Farewell to the Hellmouth

So, over the course of Saturday and Sunday, I watched the first eight episodes of Season Five of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, through a combination of general boredom and wanting to give the show a fair shot. So, does this mean I'm now hooked?

Well, when Kate got home, I was just starting episode 12 ( the other one specifically recommended by the guy who loaned me the DVD's). "What happened to 9, 10, and 11?" she asked. "I'm getting a little tired of this," I replied.

On the positive side, the execution improved dramatically from the first few episodes. The cast are clearly much more comfortable with the characters, and the production people have clearly figured out what works. The execution issues that remain are either inherent in the weekly tv series genre (the occasional as-you-know-Buffy recap for the benefit of viewers who missed an episode or two), or the production crew (they're inordinately fond of a couple of types of jump cuts, which gets wearying when watching a lot of episodes back to back).

On the negative side...

It's really not a good sign that the character I had the most sympathy for doesn't make it to the end of the season, let alone the series. I know I'm going to be told that this is because I skipped three seasons' worth of subliminal messages character development, but the only character I really cared for in the first block of the season was Riley. This is partly because I'm contractually obligated to root for anyone who can dunk a basketball, but also because he was being badly jerked around by the heavy hand of the plot. Tara was probably the next most sympathetic of the cast.

Regarding the more central characters: Xander must die. God damn but he's annoying. This is partly due to having two whole episodes that showcased his more irritating features (the Renfield act in the Dracula episode, and the one where he gets split in two), but I found that character intensely annoying. His girlfriend was also deeply grating.

The others were... there. Their intelligence, like Buffy's strength, seems to go up and down according to the requirements of the plot, but they were basically fine.

The villains, on the other hand, were screechingly awful. They're terrible in a way that is clearly intended to be campily humorous, but they miss that mark (for me, at least), and just end up being irritating. The Dracula thing was pretty silly, and the ill-tempered blond halfwits just got on my nerves.

I can see the appeal of the show, on an intellectual sort of level, but it just doesn't work that well for me. A lot of things that are clearly intended to be funny just don't click for me, and the relationship angst stuff is a genre that never really grabs me. I'll watch episode 12, and maybe the finale, just to see how the whole Key thing gets resolved, but other than that, I think I'm done with it.


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I hate to say it, and you did too, it's because you missed 3 seasons of character development. Riley was pretty much universally reviled when he was brought in the previous season, and so had to be disposed of quickly. The Dracula thing was because 5 might have been the last season, and they had to do it.

Seriously, while each season of Buffy is mostly self-contained, it still relies heavily on what has gone before, and you missed masterpieces like "Hush", most of the third season, and the latter half of the second. Most of what was there was supposed to draw on your earlier relationships with the characters, and you didn't have that

Oh, and if you don't watch "The Body", you're really depriving yourself of the single most incredible, and painful hour of television I've ever seen. It's completely real world (well, except the last 2 minutes), and is universal.

As the officially endorsed High Priest o'Joss Whedon (yes, I have proof), I encourage you to try our faith instead of cherry picking it. After all, how can you have Jesus without Genesis? :)

By Jeff Kleist (not verified) on 21 May 2007 #permalink

In a sense, I was glad that you added that final paragraph to your commentary here. It puts a lot of your statements in perspective with respect to this show. I have the same feelings towards other shows that people claim are WILDLY riveting - notably 24 and The Office. I get why people like them, the same way that I get why people find Angelina Jolie attractive, but I don't and that's quite alright (unless you're a die-hard fan of 24, in which case you probably hate my guts).

I thoroughly enjoy Buffy, and although I recognize that's not the greatest show ever, I adore it for keeping me entertained. The weakest part of the whole affair is probably the weekly villains. It was something I never particularly enjoyed about the show. Most episodes I re-watch are main-story episodes because of this.

I do need to rescue Xander from your clutches of nefariousness. As a sidekick, he's typically portrayed as being on the level of Shaggy - a bumbling scaredy-cat with zero useful talent. Xander is a joke, a sight gag, and the fall guy. If someone is going to screw something up it will probably be him. Xander is not a hero, he's not even an anti-hero. He's just a regular guy along for the ride, but in a show like Buffy that is about heroics it can lead to a negative portrayal of a stand-up guy. I think this abuse is caused by the slew of extra writers rather than the vision Joss Whedon has of the character, but I can't back this up with scriptural evidence.

His character does have some depth occassionally, but it's usually doled out in carefully chosen bite-sized pieces. Occassionally he's witty, or rarer still serious. It is these rare situations that make me glad to see him stay as a regular character in the series.

By Brian Thompson (not verified) on 21 May 2007 #permalink

This is basically a no-win situation for Chad. "The Body" is great TV, but it loses a lot of its punch unless you're really invested in the characters. And so if Chad views "The Body", and doesn't like it as much as we do -- well, that *must* be because he didn't view all the earlier episodes.

I'd say Chad has made a reasonably honest attempt at this. More importantly, it's reasonable to form an opinion about a work of art without consuming the entire thing + all commentary. Otherwise we would all go insane.

I'm somehow reminded of the classical music recommendations from a while back where Chad somehow managed to choose almost entirely 20th century music as a place to start. On the other hand, Buffy ain't so great that it's really worth badgering him into trying more appropriate stuff (I started watching sometime in season two, myself). And if angst and snappy dialogue aren't your thing, it's probably safe to say that Buffy's not for you.

So go try Veronica Mars instead.

By Aaron Bergman (not verified) on 21 May 2007 #permalink

I figure that what you like, you like, and what you don't like, you don't. However, I couldn't let this post pass without observing that in my opinion, season 5 was when the show began to slide. There were some excellent episodes in seasons 5-7 (notably "The Body", as others have said, and the musical episode is one of my personal favorites), but the padding of the plot really began to show in this season. I wanted Glory to be more impressive, but it was like the writers had to make her stupid in order to stretch out the plot to cover the requisite number of episodes. Also way too much infodumping, for the same reasons. Seasons six and seven just got worse in this respect. I think the fifth season was the last one I got on DVD.

I liked Riley, too. We seem to be in the minority on that one.

By Genevieve Williams (not verified) on 21 May 2007 #permalink

Riley makes a brief and humorous return in Season Six "As You Were", if you want one more ep of his. That has Buffy working in the "Double Meat Palace", notable as the only story arc the writers nixed in response to advertiser pressure. Yes, vampires, demons, lesbian relationships, relationships between teenaged girls and men more than 200 years older, werewolves, all the sex and violence and death - that was fine with the networks, but don't dis the fast food industry.

"character development" :=: "soap opera".

It is what makes a show good, and makes Stargate SG-1 better than say Power Rangers......

Well, I don't agree with much of that, but yes Xander was indeed annoying and Dracula was appalling. At least you missed "The Body", an hour of badly written melodrama

By G. Shelley (not verified) on 21 May 2007 #permalink

I figured this was the way it was going to turn out when you said that you didn't like Season 1. If you didn't find the first season to at least be enjoyable, the series is almost certainly just not for you.

By the way, Aaron Bergman, if Chad doesn't like relationship angst, Veronica Mars is definitely not for him. I like it, but that show is filled to the brim in almost every episode with relationship angst, even moreso than Buffy was.

By CaptainBooshi (not verified) on 21 May 2007 #permalink

I have no opinion on Buffy (never seen it), but I do have an opinion on whether you have to watch every previous episode of a serial to appreciate the next one. You don't. I started watching Babylon 5 a few episodes into the start of the second season. I followed it just fine, and liked it just fine. I've still never seen even part of the first season, and I always laugh when I see people saying "you can't appreciate it unless you've seen every episode". I started watching Prison Break in the middle of the second season. OK, maybe I missed some of the details, but it's not really that hard to figure out what's going on or who the characters are. They're TV characters. They're not that complicated. My friend probably watched every other episode of Heroes this season, but managed to follow it fine. Ultimately if one isn't entertained by a TV show (especially by what's considered the best it has to offer by its fans), then one shouldn't force oneself to watch it.

By the way, Aaron Bergman, if Chad doesn't like relationship angst, Veronica Mars is definitely not for him. I like it, but that show is filled to the brim in almost every episode with relationship angst, even moreso than Buffy was.

I was waiting for someone to mention that. And you didn't even mention the snappy dialogue. The last comment was a bit of a joke. But Chad should watch Veronica Mars anyways.

By Aaron Bergman (not verified) on 22 May 2007 #permalink

You really should look into seasons 2 and 3. By season 5, there has been a lot of story development and complicated character history established which makes you care about minutiae that wouldn't otherwise matter. They don't have to convince you to care in Season 5, but they do in season 2. Season 2 establishes the Buffy/Angel relationship and starts to build longer-term arcs and themes. Season 1 is fine, but not exceptional.

Season 3 episode 13 (via Wikipedia) is a good one to watch for Xander as more than a lame sidekick.

"They don't have to convince you to care in Season 5, but they do in season 2."

They failed. Next!

My social circle had a number of Buffy fans, yet I had limited myself to reading the memorable quotes page. After watching a season and a half of episodes, I realized that the video wasn't offering me any more real value than reading the snappy dialogue.

I started watching Babylon 5 a few episodes into the start of the second season. I followed it just fine, and liked it just fine

Well, you got in just as the major story arc was really kicking off. Jumping in, say, halfway through season 3 would be rather different.