Editor’s Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on January 7, 2004, and we’re proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.

In this lineup of episodes (Buffy’s last on original network the WB), Joss Whedon’s celebrated series continues to turn away from monsters and even vampires of the week to put more of a focus on personal horrors. While there are the occasional beasties and assorted bloodsuckers on display, there are just as many episodes devoted to emotional distress, several centering on the consequences of love thwarted or gone awry. Even the principal supernatural foe is embodied in the gorgeous if violently cranky human form of Glory (Clare Kramer). And one of the standouts of the show’s entire history, “The Body,” concerns itself solely with how the principal characters deal with the sudden, completely non-supernatural death of a loved one.

The season does begin by bringing in its biggest-name monster ever for “Buffy vs. Dracula,” yet the creative team finds ways for this potentially gimmicky episode to illuminate its heroine’s ongoing turmoil and send her in new dramatic directions. The introduction at the end of this installment of Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg), Buffy’s heretofore unseen younger sister, jumpstarts the overall story arc at an early point, allowing this season to avoid the awkwardness of the fourth year’s establishing episodes. Angel (David Boreanaz) and Drusilla (Juliet Landau) make welcome reappearances and Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) loses her latest love, Riley (Marc Blucas). All in all, a fine lineup of stories with a number of dramatic highlights and no outright clinkers.

Fox’s controversial decision (among Buffy diehards) to present the episodes fullscreen notwithstanding, their presentation quality just keeps getting better. Colors are rich and robust, with only very intermittent grain and murk in darker moments and a depth and clarity of picture that continue to grace this TV production with a feature-film veneer. Some may continue to lament the lack of more than Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, but it’s up to similarly high standards.

As on the previous boxed set, the audio commentaries here reveal that some of the behind-the-scenes contributors are simply better at this sort of thing than others. Writer/producer Doug Petrie, a highlight in the last collection, is so once again as he talks through his episode “Fool for Love,” providing engaging recollections, fun anecdotes and lots of detail about “building the monster” Spike (James Marsters) through flashbacks to his long backstory. By contrast, the talks by writer Jane Espenson on “I Was Made to Love You” and writer David Fury and director David Grossman on “Real Me,” while each has interesting information to share, just aren’t as compellingly listenable. (Despite Grossman’s involvement, almost the entire latter conversation is devoted to story, not technical concerns.)

Once more, creator Whedon is best of all as he comments on “The Body,” which he wrote and directed. With a perfect balance of thoughtfulness, candor and moments of self-deprecating humor, he explores how he handled the story’s difficult subject matter (and not just all the death stuff—he explains how he made the very right choice not to sensationalize the show’s first onscreen Willow-Tara kiss). His explanation of both his work with actors and his handling of visuals to put the drama across makes one yearn to see him direct more often—someone give this man a feature, and then leave him alone to do it!

His discussion is so thorough that it renders the “Natural Causes” featurette about the same episode superfluous. The best of the box’s several minidocumentaries is “Buffy Abroad,” a fun piece in which the cast and creators talk about the series’ international appeal, complete with clips dubbed into several different languages. “The Story of Season Five” provides a bit of illumination into the series’ key episodes, while a “Spotlight on Dawn,” “Casting Buffy,” “Action Heroes” (about the stuntwork) and “Demonology—A Slayer’s Guide” are too brief to get much below the surface. (The latter, rather than detailing the monster FX work, is a silly group of creature character sketches hosted by Danny Strong’s Jonathan character.) And speaking of brief, many of the flubs and gags in the outtakes section are genuinely funny—but considering they span the first five seasons, surely more could have been dug up than the couple of minutes’ worth that are compiled here.

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