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Buffy 6.21-22: Two to Go / Grave

Holy mother of wow. How much did that season finale rock? I'm floored by how much happened, by how amazing it was. I have to rank it as one of the best episodes I've ever seen. And I've seen 'em all.

I had a prior scheduled engagement last night, so I taped the show, got home around 10:30, and watched it -- without fast-forwarding through the commercials, so I could simulate the whole experience.

Oh. Man. Intense. Two hours of unrelenting violence. They just kept ratcheting it up, more and more, worse and worse, until it all ended in this incredibly satisfying catharsis.

I actually knew Giles was coming back, because I'd previously seen the cast list for the episode on some website. But that didn't spoil his return for me, because even before I'd seen the cast list, I'd suspected he'd come back. Also, they showed him in the previouslies (and yay for Xander doing the previouslies!), so even if I hadn't suspected, I think that jolted my Giles sensors awake. And I love how he appeared suddenly, completely out of the blue, without including his name in the guest credits. Wow! Seeing as how these were originally supposed to run as two separate episodes, that would have been an awesome way to end the second-to-last show of the season.

When I realized he had magic, I thought, "Wow, the Ripper was even more powerful than he let on!" But when it turned out he'd borrowed it from "a coven of witches in Devon," I actually liked that better, because it reminded us that he's actually just a human being. It made Giles cute again.

Which leads into one of the themes of this finale: the power and wonder of being human.

I freaking love Xander. More than ever. Sweet, beautiful Xander. "I love you, Willow." BLAM. "I love you, Willow." BLAM. He nearly made me cry in this episode, the depths of his goodness. It's funny -- I think I read somewhere that this was going to be the first Buffy finale in a while without an impending apocalypse, but they lied. (I love it when they lie.) And yet -- Buffy had nothing to do with stopping it. It was all Xander. Yeah!!! Finally. No more Zeppo. He's embraced his heroic half. (See "The Replacement.")

Xander saved the world. A lot. And I LOVE that.

And Anya seemed really moved when Giles told her it was all Xander. Maybe the two of them still have a chance.

But first, yikes! I was fully prepared to believe that Anya was dead after Willow dropped her on the floor. That's how effective Joss has been: a man who can kill off Joyce and Tara has made me ready to accept almost any narrative turn.

Willow. Poor Willow. All that pent up self-hate, finally erupting. She scared the crap out of me -- partly because of the sheer level of her power. When she said she wanted to end all the suffering, and then later they showed the sky and the big puffy clouds, I swear I thought Willow was teleporting herself to Heaven to do battle with God. Which would have been poetic, since that's where Buffy had been.

But it wasn't just the level of her power that scared me. It was her willingness to use that power against people she loved. That's how far off the deep end she'd gone. Against Buffy! (That fight between them was amazing. One of the highlights of the episode in an episode filled with highlights.) Against Giles, even! (That was emotionally rough to watch.) And yet... in the end, not against Xander.

Willow and Xander share such a deep bond. It was heartbreaking, but cathartic, when she finally collapsed in his arms and started crying. Finally. She desperately needed to feel loved, and the only person other than Tara from whom she was could accept it was, ultimately, Xander. That yellow crayon story was really sweet. The love between those two is the opposite of what Spike has always thought love is: not something adolescent that burns hot and passionate and quick and then dies, but something that grows slowly, develops its strength and solidity over time. Something adult.

Spike. Spike, Spike, Spike. Wow. We all knew about his ambiguous request to that demon, but still, there was a moment when I thought he really was gonna get his chip out. It was when that roach crawled up his nose. I thought, ohhh... maybe they really are removing his chip. That roach is gonna go into his brain and take it out. (God, that's disgusting.) But I still held out hope. When Buffy and Dawn were trapped in the pit, I thought Spike was suddenly going to appear in the sunlight and rescue them, having become human again. He didn't. And then when they clawed their way out and started walking along the grass, I thought, okay, Spike's going to show up now. But he didn't. And then they started playing Sarah MacLachlan and doing a character montage and I thought, come on, it's over? No Spike?

But then, hahahaha, fooled ya! Trick ending! The song fades into this ominous music, the sunlight fades into the darkness, the camera panning over Spike's broken body. They handled that wonderfully. And then -- "Very well. We shall return... your SOUL!" Fade out! YEAH!!!! I stood up and cheered. I literally stood up from the couch and punched my arms in the air. I was so happy. I didn't expect to react like that.

And I'm not sure whether he actually requested his soul, or whether the demon tricked him into getting it back. Either way, it makes his line -- "I want Buffy to get what she deserves" -- richer, more meaningful. She deserves love.

But still, poor Spike. He's gonna have a rough journey. He and Willow have parallels now. Willow has to suffer the pain of having killed a human being, but Spike's suffering is going to be a thousand times worse. And yet I don't think he's going to turn into dark and brooding Angel. Angel is who he is; he's just naturally broody. Spike is who he is. He'll keep his biting sarcasm, I hope.

Now. Finally. Buffy and Dawn.

I had another of those near-tears moments when the two of them were fighting side by side. Sisters. Equals. Then I had another of those moments, when Buffy said, "I don't want to protect you from the world anymore. I want to show it to you." That was just beautiful. For an entire season Buffy has suffered the pain of being alive. When Dawn said she thought Buffy would have been happy if the world had been destroyed -- that was beautiful and sad, too, because I was wondering the exact same thing.

There has been so much pain and tension this season. So much darkness. How great was the scene where Buffy recounted the past year's miseries to Giles, and he just broke down in hysterics? And then she did, too? Buffy has been so depressed this year. Her pain and her depression have been palpable. She's had several false catharses -- when she broke down in front of Tara at the end of "Dead Things." When she seemed to accept the painful realities of this world at the end of "Normal Again." When Riley came back in "As You Were" and she realized how far she'd sunk.

But no. All that pain -- it never really went away. She needed a rebirth before that could happen. That's why I loved the symbolism of her fighting with the mud-creatures -- literally hacking away in determination at the substance that had imprisoned her all summer, and had continued to imprison her throughout this year. And who helped her finally triumph? Dawn. Her sister. Together they killed the creatures. Together they clawed their way out of the ground. Together. Seeing Buffy's hand reach the surface -- THAT was the satisfying moment. The ultimate catharsis. A great bookend to the season premiere. Back then, she had been resurrected, but it wasn't until last night that she was actually reborn.

And Dawn. Willow's nullification of her humanity in that nasty scene at Rack's place tapped into the insecurity Dawn's felt all year. Her pathology. Her kleptomania. But no more. Just as Dawn helped Buffy be reborn, Buffy did the same for Dawn. She affirmed Dawn's humanity, showed her that she's really not just a ball of energy. She made Dawn real. After all, what makes someone real? What made the Velveteen Rabbit real? Being loved. (And actually, "Grave" was originally supposed to be called "Real," I think.)

So. From darkness into light. I loved the quality of that morning sunlight during the last 10-15 minutes. Literally, Buffy's new Dawn. It was so gentle, and soothing, and redeeming, and -- so necessary. All season long there was so much darkness. We desperately craved the sunlight.

And we've finally, finally got it. All year, people were saying, the season is so dark, so depressing, I can't stand it. But me, I loved it. All that suffering was necessary in order to make the redemption so sweet.

Oh, the humanity. Literally.

Buffy is redeemed.

Dawn is redeemed.

Spike is redeemed.

Willow is redeemed.

Xander is redeemed.

Anya's a vengeance demon.

Um, okay. But maybe there's hope for her and Xander again.

Meanwhile, Andrew and Jonathan have disappeared into Mexico. Oh, well. I have to say, I've always had a crush on Jonathan, but with every episode I watched this year, Andrew's face seemed to get cuter and cuter. I was glad that they had lots of screen time. And I loved the Star Wars references -- "Laugh it up, Fuzzball," and especially the line about the metachlorions. Hilarious. And of course, there was Jonathan's line to Andrew: "Grow up." The theme of the season. Yet in the end, the two of them didn't.

What an amazing, amazing, amazing finale.

(Just a few picky points: that tower looked kinda lame for something that was supposed to end the world, and I wish we'd seen more of Spike's trials. But that's about it.)

At any rate, I can't believe I have to wait an entire summer! These characters all changed in amazing ways last night. Next season's going to be so exciting.

Until then, I guess I can go back and watch all my Buffy tapes.


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