In the twenty-second and final episode of the fifth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy Summers discovers her gift. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
Every moment of this show has been leading to this point.
It’s been four days since I watched “The Gift,” and I admit that there have been moments when I just couldn’t deal with the thought of the final five minutes of this episode. I’d think about Buffy’s monologue, or Spike weeping, or Willow’s face, and I’d just want to start crying. I know that there are two more seasons, that the show will have to find some way to bring Buffy back, but I miss her. I miss her already, and my heart hurts to think about the sacrifice she made to save the world.
That’s really what this show’s always been about, hasn’t it? Over the course of five years, Buffy Summers has found a way to sacrifice her personal life, her romantic interests, her education, and her own needs and desires to save the world. A lot. Has she fought her role as the Slayer along the way? Of course she has. She’s taken breaks. She has made bad decisions. She’s hurt those around her. But when it mattered, she saved the world, often at her own expense. She has done this for over five years of her life. Five years. This wasn’t once or twice. The “Previously On…” segment drives this point home. We get glimpses of every moment where Buffy saved a life or ended an evil being. It’s so much that it blurs into one singular story: Buffy has spent a hell of a long time battling evil.
She’s not the same slayer she once was. In fact, I’d argue that the first half of “The Gift” is about her own personal growth as the Slayer. Season five has addressed death in a whole lot of ways, but Buffy’s own personal journey with death in her life and the deaths she has caused lead her to refuse to bring it about anymore. She refuses to kill Glory. She refuses to kill Ben. She refuses to kill Dawn. After spending so much time killing demons and vampires and robots and beasts, she purposely defies the message given to her by the First Slayer. Hell, I find that incredibly powerful. So often, we see characters in fantasy stories accepting the vague threats of destiny as fact, and Buffy does the opposite. She outright rejects what the First Slayer has told her. Her gift is not death, and she will find a way to save the world and her sister without killing anyone.
That doesn’t negate what a serious situation this is, and as difficult as it was to watch, I’m glad that Joss created this conflict between Buffy and Giles. I have a feeling this is going to come up again, but in “The Gift,” Giles becomes upset with Buffy’s refusal to kill Glory. Is it fair? Well, no, because Giles isn’t the Slayer, and he has no idea what Buffy’s life has been like. Still, someone had to acknowledge that this wasn’t just an everyday villain that they were up against. If Dawn wasn’t killed once the ritual started, all of Earth would become victim to every hell dimension that has ever existed. Truthfully, Giles just doesn’t have the same emotional attachment to Dawn as Buffy does, and he certainly doesn’t have her history of death either.
So what’s the answer? There really isn’t an easy one, and the group bickers ruthlessly about how they’re supposed to stop Glory using the Key without killing anyone. Then Giles yells at Buffy and Anya and MOM AND DAD ARE FIGHTING MAKE IT STOP. So Anya makes it stop by SUGGESTING TWO WONDERFUL IDEAS. Anya, how are you real. I love you. Also, I kept thinking Olaf’s hammer was Thor’s hammer? Whatever, that totally makes the story better, doesn’t it? Anyway, the plan that the Scoobies come up with might be their strangest one yet: they are going to distract Glory. No one is going to kill anyone. Instead, they’re just going to keep her occupied until the window of time to complete the ritual passes. In theory, it’s actually kind of a good plan? In actuality, it turns out to be a lot harder to pull off, but still, what else could they have done? Willow was the only one who had ever harmed Glory, and it’s not until Buffy actually uses Olaf’s hammer that she discovers that it can actually hurt a god. I appreciate just how complex this all is.
And I think that’s exhibited well in the scene between Buffy and Giles where the two of them discuss their pass. It drives home the point that Buffy has had to save the world a lot in the past. It never stops coming, does it? I’m reminded of the episode “Reprise” on Angel. There’s simply no winning when it comes to evil. There are just temporary, momentary victories. Giles knows this, and he knows that he promised to protect the world. In this case, he feels that Dawn’s sacrifice, while awful, is necessary. But can this really be Buffy’s only gift? Must she always give death to those around her? Again, I adore that she says NO to this. Is it foolish? Perhaps, but I still respect her for it.
Wait, can we go back to talking about Anya? Well, I have to bring up Xander, too. Throughout “The Gift,” this all felt like the end of Buffy, as if this was the series finale. (Well, I’ve since learned WB billed it as the series finale, since it was moving networks.) It became absolutely unbearable by the last fifteen minutes because I knew someone was going to die. Hell, Buffy even warned Spike of the very same thing, and I knew that was about as obvious as the foreshadowing was going to get. (I STILL HAD NO IDEA, HOLY FUCK.) So when Xander proposed to Anya and I squealed, I then realized that this was a trick. Anya agrees to marry Xander “after the world doesn’t end,” and I thought I was being clever by thinking that this meant either Anya or Xander would die. I adore their relationship, and it brings me joy, so that means someone writing for this show was going to take that away from me. (Little did I know that this all acted as a sleight of hand. I WAS TRICKED. TRICKED.)
Actually, I think that’s an accurate way to describe my experience with this episode. Every touching or emotional moment was an omen. That character was going to die or suffer some horrific fate. When Spike thanked Buffy for treating him like a man, regardless of whether she would ever love him, all I could think was, “Well, fuck. He’s going to die.” When Dawn insisted to Glory that Buffy would come save her, I thought, “Well, Glory is going to kill her before Buffy even arrives.”
All of this made me feel so goddamn nervous when the Scoobies headed to the tower to confront Glory. My god, the amount of sheer terrified anxiety I was experiencing… this was such a huge moment for the whole show. I really think that this is the brilliance of this season and Buffy in general. Over the past five years, I feel like these threats and risks are real. I genuinely believed that by the end of the battle with Glory, at least one of the Scoobies would no longer be with us. This is one of the most brutal fights I have ever seen on television. It’s one of the most tense sequences on all of Buffy as well. How do you think of this stuff, Joss Whedon? And then Doc shows up and I wanted to die. It’s simply too much. Of course I had forgotten about his very existence. Are you at all surprised? Essentially, watching the last fifteen minutes of this show was an exercise in freaking out. How many things could Joss Whedon cram into the finale that would break my brain? Things like:
- Willow reversing Tara’s brain-suck. !!!!!!!!!!
- The Scoobies deciding to use the Buffybot for the initial attack on Glory and Glory’s amazing reaction to this.
- The sheer brutality of Olaf’s hammer. The sound of it grossed me out.
- The fight up the tower. FUCK.
- Both Glory and Buffy falling off the tower.
- XANDER BEING A GLORIFIED BRICK LAYER. OH MY GOD.
- WILLOW CAN COMMUNICATE TELEPATHICALLY NOW. WHAT THE FUCK!?!?!??!1 WHAT THE FUCK.
- Spike being knocked off the tower. I THOUGHT HE WAS DEAD.
- Giles. Giles. I still can’t comprehend what an unbelievable moment this was for his character. Tara even predicted it, calling him a killer. I never believed it was possible, but I should have. He swore to protect the world, and he knows that, deep down, he is not as good and true as Buffy is. So he kills Glory/Ben so that Buffy doesn’t have to compromise her own morals.
But nothing terrified me more than the moment that Doc made two small cuts on Dawn. The worst possible scenario was unfolding. Spike and Anya were probably dead, and Buffy was going to have to make a terrible decision. Dawn’s blood was opening the portal, and let me just say this now: I fucking love Joss Whedon for actually showing us what would happen once the portal opened. He doesn’t give us a visual cheat. Entire parts of Sunnydale are instantly zapped out of existence, replaced by horrific demon hives, and at one point, A FUCKING DRAGON FLIES OUT OF THE PORTAL. That is what I wanted to see. It needed to be FUCKING WEIRD. (And those one demons we saw were quite H.R. Giger-ish, no?)
I didn’t see the end of this episode coming until it was spelled out for me during the flashback. I fought it. The show wouldn’t actually commit to this. But with only a few seconds of thought on the idea, I realized what I said in the opening of this review: the show was always leading to this point. Buffy has constantly sacrificed everything in her life for the good of others, so it makes sense that she would choose to give up her own life to save both the world and her younger sister. This is Buffy’s gift, and her death is what saves everyone.
Her monologue destroyed me. It destroyed me because it was so true. There is nothing harder than simply living, and if anyone knows that, it is Buffy Summers. She has lived amongst so much death, and I imagine that as she leapt off that tower, she was at peace with the decision she had made. This was the job she had to do, and this is what she was always meant to do.
Like “The Body,” I don’t know that I could ever watch “The Gift” again. I don’t know that I could make it through the scene of the Scoobies coming upon Buffy’s lifeless body again. I now regret demanding that Spike not cry again more than ever before. I can’t handle that image. I can’t handle Giles’s face, or Xander carrying a barely-moving Anya, or the pure despair in Willow’s face.
But I definitely cannot handle seeing Buffy’s grave. This is not a trick. This is not a sleight of hand. Buffy Summers is dead. She saved the world. A lot. And she is dead.
What the fuck.
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