The absolute weak point of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the total disregard for consistency, either with previous vampire/monster legends (which doesn't bother me much) or with itself (which does). And Season 7 was all about the Slayer and the background that created the Slayer and the evil she was destined to fight. G_ds, it was awful.
Let me start off with what I liked about Season 7. Mainly, the earlier episodes. The series became comfortable with itself. Backgrounds were not explained to the audience. Previous events have affected the characters, and we see their reactions and their actions. This works out great. Willow recovers from being Evil, though we as audience forgave her long ago.
The episode where Willow comes back but no one sees her is splendid. One of the odd strengths of the series is the weakness of the characters: They don't communicate by talking to one another. Almost all real connections are made when the characters can't talk ("Hush"), when they change bodies and see how other people react to who they are not, when they're forced to sing, or when they overhear their friends talking when they think they're not around.
Maybe the lack of real communication is why the whole "High School is Hell" thing resonates with so many, and why Buffy is revered by many who desperately want to touch people.
But I digress.
Anya is simultaneously the most unbelievable character, and the most charming. She, like Spike, gets to say things that the human beings won't say. Without her, most of the characters, especially Xander, would still not face their humanity. The original episode that introduced her, a sort of It's A Wonderful Life alternate history without Buffy, starkly painted the inconsistencies of the Buffyverse yet showed why the interaction of the characters is important. Her story arc in the last season is difficult to justify and takes me out of the series' reality, but is very touching. I didn't believe she would be Selfless, but the episode was necessary to bring her back.
Without her, we'd have had to rely on Warren for exposition. *shudder*.
I still haven't absorbed Dawn into the Buffyverse. The most powerful spell ever cast during the series was not by any of the Bad Guys, some of whom are Gods, but the spell by a bunch of monks, who get slaughtered easily, completely changing the past and inserting memories. Ah well. Dawn has one of the better written episodes in the series, when she may be a Potential.
Up to this point, I was enjoying the seventh season. Lighting! Finally, they got a guy who knows how to light a set! The characters were comfortable and the acting didn't get in the way. The dialog wasn't the funny but unnatural Valley Girl speak. Four years out of High School, the main bunch weren't kids anymore, they were adults with real responsibilities. The direction was good, the stories were told well, and the story arc was being developed.
And I succeeded in doing the main thing that saves Buffy: turn off the sound before the closing credits. The theme may work for the opening, but absolutely destroys the mood at the end. Turn it off!
Then... it all comes crashing down.
They cut lots of corners. As Whedon says in the commentary on the final episode, they were saving money for the LotR effects used at the end. As the stories got darker (like they were so light and fluffy before), lights got turned off. Monsters became cheesier. You didn't see the Potentials too often, because they didn't have the money to pay the actresses. Everyone leaves Sunnydale: about time, but far too late to be believable.
I don't mind former characters coming back for one last turn in the final season. I missed Tara (who Whedon really wanted to come back, but couldn't schedule the actress), but could have lived without Drusilla.
Nathan Fillon (Mal in Firefly) was great as a slimy but powerful preacher, but his character made no sense whatsoever. My basic problem with most of the Buffy villains: They're glorified NPCs, run by a dungeon master who is on the side of the player characters. Whedon played too much Magic while ignoring true horror films. The rules are different for tv, I suppose, but not that different. Only the Mayor was really Evil without merely having high stat points.
Some of the background, as we found out in the series, and find out more in this season.
The Slayer is The One In A Generation and yet there are dozens and dozens of "potentials", barely pubescent girls who may become the Slayer but don't have her superpowers... until the Slayer dies. Slayers have a short life, perhaps measured in months, belying the "once in a generation" thing.
The first Slayer, an aboriginal girl, links the Slayers with all the others. How she got trained, or whether there were vampires in Australia, is never shown.
The Council was established to train the Slayers, and do other unspecified stuff. They are really, really, really bad at it.
It seems that some "old men" created The Slayer and established "the rules" about only one at a time. Why they did so, and how they came to have the power to do it, and why didn't they adapt to circumstances and why didn't they establish a headquarters in Sunnydale (or wherever the biggest Hellmouth threat is a the time) is never explored.
It also seems that the men were, without their knowledge, actually given the idea for the Slayer and the power to create them by a secret organization of women. These women bide their time until they get one scene with Buffy and then their last representative dies and the group is never heard from again.
They talk about "weapons" and training, but they don't use them much. The most effective weapon was used by a nascent witch, Willow, telekinetically plunging a pencil into a vamp.
Vampires are stupid. Except Spike, who's smart until he gets a soul, then he's dumb. In general, monsters are stupid. *whew*
The ultimate evil is The First, sort of like The Shadows in B5, but not as scary, without a coherent agenda and incredibly stupid. And they can't touch anything. Geeze. Get an undead life.
People are stupid. In the first seasons of Buffy, I kept raising the question: Why in hell does anyone still live in Sunnydale? Well, finally, in season 7, they all flee. All of them, except our gang. So many leave that the electricity goes out. Nothing is said about plumbing. Electricity is on a grid, so the whole region must have gone someplace safe, like the Australian outback. Of course, even through the electricity is out, the internet still works. Assuming they had batteries for the laptop, they must have a satellite uplink, or something.
Despite The Initiative and despite the massive exodus of 32,900 residents, no one from the US government, the California state government or Amway makes an appearance.
The season hinges on two deus ex machinas.
First, there is a scythe, which has unspecified powers and only grants them to The Slayer. This is used by a lone witch to do a spell more powerful than then the entire Council can generate. Um, no. On the other hand, this asinine plot point does present one of the best best images of the entire series:
Second, there is a pendent. Given by Angel, Buffy's vampire lover (still hard to suspend that disbelief) who disappears. (According to the commentary, all of Boreanaz' appearances had to be fitted into about 7 hours of shooting.) Buffy then gives the pendent to Spike, the possibly-reformed-but-sometimes-not killer of Slayers who is a vampire with a soul. Oh, and he's Buffy's lover too. Without knowing exactly what the object does or what it's good for, Spike, the vampire, manages to be wearing it deep underground when he's hit by a shaft of sunlight. This triggers The Evil Destroying Thing and kills Spike, and he's very happy to be so offed because he has a soul. Um, no.
Since they didn't know the entire battle could be won just by sending Spike outside, numerous people die. The entire series, the entire rationale for making Buffy different than other Slayers, is that she has a support group that helps her and finds out information about the villains and objects she finds. They fail her, just as many of them achieve Their True Destiny, or something.
The entire premise of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer is that Buffy is a better Slayer because of her friends. She was right, therefore, to welcome back Willow and keep Spike close. But no one knew just what the scythe or the pendent did, if anything. The scythe's power lay in the Slayer's hand, yet Willow could use it for a spell that might not work. The pendent being in their hands was a complete accident, and finding it's way onto a vampire with a soul who's too stupid to stay out of sunlight is a complete coincidence. In a series where they never relied on luck, the grand finale relied on luck.
So at the end: A huge chunk of California disappears leaving a big hole and life goes on as if nothing happened. Neither the army nor the police nor The Lone Gunmen are at all in evidence. They don't have anything except the shirt on their back. Yet all is good.
Meanwhile, dozens if not thousands of young girls suddenly have superpowers even though The Really Big Bad has been defeated. Whether Willow's spell only affected current Potentials or any potential Potential will be granted superpowers later, we never find out. Without the Council (or a tv series) to tell them what they're supposed to do and why, look for a lot of parents of teens to have a bad time and look for the cowed expression on a lot of middle-school boys.
Hmm... I'm not done ranting, but this has gone on too long.
So I repeat my recommendation: If you have never seen Buffy and want to know what all the fuss is about, watch the DVDs from about the second disk of the second season and go until the end of the third season. If that grabs you, keep going until the musical episode in season 6; perhaps longer, and maybe fill in the first season.
Careful with the commentaries. If you don't like spoilers, always watch both parts of a two-parter before listening to the commentary on the first.
I have no interest in seeing Angel.