The Buffy-A-Thon: Season 5
And so life -- or rather, death -- goes on. In my ongoing project to watch the entire seven seasons of "Buffy The Vampire Slayer," I've wrapped up season 5 and started season 6 – and now I'm getting sad for the inevitable end of the series. But heck, I'm enjoying the ride, and it's a show that's still better than 90% of what's on TV these days.
Season 5 is the transition point from young cool kids to hard adulthood for the Buffy gang. After dabbling in college last year, there's very little of that shown here – by the time Buffy officially drops out, you figure she'd already stopped going months ago.
For Buffy, it's a season of loss – her mother, her boyfriend, and in the end, even her life. But she also gains a mystical sister, whose addition is an odd but ultimately successful moment for the series (while I still have to question a spell so powerful it can magic up a person and her memories for the entire world, heck, it's a show about a vampire slayer, so I let that go).
The theme of this season is family, and what it means for someone whose job is to deal death to demons. Michelle Trachtenberg as Buffy's "sister" Dawn takes a few episodes to get the right vibe, but by season's end I found her believably annoying-slash-vulnerable as a little sister can be. James Marsters' Spike continues to be the most charismatic of the characters, and livens up every scene he's in. He takes the quite implausible notion of a vampire crushing on the Slayer and makes it work.
The tone of this season is hard to get used to, though, as there's less light-heartedness (besides a very amusing battle with Dracula himself in the season opener, and the enjoyably bitchy portrayal of goddess-gone-mad Glorificus, the series' main villain). But it's also, I would argue, the best season in terms of sheer skill – the writing, acting and themes are all at top strength. Perhaps the only drawback is that it's just all so darned dire for Buffy throughout, culminating in her self-sacrifice to save her new sister's life at season's end. A little bit of the goofy pulpy joy to be found in the previous few seasons is gone, but admittedly it's replaced by the confident posture of a series trying to combine horror, kung-fu action, drama and humour in a way few television series have ever done.
Best episode: Speaking of dark – "The Body," where Buffy's mother's sudden death is handled with a shocking, matter-of-fact realism that hits you like a body blow. No sappy sentimental music, just a sense of shock and harrowing loss that's as hard to view as any gory vampire battle might be. In a series where critters die pretty much every 20 minutes, this episode yanks bank the veil to show how shattering one death can truly be. It's easily one of the top "Buffy" episodes ever.