Not sure why I bother to say this, but spoilers ahead.
Yesterday I watched But I'm a Cheerleader. Nice movie, wants to be John Waters Lite but isn't even Paul Bartel Lite, but I can't really think of anything bad about it and I'm not sorry I saw it. Thanks to Sara, who recommended it.
There's some other thing Sara recommended to me once upon a time that I watched last night. What was it again? Oh yeah ... the season finale of Buffy.
Evil Willow rules. And in these episodes (2-part finale), she got to say some of the things people like me have thought for a long time. ("Dawn, shut your bloody hole, you self-absorbed twerp!") Xander's heroic love was touching and appropriate. Buffy climbing out of the grave with Dawn was a nice way to bring the season full circle; this time she wanted to leave the grave.
So, Season Six. It's easy to rank it next to the other seasons: it's sixth. There were good things. The early episodes where Buffy dealt with her unhappiness with being brought back to life were strong; the hints that Willow was going to have to pay the piper for the repercussions of her actions were promising; the musical was surprisingly wonderful. (And yes, Evil Willow rules.) The overall theme of the season, revolving around the fact that young people have to become grownups whether they like it or not, perhaps didn't resonate as powerfully as the first three seasons, which did such a wonderful job of using high-school teenagerdom within a vampire setting, but it was nonetheless time for Buffy and the Scoobies to grow up.
But ... and there are far more buts for this season than for any other. The episodes after the musical, pretty much up until the final few weeks, were erratic at best. Xander leaving Anya at the altar was handled very badly. And then there were the two awful plot threads that, for me at least, regularly brought the season down. First, there was the Spike Loves Buffy angle. Spike is (was?) a soulless vampire who is ready to kill at a moment's notice, except for this chip in his head that performs unwanted behavioral therapy on him. As long as he is a killer without a soul, he can not be redeemed. For this, and for a variety of other reasons, he should have been staked long ago. That the fans love his character, that we like having him around, is both true and irrelevant. He shouldn't have been there, and even his best scenes (and there were plenty, this is still a wonderful show) were ruined by the obvious fact that he had no business still being alive in the Buffyverse.
Second, and even worse, the Willow-as-Addict theme was just pathetic. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the best television show of its day because it rejects the easy and commonplace in favor of complex representations, realistic and metaphoric, of teenage and now young adult life. A season that dealt in a complex fashion with the implications of Willow's increasing power would have had a chance at being the best season of them all. This was hinted at in the finale; everyone finally seemed to recognize by the end of the episode that it wasn't about addiction to magic, it was about being overwhelmed with the possibilities inherent in POWER. If only the season had been about Power. But it wasn't: it was an after-school special warning about the dangers of drugs. Using vamps and demons as metaphors for the lonely outsider status of teenagers was brilliant. This season wasn't brilliant; it took the lazy way out. Until those final scenes, they never pushed Willow's addiction as a starting point for a treatise on power. Instead, they did the clunkiest thing possible, beating the audience over the head in very unsubtle ways until even the dumbest viewer got it: "Magic = Drugs, Willow = Addict." It was unworthy of the high standards the show has established over the years.
I don't mind if Buffy never again reaches the heights of the glory (no pun intended) years of Seasons Two and Three. Myself, I doubt it's possible to recapture those years, because I think the best thing the program did related specifically to the characters being highschoolers, and they've grown up since then. Having said that, there is no reason why Buffy can't continue to be one of the best shows on teevee. As of now, despite my complaining above, it remains one of the best. But a crucial moment has been reached, and Season Seven (by some accounts, the last season) is going to be important. Here's a benchmark for that season: don't forget, Willow killed a human being.