I didn't realise it at the time, but when I last mentioned B.'s and my epic Buffy rewatch, we were precisely halfway through the 144 episodes of the series, poised equidistant between the early promise of Welcome to the Hellmouth and the touching climax of Chosen.
Since then we've finished watching Season Four, culminating in the wonderful triptych of The Yoko Factor, Primeval and Restless. I'm amazed by how much better the season is than I remembered it -- I recently argued at some length to a friend (sorry about that, Silk) that it was the show's worst year, but leaving aside the dodgy start (arising mainly from ditching the high-school format and two of the regular characters) and the limp "acting" of Marc Blucas as Riley, it pretty much rocks.
After starting off the season looking terribly depleted after Angel and Cordelia's departures, and despite the additional blow of losing Seth Green's magnificent Oz halfway through, by the end of the season the regular cast feels very strong again. Admittedly the addition of Riley has done little to help, but Anya is still wonderfully acerbic, Spike is uniquely Spike, and Amber Benson blends awkwardness, power and an entirely different kind of hot-chickery as Tara. Moreover, this is the season where Willow grows up, losing her most vulnerable edges and gaining social grace as a functional adult. Even Adam has a screen presence and a cool quotient which -- Spike being the only possible exception -- no other villain on the show can match.
Admittedly the arc story leaves something to be desired -- namely, anything much by way of plot complexity -- and the half-time removal of a key player in Maggie Walsh makes what there is seem less coherent than it ought to be. But the basic conception of the Initiative, and its culmination in Adam, manage to depart from the formula (so far as there is one) for Buffy villains whilst making fine intuitive sense. I also love the way in which -- although this is never flagged in the episode in question -- the vital information used to defeat Adam (the location of his uranium power core) comes to the heroes courtesy of Jonathan during his ego-trip in Superstar.
There are some outstandingly good episodes in there, among them the silent-comedy-horror Hush, the painfully character-driven diptych of This Year's Girl and Who Are You, the hilarious Superstar and finally what may be the single best story of the series (or its most self-indulgent embarrassment, depending on who you talk to), the episode-length dream-sequence Restless. Even the episodes I remembered as pretty feeble -- Fear Itself, for instance, or Where the Wild Things Are -- have a lot to recommend them by way of jokes and character moments. (I've always had a soft spot for Beer Bad, despite the fact that it's widely considered the worst Buffy episode of all, so I won't comment on that lest I come across as an indiscriminate Whedonist cheerleader.)
So... an unexpected amount of enjoyment, there, which I hope will continue into the remaining seasons -- all of which, like this one, are slightly dodgy in their disparate ways. Which means it's time for Buffy's most accomplished genre parody, Buffy Vs Dracula, and the arrival of Dawn. I'll keep you updated.
Oh, and in not entirely unrelated news -- so OK, yes, on reflection I probably am a Whedon groupie -- our Serenity DVD arrived today. Wahey!