Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Buffy The Vampire Slayer - Season 5 Review

US Airdate on the WB: September 26th 2000 – May 22nd 2001

The series gets a rewrite when Buffy and the gang discover she’s got a sister all along, who is also key to a big battle and a hell God named Glory. Elsewhere Giles and Anya team up to open the Magic Shop, Willow and Tara get closer, Riley leaves, Xander is useful and Spike’s in love – with Buffy! Yes, hell seems to have frozen over!

Gods Vs The Slayer – Who Actually Survives? Can I just start this review by saying that this was my favourite season of Buffy in it’s seven year run? Fifth seasons to most series (e.g. The X-Files, The Sopranos, Angel and Six Feet Under) are usually classics and this was pretty no exception. Those who loathed the fourth season found it a relief and everyone else who didn’t hate Season Four were also inclined to agree. If the previous season had seen a detachment from the Core Four and an underwhelming threat in Adam and The Initiative, then Season Five not only gave the Scoobies at their most closest and open with one another but we also got a mythical baddie and a long awaited exploration in what Buffy’s calling as a slayer really means.

The season even opens on a fun, campy note with an episode called “Buffy Vs Dracula”. The title said it all and Sarah Michelle Gellar got to reunite with Rudolf Martin as the legendary vampire/glory hound arrives in Sunnydale, uses poor Xander as a minion and makes a pretty good effort in seducing Buffy. Okay, so we’ve had better openers but the fight between the slayer and the count, the first signs of imminent trouble between Buffy and Riley as the former begs Giles to retrained as a slayer along with the oh so casual way of debuting Buffy’s little sister Dawn (played by Michelle Trachtenberg) shows that this season knows where it’s going and as an audience, it’s either hop on the train or get off the track quick smart. Like many, I chose to hop on and boy, am I seriously glad I did.

Less bullshitting and more genuine stuff, with the great question – since when does Buffy have a sister? We’ve hardly seen Joyce in the previous season (especially in Season Four), never mind the fact our Slayer has a younger sibling. From the off, Dawn is like any other younger sibling – irritating to no less as she manages to get kidnapped by Harmony, speaks out of turn and even interrupts alone time with your lover, so I was pretty siding with Buffy. Then Dawn arouses all the right kinds of suspicion when creepy homeless people keep telling her that she’s not real, that even Buffy’s spidey sense begins to tingle and this is during the times when Giles gets a new career, Xander is split into two parts of himself and Riley has super strength that could kill, all while Spike who spends the first few episodes acting like a spare part and failing to get his chip removed, then decides that he’s in love with Buffy.

Thankfully the set up in the first four episodes makes “No Place Like Home” a season highlight. Okay, so you may want to gag both Spike and Riley for their stalking/feeling inferior to Buffy angles but at least we get to see Buffy square off with super bitch Goddess Glory, with a delightful piece of casting in Clare Kramer and yet another effective female character and Big Bad in Joss Whedon’s creative universe. We also learn that Glory is looking for a key which the monks made into human and put into Buffy’s protection, hence Dawn’s actual purpose for the season. In any show this would be a lousy way of introducing a long lost sibling, in this show it works pretty well.

The next two episodes didn’t really further the Dawn/Glory storyline too much but when the arc is put on hold, the character drama is notched up a couple of more notches as we learn that Tara comes from a very sexist heritage in the wonderful “Family”, an episode that gives the brilliant Amber Benson a chance to shine and as Tara’s role in Willow’s life and the Scooby gang is further cemented, Riley feels more than let out and seeks solace in a stranger named Sandy. Similarly “Fool For Love” also deals with family in a different way as Joyce’s illness gets on top of Buffy as does her own mortality so when Giles’ research isn’t helpful, Spike’s blow by blow account of how he managed to kill two slayers (with some of the most glorious flashbacks in the series’ history). This episode delivers a deadly warning, one that Buffy takes account of and subsequently ignores. All her predecessors were solitary women with one thing in their lives and as Spike points all any vampire needs to beat a slayer is “one good day”.

With episodes as brilliant the other two while dealing with Joyce’s illness, more Glory versus Buffy antics, Joyce learning of Dawn’s origins and gentle man nurse Ben being more important than anyone could’ve guessed aren’t quite as good. Probably “Shadow” and “Listening To Fear” problems are that they aren’t as tightly written as the previous or even the much awaited departure of Riley in the Marti Noxon directed “Into The Woods” (maybe Marc Cherry got the idea here to use Sondheim titles for Desperate Housewives). Whether you like Riley or not is up to you but this episode evoked all the right emotions and gave Xander one hell of a proactive role for his smackdown of Buffy and declaration of love to Anya, seriously how could you not appreciate moments like that?

Moving into the 2001 era of the series, the much underused Anya got her past explored in the disjointed but funny enough “Triangle” while the bombshell of Glory being a God and her and Ben being related came to a head in “Checkpoint”, an episode which also saw the return of the genuinely irritating Quentin Travers and the Watchers Council’s pointless testing of Buffy.

“Blood Ties” then is a treasure of an episode when Dawn finally learns the truth about herself and goes crazy while meeting with Glory as “Crush” saw the reappearance of Drusilla, had Spike declare his love for Buffy (gag him) but also overstepping the mark. Put it this way, Spike fawning around like a love sick puppy isn’t the best thing for the usually reliable James Marsters so his friendship with Dawn turns out to be more rewarding to watch as watching him contact the slimy Warren Meers in “I Was Made To Love You” to get his own robot Buffy is pretty pathetic. Thankfully the end scene of that episode set up the brilliance of the critically adored instalment “The Body”, a moving hour where Buffy, Dawn and the Scoobies all struggled to cope and grasp with Joyce’s sudden death in a manner true to anyone who’s ever lost someone so close to them.

The final six episodes in between the Summers’ grief for Joyce and a botched resurrection attempt in “Forever” are fantastic. We get Spike kidnapped and mistaken as the key in “Intervention” when Glory gets wind of her way home being a person (what I can say, her minions are thick) but Spike’s torture (light bondage and some punching) are nothing compared to the mess Tara is made into when Glory thinks the key is her in “Tough Love”. Not only does Tara get brain sucked but Willow shows a pretty scary side to her magical nature and a frazzled Tara reveals that Dawn is the key forcing the Scoobies to try and flee Sunnydale in the slow paced “Spiral”. When Dawn is finally snared, Buffy breaks down and Willow has to use magic to reach her emotionally during “The Weight Of The World”. Still a low key affair, we see how Glory’s reign of terror has psychologically affected the Slayer before everything comes to a head in the season finale/would be series finale and 100th episode “The Gift”. One of my all time favourite episodes for many reasons including an epic battle between Buffy and Glory, a touching speech by Spike, Willow and Tara’s reunion, Xander proposing to Anya and the dark measures that Giles took to keep Glory away from Buffy. And all of these were before the Sky One spoiled the sacrifice Buffy made as she threw herself of a scaffolding, into a portal and all to keep her sister alive. I don’t know about anyone else but I wept during that scene, I defy anyone who didn’t. This entire season was near perfection from start to finish and if the show had ended with this episode, it would’ve been one hell of an ending. That being said I’m thrilled we got two more years and as much as I enjoyed them, I will admit that hand on my heart, Season Five is ultimately my favourite season.

DVD EXTRAS: If I haven’t made it clear, Season Five was my favourite season so my expectations for this box set and its extras was at an all time high and to be honest, some extras are terrific, other not as great. The scripts I couldn’t care less about and I hate that the bloopers on offer were from Season Three (the hell?). Also while I love the commentaries on “Real Me” (David Fury/David Grossman), “Fool For Love” (Doug Petrie), “I Was Made To Love You” (Jane Espenson) and “The Body” (Joss Whedon), where the hell were the commentaries for “Family”, “Intervention” and “The Gift”? Still though the other features rock with ones on “Stunts”, “Demons” by Danny Strong, “Casting”, “Introducing Dawn”, “Natural Causes” (a highlight of “The Body”) and the Season Five overview itself. Extras like that won’t make you forget certain disappointments but they keep you satisfied no less.


5x01: Buffy Vs Dracula = 8/10, 5x02: Real Me = 7/10,
5x03: The Replacement = 5/10, 5x04: Out Of My Mind = 6/10,
5x05: No Place Like Home = 9/10, 5x06: Family = 10/10,
5x07: Fool For Love = 10/10, 5x08: Shadow = 7/10,
5x09: Listening To Fear = 8/10, 5x10: Into The Woods = 9/10,
5x11: Triangle = 6/10, 5x12: Checkpoint = 8/10,
5x13: Blood Ties = 8/10, 5x14: Crush = 7/10,
5x15: I Was Made To Love You = 9/10, 5x16: The Body = 10/10,
5x17: Forever = 9/10, 5x18: Intervention = 9/10,
5x19: Tough Love = 8/10, 5x20: Spiral = 7/10,
5x21: The Weight Of The World = 8/10, 5x22: The Gift = 10/10.

Season Five is currently available on VHS and DVD.

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