The pre-game eulogies had been written (even A&E devoted a Biography to this fictional heroine), the fannish lines had been drawn: it was finally time for the Buffy series finale.
We’d been dreading the moment for weeks. Of the current non-animated series television, Buffy the Vampire Slayer has been the big no-miss series in our house. The perils of Kim & Jack Bauer? Okay, but if we skip an ep, we can catch up. Cancelled-in-the-midst-of-beaucoup-unanswered-questions John Doe? I’ve still got some entries on tape that I haven’t watched yet. Enterprise? It is to laugh. But Buffy truly exemplified Must See TV ’round these parts.
Yeah, I know the show had slumped in its final years: this past season, in particular, the latchkey parenting of series creator Joss Whedon could really be felt. Where previous seasons contained several nuggets of Whedon writing, this year the writer/director seemed to be focusing too much of his attention on doomed s-f Fox victim Firefly to keep a tight grip on his starter series (the David E. Kelley Syndrome). It showed in too many water-treading episodes, too many sequences devoted to characters dreading the season’s Big Bad without ever making it clear what this arch-nemesis was up to.
But even at its weakest, BtVS had a snap missing from most series television. Credit a cast of well-defined supporting characters (perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this season was the short shrift some of these regulars received plotwise) whose mere presence was often enough to keep us watching. That and a blenderific premise that allowed the writers to move from comedy to drama to horror (to musical comedy!) often in the space of one hour.
Buffy finales have typically worked to thematically cap and, in some cases, explicate the previous season (last season’s Dark Willow climactic episode arc, for instance, did such a strong job tying things together, that when we started watching the season in fx rerun, we were startled to see how much of it had been anticipated in earlier eps). So the big question we had going into the finish was: would it be up to the task of tying up a fairly meandering season and the series itself?
No and yes.
As a series capper, the final episode of Buffy was about as good as it could get. Writer/director Whedon returned to his creation and basically climaxed it by changing the rules established in its opening lines (“To every generation is born a Slayer. . .”) In so doing, he pulled the series away from its egocentric kidult perspective and gave the series a broader POV; in a way, it reflected the graduation that season three’s apocalyptic high school blow-out promised but didn’t fully deliver. (One of the big points of Buffy’s first year in college was, after all, how little it actually differed from high school.) So, yup, it was a strong series finale.
Season-wise, however, the final Buf couldn’t overcome the lapses of character and pacing that were so endemic to a largely Whedon-less run. We kept waiting, for instance, for a moment that explained why estimable watcher Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) was so unflinchingly negative through the second half of this season (perhaps a scene showing that the nefarious First, a villain that specialized in impersonating the dead to demoralize its opponents, had appeared before Giles?) but it never occurred. And bringing ‘em back into battle action was scant compensation for a year when fruitful characters like Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon) and sister Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) were often treated like footnotes.
Still, the episode had Whedon’s prints all over it, which is as it should be. Among the nifty bits that sparked yeahs! in our house:
- Final fight between the Buffster (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and evil First religio-henchman Caleb (Nathan Fillion): the moment where he starts to sneer that our heroine hasn’t got the equipment to finish him off, only to have her cleave him with a scythe from the bottom to top;
- Buffy’s self-immolating cookie dough maturation metaphor;
- Cameoing ex-boyfriend Angel’s (David Boreanaz) grousing reply to Buffy’s revelation that former vampire nemesis Spike has been ensouled: “Everybody’s got a soul now;”
- Spike’s (James Marsters) waking from a nightmare where he’s been “drowning in footwear;”