WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS:
Season 5 and 6 pretty much tie for the best of the seven! Pretty incredible how this show just keeps on getting better and better until the final season. With this season everything slips into a serious groove, but what’s really surprising is the depth of emotion pulled out of the viewers. Nearly gone are the episodic “one off” episodes (discussed in my Lost vs The Love Boat post), instead the story just rolls from one episode to the next with only a few exceptions.
The first episode (“Buffy vs. Dracula“) is light, but it ends with a shocker, one that is reinforced in episode 2 (“Real Me“). Suddenly, and without explanation only-child Buffy has a little sister named Dawn. What casually might seem like a gimmick to spread the show demographic younger in fact becomes completely central to the season’s plot and deepens the character interactions immensely, particularly for Buffy. The season’s “big bad,” Glory — my second favorite after the Mayor — is a Hell God in need of a magical key to break open the barriers between dimensions. Some crazy monks rebuild the entire reality of the world to hide the key as Buffy’s sister, having altered all reality and history such that she existed all along. Pure genius.
What this really does is turn Buffy’s nice little dyad with her mother into a full-fledged family, upping the personal stakes immensely. And it isn’t all supernatural. Joyce (Buffy’s mom) develops a brain tumor in a long and very emotional arc that ties in brilliantly with the family aspect and with Dawn’s growing understanding of her esoteric nature. This comes to a series of shattering culminations in “Blood Ties” and “The Body.” This last episode is probably the best of the entire series, or at least tied with “Once More with Feeling,” and is a stunning piece of television. Written and Directed by Joss (as most of the great episodes are), it is a tour de force of film making. Free of music, almost free of the supernatural, but jammed packed with horror, reality, and emotion, this is a seriously tear inducing hour. And it includes network television’s first on-screen lesbian kiss!
Wisely after the disruptions in some of the formulas from the first three seasons that college (season 4) brought on, season 5 brings the gang into a stable new orbit. Giles has purchased the Magic Shoppe and this replaces the library as the central hub. Xander and Giles are back in full orbit, and Anya, Tara, and Dawn integrated into the team. But it’s Spike, and his new every episode role and gradual character transformation that really livens things up. In an amusing, poignant, and brilliant turn he falls for Buffy (hopelessly — at least for now) and she literally ends up making him a better man. But this doesn’t stop him from still being sordid, hilariously. “Fool for Love” in particular is a brilliant episode in which Buffy forces spike to recount the story of his creation (by Drusilla) and his killing of two other slayers. Plus the Buffybot is pure genius, and real Buffy’s turn playing the bot to get the truth from Spike truly touching.
There are some serious themes of loss and alienation going on here, growing and growing as we head toward the dark territory that is season 6 — Love it! The weight of the world, the family crises, and the burden of protecting Dawn, take their toll on Buffy. This comes to the world shattering conclusion in the finale, Joss’s brilliant “The Gift,” which even on the third viewing had me crying. Seriously, this show is that good!
As the poignant music surges, and Buffy runs from Dawn to dawn across the platform — Death is your gift!