Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Betty, the DVD-Backlog Slayer

Well, I've now finished watching Season 5 of Buffy. (Haven't looked at all the extras on the DVDs yet, but I have watched all the episodes. And, in my typical fashion, I'm going to ramble on about it for a while. (Warning: There Be Spoilers.)

I actually have fairly mixed feelings about the season as a whole. A lot of the individual episodes weren't all the compelling. Glory as a villain is much more annoying than scary. And it suffers (though to a slightly lesser degree) from the same syndrome as Season 7: "Ooh, there's a horrible bad guy we can't defeat so let's just sit around all season talking about how we can't defeat it and then suddenly come up with some stuff at the very last minute that we should have thought of six months ago." (Hmm, come to think of it, Season 4 had a little bit of that problem, too. I think it's a product of the idea that there has to be a single Big Bad each season, and it has to have a story arc that spans the whole season and ends on a huge climax. It makes for some serious pacing problems, more often than not.) I also occasionally get the feeling that the metaphors (e.g. the "nobody thinks of me as a real person" angst of adolescence = Dawn as key) and the ethical dilemmas (e.g. the question of whether it's ever right to sacrifice one innocent life to save an entire world) are almost a little too forced or obvious. Those metaphors and that depth are one of the things I love about Buffy, but they work best if they feel natural, rather than like the writers are reaching for them. This, of course, is hardly a problem unique to Season 5, but it feels a little more obvious here in some ways.

On the other hand, the writers had to be doing something right in Season 5 (or at least the second half of it), because they made me cry repeatedly. OK, yeah, I'm just a weepy emotional wussy who cries far too easily at TV shows. I admit it. But when a show manages to affect me and engage my emotions strongly enough to bring actual tears to my eyes, I really do have to account it a success. So. I cried at what happened to Tara (or, more accurately, at Willow's reactions to what happened to Tara). I cried at the end, even though I had some problems with the season's resolution on a plot level, and even though I knew perfectly well that Buffy was going to be back. (Hey, I still get a little choked up at the end of The Wrath of Khan, even though I know Spock's back in the next movie, too. All right, yeah, I said I was an emotional wuss. Shut up.) And then there was "The Body."

Man, I don't even know quite what to say about "The Body" except that it was far and away the single most painful hour of television I have ever watched. Ever. And that's a good thing, or at least a testament to the artistry that went into the episode. It achieves exactly the effect it's going for, devastatingly well, without a single mis-step. It's impressive as hell. And it hurt. I am, I admit, a big fan of angst. I love it when a book or a movie or a TV show moves me to tears and makes my heart hurt, and when that experience is over I usually emerge from it with a smile on my face, feeling a pleasant sense of catharsis. "The Body" did not leave me with a smile on my face and a sense of catharsis. Because it wasn't fiction. It was real. It wasn't death as drama or as metaphor. It was death, it was real, it was exactly what that experience is like, and it hit way, way, way too close to home. It left me emotionally wrecked for days, and I can't begin to describe what a weird and unusual thing that is for me. There's a commentary track on it that I really am very interested in, because I love hearing Joss Whedon talk about his episodes, and I'm sure he has many interesting things to say about this one. But I'm just really not sure I can bear to watch it again, not even muted. Ow.

All right, moving on to some other random things... Watching this season was particularly interesting to me because I've watched all the episodes before it on DVD, and I caught some of Season 6 and all of Season 7 when they were on the air. Which means I've just filled it a large part of a really huge gap. So many things that confused me about the later episodes suddenly make a lot more sense. No longer am I wondering: Hey, when did Xander grow up? Wait, Buffy and Spike?! What's with that? And why the hell does Buffy suddenly have a sister? The Buffy-Spike relationship, in particular makes a lot more sense to me now. Because, yeah, OK, I could see Spike getting into that kind of an emotional place, and it all really does sort of fall out from there. I also find that, having seen all of Season 5 now, a lot of Buffy's behavior that really annoyed me in Season 7 suddenly feels a lot more understandable, even if it is still annoying.

It's also interesting to watch the season knowing what's going to happen to the characters later. Every so often, for instance, it'd suddenly hit me that a certain character would be dead a year or two later, and I'd feel terribly melancholy. This was especially true of Tara. Man, Willow and Tara are so wonderful together, so cute and happy and loving. Watching them, I find myself overwhelmed with the sense that these people are so right for each other, that if there's any rightness in the universe at all the only thing that can possibly happen is for the two of them to grow old together. And it really bums me out knowing that that's not going to happen. Then again, I felt pretty much exactly the same way about Willow and Oz, so I suspect there's some kind of Willow Factor operating here. (Willow and Kennedy, though... Yeah, not so much.)

Speaking of which: the one thing (besides making me cry) that Season 5 does very, very right is the development of Anya. It's fascinating and funny, and at times a little heartbreaking to watch her slowly come to terms with learning what it is to be human. She was a fairly one-note character when she first started out, and it's great to see her developing that level of complexity, without ever losing her comic edge.

Now, Season 6 should be arriving in my mailbox very shortly. Let's hear it for still more filling in of gaps!

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