More Goodness in Buffy Season 5
By Kristin Battestella
As if slayerage, college, and boyfriends weren’t bad enough, Buffy perhaps faces her toughest foe yet in 2000’s Season 5. No, it’s not Spike’s unrequited love or hellgod Glory’s might, but rather the horrors of a new little sister named Dawn.
Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) scales back her college plans when her mother Joyce (Kristine Sutherland) is diagnosed with cancer. Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson) help take care of Buffy’s unknowingly mystical 14-year-old sister Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg), who has a little crush on Xander (Nicholas Brendan). Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) gets used to the retail life when he opens The Magic Box, and Anya (Emma Caulfield) discovers her love of money. Unfortunately, Spike (James Marsters) has fallen in love with Buffy- but she has bigger demons to fry. Fallen god Glorificus (Clare Kramer) wants The Key so she can return to her hell dimension and thus break down the barriers between worlds, and you know, destroy the universe.
Well, “Buffy vs. Dracula” had to happen eventually, and creator Joss Whedon puts plenty of nice spin on the season opening traditional vampire lore whilst keeping the story familiar and fun. Again, there’s a little bit of filler at the start of the season- cleaning up the Riley mess in “Into the Woods”- but we need to get to know Dawn in “Real Me” before the introduction of Glory and the big plot this season in “No Place Like Home.” The Previouslies get a little long in the tooth as the season goes on, but it’s intriguing how seemingly unrelated events from “Shadow,” “Triangle,” and “Listening to Fear” come together. Of course, “The Body” is the most awesomest episode and certainly my favorite hour of Buffy. One might even argue that Joyce’s illness is the mini bad of the first half of the season. Year 5 is best as it twists the realistic cruelty of cancer along with the fantastical fight against Glory. From “I Was Made to Love You” thru the finale “The Gift,” every episode leads off one right after the other, creating the tightness and intensity of a miniseries. It’s all so wonderfully juicy because unlike end of the world apocalypse terrors from previous seasons, we have bads that actually best Buffy. “Tough Love,” “Spiral,” and “The Weight of the World,” perfectly lead to her ultimate answer in “The Gift,” and it’s just dynamite.
Yes, it’s great television when the titular Buffy can’t prevent death and hell on earth. We’ve seen her not deal before; but it’s nice to see some sort of proactive non-dealing or mistakes that make things worse. She tries with Riley and screws up, she fights with kid sister Dawn, and she gets her butt kicked by Glory. Buffy also clings to the notion that her mother’s illness is supernatural, because supernatural is something she is supposed to fix and make better. Oh, if only that were true! These intelligent and heartfelt dilemmas set off the monster hijinks and keep us rooting for Buffy. We all fight demons of one kind or another, don’t we? It’s inspiring that a show that should give us more fantasy allegory instead takes time to keep it personal and real. And in addition to all the heavy, props to Gellar for also having some honest but no less tongue in cheek fun as the BuffyBot in “Intervention.”
Unfortunately, you just know from the opening episode’s sunshiny beach funfest, that stinky do-gooder Riley is not right for Buffy. He just isn’t her type of guy, no matter how hard she tries for him to be, and eventually even Buffy seems annoyed by his presence. Why are we wasting time with Riley’s weak and unloved issues when there are more important things blooming? When he goes medically AWOL in “Out of My Mind,” no one but the trying to hard Buffy seems to care, so why should we give a hoot? Would be- at least in his mind- boyfriend Spike is once again far more interesting. He does more in his “out for a walk…bitch” quip then the wasted Riley centric episodes. The “Fool for Love” crossover and its visits from David Boreanaz as Angel, Juliet Landau as Drusilla and Julie Benz as Darla looks period piece cool while intercutting with Spike’s revisionist and love blind narration. We need to know where Spike comes from in order to accept his moving forward and the character changes to come. Even if some dislike his direction in the last two seasons, his growth here and the juicy fighting with Buffy have more depth and chemistry than the ho-hum Rileyness. Spike sees right thru his rival for Buffy’s affections, and he uses his insights and manipulations to his own advantage in “Crush.” While he certainly isn’t without feeling or morals, Spike is, after all, supposed to be evil, so how does he end up doing so much good sans a soul?
Giles also initially wonders where he fits in Buffy’s world- only to realize how critical he becomes to her and Dawn. He gets to have some fun, too, with the new Magic Box angles and a mid life crisis sweet car. Sometimes it even seems like the show could be Giles in the Magic Shop with merchandise and customers gone awry and still be cool. Little touches such as how after such a relatively patron-less and traffic free library, Giles is at first overwhelmed by capitalism adds new purpose for him beyond Buffy. The juxtaposition also works great for Magic Box clerk Anya. It’s about time Caulfield became a full fledged cast member, and Anya is given more to do then just being Xander’s girlfriend. Although I don’t understand why she’s always changing her hair, it’s great how Anya says bad and untimely but perfectly pertinent things. A lot of her role still hinges on Xander naturally, but their relationship has also progressed into seemingly solid coupledom.
Xander, of course, is the only person who could get away with using a word like “quell.” However, it’s a little bit of a retread to have him so intrigued by the potential lesbian action and his crappy useless selves in “The Replacement.” Fortunately, Xander seriously grows up and proves his worth to the gang and even forms a quirky, almost dare I say it friendship with Spike. But why, why, why is Amber Benson not a regular cast member? “Family” wonderfully and firmly places Tara in the Scoobies – even if the allegory of closed mindedness and lesbians must be demons! is a bit much. For her soft strength and support and what she goes through in “Tough Love,” Tara becomes far more likeable as an individual and as part of a couple than Riley had been. Her alternative lifestyles aren’t forced upon the audience or in your face- and Benson does wonderfully when things get drastic for Tara. Willow and Tara’s romance is portrayed with skill, kindness, and sympathy instead of golly gee shocks macho. Their groundbreaking kiss in “The Body” isn’t played for lesbian hurrahs, just honest and natural affection amid such grief. Likewise, Willow takes care of Tara, as any one in a relationship would do. She takes charge late in Buffy’s absence and grows into a powerful witch proving her might against Glory. Willow has come a long way since high school indeed.
Some viewers may be shocked, even pissed at Dawn’s sudden entry this year, but the foundation had been laid for those that were paying attention. Yes, she is a little juvenile and annoying to start, to say the least; going for the treat in the cereal and not understanding the true extent of Willow and Tara’s relationship. However, Dawn is supposed to be clueless, new, and annoying. Nowadays we’re probably used to scratching our heads over drawn out, seemingly meandering series like Lost and Heroes. But even audiences who are upset with Dawn’s random placement early in Season 5 should hang in there and have faith. Everything is explained all in good time, and debate about whether her presence is good or bad and how Dawn feels about it all adds sweet human touches to the mystery and mysticism. She doesn’t know; it’s not her fault. Our sympathy over “Blood Ties” and “Forever” wins out because Buffy does what she does best with Dawn- give compassion and protect the innocent.
Kristine Sutherland is also a delightfully bittersweet Joyce Summers, and Clare Kramer (The Thirst) is equally love to hate worthy as Glory. Her bridezilla style and ultimate bitch ways are great against Charlie Weber (Everwood) as Ben- the good guy who isn’t really good. At first, we can say his behavior isn’t his fault, but later his survival instincts take over his morality in a nice antithesis to Dawn’s innocence. Mercedes McNab is again fun as Harmony, the big bad in her own diluted unicorn-loving mind. Adam Busch (Sugar & Spice) as Warren will of course return for more in Season 6. His robot designs are considerably more advanced in the Buffyverse, but the snake effects always kind of stink on this show. At least the Knights of Byzantium look sweet, and Buffy has a lot of nice action filming, lighting, dream like sequences, and slow motion designs this season. Of course, the lack of the traditional effects and bells and whistles in “The Body” are ingenious. Its simplicity never gets old, unlike some of the bemusing effects for Glory. Thankfully, the new Magic Box is cool- even if they can talk about end of the world secrets at their Scooby round table in the middle of a commercial venue full of customers!
Naturally, thanks to renewal wars and rights technicalities for The WB, the future move to UPN, and the downhill trend of the subsequent two seasons, some enjoy debating the merits of “The Gift” as Buffy’s would be or should have been series finale. The possibility is intriguing, and the great opening clip reel sums up the entire show in speedy fun. Are enough character arcs and series long storylines rectified in Season 5 and the finale itself to create closure? I believe so. Buffy does her duty, Willow uses her witchy ways for good and saves Tara, and Xander takes pride in his “glorified bricklayer” self. Like a true guardian and father, Giles does what Buffy cannot in order to help her and Dawn, and even Spike almost becomes a full-fledged Scooby: “Till the end of the world. Even if that happens to be tonight.” Perhaps a few things are left unanswered in the wake of “The Gift,” yes. But these postscripts also work wonderfully. Like life, not everything is going to be resolved, and no one knows what will happen next or if they can handle the real life dilemmas or monster drama. Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da.
Again, some of the juicy and/or bland sex between the couples in Buffy is getting a little mature and not always appropriate for the youngins. However, the introduction of Dawn and the return of youth through her while our core players really grow up is a nice element for newer audiences to join in. In fact, Season 5 of Buffy almost plays like a contained season; one need not begin prior or proceed after. Of course, after seeing the finale, you can’t not watch Season 6, even if it’s just to see how the hell they get Buffy out of this one! Return to the Hellmouth and save the world with Buffy Season 5 one more time.