Sunday, November 26, 2006

Buffy The Vampire Slayer - Season 7 Review


US Airdate on UPN: 24th September 2002-May 20th 2003

The smash hit comes to a conclusion as Buffy learns the Slayer lineage has been dramatically altered with The First Evil and a horde of other nasty types take advantage of this. Elsewhere Spike and Willow go through the motions in overcoming past misgivings, Dawn proves to be useful as Xander and Anya are tertiary and Andrew just damn annoying. Also we get more of Giles and a mysterious newcomer named Robin Wood.

Last Dance: Ah, seven years of a hit TV series and coming up with an ending to satisfy all those loyal viewers and critics alike can’t be an easy feat and while this season has some flaws, Season Seven puts up more than a good fight to end Buffy as the iconic and influential series it was rather than a shadow of it’s former self.

You may disagree as certain things don’t even please me but a season that opens with an episode as invigorating as “Lessons” is starting things off pretty well. Let’s see – in England we have Giles getting Willow to control her magic and use it positively because unlike drugs, magic is a part of Willow internally and isn’t something she can walk away from. In Sunnydale, we have a mysterious young lady killed by a group of Bringers as Buffy and Dawn muse over the reopening of the newly rebuilt Sunnydale High.

If ever there was a season opener that perfectly sets up events, “Lessons” is that very episode. Seeing the new Sunnydale High is good for sentiment value but having a likeable but shady looking principal there along with three disgruntled ghosts who Buffy once failed to save terrorising Dawn and her friends while a crazed Spike is goaded by The First Evil, who makes it’s reintroduction more significant by morphing into every single Big Bad in the previous six seasons as well as the Slayer (well, Buffy is technically a reanimated corpse) is definitely a stunning moment like no other and contrary to popular opinion, this season doesn’t necessarily lack in mind blowing or stunning moments.

Nope even the second episode “Beneath You” saw the Scoobies deal with a worm like beast as Spike and Anya scrapped in the Bronze and Buffy learned in an interesting way that Spike has a soul. If there is a gripe with this storyline, it’s probably the horrible way in which the writers skim over the fact Spike nearly attempted to rape Buffy and the Slayer’s insistence to all and sundry through out the season that Spike is the most important fighter on her team. Um, Buffy, you’ve won plenty of battles without Spike, just because the writers love James Marsters doesn’t mean, Spike is your strongest fighter. However, I would say Willow was much more needed.

Willow’s return in the third episode “Same Time, Same Place”, one of the few weak episodes in the season is nicely touched upon. I like that she’s repentant for turning on her friends but I wish we had more emphasis on her grief over Tara. Seeing her at Tara’s grave in “Help” is sweet but why not have counselling or even have the Scoobies express more concern over Tara’s death. I guess when all is said and done; I miss Tara and still can’t used to not seeing her with the Scoobies. For some reason it doesn’t feel right her not being there especially when they are less interesting character in the Scooby core this season and you can’t help but not miss Amber Benson’s screen presence either. In fact, barring a few references here and there, Tara is the first dead character on this show who doesn’t pop up whatsoever, making Amber’s departure from the show more effective and painful too.

Luckily the somewhat likeable Anya is given one significant outing before spending the rest of the season in the background with Xander and it comes in the wonderful flashback episode “Selfless” which puts a nice end to the Vengeance Demon arc and also shows that Willow isn’t totally out of the woods as well, regarding her dark side.

Dawn then got a rethread episode with the fairly amusing “Him” (“Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered” anyone?) Before the arc with The First Evil went somewhere with the breathtaking “Conversations With Dead People”. One of favourite episodes of all time, The First moves in on getting Spike to kill and issuing Willow a dire warning while Dawn violently interacts with Joyce and Buffy unleashes her emotional baggage for the past seven years on a random vampire. Not even the terminally detestable Andrew killing Jonathan can deter the brilliance of this powerful tour de force.

The next three episodes after that – “Sleeper”, “Never Leave Me” and “Bring On The Night” were then mandatory viewing. After all – how could The First be controlling Spike into killing people and why does it want him? Spike’s a pretty powerful vampire but he ain’t exactly the kind of guy you want if your goal is Armageddon. Still though, it’s interesting to see Buffy and company try and lose Spike as the Watchers Council is blown to smithereens, a nasty ubervamp reducing Buffy to a pulp, The First mind fucks some more with Spike, the irritant known as Andrew becomes a regular fitting, Principal Wood continues to get darker and hey, Giles turns up with Potential Slayers.

Yes, here is our arc and ultimately The First Evil’s real goal – to balance the scales between evil and good in the former’s favour and because the Scoobies raised Buffy from the dead, the balance is now disjointed and potentials are being called everywhere and when they’re not being killed by The First and it’s many allies, then it’s up to Buffy and the Scoobies to protect them and train them for the biggest battle in everyone’s lives.

The stinker with the Potentials is that most of them are kind of annoying, nearly all of them (bar the most loathed by viewers – Kennedy) aren’t exactly proactive and Buffy wastes too much time giving them speeches than really preparing them, so you do actually wonder how the hell she’s gonna win against The First anyway.

With only two real potentials given a personality – Dawn’s friend Amanda and Kennedy, you don’t become as emotionally invested as possible and with Andrew mostly coming out with lame geek jokes, it’s annoying that Xander, Anya, Dawn and at times, even Giles have to suffer as a result. They are the people I wanted more screen time for, not just the newcomers.

Kennedy is a character who didn’t sit well with viewers and while her and Willow aren’t anyway as interesting as Willow and Tara, their hook up episode “The Killer In Me” is a series best and even removes Spike’s chip during Iyari Limon’s only showcase episode. Kennedy and Willow are more or less the Buffy/Riley to this season. It’s interesting to a degree but if this show had gotten another season, these two ultimately wouldn’t be together.

Moving away from the Slayer angle, it’s nice to see some interpersonal dynamics between people as Giles’s annoyance over Buffy’s attitude with Spike and Robin’s seething hatred for the blond vampire are ripe in execution. Giles is right though – Buffy is being too laissez fair with Spike (who spends most of the season in bondage and bleating about his soul – dude I get it!) and hey, once we learn that Wood’s mother was Nikki, the subway Slayer Spike offered in New York, I was more than sympathise with the man and his and Giles’ half-hearted way of getting Spike out of the way in the excellent “Lies My Parents Told Me” (pity Drusilla’s final Angel episode wasn’t anywhere near as good as this). I wouldn’t exactly have a welcome mat out for the man who would hurt, never mind kill my mother either. Before those episodes though, we were treated to a brilliant Slayer origin tale in “Get It Done” and Andrew proved slightly useful in “Storyteller”, though why they didn’t kill him in that episode, I’ll never know.

The final five episodes however are important. Spending most of the season having potentials offed by Ubervamps, Bringers and The First while the Seal of Danzelthar wrecked all kinds of havoc was fine to a point. It had to get worse before getting better and The First had one more ace up his sleeve with arrival of misogynist preacher named Caleb, played to perfection by Firefly’s Nathan Fillion. Bringing someone this late in the game meant that Caleb had to make a big impression and removing the eye of one of the Scoobies (poor Xander) while battering Buffy and offing a few more potentials definitely made Caleb an effective baddie (I think that definitely means that Adam/The Initiative were by far the least effective in the series).

“Dirty Girls” was an excellent debut for Caleb and a more than welcome return for Eliza Dushku’s rogue slayer Faith but “Empty Places” finally saw the Scoobies reassess Buffy’s actions and put Faith in the role of leader, one that even Faith admitted she was out of her depth. With so much action in the last few weeks, we needed one more quiet episode and the sex heavy “Touched” serviced that need as “End Of Days” saw a return from Angel and Buffy finally get one up on Caleb as she reclaimed her role of leader.

“Chosen” was then the deciding factor. In a season of too many speeches, potentials, Spike overload, annoying Andrew and a lack of communication with the Scoobies in later episodes, could this episode see the show go out in a blaze of glory or nasty smell in the air? Who am I kidding – this episode rocked! Sure “Becoming” and “The Gift” are way better but Joss Whedon ended this series on such a euphoric high that even Anya’s anticlimactic death, the spoiler of Spike joining Angel and Andrew surviving weren’t enough to break away the joy. Plus I loved the battle inside the Hellmouth (though why every single baddie Buffy and the Scoobies have destroyed wasn’t in there I’ll never know) but while she may have stopped The First, with help from her friends and Wolfram and Hart, you do wonder whether or not Buffy actually won. I mean evil still exists out there and while Buffy is now just a Slayer, rather than the Slayer, it’s still a topical question. Either way this episode reinforced everything I loved about the show.

DVD EXTRAS: It’s the last season so the extras really did need to be good and like all the previous releases, they’re quality stuff. Commentaries on hand included Joss Whedon and David Soloman for “Lessons”, though Solomon is more interesting when he assists Drew Goddard for “Selfless”. “Conversations With Dead People” boasts the most comments with Goddard, Jane Espenson, director Nick Marck and actors Danny Strong and Tom Lenk. The best one is for “The Killer In Me” as Drew Greenberg seems to be drawing on personal experience when writing the Willow/Kennedy material. Drew Goddard is a consistent commentator and he’s back to aid the likes of James Marsters and D.B Woodside for “Lies My Parents Told Me” as well as Nicholas Brendon for “Dirty Girls” as Joss Whedon rounds up everything in his anecdotes for “Chosen”. Other delights include the “Season Seven Overview”, “Buffy 101: Studying The Slayer” (one for media students everywhere), “Generation S” (dedicated to the potentials), “The Last Sundown” (Joss’ Top 10 episodes – I have at least 50), a look at the wrap party and some meh outtakes. Disc 1 contains a “Willow Demon Guide”, 12 trailers (mostly for other seasons of Buffy/Angel on DVD) and a neat dedication to the fans called “Buffy: It’s Always Been About The Fans”. A couple of deleted scenes wouldn’t have gone amiss or a commentary from Gellar, Head or Hannigan but hey, with extras this kick ass – who cares?

EPISODE RATING FROM 1 TO 10:

7x01: Lessons = 9/10, 7x02: Beneath You = 8/10,
7x03: Same Time, Same Place = 7/10, 7x04: Help = 8/10,
7x05: Selfless = 9/10, 7x06: Him = 7/10,
7x07: Conversations With Dead People = 10/10, 7x08: Sleeper = 8/10,
7x09: Never Leave Me = 8/10, 7x10: Bring On The Night =9/10,
7x11: Showtime = 7/10, 7x12: Potential =7/10,
7x13: The Killer In Me = 10/10, 7x14: First Date = 8/10,
7x15: Get It Done = 8/10, 7x16: Storyteller = 8/10,
7x17: Lies My Parents Told Me = 9/10, 7x18: Dirty Girls = 10/10,
7x19: Empty Places = 8/10, 7x20: Touched = 9/10,
7x21: End Of Days = 8/10, 7x22: Chosen = 10/10.

Season Seven is currently available on VHS and DVD.

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