Season six is a divisive one for fans of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ Even those who don’t like it have to admit that it has some stellar episodes (‘Once More With Feeling’ being the obvious example), while those who do will admit that it can be a hard one to watch (in the Troy Barnes sense) at times. And it’s not just fans who feel that way. Even people who worked on the show during that season have feelings about it that even after nearly twenty years could most easily be summed up as “complicated.”
Take Marti Noxon. A longtime ‘Buffy’ contributor, Noxon joined the show as a story editor during its second season, and would over the next few years rise through the ranks as a producer before finally being promoted to showrunner for Season Six. With that being the case, Noxon’s influence on the show during that season was second only to that of Joss Whedon himself. As a result, she has also (fairly or not) taken more than her fair share of heat from fans who were dissatisfied with the sixth season. As part of a wide-ranging interview with Vulture on the subject of her recent emergence in the realm of prestige television (with ‘Sharp Objects’ on HBO and ‘Dietland’ on AMC), Noxon reflected on the darker direction in which she took ‘Buffy’:
“I did have way more input over that season and some real muscular influence on the direction of that season in part because I was really vocal about wanting Buffy to make some bad mistakes. My argument was that, when we become young women, especially if we’re troubled or haunted by something, that can lead us to make some bad choices, especially in the area of romance.”
A lot of the sixth season of ‘Buffy‘ was built on the idea that “life is the Big Bad.” And on paper, it’s a clever twist on the show’s formula. After all, who among us hasn’t at some point felt like the universe itself was marshaling the combined forces of darkness and our own poor decisions to make our life hell? But the thing is, in practice you’re left with a season of TV in which our beloved heroes each spend twenty episodes digging themselves into one hole or another, making one terrible choice after another. It’s a season where magic use – which to that point had largely been treated as a skill akin to computer use – suddenly became an allegory for drug addiction and relationships were being strained and shattered seemingly every other week.
Noxon now acknowledges that in some respects, at least, they may have overdone it. This is not just in regard to Buffy’s myriad “bad choices,” but also to with what is arguably the most wrenching character death not only of the season but of the show as a whole. I’m referring, of course, to Tara, who was cut down by a stray bullet shortly after reconciling with Willow, prompting the latter’s magically fueled, season-ending rampage.
“There were parts of season six where I feel we went too far. We pushed into some categories that almost felt sadistic and that Buffy was volunteering for things that went beyond just “bad choices” and were almost irresponsible for the character. That may have to do with my own history. [Laughs] The personal, right? It’s personal. And I think that killing Tara was – in retrospect, of all the people, did she have to die?”
Notably, it was Noxon herself who fought – successfully – for Amber Benson to be cast as Tara in the first place, having recognized a vulnerability in her portrayal that she felt made Benson perfect for the part.
Indeed, out of all the controversial creative choices in Season Six, Tara’s death may well be the Big One. Certainly it’s the one that seems to have left its most enduring mark on ‘Buffy’ fandom. After all, not only was Tara a fan favorite character in her own right, she also (through her relationship with Willow) represented a landmark in LGBTQ representation on television at the dawn of the twenty-first century.
Of course, this isn’t the first time someone in a position of power has shown some hint of second thoughts regarding Tara’s death. Early drafts of the series finale (written by Joss Whedon) included a scene in which Buffy, having been granted one wish by the Powers That Be, would have used that wish to resurrect Tara. The scene was ultimately scrapped due to scheduling issues.
Oh, what might have been.