The Best and Worst of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 5

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For previous installments:

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Season 5 saw the departure of Riley Finn, the introduction to Dawn Summers, the death of Joyce Summers, and yet another death of Buffy Summers.

The Best:

Family

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This has always been one of my favorite episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer ever. I remember when I originally how much I fell in love with it immidiately. According to Robin’s Review:

Synopsis: Buffy tells Giles about Dawn and keeps a close watch on her. Riley feels left out and drowns his sorrows at Willie’s bar. The Beast recruits some Lei-Ach demons to kill the Slayer. Tara is feeling like an outsider in the group as her birthday approaches. Her family make a surprise appearance and remind her that she will soon turn into a demon. She casts a spell to prevent her friends from seeing demons which is particularly bad timing as the Lei-Ach demons arrive. Buffy fights them off with help from Spike and then they expose Tara’s father as a liar.

The Good: This was two thirds of a good episode. The main plot was solid as we see the oppressive family situation that led Tara to being the anxious loner she is. I liked that Buffy and Xander acknowledge that they have had trouble getting to know her. She tries to be herself around them but lacks the confidence to force friendships which will take a little longer to develop. Her interest in magic was presumably driven by her own fear of what was inside her. It all helps explain her quick adaption to life as one of the gang.

The demon-concealing spell led nicely into the attack by the Lei-Ach demons. Suddenly we were back in good old fashioned Buffy territory where the big bad sends their minions out only to be foiled by the Scoobies. I enjoyed the invisible fight scene a lot as it felt fresh and interesting. It also fed nicely into the season arc of Buffy honing her Slayer skills as she has to sense the evil around her when she can’t see it.

The ongoing character arcs drove the episode along nicely too. In a very adult scene Spike is busy fantasising about Buffy while with an oblivious Harmony. He finds himself coming to Buffy’s aid and amusingly she can’t see him because of the spell. Buffy is preoccupied with Dawn’s safety of course which led to her reaching when coming up with excuses to keep her at home (“Melinda’s a bad influence. I don’t like you hanging out with someone that…short”). Riley can see right through that and knows he is being excluded. He heads off to sulk in a demon bar which was a really interesting choice. Perhaps in there he can feel strong and dangerous in a way he can’t when she’s around. I enjoyed the brief scene we got with the Beast as she effortlessly manhandled the Lei-Ach and continued to act like a God who has come down to walk amongst us.

The Bad: The thing that was missing was more detail about Tara’s life. And I don’t just mean in this episode. Tara and Anya still don’t feel as well integrated into the gang as Cordelia and Oz did. In Tara’s case that seems to be an expression of her social anxiety and fear that her family were going to appear and haul her off. The montage of her birthday party was very pleasant and perhaps now that we know where she has come from we can move forward and properly get to know her.

What we got here though was quite brief and formulaic. Her family are apparently backwards misogynists who convince their womenfolk that they will turn into demons and so must stay at home and do the housework. There is an obvious metaphor at work here about certain patriarchal cultures in our own world which I appreciate. However there wasn’t much detail to sink our teeth into and when her brother threatened to beat her it felt like a cheap tactic to make sure we knew which side to cheer. It also didn’t seem like the emotive gesture that it should have been for Buffy to stand up for her. Surely after spending this much time with the Scoobies this was the response Tara would have expected?

That’s not to say that it wasn’t a sweet moment. But it just felt more basic than it could have been. Speaking of which Spike then exposes that the whole thing is a lie anyway and Tara’s Dad doesn’t argue. Does everyone but Tara know it’s a lie? Doesn’t Cousin Beth have a problem with this? Again that was too easy.

The Unknown: It’s hard to know how Tara’s family would have kept up the charade once they got her home. Were they going to make grimaced faces at her as if they could see a demon? I’m also not sure how Spike’s chip works. Obviously it’s all pseudo-science so why quibble, but shouldn’t the chip react to Spike’s beliefs about who he is hitting rather than magically detect what kind of target he is aiming at?

Best Moment: The invisible Lei-Ach attack was a fun sequence.

The Bottom Line: This was a solid episode which told a basic story well and advanced the other plots nicely.

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The Worst:

I Was Made To Love You

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Althought this episode has some important themes and is written by a great writer, it has never really jived with me that much. According to the A.V. Club review:

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The plot is simple: A robot named April has arrived in Sunnydale looking for her creator, a thoughtless dweeb named Warren. (That’s Warren Mears. Not Beatty. Or President Harding.) When she finds that Warren has a new girlfriend, her programming kicks in and she switches to Combat Mode, making life miserable for Warren, his girlfriend, Buffy, and even Spike, whom she throws through a window at The Bronze. Meanwhile, Joyce goes on a date, Buffy contemplates a romance with Ben The Intern, and Spike gets dressed-down by Giles, who tells him, “We are not your friends. We are not your way to Buffy. There is no way to Buffy.” Spike though is undeterred, and decides that if he can’t have the real Buffy, he’ll get Warren to build him a robot version.

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The theme of “I Was Made To Love You” is right there in the title: What does it take to attract another person and then hold their interest throughout a long-term relationship? Warren built April to meet his every need, the discovered that when he got exactly what he wanted from a woman, he was bored with her. In a way April is a walking, talking critique of all those terrible romance-advice books for women that were popular around the time this episode aired. She’s such a sad little figure, sitting on a park swing while her batteries run down, telling Buffy that “good girlfriends don’t cry.” She’s primped and perfected, and she’s still been dumped.

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There’s something moving too about April’s attempts to understand the oblivion of non-existence, as when her systems shut down and she frets, “What if he comes back and doesn’t find me in the dark?” Or when she beats up Warren’s girlfriend and says, “This girl kept lying to me, and then she went to sleep.” The line between love and disinterest may be hazy, but the line between life and death is more clear.

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Next is the best and worst of Season 4.

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12 thoughts on “The Best and Worst of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 5

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