Buffy The Vampire Slayer is returning… in some form. Whether it is the (second) reboot of the premise or a spin-off remains to be seen. However one thing is certain; no matter what path it takes, it has a lot to live up to. The Joss Whedon TV series starring Sarah Michelle Gellar as the titular slayer is one of the most beloved shows of all time.
So while we wait for news on what the new Buffy The Vampire Slayer might bring, we’ve been looking at the first four seasons of that classic show. After a quick detour to spin-off series Angel‘s first year, we return now to the show’s fifth season, a season which brought even greater, momentous change to Buffy’s life. Over the course of the season she would gain a mysterious sister, Dawn, re-join the Watcher’s Council, lose her boyfriend Riley, lose her mother, and then, in a final battle with Hell god Glory, lose her own life.
The fifth season returned to the closer family dynamic of earlier seasons and deliver a worthy big bad in Clare Kramer’s Glory. Many saw new sister Dawn as irritating but her story works well here compared to the next season. And in the build up to the season finale (and the show’s 100th episode) we were treated to a few classics that make the list below…
5×01 – Buffy Vs. Dracula
The season opener is a lot of fun and feels closer in tone to the earlier years after the grown up, darker aspects of season four. It’s completely bonkers too but works as the best season opener since ‘Welcome To The Hellmouth’ by acknowledging just how silly it is. The characters blatantly react to the fact that they had no idea Sunnydale had a castle and Rudolph Martin channels his inner Lestat as he plays the perfect stereotype of a brooding, Transylvanian vampire.
The reactions by the charaters are brilliant, from Buffy’s “get out!” when first encountering Dracula to Xander’s mocking him with references to his Sesame Street counterpart. Making Xander the Renfeld of the story is a delightful twist and there are plenty of dark, sexy and surreal moments, from Dracula feeding on Buffy to Giles encountering the three brides. And the final battle, complete with Buffy killing a resurrection Dracula a second time is a sublime final twist.
5×07 – Fool For Love
This is a terrific episode, exploring Spike’s past through a series of flashbacks as Buffy finds herself wounded in a fight with a simple vampire and goes to the peroxide killer of two slayers to understand how their battles ended. Told on the same night as Angel season two’s ‘Darla’ this is a brilliant exploration of the man Spike was before Drusilla sired him, his relationship to Dru, Angelus and Darla and the eventful fights that saw him take out two of Buffy’s predecessors.
The big surprise was making William a bumbling buffoon, writing trite poetry and far cry from the confident, sadistic killer we met at the beginning of season two. The two battles with former slayers are terrific too; the grandeur of the Boxer Rebellion in China creates a great set piece for the first epic fight, while the showdown with the second Slayer on the subway train in 70’s New York is gritty and brutal and close in tone to the fights between Spike and Buffy herself. Spike taking the infamous black coat from the dead slayer Nicki was another fan-pleasing moment and would set up the story of Robin Wood in the show’s seventh season.
5×12 – Checkpoint
This is the episode that really kicks things into gear. The first half of season five is more of a slow burn, introducing the mystery of who Dawn, dealing with the departure of Riley, Joyce Summer’s illness and of course the debut of Clare Kramer’s deranged Glory. She’s been more than a match for the slayer but we don’t find out how powerful until this mid-season episode when the Watcher’s Council arrive to bring Buffy back into the fold in exchange for key information.
Not only is the returning Quentin Travers a real thorn in Buffy and Angel’s side after the events of season three’s ‘Helpless’, but there’s a nice balance of desperation and humour as former demon Anya desperately tries to deflect the council attention from her. But it’s the final scene that ensure this episode makes the cut on the list; after days of interrogation and criticism, Buffy snaps, telling Travers and his team exactly what she thinks, demanding Giles’ reinstatement as watcher and supporting every one of her team. That victory is short lived, however, with the final revelation. Glory isn’t just any old demon. She’s a god. Suddenly the stakes just got much higher.
5×16 – The Body
Often touted as the best episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, ‘The Body’ is one of the most harrowing, heartfelt and intimate episodes of television ever made. Buffy arrives home to find Joyce dead on the sofa, a sudden relapse after recently undergoing (supposedly successful) surgery for a brain tumour. The opening act is powerful, hold your breath stuff as Buffy desperately tries to resuscitate her and fails (the episode plays a cruel trick by ‘saving Joyce’ only for it to be revealed as a desperate thought in Buffy’s mind).
The rest of the episode follows the reactions of the rest of the Scooby gang as they learn about Joyce’s death and gather to join Buffy at the morgue. We get a rare glimpse of Dawn’s school life as big sis Buffy comes to interrupt her day, Willow’s frustration as she struggles to find something appropriate to wear and THAT first onscreen kiss with Tara and Anya’s speech as she despairs why people have to die that surely leaves a lump in your throat if not tears in your eyes. It’s powerful and very, very real and unlike anything the show had done before or since.
It’s not an easy watch but it is a magnificent example of why Buffy The Vampire Slayer is one of the greatest shows ever to grace our screens.
5×22 – The Gift
The build up to the season five finale is superb, becoming even more arc driven as Glory learns that Dawn is the Key, sucks Tara’s brain energy and Buffy and the scoobies make their perilous escape. The penultimate episode saw Dawn captured and all hope seemingly lost as Glory prepared to open a gateway to her Hell dimension, descending Earth into chaos as a result. ‘The Gift’ is a magnificent climax to the story arcs of Glory, Dawn as the Key and Buffy herself; the 100th episode could very well have been the show’s last thanks to the WB cancellation (UPS would pick it up for seasons six and seven) and as bleak an ending as it might have been, it would certainly have ended Buffy The Vampire Slayer on a critical high.
Things start small and celebratory as the ‘previously’ zips through five years of episodes and we get a classic showdown between the slayer and a vampire. But things don’t stay simple for long as Buffy faces her latest apocalypse and prepares for battle. There are loads of lovely character moments, from Giles and Buffy comparing Dawn’s fate to how she killed Angel and Xander proposing to Anya. But it’s when the final showdown takes place that the real magic happens.
The bait and switch moment with the Buffy bot is a fantastic way for Willow to drain Glory and save Tara, while the fight between Buffy and Glory as the slayer welds the troll hammer is epic. Giles smothering Ben after Glory retreats into his body is pure ripper stuff but it is the final surprise return of Glory’s acolyte Doc that offers the biggest surprise, throwing Spike off the platform and bleeding Dawn that sees Hell unleashed on Sunnydale (the Xenomorph-style demons in City Hall and the dragon flying across the town are great effects). And in true heroic style, Buffy dies twice, realising that dawn’s blood is shared with hers and throwing herself into the portal to save the world once again.
We were all glad that Buffy The Slayer was able to continue, but this was perhaps her biggest moment. She really did save the world. A lot.
As for the worst episode of season five? Well there we none here quite on the lines of season four’s ‘Beer Bad’, but there a handful of episodes that perhaps don’t quite have the magic of the rest.
5×09 – Listening To Fear
This season five episode is far from bad but it does have a couple of things working against it; the attempts to do an extra-terrestrial monster doesn’t quite work (though it is rather nasty) and it comes in the midst of Joyce’s illness arc which makes for some quite depressing viewing at times. The alien aspect is never fully realised, not does it feel vastly different from other demons. And as brutal as it was to see Buffy weeping over her mother as she washed the dishes to terrible Spanish music, this was not the usual entertaining fare.
What are your top five episodes from Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s fifth season? And is ‘The Body’ one of the greatest episode of TV of all time? Let us know in the comments below…