Covering “Bargaining, Part 1” and “Bargaining, Part 2,” in which you can trifle with raising the dead, but the dead may come back…wrong.
Here is where things could get interesting, even if they’re going to suck for me.
Up until now, we’ve been dealing with eras of the show I’ve revisited or visited within the past, say, five years. But seasons 6 and 7 left enough of a bad taste with me, most of these episodes I haven’t bothered with since they first aired, almost 15 years ago, because, well, I hated them. And I doubt that’s going to change much, but we’ll see. At the very least, I’ll have a firmer grasp on my issues.
So what is our status after “Bargaining,” the show’s lone two-part premiere? Well, first of all, premieres are not typically where Buffy puts its best feet forward, and this one comes at a particularly odd and historic juncture, not only with Buffy confirmed and avowed dead, but also as the show transitions from the WB to UPN (who are now, ironically, one network). This leaves “Bargaining” with a great deal of mourning to do, but since the premiere takes place, per tradition, a summer after the previous finale, so it’s not a raw, immediate pain mourning, but more the lingering ache mourning as the survivors have settled in to a new status quo, but question how sustainable it is. Also, it gives the show some new boundaries to test, which we’ll get to in a minute.
It is interesting to see our characters moving on, and obviously that sense of mourning requires something of a mournful episode. But it also feels tired and oddly distanced. Everyone’s tried—fictionally, obviously, but also in real life. This is season 6, after all, these people have been making this show for a long time, and they came really damn close to not having to do so anymore, if I recall correct. Word was well spread that Anthony Stewart Head wanted to spend more time back in England, so Giles’ presence was going to be seriously lessened in the season (and we’ll get to some issues regarding that later). Rather fitting, then, that most of Part 1 features the Scoobs wondering how long they can continue with an empty automaton of Buffy at their side.
But the strain really shows in how things are written. Logic has never been Buffy’s strong suit, and it’s not a trait I put a lot of stock in to begin with, but things are just getting jarring. Back in the day, it was a little ridiculous how easy it was for the Scoobs to be out all night, but that was part of the joke—their parents are permissive or oblivious enough to let it happen. But there isn’t a joke to be part of anymore for these logic issues. The Buffybot, for example, has a pretty absurd burden and level of autonomy given how much of a glass jaw the thing has, like no one noticed how last season it got crippled when it fell against a wall. And keeping Buffy’s death a secret is a big concern for the Scoobs, which you’d think would make her tombstone and presumably the funeral before it was erected a concern as well, but it isn’t. Once the demon biker gang attack begins, Xander proposes they split up for no reason, except that some scenes need for them to be split up, so they split up for the sake of being split up.
What stands out even more, though, because it will become a big issue later on this season, are the times we’re told something that doesn’t make much sense or that doesn’t align with what we’ve seen before, and yet drive character’s actions all the same. Giles concluding his duty as a Watcher has been fulfilled now that Buffy has died fighting the supernatural is actually suitably sad and mournful and would have been a fine reason by itself for him to eventually leave Sunnydale, but its presaged with him wondering if Buffy wouldn’t have been better off without him at all, which is frankly absurd. The Resurrection Four all believe Buffy is in a hell dimension, but we aren’t clued in to why that would be so (Tara explains Buffy’s death was “mystic,” but it’s also not clear why that makes a difference except it apparently does, and isn’t strictly true—she also sort of plunged a hundred feet to the concrete). Ill-omened are these things. Also, Anya says nothing about the plan, despite having much more expertise in such matters, if not more power. It’s weird.
However, not everything is dire. Like I said, Giles realizing his job is done and Spike has some quality stuff to play in his role as Dawn’s babysitter and bitter, regretful mourner, but the most improved is Dawn herself. Maybe I’m just eager to be right, but I feel that liberated from the Key story and possessing an actual history, the character will never be great or beloved, but she at least works. When she begs Buffy to return to her senses before reenacting her death, it actually is effective because, finally, we understand what these two mean to each other, having seen it for ourselves, rather than just being informed.
Oh yes, testing boundaries. Switching networks gave the show a whole new set of standards and practices to follow, and the episodes waste no time in showing off a big difference, by having Willow and Tara obviously co-habitating and engaging in the same PDA play that the show’s straight couples have engaged in for years, which is very refreshing. Less refreshing is when the demon bikers prove their danger bona fides by threatening to rape our beloved characters to death. Not that the show never touched on sexual violence before, it has quite a bit, this is just extraordinarily pointless, and needlessly grotesque, but also off-puttingly coy. The demon goes on for a while about “anatomical incompatabilities blah blah blah,” and it just seems silly when the show has already tried to shock me with the threat not to just have him say the demons have spiked dicks. Really, if you’re going to be that unpleasant and exploitative, do it. If you can’t tell by now, I really dislike the trope of using the threat of gang rape to establish how much of a danger the latest gang of mooks protagonists face are. It’s cheap and tawdry provocation that rarely involves any sort of commentary and thinking, just a misguided attempt to show your setting is adult in a very teenage X-TREME way, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a better show than that.But as I recall the tale of season 6 is of the show trying to find a way to be grown up, and often failing to do so. Brace yourselves.