Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | March 4, 2013

Robin’s Review: S5, E22 – The Gift

Synopsis: Buffy is determined not to kill Dawn even as Giles insists that it’s necessary to save the world. Anya points out that they still have the Troll Hammer and the Dagosphere. They use them and the Buffy-Bot to distract and beat up Glory until she turns into Ben. Giles kills them but Doc cuts Dawn opening the portal. Buffy realises that by sharing Dawn’s blood she can close the portal and that “Death is her Gift.”

The Good: This was an unexpectedly emotional farewell to Buffy Summers. It was her death that was unexpected, not the emotions. The first time I watched Buffy I was aware that the show was coming back for another season and so turned off by Dawn that I had little emotion at seeing Buffy give her life for the world. This time I cried. One of the great joys of the Rewatch has been falling in love with the Buffy character in a new way. It was always easy to appreciate her as the heroin but on this more analytical second-viewing of the show the purity of her sacrifices have shined brightly. She has refused to shirk her responsibilities since the pilot and I’ve cried for her when she’s been reduced to nothing by her work.

I imagine the first time around I was with Giles all the way as he points out that Dawn isn’t Buffy’s real sister and that killing her will save the world. This time I admired the way the story had been structured. In previous seasons the point was made that Buffy’s tight knit group of friends is what grounded her and kept her living (a point Spike made this season too in 507). This season she’s been trying to understand the dark forces which empower her and turn her into such a potent killing machine. That death was her gift turned out not to reflect the Slayer in her but the hero. It was the Monks who somehow knew her best. They made the Key into her sister so that the Slayer would love and protect it no matter what. With the loss of Joyce, Buffy realised how desperately important family was to her and so refused to do what was sensible for the world if it meant she would deal out to death to those she held dearest. So instead she gave herself, her own death as a gift. Somehow her true heroism allowed her demise to be a choice. Not bleeding out in an alley as a vampire finally got the better of her but making the world a better place once more through personal sacrifice.

The final shot of her grave was perfect: Beloved Sister. Devoted Friend. She Saved The World A Lot. Touching, tear jerking and funny. Buffy the Vampire Slayer in a nutshell.

On the way there we got some nice character moments. It was probably my favourite Anya moment when she began making plans to defeat Glory while everyone else was fretting about hurt feelings. She admits to Xander that this is a big change for her. Last time the Apocalypse came calling she fled (322) but now she is determined to help and feels guilty for not caring more. His proposal and her refusal (until the world was saved) was nice stuff. Similarly Spike reacts to the trust Buffy puts in by acknowledging that he is a monster and that her kind treatment really touches him. He is visibly broken by her death.

Giles sent goosebumps up my arm with his murder of Ben. Time and again Anthony Stewart Head has proven what a tremendous actor he is and once more he nailed it. Without his sinister demeanour the death of Ben wouldn’t have transferred to Buffy the purity that sparing him credited to her.

The opening scene was a neat reminder of Buffy’s raison d’être. “But you’re just a girl” the boy she saves says, “That’s what I keep saying” says Buffy who realised long ago that she was more than that.

The Bad: I don’t mind the Buffy-bot being used to beat up Glory but there’s no way it should have been able to quip and simulate Buffy’s speech pattern as well as it did. It could have just attacked Glory silently and nothing would have been lost. “Buffy” actually looked foolish for not attacking Glory instantly. I also found Xander’s wrecking ball attack far too contrived, especially the way he worked Spike’s earlier jibes into it (about being a brick layer and good bowler).

The Unknown: Back when Buffy killed Angel we were left with minor awkward questions about whether she could have just used his blood to seal the portal. Once again we were left with the vague statement that the blood must stop flowing in order to seal the portal. Could Dawn have been patched up and hence prevented from bleeding further? If not then it does seem a little convenient that Buffy’s blood will do as well as that of the Key. The writing covered as best it could with Spike’s speech about how blood is key to life but it still didn’t feel entirely satisfying. After all Dawn’s blood was still flowing and it wasn’t clear how Buffy died. Would jumping through the portal kill her? Or did the fall kill her? In which case wouldn’t her blood still be flowing for a while?

Doc remained a plot device who should have been used better. I don’t mind him being the one to cut Dawn but the way Buffy comically knocked him off the scaffold continued the bizarre tonal portrayal of him since his creepy introduction (518). If she had just punched him to his death I would have felt better.

So, umm, Buffy’s dead right? What happens next season?

Best Moment: The tombstone.

The Bottom Line: This was an emotionally satisfying finale but plot-wise there were lingering problems.

Glory was the least interesting villain the show has ever produced. As poorly as Adam was handled the concept of a robot-demon-human hybrid was far more watchable than Glory rambling on about her greatness but doing nothing to find the Key. Season Four also saw the balance shift between the supporting characters in ways which didn’t benefit the show. Season Five continued that trend with Xander maturing but becoming irrelevant while Tara, Anya and Willow received some attention and Spike stole a lot of thunder. The loss of Riley (who had just become interesting) was countered by the introduction of Dawn. By endlessly putting Dawn in trouble she was repeatedly asked to scream, cry and whine which made it hard to like her.

The overall season-arc of Buffy’s self discovery was what made Season 5 better than Season 4. It was far better planned out with Riley’s departure, Spike’s crush, Joyce’s death and even the Buffy-bot all playing crucial roles in teaching Buffy about who she was. In the end though I still think the Season sits third behind Seasons 2 and 3. The balance of emotion and character with individual episodes was stronger then. However whenever a show can recover from a slip and increase its quality it is worth celebrating. It suggests the show runners understand what makes good television and can recognise when they have made mistakes. There’s no doubt that Joss Whedon fits that description.

70/100

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