the Trio will find this out later in the season.
Although, as already pointed out, there’s definitely something different about Warren right from the start, it’s not until “Gone” [6×11] when he officially starts to become creepy. What starts off as a fairly innocuous plan to make themselves invisible so they can check out naked girls turns into something much more complicated when Buffy instead gets hit by their invisibility ray. Both Jonathan and Andrew (entertainingly referred to as “what’s his name” throughout the season) don’t want to hurt Buffy, but Warren goes around their backs and tries to get Buffy killed. This plays as a nice setup to what happens next.
“Dead Things” [6×13] represents a huge turning point for the Trio and fully outs Warren as the only real villain in the group. Although Warren’s definitely a secondary villain, taking back seat to the Scooby Gang’s own personal troubles, he gets credible here as both a misogynist and a murderer. What Warren does to Katrina is not only awful for her, but it also betrays Warren’s own growth at the hands of that relationship. As I pointed out in my review, “Warren has just turned Katrina into the very thing he ran away from: the AprilBot from “I Was Made to Love You” [5×15]. This robs him of the very reason why he ditched the bot: Katrina’s life and personality.” If the Trio wasn’t interesting enough before, this episode made me start to care about what they were up to. They had my full attention now.
The fallout from the murder of Katrina turns out to be from within the group, not outside of it. We can see, in “Normal Again” [6×17], that Jonathan is traumatized by what he’s been a part of, and desperately wants to get away from a dangerous Warren and a complicit Andrew. Although he tries to sever his ties with the others, he’s too scared to actually make a move. Jonathan finally makes his decision when it counted, and helped Buffy defeat a suped-up Warren in “Seeing Red” [6×19]. Unfortunately, Warren returns to Buffy’s house later with a gun and shoots up the place. This leads to a lot of skin loss for Warren, as we actually witness in “Villains” [6×20]. With Warren, a villain to the end, out of the picture, Jonathan sticks to his morals and does everything he can to help the Scoobies now, while Andrew keeps making bad calls. It’s clear that Jonathan has finally grown as a person, but Andrew still has a ways to go and isn’t yet much of an individual.
We leave the Trio, now the Duo, running off to Mexico in fright. All in all, I have to admit that Warren turned out to be a pretty effective villain, much to my surprise. In the end, I really enjoy the Trio’s antics and find them to be an extremely effective villain for this particular season. At times they entertained me, while at other times they creeped me out. They also had quite the little season-long arc of their own, and each of the three characters grew in a unique way. Plus… “Timothy Dalton should get an Oscar and beat Sean Connery over the head with it!”
I love Season 6. Being as objective as I can, though, I realize that it has some notable flaws and does not deserve an A-range grade. The direction they took Willow mid-season really changed the course of what could have been one of the best seasons of the series. I still maintain that S6 is the most daring season, containing many of the riskiest moves the series ever made along with some of the most deeply probing episodes.
I’m discovering more and more that I have a love for shows that dig into characters’ minds and explore the psychological aspects of what makes them who they are. This season is practically a treasure chest filled with episodes that do just that, with “After Life” [6×03], “Once More, with Feeling” [6×07], “Dead Things” [6×13], and “Normal Again” [6×17] leading the charge.
What defines the best aspects of the season for me is really everything surrounding Buffy’s return from a heavenly place and subsequent rediscovery of herself. This leads her through a lot of confusing times, including being depressed enough to have no will to live, submitting herself to a largely lust-filled relationship with Spike, and not being there for Dawn or for any of her friends really, who could have also used a helpful hand this season.
S6 is an important journey for the characters; a journey of discovery about themselves. All the characters ended the season in a much more mature place, now ready to tackle bigger challenges than they would have ever been prepared to face before. When the end of “Grave” [6×22] arrives, it’s like being baptized of pain — I feel rejuvenated again. It is with this exciting feeling that I am going into S7. Although S7 is not one of my very favorites seasons, I hope to make a case for it being still a very good season, with many of the series’ best episodes in it. So join me as I walk into S7. All I ask is for all of you to keep an open mind! 🙂