Appellate Judge Michael Stailey isn't just going through the motions.
Our reviews of Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Complete First Season (published February 5th, 2002), Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Complete Second Season (published August 7th, 2002), Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Complete Third Season (published January 27th, 2003), Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Complete Fourth Season (published August 10th, 2004), Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Complete Fifth Season (published January 5th, 2004), Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Complete Seventh Season (published December 8th, 2004), Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 8 (Blu-Ray) (published January 17th, 2011), and Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1992) (published September 4th, 2001) are also available.
Death becomes her.
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.
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.
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
• The Boys
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!
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.
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.
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Scales of Justice
• Season Six Overview
Review content copyright © 2004 Michael Stailey; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.