What does ''Buffy'''s finale mean? Jeff Jensen welcomes the return to old-school action, but wonders about all those unanswered questions
Alyson Hannigan, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Credit: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Richard Cartwright/UPN

What does ”Buffy”’s finale mean?

A couple months back, I predicted that this season of ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer” would be remembered as the love-hate year. Many were thrilled by the character-driven direction with its more mundane villains; others resented the departure from the ”Big Bad” formula. But I think both camps can agree on one thing: The final episodes of the season clearly ranked among the best ever.

The May 21 finale — actually two episodes sandwiched together, ”Two to Go” and ”Grave” — was an action-packed emotional saga. Anchored by a smart, sinister, even sexy performance by Alyson Hannigan, Dark Willow continued her vengeance against the ”geeks of doom” following Tara’s accidental shooting death. Willow looked the part of a Big Bad, with her hair, eyes, and veins stained with black magic. But what really spooked me about Willow was her casual confidence; she looked very comfortable wearing that air of deadly menace. Chilling.

But stealing the show was Rupert Giles, whose dramatic return was one of the finale’s emotional highlights; his presence has been sorely missed, even if the season’s big theme — ”Oh, grow up!” — demanded his absence. I loved how he responded with unbridled laughter to Buffy’s recap of recent events. It was an example of how this show often goes meta on its audience; Giles’ guffaws seemed to wink at all of us who’ve complained about the soapy, wayward arc of the season. Usually, I don’t like when ”Buffy” pulls this kind of self-aware stuff — though I loved the most egregious example of said practice: Willow’s wicked skewering of Dawn. At least now I know that ”Buffy”’s writers are aware of what a waste of space Dawn has been this season. At episode’s end, though, we were given a hint of her future: It seems that Buffy intends to train her to become a full-fledged demon-hunting member of the Scoobies. I look forward to a more active role for the once-powerful ”Key.”

In the end, Willow sought to put a world full of pain out of its misery by destroying it. She decided on this course of action after draining Giles of his borrowed magic. But she was tricked?Giles slipped her a mickey, lacing his power with the true essence of magic that allowed Willow’s humanity to reassert itself. Xander proved critical in Willow’s conversion, wearing down her defenses with a repeated declaration: ”I love you.” Willow came to her senses and crumpled to the ground, finally surrendering to the sorrow she was trying to avoid all along.

Willow wasn’t the only one who got some soul restored. In ”Grave”’s final scene, Spike won back his vampire mojo, courtesy of a powerful, primordial demon. Yet instead of extracting the chip in his head that inhibits his evil, the demon plunged its hand into Spike’s chest and gave him his soul back. But what was meant by ”soul” — Spike’s vampire nature or his old human nature?

There were other cliffhangers, too: the fate of Xander and Anya’s romance, whether Giles is back full-time, and, of course, Willow. We were told that even if she survived her conversion back to humanity, she may be less than what she used to be. ”X-Men” fans will recognize this development as a nod to the fabled alternative ending to the classic ”Dark Phoenix,” in which Phoenix undergoes a lobotomy that reduces her to a little girl in a woman’s body. Will ”Buffy”’s writer borrow this idea as well?

These and other questions will have to wait until the fall. Of course, by that time, we should also have some resolution to ”Buffy”’s” biggest cliffhanger of all: Will next season — ”Buffy”’s seventh and the last for which Gellar is under contract — be its last?

What did you think of the finale?

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