Janes (a True Stan) and Nerdy Spice (a New Fan) are watching all of Buffy together and comparing notes. Warning: May contain spoilers for later episodes.
Episode 21 “The Weight of the World”
So to recap, Glory has procured the Key, slash Dawn, and is preparing for her big finale (literally): the thing where she opens the portal between dimensions and brings chaos and darkness to the world. But her godliness is sort of wearing off–she’s starting to feel guilty about what she’s doing to Dawn, and to remember being Ben. Worse, he starts to remember being her. We finally learn that the Ben/Glory thing is basically that they transform into each other and no human can remember it even if they see it. And as we finally learn that, Glory’s power starts fading and people in the show start to actually remember it too.
Glory’s fading power causes her to temporarily lose control of the situation. She morphs into Ben, and he helps Dawn escape. Dawn, knowing that Glory may have access to Ben’s memories, tries to escape by clocking Ben in the head–but unfortunately that brings Glory back. Ben and Glory start having a fight right in front of Dawn, and Ben makes like he’s going to kill Dawn right there to prevent Glory from doing her ritual. Finally, Glory offers Ben immortality after her ritual if he stops trying to protect Dawn. He says he can’t live with that, but she promises his guilt will melt away as soon as he’s immortal.
Back in the outside world, Buffy goes catatonic because Dawn is gone. Everyone panics (Spike even tries to punch her in the face, which of course makes his chip go off) except Willow, who takes charge. She assigns Anya to watch Tara, which is surprisingly sweet. Spike, of course, gets the exciting job: looking for Glory and Dawn in Glory’s hotel room, which has unfortunately been abandoned by the time he gets there. And Xander is assigned to fetch a recovering Giles. Spike suggests to them that they can go see a demon that’s tuned into the “nastier corners” of magic to learn Glory’s game plan. It’s the same one who helped Dawn raise Mrs. Buffy from the dead, Doc. Unfortunately, Spike has miscalculated: Doc is actually on Glory’s side. Xander manages to stab him, and Spike retrieves the textbook they need and they leave. (Unfortunately, they miscalculate again: Doc isn’t really dead. His eyes fly open as soon as they leave.)
Meanwhile, Willow uses her witchy powers to dive into Buffy’s mind. There, she finds Buffy as a preschooler, on the day that Dawn came home from the hospital with Mrs. Buffy (although technically I guess that day never happened). Buffy claims to “like it here,” and refuses to come out with Willow.
Willow also follows Buffy to the bonfire with the First Slayer in time to hear the First Slayer say, “Death is your gift”; and to Mrs. Buffy’s grave. Buffy is convinced that the First Slayer means that she causes death wherever she goes, and she eventually (in her dream) smothers Dawn with a pillow, which, dark!
Finally, Willow follows Buffy to a moment in the magic shop when she lost faith in her ability to beat Glory. Racked with guilt that she even momentarily gave up on Dawn, Buffy declares, “It’s too much for me.” But Willow persuades Buffy not to give up, and she finally emerges from her catatonia.
She joins Giles, Spike and Xander in the magic shop, where they have the ritual text that describes what Glory is planning (which Spike got from Doc). Giles explains that Glory will be opening a dimensional portal through a ritual bloodletting: Dawn’s blood. It will result in all the dimensions bleeding into each other and destroying reality. “How do we stop it?” Buffy asks. Giles says the only way is to kill Dawn. Ruh-roh.
Notes from a New Fan:
- Ooh, Mrs. Buffy is in the previouslies–does this mean she’s back?? [ETA: nope 😦]
- Willow may overuse magic, but I think it is very reasonable to use her magic to stop Xander and Spike from having a silly fight in the middle of all this!
- We finally get an explanation of how the Ben/Glory thing works: humans can’t remember when Ben turns into Glory. Only Spike can remember, because he’s not human. Thank goodness. That has been driving me CRAZY, as you know if you’ve read our previous posts!
- It cracks me up that the Scoobs all forget Spike’s explanation of Ben/Glory right after Spike explains it to them. His exasperated sigh made me laugh so hard. I also laughed really hard when he mentioned Ben having a room at Glory’s and Xander was like, “You’re saying he was subletting from her?!?!” So good.
- I would definitely not want my witchy friend dipping into my subconscious the way Willow is with Buffy.
- It’s sort of sweet that Glory offers Dawn pizza and TV to make her feel better before whatever big ceremony she has planned.
- This episode feels like filler. Glory already has Dawn but we know there’s a whole other episode till the finale, so she’s just gonna toy with her for forty minutes?
- Glory asks Dawn if being human is even worth it with all these feelings wreaking havoc on them. Dawn, of course, argues that Buffy is the one person who can stay strong despite her emotions.
- I love how Willow watches this whole scene where a young Buffy meets a baby in the arms of her mother, and when they say the name Dawn, Willow gasps “Dawn!” as if she’s surprised. Who did she think the baby was?!
- Xander actually defeats someone in a fight. The world must really be coming to an end. (Even if the demon turns out to not be dead after all.)
- I love how Xander is so proud of himself for knowing that Glory is Ben.
- OK, I know this is cold, but Dawn should probably die, right? I mean, if Glory does her ritual, the universe will be thrown into chaos and darkness forever, so it would definitely be better if Ben had killed her when he was threatening to do it, right? And this really isn’t a joke about not liking her. This is a serious ethical question and I really think the answer is to kill Dawn!
Notes from a True Stan:
- I will never get tired of this scene:
- Spike tries to wake Buffy up by hitting her in the face, and then says to an irate Xander, “I’m willing to wager the girl likes it rough.” Oh. Awkward.
- It’s so interesting to see that the memory of Dawn coming home from the hospital is such an important part of Buffy’s landscape, when it’s not even a real memory.
- I like that Ben is like, “Glory never thinks about me in all of this. I have a job!” Like, dude, she’s about to end the entire world. No one’s going to have a job!
- Sloane Clone’s CGI tongue is really something.
- Does Ben honestly believe that Glory would make him immortal? He’d be better off killing Dawn, honestly.
- This seems to be unpopular in the fandom, but I love this episode. Buffy’s trauma has been building up all season, and it’s really refreshing to see the show acknowledge the toll that would take on her. It’s kind of like “Restless,” except the dream sequences have a clear purpose and stakes–you want to analyze the details and create meaning because Buffy really, really needs to wake up!
Episode 22 “The Gift”
My first thought while watching this episode was that it really, really feels like a series finale. More than I remembered. After a brutally sad run of episodes, we get a lighthearted and quippy teaser that feels straight out of season 1. Buffy finds a vampire and a hapless would-be victim behind the Magic Box (when’s the last time we even saw her fight a lone vampire?), she makes witty banter, and she kicks some ass while jaunty fight music plays in the background. The whole thing feels very un-season 5, until after the fight, when the victim–a teenage boy)–looks at her in disbelief and says, “How did you do that? You’re just a girl,” and she quietly deadpans, “That’s what I keep saying.” Season five Buffy is still a badass, but she’s also tired, traumatized, and spiritually beaten down.
In another reference to season one, the rest of the episode starts similarly to “Prophecy Girl,” with Giles telling Buffy that something cataclysmic is about to happen because “it’s been written.” And just like in “Prophecy Girl,” Buffy refuses to accept it. “We’re not talking about this,” she says. “We bloody well are talking about this!” Giles yells. There’s a silence, and then Buffy says, “Go ahead. Tell me to kill my sister.” Giles says Dawn isn’t her sister, which–whoa! Such a low blow! I feel like the writers included this uncharacteristically cruel jab just to make us disagree with Giles, who is obviously correct that they might need to kill Dawn.
In response, Buffy gives a sad speech that will become very important: “You’re right, she’s not my sister. She’s me. The monks made her out of me.”
In private, Buffy and Giles have a nice reconciliation that really, really feels like part of a series ender. “How many apocalypses is this now?” Buffy asks. “Six, maybe seven,” Giles says, tiredly. A few seasons ago, this would have been a cute punchline. Now they’re just exhausted, especially Buffy, who gives this amazing monologue:
“I’ve always won,” she says. “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 know how to live in this world if these are the choices. If everything just gets stripped away, I don’t see the point.” Then, heartbreakingly, she adds, “I just wish my mom was here.”
She reminds us that the spirit guide told her “death is her gift.” She started off the season wanting to know what it really meant to be the Slayer, and now she knows that the Slayer is just a killer after all. She says if Dawn dies, she quits.
Speaking of scenes that feel like a series finale, Anya has a little moment where she reflects that she used to run away from apocalypses, but now she’s trying to find a way to fight a God. In response, Xander proposes to her, and she slaps him because she thinks he’s only proposing because he thinks they’re all going to die and he won’t have to go through with it (um, awkward). He insists that he’s proposing because he thinks they’re going to live and he wants to spend his life with her, and she says to propose again when the world doesn’t end. That would have been a cute ending for them!
When it gets closer to the time of the ritual, they put their plan into action. And that plan is–questionable. Tara has been saying things like “it’s time” and “I have places to be,” so they decide to wait until the last minute and just–follow her wherever she goes. This seems risky! Anyway, Buffy is too burned out to give a rousing speech, so she just lays out the narrative stakes very efficiently: “If the ritual starts, we all die. And I’ll kill anyone who comes near Dawn.”
When they reach the tower where Dawn is being held, Glory finds Tara wandering around and screams, “What are you doing here?” Willow appears out of nowhere and says in that deep witch voice, “She’s with me.” Then she grabs Glory’s head and steals Tara’s brain back! “I got so lost,” Tara says. “I will always find you,” cries Willow. Aw. This would have been a nice ending for them, too!
This weakens Glory a little bit, and Buffy calls out behind her. Glory sends her minions to guard Dawn while Buffy taunts that she’s not as “blurry with speed as usual,” and throws the Dagon sphere at her. (Oh yeah, remember when there was heavy foreshadowing that the Dagon sphere was really, really important?) Glory seems scared of it, but then she immediately crushes it in her hand, and it only seems to weaken her for a few minutes. It seems like a somewhat lame payoff to the whole Dagon sphere thing, but I guess every second counts?
Anyway, Glory punches Buffy in the face and her entire head comes off mid-quip! It’s the Buffybot! “Did everyone else know the Slayer was a robot?” Glory asks, hilariously. Then the real Buffy knocks her the f*** out with Olaf’s hammer! Dawn screams Buffy’s name from above, and Buffy runs up the tower. Glory follows her, and they have a truly epic fight, one of those classic fights where Buffy is using everything around her and just throwing it at Glory. They’re both swinging from the tower, at one point Buffy straight-up climbs the tower, she accidentally loses the hammer but then swings like Tarzan to get it back. It’s awesome.
Finally, Glory throws her off the tower altogether, but Buffy takes her down with her. Glory laughs when she sees that Buffy lost the hammer, but then Xander hits her with a truck! (Or it’s like, a giant ball on a truck. I don’t know trucks, okay?) Buffy finds the hammer and begins beating the shit out of Glory with it. Giles exposits that Glory’s running out of time to complete the ritual, and it seems like the Scoobies are about to prevent their seventh apocalypse.
But then up in the tower, Doc arrives. Dawn thinks he’ll help her, but he’s there to bleed her for Glory. Willow sends Spike up there to stop whatever’s happening, but Doc is stronger than he looks, and he immediately stabs Spike. Doc is puzzled that Spike is trying to help Dawn, since he has no soul, and Spike says, “I made a promise to a lady.” Aw. Doc says he’ll give her his condolences, and then throws Spike off the tower while Dawn screams.
(Sidebar: this scene with Doc is so weirdly choreographed. First, Doc charges at Spike and easily stabs him, without any special speed or fancy maneuvers. Then Doc grabs Spike, and Spike doesn’t manage to fight back at all, even though he has time to stare at Dawn wide-eyed and cry, “No,” before Doc throws him off. How strong is this little guy?) [So true! It’s hilarious. Put up a little bit of a fight, Spike! What are you, Xander? –Nerdy Spice]
Meanwhile, Buffy is still pummeling Glory, and seems like she’s enjoying it a little. Eventually, Glory turns back into Ben to make it stop. “Tell her she missed her shot,” Buffy says. “If she ever comes near me and mine again…” Ben promises she’ll never see either of them again, and Buffy leaves to check on Dawn. Giles comes over to Ben and points out that Glory will eventually re-emerge, and will seek revenge for ruining her ritual. “Buffy knows that, and still she couldn’t take a human life. She’s a hero you see? She’s not like us.” “Us?” Ben asks weakly, and Giles swiftly suffocates him.
I don’t really agree with Buffy’s hard line about killing humans, honestly, but the moment where Giles says “Buffy is a hero… she’s not like us” before killing Ben is super interesting in terms of the show’s feminist philosophy. In this moment, Giles represents the ruthless, emotionless, stereotypically masculine ideal of a hero, while Buffy’s whole arc this season is about creating a different kind of heroism, where she can put love above all else and save the world in the process.
Speaking of which, Buffy arrives to save Dawn, and casually pushes Doc off the tower (seriously, why couldn’t Spike do that?). But it’s too late–Doc has already started the bleeding ritual. As Dawn’s blood falls off the tower, a portal opens, and immediately starts creating havoc. It collapses an entire city street, and brings forth these weird Xenomorph-looking creatures, then a demon Pterodactyl thing. Scary!
Dawn immediately tries to jump off the tower–how brave!–but Buffy stops her. Dawn says she knows about the ritual and she has to stop it. “It has to have the blood,” Dawn says. This triggers a previouslys-like series of visions, as Buffy remembers saying that the monks made Dawn out of Buffy, and the First Slayer saying “Death is [her] gift.” Buffy looks behind her, and there’s this beautiful shot where she and Dawn are both brightly lit from the growing portal, and Buffy sees the sun rising in the distance, and Buffy realizes what “death is your gift” really means.
She kisses Dawn and literally jumps into the light, the energy killing her as her last words (sort of) play in voiceover: “Dawn, listen to me. Listen. I love you. I will always love you. But this is the work that I have to do. Tell Giles–I figured it out. And I’m okay… Dawn, the hardest thing in this world–is to live in it. Be brave. Live. For me.” I’m crying.
The portal closes, and we see Buffy’s dead body lying on the ground. We get heartbreaking shots of the whole Scooby gang reacting to her death–Giles is devastated, Alyson Hannigan is amazing at crying as always, and Spike positively weeps (aw!). The season ends on a now-iconic close-up on Buffy’s grave, which says: “Buffy Anne Summers – She saved the world a lot.”
Notes from a New Fan:
- Cordelia is in the previouslies! OK, I might be even more excited than when we talk about Spike’s crush in the previouslies. [Edit: Ugh, but she doesn’t appear anyway. I think these previouslies are just super comprehensive because this was potentially going to be the series finale.]
- I know this episode is a big deal, I’ve been spoiled for that by the entire internet. In a way that almost increased my suspense in watching it, knowing that the payoff would be huge.
- Love the opening sequence. It is super satisfying to watch Buffy dispatch the vampire and be a straightforward hero for what she knows might be the last time.
- Buffy should kill Dawn, honestly. And I can’t believe her friends aren’t working harder to convince her of this. Would Dawn want to be the cause of the end of the world? No! [Edit: we find out later that she would not. I was right!]
- Giles goes about this all wrong. Buffy dares him to tell her to kill her own sister, and Giles says, “She’s not your sister.” At least he has the grace to look ashamed. But then he makes a very good point, which is that the entire world will end and Dawn will die anyway. Buffy just says that she wants the last thing Dawn sees to be Buffy protecting her. Super illogical, but I can see it.
- Buffy declares that Dawn is a part of her. No one else notices that that’s obviously going to turn out to be the key to the entire dilemma. (No pun intended.)
- Xander’s brilliant idea is to kill Ben. “I know he’s an innocent, but not, like, Dawn innocent.” Heh!
- Hee, Spike starts to say that Thor’s hammer is too heavy for anyone to lift but doesn’t get to finish his sentence because Buffy picks it up like it’s made of papier-maché.
- Glory makes the same calculation that Giles did, which is that if Buffy does show, it might be to speed up Dawn’s death instead of to save her.
- Giles claims that he’s “sworn to protect” the world and that’s why he has to do or say things other people can’t. Uh… I think that also describes Buffy, so I wouldn’t get too braggy, buddy.
- Xander and Anya have a little end-of-the-world sex, which, fair. Then Xander asks if Anya “…arrived.” Just as I’m about to roll my eyes at network-TV coyness, Anya answers, “Yes, I had the pleasure moment, and the blissful calm that comes right after it.” Hee! I guess it’s just Xander who’s bad at talking about sex. (Which, also not surprising.)
- I like that Anya calls Xander on his shit with regard to proposing right before the world ends. I guess a revenge demon who specializes in helping scorned women would be pretty familiar with guys who make commitments they know they won’t have to keep.
- Willow says that in the past few days, instead of researching Glory, she’s been researching how to help Tara. Um… wouldn’t it help Tara most to avert an apocalypse so that you continue to have time to work on the other stuff like recovering Tara’s brain function? I feel like both Willow and Buffy are making hard to defend choices here. (Although quips aside, I do totally buy Janes’s much more intelligent analysis of the feminist dynamics implied by these choices.)
- This is one of my favorite moments so far between Buffy and Spike–the moment when she tells him to come into her house. “No barrier,” he says in a slightly shaky voice as he steps over the threshold. It’s so surprisingly romantic. (To be clear, I don’t think Buffy has romance on the brain here–she is only thinking of Dawn, and the weight of the world, as the last episode called it. In my reading she’s leaning on Spike because she has known he actually loves her ever since he let Glory torture him and thus that she can count on him for the thing she cares about, which is Dawn; it’s not that she loves him, at that moment. But her acknowledging, even unconsciously, that he’s capable of love and being trustworthy is a huge change, and the symbolism of this moment, where she literally and figuratively lets him in, is perfect.)
- Buffy wears white in this episode again, which I also think is significant–it’s just like the finale of the first season, where she first sacrifices her life for her calling.
- So wait, Buffy can fall from many stories up and not get hurt?
- WHY does Dawn yell Spike’s name when he’s trying to sneak up on the demon?
- Giles says that Buffy can’t take a human life because she’s “a hero.” That struck me as an odd note, but I know that there’s been discussion on the internet recently of how Joss was very black-and-white about heroes being heroes and villains, villains. (Apparently he shoved James Marsters and yelled at him about Spike’s popularity because he was mad that fans loved Spike instead of seeing him as a monster? Kind of ridiculous for someone to get that upset about a fictional vampire that he himself created! Or, as James Marsters himself said, “It’s your football.” LOL.)
- I love how Doc is the big-bad version of the hammer from earlier. Spike is defeated by him in one push, whereas Buffy just shoves him off the tower Luke Danes style:
- Anya pushes Xander out of the way of falling rocks. That’s so sweet!
- But, not as sweet as Spike sobbing when he sees Buffy’s death. That moment is so huge for me. It’s just so emotional.
- I watched this episode without taking notes the first time because I knew it was a big deal and I wanted to just take it in. But even the second time, rewatching to take notes, it gives me absolute chills watching Buffy throw herself into that portal.
- Janes says that this was going to be the finale, and I do honestly wonder how the next two seasons could ever top the intensity of this one, or the perfection of this finale. But obviously, I am glad it’s not over!
Notes from a True Stan:
- The previouslies recap not just the season, but the entire show – they really thought this was the end!
- “Let’s think outside the box!” says Anya, who loves capitalism so much she’s already got the corporate-speak down pat.
- They all act super awkward when Xander suggests killing Ben, but like shouldn’t they? It seems a little precious to worry about your own moral purity when millions of lives are at stake. Who is she, Batman?
- There’s a cute callback to that throwaway scene where Spike tries and fails to pick up Olaf’s hammer–he warns Buffy, “You can’t lift that, it’s too heavy,” as she easily lifts it. Heh.
- Glory says Ben is probably the only reason Buffy and her friends aren’t all dead by now. That’s a little convenient, but I’ll take it.
- Anya screams after finding a stuffed bunny (“Is this supposed to be some sort of sick joke??”) and decides it’s an omen that they’re all going to die.
- “I know you never loved me,” Spike tells Buffy before the fight. “I know I’m a monster, but you treat me like a man.” SWOON.
- Their plan to wait until the last minute and then just follow Tara wherever she goes is, uh, risky!
- Tara looks at Giles and says, “You’re a killer! This is all set down.” Foreshadowing!
- After all that sitting around and waiting, the Scoobies really should have had a better strategy, or like any strategy at all. Why didn’t they send Spike up to untie Dawn immediately? Why didn’t Willow do that little spell that scattered the minions before Doc got there?
- The scene where Doc makes shallow cuts in Dawn’s stomach is pretty harrowing. A Redditor pointed out recently that it’s ultimately a good thing they didn’t cast a ten or twelve year old as Dawn, like they planned, because seeing Doc cut a small child would have been really rough.
- Another parallel to the first season: in both “Prophecy Girl” and “The Gift,” Buffy says she’s quitting, and in both episodes she willingly faces death to save the world. But in season one she was reluctantly facing death, and this time she’s seeking it.
- Some have pointed out in recent years that this finale, beloved as it is, doesn’t really make much sense. (How does Buffy know for sure that her blood will close the portal? Isn’t Dawn’s blood still flowing? Isn’t Buffy worried about leaving the world without a non-evil Slayer?) And yet, at least for me personally, none of these questions bother me, because it’s just so thematically perfect. Buffy spent this whole season worried she had lost the ability to love, so there’s no other possible ending for her than saving the world through the sheer power of her love for her sister.
- I love Buffy’s final monologue, especially the iconic line, “The hardest thing in this world is to live in it.” It somehow manages to be both a perfect ending to the fifth season, and a thesis statement for the sixth season, which wasn’t even officially confirmed at this point. How do they do that?
- I was ten years old when I watched this live, and I thought it was the end. I ran into my mother’s bedroom and sobbed – I didn’t often cry at movies or TV shows, but Buffy was that rare character who really felt like she was my friend.
- I love season 6, so I’m glad Buffy kept going. But still, this would have been a killer ending, one for the history books.