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Buffy and the importance of Monsters of The Week

burrunjor

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I was thinking one of the many things that sets Buffy apart from other genre series is the way it always put a special focus on its monsters of the week.

When you look at shows like Supernatural, Smallville, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Charmed they tend to reduce their monsters of the week to being just generic filler villains.

Smallville's villains of the week were often just meteor freaks who wanted to shag Lana, and who were only varied by their powers. The Flash villains similar are just metas with different powers, in Supernatural the villains were often just angry spirits, with a different gimmick (this spirit only kills black people because he was a racist pig, this one is a woman who kills unfaithful men etc.)

The reason for that is because a lot of these series tend to view the villain of the week as just a generic threat. They are more interested in developing the main characters stories, the big bad etc. Obviously those things are important, but ultimately the villains of the week are important too. The better the villain, the better the hero, and since the majority of the heroes enemies will be villains of the week, then the majority should be good.

Buffy I think realised that and from the start always put a lot of thought into individual monsters. Usually its villains of the week would have a decent enough origin story, or motive that was distinct, distinct powers and a unique design.

Take Der Kindestod and James Stanley and Grace Newman. Those are two monster of the week episodes that couldn't be more different. Similarly the Gnarl and the Gentlemen, two monsters of the week who are as good as any of the big bads (hell I think they're scarier at least.)

The monsters of the week often represent something a bit deeper in Buffy too. Der Kindestod represents conquering trauma and facing your mortality, Catherine Madison is trying to recapture your youth, even lesser monsters like the She Mantis represent teachers preying on students, the Pack represent bullying and your friend abandoning you to hang out with the cool kids etc.

Classic Doctor Who is I think the only series that put as much effort into its Monsters of the Week as much as Buffy (In all fairness New Who did too up until the Capaldi era, then we got some really bland throwaway monsters like a Lion Man and a Moon Dragon. )

Anyone else agree?
 

Athene

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I agree :) the best Buffy villains are the ones that are somewhat personal to Buffy and her friends and I think more shows could benefit from realising that monsters can develop protagonists beyond just through being an obstacle as monsters.
 

Kratos

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I agree. Buffy’s MOTWs were also a nice break from the main plot of a season. I think TMNT 2003 had good standalone episodes too such as The King, April’s Artifact and The Darkness Within.
 

DeadlyDuo

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I think you're being a little unfair to Supernatural. They've been going for 15 seasons so coming up with a unique gimmick for every villain of the week is going to be difficult but also Sam and Dean are hunters, this is their daily life and they just try not to die. A lot of things they're dealing with are going to be pissed off spirits or demons, it is literally just something nasty for them to kill because the focus is on them and not the monsters. I did like the witch episode with CC and JM though and the Scooby Doo crossover episode. Supernatural took itself very seriously in the early seasons but seemed to lighten up and poke fun at itself in the later seasons (I've only seen the odd episode after the first couple of seasons).

Der Kinderstod and Gnarl are definitely the scariest monsters.

The better the villain, the better the hero,
I think it's kind of a balancing act between the two. One does not inform the other.

A good hero you want to win.

A good villain, you kind of want them to win but know they won't because they're the villain.

A bad villain, you wonder what's taking the hero so long to get their act together and take the villain down.

A bad hero, you want the villain to kick their arse.

Take Der Kindestod and James Stanley and Grace Newman. Those are two monster of the week episodes that couldn't be more different.
I think that's an unfair comparison. James and Grace were a direct parallel to the Buffy and Angel drama going on at the time, with Buffy and Angelus even being possessed by the ghosts. Der Kinderstod was more a monster of the week because it had no ties to the main story arc whereas IOHEFY was more tied to the arc. as it enabled Buffy to let go of her guilt for causing Angel to lose his soul, metaphorically "killing" him.

The monsters of the week often represent something a bit deeper in Buffy too. Der Kindestod represents conquering trauma and facing your mortality,
I disagree on this one. I think Der Kinderstod represents a fear of child death. Child death is not seen as a natural thing because it's not how life is supposed to go, a parent is not supposed to bury their child. Der Kinderstod is invisible unless you're sick (since it seems to lurk around hospitals and appears to prey specifically on children, you must obviously have to be seriously ill). It attacks a child and a parent can do nothing to stop it.

Buffy killing the monster is representative of her role as the slayer, she fights death of innocents. She saves people.

Classic Doctor Who is I think the only series that put as much effort into its Monsters of the Week as much as Buffy (In all fairness New Who did too up until the Capaldi era, then we got some really bland throwaway monsters like a Lion Man and a Moon Dragon.
I actually stopped watching the show during the Capaldi era, though began watching again when they changed the doctor.
 

Spanky

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If the series were to be rebooted for the modern audience, there would be less, if any monsters of the week. The reason why Buffy has so many monster of the week stories is that TV was different back then. X-Files is another example of a show that seems antiquated in their stories once television shows became "premium" and stopped requiring 20+ episodes per season to allow a streamlined story. To me the monster of the week episodes in Buffy were always nothing more than filler.
 

katmobile

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They were variable - some were great and connected to the themes well - Catherine, the Hyena spirit, Sid, James/Grace, the Gentlemen, the ittly bitty fear demon, the Aprilbot, Gnarl and some weren't so great - Prying Mantis siren, Frankenjock, the fish dudes, Hus the Native American cliche spirit, the sexually frustrated poltergiests, penis headed demon lady and RJ and his jacket o'romantic/horniness inducement.
 

burrunjor

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I think you're being a little unfair to Supernatural. They've been going for 15 seasons so coming up with a unique gimmick for every villain of the week is going to be difficult but also Sam and Dean are hunters, this is their daily life and they just try not to die. A lot of things they're dealing with are going to be pissed off spirits or demons, it is literally just something nasty for them to kill because the focus is on them and not the monsters. I did like the witch episode with CC and JM though and the Scooby Doo crossover episode. Supernatural took itself very seriously in the early seasons but seemed to lighten up and poke fun at itself in the later seasons (I've only seen the odd episode after the first couple of seasons).

Der Kinderstod and Gnarl are definitely the scariest monsters.



I think it's kind of a balancing act between the two. One does not inform the other.

A good hero you want to win.

A good villain, you kind of want them to win but know they won't because they're the villain.

A bad villain, you wonder what's taking the hero so long to get their act together and take the villain down.

A bad hero, you want the villain to kick their arse.



I think that's an unfair comparison. James and Grace were a direct parallel to the Buffy and Angel drama going on at the time, with Buffy and Angelus even being possessed by the ghosts. Der Kinderstod was more a monster of the week because it had no ties to the main story arc whereas IOHEFY was more tied to the arc. as it enabled Buffy to let go of her guilt for causing Angel to lose his soul, metaphorically "killing" him.



I disagree on this one. I think Der Kinderstod represents a fear of child death. Child death is not seen as a natural thing because it's not how life is supposed to go, a parent is not supposed to bury their child. Der Kinderstod is invisible unless you're sick (since it seems to lurk around hospitals and appears to prey specifically on children, you must obviously have to be seriously ill). It attacks a child and a parent can do nothing to stop it.

Buffy killing the monster is representative of her role as the slayer, she fights death of innocents. She saves people.



I actually stopped watching the show during the Capaldi era, though began watching again when they changed the doctor.

I love Supernatural. I'm not having a go. They came up with some classic villains like Crowley, but still as for the throwaway villains, just watch the first series back and you'll see that a lot of the Ghosts are just variations of the same thing. An angry spirit wants to kill a particular type of person due to its hang ups in life. The actors playing the Ghosts often don't get a character to play. It's often just a figure that flashes in and out and growls and kills someone.

Also the monsters aren't that varied. Visually they are mostly just guys with pointy teeth, they mostly just hang about in rural areas and eat people etc.

In Buffy they have different origins, different motives, different ways of killing, different appearances at least.

Hell even the Vampire villains are a varied lot, in terms of character and even visually.

The Order of Aulerius are as inhuman as can be. They live underground, they shun humanity are always in game face, want to destroy humanity etc. The Vamps in season 2 meanwhile in conrast (Spike, Dru) are much more human, they love each other are always in human form, are sexy etc.

The Eli Illumanti meanwhile believe in fighting with honour in stark contrast to the dirty, vicious, underhanded creep Angelus, or even the more sneaky Spike who snaps an old guys neck for a laugh, goes for low personal blows like the Parker fiasco.

Sunday meanwhile is a hilarious alpha bitch, kind of like a Cordelia type Vampire, Russell is the creep who hides in plain sight from everybody, then there are the thuggish Vampires that Gunn fights, and Marcus a Vampire who is scary because of his human side. His Demon side is just a monster, but his human side is a pedo, rapist predator.

Then we have James a lovestruck, obsessive freak, Sam Lawson a Vampire without a purpose etc.

Visually even we have The Master, Kakistos, Prince of Lies, Russell Winters, all of whom's Vampire face is markedly different, the Turok Han Vampire and the Vantal in Pylea which shows a real flair for trying to vary the looks of the Vampires that I don't think we'd see in other shows, where the Vamps would just be generic bloodsuckers.

IMO the villains are among the most important aspect of a heroes popularity.

As for Doctor Who, well I thought Capaldi was excellent, but the writing for his era was beyond appalling. I absolutely despise Jodie's era meanwhile. I won't go into why as I, A/don't want to sidetrack this into a DW convo and B/ I am aware that this era is so divisive it could end up leading to the board being polarised and I don't want to distrubt the neutral atmosphere here.

I will say however that Jodie's era is a great example of what I'm talking about, when people don't bother with the sci fi elements, the monsters, the creatures because they are more interested in something else. (In this case getting their cringey political message across.)

I know there were political stories in Classic Who and in Buffy, but I feel its not so much having politics, but how you impliment them.

You can have politics, as long as your story is good on its own. Catherine Madison, whilst not political is a metaphor for something deeper, but she holds up as a scary Witch in her own right. (I first saw it when I was 8 and had no idea about the deeper meaning, but I still found it a scary story.)

The Daleks similarly are a prime example of this. They are a great metaphor for race hatred, but they hold up as scary boogeymen for kids who might not get the political metaphors in their own right. They have their own mythology, their own backstory that makes them fascinating for writers and viewers beyond just "hey these are the Nazis in space."

Jodie's era however puts virtually no thought into the villains and monsters. It does just turn them into obstacles or plot devices to get the message across. Arachnids in the UK, the message is Trump is bad, "but oh we need a monster, lets just throw in a giant, generic Spider."

Jodie's era reminds me of the notorious Coms and the Yans episode of Star Trek TOS that is a prime example of how not to get political in sci fi and fantasy. If you haven't watched it, google the ending. It's a riot (and I say that as a fan of TOS, but it struggled with its politics at times more than other series.)
 
AlphaFoxtrot
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Eed plebnista!

burrunjor

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If the series were to be rebooted for the modern audience, there would be less, if any monsters of the week. The reason why Buffy has so many monster of the week stories is that TV was different back then. X-Files is another example of a show that seems antiquated in their stories once television shows became "premium" and stopped requiring 20+ episodes per season to allow a streamlined story. To me the monster of the week episodes in Buffy were always nothing more than filler.
I don't think so. Lots of modern tv series have monsters of the week. The Flash, Legends, Doctor Who etc.

The point was Buffy's were of a higher calibre as the writers and certainly the make up artists often put a lot of thought into making them unique and different, rather than falling into a pattern like The Flash.
 
Spanky
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You sorta made my point.

Ethan Reigns

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Buffy's mandate is to counteract "the vampires, the demons and the forces of evil" so we have an open-ended variety of antagonists for Buffy. The definition of a villain is that his efforts are in support of evil and he is a credible threat to the heroine of the series and/or any intended innocent victim.

There is a variety of different antagonists - although the main thrust is against vampires, the others exist to keep things interesting. It gets more interesting if the villain has a reason for what he is doing. In "Some Assembly Required", the villain was trying to create a girlfriend for his Frankenstein-like brother so however twisted he is, we see a reason that we can be sympathetic about. In "Der Kinderstod", there is a monster killing children in a hospital. We also put some characterization value on the victim - Der Kinderstod had killed Celia, Buffy's cousin when Buffy was eight, and that had a profound effect on her life.

BtVS and Ats had a variety of monsters of the week and season-long arcs because none of the arcs had enough material for an entire 22-episode season and plugging away with a whole season devoted to one villain would not be entertaining. Every once in a while, it pays to sprinkle in a few one-episode stories of some other villain just to show that the heroine is not just a one-trick pony who can only handle a limited range of threats, she has to be a generalist. It also demonstrates the extra stress involved when the heroine has to break off the long-term pursuit to handle a localised villain who can be dispatched in one episode. The comparison is like an emergency room trauma surgeon vs. a specialist like a cardiac surgeon.
 

DeadlyDuo

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Hell even the Vampire villains are a varied lot, in terms of character and even visually.

The Order of Aulerius are as inhuman as can be. They live underground, they shun humanity are always in game face, want to destroy humanity etc. The Vamps in season 2 meanwhile in conrast (Spike, Dru) are much more human, they love each other are always in human form, are sexy etc.

The Eli Illumanti meanwhile believe in fighting with honour in stark contrast to the dirty, vicious, underhanded creep Angelus, or even the more sneaky Spike who snaps an old guys neck for a laugh, goes for low personal blows like the Parker fiasco.

Sunday meanwhile is a hilarious alpha bitch, kind of like a Cordelia type Vampire, Russell is the creep who hides in plain sight from everybody, then there are the thuggish Vampires that Gunn fights, and Marcus a Vampire who is scary because of his human side. His Demon side is just a monster, but his human side is a pedo, rapist predator.

Then we have James a lovestruck, obsessive freak, Sam Lawson a Vampire without a purpose etc.

Visually even we have The Master, Kakistos, Prince of Lies, Russell Winters, all of whom's Vampire face is markedly different, the Turok Han Vampire and the Vantal in Pylea which shows a real flair for trying to vary the looks of the Vampires that I don't think we'd see in other shows, where the Vamps would just be generic bloodsuckers.
The vampires weren't really fleshed out in Season 1 because the show was focussed on establishing the scooby gang. Vampires were just something for Buffy to kill. Even Angel was more or less just there for Buffy to have smoochies with. Season 2, once the scooby gang had been fleshed out in Season 1, was able to focus on the vampires. Spike and Dru are used as a way to explore Angel's character and are explored because they are the only two vampires from his past so they tie into both arcs from the season: the curing Dru using Angel arc and the Angelus arc. I like how they fleshed out the vampires in Season 2 to show them as more complex than what we got in Season 1.

IMO the villains are among the most important aspect of a heroes popularity.
I disagree. A hero needs to be popular in their own right. Villains can be popular, it's why they get to show up more than once in their respective media eg Loki, The Joker, The Daleks, Spike was kept on because we was popular, Crowley from Supernatural etc.

Buffy is popular in her own right, Season 2 Spike doesn't make her popular but they are evenly matched. Even though you knew Spike would lose in What's My Line Part 2 because he's the villain and Buffy the hero (though he did succeed in his plan to cure Dru), you were okay with it because you like Buffy as much as Spike (and Spike living and succeeding even though he lost the fight is kind of a compromise so everybody wins).

Now let's look at someone like Kennedy. By the end of Season 7, she's a slayer just like Buffy. So just imagine the show was called "Kennedy the Vampire Slayer" rather than Buffy and had exactly the same villains. Are you telling me you wouldn't root for the villains to kick Kennedy's backside every single time? The villains aren't going to make Kennedy popular, they just emphasise how unpopular Kennedy is. Wouldn't you be pissed off if Season 2 Spike was defeated by Kennedy?

A good villain is one you kind of want to win but know they won't just because they are a villain.

A good hero is one who you want to beat the villain.

If at any point you are rooting for the villain to win and are actually annoyed they don't, then you've got a bad case of a hero.

During Same time, Same place, I want Buffy to beat the crap out of Gnarl. If it was Kennedy, I'm on Team Gnarl.


As for Doctor Who, well I thought Capaldi was excellent, but the writing for his era was beyond appalling. I absolutely despise Jodie's era meanwhile. I won't go into why as I, A/don't want to sidetrack this into a DW convo and B/ I am aware that this era is so divisive it could end up leading to the board being polarised and I don't want to distrubt the neutral atmosphere here.
Capaldi was at a disadvantage from the start as he was having to follow Matt Smith (who did extremely well considering he had to follow David Tennant) plus had Clara Oswald as a companion. Even Smith struggled with her as a companion. I hate Clara Oswald more than I hate Kennedy just to give you a scale of perspective.

I will say however that Jodie's era is a great example of what I'm talking about, when people don't bother with the sci fi elements, the monsters, the creatures because they are more interested in something else. (In this case getting their cringey political message across.)
I completely agree that some of the episodes have been extremely preachy at the end. Although having a female Doctor was unnecessary and now apparently she's not even a time lord any more, I prefer the current companions and Doctor over the Capaldi era ones. It's going to change though as Bradley Walsh is leaving as will be the other male companion because he's got a job in America or something like that. I don't know whether there will be new companions or if they'll just stick with the one they have left.

All I know is that I used to love Doctor WHo during the Tennant and Smith eras, I stopped watching during the Capaldi era, and the Whittaker era has got me back into it though she's still nowhere as good as Tennant or Smith.

I know there were political stories in Classic Who and in Buffy, but I feel its not so much having politics, but how you impliment them.
You have to be subtle about it because the audience doesn't like being preached at.

The Daleks similarly are a prime example of this. They are a great metaphor for race hatred, but they hold up as scary boogeymen for kids who might not get the political metaphors in their own right. They have their own mythology, their own backstory that makes them fascinating for writers and viewers beyond just "hey these are the Nazis in space."
The Daleks are awesome


Jodie's era however puts virtually no thought into the villains and monsters. It does just turn them into obstacles or plot devices to get the message across. Arachnids in the UK, the message is Trump is bad, "but oh we need a monster, lets just throw in a giant, generic Spider."
I chose not to watch that episode because of the spiders.
 

burrunjor

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Sorry just to highlight my point about Buffy's monsters being a cut above the norm. Lets compare some Buffy/Angel monsters to Supernatural's monsters.

Now again I like Supernatural a lot, but this I think shows you how Buffy/Angel put more effort into making its monsters unique, even just visually than Superntural or indeed most series like Charmed or Being Human.








Now the Supernatural monsters






You can see the difference there, which is why it annoys me when some critics try to make out that the monsters in Buffy weren't important to its success. I think they are a large part of why it still stands out so much. They were every bit as important as anything else, the feminist metaphors, the humour etc.
 
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I always loved the monsters of the week. So many excellent stories were told from the MOW episodes.
One of my favorite examples is Out of Sight, Out of Mind. When Marci Ross watches her hand disappear? *mind blown* That scene so perfectly encapsulates the feeling of being invisible when you've tried to speak up in a group and have been ignored or spoken over repeatedly. And while different people have experienced different levels of that experience, almost all of us have felt that feeling at least to some degree.
That episode was so brilliantly put together, and even though Marci wasn't a regular character (although I would have absolutely LOVED to have seen Marci come back in Season 4 with a tie-in to The Initiative), the concept behind the episode was so beautifully executed, that it's still one of my favorites because of the experience it was able to portray, and the creative way in which the story had that experience exist for us with the added supernatural aspects of a Hellmouth.
 
burrunjor
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"Have a nice summer" I agree that was a good episode. Even little touches like that were clever, as they showed you how when you think you are being polite to someone you don't know, you're still giving them the kiss of death.

Oromous

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I agree; Buffy's MotW were of a higher calibre than other shows, especially X-Files, the latter of which is still fresh in my memories due to my recent viewing. Buffy is a unique show that focuses A LOT of character development, even when there's merely a 'filler' episode. This is because that's the kind of show Joss Whedon set out to make AFTER "Prophesy Girl" in season 1, an entire series devoted to exploring the strengths and weaknesses of Buffy, the show's philosophies about choices and fatalism, and everything in between. Most shows tend to revolve around a gimmick, something to hook the audience to keep watching season after season. Buffy's writing, however, revolved around "how can this character grow?" Even season 4 was an exploration of how Buffy would respond to her new college life.

There's a reason why the "Buffy Guide" YouTube videos by "Passion of the Nerd" are so effective; they explained the various themes and philosophies each episode talks about, and if you've seen his videos, you'd know there are so many layers in almost every, single, episode of Buffy and Angel, even the "filler" ones. There's usually something more to learn about Buffy and the Scoobies' characters or some moral lesson to think about. In fact, this trait of the show can be a strength or a weakness (see "Beer Bad" and its lack of subtlety when inserting moral lessons).
 

Btvs fan

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If the series were to be rebooted for the modern audience, there would be less, if any monsters of the week. The reason why Buffy has so many monster of the week stories is that TV was different back then. X-Files is another example of a show that seems antiquated in their stories once television shows became "premium" and stopped requiring 20+ episodes per season to allow a streamlined story. To me the monster of the week episodes in Buffy were always nothing more than filler.
Yes and no. Your not wrong but they also helped break up the season a bit. One of the big problems Glory has is she introduced her in E5 and does nothing until the end of the season. Some stand alones in between would've helped break that up a bit imo
 

Oromous

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Yes and no. Your not wrong but they also helped break up the season a bit. One of the big problems Glory has is she introduced her in E5 and does nothing until the end of the season. Some stand alones in between would've helped break that up a bit imo
Frankly, having a single Big Bad in a season works better when the season is one-cour long (10-14 episodes) like many of Netflix's shows, such as Daredevil and Jessica Jones.
 

Btvs fan

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Frankly, having a single Big Bad in a season works better when the season is one-cour long (10-14 episodes) like many of Netflix's shows, such as Daredevil and Jessica Jones.
Agreed and the earlier seasons worked better in that regard. You couldn't have had Angelus show up in Reptile Boy and then not doing anything until Go Fish. It just wouldn't have worked. I think not having Glory kill Joyce was a missed opportunity
 
burrunjor
burrunjor
I would rather she kill Riley. To me that would have been a better way to write him out than making him a pervy, masochist going to Vampire prostitutes.

darkspook

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Some of the best Buffy episodes are standalones featuring monsters of the week. 'Hush', 'The Zeppo', 'Halloween', 'The Wish', 'Nightmares' are all strong episodes featuring great character work, action and good villains without a need for the viewer to be 100% on what is happening overall on the show. I honestly feel that later years S6 and particularly S7 became too arc heavy.
 

DeadlyDuo

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I think the monsters of the week also help make an episode recognisable eg you know Hush is the one with the Gentleman, STSP is the one with Gnarl, etc. One of the problems in the later seasons of Buffy is it became too serialised. Most people can name the majority of episodes from the early seasons whereas they struggle with the later seasons because there is hardly anything in the later seasons that distinguishes the episodes from one another.
 

darkspook

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I think the monsters of the week also help make an episode recognisable eg you know Hush is the one with the Gentleman, STSP is the one with Gnarl, etc. One of the problems in the later seasons of Buffy is it became too serialised. Most people can name the majority of episodes from the early seasons whereas they struggle with the later seasons because there is hardly anything in the later seasons that distinguishes the episodes from one another.
Agreed. Look back at the earlier episodes and you have the group investigating in stand alone episodes that idea dried up in later years. My disapointment of season 7 stems from the belief that going into the last year I think it was suggested it was SMG's last year. Certainly halfway into the season it must have been confirmed that it was SMG's last year so the show was either going to change dramatically as in replace it's lead character or finish. While there is a need to wrap up all the story arcs I believe there is also a great sense of freedom as then one can do what one wants. The show is sold on 22 episodes which you must produce and because its the last year you don't need to pander to the network or ratings. The writers could have thrown any concept or idea on the screen but I never not in a million years get the feeling that the writers did that.

Compare Buffy season 7 to Angel season 5 (a season that was never meant to be its last but was) and the difference is staggering! For Angel's last year we are treated a brand new setting (Wolfram & Hart), a new character (Spike joins), a submarine episode, nods to the show's past (Lindsay uses the name Doyle, Cordelia returns and inspires Angel), an episode set in Italy, a major death of a character before the end of the season (Fred dying), a bonkers episode like the puppet episode and an even spread of character developement across the cast. Compare that to Buffy season 7 and the arc of the show gets in the way. Too many episodes are just filler with crumbs of knowledge given to the audience, too many episodes feature the First taunting the group but not doing anything and too many feature Buffy giving a speech.
 
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