A vampire chases a boy into an alley. Buffy comes out the back door of the shop. She sees this and confronts the vampire who doesn't seem to know who she is. She slays him, much to the surprise of the boy. She returns to the store, tells them it was a vampire, and asks Giles to explain the ritual again. He says the key is living energy and needs to be poured into a specific place at a specific time. That done, it opens the barriers between dimensions. When it stops, the barriers form again. Glory will use that time to enter her hell dimension. But now that the key is human the barriers open when her blood flows and close when the blood flows no more - when she is dead. Xander asks why it always has to be blood and Spike explains blood is life. Buffy says what they have to do is stop Glory from performing the ritual. Giles insists on talking about the need to kill Dawn to stop the ritual if they cannot stop Glory. Buffy says Dawn is part of her. Giles says everyone will die if they fail. Buffy says then the last thing Dawn will see is Buffy protecting her. Giles says she will fail.
Anya tries to get them thinking of ways to fight Glory. Xander wonders whether they could kill Ben, but Giles says he won't reappear anymore. Giles snaps at Anya asking her what she has to contribute and she suggests the dagon sphere from No Place Like Home and the troll hammer they have from Triangle. They realize they still don't know where to find Glory, then realize Tara can lead them to her.
Ben brings clothes for Dawn to wear for the ritual. She can't stand to look at him and shouts at him to change to Glory. He does. She tells Glory Ben is a monster and at least she is up front about what she is. Glory says Ben is just afraid of dying. She says Ben's humanity is probably what stopped her from killing Buffy long ago. She also explains the ritual to Dawn and how her death will close the dimensional portals.
Buffy is working out in the training room. Giles enters and tells her he loves Dawn but he has sworn to protect the world and has to say and do things that shouldn't have to be said or done. She says she'll stop him if he tries to hurt Dawn. They sit and discuss previous battles and Buffy says she knew what to do then, but does not now. She wishes her mother were there. She says the spirit guide said death is her gift, so that means a slayer is just a killer. Giles says she's wrong. She says if Dawn dies, she's quitting.
Dawn has changed and carefully puts her clothes away. The minions take her and carry her to a bizarre tower which the brainsucked have been building. Giles opens the door to the basement and asks Xander and Anya if they have found the sphere. They say no and we see them hurriedly dressing - they've been having sex. It calmed Anya for a moment, but now she's terrified again. Xander finds the Buffybot, Anya thinks Willow kept it to study it. Anya finds a stuffed bunny and is terrified. She takes it as an omen they are all going to die. Xander tries to calm her. She talks about her fear. Xander proposes. She thinks he's doing this because they are going to die, but he says he's doing it because he thinks they will live and he wants to be with her the rest of his life. Anya says yes, but tells him to give her the ring after - when they know the world will not end.
Buffy asks Willow what spells she has been working on. She tells her she is the strongest one there, the only one who was ever able to hurt Glory. Willow has an idea, based on work she was doing to help Tara. She has been charting Tara and Glory's essences and believes if she can get the two together she can reverse the brainsuck. Xander and Anya have found the sphere and Buffy goes to them. Willow tries to talk to Tara who slaps her in her madness. Willow promises to bring her back. Buffy talks to Xander and Anya and then goes to pick up weapons at home, taking Spike with her. He can't enter, but she invites him in. She tells him they won't all make it and he says he always expected to go down fighting. She asks him to protect Dawn and he promises to do so to the end of the world. He tells her he knows she'll never love him, that he's a monster. But that she treats him like a man.
Dawn is tied to the top of the tower. Spike and Buffy return. Willow sends Tara off. Buffy tells them that she'll kill anyone who comes near Dawn. They follow Tara to the tower. Glory accosts Tara and Willow appears casting her spell which sends them all flying. When Glory gets up she realizes there is a hole in her brain and she needs to eat one. She refuses to eat the minions, but Buffy appears before her and she's willing to eat her. She sends the minions to guard Dawn realizing this is a diversionary tactic. But Glory is acting strangely. Buffy reveals she has the dagon sphere and tosses it at Glory who crushes it. They fight. Spike kills a minion with a crossbow and the gang attack the minions. Willow rushes to Tara who is herself again. Glory is feeling better and knocks off Buffy's head. Only it's the Buffybot. The real Buffy appears behind her and smashes her with the troll hammer sending her flying. Dawn screams to her and Buffy rushes up the tower sending a minion flying. Glory follows and they fight on the tower. Glory knocks the hammer from Buffy's hand. Buffy regains the hammer and they fight more. Glory knocks her off the tower and Buffy grabs Glory and takes her with her. But she drops the hammer as they land. Glory gets up ready to kill her, but Xander swings one of those giant demolition balls and smashes through the wall and into Glory sending her flying.
The gang are not faring well in fighting the minions. But there are only a few minutes left to start the ritual. Buffy has the hammer again and is fighting Glory. Doc appears on the tower. If Glory cannot start the ritual, he will. Xander joins the gang. Spike can see there is someone on the tower. Willow contacts him telepathically and tells him to run to the tower. She and Tara use their powers to push the minions away and he rushes up. He confronts Doc who attacks him. Buffy is doing well with Glory, hammering away at her. Doc tosses Spike off the tower. Glory is beaten and transforms to Ben who promises never to come near Buffy or Dawn again. Buffy tosses aside the hammer and runs off. Giles appears. He tells Ben Buffy couldn't kill him even though she knows Glory will reemerge because she's a hero. He kills Ben.
Doc cuts Dawn. Buffy appears and hurls him off the tower. The portals open and all hell breaks loose. Anya pushes Xander to safety and is herself buried under a pile of debris. Dawn realizes she has to kill herself to stop it but Buffy won't let her. Buffy realizes they share the same blood. She hurls herself off the tower and with her death the portals close. The gang walk to her dead body. Xander carries an injured but alive Anya. Spike falls down and sobs.
We see a tombstone with the engraving
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is not a show about vampires. No more than Ally McBeal is about lawyers, NYPD Blue about police work, ER about emergency room medicine, or X-Files about FBI investigations. All these shows, and Buffy more than most, are about people. And that makes sense because after themselves, nothing interests people more than other people. So in my final review of the season, I want to talk about the personal development we've seen in these characters and about how they were propelled to new heights in this episode.
I'm going to start with Xander and Anya because I love them. It's nice to have a couple who have a relatively normal life. Yes, she's an ex vengeance demon. Yes, he's had enough concussions to sideline an entire NFL team. Yes, she's afraid of bunnies and he's notoriously insecure. But their relationship is strong and they help each other. We aren't asking ourselves if they are gay or straight. We aren't wondering how they can abandon their one true love for another. We aren't wondering what mysterious past one of them is concealing. By Buffy standards, they are as normal as you get. And, sometimes, you need a little normality break.
Xander has always been a insightful observer of others and their relationships while merely reacting (usually badly) to events in his own relationships. He never realized how Willow felt about him or how he might feel about her until it was too late. He fell into and out of a relationship with Cordelia. And then he fell into a relationship with Anya. But at the same time, he's the one who rallied Buffy in The Freshman. He's the one who had insights into the Buffy Angel and later Buffy Riley relationships. He's the one who knew how Riley felt and who advised Buffy in Into the Woods. But it wasn't until that episode that he began taking active control of his own life. He told Anya how he felt. In Forever, he's actually ready to talk about having babies - in the future but still he's talking. And in this episode, he proposes. And, since Xander didn't magically find a ring, we know he isn't proposing because the world is ending, he's proposing because he has realized he wants to spend his life with Anya. This is a huge step forward for a guy who has basically stumbled from relationship to relationship. Earlier in the season we saw Xander move from a part time worker (and last season he had an incredible assortment of joe jobs) to someone with a real skill earning a good living (in The Replacement). He has the economic side of his life together. He's no longer mired in his parents' basement. But with the proposal, he takes the final step into independent adulthood.
Buffy tells Willow she's the strongest of the group. And it pretty much goes without saying Xander is the weakest. He lacks the fighting skills of Buffy or Giles. He doesn't have the magical abilities of Willow or Tara. And he doesn't have the knowledge of Giles or Anya. But emotionally he is the strongest. He was the one who comforted Buffy in The Freshman and in this episode he is the one who comforts Anya. Spike refers to Xander derisively as a bricklayer, but Xander's profession is a good metaphor for his nature. He is the structure within which the others can safely dwell.
Anya, who has always been an adult although she has often acted like a child, is becoming a human. She's talked about it a lot this season. She's come to grips with her mortality in The Replacement. She came to understand death and life and their cycle in Forever. Now she is coming to understand that love is so strong in humans it can even override the drive for self preservation. As she says, in the past she has always fled the apocalypse (she does this in Graduation Part I). But now she's having inappropriately timed sex, trying to think of ways to defeat a god, worried about Xander, worried about herself, and feeling guilty for not worrying more about everybody else. She's gone from selfish and self centred to a nice person who cares about everyone and really wants to help.
It's interesting that Anya is the one who tries to focus the group on a practical solution to the problem. While Buffy can think only of saving Dawn, Giles only of the need to kill her, and the others seem not to be thinking at all, Anya looks to weapons they can use against Glory. She attempts to get the team back on track. And when she is rebuffed by Giles, she responds with the only meaningful idea anyone has had - the dagon sphere and the troll hammer. While the others seem immobilized by the oncoming crisis, she actually leaps into action. Her love for Xander has also taught her how to care for others and that care has changed her to the point where she is leading the battle rather than fleeing from it. Having decided to abandon flight as her response to fear, she leaps into fight with a vengeance and a fierce intelligence which Xander really appreciates. It's also interesting that all the women in Xander's life - Willow, Buffy (who scored so well on the university entrance exams), Cordelia (who also scored well), and Anya - are really bright. Xander may not be university material, but he's got nothing against brains.
Anya's decision to accept Xander's proposal but wait for the world not to end to put on the ring indicates an attempt on her part to reinforce her belief in Xander's belief in their mutual survival. She has been sure they will die, a surety reinforced by the bunny omen, and now she is saying that Xander's faith has changed her. She is saying that their love for one another will see them through the apocalypse.
Willow is forced to confront the nature of her power. In Tough Love, Tara said Willow was advancing so quickly it scared her. Now we learn it scares Willow, too. She has acquired enormous power very quickly and is only now accepting it and only because Buffy forces her to. And just as Buffy refuses to abandon Dawn and accept that she must be killed, so Willow refuses to abandon Tara and accept that she cannot be cured.
Giles does something this episode he almost never does, he yells. He shouts the unpleasant truth at Buffy realizing that someone has to say it, that the death of an innocent may be the only way to stop Glory. This is a very different Giles from the quiet watcher, the polite Englishman, the careful strategist. This is the Giles who does what has to be done. The Giles who spoke to Buffy in the training room of protecting the world and having to do what others won't and shouldn't have to. The Giles who will do the dirty work if no one else can do it. It's the Giles who surreptitiously tortured the minion in Tough Love. It's the Giles whom Tara identifies as a killer. It's the Giles who murders Ben.
The death of Ben is a key turning point for Giles. In some ways, you can argue it's his fatal flaw. He knows Ben must die because it is the only way to destroy Glory and she is too powerful to be allowed to live. He also knows Buffy cannot do this because she is a hero and heroes do not kill innocents. As he does this, Buffy sacrifices herself to save Dawn - an innocent. There is a clear metaphorical link between Giles' fall from grace and Buffy's physical fall into a state of grace. He sins to save the world, she dies to save the world from sin. Giles must understand that Buffy's sacrifice was not merely to save Dawn, but to save him as well. Both physically, since it stops the coming apocalypse, and metaphysically, since her death ends his tenure as watcher and removes him from the temptation of killing - the temptation he finally gave in to.
Giles has given in to despair in this episode. He tells Buffy she will fail. He can conceive of no end which does not entail disaster or the death of an innocent. This is what leads him to the murder of Ben. And, perhaps, this nexus of negativity is what costs them the few seconds they need to save Dawn, stop Doc, and prevent the sacrifice of Buffy. Just as Buffy wondered whether had she been slightly earlier or slightly less preoccupied with other matters she might have saved Joyce, so must Giles now feel about Buffy. And I expect that to be part of his character next season.
Spike makes one of the critical statements in the episode when he says blood is life. He immediately comments that it is Dawn's blood. Spike has referred to Dawn as niblet and platelet and other eatable pet names. Coming from a vampire, those weren't quite as cute as honey or sugar or cupcake and carried an ominous overtone. But Spike has really made it to another level here. He recognizes the connection between blood and life, the need to kill Dawn to stop the ritual, and he regrets it. He's a being whose life consists of eating the lives of others yet he now regrets the possibility of the passing of one of those lives.
He also realizes, as does Buffy, that they will not all survive the coming battle. He's ready to die. That's why Buffy invites him in. He is no longer the crazed stalker or the chip controlled monster. He's an ally in the war against evil and she knows he's an ally she can trust to the utmost. He is the one she entrusts the protection of Dawn to and he swears to fight until the end of the world. This is not the first time he has been entrusted with Dawn, but surely the most important of such occasions. Buffy knows that even in the face of inevitable destruction, Spike will stand firm. It's at this point that Spike says he knows Buffy will not love him and that he's a monster. And that she treats him like a man. That last sentiment is similar to the one he expressed about Joyce in Forever. Not many people treat Spike like a person (or treated William that way) and he really does appreciate it when they do. But his belief Buffy will not love him and that he's a monster is wrong. Buffy dies to save him and that's an act of love. Just as much as she dies to save Dawn and all the others. And a monster doesn't stand with his friends in the battle against evil. He's no more a monster now than Angel is. And maybe realizing that he could be a monster is the biggest step he has taken in not being one. And if we need any further proof, we have the tears Spike sheds at the fallen body of the person who was supposed to be his greatest enemy. He has become one of the friends Buffy has said must be strong and look after one another.
In Tough Love Buffy symbolically gave up life when she dropped out of university. She told Willow "It's not like I don't have a life. I do. I have Dawn's life." Never say Whedon doesn't play fair. Add to this Spike's comments about blood in this episode (it's life, Dawn's blood is her life, Buffy has Dawn's life) and Buffy saying Dawn was made from her by the monks, and Buffy's sacrifice seems obvious in hindsight. But only in hindsight.
I like the way the episode starts with what now qualifies as a quiet moment - slaying a vampire. Four years ago, this would have been an episode highlight. It's a moment of quiet reminiscence for Buffy. She gets to recall a time when demons didn't know who she was. A time when a stake could solve all her problems. A time when she was fighting monsters she was able to beat. Now, she doesn't know what to do. It isn't a matter of having the right moves or the right weapons. It's a matter of making the right decisions. Fighting the master was easy. Stopping Angelus harder but still something she could comprehend. Battling the mayor tough, but within her moral compass. Now she's being asked to kill her sister and she simply cannot see how that is right. She fears she really is only a killer, that that was the message of the spirit guide. Giles, for all his negativity, disagrees and ultimately she realizes he is right. Buffy will not kill, she will die so others can live. Having defeated all the other monsters, including a god, she kills off the only undefeated being - herself - to avoid the apocalypse.
Everything that happens to these characters, their growth through this episode, is the result of love. Xander and Anya's love for one another give them the strength to survive. Spike's love for Buffy leads to his heroism. Willow's love for Tara leads to the spell she uses against Glory. Buffy's love for Dawn leads to her sacrifice. And Giles' love for Buffy leads to his murder of Ben. Also, they all keep their vows. Xander and Anya do live through the apocalypse. Willow does bring back Tara. Spike fights to protect Dawn. Buffy saves Dawn. And Giles does what he must to save the world.
Some quick final thoughts. I don't usually pay much attention to the previously on Buffy montage, but this week's collection of scenes from the first season on was terrific and clearly intended as a kind of eulogy in advance. Another, obvious in hindsight, clue as to what would happen. Xander refers to Ben as an innocent but not innocent the way Dawn is. He was understating the case. Dawn is ready to sacrifice herself for others. Ben is ready to sacrifice Dawn for himself. I liked the fact Anya and Xander had sex while looking for the sphere. It was very like them and a nice human moment in an inhuman time. I was glad to see the stuffed bunny terrifying Anya. Good to see she hasn't become completely normal. I loved the brief British moment Spike and Giles share as they head out. I also liked Spike offering Willow his flask and her thanking him. It was a wonderfully human moment for both of them. I was glad to see the Buffybot used as a weapon. It was the logical thing to do, but too often plot points of earlier shows are forgotten in tv series. It's interesting Willow opts to contact Spike. She clearly shares Buffy's feelings that he is the one to trust to save Dawn. The pervert dialogue between Anya and Xander was a nice moment. Partly because you need a light moment like that in such a heavy episode and partly because it's exactly the kind of dialogue you'd expect to hear in real life from two people who are close to each other.
Lines of the week:
"Oh God, my leg." - Nameless vampire communicating with Buffy.
"Been a long while since I met one who didn't know me." - Buffy getting nostalgic.
"You're just a girl" - Nameless boy.
"That's what I keep saying." - Buffy agreeing.
"Blood is life." - Spike spelling it out for them.
"She's not your sister." - Giles saying what has to be said.
"The monks made her out of me." - Buffy finally understanding what Dawn is.
"Here to help. Wanna live." - Anya being practical.
"Smart chicks are so hot." - Xander figuring it out.
"You couldn't have figured that out in the tenth grade." - Willow wondering why it took him so long.
"I don't know how to live in this world." - Buffy being prophetic.
"I think I'm going to live a long and silly life and I'm not interested in doing that without you around." - Xander proposing.
"I always knew I'd go down fighting." - Spike getting ready to die.
"I know you'll never love me. I know that I'm a monster. But you treat me like a man." - Spike explaining why he will die before breaking his vow to Buffy.
"You're a killer." - Tara accurately characterizing Giles.
"I'll kill anyone who comes near Dawn." - Buffy with a warning.
"I made a promise to a lady." - Spike on why a soulless being does good.Got a comment? Send me mail.
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