Writer’s Note: As an avid 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' fan, this was a difficult piece to write. That being said, we must look at everything — even the things we hold dear — in an objective way. Discussion and debate over this is encouraged in the comments below. There are sure to be some "That'll put marzipan in your pie plate, Bingo" arguments that will illustrate the die-hard nature we Buffy fans possess and love.
For seven years, Buffy the Vampire Slayer made us laugh, cry, and feel empowered. The show ran for five great seasons on the WB before moving to UPN where it ran for two more years. The season five finale — and 100th episode — The Gift bid farewell to viewers with the honorable self-sacrifice of Buffy Summers. While we cried along with the Scooby Gang, there was no denying that the poetic, full circle, I-feel-complete conclusion was just what we needed. As Buffy said just before she took the plunge: “Tell Giles...tell Giles I figured it out. And, and I'm OK.”
While Buffy may have come to terms with fate, no one else did. The writers resurrected Buffy from the grave and jumped the shark in the process, leaving us with arguably the worst two seasons. Constantly faced with the choice of quality versus quantity, we seem to believe that more is better, but the last two seasons of of the show proved just the opposite.
Season 6: Goodbye Glory Days
Season 6 began with the famous resurrection of Buffy and kicked off several plot points that would explode over 22 episodes: Anya’s discontent with Xander over their secret engagement, Willow’s growing dependence on magic, Giles fading into the backdrop, and Buffy brooding over her third chance at life. Beyond the misery looming over the Scoobies, the Evil Trio is introduced. Warren, Andrew and Jonathan failed at taking over Sunnydale, but they succeeded in contributing to the downfall of the season. The Trio undermined the credibility and standards of the show, attempting (and failing) to supply humor and slapstick to an increasingly grim era in Buffy history. For many, it felt like a slap in the face to have Buffy come back from the dead and have to deal with the most foolish “arch-nemesises...ses” ever. There is no doubt that the real Big Bad of the season was the Scoobies and their own struggles with darkness. Also, Dark Willow. Even if the Trio was created because Buffy and pals still needed tangible enemies to fight while dealing with their own problems; the writers could have done better.
Season 6 was not a total loss. The last four episodes were shocking, heartbreaking, and fantastic as the Dark Willow arc unfolded. The musical episode was extremely entertaining, though it did not outshine past creative episodes including Hush, Restless, and The Body (see below). It should also be noted that Dawn started becoming slightly less obnoxious. These highlights aside, any character that was not Buffy or Willow suffered from dwindling storylines.
Xander and Anya’s big issues revolved around insecurity in the face of impending marriage. The episode Hell's Bells was not only over the top, but it did nothing to further the plot except contribute to the misery of the season. Perhaps that was the point. There was more heart and angst involved in Willow and Tara’s breakup, which also served a higher purpose: To push Willow in her own character development. We thought Willow has hit rock bottom, but no. Tara’s death was the catalyst for the rise of a dark power in Sunnydale, one that was needed to eventually turn Willow into a “goddess” in the series finale.
Season 7: It Ends, Again
Season 7 was more refreshing than its angsty predecessor. Buffy felt more like Buffy and the gang was getting back together. The season even went full circle with the return to high school and a focus on the Hellmouth like in the days of old. The largest issue with Season 7 was the Big Bad. Dark Willow seemed to be the last good bad guy idea that Joss and the team had, and that only came after they pulled the old bait-and-switch on us with the Evil Trio.
The Big Bad of the concluding season was The First Evil. The name itself was intriguing, yet also doubt-inspiring. When it is explained that The First is the essence of evil itself, an intangible force, you had to wonder how Buffy was going to squash it. Somehow, it seems unlikely that the destruction of Sunnydale really vanquished our non-corporeal foe. Still, the annihilation of Sunnydale let us know that it was over, at least for live-action television. As Sarah Michelle Gellar said when she quit, “Buffy, in this incarnation, is over.”
Questionably defeatable villains aside, there were some noticeable flaws in the season that cannot go ignored. An example would be the final battle. Why do Buffy and Faith take all the Potential Slayers into the Hellmouth for battle before Willow cast the spell that imbued them with the power of the Slayer? Even if, for argument’s sake, they all had to be at the Hellmouth for the spell to work (suggested by Willow’s need to do the spell near the Seal of Danzalthar), they could have done it while all the Potentials were above ground, so as not to be seen by the Ubervamps. Girls died! But, that would be the point. This allowed for more death and destruction during the all-bets-are-off climax. It escalated the tension for viewers, letting us all think that Buffy just might lose, even though we knew better. It is a glaring instance of the writers sacrificing logic for thrills.
Knowing When To Quit: The Harsh Light Of Reality
During Seasons 6 and 7 it seems that, while creating fantastical folklore that we all love, the writers couldn’t always compete with their own creations. Perhaps they counted on viewers to turn a blind eye to inaccuracies and loopholes as the end came near. There is also probably a good element of fan denial; I myself am guilty of this. Overall, the show did a great job of suspending our disbelief, making Buffy’s world seem so real. Even those of us who acknowledge (and are willing to argue over) the lack of merit in the last two seasons still watch them and enjoy them: It is Buffy! No one really wanted it to end and we take what we can get. That does not mean that the entire series was top-of-its-game quality. The show would have been perfectly concluded had we said goodbye to Buffy at the end of Season 5.