Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Six: Even among the most hardcore Buffy fanatics, this season remains divisive for its depressing, adult themes. To this day, even the show's star Sarah Michelle Gellar and its creator Joss Whedon, are on opposing sides to whether or not they think the season has merit. At the recent Entertainment Weekly reunion for the Buffy cast, Sarah Michelle Gellar said “I’ve always said that season 6 was not my favorite. I felt it betrayed who she was. Even just getting to talk to Joss and be able to get his opinion was not as easy when he’s not upstairs. He had three shows. He had Angel and Firefly so that was hard."
However, Joss Whedon continues to stand behind that year of storytelling, saying “I love season six. [Producer] Marti Noxon and I wanted to talk about an unhealthy relationship. It was borderline abusive until it actually became abusive. It was on both sides. It wasn’t just that she was with someone dark—she found the darkness within herself. This has to do with the consequences of power.” The relationship Whedon is referring to is Buffy's sexual relationship with her former enemy turned obsessed stalker, Spike (James Marsters).
On a certain level, I understand Sarah Michelle Gellar's disdain for her character's storyline, as well as some fans' ambivalence to it all. After all, we live in a world where two of the most popular stories embraced by women in popular culture are Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey, both of which have domineering male love interests who control the lives of the female protagonists. Edward Cullen and Christian Grey tell their respective female leads Bella and Anastasia how to think, how to feel, what to like, and even who to like, and are ultimately rewarded for all their horrible behavior with happy ending marriages. It's frankly gross, and sends a dangerous message to young girls. And yet women across the globe have embraced these as the ultimate love stories of our time. Where's my barf bag please?
But Joss Whedon and season six producer Martin Noxon knew better. They understood there was and always will be an inherit appeal to the idea of entering into a relationship with someone totally wrong for you, someone who may be domineering and controlling, but is still sexy as hell; it's something we respond to in our primal, "lizard brains." But they also knew not to romanticize it. From the moment Buffy and Spike both enter into their secret relationship, we knew that it wasn't going to end well. The first time they have sex, it begins with a brawl between the two, with Buffy literally beating the crap out of Spike before they actually do the deed. And when they do, the house they are in literally crashes in on them. It's an on-the-nose metaphor for their relationship, but there is no denying it is also sexy as hell. That one scene is hotter than an entire season and half of love scenes with her previous boyfriend, normal "guy next door" Riley Finn (Marc Blucas), but it also shows what this relationship really is: toxic.
Buffy and Spike's sexual relationship only lasts six episodes. There are a lot of fans who argue that Buffy would never, ever enter into a relationship with someone like Spike. And were this in any other point in her life, they'd be right. But fans forget just where Buffy was at the beginning of season six. After dying and being ripped from Heaven to return to her mortal life, Buffy is extremely depressed. In fact, Buffy's whole arc that season is about depression, and the mistakes one makes while in the vice grip of it. She simply wants to feel something, and here's the guy who is claiming to be in love with her and that she's the most wonderful creature in all the world. Of course she overlooks all of his past misdeeds and jumps into the sack with him. It doesn't make her "dumb" or "weak" or somehow less feminist; it just makes her human.
What makes Buffy so relatable is not just her strengths, it's her weaknesses too. Like many young people in vulnerable positions, she's drawn to unhealthy relationships. The key difference between Buffy and later heroines like Bella and Anastasia happens at the end of episode 15 of season 6, titled "As You Were." In this episode, Buffy arrives in Spike's lair, and calmly and simply tells him its over between them for good. She acknowledges her own mistakes and walks away, and although there is much more Buffy/Spike drama to be had before the series is over, she never enters into a physical relationship with him again. Their relationship doesn't end with weddings and domestic bliss. At that moment, Buffy pulls herself out of her depression and begins making the right kind of choices for herself again.
This is why Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a seminal feminist show, and will always be one, and why season six at its core is a great season. It allows its heroine to make human mistakes, especially about relationships, acknowledge them as mistakes, and come through to the other side. There's no doubt that Whedon and Noxon were giving fans a certain amount of titillation by giving us all the "Spuffy" sex scenes that they did. And that's okay: part of entertainment is giving fans a certain amount of gratuitous fun of the sexy variety. But Whedon/Noxon understood that the ultimate take-away from season six was how Buffy handled realizing she was in something toxic, and finding the strength to say "no more" and move on. It's what makes her a true role model, and what makes the show truly great.
What are your thoughts on Buffy's most divisive season? Let us know down below in the comments.
Images: Twentieth Century Fox