“The Gift,” by Joss Whedon
Zoom! As a special fannish gift, we get a little clip from everything that’s gone before! I call these blipverts—who gets the reference?
As “The Gift” opens, we’re still in the eye of the hurricane; things haven’t yet gotten apocalyptic with between Team Slayer and Glory. The story opens in the alley behind the Magic Box, with a disposable vamp of the week. It’s been a while since either we or Buffy has seen one of these, and it’s all so five years ago: the vamp hasn’t heard of her, and neither has its would-be victim.
“You’re just a girl,” the latter says, choking a little on his surprise at still being alive.
Ah, if only, thinks Buffy.
She returns to the store, where the Scoobies are hashing over the details of the ritual. Nothing good has broken there: the fact is that once Dawn’s bleeding, the hellverses open up and everything is doom, gloom and rain of fire until the kid has gasped her last.
Giles insists on raising the possibility that they kill Dawn. Buffy’s not up for that. “They made her out of me,” she says. I found this one of the most affecting monologues in the seven-series run.
Xander, by way of attempting to be positive, suggests they just kill Ben. Yay! We can do that, right? Then he’s appalled by himself. But he wants to live and not murder a child. That’s natural enough, right? Anya agrees, and is prepared to come up with real ideas, like using the Dagon sphere and arming Buffy with Olaf the Troll-god’s hammer. Tara’s contribution will be helping them find the ritual’s location.
Since by now the biggest weapon in the team gun rack is Willow, Buffy spends some time helping her get her nerve up.
Last minute chit-chat is also happening across town at the sacrificial tower. Here, it’s less about tactics and more about fashion statements and emotion. The minions are putting on their pretty robes. Ben is trying to get Dawn to dress up for her exciting death party and assuage his guilt by telling her comforting lies about how it won’t hurt. This leads Dawn to conclude that Ben is harder to take than Glory, who is at least up-front and honest about her evilness. She shrieks until Glory appears; when she does, her Effulgent Scrumptiousness brings her up to speed on the “Buffy will have to kill you if she wants to save Sunnydale” issue.
Neither Giles or Buffy really has the energy to be at odds, so they talk out their differences. She tells him, essentially, that she can’t sacrifice Dawn the way she did Angel. That she’s used up.
It’s fair. We loved her for killing Angel, but that was in part because Angelus went out of his way to make it necessary. Could anyone love her for slaughtering Dawn? Whatever one thinks of the sibling-as-sacrifice story, Sarah Michelle Gellar rocks these scenes. It’s bummerific, yes. The fun’s leached out of the Buffyverse—it’s not as darkly entertaining as seeing Buffy fight Faith, for example—but she is convincing.
And after so many apocalypses, the conclusion she reaches seems utterly reasonable: “If Dawn dies, I’m quitting.”
Speaking of whom, Dawn does finally change into her ritual dress. (The alternative, one assumes, was getting forcibly changed by the scabby monks.) She folds up her old clothes and leaves them stacked, neatly, on a chair. It’s meant to be poignant and it works for me.
The Gift takes time to give most of the Scoobies a few delightful little instants of connection. Now, as the time for the battle nears, XandAnya are taking a moment. Many of them, really. First a sex moment as they pretend to hunt for the Dagon Sphere in the basement, and then an ‘Eeek the Buffybot!’ moment and and a ‘Remember, Kids, Anya is afraid of Bunnies!’ bit. It all culminates in a lovely monologue about how much she loves him and doesn’t want him to die...
And then Xander asks Anya to marry him. Because, he says—when she slaps him for it—he believes they’re going to survive.
Buffy, of course, isn’t so sure. She heads back to Chez Summers with Spike for weapons and tells him they won’t all make it. She invites him back into the house and he tells her he knows he’s a monster. He also promises to protect Dawn to the end.
And that’s it for the pre-battle show! The Scoobies point Tara at the crazy-built ziggarut of Dawn Sacrifice and when Glory turns up, Willow reverses the GlorTara brain suck. It works: suddenly Glory needs a brain to eat. And there’s Buffy, saying, “Hey! Come and get mine.”
The Scoobies, more or less led by Spike, lay into the minions. Buffy tosses Glory the Dagon Sphere, which serves to make her even less effective in combat. WillTara get their sweet reunion in the midst of the battle. And it is sweet, though Willow’s “I will always find you,” is a bit of a stab to the heart, what with things to come.
Glory kicks the Slayer’s head off... and it’s the bot! Go Buffybot go!!
Xander’s thoroughly awesome contribution is to hit Glory with a wrecking ball.
Soon there are only a couple minutes left to go before it’s too late to do the ritual. And, wonder of wonders, Glory’s not up in the tower yet. Unfortunately, Doc is, and he’s only too happy to slice into poor little Dawnie.
There’s a desperate rush to salvage the situation. WillTara telekinetically order Spike up the tower. He makes it, but Doc’s a little too much for him. He stabs him, tongues him (he did, I swear!) and tosses him down to the ground. Which is, in case we missed it, a long way down.
By now, Buffy is pounding the pudding out of Glory. Eventually she pummels her so hard she turns into Ben and leaves him gasping on the ground with a stern warning.
Giles isn’t willing to let it go at that. He tells Ben that Buffy shouldn’t have to pay for being merciful. In this moment, Giles is the ruthless evil-fighting pragmatist Quentin Travers of the Watchers Council can only dream of being: he makes the hard call and smothers Ben. Xander was right about that much: they could kill a normal guy. At least, one of them could.
Some of you were having an interesting conversation about this decision, several weeks back—about whether Giles was in the right to override Buffy’s decision on Ben. Was it disrespectful? Mutiny? Does it amount to ignoring her dying wish? Was it the right thing to do?
It would have been interesting to see how the two of them dealt with this in the alterno-verse where Buffy walked down from the tower with Dawn in her arms, where everything was puppies and kittens. How mad would she have been? Me, I rather see Giles’s point. Ben didn’t ask for what happened to him, but he was no saint. In the end he betrayed Dawn to save his own skin. Also, he was pretty darned whiny. We’ve all probably wanted to smother characters for less. (I said characters. There’s no need to go checking up on my loved ones.)
By the time Buffy is up the tower, though, there’s no walking back down option. Dawn has started to bleed, and the walls of the universe are crumbling. She makes an attempt to jump off the tower—Dawn’s way nobler than Ben, it turns out—and Buffy stops her.
“It has to have the blood!” Dawn tells her.
This is when Buffy realizes what “Death is your gift,” means. She can die and save Dawn. And she can stop. She can save the world one last time and let someone else take over... or not. After the year she’s had, that would be a pretty seductive concept under any circumstance.
She says her goodbyes and sprints off the tower, falling through the portal, and as it’s happening we hear her final words to Dawn—the goodbye messages and expressions of love for the about-to-be-shattered Scoobies, and that last sentence, which’ll come up again, “The hardest thing in this world is to live in it.”
It’s a sad but fitting end for the Slayer. It was always the most likely outcome for her—this is what happens to the Chosen ones, right? Had the series ended here, it would have struck a note that was both tragic and hopeful.
But some of us just can’t let sleeping Slayers lie, am I right?
Next: The Reward for a Job Well Done is More Job
A.M. Dellamonica has tons of fiction up here on Tor.com! Her ‘baby werewolf has two mommies,’ story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. There’s also “Among the Silvering Herd,” the first of a series of stories called The Gales. (Watch for the second Gale, too—“The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti”!)