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January 23 2009

When Buffy went dark: An indepth review of Season 6. A comprehensive review of what is possibly the darkest, most controversial and daring season of Buffy.

S6 is also the most complex of the entire series' run. The gray areas explored through Spike and Buffy's relationship were expertly crafted -- intelligent, riveting, and at times downright sexy. However, where Spike and Buffy's journey wildly succeeded, Willow's unfortunately did not. What started out as an extremely promising continuation of her development got led wildly astray, and easily represents one of the biggest mistakes of the entire series.

Season six is my favorite!

I don't agree with all the analysis because I really liked Dark Willow. It tells the truth about addiction, only instead of using drugs or other stuff, it uses magic. It's the perfect analogy! Also, the grieving part of it all it's extremely well done.

But of course the resurrection of Buffy and her relationship with Spike were the best things in the season.
I don't think Willow going dark worked all that well. In the beginning with addiction, the descent into badness was working, and I don't have an issue with Tara dying and that sending Willow off the deep end. But I think they lost that Willow thread of the story somewhere along the way and Willow and the magic became something else altogether. I was totally willing to follow her story to the dark place, but the steps didn't really make sense to me.

I like the season anyway, and it's my favorite with a fierceness. I just haven't really understood Willow all that well since some point early in S6. I think the last scenes where I really "got" her were when she resurrected Buffy and dealt with the aftermath, actually. She was screwing up and I totally got the how and the why. After that, it comes and goes. I know other people feel like they lost Buffy or Xander in that season, but I thought their actions, even the really messed up ones, made total sense. They went through a lot of stuff and they're still carrying it. It always seems to me like Willow's supposed to be but it isn't working.
Season 6 is one of my favourites, too, right up there with Season 5 and Season 2. I agree that the Spike/Buffy arc was far more well-structured than the Willow arc, but at the same time, I can't fault the writers for the addiction metaphor. Willow would no longer be a viable character if she skinned a man alive and attempted to kill her friends without some indication that her lapse had at least something to do with external forces. If it was only addiction to power, well, that's only Willow, only her personality, and you can't drain her magic or exorcise her or shove a soul into her to make it better.
One thing I feel is very sad is the "loss" of Giles, because his relationship with Buffy won't ever be the same. While it's the reason I love this series, the evolution without going back, I just feel sad. And that's a good thing, because it means the series makes me feel something.
God I can't tell you how deeply I loathe the "and now, a very special episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer" approach to "magic addiction" in S6. The whole point of Willow's being tempted to use magic too much is that magic is power. We're following this perfectly good "power corrupts" storyline. Willow starts using shortcuts in her life, she starts rearranging the world to suit her, she, ultimately, reduces Tara to a mere plaything or sock-puppet by taking control of her mind and memories.

All a terrific and absorbing arc. And then, suddenly and inexplicably, magic becomes nothing at all to do with power. It becomes absolutely disempowering. It becomes about "jonesing for a fix." Every single spell we've ever seen Willow perform has been instrumental, but suddenly what she needs is the "rush" provided by magic LSD trips.

To me, Willow's arc in S6 was the ultimate case of "have the writers even been watching this series"? And then, at the end, when Tara dies we suddenly hop back on board the original arc. When Willow "falls off the wagon" in the wake of Tara's death she doesn't "crawl inside the cauldron"--she goes looking for all the power she can get so that she can use it to DO things. Bah humbug.

I love S6 with a passion up to "Tabula Rasa," and then it's fingernails on a frickin' blackboard much of the time. "Rack"?? "Gee, do you think we'll understand that we're trying to make this a parallel with drug-addiction?" "Well, I dunno, we've got the seedy drug-den with the desperate addicts hanging around the door offering sexual favors for a fix, but maybe the audience is ENTIRELY retarded...what can we do?" "I know, let's name the dealer figure "Crack" but with one letter removed! It will be a cunning and oh-so-terribly-subtle hint at the metaphorical implications of this plot arc!" Grrr aaargh.
The Giles/Buffy relationship did change subtly in Season 6 and significantly in Season 7, culminating in "I think you've taught me everything I need to know", but that's the norm for hero's journeys: the hero generally either loses the father figure (byeeeee, Sirius!), or has to break off from him and be an adult ('cause "he's standing in the way").
I have to say the last four episodes of Buffy season 6 makes for some really great drama. I hadn't watched Buffy in ages and recently decided to watched those four in a row. Fantastic gripping viewing. And of course at the time I was unspoilt for the ending and I remember screaming at the television. Did not see that one coming. Good times. I can only hope Dollhouse provokes that reaction from me.
S6 is easily my favorite, though I can see how some would have a strong negative reaction to the magic-as-drug thing. I didn't mind it, as to me it seemed more that Willow was getting so powerful that she was using magic for more and more things that she shouldn't have been and for easy fixes to things, as well as to just make herself feel better when she was down, which then led to her "needing" it just to get by when otherwise she would've been fine.

The fact that others used the magic in an exclusive druggy way made sense to me, as it seems like some people would definitely do that if they had the chance.

I saw the whole "dropping it cold-turkey" thing as the wrong choice on her part and, again, her just trying to take the easy road to make the problem go away.
Also for those who watched when it first aired (like me), has your opinion of season 6 changed since then?
Dark Willow was the worse thing ever!!!I´ve never really liked her , but in this season awww she was terrible ...

I really hope Buffy kills her soon . Really .
Season six is great. Musicals, memory loss and "I'd like to test that theory." Wonderful.
I haven't rewatched because I didn't like it when it first aired. Hated the magic = drugs stuff. Hated Buffy's dismissal of Giles (In fact, BtVS lost most of its appeal to me.when Giles' role dimished and he eventually 'left'.) Hated the Scoobies falling apart. And it's not that I don't like 'dark'. I love 'dark'. Season 6 wasn't dark. It was 'realistic'. And I also thought, at the time, it was badly executed. It just lost its wonderful charm for me.

But I'm pretty sure though I'd like it more on second viewing, without the help and hindrance of reading everybody's opinion of it on the forums. What put me off the most about watching Season 6 was how it polarised the fandom(s). And that put me off characters I used to enjoy.
as well as to just make herself feel better when she was down

We saw that once--and that was in the very episode that leads her to Rack. She and Amy go to the Bronze and have what looks like a pretty dreary time messing with the patrons, which leads her magic-battery to fizzle out (an entirely new phenomenon), which leads her (via Amy) to Rack. Before then, the idea of magic as inherently "fun" had only been raised in relation to the sexual connotations of doing magic together with Tara (and joint spells between Willow and anybody else were never sexy, so one assumes that had more to do with their energy than anything). And even in the "Amy and Willow trash the Bronze" sequence, the magic isn't directly pleasurable. They're meant to be enjoying the transformations they are wreaking on the scene--they're not intoxicated, they're in control. They're not just lying back and saying "look at the liiiigghhhhttttss."

has your opinion of season 6 changed since then

I watched in when it first aired. Mostly I feel the same way now as I did when I first watched it. The only big shift is that I originally felt that the relationship between Spike and Buffy after OMWF had gone totally awry. It had originally seemed to me that Spike's S&M take on the relationship (especially in that scene at the Bronze--you know the one I mean) just didn't fit at all with his hearts-and-flowers approach ("you know, you've got a willing slave...") leading up to that. But on subsequent reviewings I think they actually give you some plausible ways of understanding that.

On the other hand I can't tell you how deeply I loathe that OTHER "very special episode" when Spike tries to "rape" Buffy. The portrayal of Buffy as the weak little victim seemed to me a betrayal of everything the program stood for. The idea that we were suddenly meant to feel shocked, SHOCKED, that Spike would (gasp!) strike Buffy (Lay hands on a lady? What a bounder!) when we've been watching scene after scene of them BOTH relying on their fists for foreplay just seemed, again, like a case of the writers not bothering to watch their own series.
I love season 6. It's definitely my favorite.

But, that is despite the magic-as-drugs theme, not because of it. As the eloquent snot monster from outer space put it (why does that sound like a line from a senatorial meeting in a Star Wars movie?), the addiction-to-power part of the arc was really compelling and the is-just-like-addiction-to-drugs part was painful and insulting.

Nonetheless, the real-life difficulties, the apparent aimlessness, the humor-laced-with-darkness of the faux-Big-Bad geeks, and the true-big-badness of Willow definitely make it myfavorite season.
Simon-Yes. I loved S6 when it first aired (with the exception of "Seeing Red"). But on re-watching it, I've found there are things-a lot of things-that bother me about the season. I found that I didn't care for S6 Xander at all, he seemed like a totally different character from S5 in a lot of ways. I didn't like the magic=addiction arc, nor how abusive the Buffy/Spike relationship became.
Season 6 was not my favorite, possibly my least favorite... though I probably like it more than Season 1, if only because Season 1's plot is not that great. Season 4 also suffered, but interestingly, like Season 6, had one of the best episodes of the series, Hush and Once More with Feeling respectively. I'm still gonna have to go with Season 3 as my favorite though. Faith's awesome.

I am not a fan of Spike at all in Season 6, but that's because I much prefer him as a bad guy, or at least how he is in Season 5 of Angel. I had no issue with him and Buffy's relationship. Obviously Spike has been shown throughout the series as being in highly obsessive, and always unhealthy relationships. Though we don't see him too often rough with Dru, probably because of her um, insanity.

Dark Willow was interesting but could have been so much better, as talked about before. Plus I really couldn't (and still can't) fathom how killing (well as far as we knew) Warren was in any way wrong. Plus magic before this never represented drugs, so I don't get why it would start then.

That said Andrew is awesome (though better in Season 7, Angel 5, and Buffy 8, if only for talking about 'Vampyres'. And Once More with Feeling is brilliant, of course.
One other thought about S6: I think they basically threw away one of the best plot-motors they'd ever come up with. Through the first third of the season, the whole issue is Buffy's resurrection. First there's the struggle to achieve it (all handled well), then there's the appalling realization that they've Paradise Losted her out of Heaven into a world which is Hell. Lastly, there's the awful question of "what price will be paid?" You've just brought somebody back from the dead. You've ripped them out of "heaven." There has to be some kind of god-awful consequence for that act, surely? Magic's always about balancing, about the old equal-and-opposite. Right?

But no. All of this ultimately just gets tossed aside. Buffy's depression just becomes "it's hard for a young adult to transition into adult responsibility after school." The whole "heaven" problem is just shelved. (If you'd just been brought back from heaven, wouldn't you want to try to find out more about what that means? About who else is there? About what you need to do to ensure that you can get back there?). The "price" comes down to a rather boring monster-of-the-week who is easily killed. The Willow-corrupted-by-dark-magic plot which could so brilliantly have drawn on the "OMFG, she's brought someone back from the DEAD!" oogada-boogada instead falls off the "Hey White Girl, what you doin' uptown?" cliff.

Once I had mountains in the palm of my hand,
And rivers that ran through ev'ry day.
I must have been mad,
I never knew what I had,
Until I threw it all away.
Hated it but will not elaborate. But rather, would like to pick up on Caroline's comment that it polarized the fandom. And the truth is, it did, and not in good way. It does to this day. There is an interesting paper in there somewhere. Fandom is an amazing thing in how people respond to the changes in characters that writers do.

snot- to add to your comment, one of the problems I have with AR beyond its existence is that it ended up overshadowing the other plot development in the ep, Tara's death. Not only was Tara's death not allowed to be heroic, it was not even the biggest development of the episode. At least according to most of the reviews I've read over the years, and believe me, when it comes to Tara I read them all. I do not watch this season.

To me, this is the season of New Coke. Everyone just got too smart for their own good.
I enjoyed S6. Having never seen an episode aired live, I have to say that season 6 flew by on my dvd player. It appears quite a few people (in the myriad of threads covering this topic) think the actors made some big changes to their characters (i.e. see menomegirls' post above). Maybe it's because I watched the show straight through on dvd and not in aired episodic fashion but the dark places the show went seemed natural at the time. It made sense to me that Willow flipped out when the love of her life died in her arms. I think anyone that watches their loved ones die right in front of them would be changed forever. Maybe the changes are the result of countless fights and near losses. After taking on the most powerful baddies in the world, it's a 2-bit geeky bad-guy-wannabe that succeeds in breaking our beloved Will. There's finally a bad guy that she can literally rip to pieces and he gave her the reason. What would we have thought about the Scoobies, and the show in general, if they quickly captured Warren and he went to jail never to be seen again?

And while we are on the topic, when did Warren turn "evil?" What was his motivation for crossing the line from geeky comic reading harmless bad guys into harmful bad guy capable of killing via blunt force trauma? (Even if that answer is never revealed, it's still a better explanation than Anakin turning his back on the Jedi and joining the Sith. That still has me saying, "huh wah???")
But rather, would like to pick up on Caroline's comment that it polarized the fandom. And the truth is, it did, and not in good way.


Amen to that.

alexreager-I don't think the actor playing Xander changed his character. I think the character was written differently. The Xander who stood up to Buffy in "Into The Woods", who told Anya he loved her and asked her to marry him wouldn't have kept the engagement a secret, nor left Anya at the alter.

[ edited by menomegirl on 2009-01-24 00:32 ]
And while we are on the topic, when did Warren turn "evil?" What was his motivation for crossing the line from geeky comic reading harmless bad guys into harmful bad guy capable of killing via blunt force trauma?

Fear, I'd say. I mean, it pretty much starts with Katrina, because he thinks she's going to the police (well, not he thinks--she is going to the police--and once he's killed her, well. It makes sense to me the path he took from there.
Dana: I think the whole point of Tara's death was that it was unheroic. Unheroic deaths happen. Joyce's death was unheroic. What's interesting is to see how "our heros" react to them.

On that topic, alexreager, I don't think anybody thinks that the fact that Willow flipped out over Tara's death was out of character. Certainly no one in this thread has suggested that. I do think that a Willow hooked on "magic crack" was horribly, painfully, absurdly out of character, but it's possible I may have adequately covered that point (grins sheepishly).
S6 always gets me nervous.
I mean..I love it, it keeps me constantly emotionally involved, it might be my favourite..but it's not, cause I also hate it. I love the first episodes, but I just hate some other, namely Seeing Red- saw it when it aired, and will never watch it again, and I know there were good plot reasons for this episode, but I can't help but wishing it was never made. About the middle of the season, I mostly agree with the review, there was some excellent point, and some things that could have been better.. I've changed my mind a little about the whole season after watching it again, paying more attention to some of the developements, like Xander's changes, or the Willow's arc weak spots alredy mentioned in this thread, that made me love it a bit less than I used to.
I don't know, I think sometimes we conflate "real" with "good" far too much. I understand that the things which occurred in season 6 do happen in the real world, Tara's unheroic death for instance or many of the other things that occurred in season 6, but simply because those things do occur in real life doesn't necessarily imply that they occur in the Buffyverse nor do they make for good story-telling tropes within that universe.

And I agree that season 6 polarized the fandom, but to me, that's not the fault of Buffy, it is our own fault for letting it happen. The polarization of the fandom wasn't a necessary feature of season 6, in other words I don't think season 6 necessarily led to polarization, it was a product of our own inability to disagree with others without falling prey to our baser instincts.
I think the review is longer than the season itself! I got through the intro, overview, and partway into "cons" when my short computer attention span disorder kicked in. I just can't handle large amounts of reading on a computer screen like I can printed material. (I guess I now know for a fact that I'll never finish a college degree online. This is about a subject I LOVE and I can't even get through it.) One of the things I love about Whedonesque is short blurbs :)
I love S6, which I see as a concentrated study of the nature of profound depression and the things it does to people - Buffy herself, obviously, but also Willow and Spike. While I hated Buffy's passivity in the AR, which seemed improbable to me, Spike's desperate attempt to force her to recognise a connection seemed to me to be totally in character.

The ending was a symbolic choice of life over death, optimism over depression. Including Spike's choice of a soul.

And some of my favourite episodes were in that season - not just OMWF, but also Tabula Rasa and Dead Things, which has enormous power. If Marti thought they were abandoning metaphors that season she wouldn't recognise one if it hit her between the eyes!
I love Season 6. I remember watching it for the first time way back when it aired and being totally scandalized by the Buffy/Spike affair. Obviously the series was slowly moving more and more towards an examination of the dark side of Buffy's power, but to see the dark side of her personality so quickly, so totally, was immense and intriguing. The metaphors were pretty obvious (addictions, duh), but that left room for more in-depth interpretations of the character arcs themselves. For instance, Buffy and Willow as shadow selves, Spike as an ethical monster, and the way relationships tend to change as adulthood emerges (poor Xander and Anya...also Giles).

Not my favorite season (hello Season 3 and Season 7, Season 8 getting up there...), but definitely one of the best.
Oh yeah and ONCE MORE WITH FEELING!!!!
I'll bring the marshmallows to the Season 6 is Awesome Camp.

"The idea that we were suddenly meant to feel shocked, SHOCKED, that Spike would (gasp!) strike Buffy (Lay hands on a lady? What a bounder!) when we've been watching scene after scene of them BOTH relying on their fists for foreplay just seemed, again, like a case of the writers not bothering to watch their own series."

I'm not sure I follow you there, Snot Monster. Earlier the violence and the sex it led to had been consensual. Nothing shocking there. But it should be shocking when Spike attacks and attempts to rape Buffy (though their previous S&M relationship does add an interesting complication)

"The whole "heaven" problem is just shelved. (If you'd just been brought back from heaven, wouldn't you want to try to find out more about what that means? About who else is there? About what you need to do to ensure that you can get back there?)."

Those questions might well be interesting to theologians. But if you don't believe in heaven is an in-depth exploration of it going to be that fascinating? I think the focus on Buffy's more realistic depression was much more interesting and much more in keeping with the whole point of season 6
Yeah? Well, I like them all. Especially the ones with Faith.
Bit late to the debate, but I just had to address this:

The "price" comes down to a rather boring monster-of-the-week who is easily killed.

Not true.

Willow: (to Kennedy) I have kept you from Buffy. I think I've even stayed away myself. Until I saw Warren I didn't realize it, but... when Buffy died... I couldn't admit it, but Tara and I were happy. Not in general, I mean we mourned, but together... and Buffy was happy too. (to Buffy) But I had to bring you back. Long before Sunnydale went south -- goddess, from the day you died -- I never considered any other option. (to Kennedy) So back she came, and misery and violence and... Warren f--ing Mears, who tried to shoot her dead and hit my love instead. We could have moved on. Raised Dawnie, moved somewhere nice... but I chose. I chose to put Tara in a bullet's path.

-- Anywhere But Here
I chose to put Tara in a bullet's path.

I can easily believe in a Willow who thinks of Tara's death as the "price" paid for bringing Buffy back, but it doesn't make any sense to me metaphysically speaking. Lots of people will be dead as a result of Buffy coming back who wouldn't have been otherwise, just as lots of people will be alive who would otherwise have died. That's just the inevitable consequence of having brought Buffy back into the world. To single out Tara as "the" consequence is just the natural result of the selfishness of grief.

I'm not sure I follow you there, Snot Monster. Earlier the violence and the sex it led to had been consensual. Nothing shocking there. But it should be shocking when Spike attacks and attempts to rape Buffy (though their previous S&M relationship does add an interesting complication)

Well, this argument goes around and around so there's not too much point in pursuing it. To say that "earlier the violence...had been consensual" is not a claim that the text will bear, though. There's no "pre-violence" contract, express or implied. They start whaling on each other and it turns into sex. It's "consensuality" is only established by the fact that when one of them starts punching, the other one punches back.

However, I'm less troubled by that than by the way Buffy's response is portrayed. She's a frickin' superhero, for God's sake. To see her whimpering and whining and "oh please no-ing" was, I thought, just gratuitous--in every sense of that word. Sure her back was sore and she was tired; but that wasn't Buffy--that was some girl from a "very special episode" of a high-school drama episode about how "no means no." (And this is true of the whole portrayal of the scene; the overhead camera shot establishing the confined space, the close-ups on Buffy pathetically attempting to preserve her modesty like some kind of Venus pudica, the "realistic" nature of the struggle between them that makes it a contest between a large strong man and very slight young woman rather than a fight between a Vampire and a Slayer etc. etc.). Buffy would have said "piss off, Spike" and punched him in the face.

Those questions might well be interesting to theologians. But if you don't believe in heaven is an in-depth exploration of it going to be that fascinating?

I don't believe in vampires, but I find an in-depth exploration of their world fascinating. I don't believe in vampire-slayers either, come to that.

I'm not saying that Buffy should have gone off to Divinity School and become a minister (although...). I'm saying that they opened up an incredibly rich mythological landscape full of all kinds of rich story possibilities and then they said "nah, let's make Willow a junkie and make Xander ditch Anya at the altar for no reason and just have Buffy be kinda mopey and, ultimately, irrelevant to the resolution of the season arc."
Well, Buffy did consider entering a convent, you know? :-) Except for the abjuring.

The AR was bad writing. The season was bad writing. I call it new Coke because Coke had a product that everyone loved and they went and tinkered with it, leading to failure. The same happened here. You had all these characters who Joss had spent 5 seasons developing, and then he hiked off to Angel and Firefly and turned the day-to-day reins over to others and brought in new writers who in my estimation did not respect what had come before but felt they needed to put their own stamp on things and they reduced metaphor to the obvious and made "real life" the big bad. I loath 'Hells' Bells' because it makes no sense. I hate the whole 'Wrecked' trilogy because it conflated magic with drug addiction, thereby conflating it with lesbianism, no matter how much everyone tries to deny it. The season was an abysmal failure. No one came out of it like they went in, and it was not because people don't change, it was because writers made changes for no good reason. Change for change's sake. S7 was essentially a do over for the problems of S6, a return to the lightness of high school again, an admission they went too far in the wrong direction- even Joss has said as much. It is very hard for me to understand how anyone can think this is the best season ever of Buffy, because it is a season that disrespects everything that came before and everything that made the show what it was, including the characterizations. I got the new book on S6, read it, and see no reason to ever read it again. This is where the show failed to me and where its creativity wavered. There was no light. Every bit of humor led to further pain. I just hate what it did to the show I loved.
Those are actually really good points, smfos. We've seen the underworld of the Buffyverse on many different occasions--figuratively and literally (most recently in "The Chain")--but we know very little about the upperworld, despite a few characters ambiguously going back and forth. There may or may not be a God, but there are gods; even the Powers That Be are never fully explained, and are only ever mentioned in Angel.
You had all these characters who Joss had spent 5 seasons developing, and then he hiked off to Angel and Firefly

David Fury said Joss wasn't as heavily involved with "Angel" as he was with "Buffy" until after Season 7. As for "Firefly", he only got around to the pilot episode around the time they were shooting Grave (also confirmed by David Fury in the episode commentary).

and brought in new writers who in my estimation did not respect what had come before but felt they needed to put their own stamp on things

I seem to recall reading that Season 6 had the fewest changes in the writing staff than any other season...

and they reduced metaphor to the obvious and made "real life" the big bad.

"Life as the Big Bad" was Joss's idea, as the writers and he himself have stated (have, indeed, been stating since Season 5).

I hate the whole 'Wrecked' trilogy because it conflated magic with drug addiction

Not the first time we saw the "magic = addiction" metaphor in the verse. The Dark Age comes to mind. ("I fell in with the worst crowd that would have me. We practiced magicks. Small stuff for pleasure or gain. And Ethan and I discovered something... bigger. One of us would, um... go into a deep sleep, and the others would, uh, summon [Eyghon]. It was an extraordinary high!")

I disagree with pretty much everything else, too, but the other stuff is a matter of taste. I just wanted to focus on the parts I consider factually wrong.

[ edited by Enisy on 2009-01-24 04:26 ]
"I don't believe in vampires, but I find an in-depth exploration of their world fascinating. I don't believe in vampire-slayers either, come to that."

Yeah, but imagine a season centred around exploring the actual workings of vampire lore etc. Tedious. That stuff can be interesting but not as the main focus of the story. The heart of the show is the characters and what they're going through. It isn't the mechanics of the fantasy elements

Anyway, the way I interpret Buffy's 'Heaven' is that it's really just being dead. It's contrasted with the Hell of the real world. And Buffy's description really makes it sounds like a void (no fear, no pain, no doubt. Nothing about what actually WAS there - except that she felt loved). I think there's quite a bit to support my interpretation. If I'm right then I think 'Heaven' works much better if it's kept fairly vague. It doesn't work too well as 'death' if it's given very specific content and we know what it's like, who's there etc.

"To say that "earlier the violence...had been consensual" is not a claim that the text will bear, though. There's no "pre-violence" contract, express or implied. They start whaling on each other and it turns into sex. It's "consensuality" is only established by the fact that when one of them starts punching, the other one punches back."

Well, I wasn't thinking about the first time they had sex; that wasn't consensual. But now that I think about it there wasn't much actual violence after that (apart from Dead Things and that didn't lead to sex). So you're right that there wasn't consensual violence. But you said we'd watched 'scene after scene' of violent foreplay ... wasn't there just the one? In any event, I still don't get your original point. Whatever the perceived faults of the writers and whatever your objection to how Buffy responded, shouldn't it be shocking that Spike tried to rape Buffy?
Awesome post, Enisy
Season 6 was great like every season was... the only season i felt was a bit off was the final seventh season which joss even admitted that it was a bit rushed and off which is understandable i mean trying to finish the series off and fit everything in and stuff must of been so hard... but ya season 6 was great from when willow took the deer in the beautiful place and killed it to her falling in xander's arms.
Season 6 was kind of uneven, but I did really enjoy it for the most part. Totally agree with snot monster re. the Attempted Rape Scene though - it frustrated me whenever I felt like Joss / the writers were disregarding character or Things We Knew To Be True in order to create A Moment that they wanted. It felt lazy, and that scene in particular really bothered me. I also felt like the Magic = Crack metaphor was kind of lazy. An addiction to magic is such a fascinating idea, and what would that be like? Oh, it's exactly like drug addiction! Meh. Still, Alyson Hannigan's performance was utterly wrenching, so I didn't get too wound up about that one.

Otherwise, lots of my favorite episodes are season 6 episodes. Lots of funny, lots of heartbreak, all that good stuff. And truthfully, even the stuff I didn't buy or didn't like would suddenly offer me up a "moment" that made everything leading up to it seem worthwhile. I rolled my eyes through Hell's Bells until the very end, where we found Anya weeping in the dark in her wedding dress and D'Hoffryn offering her a handkerchief and her powers.

For me, watching season 6 is like being in a relationship with somebody unreliable and temperamental who doesn't get on with any of your friends, but is so hilarious and good in bed that you keep coming back for more anyway and just try to let the bad stuff slide.

(Season 3 might be my true love... but it's so hard to choose...)
Season 6 had some very good episodes (especially of course OMWF), but overall it is my least favourite of the seven.

The middle part was so depressing, I never bothered to watch some of the eps again (whereas I have watched every ep of season 4 or 5 at least 5 times, many of them more than 10 times).

The other main problem was for me, that I lost all the characters I could usually identify with:
- Willow was completely mishandled for a while.
- Giles leaving at that moment had me lose all the respect I had for the character.
- We lost of course Tara. (She was the only character, I not only loved, but also liked all the time. Well, her and the Mayor.)
- With Buffy, Xander and Spike it was more gradual, but the possibility to connect to them went missing as well.

And of course it was a season without Faith, which is never a good thing. :)
I can certainly understand and respect the misgivings some fans have with season six. Joss took Buffy pretty dark and things just went from bad to worse. We no longer had that "Happy go lucky Buff, but instead, a damaged and hurting Slayer. One that was seeking answers. Rings true to most 17-18 year olds today, don't you think? If you go back to season four, Buffy was already well on this path and I think Joss undertook that experience very well. Depressing? Yes, but Joss isn't known to pull punches, is he?

Then, there's Willow. She was always a study since season one and where she went just totally blew my mind. A lonely girl seeking someone to hold on to....that's the understatement of the year! The thing with Willow was that it was kept low key, but the signs were always there.

Better hush before I get running on. The point is, season 6 is what you make of it. And there is no wrong or right in that, everyone sees it in a different way.
snot monster from outer space said:
Lastly, there's the awful question of "what price will be paid?" You've just brought somebody back from the dead. You've ripped them out of "heaven." There has to be some kind of god-awful consequence for that act, surely? Magic's always about balancing, about the old equal-and-opposite. Right?


Does the whole The First thingie in season 7 count as a price? Bringing Buffy back presented the opportunity for The First to try to destroy the slayer line. (See Giles and Anya's conversation with Beljoxa's Eye in 'Showtime'.)

ANYA: Oh. Oh. Willow and me and Xander and Tara. We're the ones who brought Buffy back. We're - we're the reason The First is here, the reason those girls were murdered. No, it's our fault. The world would've been better off if Buffy had just stayed dead.

I was going to mention that SharkyBoredNow but that 'price' always felt a bit lame given how it was never explained or mentioned again
Can't bring some one back from the dead without massive consequences for those directly and indirectly involved with the resurrection. Dawn went klepto, Giles left, Anya turned bitter, Xander lost his nerve, Tara died, Willow went dark and Spike self destructed.
My take is somewhat different. Taken individually almost
all of the themes worked. Some better than others of course.
But taken together it was too much of one kind of thing and
that thing was pain.

This is also even more true of S7. Too much crammed into
one season. Things got lost. But at least it was not wall
to wall agony.
For me, watching season 6 is like being in a relationship with somebody unreliable and temperamental who doesn't get on with any of your friends, but is so hilarious and good in bed that you keep coming back for more anyway and just try to let the bad stuff slide.


That just might be the best description of season 6 that I've ever read.
I've re-watched season 6 a few times since it aired.I have all the seasons on DVD. My opinions of season 6 is still pretty much the same as when I watched it as it originally aired.It's not my least favorite season,which is season 4 but it's far from my favorite which are season 3 and 2.It's still a little too dark and depressing for my taste.Season 3,2 and 5 I thought had the best balance of light and dark.

I thought Dark Willow had potential but I thought it was botched.I still think she should of went bad closer to mid season like episodes 13-15

As for the AR,I still can't sit through that.It just makes me too uncomfortable.Whenever I have re-watched SR,I've had to fast forward/skip past the bathroom scene.
"Season 3,2 and 5 I thought had the best balance of light and dark."

Interesting. It's always seemed to me that season 6 got back to the season 2 and 3 trick of mixing dark / serious with silly and funny. Season 4 focused more on the less serious side of the show whereas season 5 lacked in the humour department. But to me season 6 was not only the darkest season but the funniest. Life Serial? Tabula Rasa? OMWF? Kitten poker, Clem, the nerds etc.
Okay, so let me simply make this comment external to anything else. I hated the season, passionately. I think it stinks to high heaven because I believe it was not true to itself, it got too smart for its own good, and much of it was badly written. It screwed with everyone and not in good ways.

And I believe, with no documentation or evidence to support this, that few who really watched the show from its very beginning, in order and over time on a weekly basis for 6 years to that point, can think this is the best season. Only those who came to the show through the DVD sets or began watching late could believe this is the best season. But no sense arguing this, because there is no way to prove it. It is just what I believe. And some of you will tell me I am wrong, anyway.

Maybe this is the best way to say it. I don't ever watch this season on DVD. I return over and over again to earlier seasons, watch them from start to finish, but never ever do this for S6. I only, every now and again, watch OMWF for its sheer audacity. There is nothing in this season for me to enjoy. I can handle dark, I can handle unhappy, but I cannot handle making characters unintelligible and not-who-they-were. Sort of like Heroes: "Wait, wasn't she good?" No, she's evil. Nope, she's good again. Nope, evil. I just in my mind's eye see writers sitting in a break room chatting up storylines and getting so invested in their own brilliance that they fail to consider how their audience will view what they are doing. But I go on, and I swore to myself I would not bite, and I did, again.
No secret season 6 is my hands-down favorite. But I agreed with the majority of the reviewers assessment, which means I also acknowledge the unevenness. After the tight plotting and elegant arcs of seasons 4 and 5, this one was a bit messy (although even that works well as a metaphor) :)

What impresses me most is the sheer audacity, artistic integrity and courage involved in writing not just a few eps but an entire season in which basically all our heroes totally fall apart and in one way or another, get totally sucked into the Dark Side. And that once you get past the initial shocks (i.e. when you watch the entire season a second time), the inevitability of each character's fall can be seen as amazingly seamless character development.
I agree that Willow's journey down to the depths was handled clumsily mid-season, and salvaged only by Alyson Hannigan's flawless acting. But the basic premise of Willow's inability to handle her power had been beautifully set up from her first tentative foray's into magic, all the way back in season 2.

The sheer emotional wallop of the entire season, more than makes up for it's flaws, for me. And the genuinely brillianr eps were as good as TV gets .... OMWF obviously, Tabula Rasa, Smashed, Normal Again, Seeing Red (which I think is highly underrated because it's so hard to take) and Dead Things, one of the bravest, darkest, most emotionally wrenching hours of TV in the history of ever (thank you, Steven DeKnight).

And since Spike has always been my favorite character, I was mesmerized by the ups and downs of his amazing journey (and the knock-out acting from James Marsters). I think I can say this without violating the rules, because it applies to the actors rather than the characters - I've always thought that JM and SMG brought out the very best in each other, acting wise. From the violence and destructiveness to the humor to the poignant subtleties of moments like Buffy's revelation to Spike in After Life, where the combination of their chemistry and Jane E's heart-wrenching dialog came together to work real magic, these two actors just knocked me out, every time they were on screen together.

This season has two of only three moments in the entire series that to this day, make me tear up ... Willow and Tara's break-up at the end of Tabula Rasa, and Willow and Xander's big moment at the end of Grave.

I loved The Trio and the arc of the gradual slide from humorous nerds into true evil. (Well, Warren was always evil, but that's a minor point). And the depiction of the mundane side of evil they represented, after five seasons of larger than life supernatural Big Bad's, was inspired.

So yay!, I get to ramble on about my favorite season. Happy now. ;-)

ETA: This is by far my longest post ever. :)

[ edited by Shey on 2009-01-24 15:38 ]
But the basic premise of Willow's inability to handle her power had been beautifully set up from her first tentative foray's into magic, all the way back in season 2.

I totally agree with this. Willow's arc was set up so beautifully and so gradually, which made the awkwardness and obviousness of the magic addiction mid-season all the more disappointing. But whoever called it an over-ambitious season (...I'm paraphrasing...) is right, methinks. And I think that's great. It's just a shame they couldn't take a hiatus, Sopranos-style, to really hammer out the kinks, but when you have a grand vision and a punishing schedule, perfection isn't likely to be the result. Still so much great stuff.

And I believe, with no documentation or evidence to support this, that few who really watched the show from its very beginning, in order and over time on a weekly basis for 6 years to that point, can think this is the best season. Only those who came to the show through the DVD sets or began watching late could believe this is the best season. But no sense arguing this, because there is no way to prove it. It is just what I believe. And some of you will tell me I am wrong, anyway.

Well, of course some people will tell you you're wrong. Lots of people do love season 6 the most, it just speaks to them, or whatever. I get that you really, really don't like it, but why try to make an argument for the way other people see it?
Only those who came to the show through the DVD sets or began watching late could believe this is the best season.

Why would having watched the show on DVD make people love Season 6 more?
Damn, what a nice review. Some really good points, slightly lessening my dislike to the season. Maybe I remember some points of that when I'm forced to rewatch the season during the S1-S8 marathon when S8 gets ready.

After reading the comments (and some thinking) I actually get why many love the season. By all rights it has everything going for me to love it too: dark Willow, Spike+Buffy, OMWF, The Trio, the darkness, did I mention dark Willow. And as the article pointed out, it tried something different, something new, something daring. Which in itself is amazing for 6th season of anything, and especially great for a series this original and radical.

However, the bad, the bad. S6 just has so much bad, the good parts fail to tip the scales. Like previously mentioned, the magic as drug fails as bad as beer is bad silly morality; magic before (and after the drug failure) was about power, and power corrupts. Stick with that, spare me the failed morality lessons of "kids, don't do drugs, don't drink, don't have sex, etc". The mishandled characters, Dawn/Xander/Anya acting just to drive plot, not as a real characters. The failed rape thing, after the already screwed up and violent relationship, failed as an idea and failed to deliver. But most of all the 'characters drive the plot, who cares about their history' was the big no-no of the season.

PS: Is AR (attempted rape) an actual acronym for anything? I was confused as hell as to what it ment when reading the comments, until one of the later comments used an actual word next to the acronym.
Does the whole The First thingie in season 7 count as a price? Bringing Buffy back presented the opportunity for The First to try to destroy the slayer line. (See Giles and Anya's conversation with Beljoxa's Eye in 'Showtime'.)

This could have been a nice attempt to pick up what was clearly a dropped ball from S6, except that in the end the visit to Beljoxa's Eye served to do nothing but fill a few minutes of an excruciatingly bad episode from S7 (and have us ask "why the hell didn't they consult this thing before?"). Having BE tell us that "this is because you brought Buffy back" does nothing but cover the writers' collective asses (assi?). If they'd had the guts to actually contemplate killing Buffy as a way of saving the world this might have been an interesting avenue to go down, but they didn't.

Given that The First does nothing in S7 that it wasn't capable of doing in Amends (other than the 'merging' with Caleb, which is hardly earth-shattering) what Beljoxa's Eye says doesn't even make much sense.

In any event, for a mystical "balancing" to be a good story we have to feel some kind of close symbolic or conceptual link between the "reward" and the "price." If bringing Buffy back lead directly to, say, Dawn's death (Buffy died to save Dawn, so Dawn must die to bring Buffy back), that would be great storytelling. But the connection to The First was always arbitrary.

Not the first time we saw the "magic = addiction" metaphor in the verse. The Dark Age comes to mind. ("I fell in with the worst crowd that would have me. We practiced magicks. Small stuff for pleasure or gain. And Ethan and I discovered something... bigger. One of us would, um... go into a deep sleep, and the others would, uh, summon [Eyghon]. It was an extraordinary high!")

Great point, Enisy. The problem is, though, that Willow was never once shown as being interested in using magic for this kind of "high" until she suddenly goes along to see Rack. If they'd wanted to do the "magic junkie" storyline, they should have built towards it.
And even The Dark Age that the high came from the demon, not the actual magic. And even that, I feel, was more about power trip than casting high.
They did build toward it. There are many different forms of addiction; Willow clearly started going overboard in the beginning as a result of her desire for power, but she was also quite clearly developing a psychological dependency on the magic at least as far back as S4, little different from a gambling or shopping addiction - or an adrenaline junkie's craving. What I got out of the Rack storyline was that the magic he dosed his customers with boosted that craving. It would make sense, after all, since he was apparently siphoning off their power, and he would want them to come back for more.

BTW, Dana, I can't really say that S6 is my favorite, but it has some of my favorite episodes of the whole series, and the only one I can say that I actually dislike is "As You Were". And I've been watching the series since early S2 in first-run.
she was also quite clearly developing a psychological dependency on the magic at least as far back as S4, little different from a gambling or shopping addiction

A shopping addiction would be characterized by someone buying something they don't need and don't want just for the fun of buying itself. Can you name an instance where she performed a magic spell for no reason whatsoever, just for the rush of "doing magic" before her introduction to Rack? I don't think cases where she's practicing a skill (as in floating the pencil) in order to master the skill would count, BTW.
SMFOS:
Can you name an instance where she performed a magic spell for no reason whatsoever, just for the rush of "doing magic" before her introduction to Rack? I don't think cases where she's practicing a skill (as in floating the pencil) in order to master the skill would count, BTW.

Ah, but Willow did lots of things while convincing herself she was "practicing a skill in order to master the skill".

"Faith, Hope and Trick", S3:
Willow: Mm, sage. I love that smell. (reaches into a jar) And marnox root. You know, a smidge of this mixed with a virgin's saliva... (gets a look from Giles) Does something I know nothing about.
Giles: These forces are not something that one plays around with, Willow. What have you been conjuring?

Willow: Nothing... much. Well, you know, I tried this spell to cure Angel, and I guess that was a bust. But since then, you know, small stuff: floating feather, fire out of ice, which next time I won't do on the bedspread. (Giles looks down) Are you mad at me?

"Doppelgängland", S3:
Anya: Yeah. Um, listen, (steps up closer to her) I have this little project I'm working on, and I heard you were the person to ask if...

Willow: (interrupts, ironically) Yeah, that's me. Reliable-Dog-Geyser Person. What do you need?

Anya: Oh, it's nothing big. (secretively) Just a little spell I'm working on. (shrugs)

Willow: (suddenly interested, steps down to her) A spell?
(nonchalantly) Oh. I like the black arts.

Anya: I just need a secondary to create a temporal fold. I heard you were a pretty powerful wicca, so... (shrugs again)

Willow: (smiles excitedly) You heard right, mister! I-I-I'm always ready to work some dark mojo. (hopefully) So, tell me, is it dangerous?

Anya: (dismissively) Oh, no. (shakes her head)

Willow: (disappointed) Well, could we pretend it is?

"Wild At Heart", S4:
Her attempt to curse Oz is an example of Willow reaching for magic as her first response to "fix" a problem.

"Something Blue", S4:
Again, Willow's "Will be done" spell is an example of her using magic to take the easy way out of a situation.

"Buffy vs Dracula", S5:
Lighting Xander's fire for him is simply showing off. She does it easily, no "practicing" involved.

"All The Way", S6:
Willow magics up party decorations, to Tara's consternation, and later in that same episode, is about to shift everybody in the Bronze who isn't Dawn into an alternate dimension. This is also the first time we see her use the memory spell on Tara.

"Once More, With Feeling", S6
Willow uses magic to generate sparklies in the air while she and Tara are walking through the park. No particualr reason, just because she feels like it.

"Tabula Rasa", S6
Here's the memory spell again. She also uses magic to change clothes (taking the easy way out again.)

"Smashed", S6
Nearly everything she does in this episode, including messing with the crowd at the Bronze is prior to her first meeting with Rack.


Enough examples?
Lots of examples of Willow using magic to do something here, none of her doing it for the sake of doing magic (other than the practicing examples that I already addressed).

"Taking the easy way out" is precisely using magic for a reason. That's part of the "power corrupts" storyline that they abandoned--it bears no relationship, however, to the "I'm doing magic because magic gets me high" story line.

This isn't equivalent to a shopaholic buying stuff they don't need because they just like buying stuff. It's the equivalent of a bargain hunter finding something she does need but getting it really, really cheap.
Well I did enjoy that list, Rowan Hawthorn, and going back over lots of fave Willow moments! But I guess the point for those of us who weren't satisfied with the Magic / Drugs analogy was that the rush Willow clearly got from power from season 2 onwards, and her increasing secretiveness about Magic along with her increasing pride in her abilities were somehow... diminished when it just turned into this rather trite metaphor. Rack's crack house, and her floating on the ceiling seeing pretty lights, was such an unimaginative and unsatisfying climax to a complicated "addiction" we'd seen in the making for so long.
People take drugs for a reason as well. Drugs give you control (or at least the illusion of it) over your emotions. To quote William Burroughs (or possibly Matt Dillion)

" A junkie always knows how he's going to feel."

Magic gave Willow the same kind of power. It made her feel special and useful. It stopped, or was intended to stop the pain she felt about Oz leaving. It did stop (for a while) her having to worry about Tara being upset with her. It was her quick fix in all senses of the word.

It always puzzles me a little when people talk about how the Willow arc should have been about power. Power to do what? Willow never seemed that interested in having power over other people. A few short months as "the boss of us" had her going against all the laws of nature and raising the dead rather than handle the responsibility a minute longer. Power over her own feelings seems a much more specific and Willow-like goal.

[ edited by hayes62 on 2009-01-24 22:35 ]
I don't necessarily think it "should have been about power" so much as the addiction should have manifested as an addiction to Magic as we'd understood it (and Willow's relationship to it) for 6 years... something more creative than just Magic as Crack. That left me so cold (except that actually Alyson Hannigan made me cry ;) - but I mean story-wise, it felt like a missed opportunity. Would love to get into this more but I gotta go to work! Darn! I'll check in on this conversation later.
I once said that if killing a metaphor was against the lAw, the magic as drugs thing would have sent Marti up for 5 to life :-).
SMFOS:
Lots of examples of Willow using magic to do something here, none of her doing it for the sake of doing magic (other than the practicing examples that I already addressed).

Uh-huh. I see. So... just to make it clear, in order to show her using magic just for the sake of using magic, I'd have to show examples where she used magic that doesn't actually, y'know, do anything at all as opposed to using magic to do simple things that don't require magic, like hanging decorations when there's several people to do it, or changing her own clothes, or lighting a fire when there are still matches there she could have used. And of course, making pretty sparklies in the air that don't really do anything is an essential talent, and changing a bunch of partiers into animals and go-go dancers and...

Y'know what? Never mind. Waste of my time to start with. Again.
There were a lot of things I liked about the season, but the magic as crack just lost me. Willow is my favorite, but the magic addiction didn't bother me because it took her to bad places, it's because it let her off easy. They had a long established, lovely set up and they wasted it.
Rowan Hawthorn, nice list as such, and I'm sure Willow did much more casting than what was shown. But, S3 stuff, she's still learning and exited about the new stuff. S4, still learning, but now she actually gets results. Maybe not the results she wished, but some anyway. And the Oz curse was not about turning to magic to feel better (like a drug), but to react to the situation, to make Oz suffer (power). Dracula/OMF were more of a showing off, I'd say. Yes, she did like the magic from the start, and was a natural at it, but the first hints of addiction came at Smashed, and after that point it was suddenly full blown crack.

Now, the Dark Willow. That's what all of your examples support, that's the juice of S6! Of course it needed the timing and the catalyst, but they could have come up with something else mid-S6. Powertrip gone even more wrong than Tabula Rasa, crash of some kind, even just ignore her for the sake of other characters... I mean, what did the drug thing even accomplish, for Willow or anybody? Besides being condescending 'tsk tsk, don't do drugs' worthy of 7th Heaven.
Uh-huh. I see. So... just to make it clear, in order to show her using magic just for the sake of using magic, I'd have to show examples where she used magic that doesn't actually, y'know, do anything at all as opposed to using magic to do simple things that don't require magic

If you could go abracadabra and make the party decorations be magically "hung" as opposed to going through the tedium of figuring out what you need, going off to buy them, cajoling people into helping you do them (or doing them all yourself because you can't be faffed with that part), going down to the basement to find the ladder, having to clean the damn floor where the ladder left a mark as it always does but as you always forget etc. etc. etc., wouldn't you? The fact that the results of the magic are trivial or could be achieved by other means just isn't the point. What matters is that she is doing the magic because she wants what the spell brings about, not because she simply wants an excuse to do a spell.

Again, you're not a shopaholic if you buy silly things that you don't need if you actually want those silly things and can afford them. Even floating people around the Bronze (and that spell is after they've decided to go with the magic-junkie plot, so it's the closest example) is still a case where the spell is achieving an effect which entertains Willow. That is, she's not casting a spell which is designed to act directly on her mood; she's casting a spell to float people around a room because she thinks that seeing people float around a room will affect her mood. Do you see the difference? Again, consider the shopaholic: if I buy shoes I don't need because I think they look great and it gives my heart a lift every time I look in my closet and see those great shoes, then I'm not a shopaholic, I'm a fashionista. If I buy the same shoes because it gives me a thrill handing over my plastic, but when I get home I never look at the shoes again, I'm a shopaholic. Willow was getting her thrill from the result of the spell, not from the spell itself.

If they'd wanted to sell us the magic-junkie line, they should have at least ONCE showed us something like the Rack phenomenon (and, far better, had it build up over a numerous episode). Have her perform the "euphoria" spell where the object of the spell is simply to directly enhance the caster's mood; something you'd have thought she'd have been deeply tempted to do after Oz's departure. But as your exhaustive and helpful list shows, they just didn't.

Power to do what? Willow never seemed that interested in having power over other people

Well, that's not really the point, but nor is it actually correct. The power that magic gives is a power over the world--not necessarily a power over people. The power to snap your fingers and have a room be decorated for a party is a pretty remarkable power--though not one directly over people. Even the power to make sparkly glowy lights shoot from your fingertips is a power. But Willow's awareness that magic and the power that magic gives her is also making her a more formidable presence among people in general (and the Scoobies in particular) is an explicit and heavily-emphasized thread in S6 which just gets tossed aside during the junkie phase. The most chilling example is from "Flooded":

GILES: If I had been, I'd have bloody well stopped you. The magicks you channeled are more ferocious and primal than anything you can hope to understand, (even more angry) and you are lucky to be alive, you rank, arrogant amateur!

WILLOW: You're right. The magicks I used are very powerful. I'm very powerful. And maybe it's not such a good idea for you to piss me off.

But the same point is picked up in OMWF ("I smell power!") and on the innumerable occasions when Willow talks about how, without the magic, she's just be the same old shy, wallflower Willow we saw back in S1. It's not lying around being stoned that made Willow feel like a more important figure, it's the fact that the magicks gave her power.
GILES: If I had been, I'd have bloody well stopped you. The magicks you channeled are more ferocious and primal than anything you can hope to understand, (even more angry) and you are lucky to be alive, you rank, arrogant amateur!

WILLOW: You're right. The magicks I used are very powerful. I'm very powerful. And maybe it's not such a good idea for you to piss me off.


Just wanted to say a bit more about that quotation. It's such a great moment, and seems to me to point towards the phantom S6 that would have spared us a great deal of suckage. It seems so obvious that this is foreshadowing the direction for the season. Willow is getting too heavily into using magic. It's distorting her basic sense of self. There's a painful division ahead for the Scoobies, in which Buffy will have to fight her dearest friend--the very friend who loved her so much that she brought her back from the grave.

Now...sure enough all these things come to pass. But instead of developing organically out of Willow's corruption by the power she has fatally courted, they are given to us simply as a kind of crime passionel. We are absolved from having to really face hard (and rich!) questions about whether Willow is simply incapable of resisting the corrupting influence of power (what we might call the LotR "ringbearer" problem) because her "evil" acts are easily chalked up to a kind of grief-induced madness.

To me it's just a huge wimp-out. They came up to the brink of a really gutsy storyline--"ya know what? The Big Bad this season is Willow Frickin' Rosenberg"--and then just couldn't follow it through.
Now for something slightly different. But still about the Willow arc.

I agree that they'd built up Willow's character beautifully for a riveting season-6 character implosion, but in the context of the season I can't agree that it was completely botched.

Willow could've, as the Superjer review stated, done something dramatic and climactic - abusing her magic to become a threat to the gang (something T.Rasa could have easily led to, a throw-down with the gang and/or evil forces), or accomplishing everything with magic (school, daily chores), developing an out-of-control superiority with regard to magic-usage, controlling minds secretly to keep around those who love her...

Wait, she did do all those things. In addition, her relationship with Tara, both major ups and downs, was some of the most beautifully done break-up/get-back-together romance on the show. So when it's all listed out, it's hard for me to see what went wrong, and why I always want to fast forward through Willow's parts when I (relatively frequently) rewatch season 6 eps.

As for the context: season six emphasizes the "tragedy" of life. We're lonely, selfish, small-minded and make awful mistakes repeatedly. So, Willow's go-dark arc becomes a decidedly unglamorous addiction, obviously paralleled with Buffy's treatment of Spike. In this context, it works. It's easy to be upset at Willow's seemingly underwhelming, small-scale 'resolution' to her character arc. In the same way, some people got sick of Buffy's flawed and unglamorous behavior. Same for Xander and his rather poorly executed role in the Xander/Anya relationship.

In the same way, Buffy's character had been built up for...what exactly? An addiction-to-Spike metaphor? Obviously not. Her self-hatred regarding the whole superiority/inferiority complex and selfish-Buffy/selfless-Slayer dichotomy were explored...through basically showing Buffy going to the one "thing" she hates and having lots of sex with "it". This went on while Willow was floating around getting magical suck jobs, having turned to Rack, whom I'm sure she didn't have fuzzy feelings for, and indulging in pure feel-good magic.

So basically, I don't think of it as "whoa, Willow's suddenly addicted to magic as crack?!"; I think the season would've been much weirder if Willow had a grand, glossy arc while all the other characters kept with the theme and fell apart quietly in the most unglamorous and tragic manner. So, Willow had a mini-mid-season wallowing where she made herself feel good, ignored her friends, and did stupid things. Just like Buffy and Xander. There was no big metaphorical ball dropped; quite the contrary, in fact.

And, I'd say it did pay off. It paid off in all three cases because of the later Willow/Tara, Buffy/Spike, Xander/Anya that we got after they had thoroughly, over an entire season, worked through their countless personal issues. We got a spotlight on Willow's role as the always-sidelined but ever-so-dangerous magic-user of the group (and what happens when she completely stops being "the responsible one"), Buffy's tragic behavior in 'romantic' relationships and her continued "The Slayer"/"Buffy" persona conflicts, and Xander's insecurities and maturity as the "normal guy" in his own abnormal relationship.

Hopefully some part of that made sense, because I was thinking/typing and the possible linearity problems of this is making me avoid a reread. Next time I'll just say, "Woo. I like season six. The people are pretty and they do cool stuff."

Anyone know if the intentions of Willow's Rack-arc are explicitly stated in the commentaries? I think I need to go rewatch the season before doing anymore rethinking.
Now...sure enough all these things come to pass. But instead of developing organically out of Willow's corruption by the power she has fatally courted, they are given to us simply as a kind of crime passionel. We are absolved from having to really face hard (and rich!) questions about whether Willow is simply incapable of resisting the corrupting influence of power (what we might call the LotR "ringbearer" problem) because her "evil" acts are easily chalked up to a kind of grief-induced madness.

To me it's just a huge wimp-out. They came up to the brink of a really gutsy storyline--"ya know what? The Big Bad this season is Willow Frickin' Rosenberg"--and then just couldn't follow it through.


Great statement. I don't see this as the problem, though. Yes, Willow's powerful, and she's aware of it - but the core of her character and her personality flaws don't seem to stem from this. For all of Willow's power, she's never gone for crazy deep-end magic before season six just for herself. Ensouling Angel for Buffy, resurrecting Buffy also out of her love of her best friend...these do not a Big Bad make, and I don't think this could've been logically executed. Willow going over the deep end for grief over love of someone who died, now that's something that has precedence.

So, we didn't get the gutsiest storyline, but some of Willow's major character traits - her insecurities, her sensitivity to others' judgement, her problem with not thinking things through (acting "for the good" of others, or playing God for selfish reasons) - came out and still got to be "corrupted" when she went Darth Willow. Without a conscience, without all the self doubt that was her tragedy, Willow got a fabulous finale in throwing down with the Scoobies and finally, finally verbally lashing out. The fact that we got these thoughts matters more to me, I think, than having Willow become all-powerful and selfishly, BigBad-ishly magic-corrupted, a move I think would've garnered an equal cryout from the fans. Because really, would her actions/character still've been our comprehendable, relatable Willow in that case, any less than in the arc we were given?

Also, I loved Warren's development into the not-so-big Bad, so I won't suggest anything to replace that. Though the resulting character death is rather heartwrenching. (Imagine Tara, poster-character for sanity and reason and non-judgement, being in S7. Would've provided some fun contrast, at the least.)
Snot Monster, doesn't Rowan Hawthorn's example from Doppelgangland go directly to your point? Willow just wants to do a spell. She doesn't care what Anya wants done and, in fact, she leaps at the chance to do the spell even before she knows what it is. You might argue that that stems from her feeling boring but even then the point is that doing the spell itself makes her feel different and exciting. It's NOT what the spell achieves
Well put, Let Down, but I think you basically answer the question yourself. She's feeling like "boring little mousy Willow" and she wants people to think of her as "dangerous powerful cutting edge wicca Willow." It's precisely a case of her wanting to demonstrate power in that story. She doesn't say to Anya "is this one of those spells that really gets you high, man?" She asks if it's "dark magics"--she wants to prove that she can mix it with the Big Girls.

And when the spell happens, she gets no kick out of it at all precisely because it looks like it's going to do something bad that she doesn't want to happen. In other words, it becomes a further moment of disempowerment for her. The magic, qua magic, does nothing for her.
Well put, Let Down, but I think you basically answer the question yourself. She's feeling like "boring little mousy Willow" and she wants people to think of her as "dangerous powerful cutting edge wicca Willow." She doesn't say to Anya "is this one of those spells that really gets you high, man?

Look at the sort of lines we get in Wrecked, though:

Willow: I don't know. The magic, I... I thought I had it under control, and then... I didn't.
Buffy: Because of Tara?
Willow: No. It started before she left. It's why she left.
Buffy: Seemed like things were going so well.
Willow: It was. But I mean... if you could be... you know, plain old Willow or super Willow, who would you be?
Eh, Enisy. You're defending the drug-metaphor by coming up with a quote about 'super Willow'? Super, as in willow with superpowers... Sorry, but that just does not make sense.

That being said, I do feel Willow&Tara relationship was one of the best parts of S6, and it was truely done beautifully. The first breakup still to me was about Willow using too much power, and Tara being worried about that, not about Tara worrying about Willow getting all drugged up. I mean, the powertrip was indeed getting out of control: memory spells to fix relationship was certainly not about casting to get high.

Also, that relationship brought one of my favourite scenes by Dawn, the reaction to noticing Tara getting back with Willow was just wonderful, how can anybody hate Dawn after that scene? I have to say, I agree with the review, I liked Dawn. For the most part at least, she was used as a plot-driver so much that sometimes it got annoying, but that was the bad in S6/S7, not Dawn as a character or actress. And, as a sidepoint, at my last rewatching of full run of Buffy I found out that I was not really that annoyed with the potentials as I remembered from the first time, they just had the plot-driver issue of Dawn multiplied, by not fault of the characters or actors. Even Kennedy was ok, though I do think she should have been just a rebound, not the lasting thing the S8 seems to be making her.
Eh, Enisy. You're defending the drug-metaphor by coming up with a quote about 'super Willow'? Super, as in willow with superpowers... Sorry, but that just does not make sense.

Nope, I'm defending the writers by pointing out that Willow's desire to be "super Willow" instead of "boring little mousy Willow", the girl that "Tara didn't even know", was still present in the definitive drug-metaphor episode.

[ edited by Enisy on 2009-01-25 02:59 ]
Magic as fun-crack or magic as power: yes.

Wasn't the big deal that we like metaphors and they shouldn't become all blunt and one-sided? Magic was used to drive Willow's arc. Magic (like Vampires, Monsters), I'd assume was being used to give Willow's character something less mundane to do about being a very intelligent (knowledge is power is magic is yay), well-intentioned person who's always disregarded or underestimated. So what can Willow do with magic? (and as proved by uber-quotage from Rowan Hawthorne, Enisy, and snot monster above, Willow's pretty much done 'em all, and not mutually exclusively.)

-Be powerful (yay)
-Lose control (scary)
-Have fun/feel good/cheer up (yay)
-Control people, things (scary)
-Be "cool" (yay)

All of these could easily be (yay+scary), which is why magic is such a great tool. It can be addicting, it can be empowering, it can be used for real good and real evil - so it's all down to choice. In season 6, it's all about Willow making choices for herself, and defining how she'll be as an adult. Since it's season 6, she goes for the feel-good magic, and the controlling, overpowering free will (heh, pun) magic. She gets to finally feel all the consequences for the many and varied ways she's abused magic. The person she's tragically developed into (yay, arc) through her usage of magic causes Tara to leave and a near apocalypse.

Also, one more thing magic is wonderful at being: the plot device. The writers covered all bases for it here, and made Willow (and us) rework our view of magic just in time for handy un-useability against big season-7 evil. Yay. Scary. Eh.
we like metaphors and they shouldn't become all blunt and one-sided

If there's a metaphor blunter and more one-sided that "I'm off to the Rack-house for my magic-fix" I'd hate to meet it.
You've met "Riley visits the vampire prostitute den." The dark alleys of Sunnydale are teeming with blunt metaphors.
Pretty hard to get blunter than the school being over the Hell-mouth ;).

I quite like S6 overall, not in my top or bottom two seasons (gasp - someone who neither loves nor hates it! ;). It's certainly flawed and the whole magic = drugs was handled in a clumsy way, but it's episodes 11 through to 16 I dislike the most. On the other hand, OMWF and the last four are excellent (maybe slightly less so Grave) plus Bargaining, Tabula Rasa and Normal Again are great. A little like Season 2 in it's huge inconsistency (but not as good as S2).
But most other blunt metaphors only lasted an episode. Beer bad, Riley+vampires, the internet dating, whatnot. Blunt yes, essential to the main characters / whole season, not so much. And yes, even the magic-fix metaphor had its merits, however slight. Ultimately it failed though, considering a major portion of the (rabid) fans dislike it with passion.

I dislike it so much that at one point I was sure I would never watch S6-7 again, and the last buffy marathon I had was extended pretty much because I had to rewatch S1-S5 pretty soon to wash the last seasons off my memory. I almost wish S8 wasn't so good that I'll pretty much have to come back to them at some point too :). It's not like they were bad, sure they're (much) better than most good series, but to me the first 5 seasons are just so much better... And no, it's not all about the drug thing, but it certainly doesn't help.
As I stated way too many words ago, I can stand to watch Willow getting Rack-fix scenes about as much as I can watch Buffy blinvisibly doing dumb stuff, AKA barely and often fast-forwarded. All this reasoning is just me trying to take a different angle on where the Willow arc did work. I love that almost anything in the show can be taken in completely different ways, so once I get to S6 in my marathoning I'm sure my mind will have completely changed. Sigh.

As for blunt metaphors, I think we can do worse:
Beer is bad. Cleverly disguised as "Beer Bad".
:)
Buffyverse doesn't excel at the alcohol/sex/drugs messages, does it?

ETA: Hah. My original was a list of blunt metaphors including the Hellmouth, which I deleted when I saw NotaViking's post, but I do like Eeriki's post - and did Willow's magic-fixes last more than an episode? Well, I guess they must've, but all the scenes together gave me the same short-term-bad-taste feel as those one-shots you pulled out. Maybe that's why I tend to disregard the 'botched metaphor' as a huge deal.

[ edited by Jav on 2009-01-25 03:58 ]
SMFOS:
What matters is that she is doing the magic because she wants what the spell brings about, not because she simply wants an excuse to do a spell.

I'm sure that's what matters to you in the question, but my point is that she's taking any excuse to do a spell.

SMFOS:
Even floating people around the Bronze (and that spell is after they've decided to go with the magic-junkie plot, so it's the closest example) is still a case where the spell is achieving an effect which entertains Willow. That is, she's not casting a spell which is designed to act directly on her mood; she's casting a spell to float people around a room because she thinks that seeing people float around a room will affect her mood. Do you see the difference?

Do you see that there's no point to casting a spell to act directly on your mood if casting any spell affects your mood? If any use of the magic gives you the feel-goods, why not use the magic to entertain yourself, dodge physical labor, change clothes, or whatever and get something you want at the same time?

SMFOS:
Willow was getting her thrill from the result of the spell, not from the spell itself.

And yet, there are any number of examples from the show which indicate that the magic did have a physical effect on Willow, even if it wasn't always a pleasant one.

SMFOS:
If they'd wanted to sell us the magic-junkie line, they should have at least ONCE showed us something like the Rack phenomenon (and, far better, had it build up over a numerous episode). Have her perform the "euphoria" spell where the object of the spell is simply to directly enhance the caster's mood; something you'd have thought she'd have been deeply tempted to do after Oz's departure. But as your exhaustive and helpful list shows, they just didn't.

No, I'll grant that they didn't write the arc to specific criteria set out by a fan-run commission. If Joss is really smart, though, he should probably do Dollhouse as a "Choose-Your-Own-Adventure"...
This is a long explanation of where I think Willow's character development stopped making sense and how the metaphors got too scrambled for me to follow anymore.

I don't have a problem with blunt metaphors. It's the mixing of them in confusing ways that gets to me. I can happily follow a shift into a new metaphorical framework, but not this weird back-and-forth when the metaphors are inherently conflicting and demand opposite character developments in a plotline. Is Willow addicted to magic, or not? Is it possible for her to use it within responsible boundaries, or not?

At first it's established that Willow's insecure and starting to power-trip and abuse her power, but then she's suddenly not just power-tripping but addicted to the magic itself. Addiction was a new metaphorical framework in S6, and it's a very powerful one. The writers invested in establishing it very well. Ok so we learn she's gotten addicted, and she hits bottom in a way that's very painful to watch, and then she's in an equally painful recovery. We watch her recognize the addiction, quit magic entirely, and go through withdrawal. We watch her fighting the compulsion to use magic. We watch Amy try to push her out of sobriety. Mission accomplished-- Willow's quite believable as a magic junkie in recovery. And then when she's sober and Tara dies she falls off the wagon and goes into a massive self-destructive spiral. Which in Buffy is also a world-destructive cycle. That's fine. It's a new and interesting direction, it's very dark, and it mirrors Buffy's arc quite nicely. The addiction theme worked, and the investment in establishing it paid off.

But wait, there's more! While trying to end the world she was also power-tripping. Ok, considering magic is the drug stand-in, and this is the Buffyverse, that still works. Until the recovery from it involves a realization that she is in fact unable to not use magic and just needs to deal with control issues. We're back to the original framework, but with a character we've just quite painfully established is an addict. And the original-now-revisited metaphor dictates pretty much the exact opposite of the addiction metaphor. As if the sudden shift back to the old framework isn't confusing enough, we're reminded of other witches who burned out as addicts, and we're watching Amy continue on in a path that suggests she's still an addict herself and resents Willow's recovery. All while Willow seems entirely not a junkie anymore but someone learning about how to control and use power appropriately because she can't not use magic. She's back to being Buffy's most powerful ally, although it takes some time to become reliable and trusted again.

Wait, what? She's addicted to magic and her friends aren't freaking out when she's gone away to magic school, not rehab, and comes home struggling to learn to trust herself with magic again? Not to stay away from it, but to use it responsibly? What the hell. It's believable that she has a lot of trouble trusting herself with magic again, and that she sets some boundaries she tests by degrees-- if she's not a junkie. If she's addicted to magic she can't set boundaries for her use of it, and she can't be trusted when using it. But there she is trying her strength by degrees and worrying not about not being able to stop, but about going evil again. This is the same character who a season ago couldn't defend her friends in a life and death situation because she couldn't use magic at all without going on a binge. Because she was an addict then. But now she's not-- she's someone whose grief and rage fed into her existing character flaws and who decided to avenge Tara's death and then end the world. She just went evil. Forget the addiction thing.

Now we're in season 8.

(Spoilers follow, none too recent).

I'm not sure what's going on with Willow in terms of power or addiction metaphors, but it seems she's maybe back to the old metaphor where her real problem is that she's using magic as a crutch and doesn't recognize moral boundaries with it. She's again increasing her power in secret and keeping people close to her in the dark about the true extent and nature of her magical activities. She's astonishingly powerful. And it seems no one's really paying attention to that or questioning it, although the Scoobies are kind of peeved she's been so absent and secretive. She was running the entire current-time New York mission in the timetravel arc-- Buffy was very much coasting along there. That's not unusual, but it is a little weird considering Buffy's got some hints here and there that Willow's up to some strange stuff. And look who Buffy met on the other side.

I just hope wherever this is headed makes more sense than what happened in Season 7 and resolves some of this conflicting addiction-or-not stuff. Things are still pretty deeply messed up with Willow, and it's still all tied up with her underlying issues and use of magic, or so it seems to me. But it hasn't really made sense to me for awhile. When she appeared in the first arc and got kidnapped, it was as alarming to see what she can do now as it was to see her nearly get lobotomized.

[ edited by Sunfire on 2009-01-25 05:31 ]
Wrote a post but then read Sunfire's post and deleted it. Redundant, and not nearly so well put. So I'll just say "what Sunfire said" and leave it at that!
I'm sure that's what matters to you in the question, but my point is that she's taking any excuse to do a spell.

Well, except that there's absolutely nothing given to us in the episodes to support your reading. I mean, we don't see her ever do a spell when it would be easier not to do so, for example. So, while you might be right that this is what the writers intended, they failed to convey it by what they put on the screen.

It was clearly easier to do the spell than to decorate by hand, for example. It's clearly easier to use magic to light a fire than to reach for a box of matches and make a stack of kindling etc. etc.

We just never, ever, ever, see her do magic simply for its own sake (except when it is made quite clear that she is doing it in order to gain mastery over a skill) until suddenly, and out of the blue, she's a "magic addict."
SMFOS:
Well, except that there's absolutely nothing given to us in the episodes to support your reading. I mean, we don't see her ever do a spell when it would be easier not to do so, for example.

Well, duh. Then she wouldn't have an excuse, now would she? What does the expression "to have an excuse" mean in your part of the world?
I can happily follow a shift into a new metaphorical framework, but not this weird back-and-forth when the metaphors are inherently conflicting and demand opposite character developments in a plotline.


I completely agree that magic seemed to become a convenient 'everything' metaphor, but I don't see a major character development conflict.

Early on:
Willow's spell-doing was her happy, special activity. She was excited to do more magic, more powerful magic, often with good intentions. However, there was no sign in earlier seasons that the act of doing magic was euphoric, beyond making Willow feel special and powerful. That, of course, can be a rush anyway, and naturally, good intentions and growing power can lead to badness. Doing spells makes Willow happy; magic is not inherently euphoric. If Willow is depressed though, she will turn to magic, which she believes is a fix-all that can make her feel better, a la Something Blue. Also problematic behavior.

Middle:
Magic (AKA potentially unlimited power, control, specialness) is given stronger potential- overusing magic has consequences. It happened with the Ensouling concussion, then in Restless, and with Willow's 'magic headaches' after Glory. Tara talks about preserving a balance; selfish magic is given a danger label.

We also see more magic usage - Willow's acknowledged as Buffy's "big gun" and the pressure builds on her. Willow uses magic to restore Tara's mind, to speak in everyone's minds, to teleport Glory, and ultimately to resurrect Buffy. Slowly, Willow's control is fading. She's seeing how powerful she can be, how much she can change things. It's clearly thrilling and tied with a growing confidence that leads to her confrontation with Giles. Willow's growing up and seeing the reality of magic (hah), which is that it is pure power.

Later:
In S6, the writers stop tiptoeing around the innocent-witch act and put forth a strong, sinister connotation for Willow's magic-usage, which is rapidly shown to include a repertoire of selfish magic. Magic is seen as more (or just literally) enticing, because Willow's behavior merits this. She is addicted to the rush of being able to control anything she wants, to make the world work for her (and sometimes for the forces of good). So, she mindwipes Tara and uses Tabula Rasa.

The obvious negativity comes from the heavy use of drug abuse visuals. Willow exhibiting the behavior of an addict is perfectly fine for her arc. The use of Rack and the "high" is rather lame; Willow's use of magic in the Bronze is a better statement of this. Doing magic has become a habit and is intrinsic now to Willow's character. Amy taunts Willow's stay-in high school self; Willow's proving that she's moved beyond that. She's taking charge of not only her life, but the lives of others now. Magic allows her to do this, and Willow is enamoured with it, and what it's allowed her to become (powerful, respected - by Amy, at least).

In Wrecked, Willow realizes how far she's gone. She'd started living in her own reality where she can manipulate anything, and she comes crashing down when she realizes how manipulative/selfish/reckless she's become.

After that:
Willow quits. The magic 'withdrawal' period builds on an idea that has supporting continuity - overusing magic has consequences, and selfish magic is absolutely consuming. Willow's now afraid to "lose control" because she understands that she could go back to being reckless and dangerous, and do things that might hurt others. She understands how seductive that power can be, and the point where everything can become selfish magic, manipulating the world to her will.

Tara dies. Willow, never thinking about consequences and also completely in character, turns to reliable old magic for a quick fix. It doesn't work, and Willow wants to manipulate the world to make things right again, and she knows now that she can do this with magic. Willow's not evil, but she is causing harm to others - she lets herself be consumed by selfish, black magic, which allows her to be in an unfeeling reality where she can control everything. And she tries to kill everyone. Ok.

So, Willow calms down. She understands that magic isn't inherently addictive; it was her own behavior that was flawed. She turned to magic to fix the world, and soon she'd tried making the entire world work for her. She knows that magic can be used for good, but that, as Tara said, it can't be done selfishly. Willow needs rehabilitation; she needs to learn how not to cross the line into selfish magic, and that magic isn't a cure-all for her life and personality.

Season 7:
We see magic gone wrong, and we see magic finally, finally gone right (Chosen). Both have consequences, but Willow's own arc has come full circle, because she's not an addict, she's not corrupted by power. Instead, she has a healthy respect for magic, and uses it to do good, and not to feel good or be more powerful or control things. She worked through that in season six. Mmhmm.

Bottom line: Willow didn't switch between addicted and power-tripping. She went from powerless to learning magic and having real power in her hands, gradually using it to define her actions and act recklessly, losing control and being consumed by this (re: shamans-gone-bad), then fortunately sans-magic seeing reason again and realizing how corrupt she'd become, stepping back, finding herself sans-magic, and re-applying the "magic" part after coming to terms with her control/personality issues, ending as a powerful, more informed and responsible magic-user. Aargh. Or something like that. :/ Can we just ask Joss? :) Because if the writers screwed up, there's no point to me defending them Case: Unbotched Metaphor / Character Arc.
Rowan Hawthorn you're the first person I've heard from who really liked / was convinced by that element of S6, so it's definitely interesting for me to hear your take on it, but you seem to be getting kind of irritated by the disagreement. Maybe I'm misreading your tone. I don't know if this was a joke:
I'll grant that they didn't write the arc to specific criteria set out by a fan-run commission. If Joss is really smart, though, he should probably do Dollhouse as a "Choose-Your-Own-Adventure"...

but obviously, nobody's saying "Man, Joss and his fellow writers suck at story-line, they should let us dictate" - but a lot of people were let down by Willow's arc in S6 and it's interesting to analyze why, no?
Wait, what? She's addicted to magic and her friends aren't freaking out when she's gone away to magic school, not rehab, and comes home struggling to learn to trust herself with magic again? Not to stay away from it, but to use it responsibly? What the hell. It's believable that she has a lot of trouble trusting herself with magic again, and that she sets some boundaries she tests by degrees-- if she's not a junkie. If she's addicted to magic she can't set boundaries for her use of it, and she can't be trusted when using it. But there she is trying her strength by degrees and worrying not about not being able to stop, but about going evil again.


Sunfire, feel free to forget my other 20 paragraphs - this is the part didn't make sense to me. I suppose it depends on whether one considers Willow an "addict" to magic after her out-of-control behavior for like 4 episodes out of 6 seasons. She had been built up for a big fall, and her mistake was immersing herself in magic-use. So, Willow's later worried about going "evil", AKA losing control and doing awful things again; that's fine. She knows magic/power can be a ticking time bomb, if she begins using it for selfish purposes. I never considered that Willow was meant to quit just because she completely mishandled magic her first go-around. After all, there's precedence: Giles exhibited similar behavior in his dark magic days, and now he can still use magic, but he uses (for example) the Coven's "clean" magic, and he's obviously matured and rehabilitated his behavior.

[ edited by Jav on 2009-01-25 07:32 ]
Then she wouldn't have an excuse, now would she? What does the expression "to have an excuse" mean in your part of the world?

Well, in a fictional story where you can control all the elements and you want to make clear to the audience what is going on, I guess "X us just using Y as an excuse" would mean "we show the audience that Y is not an adequate explanation for what X is doing." If I had a magical power that allowed me to start fires without using kindling, paper and matches, I'd use it. If I had a magical power that allowed me to shoot sparkles from my fingers to impress my partner, I'd use it. If I had a magical power that allowed me to decorate a room without actually doing the work, I'd use it.

If the writers wanted to convey the idea that "she's just finding excuses to use magic" all they needed to do was give us a situation where the use of magic actually added labor to the task. E.g., if, in order to do the magic fire-starting, she had to go upstairs to get a magic book and say an incantation and get some special ingredients etc. etc.--then we'd all say "huh, that's weird, why use the excuse of starting a fire to do that magic?"
catherine - No, that wasn't a joke (well, not entirely, anyway.) Maybe I've just been having this identical discussion for way too many years. It would be a lot more interesting to analyze why some people were let down by Willow's arc if it wasn't for the fact that trying to analyze the other point of view is like walking into an Aerosmith concert and trying to carry on a whispered conversation - with the walls. Probably why you don't hear many people trying. It's why I don't usually bother anymore, myself.
catherine: "For me, watching season 6 is like being in a relationship with somebody unreliable and temperamental who doesn't get on with any of your friends, but is so hilarious and good in bed that you keep coming back for more anyway and just try to let the bad stuff slide."

Yes, totally, spot-on, perfect. I first watched the series as it aired, and then in (numerous) DVD re-watches, and that feels exactly right.

(And speaking as someone who had a lot of crappy, exciting boyfriends, I feel myself to be an expert on that subject and just exactly how it feels. ; > )

I loved Season 6 at the time, and yet it drove me mad, and I still love to re-watch it, and it still drives me mad.

Sometimes those infuriating partners are the ones you remember most vividly and with extreme fondness. I look forward to Season 6 whenever I get there, and yet it can still make me yell at the screen.

Maybe that's what I enjoy, though, the contradictions and the frustration and the extreme emotion - and I'm getting that not everyone does, for different reasons. ; >

As you were - I just hopped on because I loved what catherine wrote there - it said it for me.
Willow didn't switch between addicted and power-tripping. She went from powerless to learning magic and having real power in her hands, gradually using it to define her actions and act recklessly, losing control and being consumed by this (re: shamans-gone-bad), then fortunately sans-magic seeing reason again and realizing how corrupt she'd become, stepping back, finding herself sans-magic, and re-applying the "magic" part after coming to terms with her control/personality issues, ending as a powerful, more informed and responsible magic-user


Well put! I agree with this interpretation. The story isn’t saying that magic is a drug but that (for a time) Willow was using it like a drug. It was a metaphor not an allegory, there’s no one to one correspondence between every S6 magic scene and traditional Hollywood depictions of drug use, nor need there be to make the point. They used that approach once in Wrecked setting up Dark Willow being able to say “Willow’s a junkie with the bitterness and disillusionment that phrase carries. Then they moved on.

I do think the middle “just say no” episodes of Willow’s arc are the least successful, partly because, by definition, not much is happening. There are some good moments, I think some of her interactions with Amy in Doublemeat Palace are very telling, but others like the talk Sam has with her in As You Were are hideously clunky. Against that I do find the ex-addict going a suicidal bender aspect really adds something to Villians through Grave.

I also agree that had Willow’s arc be done as a pure “power corrupts” Dark Phoenix type arc it would have lost all credibility as a story about Willow. Willow’s many things but she’s not dumb. Such an arc can only go so far before its protagonist realizes that what they’re doing is hurting the very people/ideals they sought to protect/uphold. If they continue on the same path it requires a lot more set up to make it seem that they have no alternative (as in the Godfather series) or they just look stupid. And/or addicted to power in exactly the afterschool special version of addiction where the drugs/power/ring made them do it not their personal failings.
catherine:
For me, watching season 6 is like being in a relationship with somebody unreliable and temperamental who doesn't get on with any of your friends, but is so hilarious and good in bed that you keep coming back for more anyway and just try to let the bad stuff slide.


You mean someone like Spike? ;)

I was absolutely thrilled by Willow's arc in S6, because I never considered "Magic is Power" and "Magic is Crack" as two contradicting metaphors to begin with. For me, Magic always stood for breaking some rules of any given set of rules or boundaries.

- Magic was lesbian sex once (breaking out of heteronormativity; "Who Are You").
- Magic was anarchy once (breaking out of the state; "New Moon Rising").
- Magic was the opposite of science once (breaking out of the rational; well all of S4).
- Magic was vampirism once (defying death and breaking out of The One Rule You Can't Break Out Of; "Bargaining").
- Magic was what made "So I say we change the rule." possible. ("Chosen") There you have the rule-breaker in its most explicit form, although it was after Willow's S6-arc.

And none of that was particularly explained or built up. So when Willow stumbled into that drug-metaphor in S6, I never saw it as contradicting The One Metaphorical Reading Of Magic, I saw it as a comment to all the multiple metaphorical readings I've gotten to know. All this rule-breaking has consequences and can become addictive. That's why I also can perfectly understand the point of "It's inside her." and how she needs to use it reasonably. Because it was never about drugs. Never about power. It was about rules.

What I'm trying to say is: I think, if people consider "Magic is Crack" to be an inconsistent and insufficiently built up story in S6, they could apply that same argument to a lot of metaphorical stories this show did about Magic. And I don't know if anything is consistent, then. That's the price if you start trading everything in the "Power"-currency. So, yeah, I tend to like my metaphors as I like my characters: Wild, multi-faceted and never-pinned-down-on-one-note. :)

[ edited by wiesengrund on 2009-01-25 15:03 ]
trying to analyze the other point of view is like walking into an Aerosmith concert and trying to carry on a whispered conversation - with the walls.

Ha, OK, I getcha! But in conversations like this, where we see it how we see it, we're all being walls as well as whisperers ;). While I thought Alyson Hannigan's performance was incredible, and can understand that some people found the idea of Magic addiction as portrayed really powerful, I had hoped for a more interesting (to me... I'm so selfish) climax to that brilliant arc than Willow floating on the ceiling seeing pretty lights in Rack's seedy crack-den. I agree Magic had stood in for all kinds of things before wiesengrund - this just seemed the least imaginative given the possibilities (and a lot more moralizing than I likes my Buffy). Good points, though.

I still loves me some season 6, anyway.
I was just thinking what a shame it was that this topic was already bumped out, but then again, it might be a good thing. This thing is already spiralling pretty fast. Anyway, one of the most interesting and entertaining conversation pieces for a long time here, and some excellent posts both ways. To me the drug thing was a factor to the ultimately disappointing S6, and not even the major factor I guess. However, it's one of the easier things to pinpoint, kind of like Dawn at times.

That said, thanks for the article and the posts, it's nice to get this heated conversation about 7 year old season.
Wisengrund, I didn't think that the magic as crack wasn't built up enough in S6 - quite the contrary. But I'm with the gang who felt that it was an easy way out - a quick and easy way to show what Willow is going through. The series, after all, is not "Willow the Magic Maker", so I understand why the writers didn't have the time to build a story line where Willow goes to a dark place because of all of her past history - her insecurity, her feeling of inferiority.
Instead, to me,the story simplifed it to "Willow has an addictive personality", when it could have been much more complex than that.

Nevertheless, Season 6 is my favourite and I will add my kudos to catherine's analogy of the bad but fascinating relationship.
The story isn’t saying that magic is a drug but that (for a time) Willow was using it like a drug.

Except that they went to the most literal possible one-to-one "magic=crack" place possible, along with "hitting rock bottom" and 12-step "apologizing to the people you hurt" type stuff as well. I wouldn't have minded a metaphorical/symbolic exploration of magic-as-addiction. What we got was a pure literalization: Willow is a magic-junkie. She goes to get magic-fixes from the evil magic-pusher. Now she'll have to give up magic "cold turkey." She'll get the magic-DTs. She'll shake and sweat. etc. etc. etc. It was simply every cliche from the drug-addict story book but with the word "crack" (or heroin or alcohol) scratched out and "magic" written in its place.
Well now I'm confused because from your comments upthread I thought your problem with the arc was that it was too oblique in its drug references, that it wasn't showing Willow using magic just for the high of it.

Maybe we can agree that the literal depiction wasn't a S6 thing but a Wrecked thing and for me its purpose there was to show rather then tell Willow realising what she was really doing. That she wasn't the next Anakin Skywalker being tragically drawn to the dark side but just another junkie seeking a fix for her emotional inadequacies. It felt entirely appropriate for a season where life was the Big Bad and all the major characters had their illusions shattered. Buffy's heaven was a lunatic asylum, the nerds' bid for supervilliany revealed them as a bunch of losers who couldn't even shoot straight and Spike's Byronic fantasies ended in brutal scuffle on the Summer's bathroom floor.
That's really nicely put, hayes62. And while the latter part of the Magic-Addiction story-line will always be unsatisfying to me, I think, on an emotional level, I can really see how one might see it the way you see it ;). Also, yay, 100 comments for a thread on S6. Are we predictable or what? :)
Well now I'm confused because from your comments upthread I thought your problem with the arc was that it was too oblique in its drug references, that it wasn't showing Willow using magic just for the high of it.

My point upthread was that the "Willow's a junkie" comes out of nowhere. We never see her "getting high" off magic until suddenly we have her visiting the (c)Rack-den. Now, I wish they'd stayed away from the "magic=drugs" line altogether (why not just have Willow actually hit the bottle? That was something we did actually see her do in the wake of Oz's departure). But if they *had* to do it, they should have lead up to it.

A couple of other points; the drugs=magic thing goes way beyond Wrecked. Even in S7 we get Amy posing as a recovering magicaholic and apologizing to Willow-as-Warren for the bad things she did before she "hit rock-bottom." And after Wrecked we get the sweaty-DTs Willow, the "do one little spell and I'll fall off the wagon" Willow etc. etc. None of this presented as a problem of "magical" consequences but simply as symptoms of psychological addiction.

Also, to say that Willow-as-junkie "feels appropriate for the season" doesn't address the problem with character and plot consistency. Your themes have to emerge organically from the development of the character's story-arcs. You can't just say "hey, let's make Willow a junkie because that'll totally fit the theme of the season" anymore than you could have said "hey, let's make Willow a prostitute because that'll totally fit the themes of the season." (I would make the same point about Xander's sudden utterly unforeshadowed fear that he would become a wife-beater; again, they thought "Xander ditching Anya at the altar will fit the tone of the season" without thinking "how do we plausibly bring this character to that point?").

But, ultimately, the abruptness and inconsistency annoy me less than the fact that they threw away a plot line that was full of rich possibilities (what if, for example, they'd had Warren kill Tara much earlier on, and then had Willow insistent upon bringing Tara back to life despite the fact that the spell would have potentially awful consequences, or required the deaths of innocents? That would set her against the Scoobies--rich possibilities for exploration of character there--without simplistically having her "drawn to the dark side" [we'd understand the temptation to revive Tara]. It would also have allowed the writers to really explore the question of "afterlife" that Buffy's resurrection had opened up.)

In the place of some such storyline, what do we get? Magic=crack; a storyline whose rich metaphoric reverberations amount to this: addiction is bad. Don't do drugs. The end.

Don't get me wrong. There's lots that I love about S6 (it's hitting them out of the park until "Tabula Rasa," and there's several I love after that, like "Dead Things" and "Normal Again"). But the Rack detour feels like such a waste, it just has me shouting at the TV every time I re-watch.
We never see her "getting high" off magic until suddenly we have her visiting the (c)Rack-den.


That's exactly what I didn't like about it.
I guess this thread's about played out, but I was thinking more about alternate directions they could have gone with S6 that would have felt more organic, and I think the one I really like is the idea of keeping going with the theme of Willow arranging the world to her liking.

I mean, this is the initial culmination of the "Willow's using magic too much" plot-line, right? Not that we find Willow lying on her bed going "have you ever really looked at your hand" but that she tries to rearrange Tara's memory, and then tries to rearrange all the Scoobies' memories (in Tabula Rasa.

Well, what if she goes on from there to think "you know what, why should we run around trying to catch this bad guy and that bad guy...what if I were able to just magically rid the world of demons at a blow?" It wouldn't be "Willow turns evil" it would be "Willow sees herself as becoming the real hero of the piece and as the ultimate good-guy."

But can you rid the world of all its demons? What might the consequences of such a massive act of magic be? What price would have to be paid? You could have run a really interesting story where for some time the audience (and the Scoobies) isn't sure whether or not to root for Willow's plan. You could also raise complicated questions (a little like the BSG territory of "who's a Cylon?") of whether the Scoobies are being influenced by mind-control spells (again, from Willow's P.O.V its all for the greater good, but obviously from our p.o.v its all deeply troubling...just how much power is too much even if it's being wielded "for our good"--a timely reflection given the political circumstances when that season aired).

Much of this, of course, would be similar to the ground explored in Angel S4 with Jasmine (which makes me wonder if it wasn't discussed and dropped for Willow in S6)--but how much richer it would be if the "Jasmine" figure was one we knew and loved before she began to assume God-like powers over the world's destiny?
Very nice thought, and I think a lot of what you suggest here can be found in S8.
I think if Willow had brought Tara back via sacrificing other people, or as a "The Zeppo" souled zombie, or as the not-quite-right-person of Joyce in "Forever" Tara would have hated Willow for it. Serious possibilties there.

Not surprised how Warren w ent truly evil ; he was flat-out suer from the begining. Altho what exactly Katrina could have told the police....

And remember, Willow wasn't alone. Tara and Anya both participated in the raising, and Xander. 4 prices?
There's a kind of twisted Orpheus and Eurydice aspect to the idea of bringing someone back from the dead and then having them no longer love you precisely because you brought them back, isn't there? Imagine a Tara brought back from the dead who fights Willow so as to restore the status quo ante. Ouch.
Well, maybe not fights Willow to go back to being dead so much as a Tara who walks away permanently. But yeah, possibilities are endless.

[ edited by DaddyCatALSO on 2009-01-27 18:56 ]

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