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January 04, 2011

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Sam

I think about long-form tv narrative structure a lot as well. I agree that preplanning is difficult to impossible, for the reasons you've stated. Another issue I've seen with long-form shows is the need to one-up the previous season in some way. I would call this the "Yu-Gi-Oh!" syndrome - if you're familiar with that cartoon, every season involves the hero having to fight a bigger, badder foe for higher stakes, using rarer previously unknown cards. I know what you're thinking now: Sam = nerd. However, the issue is that when you finish up a season with this great storyline and a big bad that totally rocks, and your hero pulls out all the stops to defeat them, where do you go from there? I think some seasons, Buffy avoids the pitfall of just going bigger by tying the big bad in with the characters lives - spoilers for first-timers: Angel is the bad guy by the end of Season 2, for example, and Willow gets to be the bad guy at the end of Six. That was a great move. By contrast, Mayor Wilkins, Adam, and Glory, the big bads from seasons 3,4 and 5, are kind of ho-hum. The seasons are saved by the stand alone episodes and by the other storylines that travel through the seasons, like Buffy's relationships, the alternate slayers, Xander's love life, and general ensemble magic.

So, the first six seasons each have their unique storylines and bad guys and all that, and are excellent tv because of a variety of elements. Then comes Season 7, which is why I brought up the whole Yu-Gi-Oh syndrome. Here is one-upmanship on every level. More slayers, bigger badder bads, worse vampires, and ultimately, a bigger explosion and devastation than at the end of Season 3. Is it over? No. Because if you've read the comics, you know that there are plenty of other vampires in the world, and plenty of still living slayers, and Dawn is 50 feet tall? So there was no reason to take it to that level. What would they have done if the series kept going? Eventually, they'd have to blow up a whole country, or the planet, or take the planet back in time to start at the dawn of time, killing all the vampires, but starting humanity over from scratch.

I do go on.

Josh

The Mayor is ho hum? Hell to the no. He was my favorite big bad by a lot.

I agree with your larger point about the existence of one upmanship, but I'd argue it's mostly a good thing. This is how stories are structured, and yeah... eventually they'd have to blow up the whole world or something. But we don't have to worry about that, because the series never goes there. And maybe I'm alone here, but I don't think the comic counts. It's another medium.

What I liked about Season 7, despite its flaws, is that it goes to a bigger, higher octane place but also brings it back to its origins by bringing back Sunnydale High and introducing a villain that allows all the characters we love fro past seasons to come back for closure.

Nerd!

Nick

I liked Season 7 waaay more the first time 'round than when I rewatched it. It is a flawed season - but I agree with Josh - for all those reasons, Season 7 WAS great. We saw old faces (Dru! Glory!) AND it brought Sunnydale High back for the series' last hurrah! Excellent.

I think that if viewers can handle the entrance of the Dawn character, than they're golden for the rest of the ride. Sometimes the "new character" technique is a super-cliche ploy, but for some reason it kind of worked. Even though Dawn remains one of my LEAST favorite characters ever, I still don't feel the show jumped the shark by introducing her.

I love Buffy. I miss Buffy. I own every copy, including variant covers, of the Season 8 comics...but it's not the same. Season 8 is pretty unnecessary and that makes me sad. The way 7 ended (Buffy is a "normal" girl...just like so many others in the world) was the PERFECT way to end the series, am I right?

(PS - In terms of story/plot errors - Warren is alive in the comics. If Warren was, in fact, alive - The First wouldn't have been able to morph into him throughout Season 7. JOSS, MAJOR MESS UP DUDE!)

Eric Pfeffinger

I've always been lukewarm on "Amends" not because of consistency or anything having to do with retconning, but just because it's always stuck in my mind as a comparatively mediocre episode.

I've never tended to get hung up on continuity errors in a long-running serial (Angel was Spike's sire? Or maybe not? The monks made Dawn out of Buffy--except it kinda feels like we just had that idea three episodes ago) because if a narrative is compelling I can forgive all kinds of nitpicky sins. (I lose interest in something like "Lost" because the fact that it feels like they're working without a map seems in that case to have a lot to do with why the show isn't compelling.)

Of course, there's always a palpable or gratuitous thrill when you get the feeling that something has been planned out--cf. Faith's little sister 7-3-0 remarks and Tara's "be back before dawn."

Meanwhile, however uneven its execution, I thought the Dawn thing was conceptually brilliant: appropriating a hoary serial narrative device, fully justifying it within the supernatural rules of this particular show, and then living with its implications for the long term. I thought it was bold and clever and kind of a gutsy upending of serial fans' love for the status quo.

Josh

"Meanwhile, however uneven its execution, I thought the Dawn thing was conceptually brilliant: appropriating a hoary serial narrative device, fully justifying it within the supernatural rules of this particular show, and then living with its implications for the long term. I thought it was bold and clever and kind of a gutsy upending of serial fans' love for the status quo."


I couldn't agree more. It was a brilliant play on a classic trope of late season TV shows.

Eric Pfeffinger

Oh, and I meant to chime in with another endorsement of the Mayor as a favorite villain. I was actually pretty fond of Glory, too.

Also wanted to register that despite my assorted frustrations with season 7 on an episode-by-episode basis, I thought it was all made more than worth it by the wit, kick-ass-itude and savvy closure of the series finale.

Daniella

Thanks for this post I loved reading it. Cant wait for more. Bring Buffy back!

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