So I think season six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is actually immensely underrated.
Here’s five reasons why (spoilers abound below!):
1) Depression. I have never seen another show handle depression as well as season six did. It showed the small ways in which life - everyday, humdrum life - beats someone with depression down, and saps their energy, and makes just staying awake a struggle. It shows that being depressed isn’t a nonstop cloud of misery, but just a baseline level of despair that, while not ruining your relationships with people, impacts them in small but subtle ways. As someone with depression, I feel spoken to by season six of Buffy. Some of the writing decisions were questionable, but in that regard? The season was flawless, and brave, and it conveyed depression so well.
2) The antagonists. A lot of people like to write off the antagonists as being lame, but in several ways they’re actually very interesting. First, they’re not monsters. They’re not scary, or intimidating, or larger-than-life. They’re just young guys, with supernatural powers, trying and failing to be the kind of villains that appeared on the show before. In season six, the real villain is life. Living. It stands to reason the main villains would be as close to reality as the show could manage. It also leaves the real antagonistic focus on daily life, where it most assuredly belongs.
3) Nerd misogyny. Very few shows make a direct attack upon the ways in which testosterone and misogyny infect nerdy, geeky things. It would have been easy for Joss Whedon to just go the typical route of ascribing misogyny to jocks, but with the villains, he made a very clear, deliberate choice to show how their nerdy pursuits made them objectify and demean women - and this is a point that I think a lot of Buffy fans missed, watching it.
What makes Warren (their ringleader) scary isn’t that he’s big, and badass, and intimidating. He’s scary because he’s real, and pathetic, and because he’s not at all cool. He’s just an insecure manchild with issues, and the way he finally goes out is every bit as ugly as he was. He isn’t supposed to be fun to watch. He’s supposed to make people uncomfortable. In a way, Warren’s mere existence foreshadows Dollhouse, another highly underrated bit of Whedon entertainment.
4) The musical episode. Everyone loves the musical episode, but without the surrounding context it wouldn’t have worked quite as well. Like everything else in season six, it was a bold, declarative choice that broke from the show’s tradition, and few can argue that it worked. Some of the other choices made were more controversial, but the musical episode? Everyone fucking loves the musical episode.
5) The finale. Yes, Willow’s entire arc was badly handled. Ludicrously handled. Anvils everywhere, a point so on the nose it was liable to make you have an allergic reaction, and one of the show’s best characters had to be thrown under a bus for Willow to snap. However, the manner in which the fight was resolved? It’s not something you’d see on every show, nor is it something that would have worked in many other cases. That Willow’s despair, and depression, and loathing were defeated by unconditional love is a beautiful, worthy statement, and one of the cleanest and purest that this series has yet offered. It was, in my view, a definitive and highly under-appreciated moment; all Xander did was love her, and that’s all it took to stop her. No one else could have done it. No one else could have won against her. In the end, it was all Xander, all love, and it’s one of the show’s finest moments.
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