Fandom 411: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Part One)
"In every generation there is a Chosen One. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer."
What can I say about Buffy the Vampire Slayer that hasn't already been said? With seven years of television series and one "season 8" comic book series (still ongoing), there are so many regulars, recurring characters and big events for each season arc that I could very nearly write a Fandom 411 for each character and season. The seven-year television series is the winner of thirty-two awards (including an Emmy, a Hugo, and a Kid's Choice Award) with another ninety-nine nominations (including a Golden Globe and multiple Emmy nominations). I promise to try and keep my love of the series from overflowing and the glowing praise to a minimum. Just the facts, ma'am.
Usually when a concept makes the journey from the silver screen to the small screen it is because the movie was a big success. I don't really think that was the case here. To be fair, comparing the 1992 movie to the 1997 - 2003 television series is comparing apples to something that is not fruit. Written, but not directed, by Joss Whedon, Buffy the movie was (intentionally or not) campy, vacuous and Buffy herself not nearly as, er¡ athletic as you would expect her to be. The movie might be better than I give it credit for, but to be honest I can't get Frank Zappa's Valley Girl to stop running on my internal soundtrack whenever I've watched it, and it's very distracting. As far as I have been able to discover there is not an active fandom for the movie and so we are going to ignore it, just like everyone else.
Today we'll take a quick look at the television series as a whole but focus more on the influence the Buffyverse has had on the rest of the world. Yes, it really has had some lasting influence on pop culture! Tomorrow we'll take a more in-depth look at the series by examining season themes and story arcs. That look will be from my perspective and will discuss what I take from the series; not only because "it's all about me," but because there are already dozens of books, online articles, online groups, and even a few college classes and religious courses that offer up their own opinions about the series. Don't worry; I'll hook you up with some links in today's blog. Then on Sunday we'll talk about BtVS in fan fiction, and we'll take a look at the regular and recurring characters: their 'ships both canon and non, the development they experienced during the series and a notation about whether they are alive or dead (or undead) in the Buffyverse at television series end. It's a long series and a long list of folks, hence the 'splittage'.
A special note about the Season 8 comic series: It is a canon "season 8"; however I have been waiting for the trade paperbacks to be available so I haven't read them yet. Wikipedia has a nice little write up and basic information about each issue, however, so check it out here. I am excited to read that a "season 9" is in the works; hopefully that will work out.
Giles: We're at the center of a mystical convergence here. We may, in fact, stand between the Earth and its total destruction.
Buffy: Well, I gotta look on the bright side. Maybe I can still get kicked out of school!
The three students continue to class. Giles stays behind and watches them go.
Xander: Oh, yeah, that's a plan. 'Cause lots of schools aren't on Hellmouths.
Willow: Maybe you could blow something up. They're really strict about that.
Buffy: I was thinking of a more subtle approach, y'know, like excessive not studying.
Giles turns to go back to his library.
Giles: The Earth is doomed!
Created by Joss Whedon, the television series picks up where the movie left off, albeit in a very different style. After having burned down her high school gymnasium because it was full of vampires, Buffy and her mother, the newly divorced Joyce Summers, left L.A. for Sunnydale, California. They were hoping to make a fresh start in a quiet little town where nothing ever happened and Buffy could stay out of trouble. Destiny had other plans, though and instead they moved right smack dab on top of the Mouth of Hell. According to Rupert Giles, the Sunnydale High School librarian and also Buffy's watcher, 'the Spanish who first settled here called it Boca del Infierno. Roughly translated, "Hellmouth". It's a sort of, um, portal between this reality and the next.' The series generally revolves around the Slayer's struggle to keep the Hellmouth closed while the forces of evil make repeated attempts to open it.
Since Sunnydale is "Home of the Big, Brewing Evil," much of Buffy's time and that of her watcher and friends is spent battling evil monsters, training to battle evil monsters and researching evil monsters and prophecies. A significant portion of time in the early years of the series is devoted to Buffy's efforts to hide her slaying from her mother, spend as much time as possible with her vampire boyfriend, avoid being grounded, and graduate from high school with her social life in tact. She not only has to deal with teachers who often go missing or try to kill the students, she also has to avoid first a jovial but annoying principal and then, after he is eaten on the job, a second principal who is even more annoying and never jovial. After graduating with a bang, Buffy tries out the college life. Then death. Then a job in a fast food restaurant. Then she destroys Sunnydale ' turning the whole town into a gaping crater. What can I say; it was a busy seven years.
A Word About Words
Buffy: "We're literary!"
For me, the series has always been about the wordplay. The relationships are great, the stories exciting and often emotionally moving. I've cried at some episodes and gotten angry at others, but more than anything I laugh. The Scooby Gang is always armed with a witty quip, or an intentionally stupid remark designed to make a person laugh or groan at the obviously overdone joke. Fortunately, after the first two or three episodes the writers stopped trying to create a new, fresh, hip lingo for teens to use. Early efforts mostly seemed to consist of abbreviated words and came off as way Valley Girl, for sure. What they ultimately managed to do after they stopped trying too hard was have not only a noticeable impact on modern slang, but also make a lasting impression on standard American English.
The show has profoundly affected my use and enjoyment of the English language. I play with it now, as evidenced by the creation of the word 'splittage' above. In fact, I recently said to someone I work with that I rarely get "flapped" anymore. She looked at me blankly until I explained that I had spontaneously related it to someone being unflappable, the opposite of which would be "flappable" and therefore the state of having been "flappable" would be "flapped". She still didn't get it; I had to break down and say that I rarely get really upset about stressful things. That I now consider language to be a fluid and malleable thing is a gift, or maybe a curse, which I owe entirely to the Buffyverse. I'm not alone in the phenomenon, which is further explored in this article about the book Slayer Slang, A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon by Michael Adams.
Academia, Religion & Finance, Oh My.
Giles: What are you going to do?
I found it impossible to "do my homework" on BtVS and *not* come across articles about the show's impact on our modern life. Serious academics at serious universities are seriously studying Buffy. Serious theologians are taking Buffy seriously and both preaching about, teaching about, and writing about the Slayer. Philosophers are philosophizing about Buffy's lessons to us on morality, ethics, even masculinity. I can't ignore them so I'm primarily going to list several interesting links here with brief descriptions since these people are way smarter than I am and whatever I say won't do their work justice.
Vampires and Those Who Slay Them: Using the Television Program Buffy the Vampire Slayer in Adolescent Therapy and Psychodynamic Education, written by Steven C. Schlozman, M.D. of Harvard Medical School.
"Rebel Without a God", written by David Graeber, professor of anthropology at Yale.
"Buffyography" (broken link) - An online bibliography hosted by Don Macnaughton of the Lane Community College Library in Oregon.
"Staking her claim: Buffy the Vampire Slayer as transgressive woman warrior" - An article by Frances H. Early published in the Journal of Pop Culture. A study of "Buffy (the character) as an "open image" transgressive woman warrior figure."
"You Say Tomato: Englishness in Buffy the Vampire Slayer" written by Matthew Pateman, University of Hull. A study of the portrayal of English [British] masculinity throughout Buffy.
And some less accredited but equally noteworthy or interesting articles and sites:
"It's Unbelievably Important: "Flooded" As Blueprint for Season Six" - A fascinating examination of the season six episode "Flooded." Written by and from the blog of Spot 1980.
It's only natural that a show about vampires, demons, and something called a Hellmouth would prompt comment and censure from religious organizations around the world. What surprised me, however, was finding a great deal of praise for Buffy the Vampire Slayer from various religious sources. I offer these links for informational purposes and because they make interesting reading. I do not intend to offend anyone's religious beliefs by doing so, nor do I intend to promote any one religion over another. That disclaimer out of the way, take a look at these finds.
The Unitarian Slayer - an 18 session classroom look at Buffy. "This is a spiritual journey."
All Things Buffy - A sermon by Jim Checkley. As far as I can tell, the pastor delivered this actual sermon to his congregation.
Don't Let Your Kids Watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer: But you can tape it and watch after they go to bed - by Todd Hertz in the magazine Christianity Today.
Christian Symbolism in Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Written by Berni Phillips and presented at Mythcon XXXIV in 2003.
Okay, so I can really only find one article giving financial advice to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It is, however, an interesting article and advice that some of us might well benefit from, so I include the topic anyway! Check out Helping Buffy Slay Her Financial Demons.
And lest I forget, you can't have a show as popular as Buffy the Vampire Slayer has been without your obligatory "All I Know I Learned From" lists and sites of that nature.
Buffy the Patriarchy Slayer - A collection of quotes and snippets from other articles about Buffy and feminism.
And, of course, quotable quotes:
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Quotes Hosted by Wikiquote, this is incredibly comprehensive, with an episode by episode breakdown.
Yesterday we took a brief look at the series and a more in-depth look at the impact Buffy has had on the world around us in the fields of academics, theology, and even banking. Today, we’ll examine the series by taking a look at each season. For those of you that don’t know, each season of Buffy was a series of episodes that stand alone, while also tying into and building on a story arc for the season’s biggest, baddest evil, also known as “The Big Bad.”
The series itself is available on DVD as both individual seasons and complete boxed sets. Reruns are still available for viewing on FX. A few marvelous individuals have posted episode guides and summaries or even complete transcripts of each episode. These are invaluable resources for the Buffyverse writer. Two of my favorites are BuffyWorld and ChosenTwo. If you are a Joss Whedon fan, then great sites are Whedonesque.com and Whedonesque.org. Joss has blogged on the dotcom, and both sites contain up-to-the-minute information about all things Whedon. By extension, that means current information about all things Buffy.
Giles: “Into each generation a Slayer is born, one girl in all the world, a Chosen One, one born with the strength and skill to hunt–”
Buffy: (interrupts and joins in) “… with the strength and skill to hunt the vampires, to stop the spread of their evil blah, blah, blah… I’ve heard it, okay?”
Joss Whedon has stated repeatedly that the overlying metaphor for the early years of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is “High School Is Hell.” The opening episode, Welcome to the Hellmouth, establishes the three relationships that will carry Buffy throughout the series. She meets her watcher, Rupert Giles, the first day. She flees his presence when he declares himself her watcher, until a dead body found in the school sends her back for a confrontation with him. Her friendships with students Xander and Willow are cemented when she saves Willow from a vampire attack.
For me, season one is built around Buffy trying to fight against and deny her calling. Once she has accepted that she can’t escape being the Slayer, she decides to slay on her own terms. She’s going to fight evil and have a life at the same time. Which, she quickly learns, is more easily said than done. Cheerleading doesn’t work out because the mother of a prospective cheerleader is a murderous witch (Witch). Dating a normal person doesn’t work either because it isn’t safe for the unsuspecting normal person (Never Kill a Boy on the First Date). In fact, romance on the Hellmouth proves repeatedly to be a disaster.
Xander leading a group of people possessed by hyenas (The Pack) is a season highlight for me, as is the lonely girl who becomes invisible from being ignored so much (Out of Mind, Out of Sight). My favorite season one episode is Nightmares, where everyone’s worst fears literally come to life due to a combination of mystic energy on the Hellmouth and the coma of an injured little boy. To me, Nightmares establishes early in the series that Xander will face his fears and defeat them in a way that each of us is capable of doing in our own lives.
Buffy decides to stop being the Slayer in the season finale, aptly titled “Prophecy Girl”, in order to avoid dying as has been foretold for eons. She changes her mind, however, after Willow is devastated by the slaughter of a group of students by vampires. Knowing for certain that she is going to her death, she faces the Master - season one’s Big Bad - and does indeed die. Fortunately, Xander is there to quickly resurrect her using CPR. She comes back stronger than ever, going on to defeat the Master and celebrate it with a party afterwards.
Buffy: (steps closer) Open your eyes, Mom. What do you think has been going on for the past two years? The fights, the weird occurrences. How many times have you washed blood out of my clothing, and you still haven’t figured it out?
Joyce: (raises her voice angrily) Well, it stops now!
Buffy: (raises her voice also) No, it doesn’t stop! It *never* stops! Do-do you think I chose to be like this? Do you have any idea how lonely it is, how dangerous? I would *love* to be upstairs watching TV or gossiping about boys or… God, even studying! But I have to save the world… again.
The first episode of season two finds Buffy struggling to deal with her brief death. She seems determined to push everyone and everything away from her, to isolate herself as the Slayer has traditionally been isolated. An attempt to resurrect the Master shows Buffy the error of her ways and bursts both her bubble of arrogance and the dam she’d been hiding her emotional struggle behind. In the third episode, School Hard, we are introduced to Spike, a vampire who will be a recurring presence through the end of the series. My favorite episodes of the season are the few with lots of humor: Halloween (which introduces cult favorite Ethan Rayne); Bad Eggs; and Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.
Willow, with a student named Oz, has the only successful romance of the season; though of course their relationship has Hellmouth-y strings attached to it. Xander, Giles and Buffy’s mother Joyce have their own relationship issues in season two. We also say goodbye to one of our first series regulars. It is important to note the ‘one girl in all the world’ is now one of two. Buffy’s brief death activated a new Slayer, who is called to Sunnydale a few times during season two.
The most important romance of the series is also the source of the most significant love, joy, heartbreak, grief, and terror in season two. After being an ‘on again, off again’ presence in the first season, Angel, the vampire with a soul, and Buffy struggle with dating and then fall in love. In the first of what will be a series of truly horrible birthdays for our heroine, Buffy gave Angel her virginity the night she turned 17. Taking the ‘give a guy sex and he changes’ metaphor to new extremes, Angel loses his soul. He becomes, once again, the demon Angelus that past watchers wrote cautionary tales about. Episodes focusing on this part of the story arc are Surprise, Innocence, Passion and Becoming Parts I and II.
Season two is a tale of agonizingly painful loss, devastating consequences, and broken hearts for nearly all our characters but particularly the Slayer. By the season finale, Buffy is stripped of almost everything. Her relationship with her mother is in tatters. She has sacrificed a re-ensouled Angel by killing him to save the world. She’s been expelled from school and is wanted for murder. Devastated, Buffy leaves Sunnydale for parts unknown.
Jonathan: “We have one more award to give out. Is Buffy Summers here tonight? Did she, um… “
The crowd turns and finds her. She looks nervous at the attention.
Jonathan: “This is actually a new category. First time ever. I guess there were a lot of write-in ballots, and, um, the prom committee asked me to read this. ‘We’re not good friends. Most of us never found the time to get to know you, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t noticed you. We don’t talk about it much, but it’s no secret that Sunnydale High isn’t really like other high schools. A lot of weird stuff happens here.’”
Crowd outbursts: Zombies! Hyena people! Snyder! (laughter)
Jonathan: “But, whenever there was a problem or something creepy happened, you seemed to show up and stop it. Most of the people here have been saved by you, or helped by you at one time or another. We’re proud to say that the Class of ‘99 has the lowest mortality rate of any graduating class in Sunnydale history.” (applause from the crowd) “And we know at least part of that is because of you. So the senior class, offers its thanks, and gives you, uh, this.”
Jonathan produces a multicolored, glittering, miniature umbrella with a small metal plaque attached to the shaft.
Jonathan: “It’s from all of us, and it has written here, ‘Buffy Summers, Class Protector.’”
Season 3 finds Buffy far away from Sunnydale: living and working on her own, dreaming of Angel and definitely not slaying anything. Destiny won’t let go easily though, as a damsel in distress who knows Buffy from Sunnydale comes begging for help. After taking up the mantle of the Slayer once again to break up a demonic sweat shop, Buffy returns to the Hellmouth. A full episode (Dead Man’s Party) is devoted to the struggle Buffy, her mother and her friends deal with in adjusting to her return home. One of the few episodes to feature zombies, it is also home to one of my favorite Giles quotes ever: (in a sing-song girly voice) “Do you like my mask? Isn’t it pretty? It raises the dead.”
Buffy officially says goodbye in season three to the carefree, popular valley girl she was before being called. A fuss with Cordelia prompts her to run for Homecoming Queen, ultimately causing both Buffy and Cordelia to be caught in a trap where they flee for their lives: on foot, in the woods, in formal wear. Angel returns unexpectedly from the hell dimension Buffy sent him to and she chooses to hide him from her friends, causing trust (and fear) issues on all sides. The gang’s method of dealing with the situation and Buffy gives the new slayer Faith a hard shove away from the core group. Relationships for the Scoobies are further complicated by the ‘illicit smoochies’ of Xander and Willow.
Buffy explores the dark side of being a Slayer and the dangers of misusing her power, when Faith appears in Sunnydale after the death of her own watcher. Faith is all the things that Buffy is not. Free of any responsibility other than slaying, Faith is also free of morals, ethics and lives by the code “Want, Take, Have.” A tragic accident wakes Buffy up to the moral precipice she’s teetering on and she realizes that old axiom is true-with great power comes great responsibility. Believing that she will always be second best if she plays with the Scooby Gang, Faith turns to season three’s Big Bad — the affable Mayor Richard Wilkins.
My favorite of all seven seasons, there is so much to love about season three I can’t possibly cover even a fraction of it. I believe this season had the best, most clever, amusing and innovative writing of all. The Zeppo and Helpless are two of my favorite series episodes. The gang says goodbye to the high school in the most literal sense, as well as in the sense of having graduated. Nothing will be the same for any of our characters again. Especially for Buffy, as always, since she says a final goodbye to Angel who leaves Sunnydale for L.A. Ostensibly he left to give Buffy a chance at having a normal life, but in reality, it was to star in his own spin off. That, however, is another 411 altogether.
Colonel: You telling me my business?
Buffy: This…is not your business. It’s mine. You, the Initiative, the boys at the Pentagon–you’re all in way over your heads. Messing with primeval forces you have absolutely no comprehension of.
Colonel: And you do?
Buffy: I’m the Slayer. You’re playing on my turf.
Season four begins with an odd reversal of fortune as Buffy finds herself struggling to fit in at college while Willow blossoms. Buffy’s self confidence suffers so badly in season opener The Freshman that until the end of the episode she is an unhappy and depressed duck out of water, and it almost gets her killed by an upstart vampire gang leader. Giles finds himself unemployed while Xander finds himself back in Sunnydale after his trip to see the world is cut short by car trouble. Giles and Xander spend much of season four feeling left out, cut off from their friends and believing themselves useless most of the time as far as the slaying goes.
Unable to afford to attend college, Xander suffers a series of menial (but episodically convenient) jobs before finding himself happily employed in construction. He is also surprised to begin a relationship with the ex-vengeance demon Anya. Willow seems to undergo the most drastic character changes this season. She loses Oz and in finding her footing she also finds herself; her friendship and then love affair with fellow witch Tara Maclay is my favorite canon relationship of the series; we’ll talk about why tomorrow.
Buffy finds herself in a romantic relationship that will carry her through most of season five, with a teaching assistant named Riley Finn. Riley is not as ‘normal’ as he seems; he is a medically supercharged soldier, part of a secret government demon fighting agency called the Initiative. Since we are all used to the government thinking that it knows best when it doesn’t really, we are not terribly surprised when the whole thing blows up in their faces. Adam, the season’s Big Bad, is a combination of Frankenstein meets the Six Million Dollar Man turned horribly evil. The most interesting thing that the Initiative does is neuter Spike, making him effectively dependent on the Scooby Gang for much of the rest of the series, though they become oddly dependent on him as well. I would be remiss if I did not mention the critically acclaimed episode Hush, which is where Riley and Buffy discover the things about each other that have not yet been said. Since fairy tale monsters have come to Sunnydale and stolen all the voices, it also takes place without much dialogue.
This is a season where our Scoobies walk new and different paths. The problem is that for the first time they do it alone, and therefore are easy pickins’ for Spike when he makes trouble among the group in The Yoko Factor. Buffy throws herself so hard into the relationship with Riley and the ‘new and improved demon fighting tactics’ she learns working with the Initiative that she alienates and ignores the friends that have had her back for the earlier three seasons. The Scoobies reconcile just prior to defeating Adam in Primeval, the penultimate episode of the season and oddly enough, not the season finale. By magically combining their essences to destroy Adam, they invoke the spirit of the first Slayer who sends the group strange, prophetic and oddly cheesy dreams in the finale Restless.
Cut to: graveyard, day. It’s sunny and pretty with lots of trees and grass. Zoom in slowly on a headstone. A small bunch of flowers lies on the grass in front of it.
The headstone reads:
Buffy vs. Dracula, one of the series’ funniest episodes in a lot of ways, starts us off for season five. Taking on the classic vampire mythology, Buffy finds herself temporarily in thrall to the original Dark Prince. The real significance of this episode is the sudden and seamless introduction of Dawn, Buffy’s new sister, who the characters all inexplicably believe has always been there. Buffy asks Giles to be her watcher again, derailing Giles’ first decision to return to England. Giles then buys the Magic Box (the current owner died of neck rupture-again), giving the Scoobies a new place to congregate other than Giles’ small apartment.
Since Buffy can’t possibly be romantically happy for more than a few months, trouble with Riley soon appears. It is my understanding that Riley’s painful journey and ultimate departure this season comes about solely because the fans hated him. I’ve read that Joss viewed him as sort of a ‘Captain America’ figure, and neither he nor I understand why Riley Finn was so despised — I loved his character and thought he was a really good fit for Buffy. At any rate, he ignores medical problems caused by things the Initiative did to him, because he believes that he needs that extra edge to be good enough for Buffy. After he is returned to being a ‘normal man’, an inferiority complex drives him to an addiction to female vamps to feeding off of him. Riley leaves just when Buffy needs him the most, but is incapable of telling him so until it is too late in the episode Into the Woods.
At a time when Buffy is determined to learn more about her powers and train harder and more dedicatedly than ever, she is needed more and more at home due to her mother’s illness. Buffy drops out of college and moves back home to take care of her mother and Dawn. Afraid that her mother’s illness is caused by something hellmouthy, in No Place Like Home Buffy works a spell to reveal any mystic forces that may be affecting her home and family. Instead of discovering the cause of her mother’s illness, she finds something odd about the existence of Dawn. This is later confirmed when she rescues a dying monk while they both escape from something blonde, pretty and incredibly strong called ‘The Beast’. The monk tells her that Dawn is something known as the Key, a ball of energy that they have made human and given to Buffy to protect.
It is fitting that the Slayer reaches the peak of her maturity and adulthood this year, as season five deals with so many issues many of us face as adults in real life, though without the extra scoop of fun the Hellmouth throws in. Tara is welcomed into to the Scooby Gang in Family, which nearly gets her killed. Buffy stands up to the Watcher’s Council in Checkpoint, only to find that the Big Bad this season is not a demon, but a god who wants to kill Dawn. The critically acclaimed episode The Body is a gut-wrenching treatment of the death of a parent and friend, as we say a final goodbye to Joyce Summers. By the season’s finale, The Gift, Buffy is feeling the weight of every loss, every decision she has had to make the past five seasons. After defeating Glorificus too late to prevent the opening of the portal, Buffy chooses to sacrifice herself to save the world. And so Buffy dies a second time.
BUFFY: Wherever I … was … I was happy. At peace. I knew that everyone I cared about was all right. I knew it. Time … didn’t mean anything … nothing had form … but I was still me, you know? (glances at Spike, then away) And I was warm … and I was loved … and I was finished. Complete. I don’t understand about theology or dimensions, or … any of it, really … but I think I was in heaven. And now I’m not. (almost tearful) I was torn out of there. Pulled out … by my friends. Everything here is … hard, and bright, and violent. Everything I feel, everything I touch … this is Hell. Just getting through the next moment, and the one after that … (softly) knowing what I’ve lost…. They can never know. Never.
Bargaining, the two part season premiere, opens with the departure of Giles, who leaves Sunnydale to return home to England. Spike is left to babysit Dawn. Believing that Buffy’s soul was sucked into the hell dimension and that she is suffering eternal torment, Willow leads Tara, Xander and Anya in performing a resurrection spell. Convinced that rampaging demons botched the ritual, they leave a restored Buffy to dig herself out of her own grave. Dazed and confused, Buffy wanders a Sunnydale that is burning and under attack by demons. After fleeing the others and Dawn in panic, she finds her way to the site of her death, the memory of which seems to be overwhelming her with an urge to recreate it. Her pain is understood when she asks Dawn, “Is this hell?” Thus begins season six and Buffy’s long and painful struggle to come to terms with being alive again. And no wonder, since the musical episode Once More With Feeling reveals to everyone that Buffy was not in hell, but in heaven.
Giles returned from England, happy to see Buffy and at the same time angry with Willow and worried about future consequences for their actions. He is not wrong. The dark magic invoked in resurrecting the Slayer takes a toll on those who performed the spell, most especially Willow. The slippery slope of magic that she’s been sliding slowly down since season two becomes a rapid descent into a black ravine. She is unable to gain control over herself or her magic until after she has: 1. Manipulated Tara’s memory to make her forget a fight they had about her overuse of magic; 2. Almost killed the entire gang while trying another memory spell on both Buffy and Tara; and 3. Almost killed Dawn while she was high on dark magic following her break up with Tara. Finally realizing her problem, she goes cold turkey on magic until the tragic end of the season.
Season six is widely acknowledged as the darkest, most depressing season of the entire series for the entire cast with the overall theme “Life is Hell.” Buffy’s struggle causes Giles to feel that she is using him as a crutch, so he leaves for England again. The Slayer’s emotional pain causes her to take a demeaning fast food job and begin a mutually abusive affair with Spike, which ends in a rape attempt. Dawn struggles with depression and the desire to be noticed, acting out by shoplifting repeatedly. Xander, in his only act of the series to truly disappoint me, gives in to his fear and leaves Anya at the altar, spending the rest of the season wallowing in Doritos and self-pity. An understandably devastated Anya takes up being a vengeance demon again.
Rather than facing a Big Bad who gains power throughout the season, Buffy is harassed by three human nerds. Calling themselves The Troika, they attempt to take over Sunnydale but mostly manage to aggravate the already stressed Slayer, much like a hangnail. Instead of killing the Slayer, their leader Warren creates the biggest, baddest Big Bad ever when he comes to Buffy’s home and shoots her in the back yard. While Buffy is indeed badly wounded, a stray bullet has gone in the bedroom window of a reconciled Willow and Tara, killing Tara with a stray bullet. A grief stricken Willow sucks up all the magic she can, becoming black haired and black eyed with dark magic. A three-episode story arc culminating in the season finale finds Dark Willow robbing the Magic Box, killing a local sorcerer, killing Warren and attempting to kill his two flunkies before Buffy catches up with her. She is too powerful for Buffy to defeat. She becomes too powerful for Giles, teleported in from England and filled with borrowed magical power, to defeat. Dark Willow comes closer than any Big Bad yet to completely destroying the world, and it is Xander that stops her. When the world doesn’t end, it wakes Buffy up from her emotional sleep. She’s glad to be alive, glad to be able to show the world to her sister, and we are left with the feeling that season seven will not be nearly so depressing. The last thing we see is Spike defeating a demon and being awarded the return of his soul.
Buffy walks to the group still standing in the hallway. It’s only Willow, Xander and Giles now. Buffy joins them. They stare at each other in a heavy silence a moment before Buffy breaks the ice.
BUFFY: So, what do you guys want to do tomorrow?
WILLOW: Nothing strenuous.
XANDER: Well, mini-golf is always the first thing that comes to mind.
GILES: I think we can do better than that.
BUFFY: I was thinking about shopping. As per usual.
WILLOW: Oh! There’s an Arden B. in the new mall!
XANDER: I could use a few items.
GILES: Well, now aren’t we gonna discuss this? Save the world to go to the mall?
BUFFY: I’m having a wicked shoe craving.
XANDER: Aren’t you on the patch?
WILLOW: Those never work.
GILES: Here I am, invisible to the eye…
Xander, Willow, and Buffy walk down the hall together away from Giles.
XANDER: See, I need a new look. It’s this whole eye patch thing.
BUFFY: Oh, you could go with full black secret agent look.
WILLOW: Or the puffy shirt, pirate slash—
GILES: (turns) The earth is definitely doomed. (walks away)
If I had to pick one theme to represent the whole of the Buffy series, it would be that actions have consequences. That theme comes home to roost in season seven. The unbalance created in the universe when Buffy was resurrected has caused the First Evil to move freely in the world again. In an opening arc (Lessons, Beneath You and Same Time, Same Place) reminiscent of Buffy’s return home in season three, Willow returns from magical rehabilitation in England. She and the gang deal with awkwardness and suspicion when Willow is so nervous that her magic accidentally makes her invisible to her friends and the rest of the gang deals with a demon that kills it’s victims the same way that Willow killed Warren. Buffy defeats the demon, and Willow is visible and home again though they all worry about her control. Sunnydale High School reopens on the Hellmouth, and Dawn enrolls as a student. Buffy is hired as a student counselor and so of course things become demon-y on the first day. Did I mention that soul-having Spike was insane and living in the school basement?
One noteworthy episode takes place prior to there being anything more from the First other than vague hints being dropped and creepy hallucinations being seen. Selfless is both a biography of Anya and a look at her continuing struggle to survive her break up with Xander. Throwing herself back into being a vengeance demon with a… er… vengeance, Anya draws the professional attention of the Slayer after slaughtering several college students. Truly regretting the deed, Anya wishes for it to be undone. Stripped of her powers and her place in the world once again, she must live with the consequences of her wish. She has no idea who she is or who she should be, just that she is alone. She seems as broken as she was right after Xander left her at the altar and it makes me want to beat him to death with a stick all over again.
Conversations With Dead People kickstarts mid season seven, and it’s all downhill from there but quick — but I don’t mean that in a bad way. We learn that the First is determined to destroy the Slayer line. Buffy’s house becomes flooded with ‘potential slayers’ seeking refuge from the minions of the First. The Council of Watchers in England is destroyed. The First has been using Spike, triggering him to kill again. Buffy incurs the anger of everyone when she refuses to turn Spike away, because he has a soul. Struggling to turn the terrified potential slayers into a trained fighting force, Buffy leads an ill-fated attack on the First’s stronghold; several potentials die and Xander is seriously injured. She manages to alienate all of them into mutinying against her; the entire Scooby Gang chooses to appoint a newly returned and rehabilitated Faith as their leader and kicks Buffy out of her own home in Empty Places. The tangible fighting forces of the First, a preacher named Caleb, turok-han (primal, extremely tough vampires) and sightless monks called Bringers, are tougher minions than any that Buffy has previously faced. The overwhelming feeling that I get from Buffy during each episode of the last half of season seven is exhaustion of the ‘why bother’ sort. To me she appears to be only minimally engaged in the battle against the First, as if she believes there is no point.
It is Spike who gives Buffy the comfort and strength she needs to find her center again, enabling her to find the tool she needs to defeat Caleb — the scythe. It is the power she feels in the scythe that gives her the idea to change the world so she can defeat the First. Her attack on the Hellmouth itself revolves around Willow using the scythe to work a spell. The spell activates every potential slayer in the world. The army of slayers takes on the army of turok-han in the heart of the Hellmouth. It is the amulet she is given by Angel to give to Spike that defeats that army of vampires. Spike sacrifices himself to save the world when the amulet activates by surrounding him in bright light, channeling sunlight into the open hellmouth, dusting the turok-han, and causing the Hellmouth-and Sunnydale- to collapse into an enormous crater. The survivors regroup at the edge of crater and take a look at what they have wrought. Thus ends seven years of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
EXT. SCHOOL BUS - DAY
Buffy is still staring at the canyon that once was Sunnydale. Dawn stands beside her, then Giles joins them, as do Xander, Willow, and Faith.
FAITH: Looks like the hellmouth is officially closed for business.
GILES: There is another one in Cleveland. Not to spoil the moment. (bends to pick up a rock and throws it into the canyon)
XANDER: We saved the world.
WILLOW: We changed the world. (walks up to Buffy’s side) I can feel them, Buffy. All over. Slayers are awakening everywhere.
DAWN: We’ll have to find them.
WILLOW: We will.
GILES: (paces behind them) Yes, because the mall was actually in Sunnydale, so there’s no hope of going there tomorrow.
DAWN: We destroyed the mall? I fought on the wrong side.
XANDER: All those shops gone. The Gap, Starbucks, Toys “R” Us. Who will remember all those landmarks unless we tell the world about them?
GILES: We have a lot of work ahead of us.
FAITH: (to Willow) Can I push him in?
WILLOW: You’ve got my vote.
FAITH: I just want to sleep, yo, for like a week.
DAWN: I guess we all could, if we wanted to.
WILLOW: Yeah. (smiles) The First is scrunched, so… what do you think we should do, Buffy?
FAITH: Yeah, you’re not the one and only chosen anymore. Just gotta live like a person. How’s that feel?
DAWN: Yeah, Buffy. What are we gonna do now?
As the others chatter around her, Buffy just stares straight ahead at the hole formerly known as Sunnydale. As she contemplates what’s next, she smiles.