After the dreamlike finale of Season 4, Buffy Season 5 becomes one of the best seasons of the show along with Season 3 due to some amazing writing and moving performances. Featuring fantasy as well as genuine human drama, Season 5 adds maturity and darkness to the world of Buffy and her slaying of demons. Spoilers will follow in this review.
Buffy(Sarah Michelle Gellar) is now approaching her second year of college and is back on good terms with Willow(Alyson Hannigan) and Xander(Nicholas Brendon) after they grew apart last season. She is finally embracing her destiny as chosen one, whilst also having time for a life. But then as is typical in Buffy’s job as a slayer, there is evil to be taken care of on a daily basis. The most mysterious occurrence is the appearance of Dawn(Michelle Trachtenberg), Buffy’s sister. Up until now we haven’t seen her at all, let alone known that Buffy has a sister. Everyone acts as if Dawn has always been there. In actual fact, Dawn is the Key, a mystical source of energy that can be used for good and evil. Dawn just believes she is a normal girl growing up in the shadow of her older sister. She always feels left out of the group and forms a friendship with Tara(Amber Benson), Willow’s girlfriend who Dawn feels is the only person who treats her as an equal and not just a 14-year-old girl. When Buffy learns of the creation of Dawn and the threat of Glory, she vows to protect her. A demented hell goddess named Glory is after the Key and will do anything to get her evil hands on it. Glory is more than a match for Buffy in terms of physical strength and feeds off the energy of humans to remain strong. Elsewhere, Buffy’s romantic relationship with Riley(Marc Blucas) begins to disintegrate quickly as he feels left out of the group and feels inadequate in comparison to Buffy’s old lover Angel. Giles(Anthony Stewart Head) considers leaving for England as he feels like Buffy doesn’t need a Watcher anymore, he later changes his mind when he realises that Buffy needs him. Spike(James Marsters) is back and realises he is deeply in love with Buffy, even though they have been sworn enemies in the past. Buffy’s mother Joyce begins to feel sick and is later diagnosed with a brain tumour that takes a debilitating effect on her. In the end to protect Dawn from the plans of Glory, Buffy is faced with a difficult choice that only she can decide in an emotional and tense finale.
As I previously mentioned, Season 5 takes on a darker vibe than Season 4 which produces poignant results and some devastating conclusions. Sure there is still the snappy dialogue and humorous exchanges, but it’s the dramatic and emotional parts of the season that linger long in the memory. The overriding themes of Season 5 are death, maturity and sacrifice. Chief among these is Joyce’s condition. Joyce has been with the show since the beginning and has grown to be loved by fans. She might not understand her daughter’s destiny, but she loves her with all her heart. After discovering her brain tumour, Joyce’s memory begins to change and she often has angry outbursts.
One of the most emotionally devastating moments has to be in the episode ‘The Body’ in which Joyce dies from the effects of her tumour and Buffy finds her, dead on the living room couch. The episode is devoid of music which creates an atmosphere of numbness and disorientation that comes with death. We watch as the gang, of which many of them consider Joyce a mother figure, try to comfort Buffy in this difficult time whilst dealing with their own grief for the loving Joyce. What is most tragic about Joyce’s death is that Buffy is highly skilled in taking down evil and saving innocent people on a regular basis, but when it comes to the unfairness and sadness of life, she has no control and can’t reverse these tragic events. Poignant and soul-shaking, it is one of the most haunting hours of television I have ever seen. With Joyce’s death, Buffy gains more responsibility and must embrace the tribulations of adulthood that await her. She may be mature already, but this is the season when Buffy becomes a figure of responsibility to those around her and is forced into some difficult decisions to protect those she holds dear.
Rivalling this episode in terms of emotional stakes is the finale, entitled ‘The Gift’ in which Buffy sacrifices herself to save Dawn. Rather than let Dawn die, Buffy selflessly throws herself into a portal that has been opened in what is a hero’s death. Her voice over to Dawn about remaining brave in the face of danger and the devastated reactions of the gang are such heartbreaking scenes to watch as we see the bravery of this heroine and how she was willing to sacrifice herself to save others. If you don’t cry watching this episode, you clearly don’t have any emotions. With Buffy dead, what can possibly happen in the next series?
Another high point of season 5 is the villain, this time in the form of Glory who provides much of the humour in this sombre season. A destructive and unstable hell god who is crazed for power and will do anything for it. Glory’s personality is interesting as she flits from one extreme to the other and spells dire consequences for the gang. A clever tactic is introduced that Glory also occupies the body of Ben, a hospital intern who knows Buffy because of her mother’s condition. This adds danger to the mix as Ben wrestles with this knowledge that Glory may find out the identity of the Key and succeed in her plans. Diva like, despicable and delightfully sinister, as well as a highly skilled fighter, Glory makes for one of Buffy’s most dangerous adversaries.
The cast is again on fine form with involving performances all round. Sarah Michelle Gellar brings outward strength and inner vulnerability to the role of Buffy, as she accepts her responsibility as a grown up and defender of good, even when she is close to breaking down completely. We see how she has changed as a character and Gellar gives the role her all with compassion, relatability and intensity. Alyson Hannigan exudes knowledge, love and growing power as Willow, whose powers of witchcraft are increasing and are often utilised when battling the enemy. We also see how her power can be deadly and how it may overtake her mind if she continues to use it so much. Amber Benson is radiant and winsome as Tara, Willow’s girlfriend who is the most level-headed of the group and the one to keep her cool in a crisis. It is sad when Glory takes her energy and leaves her catatonic, but we do get to see Willow unleashing ferocious power on Glory in an act of revenge and later restore Tara back to herself. Nicholas Brendon continues his impressive performance as Xander, who may not possess any magical power, but whose quiet observations and caring actions make him an asset to the Scooby Gang. His relationship with Anya also provides many comical moments of misunderstanding. Emma Caulfield is a joy to watch as Anya, who often offends people because of her unfamiliarity with human ways and customs. Yet she also shows us how much Anya has learned about emotion from those around her, specifically her breakdown when Joyce dies and her questioning over life and death.
Joining the cast is Michelle Trachtenberg as Dawn, the Key in human form. I know that Dawn can be whiny at times, but we do see her alienation when she discovers her life has been a lie and how she believes she brings harm to those around her because of her power. Trachtenberg is perfectly suited to her character and provides many touching moments in which she questions her identity. James Marsters is typically bad ass as Spike, the vampire who is now an important member of the gang but can also pose a threat. It’s interesting to watch how he defects to the good side because of his growing obsession with Buffy, to which she tells him that nothing will come of it. We also get to take a glimpse of Spike’s past in which we see how he was a disillusioned man transformed into a vampire and how he has killed two slayers, one during the Boxing Rebellion in China and the other in 70’s New York. Anthony Stewart Head is particularly strong as Giles, who provides much-needed support and diligent strength when the group feels as if they are cornered. Marc Blucas bows out of Buffy as Riley ends his relationship with her as they drift apart from one another and he begins to frequent vampire bars in which he allows them to drink his blood. Riley becoming a darker character was a gamble, yet we’re so used to seeing him as a nice guy that it’s a bit of a stretch to see him behaving like this.
Dark, emotional and character-driven, Season 5 of Buffy is one of the strongest seasons boasting a great villain, deep themes and touching work from the cast.