Buffy Now that Season Six has passed through the BBC filter, I thought I’d add a few comments to the debate as to whether it lived up to the Buffy mark or whether it’s a whole bunch of episodes which should be skipped over as a bad dream. I should say that any series which lasts through to a sixth or seventh year has got to be really good not to be in trouble. There are very few shows still showing consistent quality in such a late year (I’d offer Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as an example of doing things right). The poorer shows will just continue to churn out the same old schtick, the good ones will develop, change, and try and offer something new. To my money, Buffy is one of those.
The seasonal structure of the series is actually fairly brave. A main arc based about a 'big bad' which runs through all twenty-two episodes, weaving its way through the stand alone episodes. It's a middle ground between the Classic Star Trek model in which the reset switch in the characters is effectively pressed at the end of each episode no matter how life changing the moment and The X-Files in which a conspiracy story carried on interminably for nine series and still wasn't resolved. It gives the seasons a form very similar to film, albeit over a much more extended period. By having a massive foe it also offers a good shorthand of good guy / bad guy for casual viewers.
The problem is that over the successive seasons the 'big bad' had to get progressively more powerful, offer an even greater challenge, peaking in Season Five with a God. Many have seen this as proof that the series happily finish it's story at the end of that Season and anything else is apocryphal, which simple doesn't work. The easier route would have been to have gone for an even stronger opponent (two gods?); instead they back peddle, relax slightly and talk about how in fact, once you have overcome your greatest challenge, there is the issue of what now. Once you've walked on the moon what else there to do. That's what Season Six is about, it's about getting on with your life and that struggle is the 'big bad' here. Some look for highs in other ways.
It is easy to criticize the fairly obvious drug metaphors at play in the season, especially in the episodes Smashed and Wrecked; but it’s at least a subtler exercise than Tasha Yar's speech in the Symbiosis episode of The Next Generation ("You think the drug expands your universe -- but it actually shrinks it. Shrinks it to where you and the drug are all that's left. Pretty soon, all you care about is getting your next dosage. You'll lie, cheat, steal -- anything to get that fix.”) What Willow’s subplot in particular extrapolates is what drug use is actually about – recreating the high created in the first dosage. Will is trying to recreate the moments of discover she had in earlier episodes when she was discovering what magic was about for the first time. We very rarely see her repeat a spell – how often do we hear her say ‘I’m pretty sure I have a spell to ….’ That’s similar to a user going from dope to coke to heroin, which each new drug, a new experience. When Dark Willow surfaces in the final few episodes it isn’t because of one malevolent magical being controlling her mentally – it’s a reaction to the death of Tara and it’s her way of coping with the grief. Like an alcoholic forgetting their problems through drink, the old Willow forgets all of her responsibilities in the Black Magic all of the things she’s fought for over six years forgotten. It’s entirely brave thing to do in a tv series such as this and puts a lot of trust on the fans shoulders.
So Season Six isn’t the greatest. It doesn’t flow properly and there are some episodes (Doublemeat Palace) were you wonder what they were thinking. You wish that there were more episodes which follow the old structure of something weird happens/they research/Buffy kills it; there were more weird funny demon of the weeks; that Buffy still fulfilled her job title (watch how many times she doesn’t slay vampires for the sake of it even when she’s patrolling); in using my name for a demon they spelt it incorrectly; that their weren’t so many Spike scenes dropped in for the sake of it; that there series left Sunnydale once in a while. But it’s still more entertaining than most shows knocking around and I’m eagerly awaiting Season Seven (although I’m going to skip Sky and the BBC and just wait for the DVDs. A much less painful a prospect).