Monday, July 2, 2012

Buffy: Chosen (7.22)

Back in the early years of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the very first thing you heard at the top of every show was that gloomy proclamation: "In every generation, there is a chosen one. She alone will stand against the vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness. She is the slayer". Of all those words, spoken first by that velvety, nondescript narrator and then with Anthony Stewart Head's silky British tones, what stood out was the use of 'alone'. Buffy had her strong support group of friends, acquaintances and allies but, after all the blood and the pain, she still stood alone. Even when similar women with her sacred duty appeared, they were quickly marked by their respective differences. Buffy Summers was surrounded by others, but she was still alone when it really mattered.

What Chosen does so successfully is undermine that very prophecy, spreading her power through every other potential slayer. After so many years of being the stoic leader, Buffy suddenly isn't as important in the world. That vast journey to some kind of freedom is finally realized, and it's the happy ending she's so long deserved. On a thematic level, it also brings to a head Buffy's journey this season, a year in which she's constantly battled with her own persona in the pursuit of success. She's led an army, but harsh treatment, repetitive speechifying and an absence of her vulnerability only led to group division and split loyalties. Because as much as the Scooby Gang and the potentials were wrong to throw her out of her own house, Buffy too was looking at all of this incorrectly. Slayers, by their nature, were lone warriors doomed to an early fate. But Buffy bucked that trend early on, utilizing a powerful ensemble of supporters to consistently save the day. She lost track of that need for unity early on this year, but her epiphany here enabled that togetherness to shine through once more. Every player was essential in the final battle, and sharing the power equaled ultimate victory.

Season seven has undoubtedly been a problematic year. Nobody exactly needs to reiterate this point anymore, but the potentials were a flawed presence from the get-go. The characters we knew and loved grew cold and alien. The First itself wasn't a hugely effective antagonist at the best of times. But, with Chosen, it's arguable that the destination somewhat justified the rocky journey. There's an undeniable sense of scale to that final battle. It's messy, violent, brutal, and the busy army of potentials really feeds into that intensity. It looks plain impressive on screen, and as much as I was crying out for certain girls to meet their ends, even the toughest whiner out there would struggle to not feel pumped up by the relentless action; these powerful women tearing uber-vamps to shreds.

Joss' script also pieces together a lot of the goodwill lost back in Empty Places. There's a ton of friendly banter between the Scooby Gang here, characters bouncing off each other like true friends would. For the last stretch of season seven, the group seemed to be working together out of an old sense of loyalty, rather than because they actually liked each other anymore, but Chosen salvages the humanity. Willow is allowed to be nervous and funny again. Xander's gags don't seem inappropriate or strained. Giles gains back his warmth. The potentials, for once, are treated like a nameless army; remaining in the shadows as a collective rather than as a loud presence unwilling to pipe down. Faith is strong and badass and sexy, finding an equal in the similarly jaded Principal Wood. It feels like a script written by somebody with an intimate knowledge of these characters. Just that final group scene before the battle is evidence enough: the knowing humor, the sarcasm, the funny. It's like the good ol' days once again.

That sense of regained goodwill is also notable in Anya. She's the 'casualty of war' death here, perishing in one fell swoop of mid-battle brutality. But before that she gets to be funny again, reminding us of a time when she wasn't this weirdly bitter caricature who says "penis" a lot. Part of me feels like she should have died back in Selfless, the last episode to fully utilize Anya's unique charm, but I do appreciate the casual harshness of her demise: a character whose always had a strained relationship with human emotion actually going out fig
hting for their cause.

Whedon stumbles a little when it comes to the second of the contrived deus ex machinas dropped in Buffy's lap to save the day. It's even more annoying because it comes so soon after an Angel episode that cleverly poked fun at the sudden existence of some kind of inanimate object that can avert apocalyptic crisis. But I take it as more a statement on the writers struggling to come up with any cohesive get-out clause for what rapidly became an underwhelming final nemesis, rather than simply bad writing.

In the end, Chosen is Buffy's story. She talks about her inability to think of a life without the burden of slayage at the start of the episode, and again shares an intimate moment with Spike. But there's always that weight on her shoulders. She can't fully buy into emotion or intimacy because she knows the next day could very well be her last. And that's why that ending is so powerful, because finally that weight gets removed. It's suddenly a future, real and tangible, instead of the unlikely dream of one.

As for Spike, I really do think she loved him. Angel was epic and sweeping and melodramatic, a teenage love affair where everything is new and intense. But Spike was raw, and adult. They went through human pain, exposed their deepest vulnerabilities to one another and saw the very worst of themselves together. But then came out the other side. For the second time in three weeks, they literally sleep together. No sex, no romantic fumbling... just honest intimacy, two characters that needed each other in the moment. Spike sees her heroic nature and her strength; Buffy sees everything he was and how far he's come. Oh, God. After all these years, I think I'm actually shipping these two.

Chosen is a wonderful final chapter. On a surface level, each character gets their due and the dialogue sparkles more than it has done in weeks. Elsewhere, it almost feels too easy to use the word 'epic' when describing the battle sequence, but there's a grand scope to it that's pretty unprecedented for network television. And is it even possible to not get a kick out of Buffy jumping from rooftop to rooftop as Sunnydale collapses into a crater behind her? But away from the visual awesomeness and dialogue-driven magic, Chosen stuns with its thematic resonance: not only is it a fitting closer for the greatest female TV protagonist in history, but also a majestic final message of female empowerment fitting for such a groundbreaking, feminist series.

Growing up, two television series opened up the concept of adulthood to me. One was Friends, the other was Buffy. But while Friends offered this ridiculous fantasy of huge apartments, intense friendships and careers that you love, Buffy was the real-world adulthood. Which I realize probably sounds strange, since this is a show about vampires and demons and interdimensional keys that look a hell of a lot like Harriet the Spy. But Buffy was about social anxiety, friendships that sometimes fall apart and change over time, relationships that don't work out the way you had intended, the struggles of parenting, the loneliness we can experience even in the busiest of groups, the importance of inner strength. It was a show that crossed gender, age and experience, and taught me so much about both myself and the world we live in. I've never had that love for fictional characters since, that fondness I had for them even during moments where they weren't particularly likable. It inspired me to write, and create worlds that are hopefully half as good as the world Joss and his team formed over the course of seven years.

Then again, isn't that what most fans of this show felt? We watched these characters grow up from hopeful adolescents into stable adults, through all the misery and angst in between. Even with all the genre otherworldliness, Buffy touched on those universal themes that we could all relate to and sympathize with. And we did. We watched and we learned and we loved. All because of a tiny blonde and her wood. A

Guest stars Anthony Stewart Head (Rupert Giles); Eliza Dushku (Faith); Nathan Fillion (Andrew Wells); David Boreanaz (Angel); Tom Lenk (Andrew Wells); Iyari Limon (Kennedy); Sarah Hagan (Amanda); Indigo (Rona); DB Woodside (Principal Robin Wood)
Writer Joss Whedon Director Joss Whedon


  1. Lovely review. A truly stunning piece for a show that holds a dear place in my heart.

    I wholeheartedly agree with the notion that the series' thematic conclusion is just so darn powerful and fitting, that it can really help you overlook the season's flaws (although I really remember loving the season).

    Moreover, I have to mention that one of my most favorite moments in television HISTORY is that gorgeously epic moment in which Buffy tells the First to "get out of my face" (excellent pun by the way which I only caught last year) and then rises up in slow-mo with "The Final Fight" playing (a score I listen to often) as she slams the Scythe into a bunch of uber vamps. I get goosebumps just thinking of it and I've replayed that scene a zillion and one times.

    By the way, if I had any complaints, I'd say that the finale was sadly rushed. I remember reading an interview with SMG saying she wished it were two hours and that's a really good point. I always felt it would have been an A+ finale if that were the case.

    And of course the CGI during the Buffy hopping across Sunnydale scene. My God I get that it was on the WB and the budget was blown on the hellmouth stuff but that scene looked like a bunch of Legos. Their CGI in season one was more effective! I literally cringe watching it and can't believe Joss allowed it to air. Did no one else find it jarringly horrible?

    Anyways I don't want to end this on a bad note. Again, magnificent review Max. It's been a pleasure reading your Buffy reviews and I'm truly sad they're over.

  2. Thanks, Nad, and thanks for reading so many of them, too.

    Agreed about the "get out of my face" scene, ridiculously intense. Not sure the finale needed to be two hours, since the last run of episodes were so arc-driven that they probably did everything they wanted to do. Also sort of disagree on the CGI. Sure, it's not great, but the idea was so cool that I felt like it wasn't hugely important that the budget couldn't stretch that far. Then again, I've always found the bad CGI/prosthetics on Buffy kind of charming. As long as you're telling a great story, the rest is like window dressing.

    Thanks again, Nad.

  3. Congrats on finishing the series, Adam. Loved everyone of he reviews, this one included.

    I particularly liked what you said about this episode really utilising the characters. I can't speak for the weakness of the past few episodes, it's been too long, but I always loved this one, and that final scene before the battle with the core four makes me well up.

    Anya's death is annoying, but I get why it happened that way, and Joss needed his quick mid-battle death. I don't agree with her needing to die in selfless, her survival at the end of that one feels like a huge part of why that episode worked for me.

    Anyway, I agree with almost everything you said here. Are you considering any replacement shows to fill the void once Angel's done?

  4. Thanks for the comment, Panda. Always love your insight into the show. And I completely fold on the Anya thing. Her survival made that episode, so I take back what I said. I still feel she should have been killed before she became something of a dead weight, but agreed that Selfless would be a bad episode for that.

    About other shows, I'm prepping a couple right now, but they won't be up for a while. I'm embarking on crazy life stuff in the fall, so I'm attempting to stock-pile a ton of work to keep the blog active, even if I'm not actually writing anything at that moment in time.

    And thanks for following my Buffy work. I'm crazy proud of these reviews and the comments really kept things interesting. Maya, especially, while I think of it. She's been MIA for a while, which sucks. I hope she's all right.

    Again, thanks Panda.

  5. I was just about to comment on the very same thing Panda said, since you are very close to the end of a bunch of the shows you are reviewing.

    I'll definitely be missing these reviews, since your love of the show clearly shines through and I'm sure I'll return to a lot of them when I eventually rewatch the show (in particular your review of Hush, which I loved). At least you aren't quite finished with the Buffyverse, and there is plenty of greatness in Angel season five.

    Chosen is strange for me. It's a really good, entertaining episode of tv and I love that Buffy finally gets to share the wealth and spread the slayer powers around, and while it is a great message and the shots of the empowered young girls and women are effective, it kind of feels inconsequential in the hellmouth, where a locket from Wolfram and Hart basically saves the day...I guess I would have prefered to see Buffy have a more active role in stopping the threat in her own series finale, but it is still a largely effective finale. It did wrap the show up well, and it's actually the episode I have watched most (bar Doppelgangland).

    Anyway, great review as usual.

  6. Thanks tvfan, it's crazy rewarding to get good feedback like that.

    I actually agree about the whole W&H thing, but they did that a lot at the end, with the scythe too. It's like they just threw in a bunch of get-out plot devices, you know? Which was a little disappointing.

    Thanks for reading my stuff, dude.

  7. It's been such a pleasure watching alongside your reviews! You're so talented.
    Such an event that was, I finally understand what holds Buffy in the heart of so many. It was epic! Incredible that this was given such scope and enthusiasm and sheer energy by all involved, my what television can do! Quality quality programming. I think all the flops and weird moments are mostly the result of a serious wish to make sure they could have that non bias to characters. It was definitely rewarding for everybody to return to their true selves at the end. Although they never really did manage to make me dislike Giles, even when he acted like an idiot, they really gave it their all with that one but nahh!

    [Adam! I just read your comment above! That's really sweet of you! I was away due to some crazy stuff, I literally couldn't come look at your blog! But I'm okay. Missed it =)]

    Just responding to the last point, I think the fact that it was a passed on strength spoke volumes. As well as equality and feminism, one of the most powerful themes for me has been redemption. Everybody redeemed themselves in some way. With tools it continues those messages, that hope, will and intention ('my aim is true') are what makes us strong, and every hope and good power were infused in those things. Spike found heaven in his own way. And Buffy learnt a lot about self-sacrifice- she was self sacrifce! But these could be steep words, don't hold me to this I'll have to rewatch everything again at some point (I knew I would!), she was always untrusting in some ways, not in a negative way but to sacrifice that control and truly let someone else hold responsibility was a huge thing and something that healed her in so many ways. Total trust and total love- when you love someone you let them be free don't you! :'-)

  8. P.s.- thank goodness they allowed you to end the series on an A!

  9. Maya! It's great that you're back! I couldn't find your blog anymore (I may be wrong with that, I'm not sure), so I didn't know if you had permanently vanished. Glad to hear you're all right.

    I'm happy you liked the finale, too. And your entire last paragraph was a really strong review in itself. Some really beautiful words there.

    And congrats on finishing the show. I remember telling you when you started posting how jealous I was that you hadn't seen the show before, but in all seriousness it's a huge deal to become a part of that fanbase -- discovering the show and completely falling for it.

    Again, thanks so much for all the insightful comments you've made. You should start your own TV blog! Heh.

  10. Wow, so glad I came across this blog. It's really refreshing to read reviews from someone who genuinely loves the show but also isn't afraid to be honest about what doesn't work without senselessly bashing it. There are so many points in each S7 post that made me want to shout "Yes! Yes! Exactly!" Rather than comment on each individual one I thought I'd just sum up what I totally agree with here:

    - The first few episodes of this season are really strong, especially Selfless.
    - Somewhere between Sleeper and Bring on The Night the episodes start to bleed into one another. I can still distinguish them but something special is missing. I would argue that there is a severe lack of genuine, moving character moments and perhaps something visually lacking? Buffy always has great imagery that sticks in your head, whether it's something symbolic, or a particular facial expression, or a creative editing choice, and there aren't many of them here. Also lacking are genuinely funny Scooby moments, aside from the great one in First Date.
    - Giles. What you wrote in BoTN sums up his out-of-character behavior perfectly, (to paraphrase) his loss of tact, protective guidance, and warmth. The Buffy/Giles dynamic is one of my favorites on the show, why butcher 5-6 years of fabulous development to have a mishandled student-surpassed-the-teacher/daughter-grows-past-the-father storyline? Also, I'm sorry, but are we supposed to believe that no one has seen Giles - the character who's ALWAYS drinking or eating something haha - touch anything or anyone?
    - Like you said, Andrew is an uncomfortable character whose 'redemption arc' grates. Plus I personally find him more stupid than funny, though that's not to fault Tom Lenk's portrayal. I just don't think it works in this context. Then again, I never found the Trio's brand of humor to be appropriate or funny in the first place.
    - Buffy's Slayer/General storyline is really strong and interesting, but that's mostly in theme. Thankfully I never lost any sense of her character even as she hardened herself, but her arc doesn't exactly make for great TV. I found Buffy more heroic facing depression and flipping burgers at the DMP than speechifying for a bunch of scared 15-year-olds. I just wish the writers could have conveyed the same messages in a more engaging, thoughtful way.
    - The ensemble is definitely sidelined and used for filler. So unfortunate, especially for Willow - who has no chemistry with Kennedy and whose magic storyline became repetitively uninteresting - and Anya - who I definitely agree became a less funny, more unlikable caricature by the end. While I liked Xander's lovely speech to Dawn in Potential it felt contrived to make him 'the one who sees' before he gets his eye gouged. I'm with Anya (from Selfless) with my opinion on Xander: he only sees what he wants to see.
    - Not even going to start on the misogynistic heavy-handedness that is Caleb and the First and all the deus ex machina elements...

    Thank you for articulating so accurately what serious problems I had with this last season while still recognizing the strong moments. It sucks because I do love the finale but I can't FEEL it the way I feel other episodes because I don't buy the Scoobies renewing their old banter after this season messes so badly with their characterizations.

    I don't know what it is about BtVS. I know there are shows with richer plots, better effects, more consistent writing and quality, but so far no show has made me care about the characters like I care about Buffy and the Scoobies. Anyway, great reviews, when I have some time I'll definitely read the previous seasons :)

  11. Thanks so much for reading and commenting! Agreed with everything, obviously, but loved reading your specific insight into stuff.

    And that's a great final line, too. No matter how off-track Buffy ever got, it's still the show I love more than any other, and I'm glad to hear I'm not alone with that.

    Thanks again for discovering the site!

  12. How can I put this? I dislike your comments about the show's Season 7. The reason is that I disagree with you. It's one of my favorites. I'm not like many fans and viewers who wanted things to stay the same . . . or the characters. They have to grow. And the problem is that many of you refused to acknowledge this. I find that sad.