“End of Days,” by Douglas Petrie and Jane Espenson
We ended last week with Faith and the Slayettes, going toe to toe with a big honking bomb. There’s just enough time for Faith to shout a warning as it counts down single digits. And then it all blows up in face: kaboom!
As the dust settles on that fiasco, we check in on the mad bomber himself, down in his favorite ancient wine cellar. Buffy, having shed the need to watch out for anyone else’s survival as she tries once again to clean Caleb’s clock, is seeing a bit of success. She has found herself a shiny scythe-shaped object. It’s a gift, clearly, so perhaps its name is Death. Maybe she’ll call it Katie. Either way, Caleb boasts that he’s going to seriously murder her long before she can pry it out of all that rock.
Except—pop!—it wants to come. Later, Buffy will refer to this as King Arthuring it out of the stone. I do love the way Team Joss tends to verb.
Once and future king references aside, this completely foreseeable development unsettles Caleb. He remains game to take her on. The First turns up, though, and says to desist. Firstie also mentions Faith and the bomb. Caleb obediently backs down and Buffy sprints off.
[Neither of them told her where the Slayettes were…]
At the site of the explosion, the Slayettes are regrouping. Vi has a broken arm. Faith’s not dead, though she is face down in the water. Some of us remember that long ago prom where Buffy drowned. If Faith’s heart stopped and she needed CPR, would one of the Potentials get called? Wait, never mind, I’m way off track here. To add to the pile of suck, the group is trapped in a hole with a bunch of Turok-Han vampires, none of whom has a soul or is in love with any human present. It’s all looking pretty dire until Buffy kicks her way through the rubble, scything all comers.
I cannot help feeling that it is a shame, in a way, that we didn’t get to see Faith take on a noseless vampire before plastic explosives and this sexy slayer weapon came onto the scene. I know we don’t have time for everything, or everyone, but I’d have loved to see that, and to contrast it with Buffy’s knock-down drag-out Thunderdome object lesson to the Slayettes.
Over at Chez Slay, Andrew has made a run on an abandoned grocery store and filled the house with important non-perishable food items. XandAnya, Willow and Dawn show up as Giles dives on the Jaffa cakes. These are, as you know, the only food that can truly sustain a Watcher. Faith had sent the Scoobs and the Sib off on a largely pointless mission to spy on Buffy and be conspicuously absent from the fight at the weapons cache. The gang humored her by tracking Buffy as far as the house where she spent the previous evening. In, as you’ll all remember, Spike’s very respectful embrace.
Just around then, Buffy returns with the wounded Potentials and Faith, and the house becomes, in essence, a field hospital. Amanda suggests the failed raid was their punishment for pursuing a Faith-based combat strategy, a suggestion Buffy shrugs off. Now we’ve both walked you into a trap, she says. Que Sera Sera. Still, the Potentials are humbled, and also desperate to have an ambulatory Slayer on the premises. Is she staying? Buffy gives them a firm who the hell knows.
While Faith heals and the Slayettes stew, Willow and Giles are tasked with scythe research. Andrew and Anya decide to make themselves useful by looting the hospital for medical supplies and Buffy hatches a plan whereby Xander will get Dawn to minimum safe distance. Xander’s not so keen on this, since it means he’ll miss what he thinks will be Buffy’s last fight. She talks him ’round, though, and there’s some cute banter between them about whether she’ll die and if he’ll bring her back.
Then Xander takes Dawn out to the car on a pretext, makes some jokes about having lost his eye, and chloroforms her when her back’s turned.
At the vineyard, Caleb is getting up a tantrum over losing the scythe. As you may have noticed, I feel this is entirely his fault and he should get over it. Don’t want the Slayer to have something? Don’t dig it up. For bonus points, don’t tell her you’ve got it. I am certain this was covered in the core curriculum for Villain 101. And who wrote that curriculum if not the First?
Firstie has this swell idea, though, whereby they should merge because it’ll make Caleb tougher. It turns out the point of ordering him to stand down, before, was the Evil It was pretty sure Buffy would defeat him otherwise. She soups him up with dark power, and his eyes get a little Dark Willow-y. No veins, though, so how much ass can he really kick?
Faith comes around. Hurrah! Buffy shows her the scythe.
“It feels like it’s mine,” she says. “I guess that means it’s yours.” This breaks my heart a lot. It makes me want to write Faith stories. It captures so much of this relationship to date, highlighting all of Faith’s insecurities. She and Dawn could really bond over living in Buffy’s shadow.
But she has come a long way! Instead of joining the bad guys and murdering whoever shows up, the Chosen two talk through their respective leadership styles, the two combat disasters, and the question of who’s in charge now. Faith comes clean about having felt incredibly isolated when she was heading up Team Slay. She doesn’t say so, but it seems clear she’d be happy to go back to being assistant captain.
As if that little heart to heart wasn’t exhaustsing enough, Buffy goes downstairs and has another one, with Spike. He’s pleased she got the scythe, and indicates that he’s ready to be put in his place once more—that place being somewhere between arm’s length and the ten foot pole. Instead, Buffy reminds him that he’s the one who gave her the strength to pull herself together.
He tells her that holding her, the previous evening, was the most terrifying and best experience of his life. (Previously, the best night of his life was his first Slayer kill, I believe.) Buffy replies that she wasn’t just using him, this time. The honesty’s a little overwhelming for them both, and they agree to leave the question of Them in an amorphous, we’ll deal with it after the war kind of place. No promises are made. No rings are exchanged.
Anya and Andrew hit the hospital, steal what they need, and discuss why it is that humans fight to the end in these apparently hopeless causes. They express their commitment to this particular battle, live or die, and wrap up with an adorable wheelchair fight.
Elsewhere, scythe research sends Buffy out to a temple, which is inhabited by a white-haired guardian woman of witchery. The woman tells her that the Shadow Men who made the First Slayer became, in time, the Watchers. They talk about how the scythe is a powerful weapon, but hey—let’s not forget that Buffy already has powerful weapons. It’s a good point, and one that hints to me that Anya and Andrew could be looting the local military base next. Or the police station. Before the guardian can say much more, or anything super-useful, Caleb shows up and kills her.
Around now, Dawn wakes up in the Xandermobile, realizes what’s happened, and tasers him into unconsciousness so she can drive herself the eff home. Well, we did already know his heart wasn’t in it.
“End of Days” does accomplish some of the usual end-of-season board setting for the battle to come, but much of the groundwork is, as it was in “Touched,” emotional. We see Buffy working to get to a good place with her front-line fighters: Spike, Faith and Xander. Giles and Willow are back in the library, for the most part. The Slayettes are almost incidental and Robin’s not in the picture.
Andrew and Anya are paired in a light-hearted and mutually supportive way. It’s interesting to see them connect. They’re both minor ex-villains, after all, and both are unlikely to make a key difference in the coming fight. It feels fitting that they’ve taken on logistics and supply for the larger group, even as they make time to spontaneously take care of each other.
Strangely, this episode feels less urgent than some of the other next-to-last season enders. There is little sense of momentum coming from the First. We knew Glory was coming, knew the Mayor’s plans centered around Graduation, knew Angelus was going to unleash Acathla as soon as he could unlock its mysteries. Under different circumstances Caleb’s arrival might have spurred a greater sense of an apocalypse on the boil, but his big plan was unearthing the Scythe.
And how’d that turn out for him? The big surprise of the Buffy/Caleb fight isn’t that she wins, despite the First’s having juiced him up. After all, Buffy regularly demolishes the enormously tough entities who have beaten her once before. No, the surprise is that midway through, when Caleb seems to be winning, Angel shows up and knocks him over, before stepping back and… gallantly? Letting Buffy finish him off.
Then BuffAngel lock lips, an event Spike happens to be around to witness, and possibly smell, while the First whispers in his hurtin’ Spike ear, “Huh. That came outta nowhere!”
(Oh, wait, that was me. The First says, “That bitch.”)
Finally: Did Someone Leave Their Tesseract in Sunnydale High?
A.M. Dellamonica has a book’s worth of fiction up here on Tor.com! Her most recent apparance is in “The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti,” the second of a series of stories called The Gales. Both this story and its predecessor, “Among the Silvering Herd,” are prequels to her upcoming Tor novel, Child of a Hidden Sea.
If sailing ships, pirates, magic and international intrigue aren’t your thing, though, her ‘baby werewolf has two mommies’ story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. Or check out her sexy novelette, “Wild Things,” a tie-in to the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.