The criticism that Season Six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is bad bothers me. Oh, not because it isn’t bad – it’s god awful. No, it bothers me because people seem to think it was bad because it was “dark.” But heavy storylines can work perfectly well – there’s nothing inherently bad about serious stories. No, it was bad because it had all the nuance and subtly of a drunk frat boy. It is the worst season of the show, if for no other reason than it was the one time that, while watching it, I nearly changed the channel (and no, it wasn’t during “Doublemeat Palace”).

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In fact, the initial “dark” story is actually a really good one. Buffy died and went to heaven, but her friends brought her back. That is such a wonderful idea and one which could easily have taken an entire season to dissect. How would you feel if you were ripped out of heaven? How were her friends supposed to know that’s where she was? It’s a great story idea that is, sadly, boiled down to Buffy acting out in an effort “to feel something.”

Which begs the obvious question: why would she not feel anything? Why would coming back from heaven have made her numb? Wouldn’t it have been the opposite? Wouldn’t the harshness of the mortal coil actually have been too much for her? If anything, she’d be overly sensitive to a world in which bad things happen and people regularly feel horrible. It would be too much for her to take. This idea that she can no longer feel makes no sense, and it quickly becomes clear that it’s just a device to get her together with Spike.

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Because, really, there had to be something to get past the fact that Buffy being with Spike is unbelievably stupid. It’s still stupid, of course, but the writers could at least point to a reason.

And speaking of Spike, his big quest to get his soul back yet again tramples all over the mythology the show was so determined to establish. Spike is a completely different person than William, an evil person, and not someone who would attempt to kill himself so William can reclaim his body. None of it makes any sense but, you know, they had to find a way to keep Spike on the show and they were running out of ideas.

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Unfortunately, Buffy and Spike don’t get the worst of the horror that is Season Six. That special hell is reserved for Willow. That special hell hits its peak in the single worst episode of Buffy, “Wrecked.”

I realize that people like to point to “Doublemeat Palace” as the epitome of bad Buffy, and I don’t deny that it’s awful, with its horrible story and purely-for-shock-value sex scene. But it didn’t insult my intelligence. It offended my eyes a bit, but it didn’t treat me like I was stupid.

The same can’t be said for “Wrecked,” which is an entire episode premised on the horrible metaphor that magic = drugs. Got it? Because Marti Noxon (who is credited as the writer of this episode) is going to bludgeon you over the head with it as much as humanly possible, because either she thinks the audience is stupid or she is just that bad of a writer (while there is evidence to the latter; she also wrote the wonderful “I Only Have Eyes for You” from Season Two).

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Even though we’ve already seen Willow out partying with fellow witch Amy and using copious amounts of magic, apparently, that’s not enough for us to catch on. So we’re introduced to Rack, who is basically a magic dealer. He operates out of a rundown home, complete with junkies hanging around, hoping for their next fix. He loves Willow, of course, because she smells like strawberries. Make of that what you will.

At this point, the metaphor has already been abused to the point where, upon my original viewing, I was bleeding from my ears. And then Willow agrees to take Dawn to the movies, but she’s not feeling herself, so she wants to get right first. Dawn hangs out at the crack house, waiting for Willow to come out. I wonder if McNulty knows about this place.

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Willow comes out and Dawn has a hissy fit (as Dawn does more or less all season long) and, because you’re stupid, the point of all this gets bulldozed home when Willow drives under the influence. They get into an accident, of course, and Dawn is hurt and Buffy gets all mad and Willow hits rock bottom, but not really.

Wait, I’m confused, magic is like what now?

Even though he leaves for a ridiculous reason, I’m kind of glad Giles went back to England, or who knows what would have become of him?

Xander and Anya break up for no real reason. One of the more nuanced sub-plots of the show – that of Xander’s abusive family – is turned into a ridiculous spectacle, completely destroying it. And even though Xander saves the world from evil Willow at the end of the season, he would have been better off going to England with Giles. I’m sure they could have found a reason equal to “I can’t feel anything,” “magic is drugs,” or “you won’t grow up with me around.”

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Was there anything positive to take out of this season? Well, the Trio were okay for a little while. But, again, the complete lack of subtly during the season hurt them. There could have been really interesting things to say about nerd culture and misogyny, but it got buried under a cave-in of heavy handedness.

The musical episode was fantastic, of course. I loved the hell out of it. Was it worth watching the show I loved deteriorate? Would the reality introduced in the wonderful “Normal, Again” be the better one? It’s a toss-up.

Stand-out episodes: “Once More with Feeling,” “Normal Again”



Buffy the Vampire Slayer - The Complete Sixth Season (Slim Set) (DVD)

Director: Bill L. Norton, David Fury, David Grossman, David Solomon, Douglas Petrie
Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendon, Alyson Hannigan, Anthony Head, James Marsters
Rating: NR (Not Rated)

Various.
List Price: $39.98 USD
New From: $9.48 USD In Stock
Used from: $6.74 USD In Stock

  • LauraAkers

    Sorry, Kyle. While I agree with several of your points (the whole Anya/Xander breakup was just needless drama, except for the fact that it sets up her death next season), you’re just as wrongy-wrong as you can be about this one! Any season that includes “Once More with Feeling”–a masterpiece that not only brings together plotlines from the last three years but sets it to music and has the most heartbreaking reveal of the entire show (as well as “I think this line’s mostly filler”) cannot be the worst season. PBBT! ;)

    • Kyle Garret

      Nah, one episode can’t save an entire season. Like I said, I love the hell out of the musical (I stood in line for hours to get Joss Whedon, Amber Benson, and Michelle Trachtenberg to sign my CD — Amber Benson was delightful), but there was just so much awful after it. It dragged down the entire run of the show.

      • Shawn EH

        I think you are 100% right about Wrecked. God, how I hate that episode. I’d take Smashed any day, even, if only out of desperation. “Doublemeat Palace” is this season’s “Beer Bad,” which is just a guilty pleasure. Plus isn’t it the one where Tara realizes what Buffy really is feeling?

        Buffy is feeling, btw. The numbness is her own mask for the pain of being alive again. Which she finally realizes later in the season; she’s not “wrong,” she’s depressed. I agree about your two best episodes, which were both anomalies that only a show that had already achieved so much could do. But personally I love “Dead Things,” and of course the Dark Willow arc. Saved the season for me, despite nadirs like “Hell’s Bells” and “Bargaining 1&2.”

        • Kyle Garret

          I could see that re: Buffy feeling. But I would argue that she wouldn’t be able to mask such a thing. Going from perfect happiness to the real world would be so earth shattering that I don’t think anyone could cover that up.

          • Shawn EH

            It’s not a mask to fool others. She attempts that by telling them “yeah, uh, you saved me,” but admitting the truth to Spike. It’s a mask to sort of fool herself; to place between herself and her pain.

          • Kyle Garret

            I don’t think she could have fooled herself, but she was, at the very least, hiding it from the others, which I don’t think she should have been able to do, either.

          • Shawn EH

            They wanted to believe.

      • LauraAkers

        Also, I have to say that I am glad that Xander didn’t go to England because of the way he saved the world and Willow. Brendan rarely gets any credit for his acting chops, but that scene–the rawness of his love for Willow–always leaves me sobbing. After her pining and their near misses, the strength of what he feels for her–not romantic, not brotherly–that love that transcends all labels? It’s literally the perfect redemption for everything else that’s ever happened (or not) between them. And it saves the world. Doesn’t get much better than that.

        • Kyle Garret

          I didn’t like how that played out. A big part of that was simply the direction, to be honest. It looked cheap to me (and it may well have been, as I think the show’s budget was cut when it moved to UPN).

          Two things about Xander:

          1) I didn’t mean that I wanted him to literally go to England. He’s one of my favorite characters — in fact, I wrote an essay about him for Pop Matters that was eventually published in a collection of essays from Titan. You can read the whole essay here: http://www.popmatters.com/feature/137651-failure-of-the-everyman-the-lost-character-that-was-xander-harris/

          2) I just found a quote from Brendon where he says that Whedon actually told him that season 5 was the end of the road for Xander, and that Brandon could leave the show if he wanted to. I mention it in my essay — I always thought Xander peaked in season 5 and that they had no idea what to do with him after that.

          • LauraAkers

            I agree it looked cheap. But the emotional content was so strong, I just didn’t care.

            BTW, Whiskey’s response to your essay…his references to “beta men,” in light of recent events, is TERRIFYING. Thank you for calling him out three years ago.

          • Kyle Garret

            I KNOW. I couldn’t believe it when I first saw it. The baffling thing about it, for me, is why someone like that was watching the show to begin with.

            Well, and that such a person exists.

            The fact that he got so much support in the comments was equally as terrifying.

            Guh.