The Slayer gets her groove back.
May 22, 2002
It’s been a troubled year for our favorite Slayer. True, her taste in leather and earrings hasn’t waned, but she came back from the dead a decidedly sulky girl. There was death and singing and the odd Star Trek reference, and through it all, everyone kind of moped their way through the decidedly depressing plot twists. The season as a whole has given us a few truly wonderful episodes, but it’s been marred by growing pains, TV movie-esque plot twists and the increasing whininess of Dawn “She’s not Cousin Oliver…oh, wait, maybe she is” Summers. And now, it all comes down to this — a big two-hour season finale involving the corruption of one of the most beloved characters in the Jossverse. And damn…does Team Buffy pull it off beautifully.
Now that Willow’s gone goth and killed Warren, she sets her sights on Jonathan and Andrew, currently rotting in a jail cell. Buffy, Xander and Anya desperately race to stop Will before she can do any more serious damage, and while they do manage to save the remaining Redshirts, Willow turns her rage elsewhere, sucking the power out of Rack, threatening to send Dawn back to Energy Blob-dom, and getting into a knock-down, drag-out with Buffy. The Scoobies are momentarily saved by — ta-da! — Giles, who returns from England invested with some serious magical mojo, ready to take Willow down.
As these things never really go the way they’re supposed to, Willow ends up draining Giles of power and attempting to destroy the earth. She traps Buffy and Dawn in a big hole in the ground, and sets off to raise a lil’ ol’ Satanic temple. As B&D battle giant…blobs of dirt, Xander sets off to stop the Dark Phoenix. Oh, and Spike? Off getting his soul back, courtesy of Spawn, and no, I don’t know how I feel about that just yet, so I’m just gonna leave it alone and concentrate mostly on the rich darkness of the rest of the ep.
This is one of those eps that showers us in crazy emotion and pain and keeps piling on delicious little flourishes for good measure. It firmly snaps our heroine back into place as a sassy, vibrant ass-kicker, it delivers that Dark Phoenix twist we’ve been so craving, and it ribs the show in a self-referential way that isn’t annoyingly precocious. Case in point — Giles, upon his return, is treated to a brief re-cap of this season from Buffy. Upon hearing the various soapy twists our characters have been put through this year (Almost marriage! Theft! Sex scandals!), he promptly bursts out laughing, and after a minute, so does Buffy, as if she suddenly realizes how melodramatic her existence has become. Speaking of Giles’ return, that, too, is lovely: he strides in, he challenges Willow, and even when he’s supposedly defeated, he has a trick up his sleeve — the magic Willow takes from his is meant to tap into the shred of humanity that still exists within her.
Though the action scenes are marvelously executed (the Buffy/Willow fight pops with that elusive verve that so inhabited the Buffy/Faith fights), it’s really the characters that get the royal treatment here. Deftly illuminated by the dynamic duo of Doug Petrie and David Fury, every single Scooby gets his or her moment in the sun. Dawn, cruelly taken to task by Dark Willow for her unrelenting whininess, comes back nicely by assisting Buffy in the fighting of the, um, dirt blobs. Anya, snappy, sassy and brave, teleports all over the place and puts on a determined face — she may be a demon again, but her humanity is intact. I especially love her scenes with Giles, in which she touchingly frets and fusses over him.
But of course, none of this would matter if the ending and its central performances weren’t executed well — thankfully, they are the highlight. Knowing that Willow’s about to destroy the earth and everything she holds dear, Xander approaches her as his oldest and dearest friend, putting himself in harm’s way to tell her, simply, “I love you.” It works — Giles’ special magic finally kicks in, and Willow falls into Xander’s arms, sobbing.
Does Xand’s repetition of his simple phrase, even as Will’s striking him down with big green energy bolts, seem a little Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting? Maybe, but it’s also tremendously affecting, and it soundly demonstrates that while Buffy may be the heart of this show, Xander and Willow are it’s beautiful, multi-faceted soul. I love that such a crucial, world-saving measure comes down to regular guy Xander, and that ultimately it is his and Willow’s deeply complex friendship that proves to be the key. Alyson Hannigan’s amazing performance carries through from “Villains,” so that we believe it when she finally breaks down into uncontrollable sobs, no longer Dark Phoenix, just Willow. And Nicholas Brendon is with her every step of the way.
Also welcome is Buffy’s revelation — that it’s time to start living, that she wants to see Dawn grow up. Finally, we’re getting a taste of the Buffy we love to root for, and it’s beautifully played and doesn’t descend into melty cheesiness.
Overall, the season finale really showcases what Buffy is and should be all about — wonderful fantasy-tinged television with geeky and action-y and “damn, that’s cool!” flourishes in place, illuminating a complex band of characters that charm and confound us. Time will tell if this one holds up to my favorite finales (“Becoming” and “The Gift”) — as it made me bawl multiple times, I’d say it’s got a fair shot.