I picked a great time to rewatch one of my favorite shows and one of the most important ones to me personally, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. With all of the misogyny with Trump and Republicans it's nice to see a great female hero figuratively smash the patriarchy. And this happens to be the 20th anniversary of the show first airing. So it's all come together for good timing.
The first five seasons were as expected. 2 and 3 still stand out as the best, truly some of the best tv ever. Season 4 is pretty solid despite less well defined "big bad". Season 5 has a stronger big bad in Glory, but fewer good stand alone episodes. Season 6 is known as the really dark season. And apparently some fans are really down on it because of that. I remembered it being dark but not all that different in quality than season 5. And with Joanna Robinson of Vanity Fair pointing out that the big bad of the season are basically a bunch of alt-right internet trolls before that was a thing, I was hopeful that I'd enjoy season 6 more than before.
Well, nothing has changed. I just watched the episode where Xander leaves Anya at the alter and I'm just awash in the darkness. But it's a different kind of darkness that the show has always been about. It just seems cruel for the sake of it. And the season as a whole is lacking in both stand alone episodes and quality big bads. The only thing propping up the season is Spike. And his and Buffy's arc ends much like Xander's does with Anya, with him being almost pointlessly cruel based on what they've done with the character up to this point.
Ok, that's unfair to the Spike arc because there is a point to the attempted rape scene. Though I'm not sure they set it up well enough, nor did they with Xander's betrayal of Anya. That's my real problem here. Not that it's dark. That it's dark and cruel without good reason. Spike has spent the last few seasons not being bad. That's mostly because of the chip. But he's actively helping Buffy most of the time (which trying to get in her pants, obviously). I said I was unfair regarding Spike's arc because it does make sense that he would react to Buffy's rejection with physical, sexual violence against her. He is, despite the chip and recent good behavior, an evil vampire.
Xander, on the other hand, is a good guy with a good, stable job. Hell, by this point in season 6 he's the most well-adjusted person on the show. He's dropped the fawning, asshole-ish relationship he had with Buffy for the first few seasons that understandably get on people's nerves. And he's moved beyond the moping, slacker phase where he felt left out while Buffy and Willow were in college. He's in a good relationship and keeps helping his friends with both fighting evil and taking care of Dawn. The only hint that there's anything wrong with his relationship with Anya is his hesitancy to tell everyone they're engaged. Perhaps I was reading it wrong, but I took his hesitancy at face value, in that they were all dealing with Buffy's death and it didn't seem like the right time.
Maybe season 6 is just about how shitty life can be without any kind of warning or set up. Having been laid off at the beginning of this year and still not having a job, I can certainly attest to that. Sure enough, the episode after Xander leaving Anya at the alter is the one where Buffy thinks she's been in a mental hospital hallucinating the entire show. So that, along with the even more dark ending of this season, and there's strong evidence that Whedon and Nixon wanted this season to be a metaphor for the random shittiness of life. That's fine in theory and mirrors real life, but with tv I think we needed more set up for or some more levity within the unrelenting darkness of some of the season's decisions.