Viewing Habits: Talkin’ Buffy, Part 1

The EG gang picks apart season six. Somehow, pudding is involved.

By Sarah, Ivan, Chris, Matt and Dan
September 23, 2002
Ah, Buffy, season six: the year of Slayerly antics that generated more controversy, debate and sex scenes next to a dumpster than all the other seasons combined. (OK, so there was only one sex scene next to a dumpster. That was about one more than we needed.)

EG’s most dedicated Buffy Buffs recently gathered to debate the finer points of this conflicted season, to run down which elements they really hated, argue for the ones they really loved, and look ahead to what could be the Scoobies’ final season.

Introducing the panelists…

Sarah Kuhn: Resident Buffy reviewer. Currently recovering from American Idol addiction. Fun fact: Has replaced James Marsters shrine with decorative planter.

Ivan Sian: Not-so-secretly loves girly WB shows. Used to write a column called “Movies So Bad You Shouldn’t Watch Them Sober.” Fun fact: He rarely is!

Chris Stewart: Resident nostalgia whiz. Actually remembers Airwolf. Fun fact: Actually misses Airwolf.

Matt Springer: Will review Angel this season. Currently mourning the death of his most prized possession. Fun fact: Was jeered at numerous times whilst waiting in line for Attack of the Clones.

Dan Wiencek: Reviews Futurama and other shows. Makes hilarious Law and Order ‘toons. Fun fact: Is currently conceiving new L&O spin-off, Law and Order: Special Cops Who Have Criminal Intent And Are Played by Sam Waterson Unit.

When these geeks gathered to talk Buffy, here’s what transpired…

Sarah: Well, gang, this season was a big fat mixed bag for me. On the one hand: Hello, musical, Dark Phoenix Willow and funny amnesia. On the other: Get out, screechy relationship angst, mopey Buffy and drug addiction metaphors. To me, the final arc had it all: epic showdowns, amusing meta-dialogue, and the ass-kicking return of Giles. But getting there was a pretty tortured road, and there were moments that just screamed, “Look, I’m a TV movie!” to me.

Ivan: I’ll agree with you and the general consensus on season six. Overall, it was an extraordinarily depressing season. Depressing’s not necessarily a bad thing — just look at how good “The Body” was — but coupled with the depressingness (is that a word?) of Angel, I was tired of being bummed out. (And yes, I can talk about the entire year as a whole being depressing, but I won’t.)

Chris: I guess we’re three for three — I really didn’t like season six as a whole. Individually, there was some good stuff, and I do think things started to pick up at the end, but for the bulk of the season, I was just watching out of habit. I despised the League of Super Nerds, especially, though I did think their final descent into madness had some worth. Unless season seven really kicks ass, I’m stopping my DVD collection at season five and pretending that the series ended with Buffy‘s sacrifice.

Sarah: Hmmm, sort of like how I don’t count the Star Wars prequels as part of my SW continuity, eh, Chris? Thing is, it’s not so much the depressingness I object to. I can vibe with depressingness, and in fact, believe that many of this show’s great moments have sprung forth from depressingness. I’ve heard people say, “Well, Buffy was just a lot darker this season.” Well, no. To me, the show has always had dark undertones, but I don’t think many of the various storylines mined the existing darkness very well. A lot of the storylines just devolved into people screaming at each other. The absolute worst was that big argument scene in “Entropy,” where it’s basically Xander, Spike, Buffy and Anya in this huge clusterfuck of relationship angst. Very Melrose Place, only without the slapping.

Matt: It’s funny that y’all are saying that you liked individual episodes but disliked the overall story arc; I feel the opposite. I feel like the arc makes a lot of sense, but that some of the individual moments in it were so poorly executed that the flow and emotional continuity suffered. In many cases, I think what we saw was not great television, but good Buffy. By that, I mean that many of the quirks we recognize as inherently Buffy were present, but little to nothing beyond that. When the show is great, it isn’t just the sum total of its quirks; it’s so much more.

As for whether specific story points of this season did or didn’t work, to me, it’s a moot point. Joss and Co. have succeeded plenty of times at making incredibly stupid ideas work brilliantly. (Angel has a baby? Eh??? But man, the look on his face when he saw Holtz jump with Connor through that portal…) If the execution had worked, I could have swallowed a thousand Legions of Nerds. But the individual episodes and moments stumbled, so the season arc floundered.

Dan: The main thing I noticed in this season that bugged me was a palpable sense of laziness creeping into the writing. What attracted me to the show years ago was that the writers never took the easy way out by sacrificing plausibility for plot convenience. Now you can see it starting to happen.

Example: Buff comes home from the Doublemeat Palace with a squashed burger for Dawn’s dinner. Dawn, understandably, is unthrilled. Enter Willow, who we know has been living full-time at the Summers’ place and apparently has little to do other than noodle on her iBook all day. We know also that she’s been conscious of the difficulty Buffy’s had readjusting and is eager to lend a hand. So why can’t she slap some peanut butter and bread together to make sure this girl didn’t go hungry? Doesn’t every suburban girl learn how to whip up mac and cheese before they leave kindergarten? But, no — the writers want Buffy and Dawn to be constantly tense and at each other’s throats, regardless of anything else going on, so they fall back on sitcom-like contrivances and end up with tension that feels hollow and forced. This may seem like a small thing, but it’s how a show like Buffy gradually ends up looking and feeling like every other show.

Did I mention the “Invisible Buffy” episode was annoying?

The “Invisible Buffy” episode was annoying.

Ivan: I agree. But then I started thinking about what exactly it would look like to have sex with an invisible girl…uh, I won’t finish that thought.

The Nerds: Legion of Dumb?

Chris: About for nerd hate, I don’t know. I think what I disliked was a pile of things. At first, I disliked them recycling old characters. Then they made them villains. Then they made them nearly constant repeat villains. And then they made them goofy, cartoonish villains. In the end, it just seemed a total waste. It made for a few good laughs, and a fine sub-plot around which to work out some major plot points, but it might have worked better if they’d been a little darker a little sooner. I think the best use of the nerds was in “Seeing Red,” when Warren, for all of an entire season’s worth of Wile E. Coyote contraptions, tosses off the goofball and is reduced to channeling his helpless rage into a gun. But man, that’s a lot of set up for that one message. And even then, the nerd round-up has that jet-pack escape into the ceiling.

I’m surprised Buffy didn’t throw Hostess Fruit Pies at them.

Ivan: Great lines, though I’ll admit a weakness for this reflexive, post-modern crap, even though I know it when I see it. That’s why “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” is still one of my favorite X-Files episodes. I guess that makes the whole phenomenon completely self-referential. Or it makes me a complete dork. Probably both.

I must say, when I try to look at the characters objectively, they bug me, and here’s where I admit to something stupid: They stretched my suspension of disbelief to the breaking point. For some reason, I can accept magical demons, vampires and transdimensional portals, but I can’t accept invisibility rays and robots. It’s the science geek in me. Magic, by its definition, is unexplainable; science isn’t. So me trying to accept that three dorks in their basement can build things that even the fucking U.S. Army apparently can’t just pisses me off. Stupid and irrational, I know, but don’t mess with my suspension of disbelief. Like the fact that Rory likes Jess now. Come on. (Sorry, wrong show.)

Dan: I totally fucking agree. I think fantasy shows need to establish when and how they break the rules, and once the pattern is set, it’s hard to slip past it. When the demon came from space last season, I thought it worked — who’s to say demons can’t come from other planets? But invisibility rays, even ones powered by mystical diamonds, is bullshit. Like the Doctor suddenly sitting down and casting a spell with K-9 in the Tardis.

Chris: A freeze ray. People frozen solid. But they thaw out later and they’re fine. Water doesn’t freeze into crystals that rupture and destroy cells in this universe? No, wait. We’re complete dorks, Ivan.

Matt: I liked the nerds, because I thought it was important for Buffy to face a human foe that couldn’t be explained away by magic or the inherent evil of the Hellmouth. I didn’t personally have problems with their science capablilities; to me, that was as worthy of disbelief suspension from me as magic and the supernatural. It really worked for me that these were just three fucked-up guys. One of them was really, really fucked up. I thought that was great. I also think the point that Joss, Marti and everyone else said in every interview is pretty important too: the nerds were avoiding adulthood in a very immature way. That’s one way to deal with your 20s. Another way is to fuck a vampire. Sarah, didn’t you try that once? How did that go?

Sarah: Aw, man, did you have to go there? Let’s just say this: meeting the parents? Didn’t go so well.

Buffy, Spike and Stoopid Sex in your 20s

Ivan: Speaking of vampire fucking, I’ll go ahead and mention the big elephant standing in the room.

I don’t like to see Buffy slutty.

Yeah, I know, more double-standardy, borderline misogynistic bullshit, but I’ll cop to it. It bugged me when I was 20 that chicks would fuck the bad boy. Ten years later, I understand it a lot more, but that still doesn’t change the fact that 10 years previous I was getting dumped on in favor of the fuck ’em-and-leave ’em guy in leather pants who hung out in the dorm stairwell smoking cigarettes. Yes, I realize that the comparison isn’t one-to-one. Spike has turned a corner, loved Buffy, blah, blah, blah. Still bugged me to see a character I’d learn to care about act so…fucking dumb. But, to concede to the point Whedon and Co. were trying to make, that’s what being in your early 20s is all about.

Sarah: Dude, do you really want me to bust out my women’s college manifesto-speak on the problematic nature of calling a girl “slutty” just because she has a whole lotta sex with a bad boy? I’m thinking no, so I’m just gonna insert a major eye roll right here. I’m in agreement with Whedon and Co. that Buffy/Spike isn’t a bad example of the all-sex-and-drama sorts of relationships one tends to have in their early 20s. That said, their relationship made both characters incredibly annoying for me. On one side, it’s all Buffy going “I hate you! Kiss me!” On the other, it’s all Spike being a pathetic puppy. Blech.

Dan: I feel your pain, but I really liked this plot thread. I think Buffy’s sorrow at being jerked back to life was the most interesting thing going on in the first half of the season; the idea that you could be angry at your friends, even to the point of hating them, for bringing you back to life is immensely provocative. Such a person might well be driven to desperate acts of self-destruction and self-loathing, and the gettin’ it on with Spike felt entirely…well, “appropriate” isn’t the word, but you know what I mean. Likewise, when Buffy broke down and confessed the affair to Tara, it was a great and powerful moment owing to one line of dialogue: “Don’t forgive me.” That line took some real insight. She couldn’t bear for anyone not to despise her the way she despised herself.

Matt: Yeah, Ivan, I gotta say, what for you was “fucking dumb” was pretty much a dead-on characterization of the early 20s. As Dan says, it also played well into the whole searching and lost aspect of Buffy’s return from the dead. For me, my favorite moment actually came in “Normal Again,” when Spike came into the room and told Buffy what I’d been thinking for months: She’s a bloomin’ martyr. She likes the misery. That’s so damn true. So you not only get the whole lost-20s-formerly-dead angle on the romance, you get the I-like-the-pain angle. It seems too easy to say, “Oh, she liked pain, just like Angel,” but I don’t think that connection can be denied. She refused an easy, grounded relationship with Riley and found herself in the arms of the most disastrous man she could find.

Sarah: Speaking of disastrous, my most hated plot device this season actually has to do with Spike, and Dan, I believe this relates directly to your lazy writing comment. There were a few elements that were obvious, “let’s get from point a to point b” type of things, but none so much so as that wretched Spike/Buffy attempted rape scene. OK, first of all, what was that? Has Meredith Baxter-Birney suddenly replaced SMG in the credits? This was probably the biggest TV movie moment ever to grace Buffy. Even worse, it didn’t make any sense. You could see the little wheels turning in the exposed writerly brain: OK, we need to get rid of Spike for a couple of episodes. OK, you know what? We really need to remind people that he’s bad. He’s a vampire! Forget the fact that he hasn’t done anything much badder than walking around with an exposed torso for a coupla years. To me, that was just a dumb, gratuitous plot device. So obvious. Really hated it.

Dan: Yeah, the attempted rape struck me as cheap, unmotivated melodrama. I almost can’t comment on Spike’s development because I can’t accept that that actually happened. And I’m really not looking forward to anotherbrooding guilt-racked vampire wandering the Buffy universe.

The Little Sister: Scrappy Dawn?

Ivan: Related to character growth, Dawn was another sore spot for me all season. Just when I thought she’d grow up, she did something else annoying. Yes, if I put myself in her shoes (as much as a 30-year-old man can when relating to a 15-year-old girl — and yes, I realize I just left myself open to all sorts of pervy comments, so take your best shot), Dawn is having a tough time. Her mom died, they’re having money problems, she’s not really a person, and her sister is protector of the universe (problems not necessarily in order of importance). Oh, and she happens to be a punk-ass teenager. Yes, life sucks. Just when I would start to think she was progressing, she’d do something that pissed me off. There were times I wanted to reach through the TV and slap some sense into her.

Chris: HAH! Ben likes to wear shoes made for 15-year-old girls! I love these talks. We should do them more often.

Dan: Oh, Dawn was awful this season! There is a line between believably portraying adolescent angst and being deliberately, almost perversely grating and annoying, and Dawnie hopscotched over it pretty much every week. She was either pissy and self-centered when the situation plainly called for restraint or else meekly accepting and forgiving when she should have been standing up for herself. Grr. Serious grr.

Xander and Anya: The Not So Bold and the Very Beautiful

Sarah: OK, Annoying Thing #374: Xander. I usually adore him, but this season I was totally annoyed with him up ’til the very end. He’s always been a little more heroic than the others, because he’s just A Guy. A Guy who doesn’t have to do all this heroic crap, and yet he does. But this year, he just acted like an ass, all leaving Anya at the altar and going judgey. You don’t want to marry her? Fine, but don’t leave her ass to clean up the whole damn mess and deal with your shitty family. I’m just saying.

Dan: He is an ass, but he’s a believable ass. The moment in the wedding episode that stuck with me was at the end when he looked across the room and saw his drunken father haranguing his mother. This guy comes from a family of fuck-ups, and he knows it, and he lives with the nagging fear that he’s basically a loser with nothing to offer anybody, and that despite his best efforts his genes will eventually do him in. A very understandable fear, particularly given the extraordinary company he keeps. I’ve enjoyed watching him become a competent adult as he learns a trade he’s actually good at. (How he affords that swank apartment is beyond me, though.)

Sarah: I understand the fear and why he didn’t want to get married — the moment where he looked at his father broke my heart. What I didn’t like was him just taking off like that. I know, I know, it’s more dramatic and all, but I would think that the stand-up Xander we all know would at least stick around to say, “Hey, all, the wedding’s off,” and help Anya clean up the mess.

Chris: I’ve always liked Xander, but I’ve never felt he was that big of a hero. He was scrappy, and that’s admirable, but I don’t know how big of a hero he ever was. He’s been getting slowly better as a person and moving towards big hero, but I think the whole wedding thing just showed that he’s still just a guy. You’re right, he should have done the tough thing and stood by his decision rather than running away, if he was a full blown hero. He’s not there yet though and that’s why he ran. Now, having said that, I think this set up the big season ending, which in contrast shows that given the wedding debacle, he’s not perfect, which is good — perfect is boring, but he still has some hero in him.

Matt: What bothered me about Xander not getting married is that while, it is a pretty huge-ass early 20s fuck-up to walk out on a wedding, I would have liked to see Xander married to Anya. I think it offered lots more potential for the show’s future, in terms of a honkin’ huge area of life development for the writers to mine, just as they’ve mined high school, college and the early 20s. Perhaps it’s another case of the characters leaping around a bit too aggressively to justify the motivations and points trying to be made by the writers? Xander flaking didn’t really fit him, but it fit the early 20s = dumb ideas theme, so let’s just squeeze this square peg into this circular hole here…

Tara: Goodnight, My Love

Dan: Tara (RIP): “Nothing in [her] life became her like the leaving it.” Sorry, but Tara was a bad idea who simply needed to be started over. The team worked their asses off, but I don’t think they ever distinguished her from Willow or gave her a unique role in the show.

Sarah: Well, I love Tara, and I actually thought she played a very important part this year — she somehow ended up being the only nice person left in Sunnydale. There were times where I felt that she really embodied the emotional heart of the show — I loved that Buffy chose to confess the Spike-fest to Tara, as I think T was the one character who 1) wouldn’t judge her and 2) wasn’t completely wrapped up in her own angsty drama, and therefore wouldn’t be like, “That’s nice, Buffy, but wait ’til you hear what happened to me…” Also, it bears noting that Tara was the one character who seemed to give anything resembling a rat’s ass about Dawn.

Matt: I completely agree, though I’ve also discussed with Dan in the past how Tara has always seemed like a pleasant, compelling character in search of a purpose. (Buffy = Slayer, Xander = Guy, Giles = Mentor, Dawn = annoying sister, Spike = evil vamp turning good, Anya = Ex-demon, Willow = Witch, Tara =…um…another witch? Willow’s girlfriend?) And you can see how since the end of season four and her pivotal role in “Restless,” they’ve been setting Tara aside almost, making sure she stayed largely above the fray. I guess in that sense, her lack of a real active role in the Scoobs is what allowed her to be the only person this season sorta doing things “right.” Or at the very least, approaching a pretty tumultuous time in her life with grace, maturity and a notable shortage of dumb-ass ideas.

Chris: I’m sorry to see Tara go. She served a role much like Mrs. Summers did. She had a good heart, cared for the entire group, and as a result, was doomed to die as well. I feel bad that Tara’s death was telegraphed from the beginning. It was pretty apparent that we were careening to a Dark Willow saga and that the one thing that would trigger it would be Tara’s death. It’s a crap way to treat a character, in my opinion. However, it’s a magical world, so I’d imagine we will see her again. I think the show could use a ghost, to be honest.

Sarah: Matt, I’d say Tara’s purpose, for me, was to serve as a sort of sweet, good-hearted glue holding the Scoobies together. I think she was beginning to slip into a semi-Giles sort of role as resident confidant and caregiver. I mean, who else is going to make Dawnie funny-shaped pancakes and listen to Anya blather on about her wedding vows? There are many things about her character I wish they had elaborated on — her relationship with Dawn, for example, as it wasn’t just an “I’m friends with Willow and you’re Willow’s girlfriend, so I like you, too” sort of deal. I also think she and Anya made a good yin-yang sort of pairing whenever they had scenes together. Oh, now I’m getting all choked up…*sniff sniff* I heart Tara! *sob…*


This is a good way to segue into the final arc, though (“Villains,” “Two To Go,” “Grave”). How did y’all feel about the death of Tara and the events it triggered?