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"Oh, you always so grouchy when you get cut in half."
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March 22 2003

"Oh Grow Up". Slayage.com's op-ed piece praises BtVS's most controversial season.

"I don't use the word 'terrible' as an adjective to describe the quality of the shows; on the other hand I use it as an adjective to describe what our beloved characters were going through. Season Six of Buffy was darkness."

Finally! Someone with a bigger soap box than I have saying what I've been trying to say. Seasons 1-3 were about the hells of youth. Seasons 4-6 were about the hells of adulthood. Season seven is about bringing it all home. What's not to love about all of it? Great storytelling from beginning to end. Naysayers can kiss mah bohiney. *smirk*
Yup, I'm with you, ZachsMind. And I agree with the general sentiment of the author, but don't necessarily think he made his case very well. (He needs an editor, not to mention a re-evaluation of Riley as being defensible.)

Season six was flawed, yes. But it's one of my favorites, and possibly the one that rings the most true to my own experiences. It's damned powerful, challenging and very much adult.
My God! Are you saying, Keever, that an _Internet writer_ needs an editor? Gasp, the horror!

:-)
I'll also put in a vote of support for Season 6. Flawed I'll definitely admit (although no matter what damage the episode did to the arc, I maintain that Alyson Hannigan's performance in the final moments of "Wrecked" was unbelievably heart-shatteringly excellent), but one of the most provocative and interesting seasons (what they explored and what they began to suggest was all much more daring than I think we commonly find in television OR cinema).

Despite all the fan-hate of the season, my theory still is that it was conceived in appreciation for the fans. Watching it was like rewatching Season 1 and Season 2 through the lens of "The Wish"; I felt as though it was a twisted, and in many ways, wonderful remake of those seasons. The big epic Buffy and Angel arc was powerful, unexpected, and satisfying, but in retrospect, it was also sort of easy. Joss had some good examples of the whole 'star-crossed lover' genre to work from, and I'd say he profited admirably. Now, Spike and Buffy was not easy at all. It was B&A all over again, with Buffy fresh from the dead and everything, only now all the nasty bits were exposed. The strict, fairy tale dichotomy of good and evil that Angel/Angelus represented was replaced by the murky morality of Spike, who was a little bit of Angel and a little bit of Angelus all at once. And, speaking of the corruption of the presented dichotomies of good and evil, Buffy had a little Faith in her this season as well. And this time we really began to discover what they saw in each other, besides that whole sexual chemistry thing David and Sarah had going on ... Spike and Buffy's kindred relationships with death, mortality and immortality meant that they could often only understand each other.

I could ride you at a gallop until your legs buckled and your eyes rolled up. I've got muscles you've never even dreamed of. I could squeeze you until you popped like warm champagne, and you'd beg me to hurt you just a little bit more. And you know why I don't? Because it's wrong. -- Faith as Buffy, spoken to Spike in "Who Are You"

Foreshadow-much? The sexual relationship between B&S was conflated with violence in all sorts of dangerously fascinating ways. The cycles of dependence and self-hatred that allow for the perpetuation of domestic abuse were explored very, very viscerally, even before "Seeing Red."

In addition, the broad theme of portraying cycles of abuse was explored in tandem in both the Willow and Xander arcs, but I'll leave that for another screed. Although people don't mention it much, there were also several very strong, very non-obvious themes, like the general exploration of being constrained within cycles and patterns (even evident in many of the episode titles: "Life Serial," "Once More With Feeling," "Older and Far Away," "As You Were," "Normal Again").

OK, I'll stop. I may add more, give me time. But yeah, the love for this season is there for me.
It could've been interesting, but I think Season 6 was poorly executed. I've just watched "Hell's Bells" again, so I'm feeling particularly negative. :) I didn't mind the darkness so much (although I've gotta say, depression is even less fun to watch than it is to have), it's just - it depressed me. Which might seem like it was the darkness, but really I find darkness in general fascinating, and Buffy is supposed to be dark and I know that. It was the monotony, and it was the way the show suddenly became awfully literal. Like, in high school it was all about vampires and slaying being a metaphor for adolescence. And then in Season 6, their metaphor for addiction was...addiction. And, you know, so on. And what was worse was that a lot of it was badly written - take "Hell's Bells". A lot of the lighter notes that were obviously supposed to be present there in the run up to the wedding were just not funny, and I actually cringed more than once (and fast-forwarded through the "future-Xander" bits entirely, because it was just too awful to watch [shudder]). The same was true in "All The Way", "Doublemeat Palace", "As You Were", "Flooded", "Tabula Rasa". It wasn't clever or witty, when it was being dark or when it was trying to be funny.

I thought maybe I'd appreciate it more on second viewing, but having come this far without changing my mind I'm not sure I'll bother to watch the rest of the season (it's being repeated on Foxtel in Australia). I've seen six episodes of Season 7 so far, and it's better (except for "Help"; I didn't like that at all). See, that final scene in "Beneath You" - that's dark, and bloody interesting.

Let me just add that I enjoyed "Once More With Feeling" immensely, and was sucked right back in for the final episodes, so it wasn't all bad.
About Season Six.

My Buffy/Angel viewing experience was both unusual and, I think, far superior to most viewing experiences: I watched the first six seasons of Buffy and the first three seasons of Angel from beginning to end, never having seen them before and having no idea what was going to happen next, all over the course of one summer, last year. I say this is a far superior viewing experience based on the comparative experience I've had this year with watching Season 7 of Buffy and Season 4 of Angel as episodic television, complete with commericals and reruns.

There are many benefits to watching the shows in the condensed manner I did last summer, one of the less obvious being that, when you can simply move on to the next episode whenever you feel like it, you aren't apt to dwell on small inconsistencies or small weak points (or even big inconistencies or big weak points). My experience this year is that, especially when I have several weaks to ponder an episode before moving on, I give that episode an undue amount of scrutiny, picking apart and picking up on things that wouldn't have bothered me a bit had I watched the current seasons in the manner I watched the earlier seasons.

Also, watching the earlier seasons as though they were the television equialvent of a War & Peace-sized book taught me patience, one thing I find lacking in much of the fan/Internet dissection of episodes. (A paticular sort of patience, I should say: I certainly have to be more patient this year, because I can't just turn on the next episode whenever I feel like it; but I had more patience with the writers, was more willing to give them as much time as they needed to do what they wanted to do.)

Now, having seen the shows in such a condensed manner (almost as though they weren't episodic at all), I have a theory about Season Six.

First of all, I enjoyed Season Six very much. I think it's on the bottom three for all the seasons (I'll admit that Season One is, to me, the worst for many reasons, and that Season Four is a curiosity in being the season with the highest percentage of stand-out episodes yet the weakest arc), yet I feel it did many things right and had emotional depth. I can imagine, especially having waited all these months for Season 7 to unfold, that watching Season 6 as episodic television would be less than total fun; it was lathargic, depressing, etc. I'd hate to wait three weeks for "Hell's Bells" or something, only to be left with a very sad feeling. Yet I believe the seasons should only be judged for what they are, not for how they were presented (even though that could be argued).

Here's my theory, finally. Or you might say this was my impression having watched all that Buffy in such a short time. "The Body," in my opinion, marked a departure for Buffy. It had an emotional depth and a stark reality to it that we'd never seen before. "The Body" is one of my favorite episodes. It's heartbreaking; it's shockingly, terribly real. The impression I got from what followed "The Body" was that "The Body" cast a long shadow, one that the show couldn't crawl out of until Season 7 (and even then, it will never completely escape the harsh reality of "The Body"). To me, watching the show in such a condensed manner, this made sense: "The Body" was so heartbreaking that it would have been wrong somehow to launch back into pure quippy, lighthearted material. These people had experienced death in a way they'd never experienced it before -- and then again with Buffy's death -- and they needed to go through a process of dealing with that, the pangs of growth and development. It was wrenching, sometimes embarrassing, often depressing, but I felt it was right and sprang from the natural development of the series.

Yes, I think Season Six had more obvious problems than any other season; it struggled to find a way to explore new territory and ended up hitting more false notes than other seasons did. I think the Willow-as-addict plot, for example, could have been dealt with far more subtly. In response to someone else's comment above: that plot line, as I see it, wasn't "addiction as a metaphor for addiction," it was "addiction as a metaphor for the loss of self control and self policing." Is that a balder metaphor than we're used to on Buffy? Sure. But we have to judge these creative decisions keeping in mind and considering the writers' intentions.

Season Six wasn't perfect. I doubt it made satisfying episodic television stretched over the course of nine months; and it's not as fun to rewatch as earlier seasons because the plot lines are so inward-directed and often depressing. But it was an ambitious year that succeeded on many levels and plumbed some emotional depths previously unexplored on Buffy.

[ edited by delavagus on 2003-03-23 23:47 ]
The mediocrity of season 6 had nothing to do with "darkness" and everything to do with poor writing. The episodes abounded in bad dialogue ("Axe not gonna cut it"), bad story construction (like "Tabula Rasa," where the story of the episode is basically over by the end of act 3 and nearly all of act 4 is filler), obvious directorial gaffes (like a patient being operated on fully-clothed with almost no medical equipment), bad characterization (the writers never could figure out how to characterize Spike) and just generally bad writing.

The idea that fans didn't like the dark themes is disproved by the fact that everyone seemed to like "Once More With Feeling." That episode presented all the "dark" themes of the season (Buffy feeling bad, Buffy smooching Spike, Willow going power-mad and mind-raping Tara, etc), but did it in a reasonably coherent and entertaining way. The rest of the season copped out on those "dark" themes and presented them in a very clunky, heavy-handed, preachy and poorly-executed way. I'd take "I Robot, You Jane" over almost anything from season 6 (or 7 for that matter).
I certainly wouldn't say that Season 6 was the best ever, or that it didn't both ring fales notes and betray a semi-frequent sloppiness. But it does strike me as bizarre that folks who criticize Season 6 on the non-specific terms of "bad writing, bad characterization, bad directing" seem blind to the defects of earlier seasons.

Take, for instance, "Prophecy Girl." Great episode, obviously; I loved it. But it has a plot hole so huge no one would put up with it today. Okay, so the Master was stuck in the Hellmouth "like a cork in a bottle," and when he gets free, the "cork" will come loose and the Hellmouth will open. Makes sense. So how is it, then, that the Master gets free -- and simply killing him closes the Hellmouth again? Would stomping on a cork re-seal a bottle of wine? It makes absolutely no sense. But we forgive it; we overlook it. Yet when they make a misstep in Season 6, it's all "Marti Noxon sucks!" or "They ruined the show, man!"

(I could bring up other examples, but I'll leave off...)
The "Prophecy Girl" stuff you mention is purely a MacGuffin -- a bit of flabotin as it's called. A plot hole like that is just fine as long as the behaviour of the characters is plausible, which it is. Whereas season 6 overflows with implausible characterization (i.e. Spike changing his characterization moment to moment) and sheer sloppiness (the problem with the last-minute destroy-the-world stuff in the season 6 finale is not that it's a plot hole, but that it has absolutely no setup and therefore seems like an unintentional self-parody). And "Prophecy Girl" has superb dialogue, direction, attention to detail, etc., none of which can be found in most season 6 episodes.

[ edited by wilsonwilson on 2003-03-24 23:01 ]
So it's characterization that's the problem for you. But plot holes are fine. Hrm. Interesting.

You have a good point, of course. "Prophecy Girl" is obviously a good episode, but brushing aside the plot hole as unimportant -- that's going a bit far.

I never saw Spike's characterization in Season 6 as being implausible, only erratic, which made perfect sense given the transformation he was undergoing, first figuratively and then literally at the end. Now that's build-up for ya.

The destroy-the-world stuff as self-parody? I can see how you might interpret it that way if you refused to really think about the situation. Starting early on in the series, Willow has had issues with wanting to control her environment, to remedy something she perceives as "wrong" or "evil" or simply "too painful to deal with." Examples: "Lovers Walk," "Wild At Heart," "Something Blue," et al. That she would decide, when wearing her Ultimate Evil hat, to destroy the world in order to remedy the problem of people's suffering makes perfect sense and is entirely plausible given the character development we'd seen building for years beforehand. That the event wasn't built up in a "dig up an old box and research the stone demon" sort of way also fits with the development of Season Six -- Season Six turns completely on the characters themselves (inner-directed), rather than depending on external factors (such as Ahkathla) to create tension and climax. Is this an inherently bad thing? I certainly don't think so.

[ edited by delavagus on 2003-03-25 00:49 ]
I was referring to set-up within the episode itself. Ahkathla is properly set up in "Becoming" so that the revelation about the thingamajig that can destroy the world is not introduced as a side note in the next-to-last act of the episode. And the idea of Willow wanting to destroy the world for its own good was indeed set up -- but then dropped in favor of the atrocious addiction/victimization storyline. Part of the way season six copped out on every potentially dark theme. The last episode returned very abruptly to the original theme; but there was no setup within the episode itself. Willow returned to her power-mad control-freak mode so abruptly in "Grave" that it was too little, too late after all these episodes watching her as a crack addict. And when Anya said "end of the world worse," like the end of the world is just another commonplace problem (which it is, by now, on this show), I laughed. It was like "The Zeppo," except the end-of-the-world plot in "The Zeppo" was deliberate self-parody.

I should also add that plot holes are not necessarily fine with me; it's just that I accept that certain things aren't really important to the story; they're just details thrown in to move the story along. So the exact nature of the Master's supernatural whatchamacallit does not matter to me; it's just what Alfred Hitchcock called the "MacGuffin" -- something that moves the plot along but is not truly important in and of itself. (His example was the "secret plans" in a spy movie -- the exact nature of the plans is just not important. What's important, plotwise, is that the actions of the characters should make sense.)

[ edited by wilsonwilson on 2003-03-25 02:19 ]

[ edited by wilsonwilson on 2003-03-25 02:21 ]
I'm enjoying this debate! If you'll humor me a bit more, I'll continue it...

I prefer to interpret it that Willow was struggling with her "power-mad control-freak" mode throughout the entire season. The addiction plot, while not the best or most subtle thread ever sown into the Buffy weave, was her attempting to deal with it. In other words, the addiction plot did not abandon the set-up, it was an extension of the set-up. Calling it atrocious is fine, if that's what you believe; but saying it was an abandonment of earlier plots... that's questionable.

I should also point out that Willow did not abruptly return to her "power-mad control-freak" mode in "Grave." In fact, that happened several episodes earlier. Yes, Giles's plan to essentially "dose" Willow was kept from the viewer; but that was a creative decision that was not without precedent in the history of effective narrative: Giles comes back with a plan, but he's ostensibly an outsider by then, so we, the viewer, aren't aware of what he's doing even though what he's doing is the fulcrum of the big concluding scene.

Now, it's easy to criticize the climax of Season Six by comparing it to the climax of Season Two and pointing out the obvious fact that the latter was far superior. Yes, Season Two was better, hands down -- in fact, Season Two had by far the best climax of any Buffy season. But that doesn't mean Season Six automatically sucks. (An obvious observation is that Season Six's climax was not written and directed by Joss Whedon, like all the other climaxes, and Joss consistently makes the best episodes.)

Again, I strongly believe that the bulk of criticism leveled against Season Six betrays an unwillingness to take the season on its own terms. To introduce a bit of vocabulary from critical theory, there's a difference between being a "reviewer," who says whether or not they liked something, and a "critic," who says whether or not something is good. Stating that the addict plot was atrocious is fine for the "reviewer," I can't argue it, but I prefer to explore the writer's intentions, to take what they did on its own terms, and gauge its effectiveness from that vantage point. Personally, I think the addict plot was the weakest plot ever introduced into the Buffyverse. But that doesn't mean I can't understand and appreciate the writers' intentions. I've found that many people prefer to disassociate plots from Season Six that they don't like from the rest of the Buffy plots: they want to pretend these plots never happened; or at the very least, refuse to associate the plots with the characters. A brother of mine says that he saw the sexual violence as "Marti Noxon's issues" without ever considering how the sexual violence was being used within the context of the show itself. That sort of thing is unbelievable to me, a fan who wants to be immersed in the world, wants to be carried away by it.

I don't know if that applies to you, of course, but it strikes me as relevant here.

I'm familiar with the MacGuffin, but a MacGuffin does not equal a plot hole: to introduce a concept and then utterly contradict that concept in service of the plot (which is exactly what happened in "Prophecy Girl") is not a MacGuffin, it's called a plot hole and might less charitably be called sloppy writing. (Yes, I love Joss's work, but it was damn sloppy. He clearly hadn't thought it through, or didn't have enough money or time to really make the conclusion of that first season work with the mythological development of the previous eleven episodes. After all, he was essentially doing a two-part episode in one episode -- that he succeeded as well as he did is incredible!)

A final note: as for self-parody, it's practically unavoidable in a world that's seen so many apocalypses. That Anya's line made you laugh, well, you were obviously distanced by the story, not drawn into it, and so could laugh at it; but... that's just a personal "review," not a "criticism," to return to that critical theory jargon crap.

Perhaps you have no interest in the sort of criticism I'm talking about. One can't argue with another person's personal opinions, and I hope that's not what I've been doing! I don't in any way mean to suggest that you should feel differently about the season; I just mean to suggest that there are other ways of feeling about it, other ways of looking at it, that are in fact valid. One man's sloppy writing is, apparently, another man's MacGuffin.

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