Case Number 05548


Fox // 2002 // 990 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // November 10th, 2004

The Charge

Death becomes her.

Opening Statement

Buffy's self-sacrificing death in Season Five literally and figuratively signaled the end of the series run on The WB and set up a rebirth of both the character and the show on UPN. Given a longer leash and a bigger sandbox, series creator Joss Whedon and his team decided it was time for the Scooby gang to "grow up." Journey with us now to the darker side of life, as our heroes battle the monsters that lie deep within all of our souls, in what could arguably be called the show's strongest season.

Facts of the Case

Without revealing too much to those who are working their way through these box sets one season at a time, we present the DVD Verdict Digest Edition of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Sixth Season.

Buffy is dead. Very dead.

Giles determines he has outlived his usefulness in Sunnydale and returns to England.

Willow convinces herself and the gang that she can reclaim Buffy's soul from the demon universe that claimed her life, but all does not go according to plan.

Dawn is growing up faster than anyone realizes. With all of the focus on Buffy's re-acclimation, young Ms. Summers begins acting out her frustration to draw attention to her emotional angst.

Xander and Anya are moving full steam ahead on the bumpy road of love, but are either of them truly prepared for the ultimate commitment?

Willow's power has grown exponentially and its impact is being felt on every level. How can someone so intelligent become so quickly oblivious and jaded to the damage and destruction being left in her wake?

Being pulled from a place of no expectations, minus the presence of Joyce and Giles as safeguards, Buffy is thrust into the role of mother, counselor, protector and provider, responsible for safety and well being of everyone around her. It's one thing having to save the world on a regular basis, but to do so while holding several jobs, raising a teenager, and digging your family out of debt may be too much to ask of any hero.

Spike is the only person Buffy can connect and confide in, giving rise to a uniquely dark and self-destructive relationship. Unfortunately, his inner romantic construes their time together as something much deeper and more meaningful, igniting a flame that may ultimately consume him.

Adding insult to injury, the forces of darkness conspire to forge an evil super team, the most diabolical nemeses Buffy has ever faced! Well, in their estimation anyway. Warren (robot boy), Jonathan (magic boy), and what's his name...uh...Andrew (brother of demon dog boy), join forces to rid the world of Buffy once and for all. Mwahahahahahaha! Hey -- who knocked over my Ice Planet Hoth battle scene?!

Bottom Line: For as much as they are together, each member of this dysfunctional family are very much alone, battling their own inner demons while trying to understand who they are and where they belong. We've all been there, are there, or will be there soon. Sometimes we succeed, often times we fail -- but it is in these moments of failure that our greatest lessons are learned, and decisions are made that will determine the path we walk in life.

The Evidence

Buffer (n)
1. Somebody or someone that reduces shock or impact or protects against other harm, usually by interception.

Each of us has the capacity to produce tremendous amounts of kindness and destruction. The line between this darkness and light is quite thin and often blurred. Depending on the strength of our resolve, the faith we have in ourselves, and the love we share with those around us, our proximity to this dividing line can be tenuous at best.

On a daily basis, we are pulled in opposing directions by a myriad of physical and emotional forces -- fear, doubt, greed, jealousy, self-hatred, self-righteousness, power, responsibility, and addiction, to name but a few. The challenge is to be unwavering, like a rock in a storm, and not lose sight of who you are -- if you've already figured that one out.

The Scoobies haven't reached that point yet. Sure they've saved the world, battling hordes of demons, ghosts, and monsters...but how to you prepare for battle when the enemies are life and yourself?

The great thing about Season Six is that no one escapes unscathed. Joss is a master storyteller, laying the groundwork for the journey and enabling his writing team to creatively determine how these characters get from Point A to Point C. In a show like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it's the journeys, not the episodes, which are the most compelling.

* Buffy
Aside from JC, I don't know too many people who have handled resurrection all that well. Being absent from anything for three months is difficult enough for anyone to re-acclimate. Add to that an unexpected return and the responsibility of being the sole provider and savior for your friends, family, and the world is bound to leave you a weensy bit bitter. The only person she can truly connect with these days is Spike, and it's compelling to watch how close they actually get -- like two spinning magnets, both drawn to and repelled by each other with increasing frequency and intensity. If that weren't enough, you're ex-boyfriend shows up in town harboring an unknown life change, three dweebos declare themselves your mortal enemies, your surrogate father skips town, your best friend goes on a bender nearly killing your sister, the people in your life continue to suffer and die, and -- to top it all off -- you're forced to work fast food. It's enough to make you want to dig your own grave.

* Xander
The archetypal fifth wheel. This put-upon male is continually emasculated by all of the females in his life. With Giles gone, the only other male presence he has to confide in is Spike, whom he loathes with every fiber of his being. What do you do? You're about to be married (to a former vengeance demon, no less) and you're scared out of your wits (more so than usual), your best friend is growing more and more consumed by these new friends and interests she has, you ripped your other closest friend from the great beyond and condemned her to even more time on Planet Hellmouth, and worst of all you summon a demon from hell who turns everyone into contestants for American Idol. Therapy sounds like a pretty good idea right about now.

* Willow
How does that old saying go? "Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely." Well, you've certainly created a mess for yourself, sister. How can someone so smart be so dumb?! You have a partner and a family who love you, you're sailing through college, and you've helped save the world how many times? Not such a bad life. But it's not enough, is it? You have to be special. I mean, why should Buffy have all the fun, right? You have magic -- more power than you or anyone else could imagine is at your disposal. But it's still not enough. Fear and low self-esteem demand you be better, stronger, faster. But white magic won't do that for you any longer. You're a full-fledged junkie now, consumed by your own addiction. You lie, you cheat, you steal, and with each step you move further and further from that line you crossed in bringing Buffy back from the dead. Your friends call you on it, create an intervention, your promise to stop...and then it happens. Your life is turned upside down. You can't fix it. The pain is too great and you crawl back inside your addiction for comfort and escape, but there is none to be found. It's too late. You've gone too far. Paranoia sets in. Nobody loves you. They're all jealous of the power you possess. They are no longer worthy of your presence or attention. You have evolved beyond this paltry existence and all who have not must pay for their transgressions.

But I digress. Season Six is not all about the heavy topics. Joss and his team realize that the greatest darkness is made more compelling when offset by humor, and this season finds the perfect balance.

* Once More With Feeling
One of the most brilliant hours of television every produced -- actually it was an hour and 10 minutes, which unleashed an unholy cry from every fan who videotaped the show and missed the high impact ending. Much like Glen Gordon Caron and Moonlighting did with their irreverent, genre busting episodes ("The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice," "Atomic Shakespeare"), Joss Whedon and his team have given the world the perfect musical, one which not only captures the power of a Broadway show (with help from the incomparable Hinton Battle), but underscores it with operatic qualities that accelerate and drive the overall story arc of the entire season. Genius!

* The Boys
Move over, Dr. No. Sit down, Darth Vader. Take a powder, Khan. There's a new force of evil in the universe -- Warren, Jonathan, and Andrew -- the Three Stooges of Darkness. The best characters in literature and film are those you can identify with -- just like people you know in real life. Let's face it, Joss Whedon is one of us: the many, the ridiculed, the geeks. Comic books, Star Trek, Star Wars, monster movies, video games, you name it, these boys do nothing but spout film quotes and pop culture references from morning 'til night. Lucky for us, they found each other, and in true Legion of Doom form, have joined forces to bring an end to the greatest enemy of darkness the world has ever seen -- Buffy Summers.

* Anya
The classic fish out of water. A centuries old vengeance demon, trapped in the body of a human twentysomething female, forced to adapt to life in modern day Southern California. From her love of money and fashion, to her irrational fear of bunnies and unique ability to say whatever is on her mind regardless of how inappropriate that may be, Anya is the Gracie Allen of the Buffy-verse. It just wouldn't be the same without her.

Everything in this series is first rate, and it only seems to get better with age. From an exceptional team of writers -- Marti Noxon, Jane Espenson, Steven DeKnight, and Drew Greenberg -- to the most talented group of writer/directors -- Joss Whedon, David Fury, Doug Petrie -- and visual storytellers -- David Solomon, James Contner, David Grossman, and Michael Gershman -- you will not find a finer creative team in the business.

Bringing these ideas, words, and images to life are an assemblage of diverse and gifted actors unafraid to open themselves to each of these characters. After six full seasons, these personas are living, breathing people. From their biggest life lessons to their smallest personal quirks, we have come to know, empathize with, love, and despise them all.

From the first frame of the never aired pilot, Sarah Michelle Gellar had the Buffy character nailed. Sure, she has grown and changed over the years, but the essence of who she is and the way she views life has remained rock solid. It's safe to say her performance has been the cornerstone of the show's success.

Alyson Hannigan, who was not the original choice for the role of Willow, has made this character her own -- and this season proves it. Season Six focuses on our heroic trio, with Willow at the point, and Alyson does not disappoint. Three specific moments in "Seeing Red," "Villains," and "Grave" will remain etched in your memory forever, and that's credit to a gifted actor.

Much like Sarah, Nicholas Brendon had the character of Xander Harris defined from the very beginning. His unique blend of sarcasm, wit, and total insecurity has given the series its central funny bone, and in this season some of its most touching moments.

James Marsters comes to the forefront this season, with Spike evolving into a member of the family, so to speak. Talk about gifted actors, Spike's unwavering Brit personae belies James's own down-to-earth American personality. What's more, the complex relationship between Buffy and Spike explodes on screen, giving each of these actors a whole new set of emotions with which to play. James is bestowed with the honor of punctuating the entire season with the finale's final kick in the teeth.

Amber Benson (Tara), Michelle Trachtenberg (Dawn), Emma Caufield (Anya), Anthony Stewart Head (Giles), Adam Bush (Warren), Danny Strong (Jonathan), and Tom Lenk (Andrew) are all exceptional in their supporting roles. Each gets their moment to shine, in a season where change is the rule not the exception. Credit Michelle for helping to grow beyond Dawn's two-dimensional whiny, helpless personality.

Okay, okay. Enough with the analysis. Without going into too much detail, here are my Top Five Favorite Episodes of Season Six.

5. "Hell's Bells" -- Xander and Anya finally make it to the altar, or do they?

4. "Doublemeat Palace" -- Buffy takes a job working fast food for a company that gives new meaning to the phrase "Have it Your Way!"

3. "Seeing Red" -- One moment is all it takes to forever change our lives.

2. "Normal Again" -- What if our entire existence was nothing more than the synaptic musings of one emotionally disturbed person.

Drum roll, please...

1. "Once More with Feeling" -- Big surprise, right?

The episodes are presented in 1.33:1 full frame format -- don't get all worked up, Joss cops to the fact that the show wasn't shot it widescreen, but rather cropped to give it the 16x9 effect. One of the darker seasons on record, Raymond Stella's framing and cinematography lends an epic feel to the drama taking place on screen, from the heights of power to the depths of despair. The image is clear and sharp, with vibrant earthen hues of gold and brown used for the Scoobies, and comic book reds and blues for villains like Sweet and The Boys. Spike's crypt, The Magic Box, and Xander's apartment now all share the warmth of hearth and home once reserved only for the Summers household. The resounding Dolby Surround track is, as always, first rate, with what seems like an extra punch given to the musical episode. Composer Thomas Wanker's music deftly underscores the mood, switching from action and suspense to downright screwball hilarity.

Framed by a set of beautifully crafted, magic-themed menus, Fox presents yet another bevy of bonus materials for Buffy-fanatics to sink their teeth into.

* Episode commentaries by writers Marti Noxon and David Fury (Bargaining: Parts 1 and 2), writer/director Joss Whedon (Once More with Feeling), writer Drew Greenberg (Smashed), director David Solomon and writer Rebecca Rand Kirshner (Hell's Bells), director Rick Rosenthal and writer Diego Gutierrez (Normal Again), and director James Contner and writer David Fury (Grave). While all are worth hearing (for those students of storytelling and die hard fans of the series), for sheer entertainment value my choice is the comedy team of Marti Noxon and David Fury. That and Joss's commentary on "Once More" are required listening.

* Speaking of required experiences, writer/director David Fury's behind-the-scenes look at the making of "Once More With Feeling" is a gem. Don't miss it! What you can pass on is the Buffy Karaoke on Disc Two. If you haven't already done so, just buy the album and sing along in the car.

* Disc Three has an unusual hour long Buffy panel discussion (from June 2002) on the show, its origins, trials and tribulations, favorite moments, and "Once More With Feeling" with Joss Whedon, James Marsters, Michelle Trachtenberg, Nick Brendon, Alyson Hannigan, writer/producer Marti Noxon, director of photography Raymond Stella, and production designer Carey Meyer. A wonderful, insightful treat for fans of the series.

* Disc Four has Buffy Goes to Work a five minute featurette on the universal human quest for employment. Cast and crew share their various success and horror stories from the world of work, in and out of the entertainment industry.

* Disc Six rounds out the bonus feature tour, with a 30 minute overview of Season Six, Outtakes, A&E's TV-OGRAPHY tribute to Buffy entitled "Television with a Bite," and DVD-ROM features.

But wait, there's more! Get your decoder rings out, as there are two Easter Eggs buried in the set, one on Disc Two (a two-minute look at the release of the soundtrack album) and one on Disc Five (official call sheet for "Normal Again," but only for PC DVD-ROM owners -- Mac users take heart. I'm filing a discrimination case). It took me a while. Let's see how fast you can spot 'em!

Closing Statement

American pop culture is filled with remnants of television series whose impact was little more than diversionary and trivial. Once in a blue moon, a show comes along that redefines visual storytelling for a generation. Given a less than auspicious start with the Kristy Swanson/Donald Sutherland theatrical release of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, few paid any attention whatsoever to a WB series based on a filmatic comedy flop. Six years later, Joss Whedon and company had proven to the world that compelling stories can be presented on the same box as She's the Sheriff and Cop Rock.

For those who have yet to experience Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I strongly suggest adding it to your holiday or birthday wish list. Seven strong seasons of gripping, funny, and disturbing tales that will withstand the test of time are yours to enjoy. Still not convinced, borrow or rent a copy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Fourth Season and watch "Hush" or Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Sixth Season and watch "Once More With Feeling." You'll see what I mean.

The Verdict

Joss Whedon and his team are hereby ordered to teach a six-month curricula on quality storytelling and the power television holds in the visual arts. This program will be mandatory for every writer, director, producer, actor, and production member working in the industry today. As Dubya is so fond of saying, "it's hard work" but the results should change the face of television as we know it.

Oh, and for any counselor who has the inkling of filing suit against Buffy the Vampire Slayer, contempt in my court is one year solitary confinement with nothing but reruns of Yes Dear.

Case dismissed.

Review content copyright © 2004 Michael Stailey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 95
Audio: 95
Extras: 97
Acting: 99
Story: 99
Judgment: 97

Perp Profile
Studio: Fox
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)

* English
* Spanish

Running Time: 990 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Season Six Overview
* Episode Commentaries
* Cast and Crew Panel Discussion
* Featurette: Behind the Scenes of "Once More With Feeling"
* Featurette: Buffy Goes to Work
* A&E's TV-OGRAPHY: Television with a Bite
* Buffy Karaoke
* Outtakes
* DVD-ROM Features

* IMDb

* UPN Official Site

* Fox Official Site