Synopsis: Angel drops off a necklace to be worn by an ensoulled champion. Buffy decides on a momentous plan to empower all Potential Slayers with her power. The next morning they occupy the school and open the portal. The Slayers, Potentials and Spike march down to take on the Turok-Han. Willow performs the spell and the Potentials become Slayers. The battle is going against the good side until Spike’s necklace lights up and Sunnydale begins to collapse around them. Anya dies battling Bringers. The rest escape as the Hellmouth closes for good.
The Good: There was a lot to like about the end of Buffy. Considering the poor job Season Seven had done setting it up I think it was about as good as it could have been.
The twin messages of female empowerment worked really well. Buffy concludes not just the Spuffy story but the Bangel one too with her cookie-dough speech. She isn’t done developing as a person. That’s why no relationship with a man has really stuck. Given all that poor Buffy Summers has been through, that was a bit of an understatement. But her conclusion felt like an entirely appropriate message to send out to female viewers. Unlike every other love story you’ll see on TV, this one isn’t about tragedy or a happy ending. It’s about understanding that you should be happy with who you are rather than looking to someone else for definition. Only a show that tells compelling stories can get away with a message aimed so squarely at its audience and thankfully Buffy has more than earned the right to underline it’s point of view.
Similarly the montage of young women being imbued with supernatural strength sent the message that women do have the strength in everyday life to be masters of their own destiny. The whole reason for the show is to underscore that idea so it felt ideal as the concluding science-fiction metaphor. It also tied up Willow’s season long angst as she taps into the power of goodness to such an extent that she goes white rather than black with magic.
Finally giving the Potentials the power to fight back and free Buffy from the responsibility of being “the one” was an ultra-happy ending. But again it felt earned after all the misery she’s suffered and the expectations for the Slayer which she has shattered. If she can conquer death then why not pass on her power now to all who can wield it. To see her standing, smiling, free of Sunnydale and her calling was a fine final shot.
The callbacks throughout were solid. It was nice to give us a repeat of Giles’ “doomed” line from the pilot and I smiled at Andrew mentioning bunnies around a scared Anya. Spike also gets to knock down the Sunnydale sign one last time.
Spike finally becoming a champion and giving his life for good was adequate. Without more build up I can’t say it hit the emotional moment it was going for. But it did again cross my mind that Buffy’s goodness rather than her strength had won this demon over to such an extent that he turned out to be the key to her salvation.
For the first time in what feels like ages I really liked Robin Wood here. The way he went all Principal on Faith and overcame her defensiveness and objectification of men was well played. It gave both characters an unexpectedly optimistic sendoff.
The Bad: The big moments would have been so much better if the preceding episodes had hinted at what was to come or what both sides needed to do. In retrospect you can see why the Scythe was so important and why the First was so determined to corrupt Spike. In both cases though it would have been nice to have more focus on them as key to winning the war. The fact that Angel drops off the amulet for Spike with the flimsiest of explanations was very unsatisfying.
More than that though I feel like Spike’s story didn’t really drive toward his heroic death. He got his soul back out of guilt and desire for Buffy and then spent the season being tormented or frustrated. It didn’t seem like he was looking for a role as a champion, it was moe that Buffy wanted that for him. I do see the long term significance of this story. Back in “Becoming” Spike saved the world to serve his own desires. Now he gives up everything to save it. But again more build up would have helped, perhaps more detail on the power of a restored soul could have made the Amulet seem less convenient.
Similarly we only found out here that the First can become corporeal once there are more Turok-Han on the Earth than people. That information could have been used to fuel the arguments between the Potentials and Scoobies rather than the vaguer and ultimately pointless questioning of Buffy’s leadership skills.
The use of the Turok-Han this season is a problem I’ve discussed before. Their strength is ambiguous to the point where I don’t have a problem with the En-Slayed Potentials holding their own for a while. But Buffy’s plan seems very foolish when you see thousands of them still advancing as the battle goes on. Buffy has no understanding of what the Amulet will do so it feels like she has simply delayed their inevitable slaughter rather than found a winning strategy. Maybe I missed it but it still felt like the First had no way of opening the portal with Caleb gone. If the point was that (as in “Prophecy Girl”) it was actually Buffy who was detstined to open the door then that too should have been worked into the story.
The idea that the Turok-Han were desperate to get out of the School and into the sewers was an idea which just about explains why they didn’t tear Robin, Giles, Andrew and Anya to pieces. But really, they should have done. Anya seems to have been killed by Bringers who randomly arrived on the scene.
Buffy’s wound didn’t seem to have any lasting effect on her once she stood up. I know she’s strong but shouldn’t that have slowed her down a little?
The Unknown: What do they do now?
Best Moment: The cut back to Buffy’s “Chosen” speech as the show comes full circle from “every generation a Slayer is born” to a whole generation being gifted all at once.
The Bottom Line: The good of this finale is that the message of Buffy the Vampire Slayer rang out loud and clear. It’s proudly a feminist show and the line where Buffy says “because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule” applies not just to Potentials and Slayers but to women’s lives everywhere.
The bad is pretty much everything that happened between this episode and “Conversations with Dead People.” It’s a real shame that the final season didn’t provide many highlights and wasted so many opportunities but it didn’t ruin the legacy of the show. The show still stands tall for its compelling super hero story and its ground breaking approach to storytelling.
If you’re watching Buffy after the modern TV era with its Lost or Breaking Bad then you may not fully appreciate what a force for change the show was. When it began shows didn’t have ongoing stories very often. They certainly didn’t show characters growing, changing and dying like they did here. Buffy broke a mould in more ways than one and I’ll be forever grateful for the way in which it showed me how great television could be.