Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 5
July 7, 2005
Joss Whedon, ,
Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendon, Alyson Hannigan, James Marsters, Anthony Head, Amber Benson, Marc Blucas, Emma Caulfield, Kristine Sutherland, Michelle Trachtenberg, ,
Buffy the Vampire Slayer has always been a dark show. However, the arrival of Season Five saw the series take an even darker turn as two major characters died and a seemingly unstoppable villain threatened to destroy Sunnydale and the rest of the world. Many fans and critics cite this season as the last really strong one before it became too dark for its own good. In this season, Joss Whedon and his team of writers successfully balanced dramatic, emotionally powerful episodes with lighter, more whimsical ones. There is a consistent tone that started to disappear from subsequent seasons.
As the season begins, Buffy (Gellar) and her sister, Dawn (Trachtenberg), continue their combative relationship that is inherent with any siblings. Buffy’s relationship with Riley (Blucas) gradually disintegrates as she finds out he’s harbouring a dark secret. Spike (Marsters) goes from being Buffy’s most lethal nemesis to her most powerful ally. Looming over all of these subplots is Glory’s (Clare Kramer) relentless pursuit of the Key which she believes will allow all sorts of evil forces from another dimension into our world.
One of the most striking things about this season is how each character is given at least one episode that really focuses on them and their problems. This is no more apparent then in episode three, entitled, “The Replacement,” where Xander (Brendon) wakes up one day to find that he has a doppelganger who threatens to take over his life. It’s a funny episode that allows Brendon to showcase his comic range as he channels Bruce Campbell’s hilarious Good Ash/Bad Ash schizo personality conflict in Army of Darkness (1993).
Arguably the strongest episode of the season is “The Body,” which deals with Buffy’s reaction to the death of someone close to her. What makes this particular episode so fascinating is that the death wasn’t supernatural origin—the norm for a show like this—but something natural and permanent that makes Buffy feel helpless. Joss Whedon (who wrote and directed the episode) also refuses to use any musical cues to tell the viewer how they should feel during any given moment or scene. This only enhances the emotional impact and underlines the gravity of this episode—one of the series’ best.
However, the character who undergoes the most fascinating transformation over the season is Spike. He starts off as Buffy’s most obvious nemesis but compared to the presence of Glory, his threat pales. During the course of the season, Spike confronts his increasing attraction to Buffy that starts off as purely physical, but becomes something deeper the more time he spends with her. By the season’s conclusion, he has changed allegiances and fights on her side with the rest of the Scoobies.
There are four audio commentaries spread out over the six DVDs. All of them are done by writers from the show. They talk eloquently about their intentions for their respective episodes but what is missing from these tracks are either other crew members (directors?) or cast members. Obviously, the cast was up for the DVDs as they contribute to the many featurettes on them, but it would have been nice to hear their thoughts on particular episodes (like Nicholas Brendon on “The Replacement”). This is definitely a missed opportunity. Having said that, the best commentary of the bunch is, not surprisingly, Joss Whedon’s on “The Body.” He talks at length about the camerawork he used and its effect for this episode: very little edits with no music in order to place the audience in that moment of shock when someone close to you dies. Whedon wanted to convey the feeling of an overwhelming sense of loss. This is a great track to listen to and leaves you wishing he had contributed more to the set.
Spread out over the various discs are several featurettes covering many different aspects of the show. “Buffy Abroad” takes a look at how the show is received all over the world. While science fiction and horror are generally denigrated here in North America, they are treated much more seriously in Europe, for example, where the show is a huge hit. In France, in particular, the cast are treated like famous rock stars.
“Casting Buffy” is an entertaining look at how the main characters were cast. Sarah Michelle Gellar was originally brought in to read for Cordelia and David Boreanaz was discovered off the street by a friend of someone working on the show. This featurette leaves one wanting to hear more fascinating anecdotes about how everyone was cast.
“Demonology—A Slayer’s Guide” is a tongue-in-cheek featurette, introduced by Danny Strong, that takes a look at the various creatures on the show.
“Action Heroes! The Stunts of Buffy” examines the challenges that the stunt people faced every week with coming up with new and exciting stunts. The cast’s stunt doubles talk briefly about what they like about their jobs while the cast praises these folks for their ingenuity.
“Outtakes” is a funny blooper reel of blown line readings and breaks in character. Usually these kinds of reels are a bit of bore but this one is actually pretty good.
“The Story of Season 5” is a substantial featurette that briefly examines every episode in the season. The cast and the writers talk about what their intentions for each one in enough detail to save this extra from being nothing more than a glorified highlight reel.
“Natural Causes” is an informative, thoughtful look at “The Body” episode. Whedon and Co. talk about how important it was for the death in this episode to be of natural origins and not resorting to the easy out of supernatural causes or at the hands of some bad guy that would have been a convenient catharsis for the audience.
“Spotlight on Dawn” is a nice look at the origins of this character and her effect on the show. Michelle Trachtenberg talks about her characters relationship with the other characters—her often antagonistic relationship with Buffy, her crush on Xander and how she views Spike as the cool, older brother.
Finally, there is a modest still gallery, three screenplays for three of the episodes and a trailer for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer video game, Chaos Bleeds.
The fifth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a much mature turn for Buffy and her friends and they are forced to confront great losses and an even greater foe. 20th Century Fox has done the season justice by releasing an excellent box set with top notch transfers and a nice collection of extras. This set will be a great addition to any Buffy fan’s collection.