Thursday, February 28, 2008

The End of Buffy Season Five

27 February 2008

So, it's come to this.

We watched three episodes, bringing to a close this season of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

Was it better than last year? Yeah, I thought it was.

But first, we got "Spiral," by Steven S. DeKnight, which wasn't better than last year.

So, we pick up where we left off in the last episode (which seemed like an awfully long time to me, which tyranist was happy to point out was my fault. Still, that didn't cover why everyone looked strange and all Glory's minions had changed). Glory stands outside Willow's dorm, delighted to now know that Buffy's sister is the Key. Glory, the Blond Beast, takes a moment to gloat, then Willow casts a blow-her-back spell and Buffy grabs Dawn and runs out of the room.

Buffy and Dawn run as fast as they can through the dorm, drawing only a couple of curious glances from the people sitting around there. Which makes me wonder: the entire wall of Willow's dorm has been torn off, and none of the other students who live there bother to check it out?*

Glory moves at superhuman speed after them and chases them into the street outside. She pauses to gloat again . . . and is run down by a big truck (no idea if students go over to check on her then either), saving Dawn once again. Immediately after, she becomes Ben, as was my guess as to how Buffy and Dawn were going to get out of the last episode's cliffhanger.

Everyone gets together to plan their next move, and Buffy's suggestion is that they bug out and call it even. They are out-matched, and the only thing that's to be done is to flee.

Meanwhile, the merry gang of 17th century idiots known as the Brotherhood of the Sacred Roach (The Knights of Byzantium, actually) have convened a huge (by television standards) army to take down Buffy and Co., so they can kill the key.

Spike pulls up in a big motorhome (which is what they called RVs back in the 20th Century) with all the windows covered. Everyone is hesitant to trust him (I still don't get that, since I missed that theoretical comic book that explains it), but Buffy says she needs him (for his superior strength) and has grown to trust him.

They drive off into the desert. Buffy has sequestered herself into the back and is trying to take the world's problems on herself. Xander gets carsick, Tara is still out of her mind, Willow takes care of her, and Spike and Giles take turns driving. Anya and Dawn have nothing to do, but then the Knights arrive, on horseback, attacking the motorhome.

They shoot arrows and swing swords, and Buffy has to go out on the roof to start throwing them off. One plunges his sword through the vehicle's roof, and Spike slices his hands when he grabs it. The violence in this scene was somewhat impressive, since as far as I could see, the Knights were human, but from the dialogue, ten of them are killed. A good start, in this humble opinion.

Just as it appears they're getting the upper hand, one of the Knights throws a spear through the windshield, impaling Giles in the stomach. He loses control of the motorhome, and it crashes onto its side.

When next we see our heroes, they have made it to a deserted gas station. The Knights continue attacking, and Willow casts a protection spell that acts as a forcefield around the gas station.

The Knights have clerics who go to work trying to take down the shield, while the others work on the bleeding and incapacitated Giles. Buffy calls Ben back in Sunnydale and asks him to come and help Giles, still unaware of who he is. While there is arguing about what to do next, Buffy has Willow make a hole in the shield, and she grabs the leader of the Knights and brings him inside, tying him to a pole.**

The Knights' leader is called The General, a pompous older man, who has a ton of information that we've needed for some time. He tells Buffy that Glory grew too powerful in her hellish dimension, and the other gods banished her to this one, forcing her to inhabit the body of a human. She is entirely vulnerable in this human form, but through the years, Glory grew more and more powerful, able to stay The Blond Beast for longer periods of time. If she gets The Key, she will bleed Dawn to open a portal back to her hellworld. Unfortunately, it will open portals to all the other dimensions too, effectively destroying this one.

Because there are supposed to be rules to war, and because the Knights consider themselves to be good guys, they allow Ben to enter the gas station and work on Giles. He is able to stabilise him in roughly three seconds, but hey, he's part god, so I'll let that go. The General doesn't recognise Ben, but tries to explain to him why Dawn needs to be killed. It's doubtful Ben would've taken him up on the offer, but we'll never know now, because in a flash of morphing, Glory returns to Ben's body.

She sneers at the General and kills him with, I believe, a hubcap. Buffy and Co. are no match for her and she grabs Dawn and makes for the exit, passing through the forcefield as though it were made of computer-generated pixels. She kills every single one of the Knights (her one good deed this season), and disappears into the night.

Luckily, Ben's car is still there, so there's a way to get back to Sunnydale, but as the gang moves to pursue Dawn, Buffy doesn't. The Slayer has frozen on the ground, a look of blank horror on her face. The end.

You know, I didn't think this episode worked all that well. Tyranist seemed to have no problems with it, but it not only didn't feel like a "Buffy" episode, it didn't feel like a complete hour of any show. Even the moment when Giles was dying, and he told Buffy how proud he was of her, sort of fell flat (as though they only had an afternoon to shoot that scene and all the others in that location). That's too bad, 'cause Giles and Buffy's relationship is my (and tyranist's) favourite on the show, and I really should've been bawling.

We did finally find out two super-important things: 1) What Glory wants the Key for, and 2) How to defeat her. But I had to ask tyr "Who was in the room with the General when he explained that second part?"

The answer, only Buffy. Which brings us to the next episode, "The Weight of the World," which is a good one, but more than a little padded out. It was written by Doug Petrie, and yes, if Buffy was the only one who heard the General's revelations, we're in trouble, because Buffy appears to have checked out early, leaving no forwarding address.

Willow tries to talk to her and Spike tries to smack some sense into her, but Buffy only stares, as though in a trance, or catatonia. Willow takes charge (which I don't think we've ever seen her do before), and gives everybody their part in the pursuit of Dawn. Then she wonders where Ben disappeared to. Spike is surprised to find that no one there remembers that Ben turned into Glory, and even as he explains it, due to her magicks, they forget that Ben and Glory are the same person.

Back in Sunnydale, Glory gloats over her captive Key, but starts to feel guilty due to her now-overwhelming connection with Ben. Even Dawn realises that they are the same person, and this frightens Glory. Around them, the minions and the crazy people are gathering, building some large contraption or tower in preparation for the opening of the Blond Beast's portal.

Giles is taken to the hospital and treated. Anya is watching over poor crazy Tara. Spike takes Xander to see Doc, the scary man familiar with all sorts of dark magic, played by Joel Grey. He claims to have nothing that can help them defeat Glory, all the while trying to hide a wooden box on his table. It turns out that he is on Glory's side, and tries to burn the box (he also has a very long tongue). Xander stabs Doc with a sword, and Spike gets the box out of the fireplace. As they leave, Doc doesn't stay dead.

Willow takes Buffy home and performs a spell that puts her into Buffy's mind. We see a strange sequence of events, starting with the day Mr. and Mrs. Summers brought Dawn home from the hospital and ending with Buffy smothering Dawn with a pillow. Then the sequence repeats, starting with little girl Buffy promising her parents that she'll look after new baby sister.

I looked on ye olde IMDB, and sure enough, Dean Butler who played Mr. Summers was the man who played Buffy's dad in the first season episode with all the bad dreams. Continuity kicks ass, regardless of what Joe Quesada thinks.

Buffy's other memories include pausing at the bookshelf in her house and being in the desert when the First Slayer told her that death is her gift.Glory turns back into Ben and he immediately frees Dawn and gets her out of there. They go to the Sunnydale street set and duck into an alley, where Dawn hits Ben over the head. Sadly, this causes him to revert to his Glory persona, and they go back and forth, battling over possession of the body.

Finally, the two sides call a truce, and Ben agrees to help Glory out. I thought it was a trick until he presents Dawn to Glory's scabby minions, who whisk her away for the sacrifice.

Back in Buffy's mind, Willow watches Buffy go through the sequence again, but prevents her from suffocating Dawn with the pillow.
Buffy explains that there came a moment, when she was putting a book away, that she gave in to despair, and at that moment, she killed her sister.

Willow pleads with Buffy to understand that just because she failed to prevent Glory from taking Dawn, she hasn't killed her sister. And as long as Dawn is still alive, Buffy can still make a difference.

With that, Buffy snaps out of her trance. She and Willow go to the magic shop, where everyone has gathered. Doc's box contained a book that explains how Glory's sacrifice will work: she will shed Dawn's blood, and as long as the blood flows, the portals to other dimensions will open. Once that has begun, the only way to close those portals is to kill Dawn. The end.

This was some good stuff. I left out a bit, including Giles's almost-immediate recovery and the humour of Xander realising, then forgetting, that Ben and Glory are the same. But the episode was quite impressive, if it was only a set up for the last episode.

Next, came the conclusion, the season finale (and, in looking it up, the hundredth episode of BTVS), "The Gift." It was written and directed by a Mister Joss Whedon. I didn't know specifics, but I knew one thing that would happen in this episode. Happily, I didn't know how.

The episode began strangely. Strangely enough that had we not been watching it on DVD, I would've been sure that we were seeing a second season episode. A teenage boy is being stalked by a vampire in a dark alley. Buffy comes out and taunts the vampire, who goes after her, fights her, and is staked. She comments that it's not often anymore that a vampire doesn't recognise her, then goes back inside the Magic Box, where everyone's still trying to figure out how to stop Glory.

Buffy is adamant that they not talk about killing Dawn, and Giles stands up, shouting, "We bloody well ARE talking about it!" which impressed the hell out of me (more so 'cause you know the guy's in pain). Buffy goes all cold on him for suggesting they murder her sister, and his response is "She's not your sister." Good stuff.

Spike stresses how important blood is ("It makes you warm. It makes you hard.")

Amazingly, Anya has an idea: what about that Dagon Sphere from way back at the beginning of the season? It was created to protect people from The Blond Beast, and is just sitting around in the basement. Oh, and the hammer from her troll ex-boyfriend, we could use that too. Anya is good for more than just comic relief!

And Tara, crazy as she is, provides the last piece of the puzzle. After having her sanity drained out, she is drawn (like all the other Sunnydale crazies) to where Glory's ritual is going to be performed, the huge makeshift tower on the outskirts of town.

Xander and Anya go downstairs to find the Dagon Sphere, and have a little World's-About-To-End Sex. Then Xander surprises Anya by presenting her with a ring and asking her to marry him. She doesn't say no, but tells him to ask her again when they make it out of this alive. They find two things down there: the Sphere, and the Buffybot, which Willow apparently repaired.

Buffy takes Spike home with her, but he can't enter because he's been uninvited. She invites him in again, and she tells him he's the only one strong enough to protect Dawn if she falls. Spike says, "I know you'll never love me. I know that I'm a monster . . but you treat me like a man." It kicked almost as much arse as the "bloody well" line earlier. Maybe more so.

So, Glory's minions have finished their contraption, and the time has come when she can perform her ritual (though I never really understood what the wait was all about), and as night falls, they tie Dawn up at the top of their tower.

Down below, Glory is immediately suspicious when Tara arrives, thinking she's a spy from the Buffy camp. While she's distracted with Tara, Willow casts a spell that restores the sanity Glory took from Tara, yanking it out of the Blond Beast in the process. This weakens Glory, and she looks around for someone to slurp the sanity out of.

Buffy is standing there, holding the Dagon Sphere, which causes Glory pain. She tosses it to Glory, then starts pummeling her as she destroys the Sphere.

All Glory's minions stand around the entrance to the tower, preventing anyone from approaching. Spike, Anya, and Giles begin to fight with them.

Glory pulls herself together long enough to punch Buffy's head clean off, which I don't recall ever happening to Buffy before. Oh wait, it wasn't Buffy at all, but the Buffybot, there to further distract Glory so Buffy could start pounding her with the troll's hammer. I gotta say, they really sold the brutality of this fight, whether with acting, stunts, or sound effects, it looked like Glory's snotty face was being caved in by a two hundred pound hammer.

Up top of the tower, Dawn seems scared and confused, and it's unclear how much she sees going on down below. Suddenly, she's not alone: the nice older man with the scary black eyes from the "Monkey's Paw" episode has appeared to help her.

But no, Doc isn't a friend, but someone who wants to assist Glory in her plan. He pulls a knife out to start the ritual.

Spike sees what's happening, and Willow and Tara cast a spell that blows all the minions out of the way. Spike fights with Doc, but is overpowered and knocked off the top of the tower, where he lands, injured but alive, somewhere down below.

Buffy tries to get to her sister, but Glory just won't stay down. Eventually, Buffy lures Glory to a certain spot, where Xander has been waiting to swing a wrecking ball. Thump. With Glory down, Buffy bashes her sixty or seventy more times with the hammer until she reverts to her Ben form. Buffy has the chance to kill him/her now, but instead tells them to get out of Sunnydale forever. She takes off for the tower again.

Giles kneels down beside Ben, who expresses surprise that Buffy could have killed him, but didn't. Giles speaks words of comfort to Ben, telling him she could never take a human life. Because she's a hero. I thought, in that instance, that if Giles was wise--or if I wrote the episode--that he would kill Ben right there and then, and Giles says, "She’s a hero, you see. She’s not like us." And he puts his hand over Ben's mouth and nose. Until he is dead.

Up top, Doc cuts Dawn twice on the stomach, and the blood begins to flow. Buffy arrives just then, and without even the start of a struggle, tosses Doc off the tower to his death (I assume). She unties Dawn, but she's too late: her blood has already started the portals opening.

All over town, portals start popping up. Buildings shake, streets collapse, rocks fall on Anya, demons and an honest-to-Joss DRAGON come flying out. The end is nigh.

Dawn understands that if her blood stops flowing, the portals will close, so she volunteers to jump off the tower. It was quite moving, and had I not had this episode spoiled for me, I would've been SURE that's what would happen. Just between you and me: I cried anyway.

But Buffy remembers things that have happened earlier in the season, such as the sisters sharing the same blood and the First Slayer saying that death is her gift, and that the monks who gave The Key Dawn's form used Buffy to make her, and decides she will close the portal herself. She whispers to Dawn, then does a mighty, noble jump off the tower, closing the portals, then hitting the ground in a lifeless lump.***

The sun starts to rise, and everyone gathers around Buffy's body. They mourn, supporting one another, taking in the sacrifice Buffy made.

The episode ends with a headstone in a green patch of lawn. "Buffy Summers, 1981-2001," it says. "Devoted Sister, Beloved Friend. She Saved The World. A Lot." The end of an excellent episode.

So, there you have it, the end of another season. And the end of Buffy Summers. I asked tyranist if he knew if this was ever intended to be the SERIES finale, since the show was canceled by the WB Network, but he didn't know. All I know is that this was the last episode on that channel, and when season six aired, it was on UPN (while "Angel" stayed on the WB). My impression was always that the show was canceled, and UPN picked it up, eager to have a show with a following, the way "Dif'rent Strokes" did when I was a lad.

Like I said earlier, I knew Buffy's death was coming. I think it was when we first started watching the show that someone mentioned that she dies twice through the course of the series, and later on, it got more and more specific (someone on a podcast mentioned that in the Graduation episode two years back, it made a prophesy that Buffy would die in 730 days). And yeah, I heard talk and even saw the "Angel" episode (though they didn't spell it out in that one, when they easily could have).

Again (and I know I say this a lot, but I'm not sorry), I cannot imagine how audiences in 2001 would have responded to this. William Shatner, in his book "Star Trek Movie Memories" talks about the first test screening of WRATH OF KHAN, and how truly moved that audience was with the death of Spock, having no clues it would happen, and no set-up that he would return. I doubt this was quite like that--and who knows, it was the internet age, maybe there were spoilers****--but I can't imagine someone would guess that Buffy would die at the end. I knew it was going to happen, and it felt like surely Dawn would die, that her arc had been completed in her one year on the show, and as sad as it was, it made sense. But it was Buffy, dying like a hero, for the greater good, and it was powerful, moving, and very well done. Kudos again, Joss.

I've been writing this for a long, long time. Time I might've been using to do other stuff, but it has helped me to appreciate how well-crafted and -written the show is. Truly, I was telling Merrill just the other day that "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is officially as good as "Firefly."

A pretty heady proclamation, but I stand by it.

Rish Outfield

*This reminds me of something that happened when I was in college. I was in my room, working on something, when my computer exploded. Yeah, it blew up, like an aerosol can chucked in a fire. I dealt with the shock of it all and aired out the room before the smoke detector could go off, and when I finished with that, I went into the living room. My roommates were sitting on the couch, watching TV, and one of them commented on that loud bang that came from my room. When I explained what it was, the other one said, "Oh. We kinda thought maybe you'd killed yourself in there."

Yeah, there are a couple of things wrong with that statement, but the one I bring this up for is, they both heard a gunshot/explosion from my room, yet neither of them got up to check on me?

And these were some of my closer roommates, tyranist can attest to that.

**Tyranist brought it to my attention that I got this part wrong. He wrote, I think you are misremembering this. I believe the leader snuck in through the back door before the shield was up, they knocked him out, chased out the others and then Willow got the shield going. Or, at least, that's how I remember it. Whoops. If I were the kind of bloke who said things like "My bad," this would be the time.

***In talking about this episode with tyranist afterward, I mentioned that Buffy died in the same way that Sirius Black "died" in the Harry Potter book. But he clarified that Buffy's body did indeed hit the ground, so she died like Dumbledore did in the next book. I only hope that the filmmakers adapting HALF-BLOOD PRINCE do as good a job with that moment as the "Buffy" crew did.

****I understand that it was big news in the UK long before it aired, and that even the bloody WB Network in America spoiled it in their promos. I just don't understand the purpose of that sort of thing. I've read Joss in interviews and heard him speak in person, and he goes to all this effort to surprise the audience, only to have the network, or press, or publicity department blow it for him. Gotta be frustrating.

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