So here we are at the end of another season and what a diversive season this one has been which was the general opinion going into it, with some fan regarding it as the worse while I proclaimed it my favourite.
Revisiting this season in a more critical frame of mind it unquestionably has been clear this time round how many ups and down this season has had as we essentially saw the group being divided as Buffy, Willow and Oz headed off to College. Xander hit the road and Giles celebrated his new unemployed status by hooking up with old friends and giving us the occasional musical moment. Unquestionably it was a transformative season and perhaps because of the division these various life paths caused with the group that it failed to sit with some fans who perhaps would have preferred more of the group mentality we got with those first three seasons.
This theme of the group divided ran throughout the season and at times there are moments were it looks like we might loose more members of the group than we ultimately did with Oz bowing out mid-season to be replaced by Willow’s girlfriend and fellow With Tara. I did however appreciate the fact that the writers attempted to do something with this division by having it part of our season big evil Adam’s master plan which saw him using Spike to increase the distrust between the various members (see “The Yoko Factor”). At the same time it only added to the final showdown with Adam with the Buffy and Scoobies joining as one force driving home the point with sledgehammer subtly that they are not carried by just Buffy and always strongest when together than apart.
While most of the group remained the same throughout the season, this season we certainly saw Willow’s character bloom in the college environment while her break up with Oz and friendship turned relationship with Tara saw her becoming more than just the shy smart one. Looking back at the season now and certainly in this more open minded times its hard to realise just how revolutionary and groundbreaking Willow coming out was especially when Gay and Lesbian characters where hardly featured on mainstream TV and certainly not in shows like this unlike today where shows regularly feature Gay and Lesbian characters with. While perhaps the impact of this evolution for her character might not be as impactful as it once was, its great to see how tastefully it was handled on the show and that it was instead the fans recollection of this aspect which perhaps made it sound more titillating than the show runners where aiming for here.
On the subject of relationships Buffy’s relationship with Riley is a welcome change from the brooding darkness of Angel, who ran off to LA at the end of the previous season and while his presence is still felt throughout the episode Riley’s general nice guy charms made for a welcome change, while his fight with Angel might be one of the best of the season. Xander and Anya meanwhile made for one of the more surprising yet enduring relationships on the show and while their relationship is still messy here thanks to her lack of understanding of human conventions its clear even here that there really is something there and which we would certainly see become all the more stronger next season.
As a main villain the demon / human / cyborg Adam is great on paper and perhaps in the nostalgic memories I seemingly held for this season as he spends most of the second half of the season, sitting behind monitors and being philosophical about life rather than being the intimidating force I remember him being which really is only in the three encounters he has with Buffy over the season. At times it felt like his creation was more to justify “The Initiative” the government funded task force based under the College campus and carrying out covert operations to capture demons who where also one of the main highlights of this season.
If anything Spike was much more of a villain here as he was first off “Neutered” by the Initiative who put a behaviour chip in his brain which means he can’t hurt humans only demons. Over the course of the season we seen him flit back and forth between the two sides of the battlefield and while he might end up ultimately with the Scoobies your never sure if you can trust him especially when he shows such willingness to do anything to further his own person schemes. The other would of course be the Vampire Sunday (Katherine Towne) who we meet in the first episode and at one point was set to be the main villain of the season until changes relegated her to a single memorable appearance and seeing how she manges to best Buffy for most of the episode it really makes it more the shame they never developed her more.
So looking ahead to season 5 things are none the less complex for Buffy and the Scoobies as they find themselves pitted against the Hell-Goddess Glory. We also get the Buffy-bot, Dracula and a very emotional good bye for one character….and then there’s the small matter for Buffy’s sister Dawn!