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.
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…