During the last three years, I’ve been slowly making my way through a re-watch of my all-time favorite TV show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Here are my thoughts on the Season 6 episodes!
Yay! My favorite season of my favorite show!! I’m really going to enjoy re-watching these episodes from the ultimate Buffy season… what many refer to as the worst season of the show (including Sarah Michelle Gellar herself), but it’s my favorite because it goes to some extremely dark places, has Willow turn evil, and features my favorite episode of the entire series — Once More With Feeling. The two-part season premiere has its problems — it feels padded at times, and the final part goes on way too long — but it’s a mostly successful re-launch after Buffy’s heroic death. Perfectly sets up Willow’s growing obsession with magic, as well as the uneasy manner Buffy comes back to life that will haunt her character the rest of the season.
After Life ***1/2
Well-modulated third episode finds Buffy trying and failing to get back to normal after being brought back to life, and the awkward ways her friends try to make her cope. Having her face a demon that followed her from the grave was the right call, an eerier creature than most on the show. The episode is solid, but it’s that final scene with Spike, where Buffy tells him she was pulled out of Heaven, that is the true heartbreaker.
Buffy dealing with financial problems may not seem like great drama to most, but it’s the issues like this Buffy deals with that make me love season six so much. Just because Buffy is back doesn’t mean she won’t have money problems, and worries about her future, and so this episode takes these issues head on… with a few demons for her to fight, of course.
Life Serial ***1/2
For some reason I thought season six was pretty grim up until the musical episode, but I forgot about this hilarious early-season entry, where the three geek “supervillains” manipulate Buffy in various ways as she tries to get her life back on track. The absolute gem of this episode is Buffy’s Groundhog Day syndrome in the Magic Shop as she tries to sell a woman a Mummy’s Hand. Hilarious at times, but also effective in how it comments on Buffy’s tough role having to face her real world problems.
All the Way **1/2
The weakest of the early season six episodes (which is quite all right, since the following TWO episodes are two of the best of the entire series) is mostly a drag because it focuses too much on Dawn and her interest in a cute high school boy. That long stretch with Dawn is mostly a yawner, but we do get Xander finally announcing to the gang he’s engaged to Anya, and then that chilling moment at the episode’s end where Willow enacts a spell to make Tara forget her anger… which of course plays a heightened role in the musical episode. A few important moments here, but it’s mostly a transitional episode to get us to the show’s ultimate triumph — Once More With Feeling.
Once More, with Feeling ****
The classic, the amazing, my all-time favorite episode of my all-time favorite show. Am I allowed to give it 10 stars? 100 stars? Seeing this episode at the Majestic Theatre in Los Angeles with Joss Whedon in attendance is one of the highlights of my LIFE, and it was a thrill to watch the episode again after many years. It truly is perfect, the ultimate Buffy episode ever.
Tabula Rasa ****
What always amazes me about season 6 of Buffy is how its landmark musical episode was followed up by a hilarious, absolute gem of an episode I would rank in the top 10 Buffy episodes ever! Willow causes a spell that backfires and ends up erasing everyone’s memory. So much imagination and humor throughout, with a downbeat and earned ending that works beautifully.
This episode is a step-down from the previous two, but still with its strong points, like Buffy finally consummating with Spike (it would have been a cheat for their romantic storyline to be tossed aside), and Amy’s unexpected return.
This episode takes things even darker, if that’s possible, when Willow gives in to her inner demons more than ever, causing Dawn to almost be killed. Alyson Hannigan’s acting at the end, where she bawls her eyes out and asks desperately for help, is stunning.
After two very downbeat episodes, this one is a return to form in the humor department, with the geeks accidentally making Buffy invisible. This allows for some very funny moments, like when Buffy messes with the child protective services lady.
Doublemeat Palace **1/2
Often thought of as the worst episode of Season 6, but if that’s the case, this still clearly the finest season of the show. Too much time is spent at the fast food restaurant and all its shenanigans, but there’s plenty of effective humor and even a surprising monster reveal at the end. This would have been a solid Season 1 episode, but in Season 6 it’s just merely adequate.
Dead Things ***
One thing (of the many things) I love about season 6 is that the show is able to breathe and not focus every episode on the big bad. Jonathan, Andrew, and Warren factor in to this episode because they kill Warren’s ex-girlfriend, but ultimately Buffy takes center stage as she tries to deal with the consequences of killing (or thinking she killed) a human.
Older and Far Away ***
Okay, so in some ways this episode feels like a way to save money — isolate the entire cast in Buffy’s house for most of the episode — but that aspect is what makes this episode solid in a way, having everybody stuck together in scene after scene. Not a revolutionary story-line but certainly fun to see the cast together for nearly the entire episode.
As You Were ***
I love that the writers gave Riley one last return and send-off… there was something about his exit halfway through season five that seemed unfinished. Of course he comes back to basically give Buffy an incentive to break up with Spike, but still, it’s fun one final time to see Buffy and Riley together.
Hell’s Bells ***1/2
I know everyone shits on this season because it’s such a downer, but this wedding episode is all over the place in emotions, with maybe the most upbeat Buffy has ever been (love her doing charades for the crowd) and an overall hilarious tone for most of the episode. The central conflict is a brilliant idea, showing Xander what might happen in a life with Anya, and the sad ending is effective and earned, with that touching shot of a lone Anya walking while crying down the aisle. How was the episode supposed to end? With them saying I do and everyone happy? There’s no drama in that. Xander has to make this mistake so that his relationship with Anya can remain fresh and filled with conflict. This is Buffy the Vampire Slayer after all.
Normal Again ***1/2
Okay, so this episode I didn’t care much for back in the day, even when I knew how much I loved season six, but it’s grown on me throughout the years, and now I see it for what it is: a wildly courageous episode that basically says the entire series might have been made up in Buffy’s head in an insane asylum. Of course the most ballsy decision made is ending with Buffy in the asylum, which basically demands the viewer assume nothing in the series has ever happened. It doesn’t derail what comes before and after but instead offers an alternate, totally justified explanation for all these fantasy shenanigans. It’s great to see Joyce again, and I overall have come to really admire this unique episode.
A fairly standard episode, Anya and Spike using each other to feel better, features enough of the way of surprises to keep things interesting, especially when Buffy finds out the big bads have cameras all over Sunnydale spying on her every minute, and when Xander finds out about Buffy and Spider, and that last scene… THAT LAST SCENE! Even knowing what’s about to happen, there’s such sublime happiness when Willow and Tara kiss that I’m able, almost, to forget that Tara is one episode away from death. Ugh…
Seeing Red ***
Kind of an odd episode in that in a way it feels like a season finale, Willow and Tara finally back together, Buffy basically defeating the big bads, but then everything changes in what is still the most shocking moment of the entire series: Tara’s death.
The three-episode Evil Willow arc is one of my favorites of the entire series, obviously since it’s beautifully set up with Willow’s addition to magic earlier on. There’s so much emotion and terror and high stakes in these last three episodes I could watch them over and over, everything I love about this show represented by the darkness and beauty and ultimately uplifting drama that comes to pass.
Two to Go ***1/2
I guess there’s one frustrating element to these final three episodes of the season, and that is the writers making up ways to keep Willow from reaching her goals, when in reality she’d probably be able to find Jonathan and Andrew in a matter of seconds and rip their heads off. But the stumbling blocks work because they allow for classic moments like Buffy and Evil Willow’s epic fight, and then Giles’ return in the final shot that still gives me chills!
The season six finale doesn’t have the creativity of Restless or the epic awesomeness of The Gift, but it’s still one of the very best finales and overall episodes of the series, one that offers laughs (Buffy and Giles losing it early on when he learns what he’s missed) and surprises (Spike earning back his soul). But there are two things I just love, love, love about this episode. The first is that Xander, of all characters, gets to save the world, reaching out to Willow in a way only he, her best friend since childhood, could. The scene rings true, so painful to watch Willow break down crying, but lovely to see Xander support his friend. And the second is that, after an entire season of Buffy being down and uncomfortable after being brought back from the dead, she finally understands why she was brought back: so she can show her beloved sister Dawn the world. It’s a great arc to Buffy’s journey that leaves her in a fantastic place in her closing scene. There’s still one more season to go of my favorite show, but this is as good as it gets, and I will always, for the rest of my life, assert that season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the show’s best.
BEST EPISODE OF SEASON 5: Once More, With Feeling (6×07)
WORST EPISODE OF SEASON 5: Doublemeat Palace (6×12)