Dec 9 2013 2:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: Someone was a bit of an Audball all along

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Selfless, Anya

“Selfless,” by Drew Goddard

It’s another glorious morning in Sunnydale, and Dawn is briefing Willow on how to fit in at university as she unpacks some of her things. The message seems to be keep your head down and don’t make waves. Willow is taking it all on board very kindly. (What this advice says about Dawn and how things are going in high school, I’m not sure.)

Buffy and Xander, meanwhile, are worrying about Anya. Xander’s worry is that she’s sad. Buffy’s is more that she’s working her old vengeance gig. Oh no, says Xander. The thing with the worm-monster was totes an aberration.

Guess which one of them is right? Or don’t—no guessing is required. Across town, at a local fraternity, a whole bunch of guys are lying around with their hearts ripped out. Anya’s sitting in their midst, covered in blood, trying to figure out how she got there.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Selfless, Anya, Olaf

How did she? Apparently the answers lie way way back in the past, because we get a sepia filter and a shot of black-haired bunny-cuddling Anya. Here in ye days of olde, she was Aud and Olaf the Troll God was her sweetums, in a fractionally less trollish outfit. He’s shining her on in various ways, and asking her about the bunnies she’s been breeding. She has a jealous moment, over a barmaid, but he tells her she’s the only one for him. This is, apparently, all she wants to be. Bunny ranching is just a sideline.

Back in the present, she’s washing the blood off her hands. She’s not a happy little vengeance demon by any stretch. She can barely face herself in the bathroom mirror.

And speaking of identity crises, I bet you’re wondering how Spike’s doing. He’s verging on coherent, telling Buffy he’s seeing things, including Drusilla. She’s very sweet and kind and tells him they’ll get through it, because he’s different now. She even holds his hand.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Selfless, First, Spike

But the handholding and kindness is all fake Buffy, a litany of what Spike wants to hear as interpreted by the First. When original Buffy shows up, it freaks him out pretty badly. She’s made her way downstairs to advise him to get out of the basement before the Hellmouth kills him or makes him insane. (Insaner.) But Spike has nowhere to go, so that conversation sputters to a pointless end.

Willow has, by now, made it to university, which by crazy random happenstance is where the Sunnydale fraternities are kept. She’s chatting up a professor who definitely wants her and her huge intellect back in class, distorting the bell curve and stirring up knowledge. Unfortunately for Anya, the two Scoobies run into each other. She’s fleeing the scene of the slaughter in a heavy raincoat and a cloud of guilt, you see.

Willow is bubbly and cheerful; Anya is furtive and disturbed. She claims to have a new boyfriend, but she didn’t do a great job of washing off the blood.

As soon as she excuses herself, Willow uses her big brain to draw the obvious conclusion, walks into the frat house and finds the crime scene decor and profusion of heartless bodies. I thought you wanted to stop being the one who finds the corpses on campus, honey.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Selfless, Willow

She also finds Anya’s latest client, hiding in a closet in hysterics and trying to take it all back. She was dumped by her boyfriend, in front of all his friends.  Feeling angry and humiliated, she wished all the laughing frat boys present could have their hearts ripped out. And, well.  Blammo, presto, Anyanka. (This is what they say in the Buffyverse instead of “Alla peanut butter sandwiches.”)

The actual heart-ripping was performed by a spider demon, which duly appears and attacks Willow. One of the irrevocably cool bits in this episode—which is, on the whole, pretty great—follows when she holds it off. The wisher shrieks, and Dark Willow makes a brief bitchy appearance to bully her into silence.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Selfless,Willow

From there we zoom back to the past, where Olaf the barmaid-wooing cheater is now Olaf the actual troll, protesting his humanity and getting himself stoned by angry villagers as Aud watches grimly. D’Hoffryn shows up to praise her magical prowess. She reveals that her habit of speaking her mind and taking everything literally is causing her problems with her peer group, here in ye past. It wasn’t just being a demon that made her such a kook, in other words. D’Hoffryn doesn’t care about her social skills or lack thereof: he’s there to recruit her to the vengeance fold. She’s only too keen to sign up. If she can’t be Mrs. Olaf, she might as well be the personification of scorned women, getting their own back.

Switch to Buffy, who’s being a little odd herself, in response to the time-honored pressure of boredom at work. She is, in fact, balancing pencils on her forehead until Willow calls to report the spider attack at the frat. Hooray, something fun to do! She summons Xander and they go after the beastie.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Selfless, Anya, D'Hoffran

Anya had headed home after the fraternity killings, and now she’s debriefing with Hallie, who is over the moon about the death and mayhem. Her happiness over Anya’s slaughtery success is genuine, but it doesn’t take her long to notice that her friend is still guilt-stricken and grossed out. She tries to tell her she’ll get used to it, and maybe that would’ve gone somewhere... but then Willow shows up and evicts her.

Willow, it turns out, hasn’t told Buffy yet about the part where Anya summoned the spider. She’s there with good intentions, to help. The venging has to stop, she says. Anya blows her off.

Meanwhile in the Sunnydale woods—I’m betting they’re not far from where Warren met his yucktastic end—Buffy and Xander have weaponed up and gone after the spider-demon. Ooh, it’s bouncy! But it’s not fast enough to dodge a well-thrown flying axe. They head home to Willow, where the good news is they don’t have to crack the research books for hours on end and the bad news is Anya’s to blame for a dozen deaths in the frat, not to mention one unlucky spider victim in the woods.

According to the unwritten but reasonably clear law of the slay, Buffy should definitely now head out and kill Anya.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Selfless, Anya, Hallie

Back in history, we revisit another chaotic scene, another Halfreck-Anyaka post-vengeance tea party. This time, they appear to have caused the Russian Revolution. Hallie, ever the supportive friend, tells Anya she doesn’t have to be all work, work, work.

But Anya is a pure spirit of vengeance at this point—her work is her entire identity. It’s a nice simple life, unlike Buffy’s. The prospect of killing a friend offers no great joy to her. It’s making Xander deeply unhappy, too.

“When our friends go all crazy and start killing people, we help them!” he protests.

The fight almost gets ugly, as it tends to when BuffXander go anywhere near the topic of their love lives. Spike gets hashed up, Angel too. There’s a fantastic moment when Buffy throws Willow’s words about Angelus—“Kick his ass!” in their faces. Of course, this was Xander’s big lie. Willow remembers the quote as being something more like “Play for time and I’ll give you back your honey bunny!”

But they don’t pause there, so Xander skates again on that particular bit of mischief.

This fight isn’t as terrible as it would have been a few years earlier. The kids our Scoobies were have done some real growing. Xander challenges Buffy about her tendency to be emotionally cut off. In the past, she may have replied with a curt variation on “Because I said so!”, one that validated his whole point. Instead she argues that she has no choice: that being the Slayer does make her different from other justice fighters in some fundamental ways. Today, those ways include introducing Anya to something from the Mister Pointy collection.

Xander’s still in love with her, so he pleads that there has to be another way. Buffy gives him an opening: go find it, basically. And move fast. She’s not going to wait.

Willow declines to come along as Buffy swords up and goes Anya hunting. Then she remembers there is possibly something she can do to help: she goes to the laundry room to summon D’Hoffryn.

He’s all hopeful, for a second, that she’s there for a job of her very own.  But no—having an evil episode (or two) and remembering how much it cost her, Willow is still trying to find a way to help Anya crawl back into the general vicinity of goodness, if not the Scooby fold.

Xander finds Anya guilting at the scene of the crime. To his surprise, she’s better with the idea of getting Slayed than he is. Buffy shows, Anya knocks Xander aside, fighting happens, and Buffy spears her.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Selfless, Anya

I cannot help but think that everything that’s happened lately, with the worm guy and now the fraternity boys, is at least a half-assed attempt by Anya to commit suicide by mystically appointed cop. She doesn’t have to be living in Sunnydale anymore. Even if she occasionally had vengeance duties there, she could be on the other side of the world most of the time. Her apartment could be in Capetown, or Inuvik.

Now Buffy has come to kill her and the only thing she really does about it is get Xander out of the way.

She can’t think she’s going to win the fight. She has been around Team Slayer far too long for that. And she doesn’t even really want to. Sure, punching Buffy is fun. They’ve all wanted to do it at one point or another. But she’s far from filled with homicidal range.

And, as a bonus: the part of her that does still do revenge? Must know how horrible would it be for Xander if Buffy did in fact kill her.

In the next flashback, we’re in the midst of Sweet’s reign of Broadway in “Once More with Feeling.” Xander is asleep on a recliner while Anya tries to wake him. Then she sings! Unfortunately, she sings about how her universe is built around being Xander’s significant other. The pattern’s clear: first she was all about Olaf, then she was all about work, and now she’s getting her identity from planet Harris. We get a look at the wedding dress again. It’s so pretty! It’s also an emblem of misery from the past, a elegantly horrible reminder of “Hell’s Bells.”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Selfless, Anya, Xander

The song cuts off abruptly. We see Anya, stuck to the wall with the sword through her chest.

But hey, swords through the chest don’t kill vengeance demons! This doesn’t stop Buffy from trying to finish the job, but Xander tackles her away.

Then D’Hoffryn interrupts. He asks what Anya wants, and she says she wants to take it back. “It” being the thing where all those frat boys got their hearts literally torn from their bodies by a not-so-itsy springy spider.

This he seems willing to do, surprisingly. Willow must have been way persuasive. But he reminds Anya that it’d take a sacrifice—the life and soul of a vengeance demon.

Anya agrees. See? She just wants to end it all, on some level. Kill me and restore the boys, she’s saying. Way to take responsibility for your actions! I cheer her! But don’t actually kill her, okay?

(You all know, right, that I adore Emma Caulfield and Anya?)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Selfless, Anya, D'Hoffran

D’Hoffryn’s tricky: he summons Hallie, and zorches her instead. He gives Anya her virtual pink slip next, and when she says he should’ve killed her, he essentially says they’re all dead already. From Beneath You, It Devours, gang. Ex-demons, souled vampires, super-powerful witchy types and construction workers are all on the menu.

With this, the gathering breaks up.

Xander goes after Anya, but she doesn’t want him. In essence, she says she has to figure out who she is. She’s afraid she might be nobody, you see, and he replies that she’s a dope. They go their separate ways, Anya forcing herself to walk into the night without vengeance, without Xander, very much without Olaf—without anything but herself. Whoever that turns out to be.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Selfless, Anya, Xander

Next: Team Spander versus the Quarterback

A.M. Dellamonica has a book’s worth of fiction up here on! Her ‘baby werewolf has two mommies,’ story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. There’s also “Among the Silvering Herd,” the first of a series of stories called The Gales. (Watch for the second of The Gales, “The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti”!)

Or if you like, check out her sexy novelette, “Wild Things,” that ties into the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.

Chris Nelly
1. Aeryl
This is an incredible episode.

The show catches a lot of flak from Anya fans for waiting so long for this episode, but I ask, WHEN would it have ever had the impact that it did now?
2. vjj
Best Episode of Buffy Season 7 hands down. If the rest of Buffy Season 7 had been this good, Whedon could have left with his reputation intact. Alas, that was not to be.
Alyx Dellamonica
3. AMDellamonica
High impact, Aeryl--I agree. I would have loved an earlier Anya episode, or two, but this one has to fall exactly here in her story arc. And now I am already feeling pangs of sorrow, for what's to come.

You'd say the seventh season destroyed Whedon's reputation, Vij?
Chris Nelly
4. Aeryl
Yeah, Alyx, didn't you know, nobody EVER hired Whedon again after that disaster of a final season? ;^D
Sydo Zandstra
5. Fiddler
I liked how Xander and Anya's parting scene followed up on their song in Once More with Feeling. Nice touch.

And I agree with above posters. Incredible episode.

Of course this season contains a lot of references to episodes from past seasons. Last week´s episode of the frat boys wanting to sacrifice a girl to a demon in exchange for good fortune is maybe the most obvious example here. I liked that in season 7.
6. Dianthus
Whedon's still working, sure, but I understand Marvels Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D is losing viewers right and left. I've been watching it, but it's like going down a checklist. For instance, the most recent episode had echoes of Spike's predicament in Unleashed (AtS s5).
Diversity is still an issue. Sure, there are three women in the group, but only one of them isn't white, and all the guys are white. it's called demographics people!

Aside from the meta reasons, I don't see why Buffy doesn't just knock Spike out (wouldn't be the 1st time) and chain him up in her basement, rather than dragging it out like this. One ep for Willow, one for Anya, versus weeks for Spike. BTW, I never would've thought it necessary to point out that as bad as Attempted Rape unquestionably is, maybe Murder, Attempted Murder, and Attempted Apocalypse is just a tiny bit worse? Also, if Tara was indeed the sacrifice for Buffy's return, then Willow signed her Death Warrent, regardless of who pulled the trigger.

Still, I can take perverse comfort in knowing that how much you suffer in the Jossverse really has nothing to do with who you are or what you've done. There's plenty for everyone.

I like Anya too, but you know how I feel about her actions as a Vengeance Demon. She had a soul (presumably) and a certain discretion in using her powers. Maybe she didn't cause harm directly, or just for kicks, but she obviously didn't care about collateral damage either.
Chris Nelly
7. Aeryl
She had a soul, but it's not a human soul, which I think makes a difference, at least to the characters. It's the soul of a vengeance demon, which may not make her culpable the way a human sould would.
Luis Milan
8. LuisMilan
"Never go for the kill when you can go for the pain" - D'hoffryn
Anthony Pero
9. anthonypero
Ok. First of all, Whedon's influence and power in hollywood has never been higher. Fact.

Second, Whedon may have helped create the SHIELD, but he's not the showrunner. I'm not as well versed in Whedon's shows as I am Abrams' shows, but I'm not even sure at this point Whedon was the showrunner on Buffy. He certainly wasn't writing many episodes. He literally had two other shows during Season 5 and 6 that were either on or being worked on, so i know he wasn't very involved in those seasons either.

Comments like these always remind me of Abrams and Alias and LOST. I blame LOST for Alias sucking the last two seasons. Because Abrams' name was on the show, but he wasn't running things anymore. And Abrams wasn't involved in LOST after Season 2. But people still try to blame him for it.

The bottom line is creative struggles never hurt the show's creator... only ratings issues. If they can launch new shows to that find an audience, they get more work. And both Abrams and Whedon are FAR beyond that now. They get BOX OFFICE. Consistently.
10. DougL
Namely, the episode I point to when I tell people Anya was evil and deserved to die.

She chose to become a demon TWICE. Neither Spike nor Angel ever asked for it even once.
Anthony Pero
11. anthonypero
Lots of people don't get what they deserve. Its called grace.
12. Sophist
"there are three women in the group, but only one of them isn't white"

Chloe Bennet is half Chinese (her birth name is Chloe Wang). She speaks Mandarin and lived for a few years in Beijing. If you search on YouTube, you can find videos of her singing (not well) in Mandarin.
13. Alex C.
"Selfless" is what I consider to the first of the five great episodes of the last season of BtVS (the others are "Conversations with Dead People", "Storyteller", "Lies My Parents Told Me", and "Chosen"). There are a bunch of other episodes that I consider to be fairly good (eg. "Beneath You", "Get It Done", "Touched", etc) but I think that these five are the ones that do most of the work in holding S7 aloft despite the fairly egregious flaws that start opening up in the latter half of the season.

On the episode itself, needless to say this is mostly an Anya episode (someone I read called it Anya's own Fool For Love), and on that level it works wonderfully. The flashbacks and clever use of juxtaposition are pulled off quite impeccably, and the whole thing flows well. If there's anything to complain about on this front, it's that Anya's story larger tapers off after this high note - for the rest of the season she increasingly fades into the background as a character, thereby showing up one of the aforementioned flaws in S7 - with all the ballls that it was trying to juggle, it ended up dropping several of them.

That said, there's a lot going on in the episode apart from Anya, and the Buffy/Xander argument over what to do about her is still the most memorable scene for me. Apart from being convincingly acted by Sarah Michelle Gellar and Nicholas Brendan, it's a phenomenal piece of character writing even by the standards of a show that usually excelled at this sort of thing - one that manages to take six seasons worth of back-story and history between the two characters and draw on it to craft a really powerful and conflicted emotional moment.

It took five years for the other shoe to finally drop on Xander's Big Lie from S2, but when it finally does it's one of my favorite moments from an episode of tv. Thanks to Willow's intervention, they don't linger on the issue, but I wouldn't say that Xander gets to "skate" on it at all - whereas at first Xander was making a fairly effective point (as much as my sympathies strongly incline toward Buffy, the fact that she didn't dispose of Spike a long time ago is a very troubling issue in a number of ways), the instant that Buffy throws his Big Lie back in his face, he loses all high ground and has officially lost the argument - you can see the wind, and the fight, going out of him as she speaks. When she follows it up with that outburst about the burden of duty on her that comes from being the Slayer, the rout is complete.

The fight between Buffy and Anya is also very well done. Buffy isn''t making any quips for once - this is obviously a job she's taking no pleasure in, and Anya is definitely doing her best to commit suicide by Slayer. What I really find fantastic about this last scene though is D'Hoffryn. For a minor character who had previously been more a source of amusement than anything else (his earlier conversation with Willow can always get a laugh out of me), the revelation of just how brutal he can be is actually fairly scary, although in hindsight not surprising - apart from the whole Lord of the Vengance Demons thing, a pimp can seem charming and friendly until one of his "girls" steps out of line.
Alyx Dellamonica
14. AMDellamonica
Nicely argued, Alex C.

The Xander/Buffy argument is a high point for me, too--it's both hair-raising and such a signpost for how much they've both grown.
16. Alex C.
I wound up having a fairly lengthy discussion about Season 7 today with my sister, one of the handful of people I know that I've managed to get hooked on this show. We ended up arguing about where the last season belongs in a best-to-worst ranking of the seven seasons of Buffy, and by extension what its merits are in comparison to the other seasons.

We basically agreed that the first season, despite its nostalgic charms, can only ever be relegated to last place - something that I don't think anybody would seriously dispute. Ranking the six full length seasons is more contentious/fun, obviously. I don't think it would be too controversial however, to assert that the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th seasons were the "great" segments of the show - the ones that managed to strike the best combination of qualities in the individual episodes, overall story, character development, and seasonal antagonists.

My feelings about the 6th season, to borrow a great quote from Anya, are "intense but variable", but on a given day I would argue that its best aspects (which we've gone over at some length in the previous comment threads) give it a very strong claim to fourth spot in the ranking, even as its flaws prevent me from thinking of it unambiguously as one of the "great" seasons (this is a point on which my sister and I strongly diverged - interestingly enough, she considers S6 to be her favourite, by a long way).

That means, in my view, that the 4th and 7th seasons tussle with each other to avoid the dishonor of being the weakest full length season of Buffy. They both get a good deal of disparagement from fans, but far more of this is directed at the latter than the former, something that I still think is mightily unfair in light of the fact that they are very close to each other in a lot of their strengths and weaknesses, notably sharing a weak external narrative and an under-developed main antagonist, but being redeemed by the presence in each of many high quality individual episodes (a category in which I would continue to argue that S7 can hold its own with any season). What breaks the tie in my book is that S4, despite being a fun season in a lot of ways, is at heart a fundamentally transitional season, whereas S7, despite the things it does wrong, can claim credit for delivering an awful lot of the payoff to the main characters that makes their journeys up to this point worth it.

Therefore, for a variety of reasons my ranking of the seasons of BtVS would run as follows: 5 - 2 - 3 - 6 - 7 - 4 - 1.

Anyone else have any thoughts on this?
17. Dr. Thanatos
This episode has one of my favorite lines, delivered by D'Hoffryn who on inspecting the frat house comments that "it looks like someone slaughtered an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog in there."

It doesn't get better than that...
Michael Ikeda
18. mikeda
My opnion is that the seasons are in a seven way tie. Trying to actually rank them is basically an exercise in hair-splitting, at least for me.

(Don't worry, Anya. That's HAIR, not hare.)
Constance Sublette
19. Zorra
All the seasons have elements that I really don't like. But I'd put season 1 at the bottom of the list too. I'd never have watched any more of Buffy if the last episodes hadn't taken a leap into interesting, which none of it really was before -- at least for me.

I'd rank 4 much higher than others, despite really disliking the young demon spawn roommate arc at the beginning.

I really disliked the whole Dawn biz of season 5, and a lot of the episodes, particularly the rv and Byzantium knights episode -- until I got to understand it was supposed to be for laughs -- except for that serious business of Giles dying of wounds. It was like so often the writing team really didn't know what to do in this season and just threw everything into the pot in so many of the episodes, wildly mixing slapstick and tragedy, as in this episode. Which could be OK -- Shakespeare manages it. But I don't think it's the case in this episode.

All that said, again, me and my taste, found this episode rather tiresome. Too much talking heads, another monster, blahblahblah. But Anya's moral condition does redeem it.

Love, C.
Chris Nelly
20. Aeryl
My ranking goes like this

6&7, They are one total arc to try and split them into "seasons" is a disservice to the story, IMO.

5, best plotted, plus I adore Glory

3, Faith's my fave, Angel's presence is the only thing keeping it below 5

4, Love everything about college, plus Bonus, NO Angel!

1, Nostalgia wins it for me,

2, I can barely tolerate Angel, I've never even seen all of his show, though I like the other characters. While the story was masterful, especially at the time(I graduated high school the year it aired, so I remember the terrible moralizing done about sex in other shows), it's the lowest on my rewatchability list.
Chris Nelly
21. Aeryl
Duplicate post, wierd
Anthony Pero
22. anthonypero
Yeah, I love Angel, both the show and the character, so can't agree. I love Spike more, however. David Boreanz was... horrible... in Season 1. Horrendous even. He got sooo much better, and now watching Bones, he's really good.
23. Dianthus
Vengeance Demon Anya was an evil, cold-hearted b!tch. Let's not make excuses, mmm'kay?

I give s1 more leeway 'cuz the show was still finding it's feet. Angel was great in small doses. I didn't really start hating him until AtS s4, I think. s6 & 7 is what happens when life throws something at you that changes your viewpoint and makes the world a slightly less wonderful place.

Buffy had a good chance to stake Spike at the beginning of s4, pre-chip (he was distracted by Harmony). She could've taken out Dru in s5 (Crush).
However, not taking him out ultimately worked to her advantage, so (not surprisingly) I'm just as glad she didn't. The show wouldn't have been nearly as much fun w/o him.
Chris Nelly
24. Aeryl
@22, I used to like him more, but as I've aged, the age difference bugs me, and I have a harder time fanwanking it. And the comics finally definitively revealed it for the terrible relationship that it is, and it makes everything retroactively bad, IMO. Before that, I likely would have ranked them different. I rewatch S3 more than others, but Angel really drags it down for me.

I still follow A&F though, because Faith is my girl, and I dropped out of following S9 as it closed in on the end to be surprised when I buy them(so NO SPOILERS PLS) now that XMAS is almost done.
Chris Nelly
25. Aeryl
@23, Believe it or not, I'm enough of a romantic that I enjoy it when a hero's moments of mercy are validated like that.

To me, the fact that Buffy never killed Spike demonstrated her ability to be loyal, and why she valued loyalty so highly in others, a fact that Spike ALWAYS understood about her, in ways the Scoobies never did, all of whom had moments of betrayal. To her, she and Spike were comrades in arms from Becoming on, honest in their animosity much the same way she was with Cordelia, and after the loss of Dru, he's so focused on her that he's never really a threat that to anyone but Buffy, which is as good as neutered in her opinion. And THAT'S before the chip.

Even Angel, with a soul, had his moments of betrayal. Aside from that blip with Adam, Spike pretty much plays it straight with Buffy, only concealing his growing affection, and after that's in the open, being honest about that.
Chris Nelly
26. Aeryl
Also, I really have no problem with Boreanaz's performance, and enjoyed his performance on Bones as well. He has incredible comedic abilities, and Angel was most enjoyable when it embraced the absurbity of it's compromised lead.

I enjoy him more on Angel than on Buffy, but that's because while he's a catalyst and a protagonist, he's not really supposed to be this upstanding moral center that it was implied he should be as the romantic lead.
27. Alex C.
@Aeryl - Brilliant comments.

Excellent point, and one I strongly agree with, is that the last two seasons of Buffy make up a single extended arc, and ought to be considered as such. However, while I love the heck out of both of them, on a strictly objective level I don't think that I can consider them to be on the same level, quality-wise, as the preceeding full length seasons (excluding S4). This is the case not in the sense of the show's main strengths (especially as relating to character work and high quality episodes) declining - if anything the opposite is the case - but rather in the sense of the show's weaknesses increasing. Plotting and mythology were never a particularly strong point for Buffy, even in the show's best seasons, but towards the end they became even more erratic than before, and that spilled over into the effectiveness of the story the last two seasons were trying to tell. I love what they were trying to do, but there it is. Of course, the parts that do succeed make it more than worth it.

On a semi-related note, the main reason that I consider the 5th season to be the definite best of the show (note: "best" is distinct from "favourite", which varies with my moods) is that it managed to combine the best qualities of the 2nd and 3rd seasons, while for the most part avoiding their weaknesses, which I find mirror each other. To elaborate, the biggest strengths of S2 are the outstanding quality of its best episodes ("Innocence", "Passion", "Becoming", etc) and hero-centered narrative; while for S3 it's the consistency in the quality of the episodes, and the generously spread-out character development. S5 manages to come fairly close to matching both seasons in each of these aspects: it has a handful of episodes ("Fool For Love", "The Body", "The Gift") that are as good as the best of S2, but its weakest eps manage to avoid the lows of that season. It's as generous in developing its supporting characters as S3 was, but still reserves its main focus for the hero, Buffy.

I'll grant that there are some aspects of S5 which draw frequent complaints - the hokey Knights Who Say Key, Dawn's antics, etc - but all I can say is that these things simply never bugged me, either on my first watch or on re-watch, and so they don't detract from the season in my ranking of it.

Regarding Angel, I really quite like him as a character, but I have never lost my conviction that his resurrection in S3 was deeply unfortunate, and that Buffy would have been a better show if he had never appeared again after "Faith, Hope, and Trick". It had to happen (for obvious reasons), but all the same it still bugs me, just as Spike's resurrection in the 5th season of Angel irritates me - not because I dislike the character, but because it cheapens what came before, and doesn't really manage to compensate for the lost sense of closure (amongst other things).
28. Alex C.
To address the Spike issue, I should clarify a comment that I made above. When I say that it's "troubling" that Buffy didn't dispose of Spike a long time ago, I emphatically do not mean that I wish she had. Not in spite but because of all his foibles, Spike is an amazing character (depending on the season, he alternates with Willow as my second favourite - Buffy of course is always my #1), and I love the guy (or even at his worst moments, love to hate him).

But, that doesn't get around the issue that in-universe, from a rational perspective it makes absolutely zero sense for Buffy not to have staked him (at least) a dozen times over before this point in the series. The audience with the benefit of hindsight knows that her decision to keep him around is going to pay off big-time down the road, but except for when she's asleep Buffy usually doesn't have clairvoyance, and a lot of the time Spike's actions never gave her reason to hold back from introducing him to the sharp end of Mr. Pointy as she consistently does from from S3 to the end of S6 (after which his soul changes everything).

A fantasy analogy that just occurred to me is a comparison between Spike and Gollum from Lord of the Rings. There may be similarities in the point that's being made about the ultimate benefits for mercy and compassion being shown even in cases where they is no logical rationale behind them.

The same dilemma ties back neatly into this episode.

Some people (including on these comment threads) have criticized the show for being inconsistent in its handling of the issues of redemption and past sins/evils, particularly as related to the differences in treatment between Angel, Spike, and Anya (and arguably also Faith, since she reappears later in this season), but I rather think that the show is consistent in that the way it handles each of these characters arises out of the essential differences in their respective situations.
29. Alex C.
@17. I love that line, but I reckon that one of his earlier ones is even better:
"I figured I'd be hearing from you soon. The flaying of Warren Meers? Oh, truly inspired. That was water cooler vengeance. Lloyd has a sketch of it on his wall."
I love it.
Anthony Pero
30. anthonypero
I loved Season 2. Its my favorite, and I think its the best season. Regardless of Angel returning or not, the tragedy of how it all happened and resolved was breathtaking for me. I dispised Dawn and Glory, so S5 is toast. Some good individual episoes of course. Maybe even the best episodes. But not my favorite season. 4 was just... horrible as well, as an arc. Did not like. But once again, its hard to beat Hush. The show was always good, even if I didn't like what they were doing. Season 7 is meh. I wish it had ended after Season 5, but at the same time, all the extra Spike was nice, and Dark Willow, and Xander gets to save the world, etc... I'm glad they were made. Its not like StarGate SG1, where I wish it had ended before Ben Browder came on the show.

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