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Buffy the Vampire Slayer - The Complete Sixth Season Print E-mail
Tuesday, 25 May 2004

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Sixth Season
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: NR
starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, Nicholas Brendon, Michelle Trachtenberg, Emma Caulfield, James Marsters, Amber Benson, Anthony Stewart Head, Danny Strong, Adam Busch, Tom Lenk
release year: 2001-2002
film rating: Four-and-a-Half Stars
sound/picture rating: Three-and-a-Half Stars
reviewed by: Abbie Bernstein

Season Six of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is full of surprises. The 2001-2002 year gets a whole lot darker than anybody would ever expect of a supernatural show with such a high rate of laugh lines – in fact, it becomes a whole lot darker than most regular dramas. Thanks to the vision and nerve of series creator Joss Whedon, it also delivers one of the best and most daring episodes ever, of anything, in “Once More, With Feeling,” an honest-to-God musical with an original score, singing, dancing and (most amazingly) a plot reason that makes sense within the storyline as to why everybody is suddenly bursting into song.

Disc 1 begins with the two-part episode “Bargaining.” Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) has been dead for several months – the Buffy-like figure (also Gellar) fighting demons alongside her friends is a robot (and an often confused one, at that). Buffy’s 15-year-old sister Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) and the soulless but devoted vampire Spike (James Marsters) are still quietly reeling from the loss; Buffy’s former Watcher Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) is glumly heading back to England now that there’s nothing left for him to do. However, ever-more-powerful young witch Willow (Alyson Hannigan) has enlisted her lover and fellow witch Tara (Amber Benson), best guy pal Xander (Nicholas Brendon) and Xander’s girlfriend, ex-vengeance demon Anya (Emma Caulfield), in her solution to their problem – they’ll use a spell to bring Buffy back from the dead. The plan actually works, though it is complicated by a marauding demon motorcycle gang, and both the execution and the end result are more traumatic than anyone anticipated. Chapter 1 sets a good standard for the frequent night exteriors, atmospherically dark yet with good visibility and attractively-lit close-ups. Episode writers Marti Noxon and David Fury talk on the dual episode’s commentary track about both “Bargaining” specifically and the season overall, with some amusing observations about confusion created by similarities in Gellar and Caulfield’s hairdos.

“Afterlife” finds a somewhat dazed and alarmed Buffy trying to come to terms with being back in the world at the same time a demon from beyond threatens her and her friends. The finale is a stunner, as Buffy reveals to Spike where her soul was while she was gone. Sounds are strong and precise, including a door slam in Chapter 2 and the creak of a door opening in Chapter 3, while color definitions are good, with greens and oranges vivid in a dark environment in Chapter 11 and clear parameters as the misty demon coalesces.

“Flooded” finds Buffy trying to juggle finances after realizing that she’s broke, while she’s being targeted by a mercenary demon sent by a trio of magic-using nerds – Jonathan (Danny Strong), Warren (Adam Busch) and Andrew (Tom Lenk). Meanwhile, Giles has gotten the news of Buffy’s resurrection and returns to Sunnydale, ecstatic to see her alive again – and furious at Willow’s use of dark magic. The confrontation between Willow and Giles, powerfully played by Hannigan and Head, is truly disquieting and sets the scene for events much later on. Otherwise, the episode isn’t particularly exciting in itself, but as the season progresses, the “evil trio” turn out to be fascinating characters, brilliantly played by Strong, Busch and Lenk. Chapter 1 has great realistic water sounds in the mains as pipes burst in Buffy’s basement (hence the episode title) and Chapter 13 has excellent ambient effects, with solid impacts of punches on flesh and convincing breaking glass.

Disc 2 opens with “Life Serial,” an episode that breaks into four distinct segments, as all of Buffy’s efforts to get her life together – by auditing college classes, working at a construction job, helping Anya and Giles out at the Magic Box shop, even accompanying Spike to a demon bar – are thwarted by the Nerd Trio. Chapter 5 has very good, realistic sounds, persuading us we’re actually at a construction site and Chapter 10 has especially good, subtle lighting in Spike’s crypt. Chapter 12 is worth watching out of context for a completely geeky and hilariously true to life argument between the nerds about whether Sean Connery, Roger Moore or Timothy Dalton was the best James Bond – hasn’t everybody on Earth engaged in some form of this debate?

“All the Way” is a mildly amusing episode that feels a bit like marking time – Dawn sneaks off on Halloween on a secret date with a boy who turns out to be is a vampire. The episode is mainly notable for a guest turn by future “Joan of Arcadia” star Amber Tamblyn as Dawn’s best friend. The visuals are extra-clear, with nice, non-bleeding definition on red party lights and glitter on Tara’s blouse in Chapter 1.

Then we come to “Once More, With Feeling,” not just one of the high points of this boxed set or even just of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” but of any episodic television, ever. The series’ overall tone lends itself to the premise – a demon comes to town and casts a spell that forces everyone to sing of their deepest feelings, usually very much against their wishes. Written and directed by series creator Joss Whedon, who also penned the lyrics and composed the music, “Feeling” begins with a stylized, very different version of the opening credits, with the usually tense characters appearing in smiling close-up superimposed over a full moon, while an orchestra plays a musical overture version of the series’ theme music. We then move into an actual overture, which incorporates instrumental versions of songs that will be heard later, as the residents of the Summers’ household – Buffy, Dawn, Willow, Tara – go about their morning routine (Buffy with notable lack of enthusiasm). The overture takes us through a likewise instrumental scene in the Magic Box before Buffy goes out slaying for the night and, in Chapter 2, sings a number in the style of a Disney animated heroine, “Going Through the Motions.” However, it’s unlikely any Disney heroine was ever quite this glum, warbling “Nothing seems to penetrate my heart” while almost absent-mindedly staking a vamp. Gellar, not a trained singer, does well with the ballad’s peaks and valleys, and the action foley is cleverly incorporated into the rhythm of the number, so that a realistic sword clang and punch impacts complement rather than detract from the beat.

Chapter 3 has an ensemble musical number that goes from traditional patter – “I’ve Got a Theory” – to “Rent”-esque rock – “What Can’t We Face” – as Buffy and Co. realize they’ve all spent the night singing and dancing, and try to work out why. Caulfield shows off great rock pipes as Anya gets a solo moment of blaming bunnies (she has a rabbit phobia) in a punk wail. Chapter 4 has a brief blast of musical extravaganza, as David Fury (yes, of the show’s creative staff) leading an ecstatic snippet about dry-cleaning (which demonstrates that the whole town is affected by the magic).

Chapter 5 has one of the musical highlights, with Amber Benson’s soaring vocals on the romantic ballad “Under Your Spell,” as the adoring Tara serenades Willow. The number features very steady percussion under the twinkling keyboards. Chapter 6 has good, specific tap sounds and a realistic sizzle as a burning corpse falls to the floor and we meet the episode’s villain Sweet, played perfectly by Broadway star Hinton Battle.

Chapter 7 has a ’40-style duet as upbeat singing and dancing contrasts with wicked irony in “I’ll Never Tell,” as Xander and Anya can’t help singing about their fears of what will happen when they’re married. There’s a nice little guitar strum in the rears at the start of the number, and a very good transition between the laughter at the chapter’s conclusion with the dialogue that begins Chapter 8, where an increasingly frazzled Xander and Anya confer with Giles as writer/producer Marti Noxon warbles operatically about a parking ticket and three street sweepers dance in the background.

Chapter 9 has Spike in rock ‘n’ roll torment in “Rest in Peace,” where he (very much against his will) sings of how much he loves Buffy and how much he hates the feeling. Marsters (late of the just-disbanded group Ghost of the Robot) has a growling Tom Waits quality in his vocals and he sells Spike’s conflict empathetically.

Chapter 11 features a dreamy ballet number, as Dawn tries to escape a trio of demons, only to be brought up short by their master Sweet, who lets loose with a bluesy number as he woos the underage girl with dance. Battle shows that he is indeed a master, deploying moves so smooth that he seems to be made of liquid, except for the percussive precision of his tapping, while Trachtenberg demonstrates fluid grace of her own.

Chapter 12 brings together the two strongest voices in a counterpoint lament, with Giles singing of his desolate realization that he must leave Buffy at the same time Tara discovers that Willow has magically tampered with her mind in the ballad “Wish I Could Stay.” Head’s and Benson’s voices are individually beautiful and come together with incredible aural and emotional impact.

Chapter 13 is another ensemble rock musical piece, “Walk Through the Fire,” as Buffy goes off alone to confront Sweet, still feeling dead inside, while eventually her friends – and Spike – conclude that she needs them and head after her to help. The number has a kind of live immediacy in its guitar-driven sound, even though visually it has all sorts of optical tricks, including superimposures and picture in picture (as Sweet cackles triumphantly in the lower right screen corner). Chapter 14 has Buffy delivering the devastating “Something to Sing About,” in which she reveals the depths of her despair in front of her friends, at last confessing (due to Sweet’s coercive spell) that the resurrection did not rescue her, but rather tore her out of Heaven. Chapter 15’s “Where Do We Go From Here?”, with all of the shattered characters trying to figure out what to do next, is not a big traditional closing number, but Whedon still gives us a very traditional closing image, a big romantic kiss. However, as the kissers are Buffy and Spike, there’s trouble ahead.

“Once More, With Feeling” feels like a real musical. It’s an amazing feat that Whedon got so many numbers into an episodic running time (actually, the UPN network was so impressed that they let the original airing run eight minutes over, so the time is 50:12 instead of the standard length), with a plot that both works on its own and sets up the rest of the season – and that he was able to utilize and tailor the material to all of his regulars’ previously unseen strengths.

The episode comes with a terrific making-of documentary by Fury, which has rehearsal footage, demonstrations of the choreographers working with the performers, recording rehearsals (we see Marsters playing “Rest in Peace” on his own guitar), Battle practicing his extraordinary hoofing, even some clowning from Gellar and much more. Whedon also contributes a swell, highly informative commentary track to the episode, and there’s an Easter Egg in the languages menu (click to the left) that has a little featurette on Whedon, Trachtenberg and Benson at a signing session for the episode’s soundtrack album at a Tower Records store.

No regular episode – even a good one – could possibly top this, but “Tabula Rasa” is highly entertaining anyway, a mixture of tragedy at start and finish with farce in the middle, as one of Willow’s spells causes everybody to lose their memories, with the consequence that they all make up new identities for themselves. Of course, when the spell is broken, everybody is more miserable than ever. Chapter 7 has great smashing of windows and doors and a good vamp dusting effect, and there’s a funny tribute to Ray Harryhausen films, with Giles dueling a skeleton, in Chapter 11. Chapter 14 features an onscreen performance by Michelle Branch of a lovely, acoustic guitar-driven arrangement of “Goodbye to You,” used to excellent effect as Giles leaves town, Tara leaves Willow – and Buffy and Spike kiss again.

Disc 3 begins with “Smashed,” where the three nerds step up their campaign to take over Sunnydale, Willow starts to misuse her magical powers even more seriously and Spike mistakenly thinks the chip in his head (forcibly implanted by the military in Season Four), which prevents him from killing humans, has ceased to function. Actually, the chip is fine – it just no longer recognizes Buffy as human. The outcome, even if you thought something like this might happen, is pretty startling – Buffy and Spike finally have sex, so destructively that it literally brings a building down around them. The Chapter 14 sequence qualifies as one of the most sexually explicit made for network television – there’s no skin showing, but we hear a zipper opening, followed by visible hip thrusting (should it not have been clear earlier in this review, “Buffy” Season Six is not a kiddie show). The bands Virgil and The Halo Friendlies both perform onscreen – the former has a very enjoyable and apt number in Chapter 10 and there’s a funny, smooth segue as one group literally transforms into the other (thanks to Willow) in Chapter 13. The score by Thomas Wanker has a John Barry/Howard shore quality in Chapter 14, as the sounds of collapse gradually filter out, leaving only noises of desire and somber music as Buffy and Spike tear into each other. The episode comes with an amusing, informative commentary track by writer Drew Greenberg.

“Wrecked” makes Willow’s fondness for magic a literal metaphor for drug addiction, a good idea that plays out a bit too mundanely for this usually multi-dimensional series, though Hannigan tackles the character’s warring impulses with great conviction. Chapter 7 has some aptly trippy ‘60s/’70s-sounding music, Laika’s “Black Cat Bone,” and LSD-bright imagery to go with Willow’s altered state of mind.

“Gone” is a slightly goofy episode, as Buffy gets accidentally zapped by the nerds’ invisibility ray and enjoys making a bit of mischief, while Willow struggles to steer clear of using spells. The episode is amusing and in Chapter 13, vivid, non-bleeding neon in an arcade attests to the integrity of the transfer.

The disc also comes with an hour-long panel discussion – from June 2002 at the Television Academy – by Whedon, Noxon, director of photography Raymond Stella, production designer Carey Meyer and cast members Hannigan, Brendon, Trachtenberg and Marsters. The videography is ever-so-slightly grainy, but the content is terrific – the speakers are alternately extremely informative and hilarious as they tease each other. Whedon is almost as sharp an improviser as he is a writer. Brendon reveals a really healthy attitude about the musical – he’s the first to note he’s not a singer or dancer, but he was happy to do it because he felt he had nothing to prove: “Anything I have done is better than anything I haven’t done.” The group also discusses the general darkness of the season and the trajectories of the various characters.

Disc 4 starts with “Doublemeat Palace,” with Buffy getting a job at a local fast-food outlet in order to make ends meet. The episode goes for a sort of “Twilight Zone” weirdness – is there something sinister about the workplace or is it just crazy-making in the normal life sense? – but it sometimes falls onto the wrong side of the division between depicting on-the-job boredom and actually creating it. In the episode’s “special features” menu is the “Buffy Goes to Work” featurette, which contains interviews with Whedon, Mutant Enemy production executive Chris Buchanan, “Buffy” writers Jane Espenson, Steve S. DeKnight, David Fury, Drew Greenberg and Rebecca Rand Kirschner and cast members Hannigan, Trachtenberg and Busch about their first jobs and their dream jobs. Busch – who in his day job is one of the two mainstays of the splendid folk/rock group Common Rotation – gives a deadpan response to the question about his ideal gig that is arguably the funniest line anywhere in the DVD set.

“Dead Things” is an excellent episode with a number of characters turning corners, as Buffy starts to come apart with guilt and grief, especially when she wrongly believes she has killed a woman who was actually murdered by Warren. The episode features particularly gripping work from Gellar, Marsters, Busch, Strong and Lenk. Chapter 9 makes haunting use of the Bush song “Out of This World,” as Buffy and Spike both long for each other but don’t quite connect.

In “Older and Far Away” (the title is taken from a line in the book “Empire of the Sun”), Buffy has yet another disastrous birthday party as she and her friends are trapped with a marauding demon in the Summers house by a spell inadvertently unleashed by the lonely Dawn. There’s a little generic funk music to set the party mood in Chapter 7.

“As You Were” brings back Buffy’s human former boyfriend Riley (Marc Blucas, who was a series regular in Seasons Four and Five), still in the military, who’s in Sunnydale tracking a demon and stirring up Buffy’s emotions. The episode’s highlights include some appropriately creepy and well-executed small “Alien” face-hugger CGI monsters and punchy gunfire in Chapter 12.

Disc 5 starts with “Hell’s Bells,” which has Xander and Anya’s wedding straining at the seams from tensions between his alcoholic family and her demonic social circle even before a mysterious old man shows up, insisting the marriage must not take place. Brendon and Caulfield are excellent as the episode becomes harrowingly lifelike – Xander’s fears about becoming an abuser like his father are scarier than any magical menace. Musician George Sarah puts in an appearance as the leader of the wedding band. The commentary by writer Rebecca Rand Kirschner and director David Solomon is oddly lightweight – the duo tease each other and fall silent a lot, though they make the occasional good observation.

“Normal Again” twists the entire premise of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” 180 degrees, as Buffy is stung by a demon, which causes her to hallucinate that she’s in a mental ward, where she’s resided for the past six years – having hallucinated everything we’ve been watching for six seasons. The episode wittily comments on pretty much everything the audience may have found incongruous while also setting up real suspense and allowing us to empathize with Buffy’s confusion and doubt. Director Rick Rosenthal and writer Diego Gutierrez are insightful as they discuss levels of reality and how the episode was shot.

“Entropy” finds Xander and Anya and Spike and Buffy all reaching meltdown levels, even as Willow and Tara reconnect. Chapter 14 makes charming use of Alison Krauss’ “That Kind of Love,” mixed well with the dialogue as Tara affectingly declares her ongoing love for Willow.

“Seeing Red” is an episode that had a lot of viewers doing just that when it aired. Spike, who until now has done his best to do right by Buffy despite his evil instincts, loses control and attempts to rape her (setting up a startling act of contrition at the end of the season); Warren, attempting to shoot the Slayer, kills Tara. It is intelligently written, beautifully acted – and often hard to watch. Chapter 2 has some good loud buzzsaws and CGI blades whirring through the air when Buffy is coping with her normal (and comparatively soothing) life or death peril. Chapter 9 has a nice bluesy/country ballad and Chapter 13 has a surprising slapstick belly laugh as the nerds attempt to escape the extremely irate Slayer. James Leary contributes some very welcome humor as Spike’s well-meaning, oblivious demon pal Clem.

Disc 6 has three episodes which are essentially a single story broken up by opening and end credit sequences. “Villains” has Willow in a state of implacable fury after being unable to resurrect Tara. Chapter 1 segues nicely from reddish room tones to blue as Willow summons a demon. Chapter 7 has a slightly Western look in a desert sequence (though shots through vehicle windows are a bit grainy). Chapter 11 has nice visual definition in a dark cave, with clear flute tones providing exotic ambience.

In “Two to Go,” Willow, having slain one hated enemy, seeks out new targets – and while she’s in her magically altered state of mind, she doesn’t differentiate much between friends and foes. Acoustics are good, with bricks sliding out of walls loudly and realistic footfalls in Chapter 3 and convincing breaking of shelves, walls and various objects as Willow and Buffy duke it out. Chapter 7 features an actual scare as Dawn accidentally runs into a floating corpse, though a high-pitched sound in Chapter 4 isn’t as excruciating as advertised. The principal problem with this episode and the one that follows it, “Grave,” is that by now, everybody is in heavy self-righteous speech-making mode. To be sure, there have been tensions building for seasons now, but having Buffy express moral outrage to an evil entity that’s partly a new character (while Hannigan plays the role, we are continually reminded that something is sharing the driver’s seat in Willow’s brain now) feels a little lopsided.

The season finale – the only “Buffy” season finale not scripted by creator Whedon – finds Giles back from England, hoping he can subdue Willow. Head excels in an unexpected and delightful moment of levity in Chapter 4. There are impressive crashing sounds in Chapter 7 as more destruction takes place and a gorgeous, beautifully colored sunrise in Chapter 10. In Chapter 15, Sarah MacLachlan’s “Prayer of St. Francis” lilts warmly through the speakers as the characters gradually pull themselves together – except for Spike, whose non-lethal solution to his inability to control his monstrous nature is a really startling moment.

The disc also comes with a 40-minute documentary, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Television With a Bite,” that originally aired on A&E, exploring the “Buffy” phenomenon from feature film origin up through Season Seven. The documentary features interviews with Whedon, Gellar, executive Gail Berman, Hannigan, Brendon, Head, Marsters, David Boreanaz (ironically, given the documentary’s inclusion in this boxed set, Season Six is the only season of “Buffy” in which Boreanaz’s character Angel does not appear), Caulfield and Noxon. It’s informative in the broad strokes, though the narration is a little over-enthusiastic. Another special feature is a Season Six overview, with interviews with Whedon, Fury, Espenson, Douglas Petrie, DeKnight, Greenberg, Kirschner, Solomon, Hannigan, Trachtenberg and Busch, which is likewise interesting. There are also a few minutes’ worth of outtakes.

The problem with Season Six is not so much that it gets dark, but rather that it gets utterly humorless in a few too many places. However, this flaw is balanced by a lot of sexy, funny, heartwarming and/or brave stuff, and by the utter thrill that is “Once More, With Feeling.” Whether you love “Buffy” or just want to see how original, creative and technically snazzy a single installment of TV can be, you must get this boxed set.

more details
sound format:
English Dolby Digital Surround; French Dolby Digital Surround; Spanish Dolby Digital Surround
aspect ratio(s):
special features: Audio Commentaries by Series Creator Joss Whedon, Writer/Producer David Fury & Writer/Executive Producer Marti Noxon, Writer Drew Greenberg, Director David Solomon & Writer Rebecca Rand Kirschner, Director Rick Rosenthal & Writer Diego Gutierrez, Director James A. Contner & Writer David Fury; Making-Of “Once More, With Feeling” Musical Episode Featurette; Television Academy Panel with Whedon, Noxon, Director of Photography Raymond Stella, Production Designer Carey Meyer and Actors Alyson Hannigan, Nicholas Brendon, Michelle Trachtenberg and James Marsters; Season Six Overview with Interviews with Whedon, Fury, Greenberg, Kirschner, Writers Jane Espenson, Douglas Petrie, Steven S. DeKnight, Director David Solomon and Actors Hannigan, Trachtenberg and Adam Busch; “Buffy Goes To Work” Featurette With Interviews with Whedon, Espenson, Fury, Solomon, Greenberg, Trachtenberg, Hannigan, Busch, Kirschner, DeKnight and Executive Chris Buchanan; “Buffy: Television With a Bite” Documentary; Easter Egg; DVD-ROM Features; English and Spanish Subtitles; English Closed-Captioning
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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: 36-inch Sony XBR

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