Well, that took a while. It's been a couple of months since I started my watch through of the full run of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and last night I finally reached the conclusion of the eponymous Buffy's TV adventures.
First things first, I thoroughly enjoyed most of the series. It had charm and wit as well as a multi-faceted dramatic approach - it wasn't wholly a drama series surrounding the core characters and their dilemmas, neither was it entirely a series concerned with the big bang special effects. It found a balance after a season two and thrived on it.
Season three represents the zenith of the programme's run. That balance is perfected. It's not just monster of the week heroics like much of season one. Neither is it life angst (season six). Characters have already found their roles and they continue to develop in them. I think I've already mentioned that the characters are very human, multi-faceted and comprising of real depth. By and large even the villains are the same.
Unfortunately, Buffy doesn't sustain this level of brilliance. Season four's big bad seems out of keeping with the rest of the programme, even if the season finale does a cracking job of setting up coming seasons. Adam could have been skipped entirely, as could the Initiative, in favour of a more mystical feel to the season. Whedon seems to struggle with running two shows in tandem (season four of Buffy coinciding with season one of the as-yet unwatched Angel).
Season five is hit and miss - although that's mostly hit, to be fair. The decision to bring Dawn into the show had clearly been taken as far back as season three (in the finale, Buffy and Faith discuss her impending arrival whilst making a bed), but that doesn't stop it being a not-particularly-good idea. Glory is a pretty poor excuse for a big bad, despite the fact she's probably the second most powerful villain Buffy faces (the First being the exception). On the other hand, we see good character development and a stonking emotional finale.
For the most part season six focusses on its young characters' development in the world, supernatural occurrences taking a back seat. It also has yet another poor set of villains in the Trio. Until the last few episodes, there's never the sense of impending doom there was in the first trio of seasons and season five. There's a sense of incredulity while they appear on screen. That one of them goes on to become an ally of the Scoobies does nothing to aid their credibility as serious villains.
Again, though, the season finale bails the season out. That's something Buffy does better than other programmes: pulls the big guns out in the finale for a brilliant season conclusion. Season one had 'Prophecy Girl', which still goes down as one of my favourite episodes. Season two brought us the two-parter 'Becoming'; season three was 'Graduation'. After a pretty poor run up to the apocalyptic final battle, season four did something a bit different in 'Restless', but it worked and was one of the most intriguing episodes of the whole run. Season five's 'The Gift' was one of the most emotional of the series. And then season six came along with a hat-trick of episodes leading up to 'Grave'. Season six's finale did actually have a tear in my eye at the end, which means it ranks up with Battlestar Galactica's 'Daybreak'.
Season seven is almost a return to early seasons' form. Sometimes the plot seems outlandish, but it recovers some of the oomph of seasons gone. And there's also that knowledge on Whedon's part that this is the end - so he can do some things he wouldn't normally do in case the show got pulled. So there's the first lesbian sex scene on television about three episodes from the end, the graphic depiction of a suicide and some more gratuitous violence involving Nathan Fillion. It doesn't reach the level of seasons two and three, but at the end there's the sense that it lived up to expectations and was suitably apocalyptic for the end of a series that showed about ten apocalypses being averted.
There are more than a few choices the makers make that I'd quibble, the main one being why did Spike have to become a good guy? Angel had a reason, Spike didn't so much. Another would be what possessed Joss Whedon to make him think 'Once More With Feeling' was a good idea? Sometimes it moves away from its roots without thought as to what went before.
But on balance it's a tremendous watch which I enjoyed. Though you won't find me watching later seasons so much as seasons one to three. And fangs for the memories.