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Buffy the Vampire Slayer - The Complete Fifth Season Print E-mail
Tuesday, 09 December 2003

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Complete Fifth Season

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: NR
starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, Nicholas Brendon, Marc Blucas, Michelle Trachtenberg, Emma Caulfield, James Marsters, Anthony Stewart Head, Claire Kramer
release year: 2000-2001
film rating: Four-and-a-Half Stars
sound/picture: Three-and-a-Half Stars
reviewed by: Abbie Bernstein

Almost a year after it has ceased airing new episodes, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is still garnering acclaim as one of the best TV series ever, spawning scholarly conferences and tomes of analysis – along with the more expected byproducts of a hit cult series, like conventions, novel tie-ins and best-selling DVD sets.

“Buffy” Season 5 is one of the show’s best, setting the tale of the “one girl in all the world” tapped to fight the forces of darkness in a somewhat new direction. The first three seasons were set largely in and around Sunnydale High School, playing with the metaphor that high school is hell. Of course, in “Buffy,” the entire town of Sunnydale sits atop a Hellmouth, meaning that vampires, demons and things that go bump in the night tend to congregate there, so the metaphor got a lot of help from the residents. In Season Four, science and the military made a rather uneasy mix with the show’s supernatural and comedic themes (the soldiers were a little too literal and well-armed – and had access to too much back-up – to fit easily into the universe), but in Season Five, everything is back on track.

Disc One begins with something that seems rather inevitable in a show dealing with vampire-slaying: “Buffy Vs. Dracula.” The episode title goes a good way to explaining its content, but it’s still pretty funny to see the normally wisecracking Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) get a bit starstruck by the famous Count (Rudolf Martin), while her best friend Xander (Nicholas Brendon) falls under Dracula’s thrall and does the Renfield thing and Buffy’s mentor Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) has a Jonathan Harker-like encounter with Dracula’s brides. It’s interesting to rewatch the episode knowing what’s coming, as future themes are delicately laced into what at first glance seems a fairly stand-alone episode – except –

The tag on “Buffy Vs. Dracula” that leads into “Real Me” is a shocker to regular “Buffy” viewers, as we suddenly meet Buffy’s 14-year-old sister Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg), who has been unknown to us for the previous four seasons. Buffy, Buffy’s mother Joyce (Kristine Sutherland), Xander, Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and the others all behave as though Dawn has always been there – only crazy street people seem to think there’s something weird about the kid. Of course, they’re right, but it will be several more episodes before we learn the truth. Meanwhile, Dawn has a bad case of feeling unspecial next to her Slayer sister, but if she absolutely has to antagonize a vamp, she couldn’t ask for a funnier adversary than Harmony (Mercedes McNab), a ditzy one-time cheerleader who, as another character suggests, probably could benefit from reading “Evil for Dummies.” Episode writer/producer David Fury and director David Grossman provide a very entertaining commentary track, pointing out fun details like why characters take such small steps when they do a “walk and talk” scene (so they don’t stride past the limits of the set before they’re done with the dialogue).

In “The Replacement,” Xander thinks an evil demon is impersonating him – but actually, he’s been split into two Xanders, one cool and confident and the other jumpy and insecure. Brendon shines in what amounts to a dual role – though when both Xanders are in the same shot, Brendon’s twin Kelly Donovan appears as the less anxious of the two. Chapter 1 features swell blacklight creature effects makeup that shows up periodically throughout the episode, and Chapter 13 has a great, resonant crash. The script for the episode can be found within the episode menu as a regular DVD (as opposed to DVD-ROM) feature, which is the case

In “Out of My Mind,” Buffy’s boyfriend Riley (Marc Blucas), a former super-soldier (from the Season Four military plotline), finds that his speed and strength, enhanced by government scientists, are threatening to explode his heart. Meanwhile, vampire Spike (James Marsters), the unwilling recipient (again, back in Season Four) of a likewise government-engineered chip in his brain that keeps him from attacking humans, schemes to get free of the device so he can kill again. Chapter 13 features very creditable crashing noises during a fight in a doctor’s office, and Chapter 15 features a confrontation between Buffy and Spike that is both funny and startling, signaling the start of one of the rockiest romances ever to stretch out over three seasons (i.e., the rest of this series) of TV.

Disc Two starts with “No Place Like Home,” in which we meet the season’s main villain Glory (Claire Kramer), a supernatural being who is after a mystical Key – which, Buffy learns to her astonishment, is actually Dawn. It seems Dawn is really formed from a ball of energy, even though she (and everyone else) thinks she’s just an ordinary teenager, due to a major memory-changing spell by some frantic monks. Buffy doesn’t know exactly what Glory is – apart from phenomenally powerful – but she learns that it’s essential a) to keep the Key out of Glory’s hands and b) to continue to love/despise Dawn as the little sister Buffy remembers from a past that never really existed. Glory is a very entertaining villain, dangerous and unpredictable – and awesomely self-involved. Chapter 5 has an uncommonly good (for episodic TV on DVD) banging and crashing effects, complete with flying metal that seems to land in the right rear, as Glory makes a big entrance.

“Family,” written and directed by series creator Joss Whedon, centers around Willow’s self-effacing lover Tara (Amber Benson), whose stern father, brother and cousin arrive to remove her from Sunnydale and her magic-using ways (they don’t know about the lesbianism). The episode resolves a mystery that began in Season Four – just why exactly is Tara so alarmed by spells that detect lurking demons? – and has some genuinely heartwarming moments, including a final shot in Chapter 15 that is uplifting in both the figurative and literal sense, as an embracing couple, transported by love, float up off the dance floor.

Widely regarded as one of “Buffy’s” better episodes, “Fool For Love” explores the history of Spike, whose pre-vampire life as a young man in Victorian England is not what we might have expected: rather than the tough punk we’ve known since Season Two, it turns out that Spike was once William, middle-class gentleman and very bad poet. It’s a gradual transformation, explored in flashbacks that counterpoint the current story, as an injured Buffy, seeking self-knowledge, demands that Spike tell her about the two Slayers he killed. As a bonus, David Boreanaz (as Angel/Angelus) and Julie Benz (as Darla) guest-star in the scenes from Spike’s early days as a vampire. (For full effect, get “Angel” Season 2 and watch the episode “Darla,” as it and “Fool For Love” essentially ran as a two-parter on the WB.) As writer Doug Petrie points out in the informative audio commentary track for this episode, it delves far into both Slayer and vampire lore, while at the same time upping the emotional ante between Spike, who’s mortified by his affection for Buffy, and Buffy, who’s trying hard to remain oblivious. “Fool” has beautiful definition – check out the definition of the colors on background strings of little orange, pink and white lights in Chapter 10. Petrie helpfully alerts us to a special effect that is achieved quite literally with smoke and mirrors in Chapter 11 and acknowledges a stylistic debt to “Reservoir Dogs.” The script is included as a special feature, listed on the episode’s menu.

“Shadow” deals with Buffy and Dawn’s dread as their mother Joyce (Kristine Sutherland) deals with the possibility of a brain tumor. Oh, yeah, and there’s one other small problem: Glory uses a spell to create a giant cobra creature that can sniff out the Key’s identity. Colors are vibrant, with lovely blues and oranges in the Magic Box (Giles’ shop) in Chapter 2. Chapter 10 has a jolting character entrance, though the extreme darkness of the frame leads to some graininess, and in Chapter 13, there is a bit of congestion (at least on the system used) as Dawn and the snake creature let out simultaneous screams.

Disc 3 brings us into “X-Files” territory with “Listening to Fear,” which concerns a demon from outer space that kills people who are mentally disturbed – just as Joyce is released from the hospital while still experiencing the after-effects of brain surgery. Chapter 3 has lovely night hues as Willow and Tara lie back to gaze at the heavens together, and Chapter 4 brings a great golden contrast between the black and silver of the sky and the golden arc as the meteor sweeps down. Handheld camera work to emphasize the creature’s p.o.v. ups the scare factor, as does the creature’s truly weird appearance (it’s played by a very small person in a suit). Chapter 8 has cool helicopter footage, taken from overhead, of a helicopter landing, and Chapter 11 underscore’s the demon’s menace by showing it adhering to the ceiling like a giant slug, waiting to drop.

“Into the Woods” finds Buffy and Riley’s relationship hitting a crisis point – and Buffy angrily launching an attack on a vampire bordello where the employees have a symbiotic relationship with their clients. Chapter 3 makes good use of source music, with a pleasing ballad balanced well with the dialogue track, segueing into Christophe Beck’s apt score, which is mournful when Riley slides out of bed and turns menacing when he leaves the house. Writer/director/producer Marti Noxon also provides a good character shot, presenting a figure from the back, identifiable by his cloud of cigarette smoke even before we see Spike’s face. The episode features especially affecting work from Brendon, who makes the most of a scene where Xander tells his neglected-feeling ex-demon girlfriend Anya (Emma Caulfield) how he feels aobut her. The episode’s script is included in the special features.

“Triangle” is a foray into near-outright comedy, with Willow accidentally conjuring up a heartily violent troll (Abraham Benrubi), who happens to be a long-ago ex of Anya’s. The humor is a little broader than the brand “Buffy” usually employs, with the result that it feels ever-so-slightly off-key.

Disc 3 also contains some excellent special features. The funniest of these guest-stars Danny Strong, who played the nerd Jonathan in every season of “Buffy” except, ironically, Season Five, representing himself as a “demonologist” as he hosts “Demonology: A Slayer’s Guide” with tongue firmly in cheek. Whedon, makeup effects creator John Vulich, director/producer David Solomon, writers/producers Marti Noxon, Jane Espenson and Rebecca Rand Kirschner and actors Marsters and Head all talk about the various, diverse creatures of “Buffy,” with Whedon and Vulich talking about the blacklight effect on the demon in “The Replacement” and Head musing about the demon Giles became briefly in Season Four.

For excitement and a wealth of behind the scenes footage, there’s “Action Heroes: The Stunts of Buffy,” featuring interviews with stunt coordinator John Medlen, Whedon, director Solomon, writers/producers/directors Petrie and David Fury, actors Blucas and Marsters and stuntpeople Melissa Barker (Buffy’s double), Steve Tartalia (Spike’s double) and Wendy Bromley (Dawn’s double). Medlen and Tartalia are especially articulate and Marsters is unstinting in his praise, pointing out that Tartalia is Spike as much as Marsters is. Use of the drum classic “Wipeout” runs playfully under the featurette.

The featurette on casting is informative, with a good interview with casting director Marcia Shulman interspersed with comments from Whedon, Solomon, Trachtenberg, Marsters and Sutherland. There’s also a featurette on the reaction to “Buffy” around the world, with footage of fan events, clips dubbed into every imaginable language and discussion of public reaction from Whedon, Solomon, Petrie, Espenson, Marsters, Benson, Brendon and Head.

The disc also features a short, funny outtake reel, although oddly enough, the clips are all from “Buffy” Season Three, rather than Season Five.

Disc 4 begins with “Checkpoint,” with Buffy facing a test from the stuffy Watchers Council, Giles’ ex-employers, who threaten him with deportation back to England if Buffy doesn’t cooperate. Meanwhile, Glory is still trying to figure out where her Key could be. The episode shows strong work by actor Head and again has lovely color reproduction, especially in Chapters 8 and 9. The script is included.

In “Blood Ties,” Dawn finally finds out the truth of her origins and, understandably enough under the circumstances, questions everything about her existence, including why her mother and big sister have been lying to her. Once again, “Buffy” finds a unique spin to put on a classic dramatic staple – a family dealing with an adoption revelation – giving it a fantasy sheen without ignoring emotional reality. Trachtenberg depicts Dawn’s confusion, anger, grief and fear with great credibility. Chapter 6 has beautiful, luminous lighting in a scene in the Magic Box and there’s a gorgeous, twinkling special effect in Chapter 14 as someone materializes high in the night sky over the town. Chapter 7 maintains a very solid pitch as an earsplitting scream rises from the center channel.

In “Crush,” Spike’s vampire sire and lover of 100 years, Drusilla (Juliet Landau), tries for a reunion, just as Spike decides to try to force Buffy to like him. The episode does something else that “Buffy” excels at – making you feel enormous pity for characters who are doing awful things. There is a genuinely creepy sequence set on a moving train in Chapter 1, with onscreen alt-rock bands blending well with the dialogue track in Chapters 1 and 10 in scenes set at the Bronze nightclub. Chapter 13 has beautiful color definition in torch flames that burn blue and yellow against a dark background and Chapter 14 has a very funny, energetic four-character brawl, set to a suitable score by composer Beck.

“I Was Made To Love You” has Buffy and Co. trying to track down a robot (Shonda Farr), created to be the perfect girlfriend but running amok after being abandoned by her creator/boyfriend Warren (Adam Busch of the band Common Rotation). The episode is primarily lighthearted, but becomes poignant at the end, and climaxes with a genuinely shocking moment (albeit one that is not related to much of what has immediately preceded it). Writer/producer Espenson provides an enlightening audio commentary, filling us in on dialogue that she thinks got dialed down too low when mixed with party music.

Disc 5 begins with “The Body,” which picks up right where “I Was Made To Love You” leaves off – with Buffy discovering her mother’s corpse (dead from natural causes) on the living room couch. Written and directed by series creator Whedon, “The Body” is so emotionally acute and on-target in its depiction of grief immediately following a death in the family that it is actually difficult to watch. Apart from opening and closing credits, there is no music in this episode – sounds are as authentic as possible throughout. In his audio commentary for the episode, Whedon goes into meticulous detail on the intended emotional effect of almost every camera angle and cut, and how he relates the episode’s events to his own life and philosophy, taking time to praise many of the camera crew by name. It’s like taking a course in filmmaking, albeit the commentary is almost as depressing as the episode itself.

“Forever” is still pretty gloomy, what with Buffy mourning and Dawn secretly deciding to try to resurrect their mom, but the supernatural danger proves easier to on the heart than the raw drama of the previous episode. There’s a cool Ray Harryhausen-like fight between Spike and a three-headed dragon and the resurrection spell is extremely creepy. Angel fans will be pleased to see Boreanaz in a cameo, as Angel briefly visits Sunnydale to comfort Buffy.

While it has some deeply serious moments, “Intervention” lightens the tone with a lot of hilarity, as Spike takes delivery of a robot he’s had built to look exactly like Buffy. The “Buffybot” kinda/sorta acts like Buffy, except that she’s indefatigably perky and adores Spike. Buffy’s friends see Spike with the robot (while Buffy herself is off with Giles on a vision quest), conclude the Slayer has lost her mind and needs emotional help. Glory hears about “Buffy’s” devotion to the vampire and concludes that Spike must be the Key. Gellar shows a gift for absolute daffiness in her performance as the bouncy ‘bot and Marsters is terrific, running a gamut from smug satisfaction to wistful disappointment to indignation, defiance, mortification and astonishment (along with very convincing pain while he’s in Glory’s hands).

“Tough Love” has Glory making another wrong guess about the identity of the Key, this one with more tragic consequences. Alyson Hannigan shines as Willow shows devotion, panic and a scary vengeful streak, there are scenes of powerful emotion and an ending that is extremely startling.

Disc 6 starts with “Spiral,” which finds Buffy and friends doing the sensible thing and fleeing Sunnydale with Dawn in Spike’s stolen Winnebago. Chapters 6 and 7 feature a really impressive stunt battle, with a small army on horseback attacking the large vehicle.

“The Weight of the World” finds Buffy in a state of catatonia brought on by helplessness and guilt after Glory finally succeeds in kidnapping Dawn. The episode takes place largely in Buffy’s mind, differentiated from reality with nicely subtle echoey sound effects and warm lighting, shown off to especially good example in Chapter 11.

“The Gift” could have served as the finale of the series as well as the season. Directed and written by Whedon, it brings many of the show’s themes to a fitting, heartbreakingly apt conclusion (though the more upbeat actual series climax of Season Seven turned out to be a still more fitting cap). Everyone gives excellent performances, especially Gellar, making the affection between the characters very affecting. One disappointment for fans of the show: the wonderful “previously on ‘Buffy’” montage that opened the episode in the aired version is not included here.

Special features on the disc include a satisfyingly long, relatively comprehensive “Story of Season Five” overview, with Whedon, Noxon, Espenson, Kirschner, Petrie, Solomon, writer/producer Steven S. De Knight, Brendon, Blucas, Marsters, Sutherland, Weber, Kramer and Busch all providing enlightening and often funny insights.

“Natural Causes,” a featurette about “The Body,” is also informative, albeit it covers some of the same turf as Whedon’s commentary (a bonus feature on “The Gift” would have been welcome). Whedon, Fury, Sutherland, Espenson, Solomon, Noxon, Trachtenberg and Petrie all weigh in.

In short, picture and sound quality are very good for a TV episodic collection, the supplemental materials are engrossing and entertaining, and the episodes themselves represent some of the best horror/fantasy/comedy/drama ever made for broadcast. Whedon and company deserve all of the kudos they continue to receive for this.

more details
sound format:
English Dolby Digital Surround; French Dolby Digital Surround; Spanish Dolby Digital Surround
aspect ratio(s):
Full-Screen 1.33:1
special features: Audio Commentaries by Writer/Producer David Fury, Director David Grossman, Writer/Producer Douglas Petrie, Writer/Producer Jane Espenson; Casting Featurette; Stunts Featurette; Monster Design Featurette; International Fans Featurette; Season Five Overview; “Natural Causes” Featurette on “The Body”; Spotlight on Dawn; Selected Episode Scripts; “Buffy: Chaos Bleeds” Game Preview; English and Spanish Subtitles; English Closed-Captioning
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 27-inch Toshiba

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