Season 7 Review

[Review by Mike Marinaro]

[Introduction]

Well everyone… we’ve, at last, arrived at the end of the road. It’s been quite the journey over these seven seasons and, wow, almost five years. My exploration of the series has helped me explore myself as a person – something that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is very conducive to. As the brilliantly rendered characters grew and evolved through their adolescence and young adulthood, I grew too; as they learned about themselves, I did as well.

But this is not the moment for a series retrospective. That comes later, after the conclusion (section) of this review. For now let’s focus our sight on the widely disliked and marginalized Season 7. Let me be clear up front: this is not one of the strongest seasons of Buffy, but it’s also far from the worst (S1). It would probably feel like a better season if it wasn’t up against such stiff competition. But we all know that answer isn’t good enough.

Season 7 (S7) has the daunting task of satisfyingly wrapping up every character’s journey, still evolve those characters, have an entertaining plot, and go out with a bang. While it’s definitely disheartening that the writers couldn’t pull all these elements together perfectly, there’s still plenty to admire as they did get a lot of it right. For starters, S7 began with one of the best opening run of episodes in the entire series. On the other hand, there’s a bit of a let-down with what followed, most notably plot-wise, as it couldn’t match that consistent and engaging opening volley.

Like S6 this season has its fair share of guts. It frequently goes out of its way to challenge the viewer and their perception of what the show and the characters have become. We find characters having divergent yet valid viewpoints and are left unsure of who is right and who is wrong, if there even is a right or wrong in some of these situations. There’s some courageous storytelling on display when we see the old make way for the new. A lot of the characters fully outgrow their youthful relations as they become self-aware adults – a process that really started picking up pace in S5. This process is often painful for the viewer at first until the realization sets in that all of this really does stem organically from what has come before and is needed for these people to come into their own.

Beyond just being gutsy in places, S7 sports some incredible stand-out moments. How about the closure to Buffy and Spike’s arcs and the beautiful episode “Touched” [7×20]? How about the probing, smart, and gutsy episodes “Selfless” [7×05], “Conversations with Dead People” [7×07], and “Lies My Parents Told Me” [7×17]? How about the drama of the church scene in “Beneath You” [7×02] or the comedy of the rocket launcher in “Him” [7×06] or the beauty of Xander’s compliment to Dawn in “Potential” [7×12] or the insightful fun of Espenson’s “Storyteller” [7×16] or the return and further growth of Faith starting in “Dirty Girls” [7×18]? All of those standout moments and many others are the courtesy of Season 7, and not just the first seven episodes of it! Please take note of this and don’t look back.

The season has several focused themes and it runs with them quite well. These themes aren’t limited to Buffy’s journey either. Willow, Xander, Spike, Faith, Giles, and our villain the First (among others) are all inexorably linked to them too as is their development and relationships to each other. This is not a poorly written season — quite the opposite in fact; it’s just poorly executed plot-wise and a bit inconsistent at times.

If I were to rank S7 against all the other seasons, I admit it would come in near the bottom. Definitely above S1, but not easily said to be above anything else. It competes with S4 for the weakest full season, which isn’t a terrible thing to be compared to. At the very least this reminds me that the season is worthy of being considered an integral part of the show; I can’t imagine Buffy without it.


[Overview]

Season 7 opens in a manner quite similar to S5 with several character pieces and stand-alone episodes. “Lessons” [7×01] is a light-weight romp that does an excellent job at setting the tone of the season to something new, fresh, and altogether different from S6. It also serves as an appetizer to some of the season’s larger themes. Plus, Buffy gets a job as a school counselor of sorts! Principal Snyder’s probably rolling in his half-eaten grave. 😉

While “Lessons” [7×01] eases us into the season, “Beneath You” [7×02] wastes no time in getting us back into the thick of things from a character perspective. Anya’s working the vengeance again, Xander’s still searching for what’s next in life, and Buffy ends up getting thrown for a loop by a completely crazy, yet very soulful, Spike. “Same Time, Same Place” [7×03] tackles Willow’s return to Sunnydale from England. Willow’s character arc is thus kicked off in fairly solid fashion when she accidentally casts a spell just by thinking it. The stand-alone episodes continue with “Help” [7×04] giving Buffy a taste of the fact that she won’t be able to save everyone no matter how hard she tries. “Selfless” [7×05] gives Anya her powerful standout episode and sets her on a new path in life. Then we get a bit of comedy from “Him” [7×06] before the main arc of the season kicks into full gear.

“Conversations with Dead People” [7×07] and “Sleeper” [7×08] are when things get crazy and the seasonal arc becomes front and center. “Never Leave Me” [7×09] continues this trend yet stops and takes the time to analyze what just happened, bringing in Andrew and getting to the bottom of Buffy and Spike’s relationship at this point. With “Bring on the Night” [7×10] and “Showtime” [7×11] we have a couple plot-heavy episodes that test Spike’s newfound faith in Buffy while the Scoobies and the newly arriving Potentials start flooding in with Giles from various parts of the world. Buffy also shows the new Ubervamp in town who is boss in a public smack down.

With the First sadly “in remission” of sorts, “Potential” [7×12] through “First Date” [7×14] tackle various character bits including Kennedy’s interest in a relationship with Willow, the training of the Potentials, Buffy figuring out her new role of army general, Spike’s chip going wonky and subsequently being removed, and the scoop on the mysterious Principal Wood.

Returning to the arc in “Get it Done” [7×15] we get a final picture of the source of the Slayer’s power as Buffy forces her most powerful allies to push past their fears and hang-ups. “Storyteller” [7×16] and “Lies My Parents Told Me” [7×17] are major character pieces covering Andrew and then Spike, Wood, and Buffy. Then Nathan Fillion’s Caleb and Faith sweep into town. Caleb does some real damage in “Dirty Girls” [7×18] which kicks off the beginning of the end. “Empty Places” [7×19] through “Chosen” [7×22] march towards the finish line with the group committing mutiny against Buffy and then Spike doing what he can to get Buffy back on her feet.

All of this comes together in the fairly exciting finale, “Chosen” [7×22], where Buffy takes all the Potentials and her various other allies down into the Hellmouth to finish it once and for all. The result of this preemptive strike is a scorched Spike, a dead Anya, the entirety of Sunnydale sealing the Hellmouth, and all of the Potentials now being slayers allowing Buffy to be released from her burden of solitude.


[Cons]

  • Stalled plot momentum resulting in a relatively inert villain.
  • Stronger emphasis on a troubled plot at the expense of some of the established characters.
  • The entrance of a lot of underdeveloped new characters.
  • Occasional lapses in writing quality and frequent lapses in plot consistency.

While many of the later seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer often get derided, I think S7 takes the crown when it comes to the number of ‘colorful metaphors’ used to describe it. On a basic level I ‘get’ where some of it comes from. I mean, this is the final season of our favorite show, right? It needs to be out of this world in quality! S7 is not Buffy ending at its peak, and this is most certainly sad. Yet it’s also not the complete travesty many fans would have you believe. Like S6, a lot of risks were taken here and a lot of them paid off. However, a couple of them don’t pay off and therein lies a problem.

One of these initial risks was the sheer scope and ambition of the season’s plot involving a return of the First Evil that tried to get Angel to kill himself in “Amends” [3×10]. You know what? That’s a cool concept with the potential to be a wickedly psychological villain. Some seeds were planted in many of the early character episodes and when the plot kicked into full gear in “Conversations with Dead People” [7×07] it proved to be terrifying, unsettling, and explosive. I was completely enthralled by the scope and ambition of what the writing team was trying to put together for the final season. This momentum held quite strong for me through “Showtime” [7×11] when Buffy excitingly defeated the tough Ubervamp in a wicked cool smack down with the Potentials as audience.

Up until the half-way point of the season things were looking pretty sweet! But now what? This is a question the writers clearly didn’t have an answer to, plot-wise. They definitely knew where they wanted to end up but they seemed to be at a loss on how to get there. “Potential” [7×12] broke the news that the First was “in remission.” To me, this is writer-speak for “we’re all out of ideas and are too lazy or exhausted to keep things moving.” S7 is much more plot and suspense driven than any other season of Buffy, or at least it was during its first half. In order for this approach to succeed the momentum and danger must keep ratcheting up. This is one area Buffy could have taken a page from some of the earlier seasons of 24. For a few episodes the First was pretty much nowhere in sight which simply demolished all that tension, suspense, and emotion that had been accrued. This is where the plot got lost and never really came back and, as a result of this, the First largely ceased being a threat to worry about.

When the main plot starts to come back into focus, it never quite becomes completely focused. Instead it gets more confusing, sloppy, and contrived from here on out and while the First has the occasional cool scene it’s just not reaching its full potential as a villain. The relevance, power, and even description of the Seal of Danzalthar are all inconsistent at best. Then plot devices start dropping in the characters’ laps ranging from the Slayer Scythe to the Guardian Temple to Angel’s Amulet. Add to that the fact that all of these items start appearing right before the very end of the series and it begins to chip away at the integrity of the plot all the more. In some ways S4’s Initiative plot is actually better than this because it really wasn’t the season’s primary focus — the characters were.

Okay, so the plot started strong and then kind of fell apart to a large extent. If that was the only problem I’d be bummed but not torn up over it. After all, plots were never one of Buffy‘s strengths as a show. Unfortunately, due to all the attention given to the ultimately lackluster plot, some of the characters got less attention than they otherwise would have. The season’s certainly not devoid of character development or even character episodes, not by a long stretch, but while the sum total of development is quite a lot this season it feels as though it’s spread a bit more thin across each individual character (with a few big exceptions).

With reduced screen time for character moments the season had to narrow down which characters it wanted to focus on. This is why we got some phenomenal development for Buffy and Spike, decent development for Willow, and a bit of a diminished role for everyone else. There were some secondary highlights mind you, mostly coming from Xander’s bits of perspective, Dawn’s background maturity, Andrew’s nice little arc, and Faith’s return, but this bit of character-for-plot action was noticeable nonetheless. Being the fan of shows that focus on primarily on their characters that I am I can’t help but be a little bit disappointed by this.

The emphasis on plot wasn’t the only reason why some of the characters got less attention. Let’s not forget the huge influx of new minor characters into the show around that troubled mid-season mark as well. Once the Potentials began streaming into town, things got literally way too crowded. I do kind of the like the Potentials in concept, which I’ll discuss more later, but I can’t help but feel that the writers should have either devoted more time to them, or less. Either way they should have gotten more capable actors to play those parts. What we ended up with is a bunch of largely one-dimensional characters that mostly just sat around a lot and complained — not the greatest trade-off.

The final notable problem this season was some very odd occasional lapses in writing quality. The end result is the feeling that the writers were simply exhausted and ready to send the show off, which personally makes me very glad S7 is the final season. Some examples of this include the whole Eye of Beljoxa thread revealed to us in “Showtime” [7×11], the pointless excursion into leading us to think Giles was the First, and the relative lack of character insight and overall focus in the final five episodes (outside of “Touched” [7×20] and “Chosen” [7×22]). These are the type of things that generally weren’t problems in previous seasons.

In the final group of episodes we got two C-range episodes, some very sloppy plotting, contrived solutions to plot problems, and an odd vacuum in momentum (“End of Days” [7×21] best representing this feeling). This is probably the worst lead up to a finale outside of S1 and perhaps S4. This weakness is again amplified by the fact that these are the final moments of such a remarkable show. In the end it’s just a little sad that it couldn’t go out in a more consistent manner.

S7 is filled with missed potential plot-wise and has other flaws that tug it down a bit, but fortunately there’s far more to the season than just the flaws.


[Pros]

  • The symbiotic beauty and power in Buffy and Spike’s relationship.
  • Incredible thematic cohesion throughout the season.
  • Buffy’s trials and development as a leader.
  • A very strong opening ten episodes for almost all the characters, and in general.
  • “Selfless” [7×05], “Conversations with Dead People” [7×07], and “Lies My Parents Told Me” [7×17]

The character highlight of S7 to me is, without a doubt, Buffy and Spike’s powerful individual arcs and how they’re inexorably tied together and concluded. It really is quite the symbiotic relationship between them this season, one which evolves from the massive backstory and foundation that precedes it. In S6 these two went through quite the tumultuous journey together — one of darkness, pain, abuse, self-exploration, and revelation. This journey was also one of the stand-out aspects of S6 in terms of its gutsiness, consistency, and intensity. Out of this Buffy became fully acquainted with the darkest aspects of not only her slayer nature but also her own personality, while Spike loved her in the only way he knew how which, unknowing to him, pushed Buffy further into despair.

This backstory colors how they evolve here in S7. Their post-soul relationship truly begins in the absolutely haunting final scene in “Beneath You” [7×02] where Spike – sounding more like William — spills his soul all over a church, shocking Buffy in the process. This scene establishes a Spike that is broken, hurt (likely a part of which is due to Buffy’s treatment of him in S6), remorseful, and mightily confused, what with multiple voices inside and outside of his head.

Buffy, having gotten to step inside Spike’s soul for a few minutes, knows that she’s not dealing with the same person anymore. This revelation is soon put to the test in “Conversations with Dead People” [7×07] and “Sleeper” [7×08] where she finds out that he’s been killing again. After a controlled Spike has the opportunity to kill her, Buffy has every outward reason to kill him — in fact, Spike wants to be killed – he says he needs it. Fortunately for both of them Buffy is smarter than to give into what’s playing all of them and makes the connection with the psychological force that has been attacking them. By sparing Spike she deals a silent blow to the First.

In “Never Leave Me” [7×09] we witness a defining moment in their relationship. Spike, once again, encourages Buffy to kill him due to the danger he represents and also the pain that burns inside of him. This is a moment that works so well because of how genuinely earned it is. It is born out of what Buffy learned about herself in S6 and the genuine change she sees in Spike here in S7. It’s extremely important to note that, although not her intention, this faith in Spike’s potential ends up being paid back in full during key moments later in the season.

In the short term Buffy’s faith in Spike is what gives him the motivation and desire to live while being tortured by the First Evil – both things he hasn’t really had much of since getting his soul. Buffy rescues him in “Showtime” [7×11] and as she cuts the ropes that bind him to the wall, which is symbolic of them being freed from the chains of their dark history together, he lays his hand on her shoulder both confirming that she’s really there and solidifying their connection to each other. This is truly beautiful character beat.

This connection pays off in a tangible way in “Touched” [7×20] where an isolated, exhausted, and hurt Buffy gets a much needed boost in confidence from Spike. He tells her like it is: “I’ve seen the best and the worst of you… and I understand with perfect clarity exactly what you are. You are a hell of a woman. You’re the one, Buffy.” The two of them end up sharing a quiet evening together in each other’s embrace — eyes to eyes, person to person. In this moment they both fully understand each other; they both fully love each other. This loves then shines very brightly as Spike lets himself burn not just to save Buffy but, for once, to genuinely save the world.

Buffy’s interaction with Spike isn’t the only thing that stands out this season. The season’s themes – self-awareness, power, leadership, and human potential (among others) — all play off each other quite nicely while being very well presented on their own as well. These themes are largely entwined with Buffy’s emergence and growth as a leader, but they all affect the other characters in their own unique ways. Spike has to deal with the vampire within and come to terms with his worth and purpose as a being with a soul. Willow struggles balancing her scary power with the ability to control that power all while being forced to step up the plate in a way she’s never had to before. Xander and Dawn both come to terms with their abilities, the lonely feeling of always being out of the spotlight, and their own potential and path in life. Anya, Faith, Andrew, and Wood all work into these themes as well. Even the First has some brilliant moments that put a different, darker spin on things.

Of particular interest this season is Buffy’s emergence as a leader not just of a small group of friends, but of a true army of her own. It turns out it’s not quite as simple as that, though, as the season studies not only the complexities of becoming a leader, but also the difficulties of being one. The fact that Giles is the one to initially heap all this responsibility onto Buffy becomes a true point of interest later in the season and in “Lies My Parents Told Me” [7×17] in particular. However, it all starts in “Bring on the Night” [7×10] where Buffy gets the crap beat out of her by the Ubervamp and instead of giving into hopelessness and fear she turns her temporary defeat on its head and transforms it into marching orders against the First: “I’m beyond tired. I’m beyond scared. I’m standing on the mouth of hell, and it is gonna swallow me whole. And it’ll choke on me. We’re not ready? They’re not ready.”

What I love about this aspect of the season is how step-by-step we see the different stages of Buffy’s growth as a leader. The season doesn’t shy away from showing both the strengths and weaknesses of her approach while guiding her to the balance she needs to succeed. In the end “it’s about power. Who’s got it. Who knows how to use it.” It’s a rough learning experience for Buffy, but she ultimately puts it all together in the final episodes when she realizes it’s all about sharing that power. The fact all of this subverts the burden of the Slayer’s loneliness and turns it into something beautiful is the icing on the cake. This conclusion is even foreshadowed several times throughout the series along with several early S7 episodes. The season takes us full circle in reminding us what the show was initially and always about at its core.

In addition to all that has been mentioned already let us not forgot how awesome the season started! We got ten solid episodes that were fertile with excitement, tension, growth, hilarity, and psychological insight. Mixed in there were two absolutely brilliant episodes of television in the textured and continuity-laden “Selfless” [7×05] and the psychological bomb that is “Conversations with Dead People” [7×07]. I don’t want to forget to mention how much I loved the music of the season too. Robert Duncan in particular did a fabulous job with some really memorable musical moments throughout the season; like how the score for “Chosen” [7×22] really delivered everything I wanted from it. For all of S7’s flaws, I’ll never forget that it actually did quite a bit right and was — perhaps most importantly — a metaphorically, thematically, and emotionally satisfying end.


[Buffy]

“Oh, I’m beginning to understand this now. It’s all about the journey, isn’t it?” -“Restless” [4×22]

Buffy’s character arc in S7 is not quite as focused from episode-to-episode as it was in S6, but it still has a very cohesive picture to it. Best of all, though, is how it so eloquently wraps up her journey throughout the entire series. Looking back at the previous season, Buffy learned a lot about herself and most of it wasn’t pretty. What she worked so hard to gain, though, was a self-awareness and acceptance of her best and worst qualities. This knowledge proves to now be quite an asset allowing her to accomplish some pretty amazing things and see an ending that is much more optimistic and inspiring than any other ending could have provided. The best part of what this season does for her, though, is to address and move beyond those struggles while setting up a future beyond the series.

To start with, we can feel the growth and maturity Buffy has gained right from the start of the season in the very detox-y “Lessons” [7×01]. This feeling is acknowledged several times early in the season but is mostly reflected throughout her decisions, actions, and outlook as things progress. Although S6 was a time of learning it’s not until the first third of S7 that Buffy actually verbalizes, understands, and analyzes the very complex issues present in her life and personality. This full recognition of her history and life eventually begins to allow her to gain some perspective and set more realistic expectations for the future.

One topic I’d like to touch on before getting into the thick of things is that no matter how devoted Buffy is and how hard she tries, she can’t save everyone. This is a smaller recurring theme throughout the series that has showed up in episodes like S2’s “Lie to Me” [2×07], S5’s “The Body” [5×16], and this season’s “Help” [7×04]. This is a noteworthy theme because of all the Potentials that are killed under Buffy’s leadership and how she must march on strongly despite her emotions to the contrary, as dwelling on what she could have done better won’t solve anything. Sometimes there’s just nothing you can do.

“Selfless” [7×05] is the episode that kicks things off as Buffy explains her understanding of the burden of being the Slayer to Xander in a pivotal argument over Anya: “You get down on me for cutting myself off, but in the end the Slayer is always cut off. There’s no mystical guidebook. No all-knowing council. Human rules don’t apply. There’s only me. I am the law.” This speech becomes particularly palpable as the season progresses. In “Him” [7×06] we see Buffy explain the confusion over what happened with Spike in S6 to Dawn, which touches on some of her relationship issues. Then in “Conversations with Dead People” [7×07] we see Buffy go deeply inward yet be able to express it all outward. This allows her to be able to sort out where the root of some of her issues with relationships, friendships, and the loneliness inherent in the burden of slayerhood are. The vampire Holden tells her, “You do have a superiority complex. And you’ve got an inferiority complex about it. Kudos.”

If we really want to go back to the source of a lot of these issues, it’s quite amazing just how many stem from the key moments of “Becoming Pt. 2” [2×22] and the general fallout of the Angelus arc of S2. Buffy closed herself off after that and only begins to fully open her heart to another at the very end of the series. This is one of many reasons why the loving embrace she shares with Spike in “Touched” [7×20] is so important and beautiful. Admittedly, some of her issues don’t even have anything to do with being the Slayer. There’s definitely some lingering damage done by her parents’ divorce and her father’s terrible treatment of her afterwards. It turns out that her nightmare dad back in S1’s “Nightmares” [1×10] was more prophecy than living dream — as was being buried alive.

What these moments in the masterwork that is “Conversations with Dead People” [7×07] give Buffy is the confidence to be able to handle the trials that await her here in S7 and beyond. Buffy knows who she is at this point in time, completely, even though that very self-awareness sparks the realization that she still has some growing to do. She is still young and has a lot to learn before she’s ready to be at peace with the disparate parts that make her who she is and who she is to become. All of this is quite perfectly captured by Buffy’s “cookie dough” speech in “Chosen” [7×22] – something that’s actually quite applicable to all the younger main characters at this point.

Before “Chosen” [7×22] arrives, though, there are quite a few trials that Buffy must first face. Although she makes mistakes, she makes them with a confidence and knowledge of herself that is to be applauded. Most of her mistakes stem from simply being inexperienced and caught off guard by being thrown into the role of leader by Giles around the mid-season mark (see “Bring on the Night” [7×10]). Although Buffy’s led her friends many times before, the only time she really led anything close to an army is during high school graduation (see “Graduation Day Pt. 2” [3×22]). That was a one-time gig though. This season has Buffy facing an entirely new challenge in needing to learn to be a leader ‘on the job’ and for the long haul.

At first Buffy has a fairly casual approach to letting the Potentials in on the strategizing, but as more and more of them start pouring in she begins to separate herself from them. In “Potential” [7×12] we begin to see her really diving into an active leadership approach that starts off pretty well. It’s the combination of Giles’ concern in “First Date” [7×14] and the First Slayer’s visit to Buffy’s dreams that begin to push her, understandably, to a much more authoritative position. Unfortunately this path ends up leading to some problems.

This can be seen immediately in “Get it Done” [7×15] when Buffy gets frustrated after Chloe’s suicide, telling everyone “Well, from now on, I’m your leader as in ‘do what I say.'” Following this she pushes both Willow and Spike to get over their hang-ups and overall fear of their respective power. While Buffy shows some remorse to Willow over being hard on all of them at the end of the episode, this is ultimately a critical moment that allows both Willow and Spike to end up proving to be exceptionally useful in the final battle. I think this is something both of them come to accept as necessary despite how uncomfortable it made them feel. It also shows that, despite being harsh, Buffy did what needed to be done to get her biggest weapons active. This represents a definite success in her role as leader, one which is unfortunately lost on the Potentials. On the other side of the coin, though, Buffy’s much more closed off leadership style begins to forge a rift between her and the Potentials, one which leads to a huge clash in “Empty Places” [7×19].

A ton of the themes and character arcs of the season thus far come crashing together in “Lies My Parents Told Me” [7×17], from Giles’ argument with Buffy over Spike to Wood’s vengeance trip to Spike’s pain and reformation of himself, and then back to Buffy’s evolution as a leader. This journey isn’t only represented through the Potentials, but also in how she handles Spike. This doesn’t just become relevant in this episode either, as Buffy and Giles have had several prior disagreements over how to deal with Spike. Regardless, what goes down in “Lies My Parents Told Me” [7×17] warrants some extended discussion.

I feel both Buffy and Giles make pretty convincing arguments here. In a nutshell, Giles feels that Buffy is allowing her feelings for Spike to cloud her judgment in regard to the risk he poses to everyone. Buffy, on the other hand, knows that a soulful Spike is a brand new person that will be a big asset in the upcoming fight. I’m not going to try to claim that personal feelings don’t play a role here, but it’s not the biggest factor by a wide margin. Having grown tremendously throughout the series Buffy puts her foot down here in a way she wouldn’t have before on this kind of issue. She is the leader now, a position given to her by Giles himself if not one she has earned despite being new at it on this scale.

Buffy’s admittance that now she would let Dawn die if a similar no-way-out situation theorized in “The Gift” [5×22] presented itself proves that she’s willing to make that kind of heart-breaking decision to win the larger war. I feel that this goes a long way in showing that her decision to have Spike by her side is not just because of her feelings for him. It’s also her call to make and one she makes without hesitation because she feels it is the right thing to do. The irony here is that Buffy’s done precisely what Giles lectures her about in in the graveyard. He tells her, “it’s time to stop playing the role of general, and start being one.” It’s in this moment that she lives up to those words, despite the wedge it puts in her relationship with Giles.

This is brave, it’s new, and it’s incredibly consistent with Buffy’s growth over the last seven seasons. Some believe this moment to portray Giles as the villain, but that’s really just not the case. His argument is sound but his methods are questionable (which doesn’t necessarily mean ‘wrong’), both of which are quintessential Giles. Buffy is simply outgrowing her fatherly figure and forging her own way of doing things. The fact that, thematically, this becomes a key part of Buffy’s final plan – and is a part of who she is throughout the entire series — really beautifully ties all of this together.

To the Potentials, what happens at the vineyard in “Dirty Girls” [7×18] is on Buffy’s shoulders. The reality is that it’s not that simple. Although it’s easy to call this a mistake in retrospect, Buffy’s plan of attack isn’t terrible and is actually quite consistent with what she’s been doing since her rousing speech at the end of “Bring on the Night” [7×10] where she decides to take the fight to the enemy. Although it can be debated how she could have approached this moment better, I find it more interesting to talk about the aftermath – this is where Buffy’s leadership style comes back to bite her in the ass.

The reason why all the Potentials ditch her in “Empty Places” [7×19] is because of how she’s treated them since “Get it Done” [7×15]. Although we, the viewers, can sympathize with her desire to close herself off from being hurt when Potentials start dying, the Potentials just see coldness — a sincere lack of connection and an always-on authoritative style. This is why the Potentials are not willing to follow Buffy back into the vineyard even though her instincts are right on the money. Not only did she not have the group’s support at this point, but her return plan is pretty hasty. Yet understanding the complex situation Buffy’s in, I still have sympathy for the girl. Buffy is not an experienced leader at this scale so there are bound to be missteps along the way.

As I pointed in the Pros section of this review, “Touched” [7×20] is when Buffy’s faith in Spike begins to come full circle as he reminds her of her journey – her imperfections and strengths — and that he loves her not just because of emotion or desire, but as a human being. Beyond being beautiful, it gives Buffy the boost to move forward and face Caleb again. While Buffy follows up on her instincts, we see a nice counterpoint to the vineyard massacre when Faith takes the reigns and ends up with a very similar result. Faith, also, is not a leader and is thrown into the position of one. I love the perspective Faith gets on what it’s like to be in Buffy’s leadership shoes for a day and that insight gives her some newfound respect for Buffy in the process. We also see Faith quickly, instinctively, move into a similar authoritative style to Buffy when she completely shuts down a pushy Kennedy. Right now Faith’s simply new to everyone, so it doesn’t rub off the wrong way to everyone (except Kennedy) yet.

One interesting note is how in “Once More, with Feeling” [6×07] Buffy sang “I touch the fire and it freezes me/I look into it and it’s black.” I really appreciate the counterpart given to us in “Chosen” [7×22] when Buffy clutches Spike’s hand, flames engulfing them. Touching the fire no longer freezes Buffy and, instead of seeing black, she now sees a kind of love that is something she hasn’t seen before. It’s not “a kind of blind love” either, but instead comes from a place of intelligence and maturity.

Speaking of “Chosen” [7×22], it is quite honestly a brilliant episode for Buffy in terms of thematic relevance and history, as is the season as a whole. So what’s the solution that ends up winning not just the battle, but the war? Well, Buffy shows us that it’s not about hoarding power and using it to subordinate others but instead sharing that power. In light of this solution Buffy finally comes to understand that being a leader in this situation is not about establishing authority over others, but rather that she’s equal to them – a peer. These revelations are not only pertinent to her battle here, but also to her personal life and relationships. When Buffy gives her final speech to the Potentials about “making a choice,” so many key moments in the series come flooding back to me. It’s at this moment when I have to take a step back and acknowledge the scope, consistency, and overall brilliance of Buffy’s series-wide arc.

Many of the biggest themes surrounding Buffy throughout the series were that of the loneliness of slayerhood, the importance of family and friends in the face of that loneliness, female empowerment, and the use of power in general. What “Chosen” [7×22] – and the season at large — accomplishes is taking these themes and tying them all together into something quite stunning. In order to see the whole, though, we have to study how we got here. The first seeds that were planted in this regard are actually right there in “Welcome to the Hellmouth” [1×01] in how Buffy utterly rejects Giles’ old school textbook approach to slayerhood. This idea is reinforced with Kendra used as a prime example of how a slayer is “supposed” to behave (while Faith shows us the opposite extreme). A big revelation comes in “Helpless” [3×12] when Buffy sees the full extent of the Council’s antiquity and Giles’ part in it.

Continuing with the seed theme, the first root that sprouts from that seed is when Buffy quits the Watchers Council in “Graduation Day Pt. 1” [3×21]. The Council, by nature, is a relatively patriarchal institution that uses draconian techniques to use and control the power of the Slayer to make up for their own inadequacies. When Buffy quits the Council, it’s thematically a much more significant moment than we initially realize. Buffy subverts what the Watcher’s Council expects of her and defies the notion that she’s just a subordinate tool for them.

One thing to remember is that the character of Buffy was initially created as an icon that, among other things, represented female empowerment and the subversion of the old horror trope of the helpless blond victim. Buffy’s dream in “Restless” [4×22] reconnects us to this and highlights several important things: the fact that the Slayer’s power in rooted in darkness (something S5 went to great lengths exploring), that the Slayer is expected to walk alone, and – most importantly – that Buffy constantly subverts what is expected of her. Buffy tells the First Slayer, “I am not alone” while looking at her friends through a ‘window’ of sort. She later goes on to say, “You’re not the source of me.” Both of these statements are unbelievably foretelling of the key to Buffy’s plan in “Chosen” [7×22] – one that metaphorically liberates her from the chains of slayerdom.

Buffy’s defiance of the First Slayer’s insistence that her power be used in isolation – which was in response to the joining (a.k.a. ‘sharing’) spell the core-four did in “Primeval” [4×21] – is essential in her growth as a person and in defining what makes her such a unique slayer. Sure Buffy suffers from issues of loneliness and, yes, the slayer gig doesn’t help much, but as Holden tells her in “Conversations with Dead People” [7×07], “Oh, it makes every kind of sense. And it all adds up to you feeling alone. But, Buffy, everybody feels alone. Everybody is, until you die.”

The tactics used in those closing S4 episodes show up again in another episode that really ties into the core of things, and that is “Checkpoint” [5×12]. A delegation of Watchers descend on Buffy’s world trying to reassert that which they lost from her in “Graduation Day Pt. 1” [3×21], using their knowledge of Glory and threats against Giles as leverage to essentially force her into submission. Yet again, though, Buffy doesn’t ‘submit’ — she subverts! Buffy tells the Watchers that “[y]ou all may be very good at your jobs. The only way we’re gonna find out is if you work with me.” Again, success is found when the power and knowledge is shared.

S7 itself reminds us of this remarkably cohesive recurring theme in the memorable episode “Get it Done” [7×15]. It’s here where we finally discover the source of the Slayer’s power and how the First Slayer was created. After thinking about the history of the show and how the Watchers Council interacted with slayers over the years, it now comes as absolutely no surprise when we find out that the Shadow Men are the original Watchers. Buffy, chained to the ground as we saw the First Slayer was in “Restless” [4×22], puts it perfectly as she tells them, “No, you don’t understand! You violated that girl, made her kill for you because you’re weak, you’re pathetic, and you obviously have nothing to show me!” Buffy rejects the notion of power at the expense of her humanity and ties to the world.

So, in the very end, what is Buffy’s plan again? Well of course it is all about sharing her power thereby empowering girls around the world with it. This has us coming back full circle to the one of the initial mission statements of the show. This power comes from a place of cooperation and freedom (e.g. Buffy) rather than a place of control and isolation (e.g. the Watchers). At the very end Buffy subverts what is expected of her for the final time and does something that, as Giles perfectly puts it, “flies in the face of everything we’ve ever- of what every generation has done in the fight against evil. I think it’s bloody brilliant.” Buffy reaching this conclusion didn’t come out of nowhere, but out of stepping stones throughout the series that were subtly tied to her growth at those respective time periods. The finale not only provides a perfect book-end to the season, but also to the entire series. This is truly spellbinding long-term character work.

It’s worth noting that by sharing her power Buffy didn’t actually lose anything — she actually received a figurative power boost because of it. This plays as a wonderful metaphor for the benefits of giving to others and sharing your ‘riches.’ Contrary to how it may seem, those ‘riches’ often return untold dividends in ways one never expects. This concept is symbolized by some of the other characters as well, such as how Buffy’s gift of strength to Willow in “Same Time, Same Place” [7×03] is paid back with the big spell using the scythe – in the end a symbol itself of where Buffy’s true power lies.

In the very final moments Buffy has a lot to smile about. They all just changed the world, something fundamentally different from simply saving it. On a more personal level, what this means for Buffy is that her life is now an open book; a book in which only she has the power to write in. This is visually represented by the open road in front of her. With her power shared and a world brimming with new challenges, Buffy realizes that she is no longer detached from this world. Cue smile.

If it’s not already obvious, S7 does an excellent job at giving Buffy a fantastic send off. All of her major inner conflicts have been addressed and evolved. Although S5 and S6 might be more transparent episode-to-episode in regard to Buffy’s development, S7 holds its own quite well. This wasn’t just done in a stale vacuum either but with loads of style thanks to, for starters, “Selfless” [7×05], “Conversations with Dead People” [7×07], “Never Leave Me” [7×09], “Get it Done” [7×15], “Lies My Parents Told Me” [7×17], “Touched” [7×20], and “Chosen” [7×22]. Buffy ends the series as a self-aware, smart, mature, beautiful, and powerful adult, and I love S7 for doing her — my favorite character in any medium — justice. Also, thank you Sarah Michelle Gellar for seven seasons of tremendous acting and in bringing this character to life!


[Willow]

“You’d think she’d let us know her name by now.”
“She will. She’s not all grown yet.”
-“Restless” [4×22]

In S6 Willow’s building obsession with power completely dominated her underlying personality, something that was a long time coming and heavily foreshadowed. This obsession led to addiction, a complete loss of control, and then finally a complete loss of who she was. Willow even murdered people; people that arguably deserved it, but she killed nonetheless and seriously threatened friend, foe, and then the world at large. This leaves Willow with having to figure out what’s next here in S7. While this season doesn’t devote all the time to these issues that I would have preferred, it does address each core issue and gets Willow to a place of control and understanding. So, not perfect, but pretty decent nonetheless.

In “Lessons” [7×01] we see Willow with Giles in England learning from a coven of witches, as Anya will later put it, “how to not kill people.” I really enjoyed the fact that, as has been true throughout the series, Willow has retained much of the power she accrued from before. This includes that hybrid of natural earth-connecting magic and darkly rooted black magic that allows Xander to access her humanity and emotions in “Grave” [6×22]. As Willow tells Giles when asked if she wants to be punished: “I want to be Willow.” This is a statement informing us of her desire to find herself, and by this I mean not that scared shy girl in “Welcome to the Hellmouth” [1×01] or the hopped up uberwitch in “Grave” [6×22], but that person who’s grown all these years in the shadow of everything else that’s happened – the girl we started to see emerge in “Halloween” [2×06] and then in “Doppelgangland” [3×16].

While Giles asks Willow if she wants to be punished, it’s worth considering if/how Willow should be punished. Would Willow turning herself into the police a la Faith end up providing justice to anyone? Would it help her reconcile her best and worst qualities? Would it even be right to not utilize Willow in the big fight that arises here in S7? Personally, I feel the season addresses what to do with Willow decently and that what happened last season will be with her for a long time. “Lessons” [7×01], “Same Time, Same Place” [7×03], and “Help” [7×04] all help address most of these issues while “Selfless” [7×05], “Conversations with Dead People” [7×07], and “Bring on the Night” [7×10] remind us of the dangers that still lie in front of her.

The search to find out who she even really is anymore is something that permeates Willow’s development in the season. In this new Willow we see a person who becomes increasingly confident with herself as a person which then branches out to her control and confidence as a witch, whereas before it was largely the other way around. A part of this struggle lies in finding the right balance between power — a big theme of the season — and control. In “Help” [7×04] Xander, on the way to Tara’s grave (which represents an instance where Willow completely lost control), gives Willow a perfect analogy that really corporealizes her struggle throughout the season. He says, “Figuring out how to control your magic seems a lot like hammering a nail. Well, uh, hear me out. So you’re hammering, right? Okay, well at the end of the hammer, you have the power, but no control. It takes, like, two strokes to hit the nail in, or you could hit your thumb … So you choke up — control, but no power. It could take like ten strokes to knock the nail in. Power, control; it’s a tradeoff.”

Although Xander has some wise words, it doesn’t make utilizing them any easier. We see how scary Willow’s power still is in “Same Time, Same Place” [7×03] when she makes herself invisible to her friends just because she was worried about them not welcoming her back with open arms. This is a really good episode that allows us to reconnect with Willow emotionally, along with helping her reconnect with her friends. In “Conversations with Dead People” [7×07] the First makes things especially rough for Willow as it deviously plays on her justifiable fears in order to scare her away from magic. It bites off more than it can chew when it goes for suicide, but it follows up on its threat about magic use shortly afterwards in “Bring on the Night” [7×10] when it briefly takes control of Willow during a spell. This not only shuts Willow down for a while, in terms of big spells, but it also instills a tremendous doubt and trepidation about herself in general.

We see Willow take initial steps in utilizing yet controlling her power in “Showtime” [7×11] and “Potential” [7×12], but it’s not until “Get it Done” [7×15] where she is forced into the position of using a lot of it in a dangerous, powerful spell. Buffy knows that both Willow and Spike have a lot of value they can bring to the table if they can simply get over the fears while keeping true to themselves. In Willow’s case, she has to re-open a portal Buffy jumped into to get her back. To do this, she sucks the power from the nearest strong bodies. I like both the consistency of the magic, as the concept of ‘taking strength’ is used “Same Time, Same Place” [7×03], and what that magic represents. In “Get it Done” [7×15] Willow takes strength while in “Chosen” [7×22] we see her give it.

“Chosen” [7×22] is where everything clicks for Willow as she gets the opportunity to pay everyone back. To do this she uses the essence of the Slayer Scythe to turn all the Potentials into actual slayers. In doing so she conquers her fear and controls her immense power. It makes perfect sense that, because we see this power come from a place of control and compassion, Willow becomes the opposite of what she was in “Villains” [6×20] — that came from a place where control and compassion were absent yet obsession, rage, and vengeance were very much present. I have to say that this is a sublime end to Willow’s overall excellent series-wide arc.

Part of Willow’s personal discovery includes having to move beyond Tara. This is not an easy thing to do. If there’s one area of Willow’s development this season that I’m not entirely satisfied with, it’s this. I do like what we got early in the season, with an emotional visit to Tara’s grave in “Help” [7×04] and a huge emotional outpouring of pain and regret in “Conversations with Dead People” [7×07]. Alas, it goes a bit awry in “The Killer in Me” [7×13] when Kennedy makes the moves on Willow. Despite this episode’s severe execution problems I did appreciate the pain and overall resistance Willow has in letting go of Tara. It’s in the person who ‘replaces’ Tara that is the problem here. I just have a hard time believing that Willow would be into the kind of person Kennedy is. With that said, Willow’s really trying to find herself this season and Kennedy is likely a part of that. I doubt these two will last, but it’s always possible they could both grow into being right for each other in time.

Willow’s seven year journey had a lot of big milestones and even more subtle ones (like, for example, “Fear, Itself” [4×04] and “After Life” [6×03]). The overall cohesiveness of it all is truly inspiring, from the initial seeds of “Doppelgangland” [3×16] to the scary ‘almost’ of “Wild at Heart” [4×06] to the abuse of “Something Blue” [4×09] to the first wave of rage in “Tough Love” [5×19] to all-out fury in “Villains” [6×20]. Step-by-step the magic began overtaking Willow’s natural growth as a person to the point where the magic was all that was left. It’s wonderful that we have S7 to clean up the fallout of that arc and then evolve Willow to a place of self-awareness, control, and strength.

S7 got Willow mostly right. I would have liked her to get a little more nuanced attention at various points in the season, but what was there was largely solid and well done. The only part of her growth that left me wanting a bit was her relationship with Kennedy. Overall, though, I feel this was a nice sendoff to a complex and memorable character. Much kudos needs to go out to Alyson Hannigan for all the tears, laughs, talent, and unbelievable adorableness. On Willow’s seven season journey, let’s say it together: “That was nifty!”


[Xander]

“I’ll be fine. I think I’ve figured out how to steer by gesturing emphatically.” -“Restless” [4×22]

Xander’s never really been a character to get a tremendous amount of development, and that’s okay as he is usually by nature in the background of the action. Not every character has to get the kind of attention that the central character of the show does, particularly if it doesn’t make sense for them to. With that said, there have been some highlights for Xander’s growth over the years with S4-S6 having most of them. Last season his development surrounded the not-marriage, learning about Buffy’s nighttime activities, trying to make sense of seeing his friends shot and killed, and then saving Willow and the world. S7, unfortunately, doesn’t have a lot going on in the Xander department, especially compared to Buffy, Spike, and Willow. He is more of a background player, in a very Buffy/slayer-focused story, than ever before. The season is self-aware of this, though, and gives him some very fine reflective final moments nonetheless.

One thing we’ve got to ask ourselves is just how much more there is to learn about Xander. The season doesn’t try to disguise that its focus is simply not on him. That doesn’t mean I don’t think there were some missed opportunities to integrate Xander into the mix more throughout the season, but the whole point of Xander’s arc is that he has come to value and accept his role as “the guy who fixes the windows.” His value and power as best friend and heart of the group has proved to be memorable in the big ways (S6) and lots of the small ones.

Early in the season we see a couple interesting things from Xander. For one, his job looks steadier now than it’s ever been. He also seems even more tight with Buffy than he has been in a long time, which I guess makes sense considering that Willow was gone all summer and Anya has returned to vengeance leaving only Buffy, Xander, and Dawn to be “the gang.” I love the makeshift family they’ve formed in “Lessons” [7×01] although that dynamic largely goes out the window as the season gets going and everyone starts flooding in. When Spike makes an appearance at Buffy’s house in “Beneath You” [7×02], Xander is understandably defensive although he respects Buffy’s wishes without too much argument this time.

A big moment for Xander, not so much in terms of surprise but rather in action, is the lengths he goes to save Anya in “Selfless” [7×05]. When Buffy tells him she has to kill Anya, he does his best to convince Buffy to back down but loses the argument the moment Buffy brings up the events of “Becoming Pt. 2” [2×22] and his lie, thus giving Buffy’s counter argument that much more power. So he then goes to Anya and tries to convince her to talk it out and work to undo the damage she caused. It turns out Anya has other things in mind and doesn’t want help, telling Xander the reality of the situation: “You’ve always seen what you wanted to.” To an extent this is true, but Xander often sees the best qualities in those he cares about, especially from S4 onward, even when those qualities sometimes aren’t entirely there. It’s worth noting that Willow didn’t appear to want help in “Grave” [6×22] yet needed it nonetheless. Here in “Selfless” [7×05] Xander comes through and saves another girl he loves. Buffy may have actually gotten the chance to kill Anya (who by the end of the fight wanted death) had Xander not pushed her away before Willow got D’Hoffryn involved.

For most of the season, though, Xander plays a supporting role. I’d like to stress how Xander, and the season at large, is very self-aware of this role and is actually quite content with it. He knows what he’s good at, how he can help, and is largely past the need to be stronger or more useful in other ways. Xander not only offers advice and “heart” to those around him, but he has practical construction skills too which are put to good use in the Summers’ home throughout the season.

Xander’s experiences throughout the series are what have led him to this place of self-awareness that he possesses this season. This is precisely why, in “Potential” [7×12], he is able to impart this knowledge on Dawn in what is probably his best moment of the season. He tells her, “The amazing thing is, not one of them will ever know, not even Buffy. … How much harder it is for the rest of us. … Seven years, Dawn. Working with the slayer. Seeing my friends get more and more powerful. A witch. A demon. Hell, I could fit Oz in my shaving kit but come a full moon he had a wolfy mojo not to be messed with. Powerful. All of them. And I’m the guy who fixes the windows. … They’ll never know how tough it is, Dawnie, to be the one who isn’t chosen. To live so near to the spotlight and never step in it. But I know. I see more than anybody realizes because nobody’s watching me.” When Dawn posits that perhaps his power is “seeing, knowing,” I think she might be right. This is a trait, along with his “heart,” that can be traced back to “The Freshman” [4×01] and that shows up again and again afterwards.

This realization is what makes Caleb poking one of his eyes out that much more disturbing. One thing I would have really appreciated is for Xander to have one last moment of great insight after that injury to prove one last time that his value isn’t in his literal sight but rather in his ability to see things through his heart. Although we all know this is true, I would have been that much more excited to see it validated on screen one final time.

The final thing to note about Xander this season is the confused state his relationship with Anya is in. As the season progressed and they found themselves both stuck together and out of the main action day after day, they really began to reconnect. This reconnection always came with the knowledge that, although they will always love each other, they’re on separate paths now. Anya is finally becoming her own person and needs to figure things out for herself similar to the way Buffy realized in “I Was Made to Love You” [5×15]. This leaves Xander’s interaction with her as comfort food. I have to say that I really enjoyed seeing them end things on good terms though. They’d healed most of the wounds left from Xander’s actions in “Hell’s Bells” [6×16] and have come to be at peace with each other. Color me pleased.

One thing Xander really shares with Buffy this season is a confidence with who he is. Xander knows what he’s capable of but also that he has an unknown future ahead. This future is an open book for him, one only bound (in a good way) by the love of his friends. While Xander didn’t get as much attention and development in this final season as I’d have liked, he got enough in the previous four to make what he did get here fairly fitting and still quite resonant.

In the high school years I actually didn’t care for Xander much as a person and found him too wrapped up in his own inadequacies and jealousies to sympathize with much. That began to change thanks to “The Zeppo” [3×13] and his selflessness towards Cordelia at the end of S3. Since then I’ve gradually come (in S4-S7) to really understand and appreciate the guy along with what he brings to the table. I have to give props to Nicholas Brendon for playing the role with a lot of, uh, heart (pun sort-of not intended). Now, where’s that peg leg to complete the ensemble?


[Giles]

“Don’t you think it’s a little old-fashioned?” -“Restless” [4×22]

Ah, Giles. Always a character I enjoyed but was never particularly fixated on. Does S7 give him a proper send off? Well, it depends. In terms of how his relationship with Buffy evolves: yes. In terms of getting his own moment in the spotlight: not so much. Even with the limited screen time that he had I feel a bit more could have been done with the character, particularly in the final five episodes. While his presence is most certainly felt in “Lies My Parents Told Me” [7×17], and he gets a few small bones thrown his way by Whedon in “Chosen” [7×22], there’s just not much else going on with him towards the end of the season.

The role he does play ties in tightly with Buffy’s development as a leader. Giles doesn’t have his own arc this season as much as having a presence and impact on those around him, which is also valuable. In “Bring on the Night” [7×10] we find out he snatched some important files from the Watcher’s Council before it exploded and is rounding up potential slayers from around the world. When he shows up at Buffy’s front door in Sunnydale he brings all of this with him and drops it on her lap. He even tells her that it’s all up to her and that she must lead. This exchange of responsibility turns out to be a lot more difficult for Giles to fully accept with than I think he even imagined.

The first real hint of a rift between Giles and Buffy appears in “First Date” [7×14]. There’s actually some great dialogue in here in which both of them make their case for or against Spike. Giles believes Buffy’s letting her emotions towards him cloud her judgment. This is an argument that, from Giles’ perspective, is quite real and entirely valid. Looking at history, Buffy wasn’t willing to kill Ben when it was the smart move in “The Gift” [5×22] and was blind to Willow’s self-destruction due to her involvement with Spike in S6. Giles has every right to be concerned, although he’s also somewhat blind in the ways in which Spike has genuinely changed.

While Giles is certainly more of a free thinker than most of the Watchers in the Council, he still has a ‘do what must be done’ old-fashioned attitude about him that has popped up again and again. It’s why he allowed the Council’s ‘test’ of Buffy in “Helpless” [3×12] to go on as long as it did, but it’s also what gave him the clarity to kill Ben in “The Gift” [5×22] and be ready to try to kill Dawn if that was the last resort. This trait can and has been used in both a negative and a positive way. His actions in “Lies My Parents Told Me” [7×17] aren’t necessarily right or wrong, which is part of what makes the episode so compelling. Giles always does what he feels needs to be done to save “this sorry world,” and I can’t fault him for that. What I can fault him for is not recognizing that in order for Buffy to truly be the leader he asks of her, he has to accept the tough choices she makes and not just the ones he agrees with. Keeping Spike alive isn’t a game of emotions for Buffy — she has both a personal and a practical need to have him by her side. This is something Giles is simply not able to see clearly.

In the end, though, Giles got one thing he wanted: for Buffy to truly act the role of general and make the toughest of choices. Am I a little sad that the two of them aren’t on the best of terms heading into the finale? Sure, but it made complete sense both thematically and in characterization. “Chosen” [7×22] also goes out of its way to remind us that although Buffy and Giles may disagree on certain issues, they’re still on the same team and respect each other’s opinions. Has that father/daughter aspect of their relationship largely passed? Yep, but it was time. Giles left Buffy in S6 to force her to stand on her own, grow up, and become that confident adult. In many ways that plan worked and now Giles learns he needs to treat Buffy as an adult and a colleague rather than a daughter. Like Buffy learned to become a peer to the Potentials and share her power, Giles has had to learn to become a peer to Buffy. To use a Giles quote to sum up how their relationship organically evolved throughout the series: “I think it’s bloody brilliant.”

Although Giles’ relationship with Buffy evolved in the gutsy but natural way it needed to, I still would have liked to have seen some moments for Giles himself to shine. This all makes for a good, but not great, send-off for a really good character. Oh, and it goes without saying, but Anthony Stewart Head rocks!


[Spike]

Oh my, Spike’s sure had quite the journey hasn’t he? This can certainly be said about a lot of the characters on Buffy, but Spike’s definitely one of the prime examples. Also like many of the other characters, Spike’s arc this season not only wrapped up his series-wide arc but also managed to integrate into the themes of the season — particularly when it comes to his potential in becoming a great man. I found this to be a particularly well-written and strong season for Spike where everything clicked.

The opening volley of the season is very focused on introducing both the audience and the other characters to Spike’s new soulful state. I also must point out how much I respect the writers for not holding back this knowledge just to tease the other characters. When we first see Spike we’re inclined to initially make comparisons to Angel who spent nearly a century struggling to come to terms with what it means to have that soul. The burden of it weighed heavily on Angel until crossing paths with Buffy who made him feel love for likely the very first time in his existence. It’s safe to say that Angel’s experience with her changed him.

It’s with this point of reference that we look at Spike, a very different beast. Yet Spike does have one thing in common with Angel: how Buffy helped transform him from nothing into someone worth fighting for. The key difference is that the majority of this transformation happened for Spike when he didn’t have a soul. Instead he had somewhat of an intermediate step — the Initiative chip — that acted as the catalyst for change, but the actual changing was all him. Through obsession, lust, and a kind of love Spike found himself at a crossroads towards the end of S6. He could be neither monster nor man and had to make a definitive change. He courageously chose to work towards becoming a man, despite not having the capacity to fully comprehend the implications of that decision. This reality makes that decision all the more unprecedented.

Spike is sure able to comprehend the implications of having a soul when Buffy forces him to come clean at the end of “Beneath You” [7×02] though! In one of the best scenes of television I’ve ever witnessed Spike pours his heart, body, and soul all over Buffy while inside a church. In Spike’s act of contrition and plea for forgiveness Buffy sees genuine potential in him to become much more. Despite Spike’s proclamations, pre-soul, that he’d changed (which he had, but only to an extent) Buffy now knows that a morality-altering change has occurred for real this time, one that goes far beyond the scope of his love for her.

From “Lessons” [7×01] to “Selfless” [7×05] Spike appears completely mad in the basement of the school, and I love the ways in which these episodes toy with everyone’s opinion on what it means. The viewer first assumes all the craziness is just because of his soul. Buffy doesn’t know what to think other than she can pretty much feel that he’s different in some way. The truth of the matter turns out to be far more complicated. Whether it’s the First, the Hellmouth, Spike’s own guilt, and/or a higher power involved, there are forces at work that make it very difficult for him to move forward. All of this subtext makes watching those early season scenes a lot of fun to come back to.

Although justifiably brash with him, Buffy is the first to step forward in giving Spike a chance. Buffy, showing remarkable patience and wisdom, puts up with his insanity just long enough to get to the root of the problem. Then she helps him get out of the school basement and spares his life when he begs for death after being manipulated and controlled into murdering. In “Conversations with Dead People” [7×07] and “Sleeper” [7×08] Spike is at his most doubtful. The First has been controlling him to kill for it and after regaining memory of these events Spike encourages Buffy to kill him and even partly desires it.

The pivotal turning point for Spike is in “Never Leave Me” [7×09]. This is the moment where all that insanity and doubt transform into belief — belief that he can actually become a good man worthy of Buffy’s trust and one in control of his own destiny. This is when Spike gets introspective and reflects not only on his recent ‘actions’ but also on his history both with Buffy and before. It’s Buffy, though, who gives Spike what he needs: the truth. She says, “You’re not alive because of hate or pain. You’re alive because I saw you change — because I saw your penance. … Be easier, wouldn’t it, it if were an act. But it’s not. You faced the monster inside of you and you fought back. You risked everything to be a better man. And you can be. You are. You may not see it, but I do. I do. I believe in you, Spike.”

Buffy’s faith in Spike allows him to have faith in himself as a human being for the first time since before he became a demon. Spike’s growth causes him to start to reflect on their history together, too, which helps him see Buffy’s growth. At this point in the season, their care for one another begins to resemble a symbiotic relationship, one which will fully manifest itself in “Touched” [7×20]. But for now, this gives Spike what he needs to survive the physical and mental torture that the First throws at him in “Bring on the Night” [7×10] and “Showtime” [7×11]. When Buffy releases Spike from captivity, you can feel the very new connection they have. It’s hinted at in “First Date” [7×14] that this is a connection that need not be romantic to be powerful.

Now that Spike has belief in his own self-worth he is faced with the challenge of breaking free of the various restraints placed upon him that will only hinder his growth going forward. Without being free he can never fully realize his potential and redefine himself. What are these agents of restraint? I see them as the Initiative chip, his reservations about letting his inner violence loose and, of course, the trigger. Breaking down each one of these barriers to freedom wisely gets specific attention from S7.

Buffy recognizes Spike’s need of freedom to flourish so she authorizes the removal of his chip in between “The Killer in Me” [7×13] and “First Date” [7×14]. Despite not showing her make the actual decision, the writers don’t neglect how big of a deal this is both for good and possibly ill. Giles has never had a liking to Spike, but here he views Spike as not simply a nuisance but as a direct threat. This causes a rift between Buffy and Giles. Notice how both the actual decision to remove his chip and the fallout from that decision are all beyond Spike’s control? This is representative of the fact that the chip was done to him in the first place without his control.

The rest of Spike’s restraints aren’t so easy for him to break free from, though, as they stem from inside of him. “Get it Done” [7×15] does a solid job of bringing attention to Spike’s lack of lust for action and ‘the kill’ that he used to have. I find it hard to fault his newfound lack of enthusiasm for it, but Buffy’s right in forcing him (and Willow) into positions where they have to put aside those reservations and become the warriors they are capable of. In Spike’s case he finds his iconic leather jacket, uses his inner demon, and gets a fun brawl out of it. This sets him up to be useful in the action down the home stretch of the season.

The final piece to this puzzle arrives in “Lies My Parents Told Me” [7×17] where Spike gets to the root of his trigger. I think my good friend Rick summed up how this went down quite well in his supplementary review of this episode: “[Spike] certainly can’t relish in a redemption filled with violence and destruction. But, without a viable response to his mother’s rejection, he can’t exactly revert to his former human self either. That’s why, when presented with a lullaby once sung by the mother whom his life disappointed so deeply, Spike is ‘triggered’ into the killing machine that freed him from the mediocrity of his human life.” By confronting the reality that his soulless mother was not the same loving individual she was before and recognizing that he is no longer the same being responsible for siring her, he is able to break free from the trigger.

“Fool for Love” [5×07] showed us how Spike, the soulless demon, was constructed piece-by-piece. What these mid-to-late season episodes (and the season as a whole) accomplish is the same thing only for soulful Spike, and we even get some time to really let this growth flourish. It’s beyond fun seeing Spike construct a new persona while never fully leaving behind the best qualities of his previous persona. What a wonderfully complex character he’s become.

With Spike now fully in control of himself and his destiny, the final leg of the season sees him ‘giving back’ and sharing his newfound understanding and power to those that helped him get here — most notably Buffy. This is best represented in “Touched” [7×20] during the sublime scene in the abandoned house where Spike tells Buffy like it is. Since I’ve already quoted this speech in this review, I’ll refrain from using it again. But the speech speaks as much to Buffy as it does about who Spike has become.

In “End of Days” [7×21] the two of them have a conversation where they essentially admit love for each other, but are both unsure of what it means for them right now. This nicely ties into Buffy’s “cookie dough” speech to Angel in “Chosen” [7×22] and how Xander and Anya end the series. In the very final episode we see Spike sacrifice himself not just for Buffy but also genuinely for all of humanity. Buffy giving Spike the amulet turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy as I don’t think Spike was a champion until he put it around his neck and let himself burn for the world. The amazing thing: I think Buffy knew this and had faith that by using the amulet he’d finally become the man she had faith he could become earlier in the season.

Spike’s arc this season is incredibly well-written and well-defined. As he goes out burning in a pillar of sunlight and flame (“Chosen” [7×22]), grinning with joy in his final moments, I can’t help but applaud. What a satisfying, gutsy, well-written, and brilliant character arc throughout the series. It’s vital we also remember how Spike got here: it’s all because of Buffy; Buffy as slayer, Buffy as girl, Buffy as lover, and then Buffy as peer. From the first moment Spike laid eyes on her with lust and awe in “School Hard” [2×03] to his sacrifice, Buffy is the reason why Spike is here. S7 does Spike real justice as he becomes one of the best, most complex characters in the show’s run. Beyond all that, I found his arc this season to be quite beautiful and moving. Before letting Spike go I have to applaud James Marsters’ consistently engaging and amusing performance. A not-small part of the success of Spike is definitively attributed to him.


[Dawn]

“It’s cool: Watcher Junior to the library.” If I had one quote to sum up both Dawn’s role and attitude this season, this would be the one. Dawn was a character I found myself fairly sympathetic to in S5 but felt got lost in shuffle a bit during S6. She ended up being something other characters revolved around rather than her own person, which I admit was kind of the point, but I still felt like it short-changed her potential to be a bit of a deeper character. S7 sees Dawn in a much better place even though she still doesn’t get quite as much narrative attention I feel she deserved. Yet, apart from an unfortunate moment in “Empty Places” [7×19], I appreciated how the character interacted with everyone throughout the season.

Beyond briefly getting the spotlight in “Lessons” [7×01] and then an ominous message in “Conversations with Dead People” [7×07], Dawn is relegated to the background of the season much like Xander. To the writers’ credit, this reality is molded into theme in “Potential” [7×12]. While it’s a shame that Buffy didn’t get the chance to fully live up to her promise in “Grave” [6×22] we do see a stark contrast between how she treats Dawn. Besides beginning to train her (which is a huge deal for Dawn) Buffy also allows her to fully be a part of the Scooby Gang. Dawn contributes frequently with research now too and is all-around resourceful. Plus, the end of “Chosen” [7×22] hints at a future of wonderful shared experiences for the two of them.

Throughout the season Dawn is very self-aware of her surroundings in a way that she was too immature to before, which is lovely to see. “Potential” [7×12] is a flawed but important episode in which Dawn is led to believe that she’s a potential slayer only to later find out that it’s not her. During that brief time when she thought she had slightly enhanced abilities we see a new kind of initiative and confidence out of her. Through finding her own inner strength and power she is able to effortlessly concede the literal strength and power to the real Potential.

Although Dawn is saddened to not be in the spotlight and not be “chosen,” Xander explains to her that this doesn’t mean anything less of her. He says, “They’ll never know how tough it is, Dawnie, to be the one who isn’t chosen. To live so near to the spotlight and never step in it. But I know. I see more than anybody realizes because nobody’s watching me. I saw you last night. I see you working here today. You’re not special. You’re extraordinary.” I have to say that I agree. It takes a lot to put one’s ego aside in service of a greater good. While Buffy sadly isn’t able to show Dawn her gratitude for this in a literal way right now, we do see in more subtle ways (e.g. stroking her hair in “Lies My Parents Told Me” [7×17]) how Buffy’s entire effort is in large part for Dawn and her future.

Despite not being the center of attention anymore after S5 Dawn’s matured quite a lot over the years, going from spilling ice cream all over her face to being willing to sacrifice herself to save the world to having a hard time dealing with abandonment to accepting and embracing her background role to contributing to Buffy’s fight and literally fighting alongside Buffy in the final battle. Dawn is not one of the best characters in the series, but she certainly doesn’t deserve the hate generally thrown at her. S7 does Dawn decent justice in the end and I, for one, am quite pleased to see it. I also felt that Michelle Trachtenberg really grew as an actor along-side the character.


[Anya]

Right until the end Anya never ceases to be funny and moving. In S6 Anya fully came to understand what love was just as it was taken away from her. Instead of reflecting on the experience she reverted back to what was familiar: vengeance. In the waning moments of that season, particularly in “Entropy” [6×18], we saw Anya come to realize that reaping vengeance on Xander will not quell her pain. This is the state in which she begins S7 in and is reinforced in the first few episodes despite her desire for it not to be.

While in “Lessons” [7×01] we see Anya make excuses to Halfrek for her tame vengeance spells, we get a little more focus of the subject in “Beneath You” [7×02]. Despite extreme reluctance and obvious outside pressure, Anya does reverse the worm spell she casted on a girl’s ex-boyfriend. Then in “Same Time, Same Place” [7×03] we see her blunt but ultimately helpful to a newly returned Willow. These are all important things to take note of when tackling Anya’s shining gem of an episode, “Selfless” [7×05].

Through a series of fun and smart flashbacks we see the journey Anya has taken throughout her life. The most interesting part of this is what binds them all together. Anya never takes the time to find out what makes herself tick — to find out who she really is as a person – even after all those years. The earliest instance of Anya shows a quirky woman who was completely devoted to her Olaf. In this original personality we see inklings of a whole person with self-awareness; one who is crafty, smart, and unique even if the world around her fails to appreciate those qualities. Yet she is primarily defined through her relationship with Olaf. He, of course, cheats on her so she reaps horrible vengeance upon him (i.e. turning him into a troll, thereby leading us to the awesome phrase “that’s insane troll logic”) which kicks off her career as a vengeance demon.

Over the next thousand years Anya fully assumes and relishes this identity, allowing it to define her as Olaf had before. As she says in Russia, “Vengeance is what I do, Halfrek. Vengeance is what I am.” Many years later, stripped of her powers and human, we see Anya defining herself once again into something or someone else that is not herself. In this case it’s Xander and if they had actually been married, she would be defining herself by being “his missus.” The most successful marriages tend to work when two fully realized self-aware individuals completely commit to each other with full knowledge or both their strengths and weaknesses. Since both Anya and Xander, individually, had not adequately gotten to that point yet there was little hope that they would have been able to last, which is largely why it was probably a good idea that it didn’t happen (despite the cruel timing on Xander’s part).

After D’Hoffryn roasts Halfrek and once again strips Anya of her powers she finally realizes that it’s finally time she deals with whomever she is as a person, by herself. This is what makes her long walk away from Xander at the end of “Selfless” [7×05] so tough and heart-breaking, but it’s a lesson that all of the younger (in human years) main characters have had to learn at one point or another throughout the series. This is an important life lesson for adults in their early 20s — one that if taken seriously will better set them up for a happier future. But it’s not for the timid.

If there’s one complaint I have about the treatment of Anya this year it’s in what happens next. That’s to say, what did not happen next. From “Him” [7×06] through “Get it Done” [7×15] we see Anya mostly just in the background “providing much needed sarcasm.” While I always appreciate the sarcasm, I like nuanced growth even more. The fact Anya does offer to help despite having no direct motivation to anymore speaks well of her growth post “Selfless” [7×05], but I have to say I would have really liked her to get a little more direct attention during this chunk of episodes. I felt like we lost touch with her a little bit in there. I’d complain more about this except that what the season does give Anya is generally handled quite well, although I’m not sure why D’Hoffryn bothered sending exceedingly lame demons after her throughout the season. The demons are so pathetic that I have a hard time taking them as serious threats and view them as a mere nuisance to keep Anya unsettled more than anything else. The whole thing still feels like an odd afterthought though.

Thankfully the end of the season gives Anya a truly wonderful farewell aside from, you know, the death and all. Before I get into all of that, I’d like to make note of the lovely little pit stop in “Storyteller” [7×16]. Here both Anya and Xander admit to still being in love with each other despite recognizing that it might not mean anything for them anymore. This is a nice moment between the two of them that ends what they had together on a sweet, upbeat note. Added bonus: getting the phrase “merry-go-round of rotating knives.” I’d also like to stress how Anya’s become a much better person by having Xander in her life despite the troubles they ran into. Looking at the clueless Anya in “The Prom” [3×20] in relation to the one we see here in S7 makes Xander’s influence that much more obvious.

Anya’s big moment of self-reflection and self-awareness arrives in “End of Days” [7×21] in an oddly fitting conversation with Andrew. Andrew asks her “how come you’re here? I mean, you could just go, right?” Anya, referencing her fleeing action in “Graduation Day Pt. 1” [3×21], points out that she did run before. “What’s different” Andrew asks her. Well, before jumping into her response now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how she didn’t flee in “The Gift” [5×22] either. Ah, but recall the reason she stayed that time was primarily Xander. Even then Anya would have had little reason to stay and fight if Xander weren’t in the picture. But things have changed now and Anya has grown.

Anya sums up this change better than I could: “Well, I guess I was kinda new to being around humans before. But now I’ve seen a lot more, gotten to know people, seen what they’re capable of and I guess I just realized how amazingly screwed up they all are. I mean, really, really screwed up in a monumental fashion. And they have no purpose that unites them so they just drift around blundering through life until they die, which they know is coming yet every single one of them is surprised when it happens to them. They’re incapable of thinking about what they want beyond the moment. They kill each other, which is clearly insane and yet… here’s the thing. When it’s something that really matters, they fight. I mean, they’re lame morons for fighting but they do. They never- they never quit. So I guess I will keep fighting, too.”

Naturally, after coming to such an important realization, Anya abruptly dies in “Chosen” [7×22] in the way good people really die in these kinds of battles. Yet leading up to that moment we’re left with some parting gifts to remember her by, from her “Wagnerian snoring” (thanks, Giles in “Goodbye Iowa” [4×14], for that one) to her gaining strength from envisioning the slaughter of bunnies to selflessly giving her life for humanity and living up to her words in “End of Days” [7×21]. Despite wanting more for Anya in the middle of the season and being sad at losing her, she still got some brilliant moments on the whole and ended the series a fleshed out yet still wildly entertaining character. This is where a huge thank you goes out to Emma Caulfield for being so effortlessly hilarious and fun to watch. It’s almost as if she was born to play this role.


[Faith]

Since awakening from her coma in “This Year’s Girl” [4×15] Faith has become a very unique specimen in the way in which she has grown. I can’t think of any other character that has grown so much on two different shows, with the possible exception of Worf on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The cool part is that each show’s slant tackles Faith’s issues and development in their own unique way. Angel’s mission of saving souls really suits Faith well when she gets to the point of wanting to die in Angel‘s “Five by Five” [1×18]. In “Sanctuary” [1×19] Angel offers Faith the chance at recovery in a way that Buffy couldn’t at that point in time. Ultimately, though, it is Faith who makes the decision to pay for what she’s done in prison.

Now we flash-forward to the present and see Faith returning to Buffy’s world a new person. After returning the favor to Angel (in S4 of that show) we now see Faith tested in the outside world for the first time in a few years. Although she comes back to Sunnydale in “Dirty Girls” [7×18] (and has a scorcher of a scene with Spike), it’s not until “Empty Places” [7×19] that we begin to see this change and continued growth. For starters there’s a nice little moment where Faith has the know-how to see that Buffy is distressed over Xander’s injury and kindly tells Dawn to stop prying for information.

The juicy center, though, is when Faith takes the Potentials out for a little fun and lets things get a little too wild. When Buffy finds out about this she is pretty upset. In frustration Faith throws an uncalled-for comment about the massacre at the vineyard at Buffy that results in getting her punched to the ground. A key thing happens in this moment though: Faith doesn’t fight back. Later when talking to Principal Wood about the incident she informs him that “other things matter more.” Faith is also the one to suggest everyone take a breather in the big mutiny scene at the end of the episode.

With Faith now leader of the Potentials in “Touched” [7×20] we get to see her in a completely new environment. As Buffy didn’t ask to be leader when Giles heaped the responsibility on her, Faith didn’t either. For the most part, Faith does a decent job keeping things together while being presented with a couple big obstacles. The first of which is learning how to use her authority when necessary such as when Kennedy is pushing too hard. The second is trying to keep her emotions in check when being confronted by the First as the Mayor which makes for a tremendous scene as a certain amount of doubt is put into her mind over her own ability to lead and the threat Buffy may still pose to her.

After leading a bunch of Potentials into a trap that gets some of them killed we see Faith verbalize what she’s taken away from the experience in “End of Days” [7×21]. To quote myself, “Buffy correctly informs Faith that the deaths the group incurred were not her fault. Faith also gets introspective and finally begins to understand Buffy and her burden. It’s easy to be jealous or criticize someone from the outside, but it’s not so easy when you’re in their shoes and have to do that job. Even though Faith had all those people supporting her, she felt alone as ever before. Faith then tells Buffy, ‘and that’s you, every day.'”

Finally, in “Chosen” [7×22], Faith fully becomes a part of the solution as she participates in equal measure with Buffy to share their power. Principal Wood is even able to open up a new door for Faith relationship-wise; one that I hope and expect Faith will step through in the future. I can’t help but think that her experience with Riley back in “Who Are You?” [4×16] is what even allows her to be open to the idea of taking things further with Wood. When taking all of this in as a whole, I must say Faith got some great experiences and growth in just a handful of episodes. It was wonderful to see her back on the show for the end. Eliza Dushku has always nailed this role and I found her more adult portrayal of Faith to be just right.


[Andrew]

Well how about that, I’m writing about Andrew. Who’s to blame for this? Yeah, I’m looking at you Jane Espenson! Andrew was, in my eyes, unquestionably the least interesting and developed of S6’s geeky Trio — a two-dimensional character at best. I have to say that I’m pretty impressed by how the writers (mostly Espenson) took him in and actually gave the little dweeb some depth. This season more than before found Andrew with just the right mix of funny and stupid. It’s quite the fine line between the two and, for me at least, it’s one the character successfully traverses. With that said, if you don’t find the character funny then all that remains is the stupidity. On that level I can certainly understand why many people can’t stand him. Yet funny I find him nonetheless.

In S6 we learned that Andrew was a gullible, weak, and morally confused nerdy boy. In the wake of Warren’s murder of Katrina and subsequent rampage we see Andrew often rooting Warren on in a blind sense of devotion. Despite being a slave to Warren we do get a glimpse or two that he’s got the potential to grow out of this. Unlike Warren, Andrew has not yet completely gone off the deep end. But he comes awfully close to it when he returns to Sunnydale with Jonathan in “Conversations with Dead People” [7×07] only to follow the First, disguised as Warren, to kill Jonathan. When we next see him in “Never Leave Me” [7×09] he’s neither overly remorseful nor completely at ease with what he did, but mostly in denial over what happened and wanting to not think about it much.

After this we begin to see a few cracks in Andrew’s fresh denial. This is particularly apparent in “First Date” [7×14] when he agrees to allow himself to be wired so Willow can record and extract information out of the First. Andrew also quite firmly rejects the First’s suggestion to kill all the Potentials, but it’s not until we get to Espenson’s little gem “Storyteller” [7×16] where we really dig beneath his exterior.

“Storyteller” [7×16] manages to accomplish the tough task of taking a recurring two-dimensional character and making him a three-dimensional character. Andrew’s camera work in this episode really defines where he’s content to be: on the sidelines as a detached viewer of everything that’s happening around him. We even see him view himself as a ‘victim of circumstance’ in his own fabricated flashbacks where he re-writes history in his mind to make him come out looking ignorant to the horrors he’s had a hand in, directly or otherwise. Yet when Buffy puts his life on the line we finally pierce the denial thereby reaching the truth. It turns out that he is aware that redemption isn’t easily found and that even his death here and now wouldn’t redeem his actions. Redemption isn’t something you can achieve with one grand gesture — it’s something that must be earned over time and isn’t a concrete eventuality. Often times that grand gesture is just a start.

In “End of Days” [7×21] Andrew learns about the best of humanity from Anya telling him, from her own experience, “When it’s something that really matters, they fight. … So I guess I will keep fighting too.” It’s also here where Andrew ponders that he is not likely to survive the upcoming battle. Yet he does end up surviving precisely because he has not yet become fully self-aware or been redeemed by any standard. While Anya has come to finally find herself as a person, Andrew still has a lot to learn and a lot of growing up to do. His journey is just beginning. Yet he ends the series on the right path “as one of those lame humans trying to do what’s right.” Albeit with a case of swimmer’s ear. I’m pleased to say that Andrew ended up being a nice addition to S7 due both to his comedic value and his own bit of growth as an individual. Towards the end I really think Tom Lenk stepped up his game too.


[Wood]

The newcomer Principal Robin Wood is a decent little character that doesn’t have tremendous depth but yet just enough to keep things interesting. Rather than having a big story of his own he’s kind of thrown into the mix of the season. For the first half of the season he doesn’t get a lot to do besides ooze charm and be a mysterious figure, both of which I feel D.B. Woodside did a great job with. With how many balls were in motion this season I honestly don’t think there was room to focus on yet another character, so his role of side player worked for me. In the second half of the season, though, he does get some interesting stuff to do. This, of course, starts when he finds out Spike killed his mother in “First Date” [7×14].

Although Wood’s definitely committed to Buffy’s fight, he lets vengeance get in the way of the larger mission. “Lies My Parents Told Me” [7×17] is the moment he tries to take Spike out to ‘avenge’ the death of his mother and his loss of a normal childhood. What’s intriguing is how he triggers Spike before attacking him, thinking that this Spike is the same monster who killed his mother. The truth is, of course, a lot more complicated. Triggered Spike isn’t soulless Spike – it’s a mindless vampire with no thought whatsoever, which is why the First is the one usually pulling the strings. Without the First controlling it there’s nothing there but an animal. Wood is trying to kill a monster that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s extra neat that this recognition very much parallels what Spike realizes about his mother after he sired her, thus freeing him from the trigger.

After this big blowout Wood drops the subject after getting sympathy but also a stern warning from Buffy. When Faith arrives in town we quickly see them make a connection in “Touched” [7×20], but it’s one that Faith characteristically shrugs off. Wood doesn’t let her off the hook easily in “Chosen” [7×22], though, and convinces her to give him the chance to surprise her. If the television series had continued I would have very much enjoyed exploring a relationship between these two. While Wood isn’t exactly the most important or complex character, I felt he was a fresh addition to the mix nonetheless.


[The Potentials]

Ah yes, the infamous Potentials. I’ll just jump right to the point. Yes, these girls are what partially took screen time away from characters we care much more about and the individual girls weren’t terribly well acted or deeply characterized. Yes, this is a notable flaw in the season. Yet I can’t completely condemn the writers for what they were trying to do here. In fact, the Potentials actually work pretty well as a group in terms of how they fit into some of the themes — that of human potential, sharing power, and female empowerment — of the season.

When looking at the Potentials as a single character their purpose within the season snaps into focus much more clearly. The real problem ended up being that the writers tried to straddle this concept with shallow individual personalities. They tried to have it both ways, not developing the individual Potentials enough to become fully developed characters yet giving them enough attention that you can’t just look at them as a group. Somewhat ironically, this kind of parallels Buffy’s own struggle to get to know them well enough to form meaningful bonds, but not so much that she becomes too distracted from the mission and her friends.

While I certainly didn’t mind a few of the Potentials — mainly Kennedy, Amanda, and Vi — there were as many or more that I didn’t care for or were indifferent to. When I feel out whether they helped or hindered the season, I tend to lean towards the latter. I appreciate what the writers were trying to do, though, and still very much enjoy the thematic relevance they have as a group. In fact, in “Chosen” [7×22], I actually get quite the thrill from everything come together thematically and seeing them all confident, determined, empowered, and kicking all kinds of ass.


[The First/Caleb]

After “Conversations with Dead People” [7×07] and “Sleeper” [7×08] I found myself bracing for an amazing ride in what had the potential (heh) to be one of the best seasons of the entire series. The tension, terror, and excitement of that opening volley instead began to slowly diminish until “Potential” [7×12], where it was even stated within the narrative itself that all of that build-up is now gone. The First being “in remission” is the quote that pretty much killed the plot arc of the season for me. If the writers had gotten it back on track I might not be saying this but they sadly couldn’t get it going at full-steam again.

In addition to how poorly paced the second half of the season is plot-wise, I can’t even express how many missed opportunities there were for psychological terror with a villain such as the First. With it able to be Buffy, imagine how it could have planted even more severe seeds of doubt into both Willow and Spike thereby making their journeys even that much scarier and the terror of the Potentials that much more palpable. The one slam-dunk use of the First towards the end of the season was in bringing back the Mayor as a foil for Faith, but sadly more former guest stars weren’t brought back.

With the season’s plot on life support the writers decide to toss in a corporeal villain to give the group something tangible to fight. Despite the transparent attempt at giving the First some teeth again, I actually didn’t mind this approach, conceptually, at all. Enter Caleb, who in “Dirty Girls” [7×18] is fresh and dangerous enough to be genuinely scary. I have two problems with his introduction into the season though. The first being it happened too late to save this aspect of the season. The second is that Caleb is a one-dimensional villain that gets repetitive fast, despite Nathan Fillion’s disturbing portrayal. It’s worth noting that a purposefully simplistic villain such as Glory had much more complexity and depth than Caleb could ever hope for.

I do feel a character like Caleb could have really helped the season under the right circumstances. The First would have to still be scary and never have been “in remission,” Caleb would actually have to have some depth, and he would have needed to be introduced a little earlier in the season — likely shortly after “Showtime” [7×11]. I think this scenario could have really been a compelling mix with a lot of opportunities to play off the main characters.

With all that said, the First also has moments that play quite nicely thematically. One image to ponder is the First imbuing Caleb with its power. This ends up being a kind of an evil inversion of what Buffy does with the Potentials. In both cases power is being shared, but the intent and use of that power is of huge difference along with the manner in which it is shared. In the end it’s just too bad the final villain has to be summed up as ‘tons of untapped potential.’


[Conclusion]

Season 7 of Buffy has its flaws, but as a whole it is in no way ‘bad’ and does not deserve the vitriol that I constantly see thrown at it. I can sympathize a little in the sense that I too wished the final season would have been better, but that fact doesn’t erase how much amazing television it brought to my screen. There’s a saying out there that the worst of Buffy is superior to the best that most others shows are capable of and, outside of S1, it’s a statement I largely agree with. Season 7 has a rough exterior that requires a bit of digging to get past but once you do there’s a whole sea of thematic goodness just waiting to be consumed.

There are countless moments and several entire episodes within this season that effectively and evocatively utilize six seasons of character development and backstory with such grace, emotion, intelligence, and wit that I am beside myself for words. Such a thing, in my mind, could not be said about a truly terrible (or even poor) season of television. Let’s not forget to give S7 its due props while we dissect its flaws.

The primary flaws of the season include a plot-arc that largely loses itself around mid-season and an influx of new under-developed characters that ended up stealing some valuable screen time from some of the main characters. Yet despite its struggles, the season holds together due to some extremely compelling character arcs and a strong opening volley of episodes through the first half of the season. The season also occasionally continued the trend S6 set in producing some challenging and gutsy moments and episodes. Perhaps the most consistent aspect of the season, besides Buffy and Spike’s sublime and complex evolution, is how the themes of the season really bind all the moving parts together and excellently conclude the entire series.

So in the end this is a solidly ‘good’ season of Buffy yet also perhaps the weakest outside of the first. Some of the problems that plagued S4 actually show up here, which is one reason why these two seasons keep battling it out in my head for the mantle of second-weakest season in the series. Yet despite their respective flaws I love both seasons all the same. When I look back on S7 the great moments stick out in my mind far more than the weak ones, from Spike draped over a large cross in “Beneath You” [7×02] to Anya singing on the balcony in futility in “Selfless” [7×05] to the rocket launcher in “Him” [7×06] to all of “Conversations with Dead People” [7×07] to the faith Buffy puts in Spike’s potential as a man in “Never Leave Me” [7×09] to the Ubervamp fight in “Showtime” [7×11] to Xander’s speech to Dawn in “Potential” [7×12] to Andrew’s cry of guilt in “Storyteller” [7×16] to the complex arguments of “Lies My Parents Told Me” [7×17] to Faith and Spike’s conversation in “Dirty Girls” [7×18] to the utter beauty of “Touched” [7×20] to the final battle in “Chosen” [7×22]… and plenty more.

While a part of me is sad to see it all end, I can’t help but feel that this was the right time. Even though the plot slowed it down, Season 7 truly is a brilliant end to the series thematically. The best part of moving past the sadness of not seeing the characters’ journeys continue is how it refuels my excitement for going back to the beginning, marveling at the contrast, and starting those journeys all over again. The amazing thing: the series only becomes further enriched with each viewing. Buffy the Vampire Slayer truly is the gift that keeps on giving. Thanks everyone for one hell of a fun ride!


[Series Retrospective]

There was a time when I was planning on writing a complete series review. As I approached “Chosen” [7×22] I began realizing what a futile endeavor that would be. Not only would it be probably be book-sized, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d be repeating a large quantity of things I’d already said throughout not only my episode reviews but also my comprehensive season reviews. Then it dawned on me. What’s missing is not a series “review” but rather a series retrospective, the point of which is to run down the reasons why this show has touched me the way it has. What separates Buffy the Vampire Slayer from other great television shows besides just the influence it had on TV as a medium?

Well, if pressed to boil it down to one reason above all others I’d yell out characters! That doesn’t really get to the heart of things, though, does it? Alright then, without further ado, here’s my 10-item unordered list of what makes Buffy so damn special.

  • Character Fluency. When you get caught up in watching a string of episodes it’s often easy to overlook the connective tissue that binds the characters to the various stories being told. If you pay close attention, though, you’ll find the characters casually referencing what happened in the previous episode(s). Characters not only remember what happened seasons ago, but also what happened last week! I find this quality to be incredibly vital to why the characters feel so much like real people as opposed to just puppets of the writers and the plot. This dynamic allows for a level of ‘intimacy’ with the characters I’ve seen no other shows, quality or otherwise, accomplish to this extent. This is why it is one of the first things I notice is missing in other shows. Long-term and short-term memory in characters is something that I’ve only ever seen Buffy do completely right.
  • Continuity. This show’s self-awareness of its history is immaculate. It’s not perfect — no show is — but I’ve never seen another that’s even come close to this one’s consistent use of continuity in a sea of ever-changing characters and plots. The fact this consistency is maintained over a span of 7 seasons and 144 episodes simply boggles the mind. From whole storylines to character development to in-jokes to throw-away references to poking fun at itself from time-to-time, Buffy never forgets where it came from.
  • Foreshadowing. So Buffy does a fantastic job of remembering what happened before, but that joy impressively also goes in the other direction! Many major plot points and character arcs were planned seasons in advance, and that enhanced direction often shows itself in the form of subtle but largely deliberate foreshadowing. Between both the clearly intentional and the likely accidental hints of things to come, this level of interconnectivity between different parts of the story is truly unprecedented. I often find myself amazed to see something foreshadowed only to jump ahead to that point in the series and see a reference back to the episode that foreshadowed it.
  • Psychology. The characters not only have short-term and long-term memory, they also have a lot going on inside them psychologically. Fortunately for us, Buffy is masterful at allowing the viewer into the minds of the characters. Through the thorough and nuanced development many of the characters get in nearly every episode there is rarely a point in the series where you don’t completely understand why someone’s acting the way they do or making a particular important decision. Some of this insight is conveyed through the themes of an episode, sometimes through the dialogue, but other times through literary techniques such as metaphor and symbolism, and yet still other times with simply great acting with subtle facial expressions and body movement at the right times. The characters all have unique personalities, opinions, and perspectives that largely drive how they’ll react in any given situation. All of these factors add up to a feeling of genuinely knowing and understanding who these characters are.
  • The Fun Factor. Despite all the other quality aspects of the show, I have to admit I wouldn’t be nearly as invested in it if wasn’t just plain fun to watch. The show is far funnier than most comedies and is also able to blend that comedy with intense drama and pathos. The humor of the show isn’t one-dimensional either. The show sports situational comedy, character-based comedy, dialogue-based comedy, continuity/history-based comedy, and even silent comedy, sometimes all at once! Beyond the comedy, there is also some pretty awesome action sequences littered throughout the series. It’s quite fun to watch Buffy’s fighting style literally evolve season-to-season. Buffy is also very playful with language, yet it’s always consistent with its own internal rules. The best part of all this is that all of these qualities aren’t just in “the comedy episodes” — they’re a part of every episode in the series, albeit some episodes emphasize certain qualities more than others.
  • The Cry Factor. Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy, once said that there are “[t]wo things that matter to me: emotional resonance and rocket launchers.” I’m not one to easily get emotionally invested in fiction, yet Buffy is able to emotionally bring me to my knees, often while laughing and cheering all at the same time. There’ll be a scene that has you on the brink of tears only to slip in a subtle joke that causes you to chuckle through the tears. Yet there are also moments — moments grounded in carefully crafted character development — that simply punch you in the gut and then kick you while you’re down. Despite being a fantasy show, Buffy is more consistently emotionally resonant than any other TV show I’ve ever seen. A large part of why this is so is because these moments are actually earned — they don’t come out of nowhere and feel natural based on what came before.
  • The Brain Factor. Despite the cheesy title, Buffy is actually a tremendously smart show that deftly utilizes metaphor, symbolism, and subtext which are all used with surprising subtlety. It’s also a show that is rich in themes that are present in every episode and through entire seasons, always saying something relevant about the characters. There are scenes that’ll have a witty pop-culture reference followed by a subtle literary reference, all of which ends up foreshadowing a character’s actions in the next season or is directly related to the themes of the present episode or season. There is a tremendous amount of sophistication in not just the text of the show, but also in its visuals. It should also be mentioned how incredibly gutsy the show can be at times, sometimes devoting itself to entire seasons. Most shows chicken out when it comes to following-through with the consequences of previous episodes or seasons, but Buffy nearly always delivers and has the guts to take the characters where they should organically be heading after what they’ve experienced.
  • Variety. Buffy never gets stale throughout its seven seasons. There are many reasons behind this. The first is that that the show spans multiple genres ranging from drama to comedy to action to horror to romance, sometimes all within the span of five minutes. Yet all these elements are blended together so cleverly that it almost never feels jarring. The characters have complex personalities with both positive traits and negative traits. They can be witty and fun, but also occasionally out-of-line and mean, although their position is always understandable. This sort of spontaneous flexibility in tone is also present from episode-to-episode, with some episodes focusing more on an individual component of the show’s tone — there are hilarious comedy episodes, scary horror episodes, touching romantic episodes, and gut-wrenching dramatic episodes, and each of these have aspects of the others. On top of all of this, each season has a unique tone, look, feel, and even music. No season repeats the feel, themes, or character development of previous seasons. Because of this, each season comes out being completely unique from all the others. At no point does the show feel like it’s treading the same ground.
  • Unique Episodes. The average episode of Buffy contains all of the things I’ve already pointed out, which already makes it an absolute joy to watch. Yet the show is never content to lean exclusively on its known strengths. There are a whole bunch of episodes that successfully do something completely different, whether it’s looking at the series from a different point of view or letting a minor character be the central character. It can get even more experimental than that, too, like having an episode with almost no dialogue or an episode that takes place entirely in the realm of dreams or an episode with absolutely no music or an episode with almost nothing but music. Despite how some of these episodes appear “gimmicky” on the surface, these ‘unique situations’ are always used as a springboard to say something about the characters and to move the story and themes forward.
  • The Journey. The first time I finished all of Buffy I paused in reflection of what I’d just seen while being simultaneously saddened that my ride with the characters had ended. After this pause, I went back to the very beginning of it all out of sheer curiosity. I found myself completely shell-shocked at the contrast between the beginning of the series and the end of it. In the former, the characters are mere children who have unformed opinions, a romanticized outlook on relationships, are blissfully unburdened by the reality of death, and are the opposite of self-aware. Season-by-season these characters very gradually and naturally — based on their experiences and history — learned, loved, lost, evolved, and eventually became adults not just in physical appearance but as people. The characters we see at the end of the series are self-aware adults who are largely knowledgeable of their and each other’s faults, strengths, and motivations. The journey through the series isn’t one focused on plot or some big evil scheme, it’s one entirely centered on the characters. In this aspect Buffy the Vampire Slayer is like one giant book where each season represents a chapter in that story.

So, in the end, the common thread of all of these points is back to what I started with: it’s all about the characters. All of these items don’t exist in isolation either, they work together to make each individual quality that much more resonant. On top of all of this, there’s always something new to learn. There are many areas of the show that are worthy of study that I either don’t have specific interest in or simply haven’t started digging into yet, but they’re there to explore nonetheless ranging from the show’s use of music to gender studies to cultural impact, and plenty more. I learn more, pick up new things, and make new connections each time I watch the series. This is one of the rare times where the material is actually enhanced each time you watch it rather than getting boring or old. That’s the magic of a complex show that uses plots to service the characters, not the other way around. Plots on any show get old after you’ve seen them once or twice, but rich and layered characters end up taking on a life of their own.

Now despite all the praise I’ve heaped on the show I would be remiss if I didn’t at least briefly touch on its flaws, which I personally find to be minor drawbacks rather than deal breakers. There’s really only one notable flaw that comes up again and again on Buffy: mediocre and occasionally poor plots. If you’re looking for a densely plotted thriller, you’ll rarely find yourself satisfied by Buffy, although it does have its moments. The plot is a means to an end — the end being character growth and theme — and because of this it occasionally doesn’t get the thought or polish that it needs. Some of the plots end up being a bit silly while others end up not making a ton of sense. Generally all the major plot arcs hold together pretty decently, but there are mistakes. In summary, plot is most definitely not one of Buffy‘s strengths. This is why people that prefer strong plots over strong characterization tend to not enjoy the show nearly to the extent I do.

I also want to stress that Buffy is not perfect when it comes to its positive qualities. It can, rarely, not really succeed thematically or slip up a bit of characterization or fail to follow-through on something that happened before, but all of these instances are exceptions to the rule. Considering how long the show ran, it’s actually quite remarkable how consistent it is.

A series retrospective wouldn’t be complete without a final look at how the seasons stack up, would it? So here’s my final estimation of how the seasons compare, putting grades to groupings.

  • #1 (A): S5. To me, S5 is unquestionably the peak of the show. The season had a compelling plot, rich themes, deep characterization, plenty of laughs, a little bit of romance, and lots of excellent drama. There was no weak link in what was not only the most consistent season, but also the most powerful once you added up all the pieces. In light of all these factors S5 stands alone as the complete package and my favorite season of television.
  • #2 (A-): S2, S3, and S6. All three of these seasons are great, yet each also has a few flaws that hold them back from hitting the very top. It’s interesting that S2 and S3 have pretty much the opposite strengths and weaknesses which, in the end, put them in the same league of each other. Out of these three seasons I like S3 the least, but in terms of overall quality it certainly stands tall with the other two. S6 earns its place here from its gutsy storytelling and characterization, most of which wildly succeeds, and its unmatched follow-through from the previous season. I feel that S5 and S6 make the best two-season punch in the entire series.
  • #3 (B+): S4 and S7. First, let me be clear that both of these seasons are very good seasons of television. The problem that largely separates them from those above them is that they have very sloppy plot arcs — arcs that start out with a lot of promise but then crumble under the weight of what they’ve built. This ends up causing these seasons to feel as though they have an extreme lack of focus. The truth is that they both hold together quite well thematically and contain some superb character development. Yet the narrative problems really do end up disrupting the overall cohesiveness of these seasons, which is why they fall behind a notch.
  • #4 (C+): S1. In what barely even seems like a part of what the series became, S1 comes in at a distant last. The season is not terrible but it’s not really all that good either, despite a few high points. This season shows a Buffy that doesn’t quite know what it’s capable of. It sticks with a fun yet simple mission statement that only scratches the surface of what lies beneath it. In light of what came after it, the season ends up being a lot more fun to watch albeit only very slightly more impressive critically.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a uniquely marvelous television series, one that actually gets better every time I watch it. Thankfully the show isn’t an academic bore to watch and is instead boundless fun. When I’m not feeling well and need a good laugh, I generally go to Buffy to cheer me up. When I’m in the mood to be deeply affected by something, I watch Buffy to give me a little teary-eye. When I’m in the mood to think about my entertainment, I watch Buffy and then write about it… a lot. This show is able to deliver on all these qualities and much more. This is what the show means to me. Now please go (re)watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer and find out what it means to you.

Final series score: 94 (A-)

“You think you know… what’s to come… what you are. You haven’t even begun.” -“Restless” [4×22]


[Score]

85/100

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220 thoughts on “Season 7 Review”

  1. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on July 19, 2010.]

    Wow, I am stunned! Mike, you really outdid yourself this time! This is a wonderful review, from start to finish. Not only you provide an amazing S7 review, but all you say about Buffy in the “series retrospetcive” reflect my feelings as well. And wow, what an amazing job.

    I also have to say that Buffy has too changed my life and how I view tv.

    Kudos, mike. You deserve it.

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  2. [Note: MissKittyFantastico posted this comment on July 19, 2010.]

    Thank you, Mike– this made my Monday!

    I now also feel the need to re(rererere..)watch the series. 🙂

    Like

  3. [Note: Evanna posted this comment on July 19, 2010.]

    I was a bit scared when I started to read this, since I’m really sensitive about too harsh reviews of season 7, and I knew you didn’t like it as much as I did. I’m really glad to say I wasn’t depressed by it at all (the way I can be with S7 reviews) and found it really interesting and just great, even though I personally rank it higher.

    I’m starting to acknowledge that S7 might not be on of the best seasons of Buffy, but it is my second favorite season (after S5) and I’m really glad that you did such a great job reviewing it, since I’ve loved all of your other reviews, and didn’t want this one to ruin anything.

    So, basically, thank you for writing your excellent reviews, which have followed me through my second (and now my third) re-watch of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, they certainly created another depth and understanding of the series for me. Awesome job!

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  4. [Note: G1000 posted this comment on July 19, 2010.]

    Great review. However, I apparently didn’t like Willow’s overall arc as much as you did. I thought she basically got lost in the middle of the season, after a strong beginning. And don’t get me started on Anya after “Selfless”. On top of that, Xander got almost zero development

    It really seems that Buffy and Spike were the only ones that got developed at all over the entire season, which was a huge problem that really drags it down.

    On the other hand, there were plenty of shining episodes (and very few bad ones). “LMPTM”, “Selfless”, “CwDP”, “Sleeper”, and “Touched” are all great. And “Chosen” is one of the best series finales I’ve watched, flawed though it is.

    Nice job.

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  5. [Note: G1000 posted this comment on July 19, 2010.]

    And you are completely right to place season 5 head and shoulders above the other seasons. It’s unquestionably the show’s best season.

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  6. [Note: Guido posted this comment on July 19, 2010.]

    Mike, thank you for every one of the 5 years you’ve devoted to sharing your love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, developing and following through on this website, and providing a home and a place to connect for Buffy fans. Your thoughtful and sometimes controversial reviews contribute unique insight to the corpus of contemporary Buffy critiques.

    Thank you also for this excellent Season-7 review, and especially for the Series Retrospective. I’m glad you made the decision to approach the series in this way. I’ll refer to this often, as I have to your reviews, to assist me in framing my own, often scattered, reflections and understanding of the show’s significance.

    Bravo!

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  7. [Note: fray-adjacent posted this comment on July 19, 2010.]

    ditto on Guido’s comment. This review is chalk-full of excellent insights on S7 — what’s great about it, what’s not-so-great about it, and how the events and the choices the characters make relate back to the six seasons before. Thanks!

    And thanks for the series retrospective. I think I want to share your 10-item list when I evangelize my favorite TV show.

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  8. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on July 19, 2010.]

    First of all, I’d like to thank you all for the comments so far, and for all the incredibly kind words!

    Secondly, a heads up that I plan to edit out the 10-item list of the series retrospective into a spoiler-free article so people like fray, above, can link it to people who haven’t seen the series before. When I started writing I never intended it to be without spoilers, yet once I got going I just went with it. Expect that article to go up pretty soon. 🙂

    Also, expect some news on what I’ll be doing next with the site in the next few days. I finally have an update on what’s going to happen with Ryan’s Angel site too. Keep your browsers peeled to the front page, or you can follow CriticallyTouched on Twitter for the initial scoop right when it happens.

    Thanks again!

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  9. [Note: Beppe posted this comment on July 20, 2010.]

    The “Cons” section alone would have been a perfectly adequate review of S7. 😉 To me, the cons are so glaring and overwhelming that they render the pros relatively meaningless — at which point they cease to be pros at all. For example, I find it hard to care about any character’s wonderful arc when it’s bolted to an uncharacteristically sloppy and pointless season. Obviously, a matter of opinion.

    But once again, a wonderfully thorough and perceptive review. You’ve just completed the best resource on the net for Buffy the Vampire Slayer — now that’s what I call an accomplishment.

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  10. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on July 20, 2010.]

    Beppe: Fortunately these reviews are so “thorough and perceptive” because I don’t have a taste for ignoring some amazing material just because it’s saddled with other problems. As I said in my conclusion,[quote]Let’s not forget to give S7 its due props while we dissect its flaws.[/quote] For me character > plot (subjective as that is) and there’s some really amazing (and daring) character work this season that really helped offset some of those flaws.

    Thanks for the comment and compliment! 🙂

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  11. [Note: Monty posted this comment on July 20, 2010.]

    MikeJer,

    First of all I just want to say thank you very much for this site and all the hard effort and thought you put into it. While I had seen some of season one and two when they first aired and enjoyed them, I had never really followed the series. It wasn’t until this spring that I actually sat down and went through all seven seasons.

    Not having the benefit of watching it life and able to participate in the active discussion in the fandom, your site was an invaluable resource for me as I went throw the series.

    By and large I agree with almost everything you have written. Season five is undoubtedly the greatest of them all. I also agree with your reasoning regarding season 2, 3 and 6. Although I tend to rate season three a little more highly because of its consistency and penalize season two because of its weak pre Halloween and season 6 because of its mid season slowdown.

    The only thing I have found myself disagreeing with is your rating of season 7. If you compare the pros and cons you have listed for season 4 and season 7, I can’t help but feel that season 4 should be rated higher than 84, or more likely season 7 rated lower than 85. I just can’t help but think that lapses in writing quality, frequent lapses in plot consistency, entrance of several underdeveloped characters at the expense of more established ones (Anya, Xander, Dawn, Giles etc.) and the bad arc outweigh any of the cons in season 4.

    While season 4’s plot arc was certainly weak, at the very least this plot was not the focus of the season and never really got in the way of the amazing character development that occurred. Additionally, the out character moments of season 7 (particularly the Scoobies throwing Buffy out of the house) is the type of flaw that is much more frustrating and difficult to accept than simply a weak villain or too much cheese. Plus, I felt like The Killer in Me was a much worse episode than Where the Wild Things Are, or at the very least a lot more annoying especially with the sloppy plot, Amy for example.

    In sum, I think character development was great in season 4 and while it was held back by a weak plot arc, it didn’t have to overcome a weak arc, plot and character inconstancy and too much time dedicated to characters who are underdeveloped, poorly acted and who we just have no emotional connection to. I think the flaws in season 7 are bad enough to warrant a sub 80 rating.

    However, having said that thank you so much for this site. It truly is an invaluable resource. While it took me a while to actually watch the show, I am truly glad because from Halloween until Conversations with Dead People we had what truly is one of the most amazing runs in television history (well until Dexter).

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  12. [Note: jarppu posted this comment on July 20, 2010.]

    I have definitely agree with Monty. Season 4 excelled everywhere but in the Big Bad arc (but since it was hardly the focus of the season, it didn’t matter). Especially all the character stuff was very excellently done. In contrast season 7 nearly slaughtered every characters’ integrity just for the sake of plot, as mikejer also stated. I just feel the con “Stronger emphasis on a troubled plot at the expense of some of the established characters.” should weigh on heavier on the season’s score. As you mikejer have always said that this show has always been about the characters, not the plot. That’s why season 4 is monumentally better than season 7.

    It just breaks my heart that this was the last season and yet so little time is spent on the core characters. So little time in fact, that I almost feel like don’t know what’s going on with them. They feel estranged. In that respect, even season 1 was better because it didn’t screw up with the characters – even if it was less than stellar otherwise.

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  13. [Note: jarppu posted this comment on July 20, 2010.]

    I apparently didn’t like Willow’s overall arc as much as you did. I thought she basically got lost in the middle of the season, after a strong beginning. And don’t get me started on Anya after “Selfless”. On top of that, Xander got almost zero development

    It really seems that Buffy and Spike were the only ones that got developed at all over the entire season, which was a huge problem that really drags it down.

    ^^This. Well said G1000. This is exactly the most important reason why season 7 is the worst for me. I also agree with Bette, the cons section would have sufficed for a review of this season.

    But still I thank you Mikejer for all these years of Buffy reviewing!

    Like

  14. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on July 20, 2010.]

    Thanks for the comment Monty! In regard to S4, I actually agree to an extent. Note that I plan on polishing up all my reviews one last time. Included in that will come the final adjustment of all the scores. In my most recent viewing of S4 it actually rubbed off a bit better than it did when I initially reviewed it, and in the end it might inch out over S7 (as I left room for in my wording throughout this review).

    With that said, I completely disagree with jarppu about S4 being “monumentally better than season 7.” Under certain criteria I agree S4 pulls ahead, but in others S7 really takes the cake. S7 ends up able to score similarly to S4 due to (1) how successfully daring some of its storytelling is, and most importantly (2) how deeply rich the season is thematically and how those themes tie up all the major aspects of the series quite perfectly. I found myself deeply impressed with S7 thematically. I also really love what the season does for Buffy, Spike, and to a bit lesser extent Willow.

    While the season didn’t focus as much on the other main characters, I didn’t really lose touch with them emotionally because they still had little moments and scenes throughout the season that kept me in tune with what they were thinking about everything, as well as a few bigger ones. Plus, there’s the six years of foundation that had already been built, which kept them afloat for me. Sure I would have like more, but in the end I feel almost every character got, at minimum, a solid send-off that very nicely encapsulated their overall journey.

    S4 is certainly not lacking thematically, but it in my eyes it doesn’t come anywhere near the heights S7 reaches. So in some ways (plot, or lack there of, and a bit more balanced character development) S4 ends up pulling ahead, but in others (theme and guts) S7 pulls ahead. In the end they balance out to be fairly near each other as both flawed but still with lots to love.

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  15. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on July 20, 2010.]

    I have to say that it’s unfortunate seeing some people saying that this review should just list the Cons and be done with it. Not only does this do injustice to my review process, but it does injustice to the series as a whole. I’ve argued that Season 7 does certain things resoundingly right, and it’s unfortunate that some are completely side-stepping my plea not to ignore this. I welcome debate on the points I’ve made (like Monty’s done), but to those who say I shouldn’t have made any points that cast the season in a positive light… well, I frankly think that’s a little ridiculous.

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  16. [Note: Beppe posted this comment on July 20, 2010.]

    Hey, I was (mostly) kidding and used the smiley and all! Of course you should defend this season if you’re moved to do so — hell, you’ve certainly earned the right!

    It’s just that I’m not prone to analyze this stuff nearly to the extent that you are, so I see Buffy mainly as a Thing. Starting from S1 and all the way to the early episodes of S7, it is an incredibly good Thing, but overall I can’t find nearly enough good stuff in S7 to outweigh the bad stuff, so to me, that season becomes a predominantly bad Thing. An asterisk season, if you like.

    Plus, a problem with a lot of the good stuff in S7 is that the late-season messes both plot and character-wise take some of the edge off the early successess. (Case in point is CWDP, which is diminished in my mind because many of its foreshadowings are not followed through at all. Compare that to an episode such as Doppelgangland, which is a) solid gold and b) given extra resonance by the events unfolding over the next three seasons.)

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  17. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on July 20, 2010.]

    Beppe, my response wasn’t directed at you specifically as much as the group of people who actually believe in that statement.

    As for CWDP, I’d argue it excellently followed up on most of what it suggested. Joyce’s message to Dawn is debatable, but the psychological insight Holden helps Buffy gain plays off incredibly well with what followed both for Buffy as an individual and how that ties into the themes of the season. The same goes for Willow in terms of thematic importance (power/control, sharing, empowerment, etc.). All of these aspects tie in beautifully with how the series ends. So I don’t feel CWDP is diminished in terms of its thematic or character relevance at all. Only in its plot relevance, which I feel isn’t all that important in the end.

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  18. [Note: Monty posted this comment on July 20, 2010.]

    I hear what your saying MikeJer. I def. agree with you regarding the pros of the season. The only part where I disagree is how much weight to give to the cons. In my mind, having consistent plot and characters are sort of things that are fundamental. they are almost like the foundation. no matter how nice the structure is, I’d the foundation is poor then the whole thing is compromised.

    the things that just upset me while watching season seven I think are things that just fundamentally should not go wrong. thinks like characters acting out character, sloppy ploting (especially when the season seems much more plot heavy than normal) and

    poor acting by new characters who are

    never devloped just really should not happen. while buffy hasn’t been perfect, I think by and large the show avoided big screw ups like that or when there where misfires the show quickly autocorrected (like willow season six). I have a hard time believing that any other show not named

    Buffy and where we didn’t have 6 years of buildup and afection for the characters would I even be willing to forgive those errors.

    but like I said our disagreement just centers

    on how we rate the pros and cons. I’m more willing to forgive season 4 because the initiative just didn’t seem to be the main focus. Less willing to forgive this because the main arc is the focus and it’s just upsetting watching bad acting and seeing sloppy writing.

    but good discussion over all. sad there are

    no more seasons cause wont be able to read

    more o your reviews…. maybe you can finish ryans angel

    reviews.

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  19. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on July 20, 2010.]

    Monty, I agree that we’re definitely placing different weight on the Pros and Cons, and that’s totally cool. However I’d argue that, “Empty Places” aside, there wasn’t anything out of character this season for any of the major characters. I agree that it’d have been nice if some of the main non Buffy/Spike/Willow characters got more attention throughout the season, but I didn’t see anything OOC (again, outside of “Empty Places” — which is simply an isolated poor episode in that regard).

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  20. [Note: jarppu posted this comment on July 21, 2010.]

    Him is the funniest episode?! That episode had like two funny scenes and that was basically it. Storyteller was hilarious from start to (nearly) finish. Also I would have chosen CWDP as the most gutsy episode. CWDP has four separate stories that could have easily annoyed the viewer because how disjointed it makes the episodes feel. However it still paid off in the end. On the other hand ‘Lies My Parents Told Me’ was basically just a rehash of an already fan-favourite episode ‘Fool For Love’. Which doesn’t make it gutsy at all. I found it boring and repetitive. Unless of course you are referring to the fact of screwing up Giles’ character for the sake of the development of the main character. In that regard I guess it’s ‘gutsy’.

    BTW, I’m looking forward to the day when somebody manages to type my screenname correctly. Writing six letters in correct order isn’t that difficult of a job, is it? 😉

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  21. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on July 21, 2010.]

    jarppu: One of the advantages of being the administrator (and creator, developer, writer, and editor) is that I can go edit my comments! Mwahahahaha! I’ve fixed the spelling of your name, sorry about that. lol

    For those of you wondering why, in general, I gave awards to the episodes I did, I encourage you to read my reviews of those episodes and any subsequent relevant comments. In the case of “Lies,” both Rick and myself make our arguments for why the episode is entirely different from “Fool for Love” thematically, and how Giles is entirely in character. In terms of the “Most Gusty” award, CWDP is more of a structurally gutsy episode than anything else. While that’s certainly neat, I found the character/theme gutsiness of “Lies” to be much more palpable. Both great episodes though.

    As for “Him,” I simply found it more rolling-on-the-floor-in-laughter funny than “Storyteller” (which is also a funny episode, and much better overall). This one’s obviously a much more subjective award. 😉

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  22. [Note: Tyler posted this comment on July 21, 2010.]

    Hey, mikejer–I found this site through the Cultural Catchup Project. My goodness, what a treasure you’ve created here. On my next run through Buffy, I’m going to come here regularly.

    More specifically, this review of Season 7 and retrospective of the series? Brilliant. You’ll understand what I mean when I say that this review is worthy of the series you’re reviewing.

    So, _thank you_, and I’m sure I’ll comment again in the future.

    Regards,

    Tyler

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  23. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on July 21, 2010.]

    Understand you, I do! The comment is very appreciated, and I look forward to seeing your input added to the mix on your next pass.

    You should note that I’ll be, somewhat soon, starting a ‘polish pass’ of my reviews in order to rewrite some of the very early ones (when I didn’t know the extent of what I wanted to do with the site) and touch up the rest of them (tweaking scores, fixing typos, clarifying points, etc.), so that also might give you an opportunity to tag along.

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  24. [Note: Monty posted this comment on July 21, 2010.]

    I agree that it was just empty places where there was out of characterness. but it was such a big example that it really sticks out at me and grates me even now as i write this. I think what made it so egregious was that it was so out of character as in there is just no way i can swallow that, it happened at such a critical juncture plot wise, and they completely screwed up the follow through. I mean the fact like they act like nothing happened was horrible. it made it so that one out of character moment negatively affected every subsequent episode.

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  25. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on July 21, 2010.]

    Monty, I don’t share your feelings that “Empty Places” tainted what came after it. “Touched” is a beautiful episode, for example, in which the fallout of “Empty Places” is used quite well.

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  26. [Note: nathan.taurus posted this comment on July 21, 2010.]

    Great and detailed review. The season theme of power was pretty good and most episodes were executed to a tee. Unfortunatley, some just didn’t make the cut in terms of BtVS quality.

    When talking about the Holden’s comment about being alone in ‘CWDP’ it reminds me of Cordelia’s similar one in ‘Out of Mind, out of Sight’ when she says she would rather feel alone surrounded by people then feel alone by herself.

    Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the greatest television series ever.

    Like

  27. [Note: jun posted this comment on July 22, 2010.]

    Well done, Mikejer! You said everything I’d thought about the season, but in a much more eloquent fashion. I also appreciate your balanced approach, being frank about S7’s flaws but pointing out what works. That is exactly what one should do in a review.

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  28. [Note: thatswhatshesaid! posted this comment on July 22, 2010.]

    “Now, where’s that peg leg to complete the ensemble?” Best transition from Xander (his appearance at the end of season 7) to Giles (as the final member of the original core four).

    Remarkable review. Great job on consistantly pointing out the thematic strength of season seven. Although, I thought it would parallel s5 when I watched it the first time it aired (c’mon CWDP + and the end of Never Leave Me, left me with goosebumps) I agree that it still does have a lot to offer.

    I found it intersting that you grouped season 4 & 7 together. This reminds me of the s4 commentary/overview, were JW claimed s4 offered some of the best eps despite being labelled as a weak season. I find that his comment also applies to s7. (Just to be clear I was always pro s7, and I don’t mean to shove this perspective down anyones throat) but when I think of Buffy I think of the episodes I enjoyed watching the first time/ watching over again (and for me many are from s3,4,5, and 7). I do realize this is completely subjective, but hopefeully viewers new and old will appreciate the best s7 has to offer (not just the first 9 eps). Mike, THANK YOU for repeatedly reminding everyone of s7’s strengths and accomplishments, which are numerous and overshadow its weaknesses, which unfortunately are present and at times common in the finale season.

    Please don’t hate on liking s2 and s6 less than s7. I’m not saying 2 & 6 are inferior to 7, but in comparison I just find 7 more enjoyable…most of the time. 😀

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  29. [Note: Monty posted this comment on July 23, 2010.]

    Perhaps I overstated things. I think touched is relatively unafected because Buffy was off doing her own thing with Spike. But after she comes back to the house and things are all chummy between her best friends whose lives she saved countless times who mutinied against her and her sister who kicked her out of the house…. well from that point on I have a really hard time watching without a big WTF. I mean what went down in Empty Places was mutiny and betrayl on a grand scale and it was bad enough that it seemned to come out of nowhere but then for it not even to be adressed really does color things when the cour four and dawn get back together.

    wow someone prefers season 7 to season 2 and 6….. I never would have thought. I personally felt the Angelus arc was one of I not the strongest arcs of the show. But that’s my own personal opinion.

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  30. [Note: AttackedWithHummus posted this comment on July 23, 2010.]

    MikeJer,

    I check this site every single time I am on the computer – and have been biting my nails in the suspense leading up to this review for months – so naturally the one week I am out of the country your review goes up. Still, this was the best homecoming surprise the internet could ever give me! =)

    I don’t have the time or energy to go into my opinions of the season (curse you jet lag), but I must commend you on your brilliant Season 7 review – but more importantly on your Series Retrospective. I agree with you almost without fault in nearly all of your reviews and this one was no exception. I feared you would be too harsh on a season that – although admittedly left me feeling let down (especially after a rise to Season 5’s overall excellence) – I feel is attacked far too virulently. As well, I have actually made that exact list in painstakingly rating my favourite seasons.

    So far I’ve watched the series in full four times around along with many repeat viewings of my favourite episodes (which probably amounts to around 140). I recently introduced Buffy to one of my best friends and I’m (perhaps cruelly) making her wait to watch episodes with me by refusing to lend her my discs – not that I would ever let my beautiful box set leave my sight anyway – so I’m also on my way to a fifth viewing (we’re on Season 4 now). As I continue to rewatch I read your reviews over again and I am extraordinarily grateful towards you for providing such insight into my greatest…well I guess obsession would be the right word.

    Thank you again and I look forward to any future work you do on this site or elsewhere in the Whedon community.

    Like

  31. [Note: Miss Edith posted this comment on July 25, 2010.]

    Long time reader, first time commentator, thankyou so much for all the reviews! I’ve just re-watched all 144 episodes, and these reviews have been a brilliant accompaniment. I stumbled across these reviews the last time I watched Restless for an analysis, and this site quickly became inseparable to watching the episodes. Thankyou for all the hard work and dedication, these reviews have really enriched my enjoyment of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. From deepest, darkest England, thankyou x

    Like

  32. [Note: Susan posted this comment on July 25, 2010.]

    What a wonderful, insightful review this is. It was so exciting to see this long-awaited and much anticipated review when I checked your site this morning after being out of town for a few days. Thank you so much for all the time and thought and energy you have put into it all. I have recently begun another re-watch of the whole series and I check your reviews after each viewing. Season 1 feels like a different world this time, and I do look forward to your re-reviews of those episodes. Thanks again!

    Like

  33. [Note: stephanie posted this comment on July 29, 2010.]

    Mike – you have inspired me to rewatch S7, a season that was disappointing to me the first time around, and the ONLY season I’ve never rewatched.

    Thank you for this review. I will be watching with a newly opened mind (and heart.)

    Like

  34. [Note: Shannon posted this comment on July 30, 2010.]

    Phew, finally made it through that epic (and wonderful) season review- it’s been sitting open in my browser for the last couple days and I was just reading it bit by bit when I had a few minutes. Still have the Series Retrospective to get through, but I wanted to say nice work! I’ve never hated this season, but you really brought together its strengths and perfectly articulated the things that didn’t work. The writers really did blow it with the First mid-season, and I’d forgotten that it was actually stated that the First had “gone into remission” or whatever – Lame! The plot holes in this season don’t bother me nearly so much as the simple wasted potential (ha) of the season.

    I really liked your last paragraph about Xander; although I still wasn’t the biggest fan even in the later seasons, he definitely improved as a person and even had moments or entire episodes in which I appreciated his contribution. I must say though that I still don’t buy him suddenly being the “one who sees” – the heart of the group definitely, but he was so fricking oblivious to so much going on around him throughout the whole series that the seeing bit seemed like such a writers’ construct and not an organic evolution of his character at all. I remain unconvinced on that count. There are other characters, namely Spike, who have shown themselves to be far more perceptive than Xander.

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  35. [Note: baunger1 posted this comment on July 30, 2010.]

    Thank you so much for this extraordinary review. There is amazing television to be found in season 7, as well as some extremely disappointing episodes, moments, character inconsistencies and plot inconsistencies.

    After my first viewing of season 7, I felt it was a terrible season that let down the characters and the viewers. When I watched it again, though, I was surprised at how many excellent episodes there were. I hadn’t remembered how good they were because of my overall dissatisfaction with the season. Particularly, the Buffy and Spike story arcs, both separately and together, are extremely moving, fascinating, and consistent.

    I agree that it is the weakest season other than season one, but it’s also so much more complex and ambitious than season 1. I think any disappointment I feel about the season is not only about the mistakes made (the potentials/lack of attention to core characters being the greatest for me), but from knowing those mistakes can’t be fixed, that unresolved character issues can never be resolved, because it’s the end. I think my, and other viewers’, sense of disappointment may be magnified because it’s all over. ( Until you watch again).

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  36. [Note: Stilicho posted this comment on July 31, 2010.]

    Tank you very very much for this great work!!! Only one point I’d like to add: Please contemplate seriously to write that book-sized review for the entire series! You should be the one doing it!

    Like

  37. [Note: DarthMarion posted this comment on July 31, 2010.]

    Again, a wonderfull review! As a Season Seven lover, I was quite anxious. Well, I’m anxious about anything approachinn opinion on S7 ^^. What a pleasure to juste throw myself in the reading of your amazing review.

    What could I say about the season? Ilove it to pieces, I love the poetry and the epicness of Buffy and Spike’s arc as much as I love the quiet closure given to other characters (damn, even Jonathan got perfect closure). And yet, I’m still aching so much for what it could have been. Aching with melancholy but no bitterness…

    Thank you Mike, for your intelligence, for your respect of both the show and the fandom, and above all for your love of this magnificient show!

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  38. [Note: Leaf posted this comment on August 2, 2010.]

    I think your Caleb/The First section pretty much highlights my main problem with S7. Caleb is one-dimensional, but it didn’t have to be that way. In Dirty Girls he was not only scary but also said a lot of interesting stuff, but after that he became little more than a super-strong “woman hating jerk”. I’m not sure if having Buffy fight misogynists is just a little too on the nose for me, I mean we also had Warren in the previous season.

    And as for The First. A great idea, but such a wasted opportunity in the end. I like parts of the mid-season S7 episodes but as you say the momentum is really taken out when The First goes ‘into remission’. I don’t know how much of this was a scheduling/sweeps thing or whether they just wanted/were instructed to do some more stand-alone type episodes. But just thinking about the potential awesomeness of The First as the Big Bad gets me annoyed at how it was eventually handled. They brought back quite a few actors but not enough IMO. I’ve read they tried to get back Jessie (would have been awesome), Tara and Jenny but couldn’t due to schedules or being turned down. I know we could probably all come up with loads of characters for The First to be but here is just a few from me: Oz, Riley, Olivia, Adam (pre-monster), Ford, Larry, Ben, Snyder, Flutie, Willy, Percy, Ethan, Allan Finch, Kendra & Detective Stein. Obviously I’m not saying they should have brought back all of these as it would have overstuffed the season but just a couple would have been awesome (I also know a lot of the ones listed weren’t dead as far as we knew, hence the drama!)

    I also really dislike the whole ‘Is Giles The First’ arc and the ending of ‘Empty Places’.

    But other than all of that 😉 I like S7 and you’ve pretty much said why in your review. My favourite thing by far is what happens with Buffy and Spike both individually and together. It’s just so beautiful and consistent and perfect. Much as I love S6 I was really worried that I wouldn’t be able to love one or both of my two favourite characters in S7 after the events of Seeing Red in particular. But S7 just made me love them more.

    Oh and power in it’s many forms in this season.

    And this season made me like Xander again.

    As for your thoughts on Buffy overall mikejer, I’m afraid I’m going to have to agree on those as well! Particularly on rewatching. I’ve seen every episode so many times I’ve lost count (I’d estimate around 20) and just when I think I know them I see something from a different perspective, or pick up on something I never thought of before. It really is a series that is made for rewatching (moreso than, I stress IMO, may of the critically acclaimed shows around. I’ve seen The Shield, The Sopranos, The Wire, Six Feet Under… I liked them all but some I have no desire to watch again and others I might watch again but only in a few years time. The only one that comes close that isn’t a Joss show is Mad Men for me – but none come close to Buffy).

    And finally, as others have said, thank you for your wonderful reviews mikejer. You’ve certainly made me think differently about several episodes and your love for LMPTM in particular has made me think a lot more about that episode than I did before.

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  39. [Note: Joe posted this comment on August 2, 2010.]

    Leaf, you make good points, minus some of the names on your list of people you wanted the First to be. HOW could the First have appeared as Oz, Riley, Ethan, or Olivia (and probably several others on your list)? A person has to be DEAD for the First to take his or her form, and the people I just listed are, as far as we are made aware, still very much alive. To see them just pop up as the First would bring up entirely too many questions regarding what caused their deaths.

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  40. [Note: Blue Fan posted this comment on August 2, 2010.]

    An outstanding review as usual, Mikejer!

    Thank you so much for all this hardwork along the years.

    I write here because I want to point how much Leaf seemed to have read my mind. I’m not sure if played by The First, but I agree I would have loved to see some of those “minor” characters again. Maybe as guest characters or Bringers’ victims, but it would have been great to see Percy again interacting with Willow, or The First as Human Adam (this character had so much potential).

    As for Joe’s question, it’s interesting to notice that I have made myself the same question in “Lessons”, when The First turns into Drusilla. Shall we suppose she’s dead? How? Why? It is a simple detail, but it bugged me a lot.

    The other thing that keeps bothering me, also about this episode, is the talisman in the bathroom of the school. Who put it there????? Caleb? Spike, manipulated by The First? This was much more than a simple inconsistency.

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  41. [Note: Joe posted this comment on August 3, 2010.]

    Blue–I was thinking about the talisman thing myself the other day. They never do answer that question, and I think it’s one that needed answering, just for consistency’s sake.

    As far as Drusilla goes, here’s my take: the original Drusilla–the human Drusilla–died in the process of becoming a vampire, so the First could take her form, and then ACT like crazy vampire Drusilla. In “Sleeper,” the First took on Spike’s form, and he’s still “alive” and kicking, but he did die as a human. Same with Buffy (minus the being a vampire part): she died at one point (erm, two), so the First can look like her.

    Does that make sense?

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  42. [Note: Leaf posted this comment on August 3, 2010.]

    I did note that I knew not all of the characters I listed were dead. I agree it’d be too much if they all turned up as The First as that would take up too much time explaining but just one turning up would make for an interesting episode and would have made a nice substitution for the ‘is Giles The First’ storyline (you’d still get the mystery, the speculation and a shock reveal that a past character is now dead but it wouldn’t be act the expense of Giles. Also it could play over one or two episodes rather than five or six). Actually out of the four you mention Joe I’d have loved to have seen Olivia as it would have been a nice storyline/few scenes for an underused Giles. Although Oz would have been great for Willow and to a lesser extent Xander… I could see the benefit it any of them, so we’re back to the untapped potential of the set-up.

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  43. [Note: Blue Fan posted this comment on August 3, 2010.]

    Joe:

    thank you so much for answering! I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one who thinks that the very small detail of the talisman made a huge question in the consistency of nothing more than the season opener. My theory with this is that the writers planned to offer to this an explanation and then simply forgot about this.

    Altough it is one more magical item in the series, I just can’t avoid the fact that it was the thing that was summoning the zombies. It is also posible to suspect that it was put there by Caleb, but I think that he probably was in England (planning the bomb for the council) and somewhere else killing potentials.

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  44. [Note: Leaf posted this comment on August 4, 2010.]

    I always go for it being Spike manipulated by The First who made the talisman as he seems to know about it later on. Either that or Joss was going for just the general ‘crazy things happen at SHC’ as students did used to just generally do stupid stuff like that.

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  45. [Note: Joe posted this comment on August 5, 2010.]

    That’s certainly a possibility, but I’d like a more definitive answer in the episode itself (though one could argue that Spike’s psycho rambling that clues Buffy into the talisman is Joss’s way of indicating that it was, in fact, Spike who did it). It just seems like a very obvious drop in the plot. The plotline may not always be extremely unique or innovative on this show, but they tend not to suffer these kinds of holes that the audience must fill in, unlike some other shows (COUGHLOSTCOUGH).

    Oh, and Leaf, sorry, I somehow must have missed in your original post the “if they were dead” caveat you made about the characters you listed–I apologize, and will make sure I’ve caught everything next time. Sorry about that.

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  46. [Note: JammyJu posted this comment on August 8, 2010.]

    Just been reading this for the past 40 minutes.

    First and foremost, can I just say thankyou. That might just be a word, but I just tried to imagine myself creating such a website, and doing the same thing and the thought just weighs heavy on my mind!

    Seriously though, you’ve written so deeply about a show I love and you’ve really pushed forward my understanding and connection with everything about Buffy.

    Anyway, onto season 7. I cant remember enough to go into too much detail about the episodes, but I’m inclined to agree in terms of how you perceive the quality of the season in general.

    It is a shame it doesn’t end right on its peak, or even on strong form, but it does end on a satisfying thematic level.

    The ending itself is perfect, even though the battle itself against the uber-vamps has a lot of plot holes/continuation errors.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say that I think season 7 is a flawed piece of television, but one which takes the show to really interesting levels, and I’m just glad we at least have it to watch.

    It may not be perfect, or up to the normal high quality standards of Buffy, but it sure is solid piece of work, and just as inspiring as anything else they have done.

    Oh, and agreed, season 5 is the best season.

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  47. [Note: Thom posted this comment on August 10, 2010.]

    MikeJer, thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Thank you for showing genuine love for this show, and giving so much of your time to always offer a perspective that has helped so many people re-think so many aspects, both large and small, of a fantastic TV series.

    What I think separates your essential site from other good sites is the fact that, when you offer a perspective, you always seem to do it with the intention of not just staying within the strict microcosm of the show, but also offering perspectives on life in general as they relate to the show. You haven’t just reviewed the show. These aren’t just reviews. They are something much more valuable. Offering your perspectives, thematic relationships, and the like, you allow viewers to revisit episodes and perhaps examine an event or speech or scene in sometimes different ways, which in turn may allow them to self reflect and learn a little bit about themselves. THAT is what makes your site a huge, huge, far step up from the rest.

    Thank you so much again.

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  48. [Note: Blue Fan posted this comment on August 17, 2010.]

    Leaf and Joe:

    the other great thing that bothered me about this season is Caleb’s power.

    How come is he that strong? The scoobies seem to do some old-good research, but this issue is never fully answered (and nobody seems to care). He is as strong as Angelus or Glory were, but we don’t know why. Why did he exactly go mad? I strongly agree with Mikejer: there was much more about him to develop and/or explain.

    Other than that, I think that the evil preacher was a cool and scary idea for one of the final villains.

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  49. [Note: Joe posted this comment on August 19, 2010.]

    Blue, I totally agree with you (and MikeJer) that Caleb was one-note, and could have had greater depth. I think MikeJer hits the nail on the head that if he had first appeared sometime just after “Showtime,” that would have helped this season immensely.

    The only possible explanation I can supply is the whole The-First-imbued (embued?)-him-with-its-power thing that happened once (I can’t remember the episode). I don’t know the mechanics of how that would work or anything, but, consider so much was done relatively clumsily with him, I didn’t really care. But you bring up a good point–that never really gets explained.

    In terms of his insanity, my read is that he’s just an uber-misogynist. Some people are just crazy like that. Was it convenient? Yes. Not the most interesting development for a big bad? Yes.

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  50. [Note: James Kelly posted this comment on September 21, 2010.]

    I really enjoyed reading all your reviews,I agree with pretty much everything you said!

    Well done!

    Like

  51. [Note: Jason posted this comment on September 21, 2010.]

    *Maybe* Caleb introduced earlier could have helped the season. On the other hand, that would have meant more Caleb. And to those of us who think that an evil Southern preacher preaching redemption and apocalypse is totally cliched and somehow very un-Buffy, that isn’t a good thing.

    No, the problem with this season is deeper than Caleb: it’s the First, and how un-cool, and un-developed, it wound up being. Oh well. Do you look at Buffy as 5% empty or 95% full?

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  52. [Note: Sunburn posted this comment on October 6, 2010.]

    Just got to add my name to the list of people thanking you for these reviews, Mike. They are fantastic, a wonderful companion to the show, and Thom is absolutely right above in saying that a major strength is how you link your insights with real life.

    I also agree that S7 was far more good than bad, and tbh I think a lot of the more extreme hatred (“they ruined my favourite show, I’ll NEVER forgive them, I HATE Marti Noxon! etc”) is displaced anger/disappointment about the show finishing. While the plot, pacing and character attention could definitely have been improved, you’re never going to please everyone with the finale of a show as beloved as BtVS.

    Even the OOC stuff in Empty Places makes sense to me because I don’t think any of them ever really thought they were just getting rid of Buffy completely. I think it was done in the heat of the moment when pretty much everyone involved felt they had no other option. Everyone but Buffy felt that going back to the vineyard meant certain defeat and death, and because Buffy felt they HAD to do it, she was as desperate and ready to play every card she had as they were. Something had to give, and in the end I think Buffy’s F&F knew that she could look after herself and probably, deep down, that she wouldn’t desert them whatever happened.

    IMO, they just wanted her to go away and think about it, in the way that you might when you’ve had a knock-down drag-out fight with your partner (not literally!) that isn’t getting resolved and you just want them to leave so you can both stop thinking you actually hate each other and work out how you’re going to get round the problem. I think most people who’ve ever lived with someone will have some idea what I mean. And this makes more sense given that it was Dawn, Buffy’s sister (an equally claustrophobic relationship at times), who first told Buffy to go. Dawn would have known that this could never be the end for them. It was a heat-of-the-moment culmination to a confrontation that had been building for weeks, not a coldly considered decision to permanently reject Buffy by those who loved her best.

    Oh, and finally – I agree with everything you’ve said about “Him”. “Selfless” was funnier overall, but “Him” is just so very, very funny in those few places that it’s the real stand-out.

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  53. [Note: Tony posted this comment on October 7, 2010.]

    Gonna take more time later to read all this, but thank you so much, Mike. You help bring out the subtleties of the character arcs and makes me appreciate what’s accomplished in this season even more. Just reading the part about Buffy was great.

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  54. [Note: Merry posted this comment on November 30, 2010.]

    God, these reviews are good.

    Season 7….ah, still not sold. Much like season 4, there are a lot of individual episodes I love but the season as a whole doesn’t work out so well. There’s more good than bad for sure, but it’s not enough for me. But my main problem with season 7 is that a lot of the last half of it felt kind of…unBuffylike. Even season 6, which was so different from any other season of Buffy, reeked of Buffyness. This one kind of lost that for me. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it is that makes this season stick out like a sore thumb to me, but there’s just something about it.

    And while I hate the potentials a lot less than some people, I still hate them. I would rather watch “I Robot, You Jane” on repeat than suffer through the potentials storyline. Especially Kennedy.

    Overall, though, I do like season 7. I don’t think it deserves the amount of hate that it gets, but I do wish it had been a lot better.

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  55. [Note: Iguana-on-a-stick posted this comment on December 19, 2010.]

    It is indeed a very impressive review, Mike. That’s probably why I hadn’t commented yet: it’s a bit of a daunting prospect to go up against. 😉 But here’s some of my thoughts.

    As I’ve made clear plenty of times on the forums, I was on the whole disappointed with season 7. Your “cons” section analyses most of the problems I have with the season. I probably also consider the plot slightly more important than you do, which makes these weaknesses of the season worse for me.

    The items in your “pros” section, unfortunately, seem to do a lot less for me than they do for you.

    Buffy and Spike? I’ll need to re-watch the season to comment on that, the first time I was too shell-shocked by “Seeing Red” still to really know what to make of it. Some of my favourite moments in the season involved these two, true, but I also thought the whole Angel cameo did the characters and this arc a disservice. The lack of follow-up in Angel Season 5 also weaken this plot, unfortunately. I know, blame the network. But it’s still jarring to have to deal with season 7 being all about Buffy and Spike’s connection, and then Angel season 5 having Spike not even mention he’s not quite dead yet after all, and in fact is feeling better and will be getting up any minute now.

    The thematic cohesion? The “Female Empowerment” concept of the series was ramped up to the point it became something of a caricature in this season. The metaphor of the slayer transformation spell is one I find… troubling, and flawed. That’s a whole other essay and I won’t go into details here, but suffice to say that I do not think the message succeeds.

    I didn’t like Willows’ arc. It seems to me it is missing the point. There’s some mention of killing Warren, but they ignored what she’d done to Tara and the other Scoobies. (I always felt that was her worst betrayal, not what came after) They kept treating the magic itself as the problem rather than her hunger for power and control; in short it attempted to follow up on the white-washed addiction plot in season 6 rather than what I see as Willow’s real problems. The “resolution” in Chosen just left me rolling my eyes. I just don’t accept that yet another “Willow does a great big powerful spell to fix things” moment helps her at all, or how it resolves anything. How is this different from restoring Angel’s soul in season 2, the thing that set her on this path in the first place? The eye-rolling comes in at the glowy white-haired bits.

    I didn’t really like Buffy’s leadership arc. I don’t disagree with your analysis, the problem is more a personal one. By the end of season 6 I was finding it very hard to remain sympathetic to Buffy. Even in season 5 she had been getting harder, more desperately ruthless in her attempts to cling on to what little she had left. On the heels of all that, yet another season of “Hard and unsympathetic Buffy” was… difficult to take. It makes sense given the plot with the First and the Potentials, I just wish it hadn’t been the last way I’d remember Buffy.

    Perhaps I should just make a habit of watching “Lessons” after watching “Chosen” and pretending that this is how they end up in some other town. (Minus insane Spike in the basement, of course.)

    I don’t hate this season. The first half does have some truly excellent episodes, some of the lesser character work is very good, and I actually like Xander this time around. If there had been a season 8 I would probably classify this one as I do season 4: Disappointing overall but with a lot of good material along the way. I just wish that as a final season it had not left me dissatisfied more than anything.

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  56. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on December 19, 2010.]

    Iguana, thanks for the comment! Allow me to respond to several of your points.

    Regardless of how you feel about Buffy and Spike together, their connection in this season propels them both to grow substantially as individuals. So even if nothing comes of their connection in terms of a relationship or what not, they both leaned on each other here and it helped them both grow. In essence, they both gave ‘power’ to each other which, of course, ties in with the season’s primary theme. That’s why I call their relationship in the season “symbiotic:” it’s one of mutual benefit that isn’t taken away from by what happens to them ‘as a couple’ down the road.

    While the female empowerment theme was definitely highlighted, I never really felt it became a caricature of itself. I felt, for the most part, it worked, particularly with it being the final season and all. With that said, this isn’t even one of the themes that personally resonates with me all that much. It’s the exploration of power, leadership, control, and how all the character (both major and secondary) drive these themes. These themes are actually surprisingly cohesive when you really look closely at the character arcs and the episodes themselves.

    As for Willow, no offense, but I think you may have missed the point of her S7 arc, because it’s precisely what you said you wanted it to be. In “Lessons” it’s made clear that it’s not about addiction, it’s about power and control. This is given further attention as a focal point in “Help” where Xander gives Willow an entire analogy about power and control relating to her struggles. Early in the season, particularly in “Same Time, Same Place” and “Bring on the Night” we see her struggling with the control aspect. Willow is also justly in fear of what she’s capable of when she loses that control. After that point she takes baby steps and does relatively small spells to regain that confidence in her abilities and, more importantly, in herself. It’s in “Get it Done,” though, where Buffy needs her big guns (Willow and Spike) fully active and able for the fight to come, so she makes a decision to force them to rise above their fears, find a place of control, and rely on Buffy’s faith in them, well, getting it done and bringing her back. Whereas Willow took strength from Buffy to heal in “Same Time, Same Place” and took it from Kennedy and Anya to help bring Buffy back in “Get it Done,” we see her finally find that healthy place of compassion and control in “Chosen” (as opposed to the selfishness of “All the Way” and the vengeance and fury of “Villains”) where she finally gives back the very strength she received to get to this point. This is all just me recounting the big moments I’m remembering at the moment for Willow, but I found it all quite beautiful and satisfying, as it does hearken back to Willow’s core flaws rather than dwell on the addiction roadblock of mid-S6.

    It saddens me that you started to find Buffy unsympathetic in S5, because she only became more sympathetic for me towards the end due to the almost insurmountable sacrifice and struggles she’s got on her back. The thematic underpinnings of the final three seasons make her struggles even more powerful and resonant for me. If the series had ended with “Dead Things,” I’d be more inclined to agree with you, but by the end of “Chosen” I’m not sure I could love Buffy any more. At that point I understand her so completely as a character that I have to just sit back and marvel at what was accomplished. The fact Buffy is now self-aware of so many of her own strengths and weaknesses sweetens it that much more for me. That Buffy’s so flawed yet simultaneously so heroic is what makes her arc incredibly powerful and real for me.

    As I stated in the review, I agree with you in the season’s overall placement. It definitely shares some of S4’s problems. I also sympathize with you wishing the final season was one of the best. All valid points. But I just hate seeing the season’s positive aspects completely marginalized just because it has notable flaws. It’s a decent season of television, just not one of Buffy‘s bests.

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  57. [Note: Iguana-on-a-stick posted this comment on December 20, 2010.]

    First and most importantly of all, let me rectify a miscommunication: I love Buffy in season 5 and I don’t blame her one second for the things she had to do. It’s actually in season 5 that I feel for her the most, care for her the most. I’m just saying this is where her bleaker outlook truly started, where she first had to be hard against her friends (“The ritual starts, we all die. And I’ll kill anyone who comes near Dawn.”) and that by season 7 it had lasted a long, long time. I was still mostly on Buffy’s side during season 7, but it was becoming harder, and by the time she ordered “Charge of the Light Brigade, Sunnydale Winecellar Edition, take 2” I would have gone on strike as well. (Note that I in no way defend the silly out-of-the-house-kicking. I did love the Spike scenes where he confronts the Scoobies and comforts Buffy, but I can’t help but feel like the plot was set up a little to give him these opportunities. Sorry, I digress.)

    I’ll get back to you on themes once I complete my re-watch. The one that stuck out for me was the rather ham-fisted female empowerment one, but I’ll pay a lot more attention to the others this time around.

    I’ll also get back to you on Buffy and Spike. They -were- the part that interested me most the first time around, but I didn’t have enough distance for perspective. I’ll probably end up agreeing with you.

    I still don’t quite agree on Willow. It’s true that they abandon the literal addiction metaphor, thankfully. But I still don’t feel they address Willow’s real problems. Willow’s problem is not control over her power. Well, to an extent it is: in the past she always cocksurely attempted spells far beyond her ability and they ended up failing in a hilarious-yet-disturbing-if-you-really-think-about-it fashion. And after going off the deep end in season 6 and turning herself into the Wicked Witch of Sunnydale, yeah, I can see how she’d flip to the other side and lack confidence in her abilities. Lack of self-esteem indeed was one of her deep-seated problems. And yes, this issue is dealt with in a consistent arc over the season. But surely this was only the least of her problems?

    The real issue was that Willow always thought she knew best, that she always thought she could, should fix anything that was wrong nevermind the wishes or free will of those around her, that she’d always rather grab for a spell rather than be in pain. The real issue was never Willow’s shaky technical control over her great power, it was her lack of respect for what she did, her belief that anything she wanted was automatically right for everyone no matter the price. This is what led her to resurrect Buffy, to violate Tara’s mind. (and that of the Scoobies) This is why she decided to absorb dark magic in the first place, because she was angry and in pain and wanted it to stop and went after a hell-god.

    I feel that if Willow had not become a witch but had found some more mundane way to exercise power, she would easily have fallen to the same abuses, the same attempts to control all those around her. Perhaps hacker-Willow would not have wiped Tara’s mind but hacked her email account to see if she’d written to any friends about why she is mad at Willow.

    This aspect of Willow’s personality I do not see addressed at all in season 7. It’s all about Willow’s fear that she’ll be sucked back into dark magic world-destroying antics, about her lack of confidence that she can control her power, but never about her having the wisdom and selflessness to decide how to use her power. Yes, she got burned and now she’s afraid of the fire, but I never get the impression she really understands how she got there in the first place. And that to me leaves her arc in season 7 devoid of any true heart.

    I agree that the season’s strengths should not be marginalised (Though to be fair, I’ve yet to hear even the worst season 7 hater say “Selfless” was anything but excellent) but I think our main point of contention is that I just don’t greatly appreciate some of what you perceive as strengths.

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  58. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on December 20, 2010.]

    On Buffy:

    Buffy’s a flawed person who is occasionally wrong even unlikeable. But from episode 1 to episode 144, I very rarely ever didn’t understand why she was doing what she was doing, and I ultimately think that the writers should receive the utmost accolades for that rare accomplishment. Even the retrospective mistake at the vineyard made sense in terms of her character arc in the season. Remember her speech about subverting their enemies expectations and taking the fight to them in “Bring on the Night?” Hey, it didn’t work out for her in “Dirty Girls,” but I didn’t have a hard time understanding her reasoning for doing it. When I put myself in her shoes, I rarely feel I would have done any better. Except in some of the tactical planning, which is an area where Buffy’s not so bright. 🙂

    On Willow:

    Let me direct you to a Willow quote from “Doppelgangland:”

    [quote]It’s all about emotional control. Plus, obviously, magic.[/quote]Then the topic of Faith comes up and then the pencil she was floating spins completely out of control and stabs a nearby tree, a not-small metaphor for her struggles to come.

    I think you’re really underselling the importance of her control problems. I agree with you in regard to the consequences of that impatience and lack of control, and even think Season 7 could have more directly referenced them. Willow’s arc in Season 7 is not perfect, but what’s there is coherent, relevant, and helps drive the season’s themes. The final spell in “Chosen” where she gives back power she earlier took is very representative of a new Willow. Magic is used to share power, give to others, and not simply help herself. This resolves her major series-wide inner conflict quite nicely. All imo, naturally. Season 7 is about the journey to reach that point after experiencing the complete opposite in Season 6.

    Again, not perfect, but pretty decent if you ask me.

    On the themes:

    You say the following,

    [quote]I’ll get back to you on themes once I complete my re-watch. The one that stuck out for me was the rather ham-fisted female empowerment one, but I’ll pay a lot more attention to the others this time around.[/quote] And then you end your post saying,

    [quote]I think our main point of contention is that I just don’t greatly appreciate some of what you perceive as strengths.[/quote] As is stated throughout the review, I feel the primary strength of the season is how wonderful it holds together thematically, particularly in its exploration of power and leadership. I also love how all of the season’s themes are driven forward by the characters and their growth, from the main characters down to the secondary ones. Second to that is Buffy and Spike’s individual growth and how that growth manifests in a mature and resonant sense of connection and respect for each other, which I found to be a very mature and beautiful development. Then there’s Buffy’s fascinating and troubled foray into real leadership. Then there’s the season’s standout episodes.

    Why is it you feel I simply “perceive” these strengths when I feel I’ve provided a coherent argument to support them? I suppose you don’t buy my argument, but if so then I encourage you to debate them as you have with my appreciation of Willow’s arc.

    On Season 7’s reputation:

    I’ve heard people consider “Selfless” mediocre at best. I’ve heard people say the church scene at the end of “Beneath You” means nothing and is a waste of time. I’ve even heard someone say the season is worse than a season of Star Trek: Voyager. I’ve heard the terms ‘shit,’ awful,’ ‘terrible,’ ‘abysmal,’ and ‘wretched’ among many other derogatives to define the season. Frankly, I’m just tired of it.

    I’m the first person to say that it’s a flawed season and even one of the series’ weakest. It’s got some real problems, and depending on how much the negatives bother you and how much the positives resonate with you I could definitely see the season graded a B or even a B- by someone else (based on the same review), and that’s cool… each to their own on that. But I rarely see anyone stand up for it and highlight the stuff it did right; stuff, mind you, that isn’t easy to pull off in a season of television; stuff that is really well-written, well-thought, and well-planned; stuff that I, at least, found tremendously beautiful.

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  59. [Note: MrB posted this comment on December 20, 2010.]

    Mike

    I think one of the reasons that S7 is hated in some quarters (not by me) is what you touched on in the review. It had so much potential and that potential wasn’t fulfilled to the extent that we have come to expect and demand in BtVS.

    S4, for instance, didn’t really have any potential built into the arc; It did what it could with the arc, and ignored it when it wanted to. No great loss. The stand-alones in S4 were some of the best in the series. [You have to realize that Where the Wild Things Are has been expunged from my memory. I’m surprised I even remembered the title.]

    S7, on the other hand, had a really good setup (the first, spike, the new high school, etc), a really good start, and the prospect of ending the series. But, to use a sports analogy, it blew an early big lead and had to come back just to get a kiss-your-sister tie.

    BtVS demanded a lot of its viewers to overlooked the silliness embedded in the title and search for the meaning beneath. The viewers then demanded much from BtVS: be consistent in character, be smart, be amazing. S7 wasn’t.

    There was some great work in S7 – all the episodes we all know and love. It is worth watching. I don’t hate it. I like it. I just wanted, wanted, wanted to love, Love, LOVE it. But I don’t. I think that is the problem with S7. I wanted a goodnight kiss and I got a handshake at the door.

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  60. [Note: MrB posted this comment on December 20, 2010.]

    Iguana:

    “The real issue was that Willow always thought she knew best, that she always thought she could, should fix anything that was wrong nevermind the wishes or free will of those around her, that she’d always rather grab for a spell rather than be in pain. The real issue was never Willow’s shaky technical control over her great power, it was her lack of respect for what she did, her belief that anything she wanted was automatically right for everyone no matter the price.”

    Absolutely correct! It is Willow’s inability to deal with pain (her own or others) that is her fatal flaw. It wasn’t that she thought she was automatically right, though; it was that she was blinded by the pain to the extent that she couldn’t see anything else.

    This is not addressed in Season 7 very well or very much or brought to any sort of conclusion.

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  61. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on December 20, 2010.]

    MrB:

    See, what you’ve said makes sense. I can sympathize with that and even agree with it to an extent. I don’t think that viewpoint, though, translates into the frothing hate I see everywhere else. I understand being “disappointed.” But why all the bile? The season has a very rough exterior with some pure thematic gold at the center. Very few seem willing to talk about or recognize what’s on the inside, and that’s what ultimately saddens me.

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  62. [Note: Iguana-on-a-stick posted this comment on December 21, 2010.]

    [quote]Why is it you feel I simply “perceive” these strengths when I feel I’ve provided a coherent argument to support them? I suppose you don’t buy my argument, but if so then I encourage you to debate them as you have with my appreciation of Willow’s arc.[/quote]

    With “some” I was specifically referring to the Willow arc which you name a qualified success. I may or not end up agreeing with you on the themes, but as I said… I’ll have to get back to you on that. Right now I’ve seen the season once and I can’t argue any case as I wasn’t paying enough attention to the themes. I certainly did not mean to just imply that you were wrong without offering evidence. That said, there -is- an element of “eye of the beholder” here. Even should I come to appreciate the depth and coherence of the themes, in the end I still value a tight plot more.

    The “bile” that annoys you so, well, I admit I have it for some plot points. The Guardians, the Scythe, the amulet, the weakling-primal-vampires, the Amazing Inactive First, Angel’s cameo, Giles-Is-Evil-Just-Kidding, well, you know these things, you discussed them in the review. Again, I still don’t hate the season and I can understand it annoys you that so many do.

    Suffice to say this is not my final word on season 7, and my opinion by no means is set in stone.

    Regarding Willow, though, I think we definitely disagree on whether her arc is a strength. You name her arc as a qualified success. I feel it is lacking and disappointing because it does not address what I see as Willow’s biggest issues.

    I’d say Willow has three problems throughout the series:

    A] Over-confidence in her abilities as a witch, running before she can walk, carelessness about her lack of control, attempting things far beyond her ability to manage.

    B] Low self-esteem, a desire to erase her past and be perceived as “cool” and a need to be validated in this by her friends, to be acknowledged as powerful and important and equal or superior to the best of them. (Which then makes her defensive about being challenged on her lack of control.)

    C] As MrB says, an inability to deal with pain and personal conflict, a tendency to “fix” it through whatever means available rather than work through it in a healthy way. A willingness to forcibly control the lives of others rather than expose herself to being hurt.

    All these come to a head wonderfully in season 6 (Barring the magic-crack cop-out…) and combine to make her a villain in the full sense of the word.

    Season 7 then has to deal with the fallout. It spends a lot of time on the first issue. It doesn’t directly discuss the second as much, but it’s still there. Willow obviously is suffering from her low self-esteem throughout the season now her faith in her own power has been crushed. The plot serves to restore her confidence in her abilities. I am not, however, at all sure whether it actually addressed her insecurity. Giving Willow her power back seems to me like it’s just another label she can use to be “cool” again. “I’m the guitarist’s girlfriend!” “I’m a college student, I go to parties, I no longer wear fluffy pink sweaters!” “I’m the powerful Witch, fear my wrath!” “I’m nothing… everybody will hate me… I wish they never found me…” “I’m the powerful but good, controlled white witch! Nifty!”

    The third issue is never addressed at all. Her tendency to use her powers to control, force her will on others, rather than be in pain was the thing that changed her from someone with personal issues to someone who could do real damage even to the people she loved. (And I’m not just talking season 6, it starts in “Wild at Heart” and “Something Blue,” maybe even in “Lover’s Walk.”)

    And even though her self-esteem issues are dealt with, they’re never discussed in the context of what came before. When Willow’s past crimes are mentioned it’s always “I lost control, I killed a guy, it’s so horrible, I’m horrible.” Well… that’s not really the issue. She manipulated and violated her lover, she brushed off her friends and moved them about like play-pieces, and eventually she snapped. The snapping was just the last bit of it. I don’t like how the entire 3-4 year build-up that led up to it, the very part that made Willow such a fascinating character, is just ignored.

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  63. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on December 21, 2010.]

    On Willow:

    First of all, I never said anywhere that Willow’s arc is a “qualified success,” not in the review and not in my last comment. In both, I’ve said that it wasn’t perfect; it could have been better. What I’m saying is that I felt that what the season did give us was fairly well done, coherent, and helped drive the overall themes of the season forward. It’s a decent arc, but not a perfect one. I completely agree that more could have been done, and I’d like to have seen more done.

    As for your list, I think Season 7 heavily focuses on ‘A,’ touches on ‘B,’ and only scratches ‘C’. I pretty much agree with you (and might even update the review to add in wanting more of ‘C’), although I do think we see Willow take a more healthy approach to dealing with her pain in S7, particularly in “Lessons” (see her conversations with Giles), “Same Time, Same Place” (see her reaction to Anya’s anger at her), and “Help” (her healthy grieving over Tara’s grave), and “Empty Places” (notice she didn’t go charging off after Caleb like she did with Glory?). But I agree it should have been given direct attention in a way that made sense within the season’s overall goals.

    The difference in our viewpoint, I think, is largely that I’m celebrating what the season did right for Willow while you’re saying it’s a lost cause (i.e. a hindrance; a weakness) of an arc because it didn’t give us everything we wanted from it. Actually, that sounds similar to how I view the season in general compared to most people. Heh, cool. 😉

    On the ‘bile’:

    Yep, all that plot stuff you listed irritates me too. I understand why people are bothered by all that. I don’t understand how being bothered by all the plot problems places blinders over their eyes to everything that the season did right though. That’s the quality that bothers me the most in the Season 7 haters. I guess I’m just the kind of person that values looking at all angles (cons and pros) before judging something.

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  64. [Note: Iguana-on-a-stick posted this comment on December 21, 2010.]

    Ah, I’m starting to see where you’re coming from. I didn’t mean to put words in your mouth, “qualified success” is how I interpreted the quote below. I’m afraid I did misunderstand your position a bit.

    [quote]I also really love what the season does for Buffy, Spike, and to a bit lesser extent Willow.[/quote]

    My point of view is, essentially: “One of the most important things season 7 had to do was provide a worthy follow-up to the dark Willow plot from season 6. It failed to satisfactorily deal with this, which weakens Willow’s series-long arc and is a major disappointment and a mark against the season as a whole.” I admit, I find it hard to enjoy what we do get because it is… barely a half-answer. And if I test something a half answer is a failing mark. Even if what is there is good in its own right it’s not doing the characters or the previous seasons justice, and I can’t see past that.

    That, and glowy-happy-white-witch-Willow still is silly. :-p

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  65. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on December 21, 2010.]

    I don’t mind glowy Willow too much as it’s just a brief moment and I love what’s symbolized by it, but I can see how it might go overboard for you.

    [quote]Even if what is there is good in its own right it’s not doing the characters or the previous seasons justice, and I can’t see past that.[/quote] But the thing is, it is doing Willow from previous seasons justice on specific aspects of her character arc. Just think about the moment I quoted from “Doppelgangland” as one example of many that Season 7 completely pays off and resolves for Willow. I really love that. I find some satisfaction from that. More could have been done for her overall in S7, certainly, but I still really love what is there.

    I guess beyond that, we’re going to have to agree to disagree. 🙂

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  66. [Note: Farah posted this comment on December 30, 2010.]

    Hey, Mike, that was a lovely review. I used to read your reviews a while ago, but changed my laptop and forgot the link. I was the one who made a big S7-hate fest in the review for LMPTM.

    I’m not gonna lie and say that I fell in love with S7. I’ve warmed up to it due to the positive reviews I’ve read about it, especially yours. I’m trying to focus on the good and ignore the bad – Empty Places and the lack of Xander. There are a lot of good, and they may not outweigh the bad, but I’m glad they’re there. I’m thankful for your positive reviews because they do help me understand the good in the season. My wish is for someone to write a long review with a very close look at Xander in the season.

    I think reading S8 helped making me accept S7, because S7 isn’t the last we hear of the characters. As a Xander fan I really enjoyed Xander’s role in S8, and knowing that Xander’s journey doesn’t end in S7 makes me feel much better.

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  67. [Note: JohnnyW posted this comment on January 2, 2011.]

    Another great write up. Some things really bugged me about this season, and I think you mentioned them all. I, personally, didn’t like how Giles and Buffy’s relationship ended. I understand them being “equals”, but Buffy pushed so many people away, including Giles. He made a mistake, and considering how many mistakes Buffy made at Giles’s expense, I think she could have been more forgiving and mature about the situation.

    By the end she seemed to practically hate everyone, with the exception of Xander and Dawn, but her relationship with Giles was my biggest problem. She really pushed him away far too hard. Yes, they’re equals now, but that means that she might have to forgive him now, too… and after all they’ve been through, it seemed outrageously petty of her not to.

    Another thing that bugged me, although very minor, was Xander’s reaction to Anya’s death. I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive him for being so nonchalant about it.

    Still, in all, even with some disappointments the final episode itself (there’s some weird technical problems and some hideously bad line delivery — not to mention the fact that all these big vampires are now just as strong as normal vampires) it was still successful… and I’m kind of glad it ended when it did.

    It was a great run, regardless.

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  68. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on January 2, 2011.]

    I will be reviewing a handful of Angel episodes over the next few months, but the rest have been/will be reviewed by others. Check out the Angel site by hovering over the CriticallyTouched.com link at the top of the page. 🙂

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  69. [Note: JohnnyW posted this comment on January 4, 2011.]

    I have to ask: Why aren’t you tackling Angel by yourself? I can’t help but feel that the sporadic way those reviews are being done is actually making them rather scatter-shot and lacking in an overall tone. Even if you can’t do it, isn’t there anyone else prepared to go all the way, as you did with Buffy?

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  70. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on January 4, 2011.]

    Well, first off, all the Angel reviews up until early Season 4 were written by one person (Ryan). Sadly Ryan couldn’t complete his commitment to finishing the series. Rather than putting the burden of reviewing the rest of the episodes on my own shoulders, I decided to enlist the community of readers to help out. As a part of that, I’ll be throwing in ~10 reviews myself.

    As for why I don’t review the rest myself, well, there are a few reasons:

    1. I have a lot more passion for Buffy than I do Angel. I love both shows, but I feel far more emotionally connected to Buffy.

    2a. I simply don’t have the time. I’m looking to divert a lot of my free time to other non-writing, programming-related projects going forward. Putting together these reviews is a huge investment in one’s time (more than you might imagine). This makes it both difficult for me to want to do much more, but it also makes it difficult in finding other quality writers that are willing to make sure a large commitment to a whole television series.

    2b. Aside from polishing up my existing Buffy reviews one last time, I’m likely done reviewing television in this capacity. I may, someday, be compelled to tackle a 1-season show (like Firefly perhaps), but that would be about it.

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  71. [Note: John posted this comment on January 6, 2011.]

    Really great review! I agree that S7 doesn’t deserve the hate directed at it. It certainly has some deep-seated issues, but that by no means dooms the season as a whole.

    My only regrets were the plot inconsistencies and the one horrifically out-of-character moment on the part of the Scoobies (kicking Buffy out of the house).

    What I wish they had done:

    -Fill the Hellmouth with random demons and somesuch, as it was always implied to have. This way the plan to go down and battle the forces of the Hellmouth would have been not as crazy. Without a million superstrong Ubervamps suddenly becoming weak for plot purposes.

    -Not slap Willow together with Kennedy like they did; as said, Kennedy just feels very *wrong* for Willow. She’s outgoing, aggressive and confident; that’s neither what Willow was/is or what any of her romantic interests have ever been. It just felt wrong. I would much have preferred Willow simply coming to peace with the loss of Tara, to a degree, but not getting jumped on by Kennedy like that.

    -Have the Scoobies question Buffy’s leadership, sure, but not kick her out. Although seeing Spike stand up for her and throw their (completely OOC) treachery in their faces was great, as well as the touching moment between Buffy and Spike, these could have been achieved without nonsensically kicking Buffy out of the house.

    -The First and Caleb being reworked; the First should have been manipulative and deceitful behind the scenes thoughout the entire season as it was early on. This should have been combined with Caleb’s presence throughout as a direct physical menace; I, personally, really enjoyed him as I thought he was quite menacing and very well acted.

    -A minor detail, but somebody mentioned this in the Chosen review which I agree with; Anya and Andrew should have summoned some Fyarl (sp?) demons to help with the fight in the school at the end. It made no sense that they could be able to stand against Ubervamps, or even *normal* vampires and demons. Summoning that particular type of demon would have been a cool nod to continuity as well as a practical and sensible way to justify leaving humans with little combat experience to go toe-to-toe with an army of demons.

    -Don’t develop the Potentials as individuals; leave them in a role much like the random named highschoolers of S1-S3. A few brief lines so we know and recognize them, and then go back to focusing on the main characters. It was *incredibly* painful that, despite this being the final season, a bunch of random new characters were given development at the cost of our old and beloved Scoobies. This really was inexcusable; it wasn’t really possible to connect with any of the Potentials, yet they ate up so much screentime.

    Just some rambling thoughts on what they could have done to really tighten up the season and overall make it a far more satisfying end to the series without compromising too much of what it was. That said, I still found S7 to be overall quite a satisfactory send-off; it captured the humor, drama, terror, and above all the incredibly well-done and lovable characters that I came to love this show for. It could have done better, particularly with plot, but I tend to agree with those who say the overarcing plot arcs were always kind of a secondary concern to them. S7’s grand plot may fall flat, but the characters do all right, which is what matters.

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  72. [Note: MrB posted this comment on February 11, 2011.]

    Just for chuckles, I pasted MikeJer’s S7 review only, from “Well everyone” to ‘”You think you know… what’s to come… what you are. You haven’t even begun.” -“Restless” [4×22]’ into MS Word (text only, no pictures) to see how long it was. It was 42 pages long using the default margins, and 11 point type. 21K words. Holy Cow!

    If you add the awards and comments (not including this one,) it is 85 pages and 36K words.

    Mike, do you have any idea on total length of all your reviews, or is that too scary an idea to contemplate?

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  73. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on February 11, 2011.]

    MrB: I have most definitely noticed how giant this particular review ended up. I also have a few educated guesses as to what the total is, but I haven’t yet actually added it all up. I’m actually putting my polish pass together in Word this time around, so when that’s complete I’ll definitely have that number. But rest assured (or maybe terrified), the number will be quite large. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the total was somewhere around 1,000 pages.

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  74. [Note: MrB posted this comment on February 11, 2011.]

    Just imagine if you added footnotes and references to turn it into a full-blown thesis. Now, that would be scary.

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  75. [Note: serenissima posted this comment on November 9, 2011.]

    Okay. So I had this whole rant prepared about how I hated Season 7 and Kennedy and Rona and WHY DID ANYA HAVE TO DIE and the whole thing just sucks!11!!!shhcuzj

    But instead, I’m going to silence my rabid inner fan and write a cohesive and respectful post. Whether or not the season was ‘good,’ ‘bad,’ ‘bile,’ or a fitting end to a wonderful series is a matter of opinion, so I won’t debate it. However, I personally felt that this season was shameful.

    I am a fan of the plot and thought that examining the Slayer line and Potentials was an incredible idea quite appropriate for the final season, but the execution was shameful in that the show’s biggest strengths (wit, intelligence, and emotional connection) were downplayed in order to hurdle that plotline to a conclusion. It was almost as if the writers tore down, episode by episode, what they spent six years to build up.

    We have our Core Four, our beloved Scoobies, turning on their leader instead of rallying around her to fight the good fight, as they had always done in the past. We had well-established characters fleshed out almost to the point of actual reality suddenly following a script. We had Willow dating someone who, for all intents and purposes, is essentially Cordelia. After her disgust with Xander for his dalliances with Cordy and public recrimination of Anya as ‘rude,’ it is outside ANY TYPE OF LOGIC to believe she would ever end up with Kennedy.

    We had main characters like Xander and Dawn fade right into the woodwork. We had a death of a main character (Anya had been on the show for FOUR YEARS) without any type of acknowledgment by the writers whatsoever. We had unintelligent plots with holes you could drive a truck through, and a total dearth of humor (‘Oh, my goddess?’ Anya’s bleak speeches against Buffy? Kennedy’s grating personality and irritatingly calling Willow ‘Baby’ every thirty seconds?). Not to mention the cardboard Potentials, the extreme plot devices like the Scythe, and the cheapening of a villain with the *potential* to be the scariest of them all (haha). A major pet peeve of mine, for example, is why in the blue hells would Caleb tell Buffy he had something of hers and essentially lead her to the vineyard to look for the scythe? WHAT?!

    It was a dizzying mess, that, yes, started off extremely well AND managed to include the transcendent Spuffy storyline. But even THAT doesn’t tip the scales back in favor of this rather horrific season or excuse the writers. A lot of the themes that Mike mentioned were not fully realized, IMO, and did not make the season as enjoyable for me as it was for him. For example, there was a theme of power and isolation in war and what it really means to be a general; a theme that was great in theory but was SO poorly executed in episodes like ‘Empty Places’ and even ‘Get It Done,’ that the plot basically made Buffy and Co. caricatures of themselves to nail the point home and ensure viewers ‘get it.’ It reminds me of Mike’s dislike of the random and superfluous anti-gun sentiment or ‘magic as drugs’ themes- yes, we as viewers GET what we’re supposed to be seeing and/or feeling, but it doesn’t necessarily connect because it MAKES NO SENSE FOR THE CHARACTERS.

    *sidenote* I also found the concept of ‘girl power’ to be similarly misleading in this season; why are all the ‘strong,’ ‘confident,’ and ‘outspoken’ women bitchy or damaged (Faith, Kennedy, even Buffy) while ‘kind,’ ‘smart,’ and ‘morally sound’ girls are shy, dependent sidekicks (Dawn at this point, post-dark Willow, even grounded Potential Amanda died in the final scenes)? Joss himself created Kennedy as the anti-Tara, but the opposite of sweet, nice, and kind can be aggressive and confident without being mean. Actually, Season 6 Tara is kind of the anti-Tara lol. She was feisty! I sometimes got the feeling watching Season 7 that the lights were on, but nobody was home when it came to the writers understanding of how complex women REALLY are outside of the ‘I Am Slayer, Hear Me Roar’ power anthems. (Don’t kill me!)

    Yep, all that plot stuff you listed irritates me too. I understand why people are bothered by all that. I don’t understand how being bothered by all the plot problems places blinders over their eyes to everything that the season did right though. That’s the quality that bothers me the most in the Season 7 haters. I guess I’m just the kind of person that values looking at all angles (cons and pros) before judging something.

    I guess I’m just the kind of person that can admit that every cloud may have a silver lining (and every bad season may have redeeming qualities) but at the end of the day it’s still a cloud. The good does not outweigh the bad on this raincloud of a season that did it’s fans a disservice. I love your site, Mike, but if the season’s detractors have blinders on, you certainly wear the biggest pair of rose-colored spectacles I’ve ever seen.

    You’re still awesome, though 🙂

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  76. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on November 9, 2011.]

    Thanks for the comment, serenissima!

    I, obviously, disagree with a large part of what you’ve said. For starters, I think Season 7 has plenty of wit, intelligence, and emotional connection, a lot of which I brought to light in the review.

    On Kennedy: I agree that she’s not the best for Willow long-term, but one thing you seem to be short-changing is the fact that Willow has changed over the years. If my memory holds, I don’t think Willow had snapped at Anya’s rudeness since Season 5, as she had been preoccupied with her own struggles. Since Kennedy is in many ways the anti-Tara, it does make some sense that Willow would want to ‘rebound’ with someone nothing like Tara. Also, I think Kennedy brings a more defined personality to the somewhat generic group of Potentials, which I think is a good thing.

    On “Empty Places:” I agree that the characterization at the end of this episode was unusually poor, although it’s important to remember that there have been rare character slip-ups at different points throughout the series. With that said, Buffy needed to be shaken up at this point in the season in some way, as she had been leading the Potentials in a way that was only hurting their chances of ultimate success. Buffy’s instincts were largely spot-on, but her leadership style and the execution of her instincts were not. “Empty Places” had to happen, but I agree that it should have happened in a way that didn’t sacrifice characterization. This is a problem that’s isolated to just this episode though, as both the build-up and follow-through from it were excellent.

    On Anya’s death: It was acknowledged in the final scene of the series, by the school bus. I’m frankly thrilled her death wasn’t the stereotypical long drawn-out death scene with a bunch of sobbing afterwards. Anya died for a cause she came to believe in, not because or for someone else, which is as fitting an end to the character as I could have imagined after “Selfless.” There simply wasn’t time to dwell on Anya’s death at the very end. If the story had gone on, you can bet time would have been spent dealing with those emotions. I would agree with anyone wanting more attention to have been given to Anya after “Selfless,” but that’s a separate issue entirely.

    On the season’s themes: That scene in “Empty Places” aside, please give me specific examples of where the season sacrifices characterization for its themes? After all the changes the characters have gone through, how they act in Season 7 is frankly spot-on. I don’t see how you can call Buffy a caricature. Can you respond to all the points I made in the Buffy section of the review? Her arc this season was emotional (for me, at least; I recognize this point is particularly subjective), well-defined, and completely consistent. Again, “Empty Places” aside, I don’t see you giving me nearly enough evidence for a counter-argument of my points in the review.

    Also, I couldn’t disagree with you any more on “Get it Done.” The source of the Slayer’s power was hinted at for seasons prior to this, and it ties in very nicely with what the show has to say about that power and how it’s used. And who’s a caricature in this episode? Using Buffy as an example, Buffy’s forcing her hand to get her biggest weapons active, but worries she was too harsh, even apologizing to Willow for it at the end of the episode. Do you remember what Willow said to her back in “Same Time, Same Place”? “Xander has the luxury of not saying it. But you’re the Slayer. You have to say stuff like that.”

    On your side note: While there is definitely a decent argument out there for the whole female empowerment theme being a bit on the nose in a few places this season, I’m really not following your complaints beyond this. All the main characters are complex characters with their share of strengths and flaws; they were all damaged at one point or another, but they’ve worked through a lot of their flaws and are becoming whole again, but this time as self-aware adults. While Buffy (using her as an example again) got very authoritative this season, which is the result of a larger theme for her in the series (cutting herself off/always ending up alone), there was plenty of reason for it and it was hinted at very early in the season (“Help” and “Selfless,” for starters).

    You can say I have a pair of “rose-colored spectacles” on, but I think the Cons section of this review proves otherwise. Season 7 has some genuine, notable flaws. I’ve built a detailed argument for why I’ve evaluated this season as I have. If you don’t think I’ve been reasonable in that evaluation (and you clearly don’t), then I implore you to debate the specific points I’ve made. A lot of Season 7 haters aren’t willing to even have a discussion about the season’s very quantifiable strengths.

    To wrap up, you said in the beginning of your comment that you weren’t going to debate the overall quality of the season. Yet, immediately after that you talk about how “shameful” and “horrific” the season was. You also say that “A lot of the themes that Mike mentioned were not fully realized, IMO.” I didn’t just “mention” these themes, I explained both where and why they appear throughout the season and precisely how they relate to the characters and their respective arcs. You point to the two episodes, but don’t actually say why those episodes lead to unrealized themes and, even if you had, what about the rest of the season?

    So, yeah, major disagreement. But I won’t hold it against you. 😉

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  77. [Note: x factor posted this comment on December 12, 2011.]

    Season 7 of Buffy is unrecognizable. The writers seemed to want to systematically stamp out every shred of what made Buffy BUFFY. And finish the job started by season 6 by alienating every poor soul who invested themselves in the Buffyverse.

    Create a ridiculous, unbelievable, contrived situation where the Scoobies are pitted against Spike in a contest of loyalty to Buffy. Check.

    Spend entire episodes with characters we dont care about crammed into Buffy’s living room doing nothing but eating sandwiches and having pajama parties. Check.

    Destroy the foundational relationship of the show, Buffy/Giles, the best thing this show still had going for it after the horrors of season 6, for no reason than to generate sympathy for Spike.

    Spike. Just like Cordelia’s character was turned into Saint Cordy unnecessarily, we now have Spike the Martyr who has pretty much taken over the show. The one tolerable thing is that at least now, Spike has a soul, which makes Buffy’s defense and sympathy for him a lot more palatable to those of us who thought Buffy’s ridiculous attraction to a soulless serial killer in prison was a character assassination of the highest order.

    Vast stretches of this season are unwatchable. I can probably count on two hands the amount of scenes that are truly great. This season is the dregs of Buffy along with Season 4.

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  78. [Note: x factor posted this comment on January 3, 2012.]

    On another thread I gave this season a D-. Judging by my list of reasons for why this season sucked, here are the saving graces that allowed it to earn a D- instead of an F in my book:

    -Caleb. The actor did a great job selling this villain as truly hateworthy. Creepy and by the end, i wanted to see him die a horrible, violent death.

    -Willow in the third episode – we finally saw a little of the old Willow

    -B/X/A in Selfless

    -“Don’t…be afraid to lead” – However ridiculous the storyline, SMG always gets me with her final scene on the porch with Faith.

    -Anya’s speech on fighting vampires

    That’s about it.

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  79. [Note: Nobody posted this comment on January 14, 2012.]

    Wow. I am seriously surprised to see so much hate circulating around this season. Personally, I believe that this is equal to (if not better than) season five. My reasons:

    Buffy: It was always nice to see her as a changing, learning, growing person, but I loved to see her finally become the confident leader and stay pretty much fixed in that position (except for Empty Places). She grew stronger, wiser, and just all-around more bad ass, and I just loved every second of it.

    First Evil/ Caleb, and all other villains: I absolutely love these villains! The First is just so awesome, menacing, and manipulative, and even when he was in “remission”, I got a palpable sense of his evil. My favorite villain of the show. Caleb was also quite good, although I agree it would have been more effective if he’d been introduced earlier. Plus, despite Chosen’s Turok-Han inconsistency, I though that the ubervamps made a nice addition to the season. I remember just getting that anxious thrill when the first Ubervamp arrived in the Summer’s house, and I truly felt a sense of danger.

    Scoobies: Everybody says that they don’t get enough screen time, but I disagree. Though they were slightly more in the backdrop than in previous seasons, they still played a huge and important part. And Willow’s scythe spell was just beautiful. Plus Andrew is just amazing.

    Plot: There were inconsistencies, a few plot holes, but I don’t really care. This season felt the most connected since season five, something that I very much appreciate. Almost every episode added something to the overall arc, and it was just fun and exciting to see it all play out.

    Chosen: I love this episode. It could have been even better, but I still love it. The final battle is just breathtaking, and everything pays off in the end. The final moment is also wonderful.

    Random Things I Liked: The Scythe. It was slightly a Deus Ex Machina, but I though they built it up sufficiently enough, and Buffy is just awesome with it. And then of course Vi. Can’t explain, but the moment she arrived, I loved her.

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  80. [Note: Nobody posted this comment on January 19, 2012.]

    OK, sorry to triple post (I know that’s really bad internet decorum), but in regards to serenissima, I always thought that Caleb told her about the location of the scythe because he and the First were so extremely confident that would she fail, which she did. If I remember correctly, two Potentials died and Xander lost an eye, and the aftermath of this failure led to some disastrous results. Buffy got her confidence severely shaken, and the Potentials and Scoobies had their faith in Buffy shaken. I think that this was really the First’s plan, make Buffy feel vulnerable and lose her confidence, which in many ways is her strongest asset. So to me, Caleb’s actions were completely in character for him and the First’s plan.

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  81. [Note: Brad posted this comment on February 22, 2012.]

    Sorry to be a bit off-topic, but was wondering if you, Mike, or anyone else here has checked out the new show, “Ringer” with SMG? My wife & I (huge Buffy fans) have been watching it since the premier and it is really good. Not BtVS, but SMG still rules the acting world, imho.

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  82. [Note: Gemma posted this comment on February 22, 2012.]

    Brad,

    I’m watching it too. Never missed an episode. Sarah’s acting a storm in the series. Each episode leaves me wanting more! I’m a fan of Siobhan at the moment, love her scheming and last nights episode left me with NEEDing more Ringer!

    Like

  83. [Note: Alex posted this comment on February 22, 2012.]

    There’s a thread on Ringer in the ‘Television’ forum, you guys should check it out. It hasn’t been updated for a while but I’m sure there are a few people who’d like to get the discussion going again.

    I haven’t seen it since it came back in January, but I was kind of addicted to it before that, in a guilty-pleasure kind of way. I spent a lot of time thinking ‘this is ridiculous’ but just couldn’t stop watching. It sometimes feels a bit too much like a cheesy melodramatic soap from the 70s (sordid affairs, mistaken identity, fake deaths, scandalous pregnancies…) but it’s definitely compulsive viewing. I agree that SMG does a great job too.

    Now you’ve reminded me about it, I think I’ll have to see if I can track down the latest episodes.

    Like

  84. [Note: BGAP posted this comment on February 25, 2012.]

    As a huge fan of this show, I have to recommend HBO’s Game of Thrones, an outstanding series that has a lot in common with BtVS. It has well developed characters with series long growth arcs, battle scenes, prophetic dreams, zombies (white walkers) dark magic, witches (Red priestess) direwolves, and dragons. That said, there are some differences – the supernatural is much more on the periphery of the story while the focus is on power, political intrigue and character dynamics. The humor is minimal, mostly verbal wit from ‘the imp,’ played brilliantly by Peter Dinklage, who won an emmy for this role. Since it’s HBO, there are explicit sex scenes and gore. Also, the seasons are short, at only 10 episodes, but at 6 million per episode, the quality is consistently high – no filler or duds. The setting is medieval, but on a planet where the seasons last for years, and as the tagline reads “Winter is Coming.” Also, one of the writers on Game of Thrones is Jane Espenson, who wrote 23 episodes of BtVS.

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  85. [Note: ivebeenbitten posted this comment on February 26, 2012.]

    WOW I am overwhelmed with your reviews Mike….excellent job. I am new to Buffy and found your insightful and thoughtfully reviews extremely illuminating. But I have a nagging thought that I hope someone can help me quell. What I do not understand is..if Anya is a demon (just like Spike) ergo she must also be soulless. If this is true then why has it been downplayed – although Anya never hides her demon past – she was made mortal not human…..

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  86. [Note: Joe posted this comment on February 28, 2012.]

    ivebeenbitten: In “Doppelgangland,” she is told by what’s-his-face (I can’t remember his name; oof–the funny demon guy) that she is stuck as a teenage girl. Ergo, human.

    Plus, you’ll learn–um, spoiler alert?–that she was certainly human to start with. Perhaps we can assume that this made her a human with a soul when she was stuck in that form?

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  87. [Note: Hannah posted this comment on March 2, 2012.]

    From a relatively new Buffy fan, thanks for all of these reviews!

    And in response to the previous comments-

    I think that Anya always had a soul, even in her demon days. She brags about her time as a vengeance demon after she turns human, showing no remorse whatsoever. The only change in her initially is that she is human again without power.

    When I watched season seven, I was annoyed at how much time was focused on the plot, and how being a title character didn’t really mean anything after the midway point. However, reading these reviews helped me realize the merits of this season, and while it is far from my favorite, it is still enjoyable television. I view it like I view Andrew- if I don’t think too much about it, its great. The Andrew comparison was because I was disturbed with how he behaved in season 6 and his subsequent integration into the Scoobie gang. I felt like the writers needed a comic relief, so they relegated him to that role. I enjoyed him immensely in 7, but could never fully forgive him for his actions in Dead Things and I don’t feel like the writers did a good job redeeming him.

    One thing I’ve found ironic about this season is that the First was the villain with the most potential to provide the most character development. It was able to appear as any dead person, so this was a villain that should have been much more personal than it turned out to be, considering the lives of the Scoobies. Instead, the story shifted from the characters to the plot. I had faith that the main characters would stop the apocalypse from occurring, so I was never invested in the storyline. The two most powerful finales, Becoming Part II and The Gift, were so because we actually were scared for the characters. We didn’t watch on the edge of our seats to see if they would save the world- we watched to see if Angel or Dawn would die in the process.

    If I could have changed one thing about how the series ended, I would have had at least one of the core characters have a satisfactory romantic ending. The Willow/Kennedy relationship would have made sense if it occurred after Tara broke up with her in season 6 (if Kennedy had been in Sunnydale at that time) and was clearly made to be a short relationship, but I don’t understand how they were the only happy couple. I would have LOVED for Anya and Xander to truly reconcile and begin their life together again, if only to give one good, established couple a break. As it was, I felt like the writers wanted to have at least one “forever” couple that was still together by the end, but to have that be Willow/Kennedy was frustrating.

    As far as relationships in season 7 go, I agree with Mike that Buffy/Spike was incredibly done. I liked how they were able to have a close connection without necessarily always being romantic, which was where both Buffy/Riley and Buffy/Angel failed for me. Their journey might just be my favorite of the series, especially how in the end, they had a relationship based on trust. Out of all of the Buffy beaux, I feel like Spike could have been the only one to really have a long term relationship with her (forgetting the aging and the dying) since they actually understood each other. By the end of the series, he is the one for her, even if I feel like Xander/Buffy would have worked in s7 too. The backlash from fans would have been pretty bad though since Xander isn’t a favorite character with quite a few, so I can see why the writers never went that direction.

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  88. [Note: wytchcroft posted this comment on June 8, 2012.]

    I know i’ve said it before – but i don’t think i’ve said it on this site (*hopes*)…

    There’s lot i love in S7… but i really, really wish the season had been 11 (fantastic) episodes.

    That would mirror Season One so nicely and tighten all the great character and thematic elements (that you rightly praise). Plus the lesser episodes could go, the repetitive speeches from Buffy would get cut down, the first would have no ‘remission’, the budget would be upped and the noticeable cast energy burnout* (round about Get it Done) would not be an issue.

    *i always attribute this to morale (witness Aly’s S7 blooper) but i’ve also read that pretty much the whole crew got wicked nasty flu that year, which could be true.

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  89. [Note: NewSpock posted this comment on August 17, 2012.]

    Season 7 is imho the worst season of all, it’s really bad, despite having some awesome episodes. The problem is that the main-plot simply didn’t work. Yes, the first few episodes until the First showed itself in “Conversations with dead people” were pretty good, but from then on the plot became a chore, deeply flawed, uninteresting and even worse annoying.

    The whole idea of wanting to kill the potentials and Buffy trying to save them, train them… was just an awful idea to begin with. Why should there be a limit to the potentials? Why does the First know who the potentials are? It didn’t make any sense. On a planet with billions of people, there is unlimited potential young girls to choose to give the slayer-power to if the need arises.

    The plot of some other seasons was also not that strong or interesting, but this is the last season and in this the whole mythology of Buffy should be brought to a satisfying conclusion. All the things with the prophetic dreams, with the first slayer in Restless… should have come to fruition, but what came was a wholesale disaster.

    That’s the problem, different from the preceding seasons, the main-plot in the last season has to be good, as it is the main-focus, so that the whole season becomes good, with a failing main-plot all the good things of the season become meaningless and worse, the awfulness of this main-plot even taints the previous seasons retrospectively.

    I could also write about the problem with introducing the potentials in place of the established characters (very bad choice), I could write about the unbelievable bad plot-device of the First searching for that powerful axe so that Buffy could get it, or the convenient arrival of Angel with the sun-shine-magic-device or the extremely wrong decision to let the Slayer’s power be transferred to all potentials (What were the writers thinking?)…

    But that would be like robbing of dead people. And dead this season is imho.

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  90. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on August 17, 2012.]

    I’m not sure how to respond to a comment like yours, NewSpock. The problem I have is that you seem to have completely ignored the comprehensive argument (both pros and cons) I’ve made for this season. I could respond to each of your points against this season, but I can’t help but feel I’ve already done so in the review.

    I welcome disagreement with any of the reviews here at Critically Touched, but please be prepared to argue and/or augment the points made in said review and subsequent comments. To ignore the review is to comment in a vacuum.

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  91. [Note: NewSpock posted this comment on August 17, 2012.]

    Sorry, MikeJer,

    didn’t mean to come over as disrespectful. I love your reviews of the whole Buffy TV-show, the episodes-reviews as well as the season-reviews and more than two thirds of the time I agree with your reviews and views… and I respect the amount of work put into them to analyze everything and write it down coherently. Really, great work!

    My post over there merely illustrates my unbelievably big frustrations with season 7 and this imho really bad conclusion of an awesome TV-show.

    Like

  92. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on August 17, 2012.]

    No need for apologies, NewSpock. To clarify, though, I disagree with how you feel about Season 7 as a whole, and feel like I’ve made the argument so support my position. The burden is on you to debate the points I’ve made — a debate which I cherish. My frustration is that you’ve given me nothing to debate: I’ve already addressed your points in my review with my own before you even commented, but you’ve ignored those points.

    You’ve outlined your problems with the season (some of which I even agree with, if you’d read the review), but you seem to ignore nearly everything positive about it. I’m at a loss to how to respond to a comment like yours (#96) because my counter-points are all in the review itself — do I need to copy and paste my points in the comments?

    What I’m trying to say here is that it would create a much more interesting discussion if everyone read and processed my review at the top before commenting on it (and the material it’s analyzing). This site isn’t intended to be an episode guide, but rather an open-minded environment where people can debate the strengths and weaknesses of the shows that are analyzed. As it stands, your comment (#96) serves no purpose. You have feelings, you stated them, but did you add to the existing discussion?

    Since it can be misleading online, I want to state that I’m not remotely angry or anything. I just, every now and then, need to make an example out of certain comments so that people understand the kind of environment I’m looking for here: not only one of friendly and passionate debate, but also one of intelligent debate. 🙂

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  93. [Note: NewSpock posted this comment on August 18, 2012.]

    I know that you disagree, I’ve read your review of season 7 but that’s the point, we don’t have to agree. Different people view certain things differently and that’s ok. You have managed to forgive the major plot-problems by concentrating on character-development and enjoying these.

    But I can’t forgive it, because it’s the last season, and think the problems outshine the good things including the character-development.

    Imho for the last season a well thought out and tight main-plot is absolutely necessary.

    These are a few examples of what I would have chosen (pun intended ;)) differently:

    1. Not making “The First” hunt down potentials. Therefore no need to introduce potentials into this season and no transferring slayer-power to them at the end of the season. Instead focusing the First Evil’s plan solely on arising the Uber-vampires.

    2. Making Faith and Buffy work together throughout the season to defeat the First.

    3. Not making Caleb physically superstrong, but merely spiritedly possessed by “The First”. Therefore no fights between him and Buffy, and no need for this rediculous magic axe-plot. He merely works in the background to make the Uber-vampires come out.

    4. Not making Angel appear out of nowhere with a magical sun-light-device. Instead to make Willow complete her magics on creating a sun-ball that she worked on and mentioned in the season 5-episode “Triangle”. And since it’s a lot of uber-vampires and a lot of area to cover up with that sun-ball, it would need all the magical mojo she has in her, with a high possibility of leading to her death. And because using it inside the hell-mouth where lots of vampires are it would need someone who can get close enough to the center. Cue in Spike’s volunteering, not only to finally give him salvation, to allow him to die in an honorable way to save the world and pay for all the bad he did, but also because he is a vampire, one of them, able to get through the ranks of ubervampires. Maybe even with Faith and Buffy (or only Buffy) chained up to bring them up to the First, as if he chose to side with The First.

    5. At the end after getting out of the hellmouth in last second, Buffy is overly joyful because the hellmouth is closed for good and she thinks now her work is done and finished and she can start to have a real life… But then Giles mentions in his british humour-style: “Eh… I think there is another one in Cleveland”. Buffy or Willow ask : “What other one?”. Giles: “Eh… another… hell-mouth”… End of the show!

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