“Grave,” by David Fury
The final episode of Buffy S6 picks up right where “Two to Go” left off, which is to say with Giles having poof! appeared in The Magic Box to confront Willow in the midst of her magic-fueled homicidal rampage.
Like so many others, Giles takes a crack at making Willow see sweet, sweet reason. She’s not interested: she wants to fight and taunt and fight some more. Blasting things into tiny pieces—whether it’s criminally inclined nerds or the affections of the people who love her—is pretty much her current raison d’etre. So she tells Giles he’s irrelevant, and brings up their earlier argument, the one where he called her a rank, arrogant amateur.
We knew that one had stung.
Angry banter aside, it’s a short, anti-climactic fight: he hits her with Mmm’cookie’s Glowy Doughnut of Stasis, lifting her off the ground and buying himself enough time to compare haircuts with Buffy and Anya before exchanging hugs.
Then, with Willow momentarily contained, Watcher and former Watchee head off to their favorite place, the danger room, to debrief. They leave Anya out front for no good reason—at this point, we can safely assume the store’s not open. Why not send her to check on the others? Or out for a nice espresso?
Giles reveals that it wasn’t the Watcher’s Council who noticed the Dark Power of Willow rising in Sunnydale. Those guys. Will we ever be rid of them? Fortunately, he’s been hanging out with a coven of witches and warlocks in Devon who are a bit more on the ball. They sensed the tidal wave of grief; then their seer realized Tara had died. They loaded up Giles with the freshest organic magics and sent him to California.
I can’t help feeling this should have been Giles’s reason for leaving all along. It might have been set up that way: once he’d realized Willow had taken up raising dead Slayers and other evil hobbies, he might have guessed it was only a matter of time before she went kaboom in some horrifying fashion. Removing himself to minimum safe distance and embarking on some fancy magical footwork could have been front-loaded as a strategy to save her… and the writers of this show are deft enough, I think, that they could have still pulled off Evil Willow as a surprise.
If the story had gone this route, there could have been so many interesting things to explore, stuff about Giles having to scale back on fulfilling his duty to Buffy and choosing to focus on Willow because he was responsible for her too. In a season about adult responsibilities, that necessity might have made an interesting story thread. Sometimes we have more duties than we can realistically fulfill.
Tara might even have asked him to do it, after the memory-wiping thing.
Armchair writerbacking aside, the utterly charming scene where Buffy fills him in on the year’s events in Sunnydale and gets belly-laughed out of her shame is adorable. In addition to imbuing Giles with Willow-fighting super-witchery, the Devon coveners obviously gave him the mighty power of the infectious giggle.
He apologizes for leaving and Buffy tells him he was right to go. She talks about not knowing why she clawed her way out of the grave—why she’s back—and how hard it has been. He has no answers for her.
They’ve just worked their way back to the black-haired crisis at hand when it turns out vengeance demons are relatively easy to mind control, at least if you’re the seasonal super-secret Big Bad. Willow is loose, and angry, and rather keen to recross magical swords with Giles.
Speaking of swords, Jonathan, Andrew and their two borrowed blades (the ones they stole from the Magic Box) are busily fleeing on foot, under the nominal care of Xander and Dawn. Dawn wants to know just where they’re planning to go where they can hide from Willow. And if that’s pointless why don’t they just go back and fight? Xander spews up a reply that is all self-pity, on the theme of his continuing uselessness. She comes back with what is becoming her go-to goad: Spike would go back and fight.
Hey, it worked when she was trying to manipulate Clem.
Xander has a better answer than Clem did last week. He hits Dawn with more information than she probably wants, by making a crack about Spike’s attempted rape of Buffy.
Every mention of Spike in these past few episodes is essentially a way of reminding us that just because he’s across the International Date Line doesn’t mean he’s not still part of the story. And so now we go to Africa to see how he’s making out on the official Bitch is Gonna See a Change Quest of 2002. At the moment , he’s staggering around in the cave, punch-drunk and gloating about not having been killed, yet, by any of his mystical challengers.
Never gloat, Spike. It gets him a new test, one involving bugs crawling up his nose and into other orifices. I would be curious to see how he prevails over that one.
But we are left to imagine that fight, and we don’t see stage two of the CovenGiles versus Willow smackdown either. She has already given him a decent trouncing, leaving the Magic Box in tatters. Xander will be drywalling all summer at this rate. Buffy has to jump in to save Giles from a wayward bolt of magical lightning. All this accomplishes is that it puts Willow in a mind to get rid of her. She sends a fireball off to find Jonathan and Andrew, obliging Buffy to chase it.
Buffy, ever a slave to duty, goes. Willow resumes her alternating regime of thumping and ranting at Giles.
Giles still has a few mystic zaps of his own to offer, and lots of Watcherly advice. You’d think at this point Willow wouldn’t pay him any heed at all, but when he mentions that she’s burning out, again, this gives her a delicious, fantastic idea. Which is to suck him as dry as she did Rack.
This looks like it hurts Giles rather a lot. (It looked that way with Rack, too, but I didn’t care.)
Buffy, sprinting across town, catches the fireball at the graveyard—Xander had been trying to find a crypt where they could all lay low. She manages to save the Undeserving Twosome yet again. The fireball collapses part of the graveyard. Xander’s knocked out, and Jonathan and Andrew get an opportunity to sneak off. Buffy, Dawn and the swords fall into a deep coffin-studded pit.
The coven juice Willow has sucked out of Giles, meanwhile, has made her typically stone-y, and has also tuned her in to all the suffering in the world. Or maybe just Sunnydale and vicinity; I’m not so clear on the radius. Anyway, she’s not liking the paincast. When Giles tells her she can stop it, she decides the best way to do that is to turn the world off. She heads to the local Satanic temple, like you do. Fortunately, Giles is able to tell Anya where she’s going and what she’s up to.
Down in the graveyard hole, Dawn has had enough. She blasts Buffy about hiding the rape attempt from her. Buffy serves up her usual blah blah blah about being protective, and Dawn says hell with that. Unless she can make people like Joyce and Tara stop dying, she can’t be protected in any meaningful way.
This is a fair point. It’s not as though Dawn has been prevented from seeing monsters, or corpses, or dancing demons or mystic texts. She’s been injured in fights, worked magic, staked vamps and lost loved ones. Chaos only knows what kind of germs she’s picked up in Rack’s waiting room. The only thing she has been prevented from doing is helping out.
Not that being allowed to help always leads to good self-esteem. Xander wakes up, still feeling useless, and is about to go looking for a rescue rope when Anya teleports in to update them all: Willow’s at Kingman’s Bluff, planning to burn the world to a cinder. Also, no magic or supernatural power can stop her. Also, also, Giles is dying.
Buffy, typically, figures she’ll ignore the no power can stop Willow prediction and starts working on a way out of the pit. Willow overhears her—like all temples of Proserpexa, Kingman’s Bluff has awesome mystic acoustics—and decides to give Buffy a gift. She can stay in the hole and die fighting weird earth monsters as the world ends.
Yeah, I know. Some present. The rationale is “I dug you out of the ground and now I can put you back.”
The upside of this is that there’s an extra sword lying around, just when Buffy is finally ready to let Dawn wield one. This is good, because Xander has not gone in search of rope. He’s trotted off to Kingman’s Bluff, which is fortunately close by, or maybe he stole another police car. His plan: throw himself between Willow and the temple of the apocalypse.
This strategy is so simple that Willow immediately deconstructs and mocks it. He’s essentially going to get in her way while professing his love for her. But even though she knows what he’s doing, she can’t quite lock him out. Instead of telling her to calm down, as everyone else has, Xander tries to accept the emotional space she’s in right now. Gonna end the world? Bad idea, but okay. I’m here. I love you.
As he delivers a touching monologue about their long, shared history, Willow rips some strips off him—pretty much literally. He keeps coming, like a sort of Hug-Terminator. He’s not even that eloquent, but he continues to stagger forward while expressing his affection for her. With each zorch Willow’s powers get weaker. She’s finally reduced to flailing at him with her fists and crying hysterically.
Her hair turns red and then it’s over.
The end of the fighting means, happily, that Giles isn’t as lethally damaged as previously advertised. He tells Anya the coven energy was booby-trapped with the power of goodness, like calcium-fortified milk. It tapped into Willow’s remaining humanity, enabling Xander to reach her. “He saved us all,” he concludes.
Way to save the world, Xander! Anya is impressed and gratified.
Seriously, though: you guys have been talking about this particular moment of heroism pretty much since S1, when Xander revived Buffy from her first death. We’ve come a long way, and so has he.
It is pretty obvious, I think, that only Xander could achieve this particular world-save. He’s not a parent figure, or a hero, or anyone Willow needs to rebel against. And he’s not merely a friend. Buffy’s original two high school buddies, the chosen of the Chosen One, have no other peers. They’ve been through exactly the same battles. She’s a serious magician now, but Willow and Xander started out in the same place, as geeky outcasts with no superpowers, ordinary, vulnerable people who got drafted into the fight against evil because when they met Buffy, the course of their lives was forever altered.
Down in the hole, Buffy dissolves into happy tears when it turns out she and the world aren’t going to die. She tells Dawn she’s figured out why she’s still here: to stop sheltering her, and to show off the world. She’s determined to see her friends happy and her sister a grownup. Everything is gonna get better, she vows.
This time when she crawls out of the graveyard, she doesn’t do it alone. Also, she’s quite a bit better dressed.
There’s a montage next: I’m pretty sure the music is Sarah McLachlan. The song lets us check in with all the paired BtVS characters, because this is a season ender that leaves them physically distanced, in twos: it’s Giles/Anya, XandDillow, Buffy/Dawn . . . and hey, we even get a glimpse of Jonathan and Andrew, hitching a ride to Mexico with a scary trucker.
And then we go to the final pair, Spike and his green-eyed cave friend, who announces Spike has passed the required trials. (I still want to know what became of those bugs.)
“Give me what I want. Make me what I was. So Buffy can get what she deserves,” Spike says. We’re still allowed to believe, at this point, that this means the demon will zorch the Initiative Chip.
Instead, the green-eyed demon gives him . . . his soul!
Ouch! Screaming ensues. And… credits!
Next: How many times do we have to tell you guys? Don ’t go (re)building the high school on the Hellmouth!
A.M. Dellamonica has a book’s worth 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 of The Gales, “The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti”!)