I’m Cookie Dough

The more things change...

The more things change…

Where it is the task of the season finale to put an exclamation point on a single arc, a series finale must do so for an entire show.  That’s a tall order for any series, but it’s particularly difficult for one as diverse and innovative as Buffy.  How do you sum up a show that so often defied classification, even by the conventions it built for itself?  “You don’t” is the simple answer.  This episode wisely cuts through the extraneous elements and puts its focus on the show’s core themes.  This was, fundamentally, a show about growing up and while that’s a pretty nebulous concept to pin your exclamation point on, “Chosen” succeeds admirably in showing us just what it means for Buffy.

Defying expectations has always been a cornerstone Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  The hot blonde is chased down an alley by a monster then turns around and kicks its ass.  It’s the germ that originally caused Whedon to develop the concept and since then has permeated the series in its genre bending, bold storytelling and a refusal to rest on its laurels.  It’s also inherent in Buffy herself.  Even as she came to accept her destiny, she did so her way; developing a support network, shifting the balance of power with her Watcher, breaking with the Council and then reuniting on her terms, she took her sister’s place in death and returned from the grave (twice).  For Buffy, growing up means defining, for yourself, who you want to be.

Of course, part of growing up is also realising that even as you defy on set of expectations, there’s another waiting for you.  This season, it’s been all about what a leader’s supposed to be.  Leader in the “real” sense of the word; not first among equals as with the Scoobies but as in a commander whose opinion is the only one that matters.  That’s a decidedly un-Buffy model, but it’s the hand she’s been dealt.  There are simply too many voices and too little time to build consensus and, even if that weren’t so, the Potentials are greener than first season Xander, utterly incapable of taking care of themselves.  Buffy’s the one with the power here and so she’s the one who decides how it gets used.  Everyone else needs to fall in line or find themselves powerless.

While the manifestation is extreme, this isn’t an entirely new conception of power for Buffy. She’s been prone to isolation from the beginning, forever thinking that her power separates her from others, even those closest to her.  She’s not wrong. Power is more than just the ability to do what others can’t (that’s called a skill), power is the ability to do what others don’t want you to.  Either others oppose your will, in which case the most powerful person wins, or they fall in line with it and so add their power to your own. Power means power over and this, by its nature, makes power isolating.  Unless you share it.

I love Buffy’s solution.  It not only demonstrates the same sort of third way thinking that’s characterised her through seven seasons, it also neatly unites the expectation thwarting with the show’s other major theme: we are stronger together.  “My Power” is isolating. “Our Power” is unifying.  Buffy doesn’t just turn all the girls into Slayers and then get them to follower her, she offers them a choice; the same one she’s been making for seven years.  “Strong” doesn’t mean having superpowers, it means deciding who you want to be against what the world expects.  This is the fullest manifestation of what Buffy’s always done in sharing her power with the Scoobies.  Much as she might agonize over being alone, her greatest successes have always come when she forgets that fact and trusts in her friends.

So Buffy ends, appropriately, with our Slayer conquering the show’s central premise.  “One girl in all the world…” is no longer valid.  She is no longer Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  She’s Buffy, a Vampire Slayer.  What that means is an open road and an unanswered “what do you want to do now?” This is, perhaps, the final piece of growing up.  Buffy hasn’t finished defining who she is but there’s no longer anything for her to define herself against.  Her destiny is now entirely of her own making.

Final Thoughts

This was an honest review as far as it went.  I meant everything I said about this episode, I merely omitted mention of the countless things that didn’t work.  Look for a far less positive review next week.  For now, I’ll think about what else this finale got right.

This really was the best way to bring any significant closure to the series.  The other potential course was to kill Buffy, but that would’ve been problematic for a number of reasons.  First, they already (brilliantly) did the Buffy dies ending in season five.  Second, while Buffy could be dark on occasion, there was always an element of triumphalism to it.  To end on a down note just wouldn’t have felt right.  Finally, death is the way every Slayer’s story ends and Buffy is not every Slayer.

Contrived and inconsequential as it was, I still appreciated the Angel appearance.  This was (arguably) the most important relationship of Buffy’s life and making it part of the finale felt right.

Andrew!  The prepared statement is a small joke but a great one.

Though not as great as Giles playing Dungeons and Dragons.  The series saved one of its all time greatest jokes for last.

I like the fact that it’s The First’s taunts that gave Buffy the idea that would end up defeating it.

I really liked the season one callback, “The world is most definitely doomed.”

While I’m still no fan of the Buffy finale, the exercise of writing this review has given me a new appreciation for it.  Thematically speaking, this ending may be perfect, if only…

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6 responses to “I’m Cookie Dough

  1. Yup, it may be no “Becoming” or “The Gift” and certainly not “Not Fade Away”, but your review certainly made me see why I still love it more than not (until you give your counterpoint, I assume). The beautiful feminist message in the end and the montage of all the girls in the world “standing up” made me remember why I love this show, and the great way it handles the characters probably still tilts the scale in Buffy’s favor instead of Angel’s, but I guess the two shows are pretty different in the end, so I can appreciate different things about them.

    Congrats on (almost) getting to the end! Your reviews have been great reading ever since I discovered them.

  2. Great review of a great show! but I’m going to have to be contrarian and say I didn’t like the episode. Your review was on what you felt worked – and I can’t say your opinion is wrong, but I can say I disagree with it. And most notably was Buffy’s “solution”

    If Buffy was about growing up and facing challenges in a mature way not just how stereoscopically strict parents want their teenagers too but in an authentically mature and honest way – then Buffy’s “solution” in this episode was not in keeping with the show’s central theme. Aside from just being way too much deus ex machina, it was all about giving great power to those whom have no training, experience or guidance. Giving a car to a child who has never been given any lessons isn’t love, its irresponsibly dangerous. As seen later in Angle Season 5, the consequences of Buffy’s solution were are not always positive (spoiler alert: a killer slayer) and there isn’t even an ounce of understanding or reflection about that in Buffy’s choice here. Also, watching the potentials suddenly being able to kill dozens of Turok-Han effortlessly (even without that other deus ex machina the scythe) just felt like it was poor written a let down for all the tension the writers built up over them as villains.

    Also I am surprised you didn’t think Spike’s action were worthy of praise here. His character got to get over his love for Buffy, which could never truly be returned, and his acknowledgement of it, was one of the best scenes in the show. Spike’s sacrifice felt rushed, and the story wasn’t prepped enough for what it was – but it was still the best way to wrap up his character on Buffy – him, the redeemed villain saving the world through his own sacrifice and enjoying it (and not wanting his last conversation to be based on a comforting lie and still thanks Buffy for trying) it was maybe the best scene in the episode.

    Umm calling Angle Buffy’s most important relationship goes directly against what Whedon said in an interview which was that it is clearly Parker who holds that title! (whedon did jokingly say that)

  3. It’s no The Gift (I haven’t seen Not Fade Away yet) and it should have been a double-length episode perhaps, and let’s not talk about some of the effects, but I still really like this as a finale to Buffy. That final line and Buffy’s smile at the end is lovely.

    I remember at the time being really happy that Andrew survived as well. On re-watching recently I was less happy they killed off the one Potential I liked!

  4. Hi all, thanks for the comments. I won’t say too much as I do have another review and some final thoughts to go. But to respond on some specific points:
    Charlie – Agreed re the episode needing more time, the show’s last shot and Amanda’s death, although I may have different reason. She was the one Potential we were ever given a reason to care about, and that made her death feel more than a little obvious. Not Fade Away is awesome, BTW. You’re in for a treat.
    Gunn – Considering Buffy’s solution stops the apocalypse, I’ll give her a pass on some rogue Slayers in comics no one should read. Gotta disagree on Spike though, for reasons I’ll get into next week.
    Zokolov – Are you referring to the way the series handled characters in general of the way this finale does. Gotta disagree if it’s the latter. It didn’t feel like anyone but Buffy got their due in this episode.

  5. I’m still not sold on Buffy’s solution as being in keeping thematically with the show. It was too easy, unearned and irresponsible, not in keeping with “growing up.” Also, the rogue slayer was in Angel the TV show.

  6. I never thought I’d be coming to the defense of this episode, but your “irresponsible” comment can’t go unanswered. I agree with your “unearned” assessment (spoilers for Saturday’s post), but Buffy’s solution was hardly irresponsible.
    1) The objective here was to stop the apocalypse. This alternative outweighs any negative consequences of Buffy’s act.
    2) Besides its general threat, The First was specifically targeting Potentials. The was the only effective means for them to defend themselves.
    3) The majority of Potentials, those gathered to Buffy, did have training. Not a lot, but more than Buffy did when she started.
    4) There was a plan to deal with the consequences of empowering the remaining untrained potentials; Willow can sense them and Giles says they’ll need to gather them. This was put into practice in the Angel episode you reference.
    5) Buffy didn’t arrive at this decision on her own. She put it before her council of experienced evil-fighters and then took it to the wider group.

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