“Chosen,” by Joss Whedon
Kissing! As an appetizer for the very last televised episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer we jump right in with a taste of BuffAngel. It’s all nostalgia, you know, a bone thrown to those who long for the good old days when Buffy’s biggest problems centered around whether getting sweaty and intimate with her certain special someone would make that person evil, and/or ruin her birthday.
In time, she comes up for air—he doesn’t breathe, remember—and thinks to ask why he’s come back to Sunnydale. But before they can properly discuss the First and what it’s been up to lately, we find out that Caleb’s not as dead as previously supposed.
Back from the dead Nathan Fillion hits a lot harder than not quite killed Nathan. In the end, though, this doesn’t save him. Buffy splits him up the middle, just as he’s giving her a hard time about not having testicles. Maybe if he’d expended more effort on fighting attentively and less on freely sharing his woman-hating opinions, he’d have lasted longer.
Then again, maybe not.
Angel picks himself up, eyes the Caleb pieces, and hands Buffy a file full of hopefully-useful documents on the First. Then he forks over an amulet. It’s for someone ensouled and stronger than a human. He’s thinking that means he should wear it, and he declares his intention to fight by her side.
Buffy vetoes this. Angel needs to go back to L.A. and work up a second battlefront, in case Team Slay gets annihilated. She fails to add what I’m thinking, which is “You’ve taken up way too much time in this episode as it is, buster.”
Angel counters with: “Is this because of Spike?”
Oh, William, you’re the fella on everyone’s mind.
Angel is briefly miffed to hear that Spike is in the Soul Club now. His adolescent pouting is enough to raise a chuckle. Buffy finally tells him that while she’s not exactly dating Spike, he is in her heart.
With that established, they get into romantic big picture stuff, peering at the topic of Buffy’s future, the one she’ll have if she manages to not die in the next forty minutes. She talks about being cookie dough. She’s feeling like a work in progress, in other words, but hopes a day will come when she’s… well, fully baked. This time the humor is genuinely humorous. Angel concedes that she may yet be doughy, hands over the amulet and gets himself gone.
Heading home, Buffy finds a furious Dawn upstairs. Dawn’s reason for being mad, you may recall, is that big Sis tried to get her far far away from the big battle. Is this the point where spectral Joyce’s prediction, “Buffy won’t choose you,” pays off? Not really. If anything, Dawn and Xander are the ones whose survival Buffy tried to ensure. It’s a small prophetic loose end, but I would argue this string remains untied.
Unless, that is, they tackle it in the comics?
Downstairs, Spike is cranky too, and taking out his feels on punching bag. He and Buffy snark at each other about Angel. Then he demands custody of the amulet. You have to admire Spike a little for having eavesdropped on that conversation to the bitter end, rather than doing the usual TV character thing, which is to get half of the info before flouncing off to form erroneous conclusions and broadcast them far and wide.
Buffy tells him the amulet is meant for a champion. Before Spike can fully deflate, or even investigate ego-battering ideas like “Oh, you’re right, I do suck,” she hands it over. It’s a nice, backhanded way of paying him a great compliment.
She asks if she can spend the night in the basement again. After a quick pretense at having pride and saying no, he relents.
A thing I appreciate about all that time spent on BuffAngel earlier in the episode is that it makes me see the fun in the Spuffy dynamic.
Night comes. Buffy heads out to take in the night air on the back porch. Somehow, she always looks like she’s thinking about Joyce when she does this. Firstie pops up, wearing a Caleb suit. Because, you know, he’s dead now. It’s looking forward to using its army to overrun the earth. It says too much, though, when it recites the “In each generation…” page of the Slayer handbook.
Buffy heads downstairs, looking thoughtful. Spike awakens from a weird dream, and she tells him she’s realized something: they’re going to win.
Hurrah! Victory is nigh! We never really doubted, did we? Joss Whedon may occasionally slaughter your favorite characters, but he isn’t going to let a primal evil overrun the Buffyverse, is he?
To celebrate her epiphany, Buffy puts on a really strange-looking church lady blouse. She doesn’t call the whole gang together right away, instead gathering the main Scoobies, including Faith. She has a plan, she says—what do they think of it?
She has learned something, in other words, from her recent attempt to spring the “let’s go back to the vineyard and die some more, yayyy!” scheme on everyone at once. And some of that learning includes consultation with the senior members of the group.
What is the plan? We don’t know yet, but Faith calls it radical. Faith says this! Giles contributes “bloody brilliant.” Willow, though, is freaking out. She’s the key to the whole thing and she’s not sure she’s stable enough. Buffy doesn’t tell her this is a job for a champion, but she nevertheless hands her the Scythe. The unspoken message, again, is “Buck up, honey—I believe in you.”
Now that the major players are agreed on a course of action, the Slayettes get clued in. Buffy makes final last rousing speech to her Potential troops, plus Robin, plus Andrew. “This is about choices,” she says. She tells them she’s planning to go into the Hellmouth tomorrow. She gives them a chance to make a decision.
We still don’t learn what it is. Though one can assume that option B is “Run screaming.”
Next thing we know, Faith and Robin are blocking off exits within the high school so the ubervamps will be driven upward during the coming fight, rather than into the sewers. (Which are presumably empty, since all of Sunnydale’s city employees have fled. Let the Turok-Han run into the sewers, I say!) Robin expresses doubts about the still-mysterious plan, and somehow this topic drifts over to a discussion of his recent sexual encounter with Faith. She gives him a facile excuse for having blown him off. He replies with a devastating argument. Basically, he tells her that she’s cookie dough… and he’s nummier cookie dough. That Robin. He’s one articulate guy.
The deal they make is that if they survive, he gets a chance to surprise her.
Willow and Kennedy are, meanwhile, talking about how maybe Kennedy is gonna have to prepare herself to kill Willow if she goes to the bad place. Kennedy is wearing suspenders that look like shoulder holsters. It’s very Lara Croft. I cannot help but like her more. Such is the power of fashion. Her argument to Willow boils down to “I insist it’ll be okay.” Since Willow can’t opt out of the whole scheme, she accepts this small comfort, frail though it may be.
It’s their last night on the Hellmouth. Downstairs, in the dining room, Giles, Xander, Amanda and Andrew are playing RPGs. Giles is a wounded dwarf with the mystical strength of a doily, and all because he can’t sleep. I wish Giles had gotten some of Angel’s screen time, earlier in the episode. Anya can sleep, and she is adorable. Xander gazes on her fondly.
Buffy eventually goes downstairs to Spike again, and we don’t see what happens next. In a way it doesn’t matter, because what Spike really wants is Buffy, present and with him and giving a crap. And that he’s got: she’s definitely there. They’ve come a long way.
Next morning, the gang moves into the high school and begins to deploy. Assistant Team Captain Faith and the Slayettes head downstairs. Kennedy and Willow prepare for witchery in Robin’s office. The non-super characters—Xander, Dawn, Giles, Robin, Anya, and Andrew—are on clean-up duty. Why? Because the vampires aren’t being diverted into the sewers, as they ought.
Dawn refuses to let Buffy say anything that might be goodbye. The sisters are clearly scared for each other, and simultaneously proud.
Then Buffy turns to Willow, Xander and Giles. The core four, together at what might be the end, catch a quick minute of banter about what they’re going to do tomorrow. Buffy suggests shopping. They’re back in the high school and yet again facing death. So, for just a second, they play at being their season one selves.
It’s cheery. You can see that Buffy really does believe things will go well.
Giles moves off, playing the grumpy adult and muttering about how the world is doomed. As for the other three, they don’t need to say anything more. They head for their respective stations with just a few quick hand-clasps. It strikes me that this scene offers a sort of counterpoint to one in the filmed version of the Return of the King, when all those battle-hardened hobbitses are at the bar, conspicuously not talking.
It’s rather amazing how powerful not talking can be.
Everyone’s in position. Buffy heads downstairs, where she slices open her hand with Andrew’s favorite Mexican steak knife, and duly bleeds on the seal of Danzalthar. Knock, knock, evil! Faith goes second, and the Potentials follow suit. Me, I’d cut something I wasn’t planning to use to hold a weapon.
The seal opens, leaving a staircase heading downward.
Spike complains that his sparkly amulet isn’t so much as tingling. “I’m not worried,” Buffy says.
Faith adds: what if Willow’s spell doesn’t work?
Nope, not worried.
They peer over the lip of a cliff at a whole lot of CGI noseless supervamps.
Okay, maybe a little worried.
In Robin’s office, Willow begins the spell, and as it’s taking hold we get a flashback to the the second half of Buffy’s rousing speech to the Potentials. It’s about how the proto-Watchers were the ones who set up the Slayer rules, all those centuries ago, and it’s most especially about the rule insisting there only be one Chosen One at a time.
I find myself moved to tears every time I see this. As Willow remakes the universe and all the Potentials become Slayers… as Buffy takes her power and offers it to anyone who can handle it, I choke up.
Vi is pretty happy about it too. “These guys are dust,” she says.
And then a huge battle breaks out.
Kennedy, who is the only Slayer not down in the Hellmouth’s coatroom, gets to see Willow trip out, complete with white hair and a halo of white, non-evil Slay light. We had Dark Willow, and now we get Light Willow. It’s a pleasing bit of symmetry.
“You are a goddess,” Kennedy says.
“You’re a Slayer,” Willow agrees and sends her off to take the Scythe to the fight.
There is so much to just plain love about the mayhem that follows. It’s a beautifully directed fight. A few Turok-Han do, inevitably, get past the line of Slayers and into the high school. Andrew helps Anya buck up against her terror by telling her to think of bunnies. She fights well, at least until the Bringers turn up.
I was so sad that Anya died! Maybe she hadn’t paid off her karmic vengeance debt yet. Maybe there wasn’t anywhere else she and Xander could go with their relationship. But, dammit, I loved her every quirk and overly honest utterance.
And, speaking of redemption, Spike’s amulet finally gets its tingle on, just as Buffy gets stabbed.
She falls, still holding the scythe. Then she passes Faith their shiny red torch, whole-heartedly giving her what belongs to them both, and tells her: “Hold the line.”
Elsewhere, Robin gets wounded. Amanda dies. The First comes and gloats over what it imagines are Buffy’s last moments. But apparently the First knows more about theoretical evil than its applications, because it’s really not so good at recognizing mortal wounds. Buffy drags herself to her feet, Rona tosses the Scythe back to her, and the girls kick some serious noseless vampire ass. Soon the Slayers’ mystic weapon is getting flung from young woman to young woman in a major way, further underling that whole let’s share our power and be the better for it concept.
The problem is they’re outnumbered. But that ends when Spike and the amulet start incinerating all comers.
Wrapping up seven years of BtVS in a single episode must have been a massive challenge, and Joss Whedon’s script hits the right emotional notes. It is easy to nitpick over some of the details, and the sparkly amulet of Spike incineration is perhaps the most vulnerable point for this kind of attention. The Hellmouth collapse is a necessary element of the story. For one thing, it ups the ante on the kids having blown up the school in S3. In practical terms, the Turok-Han army numbers in the thousands, so a large-scale cataclysm has to take place to prevent the Slayers from being overwhelmed.
Finally and most importantly, closing the Hellmouth is crucial if Buffy is going to finally spread her wings and leave Sunnydale.
Spike’s sacrifice, too, makes emotional sense. Like Anya, he has a long murderous past behind him, and a real willingness to offset the wrongs of decades gone by.
The element that’s shaky is the amulet itself. It comes onto the scene so late in the game, and so soon after the game-changing Slayer Scythe, that it can’t help but feel like the contrivance it is.
Contrivance or not, it’s setting off tremors in the Hellmouth, and the Slayers retreat.
Spike tells Buffy he can feel his soul itching as the girls bomb through the high school, grabbing up the wounded and loading a school bus. Xander fails to find Anya’s body as they retreat. We get one last look at her. Bye, Anya!
Downstairs, we get a last goodbye. Buffy tells Spike he doesn’t have to stay in the crater. He tells her to go; he wants to see how it all ends. “School is out for bloody summer.”
She takes his hand, which catches on fire, and tells him she loves him.
You all know what he says.
Finally she concedes to the obvious—there’s no reason for her to die too—leaving him there and running like stink.
The school is toast. Again! Faith manages to catch the bus. Buffy isn’t quite behind her, but she does manage to make it out to the roof even as Spike burns down into flame and ash and a new unlife on Angel.
From there, it’s a chase scene. Dawn peers out the back window of the bus, watching, waiting and hoping. She is the one who sees Buffy fleeing across the tops of the rooftops, with the scythe, as the bus speeds out of town.
Boom! She jumps down to the bus roof. Aaaaand… they make it! The city collapses beneath them, creating a big hole with the Welcome To Sunnydale sign at its edge.
“What did this?” Giles asks, referring to the huge crater his fabulously cool apartment and favorite open mic night used to inhabit.
“Spike,” Buffy answers. So there, Giles, he was useful after all! Instead of being snarky in her moment of triumph, she hugs Dawn.
Xander finds out from Andrew that Anya died saving him, and Robin fakes out Faith by pretending to die. Surprise, Faith!
Then they just revel in the victory and the unexpected question: what are we gonna do now? And Buffy, at long last, looks happy.
Next: I’ll be back in a couple weeks, with a wrap-up post.
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.