I recently caught a couple of Buffy episodes from season six, Once More With Feeling and Tabula Rasa. These are probably the best episodes in what was a thoroughly disappointing season. Once More With Feeling is wonderful. Joss Wheedon is truly a renaissance man, turning out a musical episode while running both Buffy and Angel. The cast is game as well. Even though their singing leaves a bit (a lot) to be desired, they give it their best shot. And the songs are surprisingly catchy. I've been singing snatches of songs – "give me something to sing about," "I will walk through the fire," "I wish I could stay," etc, etc – for the last week.
But it also reveals the shoddy characterisations that wrecked the later seasons. For example, Giles decides that the best way to help Buffy is to leave her alone with her struggle to belong in the world again. I don't buy that at all. And the whole Willow/Tara one true love crap just hurts me. Tara doesn't exist as her own character, she's only there as a vehicle for Willow's plot. Female characters on tv and in movies often serve no function but to reflect whichever man they're in relationship with, and it's disheartening to see this dynamic played out even in a depiction of a lesbian relationship. And then there's Spike. And Buffy. And Spike and Buffy. I don't think the writers ever quite decided what to do with Spike. He veers between villain and noble hero depending on who wrote the particular episode and it's all rather whiplash-inducing.
It's telling I think, that Tabula Rasa, the only fun episode of the season, involved erasing everyone's memories. If you have to wipe everything that you've already written in order to free up your characters, you've probably taken some wrong turns along the way. And, even then, the comedy relies on fans' insider knowledge rather than on the actual happenings in the episode. It's all too too meta with Willow's repetition of her "I think I'm kinda gay" line from season three, and Buffy and Spike's conversation about how lame the idea of a vampire with a soul is.
However, the fact that I'm even thinking about the series, years after it ended its initial run, says something about just how good it was. I was (am) all the more annoyed about the last few seasons because the first three seasons and parts of season four were so wonderful. They broke my show and I was pissed about it.