As Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and her friends began the transition from high school to young adulthood, Buffy the Vampire Slayer went through a number of changes itself. New cast members, a new spin-off, and a new setting characterized a season that many fans and critics saw as a partially successful experiment. Experimentation was something of a theme for the season -- the... (read more) experimentation of young adulthood and the experiments of a group of sinister government scientists known as The Initiative. Their shadowy military operations providing new elements of X-Files-like science fiction, The Iniative also managed to unleash Adam (George Hertzberg), the season's Frankenstein-like über-villain. As for the characters' personal lives, Buffy and Willow (Alyson Hannigan) enrolled at the fictional UC Sunnydale, whose campus became the locus of the action. Xander (Nicholas Brendon) began his aimless swim though the minimum-wage end of the labor pool, while ex-Watcher Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) faced an impending midlife crisis. The doomed love affair between Buffy and Angel had run its course, allowing David Boreanaz to launch his own show, Angel, with former series regular Charisma Carpenter in tow. When actor Seth Green asked to be released from his contract to pursue movie stardom, Oz, too, disappeared from the Scooby Gang.
These departures left room in the cast for new love interests and new comic relief. Emma Caulfield supplied both as Xander's girlfriend Anya, a vengeance demon reincarnated as a teenaged girl, who struggled to make sense of human customs and vulnerabilities. Amber Benson soon showed up as Willow's new partner-in-Wicca, then as her new partner, period. Though the WB nixed any explicit lesbian content, Willow and Tara's mutual exploration of the supernatural provided ample opportunity for metaphor. By the time Willow was ready to come out to her friends, the show was earning high praise from gay-rights groups. Buffy, too, found new love in the arms of Riley (Marc Blucas), her corn-fed new super-soldier boyfriend. The final cast addition was a blast from the past: second-season veteran James Marsters. Spike, the actor's hell-raising vampire villain, became more of a wacky neighbor than a threat once The Initiative's mad scientists put a chip in his head to keep him from killing humans. Other return appearances included renegade slayer Faith (Eliza Dushku) in one of several crossovers with the first season of Angel. As usual, series creator Joss Whedon stepped in to write and direct several episodes. "Hush" used the techniques of silent film to unleash primal horror on the Slayer and her friends, while season closer "Restless" consisted almost entirely of dream sequences. These formal exercises earned Whedon tremendous critical acclaim -- and, in the case of "Hush," an Emmy nomination -- and cemented the season's experimental tone. ~ Brian J. Dillard, Rovi