“The Gift” is the greatest Buffy finale. There’s an inherent awesome to any final showdown with Hell God, and this one certainly lives up to the hype, but there’s more going on here than mere spectacle. ME was able to inject some genuine tension into the proceedings by linking the world’s fate to Dawn’s. We all knew the that the season wasn’t going to end with Glory destroying the world but, given the nature of Dawn’s introduction to the series, it seemed entirely possible that Buffy might be able to win the fight but still lose her sister. It makes for some great storytelling but, in itself, it isn’t what makes this such an incredible finale. That fact rests on how thoroughly this episode encapsulates what Buffy the Vampire Slayer was about.
Buffy was set to move to UPN in season six and so there was clearly an impetus to bring some measure of closure to the first five years. The opening gives us some clear signposting for this as we get a “previously on” spanning the entire series and then a thoroughly typical fight with a vampire behind the Magic Box. The show’s “humble beginnings” not only make for a nice contrast with the apocalyptic battle that’s unfolding, the serve as a reminder of the it’s core premise; a young girl meets a monster in a dark alley and, surprisingly, kicks its ass. More importantly, this fight underscores the fact that such ass-kicking is no longer a surprise.
This show was not only built on defying the story expectations in the general sense, but also in the specific sense. A teenage girl who fights vampires is conventional within this universe, but Buffy’s approach to that birthright is not. She’s cast in the role of lone champion, fighting a battle against the darkness that can only end one way, and redefines the role on her terms; sharing her burden with friends, relating to her Watcher as an equal, forsaking and later conquering the authority that once ruled her. Buffy has been about thwarting a narrative which itself thwarted traditional narrative structure.
Of course, yesterday’s revolution is today’s status quo and, as the series went on, Buffy was less defined against other conventions than by its own. This isn’t a bad thing, the show no longer needed external reference points as it developed its own unique identity. But it also means that Buffy, of necessity, has become less of a “third way” character; her role’s become as established as the series surrounding her.
There’s been some acknowledgement of this throughout the season, from Buffy’s renewed commitment to being the Slayer, to her obsessing over the apparently doomed nature of all her relationships, to the emergence of the Magic Box as the new Library. This season has been about the show capitalizing on the story elements it knows work, but those story elements seem to be driving Buffy to a foregone conclusion. It’s a fact that’s not not lost on Buffy as she wearily contemplates the link between Dawn’s fate and the world’s.
Both Head and Gellar are superbly intense when he first insists discussing Dawn’s death, but I’ll still take their second, weary, “how many apocalypses has this been?” conversation as the definitive one. Not only is Giles’ logic sound, it’s in keeping with Buffy’s narrative structure; sacrifice seems to be a core component of apocalyptic battles; we had Buffy herself in season one, Angel in season two, and Faith in season three. The Angel-parallels are particularly strong here, a fact Buffy explicitly acknowledges but, far from being conflicted about the issue, she comes down firmly on the opposite side from last time, saying:
I love him so much. But I knew … what was right. I don’t have that any more. I don’t understand. I don’t know how to live in this world if these are the choices. If everything just gets stripped away. I don’t see the point… If Dawn dies, I’m done with it, I’m quitting.
Buffy recognizes that she’s become part of tragic narrative and the only answer she has to it is to walk away. It’s a bleak moment for the character, but it isn’t one that lasts. We get the epic (and fun) battle with a Hell-God that we were promised, and it neatly fits into the Buffy mold as success hinges on everyone doing their part. We also get the impossible choice we were promised, as Buffy defeats the Glory, but not fast enough to deny us this climax. And then she finds a third option.
This season has, in many ways, been driven towards Dawn’s demise. She was a new character, introduced through some questionable narrative gymnastics, who never quite gelled with the rest of the Scooby team; she seems to have been created just to be added to Buffy’s lengthening list of personal tragedy. But Buffy isn’t one to be bound by narrative structures, even those she helped create. Noble self-sacrifice is clearly a heroic trait, but one hardly unique to Buffy. What makes this act definitive for her is that it isn’t one of the options presented, it’s an alternative of her own making that allows her to break the cycle that would contain her. This is what makes Buffy Buffy.
The best non-Buffy moment of this episode has got to be Giles killing Ben. “She’s a hero, you see. She’s not like us.” “Us?” Arguably, this is the darkest moment the series has ever given us.
The use of the Buffy-Bot had me completely fooled the first time I watch the series.
While Xander’s use of the wrecking ball did make for a cool moment, it was also a pretty contrived one as it would be next to impossible to execute. That said, we were kinda prepped for it in Anya’s earlier suggestion that they drop a piano on Glory.
Spike was also pretty awesome in this episode, loved the scene where Buffy invites him back in.
As I mentioned before, Doc needed to be a slightly bigger part of the season earlier on, considering the role he has here.