Cultural Catchup Project: “The Gift” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“The Gift”

October 12th, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

As you may well have noticed, the conclusion of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s fifth season within the Cultural Catchup Project has been a bit of an anti-climax, if only because of the long delays as we moved towards the finale. In fact, it was a good thing that the Netflix episodes had the “Previously On” segments intact, because I think there would have been some details (like, for example, the “Knights that say Key”) which would have been initially befuddling.

I think, though, that it’s also partially the fact that the fifth season doesn’t exactly follow a logical narrative pattern. I want to talk about both “Spiral” and “The Weight of the World,” but I will likely spend more time on “The Gift” due to its climactic qualities, or its somewhat sudden climactic qualities. I like Glory just fine, and think the season as a whole was quite effective, but we cannot deny that the overarching plot of the season sort of sat still for the back nine or so. Mind you, that was the period where Buffy was preoccupied with her mother’s death, so it’s not as if the show was boring or uninteresting during that period, but it sort of made the conclusion seem a bit sudden (although it does develop over the course of the last few episodes).

In other words, the challenge of “The Gift” (and the episodes before it) was bringing the seasonal arc to its conclusion in a way which ties it to the characters’ personal journeys over the course of that season, overcoming the sense that Glory’s story arc did not necessarily follow a traditional rising action pattern. And while I think that it lacks the sense of climax prevalent in “Becoming” or “Graduation Day,” I think the fifth season finale lives up to this task: it may not be the perfect conclusion to the season, or the perfect note for these characters, but it delivers a meaningful hour of television which demonstrates the complexity (or, depending on your point of view, the flaws) of the series’post-high school structure.

The fifth season, as a whole, is about addition and subtraction: the most substantial events, after all, are the introduction of Dawn (made possible as part of the seasonal arc) and the death of Joyce (which has no connection to that seasonal arc), and if you’re going to add a third you’d probably include Spike continuing his narrative addition to the Scoobies as we know them (perhaps confirmed in “Spiral,” when Buffy insists that he come along). You’ll notice that, outside of Dawn being part of her arrival, Glory is by and large a transient figure, lost in this world rather than purposefully invading it. Whereas most previous villains had plans for Earth, it’s almost a coincidence that Glory ended up on Earth, and that her plans for escaping this mortal plane and returning to her godly dimension also opens a sort of inter-dimensional hellmouth – that’s just a side effect, by and large, of a character’s efforts to do what we would expect them to do. More than any other villain in the show’s history, Glory was not defined by a desire to destroy or take over the world, instead focusing on self-realization.

Now, you could argue that the Mayor operates in a similar fashion, but I think what separates them is the idea that Glory desires to escape – she wants to return to her own world, and if she happens to leave behind some part of hell to torment humanity then good riddance. I don’t mean to suggest that she is less of a villain than previous antagonists, but I would argue that even with Dawn at the center of the conflict it never seems like a particularly strong feud. Glory is too flighty, dealing with Buffy as an annoyance more than a real threat – it defines the character, but it also means that there is very little urgency to Glory, mostly so that she can disappear for long stretches without any major concern.

It does give the character, and to some respect the season, a sense of transience which could make it seem inconsequential, but I think that “The Gift” does two things which help with this. The first is that we see Ben start to bleed into Glory, thus humanizing her in ways that actually fit with some of her previous behaviour. She is more annoyed by humanity than she desires to kill them, so to see her have to deal with that was actually quite intriguing and added some depth to the character (moreso than the somewhat silly, but hilarious, reveal about Ben and Glory’s connection, which I’ll get to below). The other element, of course, is that Buffy literally dies in order to stop the world from ending as a result of Glory’s plan. It’s almost a little cheap, having Buffy dying for the cause like this, suggesting that even if Glory was only around for part of the season and seemed to be just passing through to some respect she still matters because your protagonist was killed.

Of course, I know that Buffy lives (and sort of knew that she would have to die again sometime soon, considering the line in “Once More, With Feeling”), but I think that her death does work as a conclusion to the season, especially paired with Giles suffocating Ben to ensure that Glory can never return. Death was clearly central to this season, with “The Body” standing out as its strongest individual hour, but the idea that Buffy’s role is to kill herself, and that Giles’ role is to get his hands dirty doing what Buffy could not, says a whole lot about the role our heroes play in this world. Before, there was always a sense that they were stopping an evil mastermind, or a giant snake, or a half-monster, half-robot, half-man creature. However, here it ends with defenseless Ben promising he’ll keep Glory at bay, hearkening back to similar situations with love interests with plenty of gray area (which, of course, includes Angel, Spike, and Riley), and asking Buffy and Giles to make some difficult decisions.

I almost forgot about Riley until Buffy started talking about it, to be honest – it seems like so long ago that he made his less than graceful exit, and I certainly wouldn’t say I miss him. However, it ties in nicely with the sense that Buffy has had a very bad year, and that if anything her choice to sacrifice herself reflects upon the sense that she is still sort of searching for her purpose; while she may be the Slayer, the world seems to have punished her for that this year, burdening her with things that she doesn’t feel she is able to take on (protecting Dawn, dealing with her mother’s death, etc.). And yet in many ways it allows her to turn to others, like Spike, for help when she needs it, and the lesson the show seems to suggest she learned with Riley was being more open about her feelings. And so for her to make that decision after looking inside herself and interpreting the spirit guide’s question (a process which was nicely built into “The Weight of the World” as Willow journeys into Buffy’s head) seems like a nice way to reflect back on the season and the lessons learned: although Glory’s arc didn’t feel like it had much rising action, Buffy’s personal journey was swimming in it, which ensured that “The Gift” held substantial meaning for the series as a whole.

Watching the season as I did, there are some arcs that probably lost their impact. It seems like forever ago that Xander and Anya bought their apartment, but that storyline still works thanks to my affection for Anya as a character and for Whedon’s deft hand dealing with those sorts of romantic matters; also, their scene in the basement where Xander proposes includes both that fantastic moment where Anya’s fear of rabbits returns and the fact that they were fitting in a quickie right beforehand, which is just a really fun series of events in which to work in a pre-apocalypse marriage proposal. With Tara and Willow, Tara’s condition remained compelling to watch in both “Spiral” and “The Weight of the World,” but since I knew it was going to get reversed there wasn’t much suspense or real dramatic weight to Willow’s plan to reverse the effects. The episode also doesn’t get any time to allow Tara a chance to get her own scene, sort of focusing solely on Willow’s efforts to restore her mind and thus robbing us of a moment where Tara’s seasonal arc (integrating into the group) enters the conversation.

However, “The Gift” very clearly establishes what the conversation should be. This is a very simple action climax in many ways: with “Spiral” building the action, and “The Weight of the World” offering a more psychological perspective on the issue, all that’s left is for the two parties to meet. As a result, the episode focuses on action beats (Buffy and Glory’s fight up the scaffolding, for example), bait and switches (Robot Buffy being brought into the fray for the eagle eyed), and eventually the shocking conclusion. Buffy’s sacrifice brings the series back to what being the Slayer represents, and it shows to some degree how far we’ve come – look no further than Spike, breaking down entirely, for evidence that things have changed.

My one lingering question is whether or not we fully understand why Buffy would sacrifice herself for her imaginary sister. I say this facetiously, as I think Dawn become a real person as the season went on, but did she become a real person that we are willing to see live in favour of Buffy? When Buffy so vehemently refuses to accept that they may need to kill Dawn should the ritual be started, I didn’t feel as if her reasoning was purely emotional: she was protecting her based on principle as much as emotional connection, at least as far as I was reading the scene, working against the notion that she would be responsible for bringing death to those around her. I do think they share a bond, and that she obviously wouldn’t want to kill her sister, but her stubbornness spoke to something more. And so I have to wonder whether we personally feel that this sacrifice was worth it, and whether the show introduced Dawn in such a way which made her seem like part of this world. Personally, I look back to “The Body” and see a very real character whose grief was as visceral as her sister’s. However, I still have to wonder whether the character’s importance was inflated by her connection to the serial arc, and so I’m curious to see how she is defined outside of that next season now that the threat to her life has more or less passed.

What is clear to me, at least, is that even with all of this upheaval this is still very recognizably the same show. I felt the tragedy of “The Gift” as I should, but I also found the comedy of “The Weight of the World” as those cryptic comments confused over the connection between Ben and Glory that I’ve been getting for months finally started to make sense (thanks for keeping me in the dark – no, really!). What struck me about the fifth season as a whole is that, if anything, the somewhat limited role of Glory placed a lot more focus on the characters and their ability to adapt to the changes that would be natural around this point in their lives. Although the season made quite a few changes (like abandoning the university setting, for example) which seem somewhat sudden, I thought there were good reasons for most of those changes within the story, and that the primarily human focus of the season was preferable to Season Four’s awkward arc which didn’t leave as much room for character development independent of that arc.

As far as finales go, “The Gift” felt a bit “small”: it lacked scale compared to “Graduation Day” and intimacy compared with “Becoming,” which sort of made it just a big action sequence. Still, I liked the return of Joel Grey’s Doc, and thought that the pace of the fight was actually quite well organized even if the set felt pretty generic (and cheap, as the money seems to go towards the CGI on the inter-dimensional hellmouth). Still, even though it may not have been perfect as an episode, it fit the season pretty well: it didn’t try to suggest that Glory was a more consistent presence than she was, it built nicely with the episodes which preceded it (going back to “Tough Love”), and it created plenty of story for the show to deal with in the season ahead.

And while I don’t think the season was perfect, I think that “The Gift” was a fitting conclusion, and makes me very curious to see where the show goes from here.

Cultural Observations

  • I’ll admit to thinking that bringing back the robot is a bit hokey – how did they program it for this specific purpose, for example? I may be misremembering the robot’s episode, but I thought it would require more time than they had. Still, I think it was worth it for Glory’s great “Did you all know she was a robot?” moment.
  • On a related note, I quite liked Glory – sure, the character never quite came together, but it offered consistent comic relief and managed to mix that with some interesting questions of identity as it related to her relationship to Ben. That’s perhaps why I was so concerned when the Ben/Glory connection turned into a punchline, but Kramer (and, to a lesser extent, Charlie Weber) brought it to life in the conversations with Dawn.
  • I’ll admit to finding the Knights a bit silly on the whole, but the “RV vs. Horse” sequence was fun enough to overcome its ridiculousness.
  • I watched these episodes on Netflix, since the Season 6 menus are particularly odious and I like my new toy, and while the widescreen is nice in some circumstances there are moments where you remember that it was never meant to be seen in that form – see, for example, a decidedly non-medieval person appearing in a shot towards the beginning of “Spiral.”
  • I don’t know when I’ll be getting to the end of Angel’s second season (which I was told to hold off on until I concluded this, probably because news of Buffy’s death resonates in the finale?), but I do know that I likely won’t be starting Season 6 for a while, perhaps not until December. Thanks for being patient in the interim, folks – the project will likely return to its original scheduling next summer to finish off both series (I expect I’ll be done Season 6/Season 3 by that point, in piecemeal fashion).
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59 Comments

Filed under Cultural Catchup Project

59 responses to “Cultural Catchup Project: “The Gift” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

  1. James

    No comment on the opening alley scene or Christophe Beck’s score the closing epitaph?

    Boo urns! 😛

    • James

      Pretend there’s a plus between ‘score’ and ‘the.’

    • Opening scene was fine, music was solid as per usual (although isn’t Beck gone at this point?) – found neither particularly noteworthy, to be honest.

      • Jason

        nope that’s beck, and “sacrifice” is both low key and majestic.

        the opening scene is a bit meta–regarding the series as a whole.

      • Amy

        Myles – Did the Netflix opening scene include a “previously on buffy” that sped through the entire series, or was it just the chase in the allyway?

        Because if it was just the latter, then you should definitely check this out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oX1SJYXhsXg

        And if it was the former, I have to strong disagree with you on the noteworthy-ness of it.

        • Morda

          YOU DIDN’T FIND THE MUSIC NOTEWORTHY!!!! WHAT? That piece that plays at the end is one of the most incredible pieces of music I’ve ever heard on TV. Beck completely out did himself there. Also the gravestone, the incredible effects, Buffy’s speech, the emotion, the gang’s reactions (Spike and Willow’s in particular), Buffy and Dawn’s immediate reactions to sacrifice their lives, the symbolism of “the dawn” – all made for what counts as my very favourite moment just about ever in anything. Also the start with the huge montage and then the sudden race through the alley and Buffy’s “That’s what I keep saying” after the boy says that she’s just a girl were incredible. Shame on you Myles. Shame on you.

  2. I always loved the series finale… sorry, season finale. To me, it brings to a close Buffy’s growth as a slayer. In s1, she was ready to die if prophecy foretold; here, she chooses to die. But her growth as a human being is not finished – she still has very self-centered ethics where she is ready to endanger the whole world in order to save her (fake) sister. Also, her death is in a way the easy way out as she gets to shirk the responsibilities of an adult. Which means this is going to be what the next seasons are about. Taking responsibility, growing up even further.

    Sort of like cookie dough.

    • Tausif Khan

      Patrick you bring up a good point. I would like to extend it a little here in my own response. Whedon and company were unsure whether they were going to get a 6th season. Therefore they thought of this episode almost like a series finale. The reason why the episode might not feel as transcendent is because the villain of season was a God and a supermodel diva type. The reason why she was made so strong and the villain is this is an image that Buffy (the show) was trying to demystify. As other commenters here have noted the alley seen was a back to basics re-itteration of the series message. “You’re only a girl” “That’s what I keep telling them.” This is to remind people that Buffy is a show with a lot of mystical stuff going on but is also most importantly a commentary on real life. Whedon believes that if you are not commenting on real life with art then you are wasting your time. Buffy reminding us that she is just a girl was to remind us of the idea that girls have to face up to the supermodel diva chick image their entire lives and it is a constant fight. The reason why it was underwhelming could possibly be because Whedon is trying to get away from big hero moves and more towards the sacrifices would make in every day life. Therefore I feel this finale kind of sets the tone of the show going forward.

  3. James A

    Love reading these, but you might want to wait on season 6/3 till next summer; they’re both much more serialized and probably play better that way.

    • Jack_Kay

      I definitely concur.

      These are much more rewarding (as are most seasons tbh) when watched in fairly close succession rather than in a potentially segmented way as has occurred with the end of season 5.

      There are many nuances and developments (or nuanced developments even) that one couldn’t possibly hope to grasp or get anything out of when watched in a spaced out fashion – I think this is probably more applicable to the final 3 years of Buffy than any other seasons of the ‘verse.
      So save it for when you have the time to commit to such a feat!

      Also, as others have asked, did you see the extra-special, extra-epic, elongated “Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer” segment??
      And in relation to that – just wanted to check you were/are aware that this was the 100th episode of Buffy too?
      And, with that in mind, it is in my opinion one of the best ‘culmination-of-years-worth-of-character-development-and-story-arc-all-leading-up-to-this’ episodes I have ever seen; just so ultimate and rewarding and beautifully complete.

      Except that it’s not complete… mwahaha… one of the things I love about the continuation of Buffy the series from this point on is that even if many people think it unnecessary or even uncomplimentary for the show (to have carried it on I mean), it was a pure stroke of risk-taking genius to decide to continue the story which in a way felt so complete with this ending, and despite being very sad is in fact brimming with resolution and positivity and hope.

      So yes, personally I think “Majestic” (as used by Jason above to describe Christophe Beck’s unique and emotive “Sacrifice”) is the perfect word to bestow upon “The Gift” – and actually Season 5 as a whole – Majestic, yes, it all feels very majestic 🙂

  4. Rachel

    Knowing there are more seasons no doubt hampered the impact of Buffy’s death. I watched it real time and had no idea a future season was coming and it hit me hard. So I still can’t watch The Gift without balling like a baby.

    Would like to add to the big love for the opening scene and Beck’s score. I have that peace of music on CD and it still gives me a lump in my throat.

  5. tjbw

    Myles said:

    “I’ll admit to thinking that bringing back the robot is a bit hokey – how did they program it for this specific purpose, for example?”

    The robot was already programmed to be The Slayer and Willow is a genius. Never ever forget that Willow is a genius. The writers had to put roadblocks into the story in S6 and 7 in order to prevent Willow from becoming the automatic solution to all of the problems and difficulties the group faces because she is a genius at everything she does.

    And I keep telling you to stop looking at the Buffybot as a sex toy! *waggles finger*

    As to Buffy’s stubborness about not sacrificing Dawn, I took that as you took it, that it wasn’t about her protecting her sister as much as it was about her protecting a human life. This conversation will be revisted later, so it’s good that you’ve already pondered on it.

    And I wasn’t moved by Buffy’s death as a singular event. I am in the minority (?) of people whose favorite seasons are 6 and 7, and it is only in combination with the events of these two years that Buffy’s gift moves me.

    And the bit about Ben/Glory cracks me up every single time! I’m glad it didn’t get spoiled for you.

  6. Bob Kat

    It goes beyond self-centeredness; Buffy feels a positive obligation as a legacy from her mother. Plus she’s tired in her spirit and so thinking less than perfectly. So it plays into and unites the seasonal overt theme of “Family Relationships” with the alter-theme of “Letting Go.”

    I can’t help but wonder; has such a multi-dimensional meltdown occurred elsewhere before?

    As to the Buffybot, well I’m thinking willow is fundamnetally more gifted than Warren and, working with an only mildly damaged ‘bot (keep that in mind for the future, and compare it to the serious damage Glory inflicts) she could rehab it, improving both its fighting ability and its speech patterns.

    As to the wide-screen, Myles, yes, you’ll want to be a bit careful in a certain scene next season showing Nicky prone…or be curious instead if you like that stuff.

    I also think more Tara-development would have been nice, but there was *so much* to cover this season. Just like s-2 could have introduced Theresa earlier and given her a brief arc so her death would have had more impact on the Scoobs.

    Buffy’s death doesn’t really “resonate” in _Angel_’s season finale, but that finale contains a spoiler we wanted you to avoid. (A lot of fans think that in “Spiral” Buffy was running to the Hyperion as a refuge/ally. One fan has her own Tara Theory of the show; she thoguth ti would eb neat if eveyrthing from the “Tough L:ovE” scene at the fair to the final epsidoe of S-7 was a hallucination Tara experienced.)

    • Bob Kat

      umm, “it would be neat”

      And no deep discussion of Giles’s action? Fact is, Ben was himself a mruderer from the Queller, but Giles couldn’t know that. His guilt is equivalent to that of a WWII bomber who takes out innocent people to bring down the Axis, methinks.

      • I think I’m holding out until next season to see how Giles’ actions affect him: it was an interesting scene, but I felt that his reasoning was pretty sound, and it was basically just an extension of his efforts to assist Buffy where she is unable to complete her duties.

        Interesting? Absolutely. But not something that I think I can write a lot about until we see it in action next season.

        • Tausif Khan

          This action of Giles continues the arc of father figure in my mind- willing to kill for his “children”. Buffy is too principled to do such a thing. S7 deals a lot more with Giles’ position in Buffy’s life.

  7. Morda

    Mostly great review Myles. It’s been a long time coming so the tension was kind of high :P.

    Although I was quite surprised you didn’t mention the music, the start, Willow’s awesome power surge and what that means to her being the only person strong enough to fight Glory. Also more detail about the final, unbeatable scene please. 😛

    P.S. You say Glory wasn’t in the season all that much but in fact she’s actually the most recurring seasonal villain out of them all as she appears in 13 episodes throughout the season which, not counting any incarnation of Angel/us or Faith, is the most out of all of them. Also, if all you mean by that is that emotionally she feels absent from the show then I have totally got to disagree with you. I think her actions are truly rational (to a God) and that it was refreshing to have a villain who didn’t just want to destroy/take over/dominate the world. She literally didn’t care about Earth and I thought that was awesome. Also because of her immense strength and Buffy’s frailty in comparison (And despite Willow’s immense power the fact that she couldn’t hold it for too long) it made for Glory actually being scary because she seemed unbeatable. Since Buffy was always stronger or on par with Angelus and Spike and Faith and because the mayor was so jovial and Adam was so…who cares?….You always thought that the good guys would win in the end. And, fittingly, although they do win it’s not without a serious price. So yeah…Glory is probs my favourite Buffy villain. And even if she is vacant she’s still totally hilarious.

    I’m interested to hear what you have to say about Dawn in later seasons since most people hate her (I, by the way, don’t. I think she’s a brilliant character and her evolution over the course of the show is really well done. The subtlety of it is what I like and she’s just a really enjoyable character…In season seven at least). Also, you think THIS YEAR’S bad for Buffy. Just wait. Although in actual fact this is defo one of her worst years (Internal character-wise – Dawn, Glory, Riley, Joyce…Even Tara and Spike).

    • Glory appears in a lot of the season, but I think it’s an issue of presence: her world is flighty and fun, but it seems to lack any weight, and her minions did little to add to the seriousness of the story. Compared with someone like the Mayor, who balanced that line between hilarious and terrifying so well, she was much more transient. Her threat was also one-dimensional, and you sort of knew throughout the season that she wouldn’t ACTUALLY find Dawn until the conclusion (and thus things like the key-finding snake were red herrings).

      Now, I will agree that she is at some points inherently rational, but I think that this doesn’t really come out until the end; you can read it into her previous actions, but I still think that the character was pretty two-dimensional before the final string of episodes (starting with “Tough Love,” I guess).

      In other words, I’d certainly prefer the Mayor.

      • Susan

        I agree with you here, Myles. I really, really like Glory as a villain, but I think she is the least terrifying or significant–which is ironic, considering that she’s a god.

        BUT I think that’s kinda the point. Sure, Glory is WAY stronger than Buffy; sure, she’s nuts; sure, they have no frakkin’ idea how to fight her (and the Council is just as helpful as ever on that score). But the stuff going on in Buffy’s regular ol’ life (in which I would include Dawn, despite her magical beginnings) is so much harder to deal with, so much more significant, so much more frightening.

        Here’s my read on Buffy’s insistence that Dawn live: I agree with a lot of what’s been said, but I want to add this: I think that Buffy has just had it to the teeth with the demands on her. Dawn is her line in the sand: Dawn came to her so that she could protect her. Memories and emotions were created so that they would have a filial bond. When Buffy learned the truth about Dawn, she took on that burden with hardly a blink. And now she’s supposed to be ready and willing to sacrifice Dawn to save the world? I think Buffy says F*ck you.

        And I think *that* complicates her death a bit (I don’t mean that negatively): she’s tired, she’s pissed, and she’s SOOOO over it. She sacrifices herself, indeed, but I don’t think it was necessarily the world’s hardest decision.

        I’m with everyone here that the music is just amazing in the finale. But I’m giving you a pass on the emotion thing. There’s just no way it could affect you the way it affected those of us who saw it when it first aired. It rocked our world.

        I’m trying to remember if the UPN thing had been figured out by the time The Gift aired, or if we thought there was a chance we were watching the end of the series. I just remember being shocked and heartbroken.

        • Morda

          To contradict you Susan, I never saw the show when it first aired and that fabulous scene affected me pretty much more than anything else I’ve ever seen…Not quite, but just about.

  8. Tyler

    “My one lingering question is whether or not we fully understand why Buffy would sacrifice herself for her imaginary sister.”

    Is that what Buffy did? 🙂

    This is a question worth revisiting somewheres in Season 6.

  9. James

    You really didn’t find the alley scene noteworthy?

    It iconically reinforces everything the show and title character is about.

  10. First off, I want to be clear that I thought the final sequence was very well done: the music was great, the visuals were compelling, and the emotional response was incredibly affective.

    However, I didn’t think it was transcendent. The music didn’t seem any better than it normally is – extremely strong – and the visuals seemed fitting for the moment without necessarily elevating it beyond my expectations for that moment. It succeeded, but it didn’t succeed my expectations, if that makes any sense.

    I think the way I watched the season certainly did it no favors: the long delays kept it from having the momentum it might have had, especially with Buffy’s personal journey. I understood the weight of the scene, but because “The Body” seems so long ago, I have sort of just put a note on her file about her emotional collapse as opposed to really feeling the weight of it (like in “The Weight of the World,” where Buffy’s trance seemed more like a plot point than an emotion). I know this isn’t ideal, but I can’t lie and say that I was on the floor crying: it was well-made, it was effective, and for me it didn’t go beyond that.

    As for the Alley scene, I thought it was fun, but I’m not quite sure what else you want me to say about it: the meta-commentary was fairly slight, not saying anything particularly substantial, and while it did reinforce the character’s journey it didn’t say anything which the rest of the episode did not say with more nuance.

    Just to be clear, I don’t mind that you challenge me on this or anything else – just want to be clear that I liked the episode a lot and thought it was effective, and just because I didn’t focus on these or any other elements does not mean that I did not enjoy them or that they were poorly made.

    • I have to disagree with you about the alley scene. That’s going back to basics for Buffy, and like in “Anne” (when she says “I’m Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), it’s a moment when Buffy is actively embracing her identity as the Slayer instead of fighting it. It’s enormously important in the episode because it forces us, and Buffy, to remember that her original calling was to slay vampires, but her life has gotten so out of control — fighting Gods, the death of her mother, everything — that it’s easy to forget. And, seeing how this episode was originally meant as the series finale, it brings the series full circle. There’s a reason that the shot of Buffy in this scene takes over the “honor spot” in season six’s credits (from the axe scene in “When She Was Bad”).

      And as for Buffy’s “gift,” Season Five has been building up to it since the first shot of “Buffy vs. Dracula.” Buffy has been asking herself all season, what is a Slayer? Where do I come from? Dracula tells her that she is darkness, but she doesn’t accept that. And then in “Fool For Love,” you have Spike telling her that every Slayer has a death wish, and the spirit guide telling her that death is her gift . . . those are dark moments, and the fact that the final scene of the season can take those moments and turn them into something so positive is just wonderful and so heartbreaking. I’m frankly shocked at how underwhelmed you are. As others have noted, the music in that scene is among the top five musical moments in the entire series (I’d put the “Hush” score, when Buffy kills Angel in “Becoming,” the entirety of “Once More With Feeling,” and the score from the series finale on that list as well — the rest of Buffy’s music has always seemed so . . . blah).

      I’d suggest you go back and re-watch it right now and whip those emotions into shape, but I know how busy you are.

      • lyvvie

        Just a tiny quibble, that isn’t the shot used at the end of the S6 credits. But the one they choose is very interesting considering the season.

        • Whoops, you’re right. Just went and watched it. Which episode is that shot from? It does look incredibly similar.

        • Aeryl79

          I always wondered about that.

          **SPOILERS**

          For the last two seasons, the Buffy that stands in the “honor” spot, isn’t Buffy at all.

          For S6 opener, she’s the Buffybot, which is is relative to how she feels that season(“Going Through The Motions”) and for S7, she’s The First(and yes The First is always a She, never a He, or an It at least in my mind, no matter who it’s impersonating, cuz SMG captured that evil smugness so well, IMO). I’ve always wondered what they were trying to say with that, or if they were trying to say anything at all.

          Cuz, with how S8’s going, I can see that “honor” spot actually going to a villain posing as Buffy, as a huge bit of foreshadowing there.

    • lyvvie

      As I ponder a comment on the review/episode as whole I’ll just note, don’t worry about the music Myles. You can’t be expected to see/remember everything and indeed part of the joy of Buffy is how much you get from rewatching it and noticing things you missed the first time around. In general I don’t think background music is made to be noticed anyway, of course we’re obsessive fans so we know it, love it and have it on mp3 but really it’s just there to compliment the scene. If you noticed/had deep thoughts/commented on every aspect of an episode on a first watch you’d be superhuman – for the record you definitely notice more than I did on my first watch of the series (luckily I think I’ve caught about everything now having watched it about 20 times).

      • I want to make it clear that I’m not attacking Myles. He’s certainly free to have his own opinion. But I do think it’s interesting to examine the role of music in this episode, because I think that last scene treats music notable different than most episodes of Buffy do. Like you said, most of the music on Buffy is just accent, background noise meant to create a sort of unconscious tone, but occasionally, the series makes the music more overt, usually in really important moments, i.e. the “Hush” score is obviously so important because of the lack of dialogue.

        But in moments like the last scene of “The Gift” (and the last scene of “Becoming”) the score is notably louder, better composed, and more beautiful than 98% of the other times score is used on the show. That scene just would not have the same impact without the sad melody accompanying it, especially in that moment when we can’t hear what Buffy is saying to Dawn. I don’t think we can underestimate the impact of the score in this moment at all.

        • lyvvie

          Oh, I hope it didn’t sound like I was singling anyone out. I agree that the music is very important, particularly at those points you mentioned (Sacrifice is my favourite bit of Buffy music) and on Joss shows in general I really appriciate that you get a great mix of things to admire (acting/writing/direction/music) as it really adds to the authored feel of his work. I just felt that after (presumably) one watch it was unlikely Myles would have taken in the music (enough to fully evaluate it), particularly if he was caught up with the action.

  11. carpe

    “Season Four’s awkward arc which didn’t leave as much room for character development independent of that arc.”

    Couldn’t disagree more. It was the non-existance of the arc in season 4 that gave room for the characters. Seems like you are eating your words of what you have previously said about season 4.

    • I hardly think I’m eating my words – I think the problem is that, while Season Four lacks a consistent arc, that arc is more directive. Once Dawn is introduced, Season Five is pretty consistently driven by forces outside of the arc, while Season Four’s two-tiered structure seemed to be more forceful in terms of shaping the various characters (Buffy, in particular).

  12. Sara

    I enjoyed the review though I was kind of disappointed by how underwhelmed you were by the finale, and season 5 in general. I’m sure you’re right, it has a lot to do with the way you watched the season. I can relate–I watched season 5 spaced out like that when it originally aired on tv. At that point it was one of my least favorite seasons, but later when I rewatched it on dvd, I loved it and thought it was one of the best.

    As for your “one lingering question” about “whether or not we fully understand why Buffy would sacrifice herself for her imaginary sister” bear with me a moment. I think it’s really important to remember that Buffy has a death-wish. Freud says human existence is shaped by the dueling forces of the death drive (destruction) and the sex drive (creation). From time to time, one drive has the upper hand. In this case, Buffy’s death drive has always been there, but as she gets older and life is getting increasingly more difficult to deal with, her death wish is becoming all the more pronounced.

    I’m really glad the commenter Ashley brought this up earlier. And I’d argue that it goes back even further than “Buffy vs. Dracula.”

    If you go back to the episode “Fear Itself” we see the fear demon’s revelation of Buffy’s greatest fear: that the fighting NEVER stops. No matter how hard she fights, she’ll never really “win” since evil will always exist. She’ll never get any satisfaction out of fighting: no victory just exhaustion. Not much to look forward to, you can imagine.

    The only way out of this endless cycle of violence, is death. This is dark, no doubt. And that’s something Dracula makes her aware of–the dark, destructive aspect of the slayer’s existence. Slayers are killers, murders–they bring death to their opponents. Its just a matter of time where they become death themselves. Buffy always knew this part of her was there, but she’s only now really paying it any mind. Spike makes reference to it in “Fool for Love”–he killed two slayers because deep down, some part of them merely wanted it he says.

    Meanwhile the first Slayer said death was Buffy’s gift, and in the end it was: a gift to her “sister” and to the world because it prevents another apocalypse. But perhaps most importantly it was a gift to Buffy herself, releasing her from her duty as Slayer.

    So her death wasn’t a total sacrifice. Buffy was merely acquiescing to the inevitable. She’s going to die someday, it’s just a matter of when. This seemed to be the time.

    And as for Dawn, I suppose she is “imaginary” in some sense. She’s not actually Buffy’s sister (as in born from the same mother), but she was still created from Buffy’s blood, and shares Buffy’s memories. She might be a mystical key, but she is also made out of life energy and that makes her a living thing. The monks made it so Buffy and the others would love and protect Dawn, but that doesn’t mean their feelings for Dawn aren’t real. To borrow a phrase from last week’s Fringe, “Real is just a matter of perception.” How they perceived Dawn feels as real as the real thing.

    Ultimately I think Buffy’s death at the end of “The Gift” was earned. It wasn’t that she was just selflessly protecting Dawn and the world, but it also came from the exhaustion of endlessly battling the forces of evil for years. She finally let go.

    • lyvvie

      Great comment.

      This is probably my favourite part of ‘The Gift’ and for me the most heartbreaking moment:

      Buffy: “I sacrificed Angel to save the world. I loved him so much. But I knew, what was right. I don’t have that anymore. I don’t understand. I don’t know how to live in this world, if these are the choices. If everything just gets stripped away. I don’t see the point. I just wish that… I just wish my mom was here.”

      The moral choices have gotten harder for Buffy as she’s grown up, everything has become more complex, and things that were certain in her life have been ‘stripped away’ (no boyfriend, no mother, no education/life direction). She is weary and she doubts the true heroic purpose of the Slayer:

      Buffy: “The spirit guide told me, that death is my gift. I guess that means a Slayer really is just a killer after all.”

      In the end she subverts (or finds the true meaning) of death being her gift. But was she also thinking of “that final gasp, that look of peace” (Spike, Fool For Love)?

      • devilscrayon

        Oh my god, THIS and the post just above it. Those lines, “I don’t know how to live in this world, if these are the choices.” Kills me every single time.

  13. James

    Sorry if I came off as anything approaching hostile. I suppose I was just expecting a reaction/analysis akin to the one Ashley provided on those particular scenes.

    That’s not say I don’t respect your differring viewpoint; I’m just a tad dissapointed the episode or rather, some of its scenes didn’t -appear- to resonate as strongly as it may have for others and myself.

  14. Becker

    Ok, finally caught up. Here are some of the reasons I liked S5 less than.previous seasons.

    Buffy clearly couldn’t defeat Glory until the troll hammer. Glory didn’t really care about Buffy and as such, neither was really a direct threat to the other until the end.

    I hated the fact the Spike could barely lift the hammer, but Buffy picks it up like a feather. Spike would have been dust in their first fight with that strength disparity. The USS Buffyprise effect. Then I was never a fan of Donkey Kong, so the reenactment was silly.

    Glory has no idea what the key it. It could be a log, is what it said at one point. Then Spike says that it is blood. “It’s always blood.” So much for the bit of it being anything.

    Because so much time was spent on other things, they ran out of time and had to rush to the ending requiring General Exposition to explain a lot. Oh, and I never bought a horse catching even a crappy RV. Buffy couldn’t kill Ben, but had no problem fighting the also human knights.

    The villain arc was so stretched out, then rushed to the end. Poorly plotted, in my opinion, and then vs a villain that reaaly wasn’t an emotionally attached person. Still better than Adam who had no emotional connection to anything.

    One thing about Dawn is that, we only remember her for the season, Buffy knows she isn’t rwal, but I don’t remember anything like Joyce’s brain tumor causing her to break throught the fake memory. So, Buffy has 15(?) Years worth of memories of Dawn as her actual sister. And Dawn the same. I habe no problem having this just be me, but I never felt much about the deathwish. I always felt that Buffy wanted to live, preferably not as the slayer. In the end though, her death would be a gift to her sister and the world as if she had to die, she would die saving them, (probably in that order).

    I did enjoy disc 6 better when I rewatched those eps a few months ago than I did initially, but all of the isaues I had were atill there. The difference being the rush to the end doesn’t feel quite as rushed when watching it all together than it does when stretches out over a TV season, with a long break of re-runs before the last four played weekly. I think Myles had that rushed feeling enhanced due to his break before the last few eps.

    The opening scene didn’t do much for me like a very specific bit from the final S7 ep because it felt too forced to restate the theme. (I have a further problem with that other scene I will remember in a year or so when that time comes.) At the time it was written, the UPN deal had not been signed. When it ended, this could have been it for the series.

    Now, I felt the season was more flawed than previous seasons, (though close to S4) I did not hate it and would buy it, if I had the money. S7 I own. Still doubt I would buy S6. I did not love S5, but I did not hate it either. But The Body may be my fav Buffy ep and one of my fav hours of TV period.

    And though I obvioiusly dislike S6, I am not saying not to watch it. I really liked the direction it started in, then they forgot subtlety, started dropping anvils, and undercut the opening direction and included some very mixed metaphors.

    • Bob Kat

      becker: Once we know it’s Dawn, it’s always blood. If it hadn’t been a large living vertebrate, it would have been always soemthign else.

      • Becker

        That answer highlights my problem. Glory says it could be anything. Then later it is said that it is always blood. It doesn’t matter that Dawn is the key. If it blood, then Glory shouldn’t have been wondering if it could have been anything without blood, and she was wondering that. Either it is always bloof ot it could be anything. The sudden shift felt crappy to me.

        I totally forgot the bit someone else pointed out about the troll hammer. Why the hell would Anya curse him by turning him into a god instead of just a troll. Only done so there would be a weapon, which I think is not the best writing.

        • Bob Kat

          Some references to Olaf either obtaining the hammer from a troll god or working his own way from mortal trollhood to troll divinity were either cut or not filmed. Bad call methinks.

          And that’s the thing I’m saying; Once it’s known The Key is human, or any other large animal, all the other possibilites come off the table. All rituals of this degree of seriousness involving humans are blood rituals. The other possibilities are irrelevant by the time Xander and Spike are speaking.

          Besides, “always” is an oh-so-dramatic word, and we’ve already seen how much Dr. Joss and His “Bunche” enjoy throwing oh-so-dramatic words into the dialogue.

          • Becker

            Here is the flaw in your argument. Before we know what the key is, Glory knows the importance of it, which means that it would always had have been blood, not because it was Dawn. And then the key worked because of the blood. So, it is bad writing to have Glory wonder if it was anything that could not be bled. Now, if she had said anything and only mentioned examples that could bleed like animals, then it would not bother me. Spike sayimg always was not being over-dramatic, but pointimg out that these rituals always involve blood. Otherwise, we are back to baf writing because the point was clarifying things, not confusing them further. The key didn’t have to be made into Dawn but it did need to be able to bleed. It will never not bother me.

        • Amy

          Spike is the only one who “said” it was always blood, but that doesn’t apply if the key is something else. The key only needed to be blood IF it were in something living. The key could easily have been a cardboard box or a shoe, too. You’re getting your order mixed up.

          • Becker

            This screams bad writing to me. If Spike said that and was talking out of his ass, that is crap writing because the way the scene was played had him saying it as show fact. Again, my order isn’t wrong. The ritual ended up requiring blood, Spike said these rituals are always blood, therefore, at no time could the key not involve blood. This whole it only became blood when it became Dawn argument makes zero sense to me. The ritusl required blood. Or are there a ton of different rituals that all would have led to the unlocking of her world, one if it were rock, water, gas, a tree, or a building, etc.?

  15. greg

    “And Olaf The Troll God’s enchanted hammer. You want to fight a god, use the weapon of a god” Anya’s ex boyfriend was a God? How did that significant piece of trivia slip by everyone?

    I still consider season 5 the “Ingmar Bergman” season. “Death is your gift” is writ large (except on the DVD cover, where we’re told that Buffy was told that “Love is your gift” (!!) which is just nutty and do the people who put these things together even bother to WATCH the shows?) and I continue to see it as the motivating factor behind the finale. Buffy committed suicide. Dawn was all set to jump and save the world, and that would have been the logical act to bookend the season.

    I’m always confused by people who insist that the ending of s5 should have been the finale of the series, because Buffy dying only concluded what was set in motion at the beginning of this season. If Buffy only jumped to save Dawn’s life, then what was the point of everything she was put through this season? I’m pretty convinced that Buffy’s chronic depression pretty much came into play at some point during this season and the giant phallic sculpture was the perfect excuse for her to take the extra step past catatonia right through to non-existence. It makes perfect sense to me that Buffy would jump in Dawn’s place, not so much to save her imaginary sister so much as that Dawn, having Summers blood, could be a replacement for her, but without the misery and responsibility. I’m not gonna give away anything for the last two seasons but, if they hadn’t aired, I, for one, would have felt cheated at missing some essential heroic development. Joseph Campbell would surely have been another.

    Say, you think if the Watcher’s Council ever discovers that Buffy is dead they’ll send someone to kill Faith so that a new slayer can be called?

    • Gill

      You are so right. In the second half of S5 almost everything Buffy has is stripped from her – boyfriend, college career, mother, home (because Glory is after her), her sister is taken from her, even her role as strongest chick on the block. She sees Tara reduced to a vegetable, and Willow is bound up in caring for her, while Xander clearly puts Anya first and Giles wants her to be prepared to kill Dawn. No wonder she feels isolated – the catatonia is almost a logical reaction to events. All of these elements combine to make the giving away of the last thing left to her (“Me”) seem rational, even a relief – no wonder the music makes it seem so lovely and peaceful.

      She has literally thrown herself into a deep depression – the grave is a six-foot-deep depression in the ground. Which is why I see these episodes as integral with S6, which I love.

  16. Morda

    I totally meant to mention this earlier but forgot and since I won’t have a venue to get my thoughts about this through again for a while I figured I’d just say it here. It has no relevance or context to anything right now but I WANT SOMEBODY ELSE TO AGREE WITH ME.

    Dawn’s fantastical story has always seemed, to me at least, to be a metaphor for an adopted child. Everything that happens in reference to Dawn being the key in this season seems to be an allegory for the pain an adopted child may go through. This is reinforced through her season six arc where she goes through a very, almost, cliché story of ***SPOILERS SORT OF*** abandonment and aloneness which follows through into season seven with Buffy’s more important priorities (Buffy here standing in for Joyce). ***SPOILERS END*** This is most evident in “Blood Ties” when Dawn finds out she’s the key (is adopted), trashes her room, distances herself from her “family” and runs away from home. The scene at the end where Buffy tells her “You are my sister” and they share each others blood was also apart of this. That even though she’s the key (Adopted) she’s still apart of the Summer’s family.

    Yeah so…That’s all I have to say. Dawn is an allegorical interpretation of an adopted sibling. So those of you who are adopted out there – RELATE, RELATE, RELATE!!! 😛

    • Aeryl79

      I agree with you totally, I always saw it as a rather heavy handed metaphor about adoption. And I’m not even adopted.

      • greg

        More than just adopted, though. Did you pick up the DVD or Blu-Ray of ‘Dollhouse’ season two yet? The first episode has a great scene between Whiskey and Topher where she’s basically saying exactly what Dawn would have said if she were a bit more mature and articulate.

        Any younger sister is already going to feel like she’s in big sister’s shadow. In Dawn’s unique situation, it’s multilpied.

        As far as seaons six and seven goes, I love how Dawn starts out identifying with Spike rather than the other scoobies. (do we consider Spike an “adopted” scooby?)

      • See, I’m not getting it. I mean, now that you’ve pointed it out, I can see the connection, but for me the most important part about Dawn has always been that she comes from Buffy, she’s a part of her. Buffy is the only one of Whedon’s shows to place any importance on “real” families (with Joyce and Dawn in the mix). He loves his pseudo-families. In Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse . . . those shows have “gangs” who choose to call each other family with no blood relation, and most “real” family members are absent (or are irrelevant).

        So it’s not that Joss & Co. are making anything so specific and limiting as an allegory to adoption, but that it’s a Whedonverse thing, a unifying factor, that our real families are the families we choose, not those given to us by blood (though we can certainly choose to accept those people as well). So, yes, adoption thing can be included in that, but it’s not the only thing being represented, I think.

        • Anna

          I have to disagree with you a bit about the chosen family theme when it comes to Angel, considering next season. That’s as vague I can make it because I don’t want to spoil anyone.

          • skittledog

            I disagree with your disagreement. Heh. I think Angel is probably stronger even than Buffy on the theme of chosen family, and to my mind that is exactly why everything that happens in season 3 resonates for as long as it does.

          • Anna

            Spoilers, avoid, avoid!

            I’m not necessarily disagreeing with your point, really, I agree that the chosen-ness of family is stronger on Angel, I just think that it’s not just about chosen family, considering the addition of a real, biological family member and the importance of that character considering pretty much everything starting next season.

            I’m mostly disagreeing on the “most “real” family members are absent (or are irrelevant)” part. If only for the reason that I think “the real” family members, while, yes absent, are very influential for pretty much all the characters. Plus, the real family member from next season is neither absent or irrelevant, despite what maybe most fans would hope (I’m not one of them).

  17. Bouncy X

    The imaginary sister angle…

    We gotta see it from Buffy’s point of view because sure by the end of the season she knows Dawn was recently thrown and created into her life, but in her head its not that easy. Even though she knows its not “real” anymore, she still has all of the memories and emotions of having had Dawn in her life for the last 14years.

    Its not like once the truth came out, the Scooby Gang’s minds suddenly reset and Dawn was just this new kid they recently met you know? She’s always been there even though its not literal. She isn’t any more fake than any of their other friends/enemies or family members. So Buffy sacrificing herself for her isnt weird at all when seeing it through her eyes.

    We the audience have the advantage of dismissing Dawn because she literally didn’t exist until Season 5 began for us but these character can’t do that. I mean imagine if this happened to you, you find out someone you loved that is close to you isnt real. Even though you have all these memories of them being in your life this whole time you get proof that they actually werent. You couldn’t just dismiss them or their importance to you even if you knew for a fact they werent always around.

    I suck at explaining myself but hopefully that made sense. lol

  18. Myles, thanks for your thoughts. I have to say, though, that the entire piece felt weighed down by how you viewed the end of the season. The disjointed nature of finishing it has undoubtedly affected the potential impact of the season on you. Season 6 will even be worse in this regard, if you don’t watch it in a relatively consistent and condense time period. Buffy as a show is so much about ‘being in the moment’ and getting wrapped up in the emotion of it all. S5 and S6 are two seasons that particularly benefit from this, although I think all of them do to some degree. It’s a shame you couldn’t get S5 wrapped up before you headed to Wisconsin. But I understand that’s how life goes sometimes.

    “My one lingering question is whether or not we fully understand why Buffy would sacrifice herself for her imaginary sister. I say this facetiously, as I think Dawn become a real person as the season went on, but did she become a real person that we are willing to see live in favour of Buffy?”

    In addition to what others have said here, I always took “The Gift” as the final swan song of Buffy’s childhood. All season (and to an extent, all series) has been building up to it, but Buffy’s death is (among other things) metaphorically about the death of her childhood — it’s completely gone now, something S6 tackles head on. This is where Dawn comes into play. As Buffy says in “The Gift,” “Dawn is a part of me. The only part that I…” (have left). Dawn, to me, represents not only Buffy’s responsibility and care, but also the only part of her childhood that still lives. Buffy wants to protect Dawn so much because she’s come to see/feel Dawn almost more as her daughter than her sister — after all, Dawn was made from Buffy, not from Joyce. Just as many parents see their children as a form of immortality, so does Buffy here. By sacrificing herself for Dawn, she saves herself — the part of herself that’s still a child with an open future ahead of her. Hence why she tells her, “Be brave. Live. For me.”

    So when dawn arrives (sun rising, and all), it all comes together for Buffy. The sort of spiritual connectedness and meaning behind everything snaps into place, and she knows what she must… and *wants* to do for her friends and herself (through Dawn). That’s why this moment is so unbelievably poignant, to me at least. It’s the point when everything that had been built in the season comes together — thematically (blood as life, family, the nature of the slayer’s power/Spike’s comments in FFL and how Buffy subverts it all for love, etc.), emotionally, and spiritually.

    I could go on and on about other aspects of this wonderful episode, but I’ll leave it at this for now. If you ever watch this season again and get the chance to watch it in a more consistent manner, I think you’ll find that it’s quite transcendent in the stuff that matters (to me, at least, hehe): character, theme, and emotion. As a stand-alone episode that complements the season, “Becoming” is easily my favorite finale. As an episode that is totally dependent on a full understanding on what came before it, “The Gift” takes the cake. They’re both fabulous episodes though, and amongst my Top 5 (and my favorite two season finales besides “Restless”).

    One great thing to look forward to about S6, flawed and gutsy as it is, is how it’s the only show I’ve ever seen that doesn’t drop the ball on following-through from a situation that could so easily be botched. S6 doesn’t cheapen “The Gift” or S5, but rather inverts it and then builds on it.

    Whenever you get to it, I look forward to reading your thoughts. Thanks!

    • Becker

      One thing to note is that he watched the last few in a clump after a break. When it originally aired, there was also a break before the final run of eps, except that the last few had a week between them. So, he actually got a mix of what it was like to watch on TV and to plow through a DVD.

  19. Pingback: Cultural Catchup Project: Buffy the Vampire Slayer – “Bargaining” | Cultural Learnings

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