Buffy season seven is the weakest season of the series, but it is still above average television. The strength of the season lies not in the season's story arcs, but in some of the individual episodes. For example, "Selfless" artfully examines Anya's past and present life and reveals that she feels like she has never quite fit in as a human, but she no longer has the killer instinct to continue on in her second incarnation as a vengeance demon either. "Conversations With Dead People" ranks right up there with "Hush" in its scariness. The only way that this episode could have been improved upon is if Tara was the face of the ghost speaking to Willow, but with actress Amber Benson unwilling to reprise her role that season, it was really beyond the show's control. "Storyteller" is hilarious as Andrew narrates a film about the Scoobies, and "Lies Your Parents Told You" is another fine showcase of James Marsters' acting talent as we finally learn the source of the "trigger" that the First Evil has been using to control Spike.
Now for what is not good about this season... The series strong point- the growth and interaction of the main characters- is crowded out by the arrival of the potential slayers in episode ten. Giles return, which should have been a boost to the series, just muddled matters even more since he in no way resembles the character we have come to know in previous seasons. Other reviewers have referred to him as "Pod Giles", and I have to agree this moniker fits his season seven persona to a tee. Once the mystery of the season's "big bad" is revealed- an evil force that can take on the form of any dead person but cannot interact with the world around it- there is really no place else to go with this storyline as we do not have in the "First Evil" a villain worthy of reflection such as season three's Mayor or season two's Angelus. Kennedy, Willow's new love interest, is not a convincing actress, and the two's relationship falls flat. Although I would expect Willow to eventually get over Tara's death and move on with a new love interest, I could not figure out why THIS is the person she would choose to move on with. The two have absolutely no chemistry. Spike's big decision to regain his soul and his success at doing so is apparently explained by Buffy to the other main characters offscreen, and we viewers are denied the depth of treatment that revelation should have received. By episode eighteen, when the final story arc is launched, it seems that the writers and actors are phoning in their performances as they know the show will not be renewed for another season.
Then there are all of the plot holes and inconsistency in the writing. For example, according to Giles, after visiting the oracle of Beljoxa's Eye, the First Evil has appeared on the scene because of the slayer herself - because she has died and returned. But Buffy died the first time at the end of season one. So why has the First Evil waited all of this time to appear? In "Showtime" the ubervamps appear almost impossible to kill, so why by the finale are even the potentials slicing through them like butter? At first we are told that the seal over the Hellmouth is not opened by Jonathan's death because there is not enough blood. Then why are only a few drops of Spike's blood sufficient to do the job? Why does D'hoffryn decline to kill Anya at the conclusion of "Selfless", even at her request, but in later episodes has his minions trying to kill her? And the list goes on. Gross inconsistencies in the storyline such as this just didn't occur in previous seasons.
Finally, "Chosen", Joss Whedon's series finale, is mediocre when compared to shows from other seasons that he has written that did not have the importance that this final episode should have had, with a couple of exceptions. I did think that Whedon found a clever way to set Buffy free to live a normal life without her having to abandon her duties. I also liked the scene the day of the final battle with Buffy, Willow, and Xander, the original scoobies, having a conversation reminiscent of the closing scene of "The Harvest", which was the second part of the two-part premiere from season one. As they carry on their superficial banter about shopping, Giles repeats the same line that he said in this same situation in "The Harvest" - "The world is doomed." This was a real treat for long-time viewers and did indeed bring us "back to the beginning" - which was the theme of season seven.
on November 30, 2006
Buffy may be one of the funniest TV series ever made, but it's also the most depressing. How does a series maintain coherence when it ranges from screwball comedy to episodes that are artsier and darker than anything ever shown on HBO? By focusing on it's main characters - Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles - through all the comedy, tragedy, and action. These characters share the same traits that made Tony Soprano so famous: they are the most charming people you'll ever see, and yet can do truly despicable things. It feels like the writers became bored of the main characters in the last season, which should be a year that reinforces what makes the series great, not deviate from it.
Xander's role in this season is a joke compared to the previous six. Buffy spends most of the year giving incredibly annoying lectures. Giles completely contradicts his growth over the previous six seasons: while he learned to let Buffy stand on her own over the past few years, now he's stabbing her in the back. As for Willow... while the exploration of her guilt about season 6 is interesting, her new girlfriend is so annoying that I didn't enjoy many of her scenes.
The reason for Xander (and Anya's, and Dawn's) reduced screen time, and Buffy's annoyingness, is a group of potential slayers that take over Buffy's house. None of them establish real personalities, not even Kennedy, the one who becomes Willow's girlfriend. Nonetheless, a huge amount of time is spent either on the Potentials whining, or Buffy lecturing them, neither of which provides humor, or character development, or anything else you might be watching Buffy for.
So who DOES have a good character arc? Andrew is absolutely fantastic. He's hilarious, and he grows as a person over the year, just like the main characters used to on Buffy. The problem is... Andrew is not who Buffy is about. There are great seasons of Buffy without Andrew, but none without Buffy, Willow, or Xander.
Spike's character arc is also worth watching, except for a short period where he is brainwashed into being evil again. The entire point of Spike's character is that he does everything for the women he loves, whether it's writing bad poetry, trying to destroy the world, or trying to save it. A brainwashed Spike isn't Spike.
The good thing about season 7 is that the worst episodes are all strung together in the middle of the season. If you skip everything after "Conversations with Dead People" and before "Storyteller" you end up with a decent half season of Buffy. While Buffy's own actions are mostly uninteresting this season, a vampire's analysis of her in "Conversations" is hilarious and yet shockingly deep.
The last few episodes feature the return of Faith, who finally learns relationships can be about more than sex, a few funny scenes with a jealous Angel, and the appearance of Caleb, a neat villain played by Nathan Fillion. This definitely rejuvenated my interest in the season, but other than showing that Buffy can pimp two vampires at the same time, it hardly made this an important year for the main characters.
Some people lump this season in with 6, which I strongly disagree with. They're both a little rough around the edges - Joss Whedon only directed one episode of each, the amazing Buffy composer Chris Beck didn't do the music for either, and Anthony Stewart Head wanted Giles to be only a recurring character for both. But there's one huge, glaring difference between 6 and 7: 6 is the most Buffy-Willow-Xander focused of all the seasons of Buffy, while 7 is the least. 6 introduced fewer new characters than any other season of Buffy, 7 introduced the most. 6 wasn't funny because it was telling a tragic story, while 7 wasn't funny because the writers weren't giving jokes to anyone but Andrew.
on July 18, 2006
This long review contains numerous spoilers.
Various other reviewers have said much of what I'd like to say. The only part I don't understand is why so many people will cheerfully acknowledge the many flaws in season seven yet still give it five stars. I get that they may think that even in an off year it was still one of the better shows around, but if you give this season four or five stars, what do you give to season two? Eleven stars?
I'll start with the negatives so I can finish on a positive note. My main problem with this season is the way that Dawn, Xander, Anya, and Giles got shunted to the back burner in favor of newcomers Principal Wood and the Potentials. Robin Wood was boring, his only interesting point coming when Spike brutally smacked him down. I also took against Wood when he hired a young girl barely out of high school, who had no qualifications to be a counselor, whose little sister was actually a current student, and then proceeded to put the moves on her. I know he didn't at first hire Buffy so that he could date her, but that whole set-up still pretty much defines sexual harassment. And a guy his age shouldn't be sniffing around 20 year-olds anyway (I know, he's centuries younger than Spike or Angel, but at least they weren't Buffy's employer or Dawn's principal).
I agree with those reviewers who mostly resented the Potentials for robbing Dawn, Xander, etc. of screen time. I'm sitting there watching one episode's climactic scene between Kennedy and Warren (okay, it was supposed to be Willow in Warren's body, but obviously it was just Adam Busch as Warren), and I'm thinking, we put in seven years for this? No Anya or Xander, but plenty of Kennedy and Amanda? It wasn't even necessary. The real Buffy actors were there, they were just being shamefully underused.
All except Alyson Hannigan as Willow, who as in Season Six is grossly overused this year. By far the weakest actor of the regulars, she portrays a character way too powerful for the show's good. With someone that much stronger than a Slayer around, there's really nothing special in being the Slayer anymore. You'd might as well brag about being the specially Chosen Xander. It figured that the final struggle would have little to do with Buffy but would instead consist of Willow performing a huge spell to help Spike's sacrifice win the day. Okay, that's a great magical finish for the show Willow the Too-Strong Witch Who Sometimes Tries to Kill Her Friends, but what does it have to do with Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
The one bright spot among the new additions was Tom Lenk as Andrew. He had played third fiddle to Warren and Jonathan in season six, but with them dead, he came into his own in the last season. His character didn't belong there at all (and if the writers had still been writing sensibly, he just would have been returned to the jail he had broken out of), but that just made him all the more hilarious. Even when he's conning the First Evil, he's keeping up this dopey act of pretending to think the First really just wants to see Buffy's underwear (you have to see this to appreciate how ridiculous it is).
As for the First Evil, it was indeed a poor "Big Bad." Not being able to touch things directly makes its menace fall rather flat. Though as some have noted, its supposed intangible nature doesn't quite square with the violent poltergeist antics it performed on Dawn and the house in its first appearance. The First could have been more threatening. I actually thought its revealing itself to Willow in the season's seventh episode, Conversations with Dead People, had some potential. When the First revealed that it was not in fact the dead Cassie, whom it had been impersonating, it did a really stomach-turning dissolve where Cassie seemed to turn inside out. But in its future appearances, the First simply faded to a bright line and winked out.
But either way, this could have been a dramatic moment if the First had been impersonating Willow's dead lover Tara as the show's producers had wanted. But Amber Benson wouldn't appear, so they had to settle for Azura Skye as Cassie. This was a poor choice, as Cassie had just been a one-shot character whom Willow had never even met. If they had to use Cassie, they should have had her reveal herself to Buffy or Dawn, who actually knew the character. Or they should have used someone else to confront Willow, someone she actually knew in life (Jenny Calendar, for instance).
As for the Dawn / Joyce storyline in that episode, it was never really followed up on. Supposedly the First as Joyce was warning Dawn that when the time came, Buffy wouldn't choose Dawn, whatever that meant. Well, if all that really portended was that as the apocalypse neared, Buffy would ask Xander to take Dawn to a safe place, big deal. Dawn resented being protected a little, but it's not like she regarded her big sister looking out for her as some huge betrayal.
This was one of a number of strange false moves in this season, where the writers seemed to lose track of continuity with past seasons and even within the season itself. They rewrote Spike's recent history to have him traveling to Africa in search of his soul in season six, when that season had made it clear that he was actually looking for a way to get the mind-control chip out of his head.
Now that Spike has been both ensouled and dechipped, he's a lot nicer and unfortunately, a lot less interesting. He's helpful without being violent, which isn't what Buffy needs right now. Only late in the season does he regain his form. One thing that is completely lacking in season seven is the former entertaining byplay between Spike and the various Scoobies. Giles barely notices he's there. There's no more big brother / little sister interaction between Spike and Dawn. He doesn't call Willow "Red" or even really deal with her on her own. He basically connects only to Buffy (and occasionally to Andrew). This is part of the larger problem of season seven, that the previous complex web of personal relationships that had made the show so strong is mostly nonexistent now. Most of the characters connect to Buffy on some level, but only rarely to each other. Where is the relationship between former business partners Anya and Giles? Where is Dawn's affection for Xander and Willow? (It's absent except for one scene with Xander).
Spike being a mindless tool of the First, brainwashed and controlled by a song, rankles with some viewers. Spike as evil is interesting. Spike as a hapless sleepwalking murderer is not.
Anya provides some of the most off-putting moments of the season. The character almost vanishes in the latter part of the season, though she does have a strong comeback in the final episode, with some great callously harsh lines directed toward the young Potentials. But early in the year, she lets her lingering resentment over being jilted by Xander lead her back into her vengeance demon days and she orchestrates a dozen brutal murders. Yes, these are magically undone by her former demon boss, T'Hoffran, but IMO that doesn't exactly let her off the hook morally. But as far as her friends are concerned, the whole thing might as well never have happened.
There are a variety of inconsistent double standards involving how the Scoobies and others who have killed are treated. Andrew does not receive the same compassionate treatment that Willow does, and Willow skinned a man alive, tried to destroy the world, and repeatedly tried to hurt Dawn. Anya and Spike have both murdered repeatedly, yet it seems that Xander comes in for more criticism for his immature handling of the Anya situation than either of the former demons does. Killer Faith breaks out of prison and returns and all is forgiven, but Andrew is still treated like a leper.
For someone so eager to protect her little sister, Buffy has an astounding blind spot regarding Willow. It is Willow, not Spike or the trio or the First, who has repeatedly tried to kill or hurt Dawn over the past two years. At some point even to your best friend you just have to say, I'll do whatever I can to help you get over your addiction to black magic, but I can't have you living in my house anymore as long as you keep trying to kill my little sister. But after every one of Willow's screw-ups, there she is, installed back in the Summers' master bedroom, lording it over Buffy and Dawn. Why? Can't she get a job or an apartment or something? She's not in school anymore. It seems like Buffy's the only person in the whole group who ever works, besides Xander.
Other reviewers have pointed out the weirdness of the group's communal living arrangements, which were strange and cramped enough already before Andrew and dozens of Potentials joined the village. Can't Giles get some hotel rooms for himself and his charges when he comes to town? We know the Watchers' Council has some funding, even if many of its members were blown up. Can't Willow crash at her mom's? Can't Xander take Andrew off their hands? Does Spike still have to sleep in the basement once he's cured? If nothing else, this would be a heck of an atmosphere for Dawn to try to base going to high school on. When you contrast the normalcy of Buffy's own high school environment with what she provides for her little sister, her guardianship skills don't impress you.
Giles was really weak all season long, and I'm not sure why he was even there. He probably shouldn't have left early in season six when Buffy and Dawn still needed him. But when he returns, he doesn't seem to do so wholeheartedly. He isn't much help and in facts gets in Buffy's way. He doesn't even help Dawn with research or Willow with magic, and he basically just dumps the Potentials in Buffy's lap instead of training them as he once trained her. I don't know if Anthony Stewart Head was ambivalent about continuing with the role, but it was strange to see him listed as a guest star each and every week. If he was back, he should have been 100% back and been added to the opening credits again. Or he shouldn't have returned at all.
The most unbelievable moment of the season came when Kennedy, Willow, Giles, Xander, Dawn, and the Potentials staged a coup on Faith's behalf and not only ousted Buffy from the Slayer leadership position, but actually kicked her out of her own house! Not even Dawn has the right to do that, and certainly Kennedy doesn't. And I just don't think the Dawn, Xander, or Giles we've met before would have even tried this. It isn't as if Buffy had really gone off the rails insanely or had started acted like Captain Bligh. But there are no long-term effects of this coup. Faith and the Potentials quickly find that not all their troubles can be traced to Buffy. Buffy is basically rehabilitated without anyone ever saying anything specific. So why even put us through the whole ordeal in the first place?
And then right afterwards Buffy entrusts Dawn to Xander, telling him she can count on him. Well, as Spike put it, they were all ungrateful traitors, including Xander. How can Buffy count on anyone other than Spike, once they've all stabbed her in the back?
The ending was rather feeble, especially when contrasted with the season five finale, The Gift. Then, to save her sister, Buffy had to sacrifice herself. Now, to save the whole world, Buffy had to sacrifice...Anya. Plus one of Xander's eyes. Spike was lost, but that was a victory rather than a defeat as he gained redemption. Buffy came out the big winner, as she no longer bears the burden of being the solitary Chosen One. Not much of a price to pay for saving the world, when you come out considerably better off than you were before.
Nathan Fillion had been great as Captain Mal Reynolds on Joss Whedon's show Firefly, but his turn here as the fanatical preacher Caleb was poor. A hillbilly ex-reverend just doesn't mesh with the First. He was more a physical threat to Buffy and the gang than anything else, so why complicate things with poorly depicted religious details anyway? The season seven "minions," the blind Bringers, were uninteresting and not very fearful. There was an ubervamp (which probably should have been called an ur-vamp), and then an army of them, but the one had proved much harder to kill than an entire army of them did.
Having Angel show up and offer to fight was fitting. Having Buffy reject his help out of pride was just silly. No one's going to turn anyone helpful away when the world is at stake, and in fact no one has the moral right to. It's not about Buffy, and the Buffy of seasons past would have realized this. Indeed, the Buffy of this season makes a lot of tiresome speeches about how it's all about the job, but then she herself sends Angel back to L.A. because she thinks it's all about her proving herself without his help! Absurd and un-Buffy like. And the "cookie dough" speech was both pompous and silly. Of course the writers had to deal with the known fact that Buffy's show was ending while Angel's was continuing with him and without her, but still. The whole thing could have been approached differently.
So what were the season's strong points, besides Andrew? Well, Emma Caulfield as Anya was entertaining as always. I don't like all of what the writers had Anya do, but Caulfield herself was superb. "These girls are all going to die horribly," etc. Not the best nurse for scared, injured Potentials, but a great comedic talent besides being very attractive. Xander has really matured (other than in his role in the coup), and his brave acceptance of losing an eye was commendable. James Marsters as Spike as usual steals every scene he's in, though as I said, the ensouled Spike comes across as a bit of a wuss at first. At the series' end, the writers made it clear that Spike knew and accepted that Buffy didn't love him romantically (in an echo of an earlier scene with Riley), thus clearing the way for an eventual Angel-Buffy reunion.
As in season six, Michelle Trachtenberg as Dawn wasn't on screen nearly enough, but she excelled with what material she was allowed. Particularly good was the episode where she first found out she was likely a Potential, only to have her hopes of being special like Buffy be dashed. Without skipping a beat, she went back to the thankless but necessary task of research, and only Xander realized that for her something monumental had occurred. The scene where Xander expresses his admiration for her was great, although he starts out talking about himself a little too much. Dawn is far more mature and self-guided than Buffy and the Scoobies were at her age.
IMO, season seven is one of the poorer ones, exceeded only by season four in lack of interest. I put it behind season one despite that half-year's many flaws involving uneven writing and camera work. At least season one has youthful energy (and young actors), plus Angel and Cordelia. By season seven, everyone seems jaded by the whole thing. Maybe the show should have ended have season five after all, though there were indeed a number of great moments in season six and some in season seven that we then would never have been able to enjoy.