After last season’s disaster I didn’t know what to expect from season five of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Right away I was annoyed with the new character Dawn. She was just dropped into the series at the end of season four as if she had been there the whole time. On top of her abrupt entrance, she’s just plain annoying. Other characters though, mainly Anya and Tara finally seemed to find their places in the series and I really started to enjoy having them around in season five.
The first episode of season five, “Buffy vs. Dracula” left me with mixed emotions. As a whole I liked the episode but not because of Dracula. The stand out character in this episode is easily Xander. He gets most of the good lines and cracked me up throughout. Dracula himself was boring and considering he was Dracula he was dispatched quite easily. He was built up as this epic power and then he was dead. I was actually kind of glad because as the episode progressed I became afraid that he would be the villain for this season and that would have really sucked.
The next episode “The Real Me” is told through Dawn’s eyes and through her diary. We learn that Dawn didn’t just magically appear, she has been around for fifteen years, since she was born. Everyone else seems to validate this by being very familiar with her and her place within the group. This episode didn’t blow me away, it’s just important because through it we learn so much about Dawn. It’s not until several episodes in that we finally learn the truth about Dawn and her part in this season’s overall story arc. Buffy learns that Dawn isn’t a human at all but a key to an alternate universe. The key was made into human form and placed into Buffy’s care with fifteen years worth of fake memories to allow Buffy and her family and friends accept and protect Dawn. Glory, this season main villain is an evil God looking for the key to open the gate back to her own universe and in the process allowing all sorts of nasty stuff to rain terror down on Earth. Try as she might Buffy can’t seem to beat Glory so the gang runs and hides, doing whatever they must to protect Dawn from her. At first I really hated Glory but once I settled into her character she really amused me. As much as I still hate Dawn as a character I have to admit her introduction into the series and her relevance to the storyline is unique.
Dawn, Tara, Anya, and even Spike to some extent all play a part in the theme of family in this season. Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles have had this little group together for years. So, it’s hard to bring in new people to their family but they do with these new characters. This idea is best realized in the episode aptly titled “Family”. In the episode Buffy and Xander discuss Tara’s birthday and how they don’t understand her enough to know what to buy her for a gift. They realize that they really haven’t given her a chance to become a part of the group the way she deserves. When Tara’s family shows up to try and force her to come home Buffy and the rest of the gang step in front of Tara to defend her and let her father know she already has a family that accepts her for who she is. It’s a nice emotional episode for the character. Tara is interesting because in many ways she’s a mirror image of Willow, her girlfriend, nervous, spastic, and overall just a little awkward. Willow ends up more often being the stronger one their relationship, which is a new role for the character. Thematically it’s interesting too because at the same time she’s becoming a stringer witch. Riley, a boring block of wood of a love interest for Buffy finally finds his way out of the series. Buffy is upset for a few episodes but it doesn’t compare to the extensive and epic grieving she did over Angel. It makes sense because they never had the same spark that she and Angel did. What was more emotional than their actual break up were the two separate instances when Buffy admits to herself that she doesn’t love Riley and Riley accepts the fact that Buffy doesn’t love him. These scenes both happen a long time before they actually break up.
Other familial changes are afoot too in this season. Buffy’s mother gets sick and doctors tell her she has a tumor. She has surgery but she never seems to get back to a hundred percent. This leads to my absolute favorite episode of the season; “The Body”. Buffy comes home to discover her mother’s body sprawled out on the couch. She calls an ambulance and they pronounce her dead and tell Buffy they have to go on another call and that someone will be there to pick up the body. This is of course a moving episode but it’s not great just because of the drama, it’s also great because of the execution of the episode. Throughout the episode there are flashes of what Buffy could have done differently to try and save her mother such as coming home early. At first I thought these meant something, maybe there was some kind of demon or some sort of time distortion or anything but no, her mom really died. This episode is another Whedon masterpiece.
I can’t go without mentioning Spike in this season. He has fallen in love with Buffy and we know it early on but Buffy doesn’t find out until Dawn explains it to her in a way that just makes it seem so obvious. The episode “Intervention” finds Spike wanting to have some fun with his new “Buffybot” built by a villain stopped in the previous episode. The Buffybot looks exactly like Buffy but is in complete love with Spike, is a bit stupid, and is excruciatingly and hilariously chipper. Sara Michelle Gellar seems to be having a great time with this role and I had a great time watching her in the episode.
Buffy has died once before but this season it feels more real as she knows at the end of the season that the only way to save her family and well everyone else is to sacrifice herself. The episode features excellent action and some good humor but the end with Buffy’s gravestone feels resolved and permanent. When I saw in the bonus features that Whedon had considered stopping the series there it made sense. Granted this would have been a dark way to end but it would have fit with the gothic sort of tragic atmosphere of the series. Even though I’m seeing these episode for the first time since my box set has seven seasons in it I know she’ll be back, so that probably took a little wind out of my sails for the ending but even with that said the series finale was very strong.
I like this season overall. It doesn’t have the impact that seasons two and three had but it’s still a really great season. It gets points for trimming the dead weight of Riley and Harmony, another irritating character that is barely worth mentioning. Buffy’s mother gets a fantastic send off too in one of the best episodes of the series.