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A whole new world Dawns for Buffy the Vampire Slayer,
This review is from: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Series 5 (Standard plastic case packaging) [DVD]  (DVD)
I always think of the second season as being the best year of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," mainly because the grand two-part finale of "Becoming" was the operatic high point of the series. How could Joss Whedon ever top the moment when Buffy kissed Angel, told him that she loved him, and then killed him? The short answer is that it could not be done, but no one can accuse Joss of not trying. Besides, one thing we have consistently seen each season since the second is that if the top is not as high, the bottom and average scores are on the rise.
Having dealt with the Master, Angelus and Acaltha, Faith Mayor Wilkins, and Adams and the Intiative, the ante gets upped beyond vampires and demons to the level of a god for the season's final battle. After the abbreviated first season Whedon always comes up with a first half story arc that combines with the second half story arc for the big finish, but this year Glory shows up in episode five. However, Joss remains true to the formula because the Fifth Season comes down to Dawn and Glory, and even with the appearance of a deranged deity from another dimension, it is the sudden appearance of Buffy's kid sister that defines the season.
Dawn pops up at the end of the season premier episode, "Dracula," the first really comic opening for a Buffy season, and we do not find out about the "Key" until the fifth episode, "No Place Like Home." But then we do not find out that Glory is a god until Quentin Travers drops that little bombshell at the end of "Checkpoint." If anything, I would have liked Joss to have played out the mystery a bit longer, but it was fun to have Buffy and everyone just accept Dawn and the idea that she had always been there. Plus, throwing a bratty kid sister into the Buffy mix is a nice way of shaking things up. Then again, Joss had a way of topping that with regards to Joyce Summers.
There are a few choice examples of significant character evolutions in the history of television programming, and with "BtVS" we can add Spike's name to the honor role that includes Margaret Houlihan and Charles Emerson Winchester from "M*A*S*H," and Lou Grant going from a supporting character on a classic sitcom to the lead of a dramatic program. The chip the Initiative put in Spike's head in Season Four was only the start of the fun, because now Spike has been having dreams about the Slayer. William the Bloody with a crush in his head. The end result is that in "The Gift" so many of the memorable moments involve Spike: Willow tells him to go and he goes, the look on his face when he realizes he has failed Dawn, and the fact that he is the one who totally breaks down sobbing at the end. Throw into the mix Spike's refusal to tell Glory about the Key and his reward from Buffy.
The Fifth Season is not without its flaws. Glory is given a convenient Achilles heel regarding Ben and manages to avoid a sustained all-out assault until the final trio of episodes. In terms of character transformations we also have Xander renouncing his role as the show's "butt monkey" and Anya becoming the show's comic relief. I appreciate the desire to do the former but the latter gets played out way too often over the rest of the series. Compare the Anya that was turned human in Season Three with what we have at this point; did she really learn nothing during 4,000 years as a vengeance demon? After all, she was human once, and in a bad marriage: did she forget all that? I reached my Anya saturation point during this season, where I started wincing a lot at her comments (but Whedon does use this for a great moment in "The Body").
Of course, if we are talking changes in characters then we have to applaud the Willow that takes over at the low point of the season when Buffy retreats into her self in "The Weight of the World." In retrospect it is rather astounding to look at how many changes the gang goes through in the Fifth Season. From where they started, seldom have characters come this far; and there are still two seasons to go.
In terms of DVD extras all you need to know is that Joss Whedon does audio commentary for "The Body." You already know he should have had an Emmy nomination for writing that one, but he should have been nominated for director too: pay attention to the way he uses the camera to capture Buffy's disorientation and provide one of the best portrayals of grief in television history.