Monday, November 2, 2015

BtVS: Bronze: Season 5, “The Gift”

Covering “The Gift,” in which we must consider endings.

Was this the ending Buffy should have had?
            By the time “The Gift” aired, I recall, we all knew it wasn’t going to end here—it was moving from the WB to UPN, and it even ended with a statement saying as much. But it still makes an effective demarcation point. Buffy also dies in it, like really dies. Dies ass dies, reaching the proscribed fate of all Slayers of a young and unfortunate death, though she does at least, do so on her own terms, and saving the world one last time. There’s a gravestone and everything. It’s an ending that the series had been built towards and it feels fitting.
            That’s how it gets remembered, at least.
            After a fresh watch, though, I have to say No. Had the show ended with “The Gift,” it would have avoided seasons 6 and 7, which are not very good, but that’s all that would have been accomplished. “The Gift” has some fun stuff and a few great moments, but as a hypothetical final farewell for Buffy herself, it would have left a seriously, seriously sour aftertaste.
            I’m seriously sorry to bring it up again, but it’s the season’s refrain, it’s unavoidable: Dawn’s place in everyone’s lives is up for debate, and that debate never happens. She exists, but her connection to the characters is a falsehood—however earnestly felt their feelings toward her are, they were hoodwinked into having them at all. It would be fitting for Buffy to die saving others and the world one final time, but to have her do so on a trick? I can’t imagine that would be warmly remembered and widely embraced.
            But there’s also the matter of how, well, Buffy seems something of a psychopath in this episode, like perhaps Willow brought her out of her theatrical catatonia wrong, though that is obviously not the intent. What is intended is how much what will happen to Dawn resembles what did happen to Angel—there’s going to be a portal that, once opened, can only be closed with the death of someone Buffy cares for. This is another fairly compelling argument in favor of “The Gift” being an ending, giving her a do-over on her biggest regret. It would have been somewhat blunted by the fact that Angel did return and had gone on to his own currently airing show, but this could have been effective, Buffy finding herself in a similar situation, but achieving a solution that does not cost her soul.
            But for one, the connection between the current situation and the Angel one is not so much drawn as it is hastily sketched in a solitary line of dialogue, though this does get enough of the idea across, so it at least works better than other times this has been an issue this season. For another, though, there is no anguishing, Buffy already knows what she’s going to do, which is not allow Dawn to die, no matter what, even if Glory’s ritual has started. Now, Buffy deserves a lot of leeway for having this unspeakable burden and bearing it while being very immature, and her resoluteness is something I’ve praised more than once. This, however, is unreasonable, and when Buffy vows to murder Giles should he try anything, she seems actually insane, in no small part because Buffy’s plan wouldn’t actually save Dawn at all, but would have her bleeding to death while the world gets ripped apart at the same time. Even more insane is that, save some minor pushback from Giles (earning him the murder threat), everyone goes along with this without complaint.
            Granted, there’s been a strange contraction of Buffy’s setting over the course of this season, with the cast seeming to get more and more separate and isolated in a way that is starting to feel very limited and obviously stagey. They don’t hang out at the Bronze, or at a school, or anywhere there might be other people. Customers don’t even seem to come by the Magic Box anymore. So I guess it could be argued that they go along with Buffy’s intention because they’re the only people left in the world anyway
            The stakes are just absurdly skeewompus here. In these very pages I’ve expressed my skepticism with compelled martyrdom, but I don’t think that really applies in this situation, where Dawn’s blood and life force actually fuels the portal or breakdown or whatever you want to call it, so it’s not really saving the world as much as keeping her from destroying it, however unwilling in that she is. Furthermore, perhaps recognizing “I won’t let the energy ball that some monks thought could be used to help save the world, even though at this exact moment that definitely isn’t the case, so they crafted a bunch of memories to make me think it was related to me be killed” rings a little hollow, we get here the late introduction of the idea that the monks made her from Buffy, or something? I think it’s late, at least, I don’t recall it being mentioned before. Anyway, rather than redefining Buffy’s investment, it just winds up confusing things even more (good thing, because it runs the risk of making Buffy look even more self-absorbed), and attempts to connect Buffy’s death at the end with the First Slayer telling her “Death is your gift” also fall rather flat, if only because this particular way in which Buffy dying proves useful seems a little too specific.
            There’s still some pleasure to be found in “The Gift,” be it in Giles and Spike bonding over Shakespeare and the history of England, Spike acknowledging his failings to Buffy, Xander proposing to Anya and her forestalling it, and Giles dealing with the Ben situation, or even in the pure fun of the decent fighting, but as with much of the latter half of this season, you have to pick those bits out of a lot of sloppiness and strangeness. So should the show have ended with “The Gift?” Would it have been the proper sendoff Buffy deserved? Well, since she spends most of it vowing to let a world full of little sisters die if she can’t save her fake one, probably not.

            Apex Episode: “Fool for Love,” an episode so great I’ve come to realize it almost single-handedly elevates my opinion of the season.
            Nadir Episode: I’m going to have to go with the contrivance and dullness and Glory-ness of “Tough Love,” which isn’t per say bad as much as profoundly underwhelming.
            Season 4 Costuming Theory Check In: Well, I highlighted some of Xander’s really unbearable shirts early on, but on aggregate, things weren’t so bad here.

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