So we reach the end of Buffy's most polarizing season. It's been an intense journey full of strong ideas and lousy execution, but has mostly achieved what it set out to do. This was a season that, to this day, still provokes discussion and controversy, and definitely pushed the limits of the term 'darkness'. Grave, fittingly for season six, is a mixed bag. Some of it is incredibly powerful, and some of it is just as contrived and ridiculous as a lot of this year. It's by far the weakest season finale the show ever produced, but not the all-out horror show that I remembered it being.
In an effort to, for some reason, make Grave more 'apocalyptic', Willow decides to end the world to ease our collective suffering -- a tad melodramatic, don't you think? She spends a lot of the episode snarking with Giles and being all bitchy, an annoying reflection of the writers abandoning a lot of the subtlety that made Will's characterization at the very beginning of the season so intriguing. But it's that final act of insanity that brings out the vulnerability and emotion that has been lacking over the course of this arc.
It was touched on last episode, but Grave, generally, is all about Xander. He talked to Anya about feeling useless and freezing up at the sight of Warren's gun, while his general lack of special abilities and his continued insistence on screwing up his life both fold into his actions here. In the end, it's Xander who comes through and saves the day, the only person who can truly get through to Willow. Magic can't stop her, Buffy's preachy monologuing can't change her mind, but it's Xander's explicit ordinary-ness that brings her back around again. Their scene together is obviously affecting, Xander recounting their childhood and talking about the bond they once had, Willow slowly breaking character and beginning to crumble back to her normal self. I can't stand Xander most of the time, but it felt appropriate for him to save the world for once.
Giles' return created one of the series' finest 'oh shit!' moments last week, and his presence here naturally clears the air somewhat. Buffy is finally relaxed again, she laughs once more, and Anya shows her humanity. While you can't connect his departure with everything that's happened this year, he was definitely necessary to slap these whiny kids back into shape. His absence just made them bathe in self-pity far longer than they otherwise would have.
Elsewhere, Buffy is removed from the equation early into Grave, facing off against horrible Putty Patrol monsters with Dawn. While it's nice to see Dawn get treated like an adult for once, I wish their scenes together weren't so lame. Buffy's pledge to show her the world, Dawn being praised for some admittedly weak-ass fighting, their walk through the flowers and sunshine, the drippy ballad playing. Ugh. It's like something out of a bad soap opera.
Obviously, Grave isn't perfect. A lot of it feels trite and silly, but Xander's final act of heroism proves particularly moving, while I always loved Anya and Giles' little heart-to-heart in the middle of the destroyed Magic Box. The Dark Willow arc wasn't as heinous as I remembered it, but I still felt like there was so much character work that was swiftly ignored in favor of over-the-top dialogue and junkie nuttiness. Spike's scenes in Africa also felt far too detached to work, only lifted by that intriguing cliffhanger ending.
Regardless of how 'iffy' a lot of it turned out, I look back on the ambition in season six with great fondness. A lot of the back-end of the season was messy, and some of the grander moments of misery and depression were crazily embarrassing, but you have to admire the show even attempting these things in the first place. I've talked a lot about the jarring, muddled quality that permeated most of this season, certain tones being dropped from episode to episode, but the one real mistake was making everybody so unlikable. Angel is particularly strong when it comes to making characters flawed and 'dark', while simultaneously maintaining the ability to make them sympathetic. This year on Buffy I violently disliked Xander, Dawn and Willow most of the time, while Spike acted like a creepy molester and Buffy became a basket case. It lost sight of the humanity in its characters, instead pursuing awkward metaphors for drug addiction and abusive relationships. The ideas were there, but some of the execution was noticeably poor.
Remember, though, that it's only poor because it's Buffy. Buffy in general is such a spectacularly written show that any slight dip in quality is particularly noticeable, and season six had numerous blips of contrivance and insanity. But I still liked it. It provoked debate and rapidly varying opinions and for that it definitely worked. Could it have been better? Absolutely. Was it still pretty damn fascinating? Damn straight. C+
Guest stars Anthony Stewart Head (Rupert Giles); Danny Strong (Jonathan Levinson); Tom Lenk (Andrew Wells)
Writer David Fury Director James A. Contner