Thursday, September 26, 2013
Rewatching Buffy: Season Four
What can you say about a season that includes both Hush and Beer Bad? That includes Restless and Where the Wild Things Are?
I have this theory that the writing staff on Buffy did not have typical childhoods. My theory holds that they didn't have the same college experiences that most of us did, nor did they have the same twentysomething experiences that most of us had (it's easy to see in Whedon himself, as his background is fairly unique). This made it very hard for them to tell "college" stories and, later, "twentysomething" stories. This explains why season four is so hit and miss and why season six is so bad.
All that said, even the worst season can be saved by a qualified overarching storyline. Season two is constantly referred to as being great, when the reality is that it's only great because of the main plot. This, of course, is of no help to season four, as the big storyline is horrible on almost every level.
There's a common complaint that Buffy failed when they characters graduated, that the show was unable to expand beyond it's central metaphor of high school as hell. I disagree. I love season five. I think the show's failure comes when it tries to expand too far. The show is at its best when it's telling small stories. The characters are the key. No one is turning into Buffy for the fight scenes -- no one. They're tuning in to see what's going on with their favorite characters.
Season four attempted to expand the mythology, but did so without using a character as the focal point. Yes,
Notice how the expanded mythology worked in season two -- because it all came through Angel, a character we knew. To a certain extent, the same could be said for Faith in season three and, appropriately, Buffy in season five.
On the big character arc front, there's not much to write home about. Obviously, the big one is Oz leaving and Willow dating Tara, but even by the end of the season that relationship is still too new to really appreciate. It's easy to forget how groundbreaking it was when it originally aired, though, which makes it a pretty big deal.
Giles finally gets a girlfriend, or at least a friend with benefits and, hey, look, there's a non-white character on the show! Whedon often gets criticized for having a vanilla cast, but I think that's mostly a Buffy problem, caused in no small part by the setting (as Mr. Trick says in season 3, "...strictly the Caucasian persuasion in the 'Dale."). The smaller cast on Angel makes it less of a problem and it's a non-issue on Firefly.
And speaking of characters finding their role on the show, we come to perhaps the biggest problem: Spike.
Spike initially help the group doesn't bother me. After all, they appear to have a mutual enemy. Given that, it doesn't seem strange that they'd keep him alive, let alone take care of him. They need information.
But as soon as Buffy discovers that Riley is a part of the Initiative, Spike should be dust. There's no reason for him to be kept alive. At one point, he becomes suicidal and Willow intervenes. Now, I appreciate that Willow is a kind, gentle soul, but let's think about all of the things Spike has done since he was introduced in season two, let alone the things he did before he came to Sunnydale.
It's absolutely insane that Spike is left alive. Once you start forcing a show to change for the sake of a single
I would love to say that season four worked as a metaphor for the transition we all make the year after we graduate from high school, but it simply wasn't good enough. There was transition there, for sure, but it came in the form of the writers not really having any idea what the show was about anymore. They knew the characters well enough to write some funny bits, but they spent most of the season desperately searching for drama, and when they couldn't find it, they manufactured it in a way that was untrue to the show.
Still, by the end of the season they'd found their footing. They managed to bring the gang back together while strengthening them. The finale did an excellent job of setting up the fifth season, laying the groundwork that they so desperately needed for season four.