It's longer than the others, and therefore under the cut.
Day 6: Favorite season
This one is easy again – season 5.
S5 has it all. Interesting new characters (Dawn! The Buffy Bot!), a great villain, the best story arc of all, Riley leaving and practically no Angel. It also has some of the very best episodes of all times and not one that is even remotely bad.
And, of course, it’s the season when Spike falls in love with Buffy and thus turns into an ally and really begins his redemption arc.
This is the season where the tone of the show changes forever, which probably turned a lot of the fans off; but I loved it. As much as I like the lightheartedness of the first seasons – I was ready for the darker themes, which are part of the process of growing up that the show is about.
And darker it gets, beginning with Joyce getting ill and subsequently dying, a boyfriend that takes dangerous (and painful for Buffy when she finds out) measures to satisfy his need to be needed, and a brand new sister that soon turns out to be hunted by a God to fulfill her sacrificial role in a blood ritual. The battles Buffy has to fight turn more and more away from the random vampire she has to dust to a very personal level – had before the monsters been metaphors for the various obstacles in growing up, they now become almost a side note, since the obstacles are very real and don’t need any disguise. In the course of a few months Buffy has to deal with her relationship issues and the death of her mother, to take the responsibility for the world (again!) by protecting her not-quite sister and to become responsible for her personally by becoming her legal guardian. So much pressure is put on her shoulders that she first doubts her ability to love and eventually nearly breaks under it.
While all this spurs a ton of personal development for Buffy, she also learns a lot about the other part of her – the slayer, and I love that! For the first time she really explores what it means being the slayer other than giving up her normal life. This is initially brought up in the very first episode by The Count himself, which causes Buffy to resume her slayer training (which in turn makes Giles stay!), and it remains a huge theme throughout the season and is revisited in episodes like Fool For Love (7), Checkpoint (12), Intervention (18), and The Gift (22), to name only the most obvious.
The themes of death and love, blood and life are beautifully woven into the seasonal arc that in itself is outstanding, but excels at how wonderfully it serves the characters to grow (which to me is always the most important part), most notably (besides Buffy) Willow and Spike, but the others get their moments to shine as well.
Xander finally fights himself free from being everybody’s butt monkey. Being split into the best and the worst parts of himself gets him an apartment and a serious job employment, and most importantly - seeing his capabilities when he’s divided in two parts he begins to believe in himself. This leads to him finding his place within the group even without any special powers, and acknowledging what Anya really means to him. His love declaration at the end of Into the Woods is so beautiful, it always chokes me. In the end he even decides to propose to Anya.
Anya gradually begins to grow into humanity, first by wanting to please Xander, but especially Joyce’s death leaves her actively dealing with life as a human and its consequences, culminating in staying to help fighting Glory, against her strong urge to flee again (even if, for now, mainly for her love of Xander).
Tara becomes part of the Scooby family, and with feeling not only accepted, but being able to be of help for the Scoobies she grows from The Shy Girl to a much more confident woman that will stay after Buffy’s death to take on a motherly role toward Dawn.
Giles, struck by midlife crisis before, finds new purpose not only in teaching Buffy again, but also as a shop owner – he opens the Magic Box and provides the Scoobies with a totally cool new meeting place and Anya with the opportunity to become a useful member of society!
Willow, fueled by Tara’s admiration and her taking on the role as the weaker part in their relationship, finds the excuse she needed to increase her power, since her magic is needed to fight Glory, which gives her a much darker edge. Come the end of the season, the shy and cute Willow from earlier seasons has gone; part of what remains is downright scary, even if for now still directed at the enemy.
Spike begins this season as still being an enemy, only muzzled. It doesn’t stay long that way, though; from the moment in Out of my Mind that he realizes he’s in love with Buffy, his obsession to kill her turns into sexual obsession, culminating in the use of the Buffy Bot, but transforms over time into genuine love. With resisting Glory’s torture and thus protecting Dawn for no benefit other than sparing Buffy the grief of losing her sister he shows he can be trusted and gets rewarded with a kiss from Buffy. In the end he’s the one she trusts the most with what’s most precious to her – Dawn, which he swears to do 'to the end of the world', even as he acknowledges that she'll never love him. His ultimate failure causes him to break down crying, but as painful as it is, it’s also an important step toward more depth, as with this he gets to know guilt like he never had before and like vampires are not supposed to feel, and the loss of the person he loved, which clearly resonates with him even after her resurrection. Character growth galore here and the beginning of the most beautiful redemption arc I’ve ever seen gracing my TV! (What? No! I’m not biased! Why would you think that???)
And all of this character development the season manages without ever having to drop anvils or having characters act OOC in any way. It all happens naturally and believable, and in an emotionally gripping way at that.
Also, even with all the seriousness in it, the season isn’t without fun! There’s still a LOT of it, even if not many episodes are explicit fun ones. But it gives us Buffy Bot’s ‘Angel's lame. His hair sticks straight up and he's bloody stupid’, Anya’s ‘Yes I do. Ever since I moved here from southeastern Indiana, where I was raised by both a mother and a father,’ and Buffy’s ‘The who whatting how with huh?’! Humor is an integral part of BtVS and is woven into this season in spades, too.
The season features some brilliant stand-alone episodes (Fool for Love, Check Point, The Body, Crush) which don’t interrupt the season arc, but integrate exceedingly well with an arc tightly knit as no other. An arc that brings us not only the mystery of the sister (not to mention it brought us Dawn!) and solves it most convincingly with a smart plot, but also one of the best villains of the series. Glory is fun to watch, scarily strong and hilariously stupid sometimes, but also at times incredibly insightful; but her biggest value still lies in how she spurred Buffy and Willow to increase their respective strengths.
To me, season 5 does everything right and leaves nothing to be desired. It’s the perfect blend of plot, character development, emotion, drama, fun and excitement! It ends on an extremely high note that is both the perfect end of the season and at the same time the very best set-up for the next. Also, it has me crying every single time.