Thursday, June 15, 2006

Buffy - Season 6 Overview

When I first watched this season on TV, I felt it was the weakest outing in the Buffy-verse yet - a real disappointment after the highs of Season 5.

Specifically, I was fine with the downbeat opening tone - it's appropriate, after all; the lead character has come back from the dead and (although she died triumphantly) I believe her resurrection here is a metaphor for a person who's attempted suicide - but that downbeat tone continued for too long - past Willow’s car crash, past Xander’s wedding - dragging the characters and the show down, down, down, further and further into misery, until it finally recovered with a great, 4-part, action movie season finale.

I wanted emotional growth from Buffy - I wanted her to go from numbness, through despair, until finally she grew up, confronted her life and achieved happiness. I would have preferred to have that happen in 13 episodes and for the show to move on, but instead it took 22 to justify Buffy’s resurrection and her happiness in the finale seemed shoehorned in.

I've just re-watched Season 6 – and had a completely different experience on this viewing.

For me, the downbeat tone stems specifically from Buffy (the character) being passive and not driving any of the plots forward. She’s numb, socially withdrawn and most importantly not very funny. Compare that to episodes from previous seasons – Buffy is at the centre of most stuff, initiating conversations, deciding how things happen – she’s the charismatic sun at the centre of a solar system of Scoobies [/metaphor]. Changing the characterisation like this gives the show a radically different feel. Even though Buffy’s there, she feels absent ... and as a result the show feels far more subdued.

At least for the first dozen or so episodes. As Buffy comes out of her shell – and I can’t pinpoint a specific moment yet, but it’s accomplished by the time she finally rejects Spike – the show feels like itself again. Darker, less fluffy-funny, but recapturing the dynamic of previous seasons.

This leads to my next discovery, that Season 6 feels like a necessary maturation in the series. At this point – the characters did need to grow up and start confronting life in all its setbacks and ... awesomeness. To do otherwise – to simply keep returning to a status-quo of characters wise-cracking their way through tragi-comedy would’ve been pretty shallow.

So that was a bit of a shock to me – to approve of the goal of Season 6 – a goal that’s explicitly signalled by Giles’ motives for returning to England: To force our leads to stand on their own feet.

And finally, Spike’s characterisation. Yes, he was cool in Season 2, but in order to work with him again, Whedon chose to humanise Spike – first by putting a chip in his head so that he wouldn’t automatically kill the core cast, then by making him fall in love with Buffy so he had a reason to stick around. But underneath all of this, Spike’s still evil, as demonstrated by Season 4’s “The Yoko Factor” and later his manipulative, dysfunctional and predatorial seduction of Buffy when she’s at her weakest.

Sure, he’s less the Billy Idol rebel as a result of all this, but he’s become a character with far more possibilities – and when this is coupled with the work in the last seasons of Buffy and then Angel, we can see that the character of Spike’s been taken on quite a trip courtesy of Team Whedon and the performance of James Marsden.

(Personal note: watching this season for the time, I’d only seen 3 or 4 episodes of Buffy before. It was during a scene between Buffy and Spike in her bathroom, where Spike was trying to deal with how messed up their love was, that I finally clicked and decided that Spike was a character who I enjoyed watching, a character who I liked. Literally a second later he attempted to rape Buffy – which completely messed with my mind & consequently consider to be one of the best scenes the show ever produced.)

So that’s it for my initial thoughts. Breakdowns of specific episodes will follow in the indefinite future. In the meantime, I’m pleased to hear that a new season of Slayers East is in the works; I eagerly await new stories from that creative team.

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