After Buffy’s heroic death at the end of Season 5, I think a lot of people wondered how the show could carry on. The answer is Season 6 which emerges as one of the darkest series and one of the most hotly debated in the Buffy saga. Spoilers will follow in this overview.
The Scooby Gang is still reeling from Buffy’s(Sarah Michelle Gellar) death. Giles(Anthony Stewart Head) decides to return to England whilst Willow(Alyson Hannigan) takes over leadership of the group. With her Wiccan powers increasing, Willow decides that they must resurrect Buffy. She believes that Buffy must be trapped in a hell dimension after she threw herself into the portal of energy. Although Xander(Nicholas Brendon), Anya(Emma Caulfield) and Tara(Amber Benson) are unsure of the spell and worried about potential consequences, Willow takes command and decides to go ahead with the ritual. Buffy is in fact brought back, but exactly where she was left, her grave. After clawing her way out of her coffin, Buffy is withdrawn and traumatized by the ordeal. We later find out that she was in fact in Heaven and her friends pulled her out of it. She further sinks into depression and finds comfort in the arms of Spike(James Marsters), engaging in a sexual relationship that soon becomes increasingly destructive for both involved. Whilst dealing with her dark ordeal, Buffy is faced with the Trio; Warren, Andrew and Jonathan. These three geeks have banded together to become super powerful, though they are mostly inane. They torment Buffy by summoning demons and toying with her. As Warren craves more power, their mission takes a darker turn once they come into contact with Buffy. Meanwhile, Dawn(Michelle Trachtenberg) is feeling isolated from everyone and takes to stealing as a coping mechanism. Anya and Xander announce their engagement to the gang, although it ends in sadness. One of the most important character arcs this season is Willow’s. She is now becoming more powerful but continues to rely too much on magic. This makes Tara worried for her safety and the two begin to grow apart. As Willow begins to acknowledge her addiction, a tragedy sends her spiralling back into the realms of dark magic. Can Buffy regain her strength and bring her best friend back before it is too late? All will be revealed in this bleak penultimate season.
As I previously mentioned, Season 6 is controversial among fans. Many consider it too dark and that the series should have ended with the epic Season 5 finale. In one sense I do think that Season 5 made for an excellent finale, but Season 6 does have its good points in terms of characters and themes. Each character is going through a personal struggle of some sort. The most interesting examples are Buffy and Willow. Buffy must readjust to life again whilst trying to cope with the knowledge that in death she found happiness. Willow must deal with her magic addiction that is slowly taking her over. Season 6 does have its fun moments though, especially in the classic musical episode ‘Once more, with feeling’. In the episode, the residents of Sunnydale are afflicted with the urge to reveal their thoughts in song by a demon. The catch of this is that if they sing and dance for too long, they will combust. The episode is filled with humour and some amazing vocal work as the characters find themselves telling their secrets to one another and delving into their personalities. Witty, theatrical and a joy to watch, it is classic and innovative Buffy.
Yet despite these moments of comedy, it is the tragedy and darkness that Season 6 will generally be remembered for. The most tragic moment has to be the death of Tara. After Buffy humiliates the power crazed Warren, he shoots her but a stray bullet hits Tara, who dies in Willow’s arms. Tara’s death is such a sad moment as she and Willow were just getting to know one another again and their rekindled relationship has been tragically cut short. Seeing Willow cry as she holds her beloved and her eyes turn to a scarlet red is both an emotional and scary moment. Tara’s death also functions as the key factor in Willow’s descent into dark magic with horrific consequences as she wants the world to know the pain her loss has caused her. It’s sad to see Tara leave the show, because I’ve continually been impressed with Amber Benson’s subtle and moving performance as her. Yet I do understand that her death functions as a way to push Willow’s story forward. Although The Trio are used for comedic effect, even they take a dark turn. This is certainly in the case with Warren, who soon begins to lose his grip on plans.
Our cast delivers some stunning work during this season. Sarah Michelle Gellar flexes her acting muscles and gets to show us the vulnerable side to Buffy and how much death and resurrection has affected her. She’s still a fierce warrior who can take down the enemy, but this season showcases Buffy at her most frightened before she manages to reclaim her life once and for all. It is a true testament to Gellar’s talent that we sympathise with Buffy and want her to climb out of her sadness. Nicholas Brendon is great as Xander, who is going through his own set of problems. This includes his wedding day in which he can’t go through with it because he glimpses what a future with Anya might be like. Brendon imbues the part with emotion and earnest heart. Emma Caulfield continues her impressive portrayal of Anya, who is broken by being left at the altar. This causes her to reconsider her past of vengeance and Caulfield gets to show us the wounded woman who can’t deal with the human pain. Caulfield still has her laugh out loud moments but this is the season when Anya really grows as a character. Alyson Hannigan excels at showing Willow’s downward spiral into magic addiction and the horror of when she turns into an almighty powerful force who can wreak havoc on anyone or anything. She also shows us the side of her that wants to stop, but can’t help but give into these dark impulses especially after the death of Tara. James Marsters reveals the caring side to Spike as he falls into a sexual relationship with Buffy, but how he can’t deal with the fact she is using him as a way to cope. This culminates in Spike attempting to rape Buffy, a decision that causes him to leave town and attempting to regain a soul. Michelle Trachtenberg captures the feelings of isolation as Dawn, who develops a stealing obsession that soon gets out of hand. Sadly, Anthony Stewart Head isn’t in Buffy as much this season as Giles, but when he does come back it’s certainly worth it. I mean any Giles is better than no Giles at all, isn’t it?
Season 6 may become a bit too grim for its own good, but the excellent performances and stories make sure that Buffy is still one amazing television series.