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 five seasons of that classic show and its spin-off Angel. We continue now with the somewhat decisive sixth season, which saw Buffy resurrected after her death fighting Glory in season five. The first of the two seasons on new network UPN, this was the year that saw the scoobies grow up and it often made for grim, disturbing viewing.
That wasn’t to say Buffy The Vampire Slayer wasn’t still entertaining; the new geek trio were a very different style of Big Bad; there were still moments of comedy and the musical episode is surely one of the most much-loved hours of television of all time. But it was also the season that saw Buffy struggle to come to terms with being ripped out of Heaven and begin a disturbing sexual affair with Spike; it was the year Giles left, Dawn became a kleptomaniac and Xander jilted Anya at the alter. Most tragic of all, it was the season in which Willow’ magic became a powerful addiction, tore her and Tara apart and saw them reunited later on, only for Tara to die senselessly and Willow’s rage transform her into the season’s real big bad, Dark Willow.
It’s a season that improves with age and repeated viewing; but what are the five episodes of the darkest season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer? Let’s take a look below…
6×07 – Once More With Feeling
Not only is this the best episode of season six, it is often considered one of the best episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer of all time and it is easy to see why. Even after masterpieces like ‘Hush’ and ‘The Body’ there was some concern when Joss Whedon began talking about doing a musical episode. But fans need not have been worried. Not only was every original song brilliant, but it set the tide for other shows to experiment with musical episodes too. It wasn’t the first show to do it, but it certainly set the mark for everything that followed.
So the songs: Well they are bold, catchy, funny and dramatic and I’m sure reading this there isn’t at least one song you aren’t singing along too right now. From ‘I’ve got a Theory’ with Anya’s rock solo about bunnies, to Spike’s moody ‘Rest in Piece’, the duet ‘Wish I could Stay’ featuring the stunning vocals of Amber Benson’s Tara and Anthony Stewart Head’s Giles and the rousing big number ‘Walk Through The Fire’ Whedon created some amazing tracks. And that’s not to mention little mini highlights like ‘They Got The Mustard Out’ and ‘The Parking Ticket’ song.
But where ‘Once More With Feeling’ really excels, is how it moves the story on in huge ways that a standard episode couldn’t. Freed of their inhibitions, Giles and Tara realise that they have to leave Buffy and Willow behind, Xander’s doubts over his wedding to Anya are revealed and most eventful of all, Buffy tells her friends through song that their spell ripped her our of heaven. This was a magical, hugely entertaining episode in a quite dark season and this revelations would have huge consequences over the rest of the sixth run.
6×08 – Tabula Rasa
Despite being a quite dark, sombre season, the musical episode is followed by another hugely entertaining, fun entry, again ending with a fallout that has some pretty dark consequences. Fearing that Tara will leave her after she learned about the forgetting spell she used on her, Willow attempts to undo things by doing exactly the same thing. It’s a clever hint at the magical addiction Willow has (and much less obvious than the following episodes) – addicts often fall into the same cycles – and this attempt backfires spectacularly when everyone loses their memory.
It’s terrible for Willow, when Tara does leave her at the end, but for the audience the build up to that heartbreak is brilliant. Seeing the characters take on new personas is a delight. From Spike all in tweed believing he is Giles’ son Randy to Anya and Giles bickering over a failing engagement, it creates some weird and wonderful situations. But Buffy remains the hero; even when she is adopts the new subdued persona of Joan, remains Dawn’s protective sister and in the end, proves to be a badass vampire slayer in any guise.
6×13 – Dead Things
You might be surprised by this entry on the list, but I chose it because it perfectly encapsulates the moment when the Trio of Andrew, Warren and Jonathan went from pathetic geeks with dastardly plans to proper villains. Their attempt at creating a mind control device sees Warren control his ex-girlfriend Katrina, turning her into a kinky sex slave. Suddenly the Trio (and Warren in particular) become something far more disturbing and the death of Katrina after waking up and realising what they have done is a grim twist – particularly when they manipulate Buffy into believing she killed Katrina in the woods by accident.
It certainly isn’t easy viewing; ‘Dead Things’ sees Spike and Buffy’s sexual relationship become even more complex and disturbed and the apparent death of Katrina at her hands sees her face the same questions fellow slayer Faith did in season three. The Trio see the consequences of their actions for the first time and the divide sets it with Warren truly revealed as a psychopath with no remorse for what he did to Katrina. In the current MeToo climate, this episode becomes hugely relevant, examining the darkest aspects of consent (and lack of) that would be revisited again in the later (and equally harrowing) ‘Seeing Red’.
6×17 – Normal Again
Is Buffy’s life as a vampire slayer real or the delusions of her increasingly disturbed mental state as she languishes in a psychiatric ward? It’s a terrific idea and while not a totally original story, it sits perfectly within the grittier, more adult themes of season six. The one mistake that the episode does make is showing Buffy being infected in the latest trap by the Trio, which causes her to doubt her identity; it breaks from the very real possibility the episodes teases at the end that maybe Sunnydale and all her friends are just part of her imagination.
This small gripe aside, it is fascinating to see a traumatised Buffy in the ‘real world’ and the return of both her parents Joyce and Hank (Kristine Sutherland and Dean Butler reprising their roles). The episode convinces that her adventures in Sunnydale are too fantastical to be true, the idea of sister Dawn is absurd and even hints that her death between seasons five and six saw a brief return to normality. And so, ‘Normal Again’ becomes a story above saving Buffy from two worlds, putting the fate of her friends and Dawn at stake in Sunnydale as she attempts to exorcise her demons while the anguish of Joyce and Hank experience in LA makes you feel for her plight there too. In the end, Buffy ‘wakes up’ from her psychiatric ward hallucination and the show continues, but not without that final grim shot of Buffy in LA, completely gone, suggesting that the true Buffy really has been lost.
6×21 – Two To Go
The build up to ‘Two To Go’ is thrilling and shocking stuff; Tara’s death sees Willow going off the deep end, absorbing black magics to become Dark Willow and, in a chilling call-back to her alternate vampire self from season three, skins Warren alive with a disturbing ‘bored now’. Both that episode ‘Villains’ and the finale ‘Grave’ have terrific moments as Buffy tries to save and then stop her friend, but neither quite measure up to this episode which sees Dark Willow at her worst.
Dark Willow attacking the police station to kill Andrew and Jonathan is scary stuff; she is unhinged, destroying everything in her wake and its the moment that her and Buffy truly come to odds. It’s the first hint that maybe Willow can’t be saved; the ensuing highway chase is exciting Terminator 2-style action as she puts her own friends in danger to claim her prey. The showdown in the Magic Store is greater stuff still, the fight between Buffy and Willow is emotionally wrought and the point of no return for the witch. It’s horrible and thrilling in equal measure. And who can forget one of the biggest, most crowd-pleasing moments in Buffy The Vampire Slayer history as Giles makes his long-awaited return, smacking Dark Willow down with the immortal line “I’d like to test that theory.” Now that’s how you end an episode.
As for the worst episode? Like most seasons, there really isn’t a bad episode here; even the darker, most gut-wrenching or depressing episodes are well performed and feature plenty of moments to keep the audience entertained. However there is one episode that firmly sits in disappointing territory…
6×16 – Hells Bells
This could have been such a brilliant episode; the wedding of Xander and Anya saw the meeting of his humans family and friends with her demon cohorts, ensuring carnage even without the disaster that happens. And it seems to start off well, with the hideous green bridesmaid dresses and raging storm outside setting the scene for something truly entertaining.
And then it all falls apart with cliched performances; Xander’s family are just dire and thankfully this is their only appearance; his father is a stereotypical abusive man and the rest of the Harris clan aren’t that much better. Worse still is the contrived way in which Xander jilts Anya. The man claiming to be Xander from the future reveals years of torment anguish and death to come before he is revealed as a victim of Anya’s vengeance demon days out for revenge. It’s a cruel twist but revealed to be all a lie. And then Xander leaves the woman he loves anyway, becoming a coward and totally unlikable character. While season six was about the characters making mistakes into adulthood, there is nothing redeeming or believable about what Xander does; from one of the most endearing characters to a jerk…that’s one change too far…
What are your thoughts on season six? Is it too dark or a brilliant exploration of human frailty? And is there anyone who doesn’t love ‘Once More with Feeling?’ Let us know in the comments below…