The fifth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
is about illusions and the truth that they often reveal; suddenly Buffy has a younger sister, has always had a younger sister. Michelle Trachtenberg as the moody, gawky Dawn achieves the considerable triumph of walking into an established stock company of well-known characters--Xander, Willow, Giles and so on--with the perfect assurance of a long-term member of the cast. Of course, nothing is as it seems; even Glory, the mad brain-sucking beauty in a red dress who is the villain of the year, turns out to be even more than she seems. Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy manages to convey heartbreak, self-involvement and real heroism as her relationship with her emotionally dense soldier boyfriend Riley hits the shoals and the blonde vampire Spike starts to show an altogether inappropriate interest.
This season is also about the hard truth that there are some enemies it is impossible to fight. Even being around Buffy and Dawn is dangerous for their friends, as Glory and her minions proceed by a process of elimination. The eventual confrontation, when it comes, is genuinely shocking. Meanwhile, the vampire Spike's obsessed desire for Buffy takes them both to some very strange places and Willow and Tara have their love tested in the most gruelling of ways. And in the quietly upsetting episode "The Body", the cast produce their most impressive performances yet as they have to deal with another enemy they cannot fight. --Roz Kaveney