Excuse my puns. Seeing that one of the best episodes of Buffy season four was in fact the final episodes, which foreshadows what’s to come in the next season, it’s only natural that season five’s gotta be some great television, or at least a step up from season four, am I right?
Season four played on the idea of Buffy going off to college, but its plot was lackluster, focusing on a government agency known as the Initiative and its demon-human hybrid of a creation as a big bad. Unlike its predecessors, the season four finale was not in fact the climactic end we’re used to seeing in shows like Buffy. Instead, it focused on deep dreams that the main characters had while falling asleep one night. And it leaves us with a lot of burning questions.
Season five of Buffy follows the title character (Sarah Michelle Gellar) as she starts her second year of college. However, unlike season four, season five barely focuses on the college aspect at all. It instead focuses much more on Buffy’s home life. By the end of the season premiere, it’s revealed that a new character, Dawn Summers (Michelle Tractenberg) has arrived in the form of Buffy’s sister. This is probably unlike anything you’ll ever see on television, and it’s been planned for years before season five. It’s been foreshadowed as early as season three. Dawn is placed in the show and Buffy’s life as if she’s been there all along. At the time that the show aired, I can only imagine what viewers were thinking.
After several episodes, Buff discovers that Dawn is actually the Key, a mass of energy wrapped up in human form. All of her memories, in addition to everyone’s memories of her, were fabricated when she was sent to Earth to be placed in Buffy’s care. Glory, a god sentenced to Earth as punishment, has been sharing a body with a human boy for over two decades now, and needs the Key to return to her home dimension. Of course, there are some consequences. Not only will Dawn be killed in the process, but the line between dimensions will fade, opening a portal to hell on Earth. And of course, it’s up to Buffy to stop this.
This all doesn’t go on without some troubles on the home front. Buffy’s mother, Joyce (Kristine Sutherland), has been experiencing some medical problems. It’s eventually revealed that she has a brain tumor. Buffy moves back home to take care of her mother while trying to balance life as a college student. She tries to take care of 14-year-old Dawn as well, and it becomes apparent that the two don’t care for each other very much.
Buffy’s boyfriend, Riley (Marc Blucas), is neglected during the process, as Buffy fails to go to him during her time of need. She also neglects to tell him about important things going on in her life. Spike (James Marsters), still with a chip in his head preventing him from harming anyone, has started to grow fond of Buffy. Just three years ago he was trying to kill her and now he’s in love with her. Buffy appreciates Spike when she’s hurting and needs someone to talk to, but this season portrays the relationship between them as a rollercoaster. Buffy is unwilling to start a relationship with Spike. The thought disgusts her, but she needs him to fight off Glory and take care of Dawn. Riley, seeing how Buffy’s treating Spike, eventually takes off, leaving Buffy heartbroken.
Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson) grow closer, diving more and more into witchcraft in the process. A few times throughout the season, it slips that Tara is afraid of what Willow might turn into, as she grows more powerful, and a little more careless, in her witchcraft each day, but Tara brushes this off because she doesn’t want to hurt Willow. Xander (Nicholas Brendon) and Anya (Emma Caulfield) grow closer as well. Xander moves out of his parents’ basement and into his first apartment with Anya. Anya, a former revenge demon, has allowed herself to fall completely in love with Xander and the two are engaged by the end of the season. Meanwhile, Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) buys The Magic Box, a local magic shop in Sunnydale. Anya is revealed to have a love of money and business, and is hired by Giles to help around the store.
Season four focuses much on the main characters growing apart. Once close in high school, they delve into their own new interests. On the other hand, season five focuses more on the adolescent characters taking their first steps into adulthood. And Giles, once empty and purposeless, has made it his goal to find a new purpose in being there for Buffy and running The Magic Box.
Buffy’s world come crashing down when she comes home one day to find her mother dead on the couch. “The Body” is some of the most chilling TV you will find with its stark realism. No supernatural elements even inhabit this episode until the very end when a newly turned vampire wakes up beside Joyce’s corpse to try to feed off Dawn. Giles acts as a father figure to Buffy, helping her make funeral arrangements and helping her to take care of Dawn. Buffy is forced to drop out of college for the time being in order to take care of things at home. The death of Joyce is probably the biggest game-changer in Buffy, forcing Buffy to go from a carefree teenager into a responsible adult. We see Buffy at her most vulnerable this season having to deal with not only her mother’s sickness and death, but also having to take care of a younger sister with a seriously messed up history (or lack of).
Glory, this season’s big bad, brings the show back to more of a fantasy element which seemed missing in season four. She proves to be a much better villain than season four’s Adam. She’s even got a personality. Aside from perhaps the First Evil Buffy faces in the last season, Glory might be as big as it gets. We see her at low points this season when she starts to accept the fact that she can’t beat Glory. Glory is too strong. Every other antagonist has been more grounded and had more flaws, but Glory seems practically unstoppable. Buffy almost loses hope, something she rarely does, before going into the final battle in the season finale.
It would have been nice to see more of Buffy and friends in a college setting, as I feel the show had so much potential to work with Buffy being in college, but I have to admit this is a huge step up from last season. With talk of the show being canceled by the WB network at the time, the season finale wraps up the show pretty well. If Joyce’s death doesn’t have you crying, the very end of this season might have you in tears.
Of course, years later, we know that Buffy instead moved to UPN for two more seasons before going off air, but seeing Buffy during the final moment of this season makes you realize just how much she has changed in five years, and that’s honestly all a TV series can hope for – to have its main character change and grow as a person. Maybe Joss Whedon had more plans up his sleeve for the show, but he had to have been satisfied with this season’s end.
I would argue that this season is probably the best of Buffy outside of high school. Looking back, I think most of us remember the series as a high school show, but here we get to see Buffy transform into a young woman. She started as a carefree high school cheerleader whose only worry in the world was her parents fighting and she ended up turning into someone completely different: in a sense, a leader, a caring friend, a protective sister, and a guardian. This doesn’t come easy, however, as we see Buffy break down more than once this season.
But then again, life isn’t always easy, and more than anything, Buffy emphasizes that. As Buffy Summers told her sister before plunging to her death in “The Gift,” “The hardest thing in this world is to live in it.”