Shiny Shelf

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Series Finale

By Jim Smith on 08 June 2003

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

The last five episodes of this season ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ see the series once again dive headlong into serial territory. Despite the fact that across these episodes we have six writers and five directors there’s little really to distinguish them from one another, and in truth they form one four hour (ish) narrative, a culmination not just of the season but the series as a whole. There’s a lot to accomplish in that 240 minutes, though, and Whedon and go don’t waste a second of their last load of screen time with these characters.

These episodes, though, are not merely the conclusion of the series’ seventh season soap. They also have more in common with each other than they do with the preceding episodes. A sense of dread pervades these five, dread in part ushered in by the appearance of cackling, ranting misogynist preacher Caleb – superbly played by ‘Firefly’ star Nathan Fillion – who provides these episodes with the strong villain, and story focus, that earlier parts of the season have noticeably lacked. The intangible ‘First’ may have used Spike as a patsy, and introduced us to a few (comedy) neander-vamps, but genuine villainy has been thin on the ground. Caleb is the show’s first genuinely impressive villain since the Mayor, and it’s a shock to realize how long ago the halcyon days of the Harry Groener/Eliza Dushku partnership are. It’s a partnership which is briefly reprised here; the presence of a strangely subdued Dushku is another of the elements which mark out these episodes from the rest of the season, and with her around it’d be odd for the First to take a form other than the late, lamented Richard Wilkins. The closest thing Faith ever had to a Daddy. The Groener/Dushku scene is one of the season’s highlights.

All these episodes, most notably Joss Whedon’s own ‘Chosen’ take risks in both production and story terms. Not only is the budget risked in a spiralling curl of ambition, Whedon and co also set up the obvious (Dawn saving the day, Angel and Buffy fighting side by side, Spike betraying the gang, Buffy dying again) and then push it away half a dozen times. More. There are no rules this late in the game, anything goes and while this is a cruel – and perhaps low – thing to do to an audience, to subvert expectations and mess with our heads, it makes for truly compulsive TV.

There are too many good moments across these final five to list; just as there should be. Here’s a few of my favourites – Giles announcing Buffy’s plan to be ‘Bloody brilliant’; Andrew describing Anya as ‘the perfect woman’ after she makes a menky reference to ‘Jaws’; Xander losing an eye; everything the magnificently vile Caleb says and does; Buffy and Spike’s sex free night in bed together; Angel’s irritation that Spike has a soul now it’s ‘fashionable’ to do so; Anya’s silly, brutal, beautiful death; Andrew finding his courage; the Mayor; Faith and Robin’s little tryst and Buffy’s reaction to it; Anya’s lack of sympathy with the mortally wounded; Faith and the bomb; Willow going all Gladriel on us; the fall of Sunnydale; Buffy jumping onto the bus; the battle of helm’s deep etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

So, take all the above, mix in a little sex (well, actually quite a lot of sex), a little magic and a lot of violence; flawless performances and some running, jumping, shouting and quipping and finish off with an honest-to-god attempt to make a final, definitive, empowering ’statement’ with the series. This isn’t just anything we’re watching end here, it’s something unique. This is ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ if not actually better than ever, than certainly better than anything else, and, God, we’re going to miss it.

Thanks Joss, for the ride.

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