Awhile back we did a piece lovingly entitled Buffy Bitching, wherein we detailed our discontent with the past few seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. From the uselessness of Xander to the weaknesses of the villains to the passive cipher that was Tara, we covered it all. The show no longer had that something special. And after the extremely dismal double whammy of seasons four and five, I had almost given up hope. But moving into season six we were promised our old Buffy again! New and interesting storylines! Consequences for actions! Evil, evil, evil! How could I not be excited? Not that I expected everything to be fixed outright, but I have to say that I had extremely high hopes for this season. I was looking for the trademark wit and cleverness I had come to expect from this TV show, something it seems to have lost long ago. But it had to come back, right? The writers and producers and actors would kick it into high gear again, they would realize that what they have now is nothing more than a pale imitation of what they once were. Right?
For the first three or four episodes, I held out hope. By episode five, however, it was clear that we were in for another roller coaster season, with episodes fluctuating between mediocrity (“Doublemeat Palace”) and crap (“Smashed/Wrecked”). The pace was plodding and disorganized (which I know the writers claim was the point—capturing the ennui of your early, directionless 20’s and all that jazz, but if I want to see that, I’ll go hang out on the college campus for awhile), with whole episodes being nothing more than empty filler (“Gone,” “Older and Far Away,” “All the Way”) and an arc that was kicked listlessly about until the last three episodes. Smiles were rare, while tears and “woe is me” were frequent. Rarely did I catch a glimpse of anything resembling the trademark wit and sparkle I pine, at times rather unhealthily, for. It wasn’t just me. Legions of fans were extremely dissatisfied with this season, over all. True, the season also has its supporters, but when your Executive Producer gives interviews on a weekly basis to justify or explain what was seen on screen, it should be seen as a warning sign that perhaps the message is not being delivered in a way understood by the very people that have supported Mutant Enemy’s collective ass for six years. It means something wasn’t going right – whether it was the confusing message being sent with the sadomasochistic Buffy/Spike relationship (I’m sorry, but I refuse to use the term “Spuffy.” I have boundaries, people.), the neglecting of the useless Dawn or the attempt at a drug addiction parallel that went places it shouldn’t have, nothing seemed to ever gel into a cohesive story. The season was so all over the place, so frustrating, that it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly was off and what was on.
While the half-baked storylines caused many of my issues, much of my frustration also stems from the attitude of the producers. Yes, Buffy fans are a notoriously fickle and nitpicky bunch who live to tear apart the episodes. The staff of this show have known that for years, yet they blasely blow off their fans’ concerns. Is it the fans’ fault Mutant Enemy set the quality standard so high in the first and second seasons? Is it the audience’s fault that they’re not reading the writers’ minds? How is the audience supposed to relate to Spike as evil, evil, evil if he is continuously written as nothing more than a lovesick, demented lap dog? The audience needs to be reminded that he’s evil by his actions, not by Marti telling us so. Whether the issue lies in the script or the way the actor chooses to play the scene or both, I don’t really know. Part of the problem may very well be James Marsters’ delivery, and this leads us down the path of asking the director to share the blame. Which then leads us right back to the writer, who should have talked to the director to explain the show’s overall vision. Either way, how are you supposed to despise and not forgive a character that stares in awe and unspeakable joy at a resurrected Buffy and softly gives her the exact number of days she’s been gone? Or, in the same episode, tells her that he knows he failed her, but he saves her every night in his dreams? By haphazardly throwing in an attempted rape scene? And they wonder why the Buffy/Spike fans can’t let go and understand what they’re trying to do? Did the producers learn nothing from the Buffy/Angel debacle of recent years?
While Marti has stated time and time again that a few years of good deeds does not redeem the character, it would have been more effective if they attempted to actually show this on screen. It’s called character development. Look into it. Buffy used to be extremely good at it. Give Spike a bit of the evil again. Show him plotting. Have him hang out with some actual evil demons, not kitten-poker-playing jokes. We know Spike’s been neutered, do you have to keep humiliating him? And the one time lately that the audience is given a scene that was to perhaps remind us that he is still evil, the attempted alley blood suckage scene in Smashed, it too closely paralleled the scene in Angel where he tried to prove he could still be a monster after being resouled. If Angel isn’t to be considered evil for this transgression, how do they expect the audience to decry Spike as a monster for his?
This wasn’t meant to be an “all Spike, all the time” article. However, since the fact that his character is still alive flummoxes me, I tend to get hung up on it. And now, I digress. I return to the main point of this exercise in avoiding work: Buffy the Vampire Layer, Season Six. The ups, the downs, the aggravations, the goats. Can’t forget the goats. To make this easier, we’ll break it down point by point. It’ll help me stay on track. I hope.
Daring to be different, something Mutant Enemy has never shied away from, Buffy went almost an entire season without a clear-cut foe. Or story arc, as it were. Generally we get a Big Bad arc that is broken up by a Monster of the week here and there. This season? Lots and lots of… nothing. Buffy staring into space. Willow guzzling water. Dawn pouting. And every so often, three geeks would show up with some lame plan and temporarily amuse us at times, annoy the fuck out of us at others, all while protecting their precious Star Wars figures. Like I said, a whole lot of nothing. As stated above, this season was apparently about the trials of becoming an adult. Being on your own for the first time and making decisions—some good (like, uh…shit. Getting a job? Paying the bills? Forgetting about your sister? No, wait…), some bad (fucking an “evil” vampire, erasing your friends’ memories, leaving your fiancée at the altar, freeloading off of the friend you just forced out of heaven while she works fast food to pay the bills, reupping for another tour in the Demon-league, etc). An interesting concept, carried out poorly.
To say they were all over the place would be to water down the issues of the season. The characters lacked development, and I imagine it is rather difficult to grow and evolve when you are almost literally standing still; the plot failed to move forward and most episodes seemed like they were just there, filling the empty space, waiting for the end of the season. I kept feeling like something was going to happen, soon. That they were going to hit us over the head with something huge any second. And they never did. Perhaps they waited too long to introduce the catalyst for the evil!Willow arc. Perhaps they should have had something more menacing than three guys who got lost on their way to a kegger and somehow ended up trying to rule the world. While I liked that Buffy allowed the Trio to carry on with their petty schemes, wrongfully assuming that they weren’t a threat after all she’d dealt with the past six years, and it bit her in the ass, there should have been a secondary plot (other than the Willow-as-druggie metaphor, which I think I’m going to refuse to dignify with a rant) to keep the series moving. Stasis is bad, folks. Very, very bad. Unless, of course, you are on a mining ship in deep space and everyone on the ship dies from a disease when you are in stasis. But that is Red Dwarf, not Buffy, so we’re sticking with “Stasis is bad” as our motto.
Giles left. Leaving legions of female fans, and quite a few male ones, devastated. Even though he’d been fairly useless the past few years, his departure left a huge gap that was felt throughout the season. He was always one to dispense the sage advice, the adult that was so sorely needed, and he was just gone. He didn’t call, he didn’t write, he didn’t even make it to Xander and Anya’s travesty of a wedding. And, of course, there’s the issue of how they wrote him out, which was a total disservice to the character. Giles would never have left after finding out Buffy was pulled from heaven, no matter how badly ASH wanted to live in England again. Pfft.
So Giles took off, leaving us with a morose Buffy who was the wishiest, washiest motherfucker this side o’the Pecos. Holy hell. Her on-again, off-again, “relationship” with Spike complete with sex in the Bronze and other public venues was too much for most to take. Sure Marti, it’s about having that relationship with that guy that’s really not what’s best for you but is great in the sack, but it’s also about tact. The show, whether appropriate or not, was on at 8pm. Eight. Let’s all try to remember that next time we think of having Spike come up behind Buffy and have unrealistic sex with her in a dance club, mkay? Mmkay. And to segue rather suddenly, as I just can’t handle the imagery right now, I can no longer handle the sight of SMG crying. It’s too much. I burst into laughter and leave the room. It’s overused. Stop it. Just stop it! She came back from heaven. She felt disconnected. We get it, really. Try to find new and exciting ways to show it other than Buffy a)crying, b)having disturbing sex with Spike or c)giving long winded speeches about how she doesn’t know why she’s back and/or about how she’s ready to live in the world and show it to her sister. Please.
Leaving Buffy and Spike to their handcuffs and bad gold chains, we turn to Willow. Willow, whose arc should have been interesting and was instead spectacularly not, became the token junkie of the group. A wee bit cocky after pulling Buffy from heaven, she started to abuse the magic with the aid of an unrecognizable and poorly drawn Amy. Started doing wicked bad things when she wasn’t too busy trumpeting her gayness to all who would hear her. Her hair turned black because of it, as a matter of fact. (The evil, not the gayness.) After an entire season of an excellent plot twist gone wrong, we are left with Willow sobbing in the arms of someone we barely recognize as Xander, as her hair turns back to red. Are we to assume it’s Willow again? Please. It hasn’t been Willow for years. I’m really not ever expecting to get her back. And I really can’t get started on the whole GAY NOW bullshit, nor her comments to Xander about how it was a good thing she discovered she was gay, nor her jokes on how she’s a breast woman now because it’s all just too painful and I’ll probably never stop. Subtlety is no longer a strong point at Mutant Enemy, it would seem.
Willow, of course, went evil over the death of her girlfriend Tara. I hate to say this, because I know there are a bunch of Kitten Boarders out there who might call for my head, but I’m glad the character is gone. If they could do no more justice to a once-promising character than have her stand around and chirp that Willow will know what to do, then she shouldn’t be around. She once had this great potential as a powerful wicca that could guide Willow, but instead Tara was only there to emphasize Willow’s gayness when they ran out of obvious “GAY NOW” jokes. If they had managed to work more of her burgeoning relationship with Buffy in, or her parenting of Dawn, then Tara’s death would have resonated more with me. As it was, I didn’t care. The character never lived up to her potential, and the fact that she didn’t lay the fucking smackdown on her girlfriend for messing with her mind still disturbs me way more than the Buffy/Spike attempted rape scene. That, to me, seemed to be a huge missed “Very Special Episode” for Buffy, since they seem to be so into PSA’s now.
(A wrap up of this season’s PSAs, for those that weren’t paying attention:
Drugs are Magic is bad. Shoplifting in general is bad, but shoplifting a toothbrush is geeky. Having sex in public is okay, as long as you don’t get caught. It’s okay to use people for sex, they won’t mind. Having sex with a dead man is bad and will lead to tears and self-loathing. Friends don’t magic other friends. Summoning a singing demon and pretending you didn’t can not only result in your friend’s sister being queened in the underworld, it can also kill people and make you look like an ass. So don’t do it.)
Tara’s death, sadly, means there is no longer a Scooby member alive who remembers that Dawn exists. Of course, with Dawn’s constantly loud whining, it should only be a matter of time before she reminds them that she’s around. The fact that I am not the only person I know who yelled loudly at the screen “DO IT!” when evil!Willow threatened to turn Dawn back into a ball of energy sort of goes to show that the character does nothing for the show. Ignoring all of the anomalies she brings up, let’s just focus on the fact that, this season, she has been given nothing of import to do but mope. And be put in convenient danger anytime the plot dragged. So frequently, in other words. “Dawn’s in trouble, must be Tuesday.” Ah. Truer words were never spoken. Unless they were “Dawn’s whining again, must be Tuesday” and I missed them. I can handle Dawn being boring. I can handle Dawn whining. I can handle her being neglected. I just can’t handle her all of a sudden being able to wield a sword that should have weighed 100 pounds more than her, slicing zombies in two. “What, you think I’ve never watched you before?” Huh? I watch Buffy every week, and I’m pretty damn sure my ass would’ve been grass.
Speaking of asses and grass, we move on to Xander, who once again impressed us with his own personal season of nothing. When I’m not pining for the sandy fjords, I’m pining for the days when Xander had stuff to do. Stuff that didn’t include leaving his fiancée at the altar because he feared becoming his father or the subsequent, unconvincing moping that followed said leaving. While this normally would count as character development, and even character development that in fact did not ignore given canon as it has been well established that Xander considers his family to be a nightmare, it was done so cloyingly and with such bad bridesmaids dresses, I just can’t even count it. Plus, he should have brought it up sooner. And, really, there concluded Xander’s entire story arc, as when he wasn’t planning his wedding or backing out of his wedding or regretting his actions, he really wasn’t doing much. Back to the scenery for you, Mr. Harris. Maybe you’ll find your missing skateboard back there somewhere!
Anya, Xander’s scorned, was annoying to the point that I would have preferred going to the dentist over listening to her talk anymore. But in the final episode, she almost became interesting. Once she returned to her demony ways, she lost her stilted speech and affected mannerisms. She even seemed to forget about money. Whether this was intentional on the part of the director or whether Emma Caulfield just got sick of playing a dumbass, we may never know. But one thing is clear: Giles and Anya had more chemistry in five minutes than Xander and Anya had for two seasons. Of course, with the way those two were written this year, Anya probably would have had more chemistry with Jonathan than Xander.
Jonathan, by the way, was the short member of The Trio. Or the Troika. I can’t recall what their official baddie name was. Because they really weren’t a bad, they were a nuisance, which was fine and dandy with me. If the season had had more going for it than nothingness, I would have thought that having three mortal trekkies as the Big Bad was a stroke of genius. As it was, I couldn’t believe we waited an entire season of their plotting and magicking to learn that their big plan was to knock over armored cars. They had a demon knocking over banks for them at the beginning of the season. Was this plan not cool enough for them? Did they really need the jet packs? Did I really need to see Warren’s hairy chest get ripped from him?
The answer to all of the above, ladies and gents, is a resounding no.
To sum up: With few bright spots, save “Normal Again” (even if they did manage to fuck up the ending), I found this season to be dreary and pointless. Do I hold out hope for next season? Fuck yeah! I’m an optimist! The glass is half full, mis amigos! Plus, I’ve invested six years so far in this blasted thing, and it hasn’t reached X-Filian areas of suckiness yet, so I’m hanging on. I hear they’ve promised a return to basics! You know, adventure! Excitement! Really wild things! Interesting plots for all!
But don’t get too excited, folks. I made that last one up.