Saturday, October 29, 2011

The End Of An Unexpected Empire: Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Seven!

The Good: Excellent character development, Solid acting, Interesting plot
The Bad: Sad reuse of old plot devices
The Basics: The heroes who surround Buffy unite to stop the Origin of evil or go out with a bang trying in a very successful conclusion to the series.

It is a rare thing that a television show, no matter how popular, can raise itself from being a show on television to being a phenomenon that people want to spend their weekends pursuing. By that, I mean it's rare for a show to be so successful with a core of people that they will travel the country on the weekends to go to conventions and events where they can meet the stars from the show, meet others who share their passion and/or hang out with other devotees watching the show. That's why there are Star Trek and Star Wars conventions, but not NYPD Blue conventions (though I'd go for that!). Buffy The Vampire Slayer is, astonishingly, one of the few franchises with a fan base that eagerly approaches the show outside the television viewing. The seventh season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, now out on DVD, brings the saga of the Slayer to its conclusion.

Having survived the near apocalyptic events of the sixth season, Buffy takes Dawn to her first day of high school at the new Sunnydale High. Xander, involved in building it, provides support in understanding why there are already problems at the school. And Giles and Willow work together to control her magical ability. Willow's return to Sunnydale heralds talk of the return of the greatest villain the Earth has ever known, the First. The First is the source of all evil, originally referenced in the third season of the show. Now, the First is coming back to Earth to bring chaos and death to all and it has found the perfect tool; the newly ensouled Spike.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer had six successful seasons on the air and when the seventh came, it was unclear as to whether it would continue or not. It was a fairly last minute decision, prompted by Sarah Michelle Gellar's desire to not return for an eighth season, but the seventh season was determined to be the end of the series. Unfortunately, as the season comes to its climax, there is a lot that is done to indicate that the producers were hedging their bets, looking for a way to continue the series into a eighth season without the title character. As it is, though, the seventh season is a nice, complete story that brings the focus of the narrative back to Buffy.

The season largely deals with the coming of the First and the hopelessness of the potential fight that would come with its arrival. The First can take the appearance of anyone who is dead and that makes for some very unnerving scenes in the seventh season. But hope arrives in the form of Potentials; Slayers who would be activated if Buffy were to be killed. The latter half of the season focuses on the training of the Potentials and the way Buffy becomes a bona fide leader.

As with the previous seasons, the seventh season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer focuses most on character development and the memorable characters make it understandable that the show would grow into a phenomenon. Here is how the seventh season finds them:

Buffy - Recovering from the betrayal of her best friend in season six, Buffy takes on a more parental role for Dawn. She becomes a guidance counselor and starts to connect with people for the first time. With the return of Spike and Willow and the threat of the First, Buffy finds herself coming into the role of leader and facing the fact that her fate may well be sealed,

Xander - High on saving the world, Xander comes back down to Earth as he must face the consequences of Anya's return to evil and the return of Spike, who he has no fondness for. Xander's position in the growing army against the First is compromised when evil incarnate realizes that he has unique abilities of his own,

Willow - Returning to Sunnydale alone, Willow begins to move on as a single woman without magic and without the woman she loves. Her love for Tara is challenged by one of the Potentials who makes it known she finds Willow attractive,

Anya - A vengeance demon once again, Anya reigns chaos around Sunnydale punishing the men who have wronged women. This leads to a showdown between Anya and Buffy and the result condemns Anya to a familiar punishment,

Dawn - Growing up and trying to contribute to her sister's army, Dawn finds herself in the company of misfits and the target of all sorts of evil. The lone attempt at a Dawn episode in this season yields the worst reuse of the "love spell" plot,

and Spike - Now plagued with a soul, Spike returns to Sunnydale wounded by Buffy's lack of love for him. He finds himself used as a pawn by the First and a liability to the Slayer and her forces. His soul torments him and his weakness to the First leads him to meet his destiny.

Giles appears occasionally in the season as the Watcher Council is destroyed and he attempts to learn the vulnerabilities of the First. He is not given a huge part, but his recurring presence works well as Buffy makes the transition from student to leader. Also returning is the villainous nerd Andrew, who reforms from his evil ways and Faith, who returns to Sunnydale as a heroine, not a villain.

The subtext of this season is the struggle we make as individuals to live up to our adult responsibilities and become actualized adults. Buffy makes the transition and it is rocky, but enjoyable to watch. The serialized nature of the show, where the menace of a single true villain mirrors the rising actions of the successful third and fifth seasons. The First is a compelling villain and the resolution to the conflict with this enemy promises to keep the franchise going.

Sarah Michelle Gellar and James Marsters give truly great, empathy-laced performances in this season and it's impressive to watch them work, especially when they are together.

This set looks good on DVD and the commentaries are interesting and worth the price of the set alone for fans. If you haven't gotten into Buffy The Vampire Slayer yet, this is an inappropriate place to start. I recommend going back to at least the fifth season to get into the show and working your way up to this episode. The weak link is "Him" which revisits the same type of "love spell" idea that has been done already in the show. The episodes building up to the end are wonderful and "Lies My Parents Told Me" is one of the best episodes the series ever did.

It's a shame that Buffy The Vampire Slayer ended, but that's what television shows do. At least there was still Angel . . .

For other final seasons of science fiction or fantasy shows, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Heroes - Season Four
Millennium - The Complete Third Season
Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Seven


For other television show reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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