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Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Gift

Guy in the alley: "But... you're just a girl."
Buffy: "That's what I keep saying."

This episode most certainly wasn't "just another apocalypse"; Joss Whedon gave us one strong, highly charged emotional scene after another. I was moved over and over again, and more than once to tears. There was a strong parallel to the end of season two when Buffy had to kill Angel -- except she couldn't do it this time, and it made perfect sense, especially since she had been working through Slayer-equals-killer issues most of this season.

What stood out for me were: Buffy saying that she couldn't make those choices, and that she missed her mother; Willow holding a recovered Tara in her arms; and Buffy inviting Spike back into her house. But what blew me away were: Giles killing Ben because he knew Buffy couldn't do it and it had to be done; Buffy's sacrifice; and Spike's grief. Wow. I think seeing Spike crying was what moved me the most.

Buffy sacrificing herself made sense for her character, and the entire plot arc this year was leading up to it. It was tremendously moving. Even though we all know the series has been renewed and Joss Whedon will be resurrecting Buffy somehow.

And now some fifth year commentary

It says a lot for the fifth year that, as strong as "The Gift" was, there were two episodes this year I think were even better – "Fool for Love" and "The Body" – as well as a whole lot of other episodes that were quite good as well. I liked the whole Glory/Ben storyline, even though it certainly wasn't at the level of Spike/Dru/Angel in season two, but it was nearly as good as Faith and the Mayor and certainly better than season four's Initiative/Maggie Walsh/Adam debacle.

What I liked best about this year, though, was what they did with Spike.

My favorite part of this season has been Spike (gee, what a surprise, I've only been gushing about him all year). Marsters has said in interviews that he was brought in essentially to replace Cordelia, and he has – he's the one who can get away with saying the most outrageous and offensive things. But – and I just realized this last night – during the past year, Spike has also replaced another missing character: Angel. Riley couldn't do it; I liked the actor, but Buffy with Riley just never worked for me. Spike is not only a love interest (or an anti-love interest) for Buffy, but he is also a supernatural fighting partner as well, as Angel was. Spike's growing love for Buffy and his slow integration into the gang happened so gradually and was written so well, and Marsters and Gellar are great together. "Fool for Love" is one of my absolute favorite episodes not just because of Marsters, but because of Gellar as well.

Buffy's fears about the dark side of her Slayer gift were explored effectively this year, and ended up being more overwhelming for Buffy because of the loss of her mother and the acquisition of her sister. I can rave about Spike until the cows come home, but Sarah Michelle Gellar is the heart of the show and its center, and she just gets better all the time.

The supporting cast grew up a lot. Xander began the year with a dead end job and living in his parents' basement, and ended with a profession, an apartment, and a fiancee. Anya has gotten more likeable; her innocent, painful confusion over Joyce's death was particularly moving, and she and Xander together work for me. I had been expecting them to break up in an ugly way... geez, I wonder if that's in store for next year?

Of all the regular characters, Willow can almost challenge Spike in the "changed the most" department – she is almost nothing like she used to be. Okay, we still get glimpses of the shy, self-effacing nerd, but in truth Willow has become so powerful that the soft entryway into liking her character has become her relationship with Tara. It has been so nice to see such a beautiful and loving lesbian relationship just happen like it did, and the writers are to be commended for how they handled it.

If I have a complaint with this year, it is that Giles was underutilized. But what there was was good.

There were some incredibly satisfying occurrences this year: Riley's departure in particular was well done; Drusilla came back (at last!); Harmony's character got some wonderfully fun stuff to do; Buffy finally stuck it to the Watcher's Council; and Buffy actually kissed Spike for enduring torture to protect Dawn.

Bits:

-- The princess-in-the-tower bit was good. Dawn even got an appropriate costume.

-- I didn't see the Buffybot fake-out coming. Good writing there.

-- Loved Xander proposing to Anya. And the bunnies.

-- What exactly was Joel Grey? Will we ever know? Do I care?

-- Brief postscript: the reason why some of my late season 5 reviews are so sparse is because I was in the process of moving from the east coast to the west coast. My apologies.

Quotes:

Xander: "Why blood? Why Dawn's blood? I mean, why couldn't it be like a lymph ritual?"
Spike: "'Cause it's always got to be blood."
Xander: "We're not actually discussing dinner right now."
Spike: "Blood is life, lackbrain. Why do you think we eat it? It's what keeps you going. Makes you warm. Makes you hard. Makes you other than dead. Of course it's her blood."

Buffy: "I like this. (to Anya) Thanks."
Anya: "Here to help. Wanna live."
Xander: "Smart chicks are soooo hot."
Willow: "You couldn't have figured that out in tenth grade?"

Xander: "I'm looking for something in a broadsword."
Spike: "Don't be swinging that thing near me."
Xander: "Hey, I happen to be..."
Spike: "A glorified bricklayer?"
Xander: "I'm also a swell bowler."
Anya: "Has his own shoes."
Spike: "The gods themselves do tremble."

Spike: "I know you'll never love me. I know that I'm a monster. But you treat me like a man."
*sigh*

Buffy: "Everybody knows their jobs. Remember, the ritual starts, we all die. And I'll kill anyone who comes near Dawn."
Spike: "Well, not exactly the St. Crispin's Day speech, was it?"
Giles: "We few. We happy few."
Spike: "We band of buggered."

Buffy: "Dawn, the hardest thing in this world is to live in it. Be brave. Live. For me."

Definitely a four out of four stakes. And I'm on the edge of my seat wondering how on earth Joss Whedon is going to resurrect Buffy next fall,

Billie
---
Billie Doux reviewed all of Buffy and Angel, so she knows the plural of apocalypse.

14 comments:

Gus Brunetti said...

What I like about this season is how small things from earlier episodes that seemed so standalone turned out to be important in the end, like the troll hammer and the Buffy-bot. It shows the writing is tightly weaved.

This season finale could work well as a series finale as well. The only thing I didn't like about it was that the Buffy-bot was waaaay too witty, as only Buffy and the scoobies could be.

natedagreat said...

"and Spike's grief. Wow. I think seeing Spike crying was what moved me the most." for some reson i always thought that spike crying was meant to be something funny i definetly laughed at it the first time i saw the ep lol. love all your buffy reviews, best show ever..

Miguel said...

This is a wonderful episode from start to finish. Even though I've seen it once before, I was tense and on the edge of my seat as the final battle grew near. I was also moved emotionally several times. That little fight between Giles and Buffy ("we are going to blood well talk about it!", wow) was intense. Joss certainly did a good job raising the stakes. Who could blame Buffy for being so overwhelmed and questioning everything. ("I don't know how to live in this world if these are the choices I have to make".)

Everything about this hour was moving and beautifully crafted.
At twenty years old, Buffy sacrifices herself to save her sister and save the world. Seeing Buffy on the ground, with Willow and Spike sobbing, brought me to tears once again.

I also liked as Gus mentioned how all the little items from the season like the troll hammer and Buffy bot came into play. A wonderful ending to a very strong season.

All in all, episodes like this are why I love this show so dearly.

Billie Doux said...

BUFFY RE-WATCH comments begin here! Remember, no spoilers for future episodes. Want to talk spoilers and foreshadowing? Season five spoilers are posted here.

Juliette said...

I love this episode so much. It's interesting that it's clearly written as a series finale even though they knew they'd been renewed. Since I'm afraid I am one of those people who really doesn't like season six, I tend to pretend it *is* the series finale, and it's very satisfying (and OMWF exists in some alternate dimension with no shrimp...)

When Spike cries, I cry.

drnanamom said...

So beautiful and as you said Billie, moving. All the bits, how they were woven together, the final sacrifice were just marvelous. Good writing, good acting, good directing.

ChrisB said...

Has anyone ever bothered to slow down the “Previously On” and list all the images? I’m not volunteering, just curious. It would have been a suitable beginning if this episode were the series finale.

Many of the early interactions feel like the end as well. Willow gets Tara back; Xander and Anya will live happily ever after; Giles will do anything for Buffy.

As always, it is Spike who steals the show. The speech he gives Buffy about treating him like a man always brings tears to my eyes. And, he always makes me laugh out loud with “we band of buggered.” Like you, it is seeing him cry that always makes me cry at the end.

Fantastic episode that works on so many levels. I love your review of the entire season, Billie. I agree with everything you said and your two favorite episodes are mine as well.

Great re-watch of the season, all. It’s been fun!

Anonymous said...

I have been enjoying reading the new new comments on the rewatch and whilst not actually watching along, I was drawn to revisit this (and the last) episode tonight.
I cried and laughed, but I was really reminded of Spikes growth these last 2 seasons. The writing slowly turned him around - and James Masters acted his socks off - and the change to his character is seemless. Also seeing the year 2001 made me feel quite old.
Thanks to all the commenters I enjoy the fresh view.
Tracy

Lamounier said...

I wished I could have participated more actively on the rewatch, since I love season five so much, but life got in the way and I just didn’t have the time to comment. This episode, however, I have to comment, even if I’m late.

“The Gift” is my favorite episode of Buffy. And considering Buffy is my favorite TV series ever, “The Gift” is my favorite episode of anything ever. It tells beautiful tale and it is an amazing capper to a great season. I’ll probably run out of superlatives.

One criticism I’ve heard about this episode is that the writers spent the entire season building a moral conundrum – should Buffy choose to save the world and kill Dawn or should she do the opposite? –, only to give Buffy a third choice and have her escape from that dilemma in the last second. I don’t think that’s the point of what happened at all. This episode – and the entire season – is not about Buffy cheating the dilemma, it’s about Buffy ~beating~ the dilemma, the choice she was always supposed to make: her personal life versus her slayer life. It’s the typical drama of super heroes, and I just love that on Buffy’s final breath she was able to do both things at once, instead of choosing one versus the other. It’s beautiful and poetic, and I love it.

In any case, I think that if Buffy couldn’t sacrifice herself she would just hug Dawn and let the world end. Maybe. There are evidences that point out to that (lines such as “the last thing she’ll see is me protecting her”, “You [Giles] try to hurt her and you know I’ll stop you”, “I’m counting on you [Spike] to protect her” and “I’ll kill anyone who comes near Dawn”). But there are some evidences that point to the other direction, such as the line “if Dawn dies, I’m done with it”. It’s not clear if she is talking about letting Dawn die or failing to protect her. However, when Dawn is telling Buffy to let her go, before it hits Buffy that she can sacrifice herself, she has this pained look on her face as she absorbs Dawn’s words. So maybe she would’ve let Dawn die, maybe not. We’ll never know.

What we do know is that death was her gift, both in the sense of a gift she gave to Dawn and the world and a gift she received herself. On the first meaning, it’s very fitting that a series about a female warrior who got “activated” after the last one died would end with her own death, so the next one can be called (although Buffy doesn’t carry the line of succession anymore, and this isn’t the series finale). It’s very full-circle-y and a terrific way to wrap the series... up to this point. Also, there are a lot of parallels with the tale of Christ’s sacrifice: Buffy’s was sacrificing herself in the place of someone else, it was a blood sacrifice, and Buffy’s body as she jumped on the portal was on the “cross position” (I’m sorry, I don’t know how to explain this better in English). I have no idea if this was deliberate or not, but it was appropriate to refer to the most known sacrifice in popular mythology, as Giles would’ve put it.

Lamounier said...

On the second meaning of “death is your gift” (that Buffy herself got a gift), I’ve read somewhere (have no idea where, because I’ve read so much about Buffy already) that season five’s story is a glorification of suicide: first the writers got Buffy depressed and then they had her end her pain on epic fashion. That’s a very interesting take on the story, and one I’m inclined to accept after this rewatch. Now, I don’t think Buffy’s sacrifice was actually a suicide, but I do think it had a component of suicide. Or a death wish, as Spike said it once. Buffy indeed was tired of the world, as it became clear in the last three episodes. On “Spiral” she confessed to Dawn “it just keeps coming”, on “The Weight of the World” she shut down because she just couldn’t take it anymore, and on “The Gift” she told Giles “I don’t know how to live in this world if these are the choices. If everything just gets stripped away, I don’t see the point”. This last line is pivotal. Buffy was seeing her life fall apart and therefore life made no sense anymore. Not a life where she had to kill her boyfriend to save the world. Not a life where she lost her mom. Not a life where she had to kill her own sister.

The moment Buffy sees the sun appear once again to her (dawn on both sides), she finally sees there’s a point in life. It’s always darkest before dawn, the April bot said. But to keep the light Buffy must sacrifice herself. So, in the end, Buffy’s death is both the confirmation of her death wish and the opposite of that wish. Because in a world where Dawn and her friends live, Buffy’s life has a point, and she can live there too. But in order to make that world happen, Buffy must end her own life. I think Buffy realizes that on the last second. That she’s not just saving the world, she’s saving a world she would happily live in. She looks Dawn in the eye (and there’s a beautiful moment in the script that says she looks at Dawn to memorize her face), and has this calm happiness as she flees to her sacrifice.

And then she saves the world one last time.

Man, I just freaking love this episode. And I wish I had talked more about the other characters. All I can say is that this has been a great ride. Willow, Xander, Spike, Giles, Dawn, Anya, Tara. I loved all of them this season (“when you say you love us all...”), and even more than I had loved the last time I watched it.

Also, I want to thank you, Billie, for the reviews and for this rewatch. A few years ago, I first found your reviews on an Alias website, and it had a link to your site. Here I saw that you had reviews for Buffy too, and they brought me back to the show I loved on the beginning of my early teen years.

I’m not sure I’ll be back for the rewatch of the last two seasons, because while I like season six (it’s flawed, yes, but it’s so deliciously twisted), I don’t like season seven very much and maybe I should end the rewatch on a happy note. In any case, this has been a great rewatch. Thanks to everyone.

Lamounier said...

"the beginning of my early teen years"

And I blame this redundancy on bunnies. :)

Mallena said...

This was a great season finale. Reminds me of Supernatural's "Swan Song". That's why we are fans of this genre. Thrills, laughs, emotions, drama. Season 5 after Riley leaves is a great season. I would put Glory over the Mayer and Faith, in terms of awesomeness, but that is my opinion. The ending fight is epic, Buffy is so heroic, and it is very emotional. Seeing Willow's and Giles's reaction to Buffy's sacrifice is moving, but I don't start to cry until Spike falls to the ground and starts to sob. That was perfection. It is obvious to me that when someone becomes a vampire, the original person is still there, just without a soul. Spike feels love and loyalty. Spike must have been a very good person before and Angel was very bad. Doesn't explain vampire Willow, though. Does she have some deep anger that she can't get to in her normal life? Her mom is pretty awful.

Lamounier said...

The HD version (the one available on Netflix) of this episode butchers that beautiful battle shot that shows Buffybot vs. Glory and the Scoobies vs. her minions (right before Dawn first sees everyone from the top of the tower). On the cropped shot, you can only see Buffybot vs. Glory and half of Spike vs. half of minions.

Why, why, WHY?

Onigirli said...

From Lamounier: "In any case, I think that if Buffy couldn’t sacrifice herself she would just hug Dawn and let the world end."
I think she would've done the right thing, but in keeping with the potentially suicidal aspect of her sacrifice, she probably would've hugged and then thrown both herself and Dawn into the hole as a final romantic gesture. No more coma stuff for her, right?
While I didn't have that one other commenter's inappropriate reaction to seeing Spike break down at the sight of her body (it moved me, but I thought it'd be funny if Xander dropped Anya in shock as he approached Buffy body >.>), I did inappropriately snort at "But you treat me like a man." He sold the line, and it's lovely on its own, but all I could think of was Buffy throwing a wad of bills at him in disgust lol. Buffy kissing him for holding his tongue concerning Dawn's truth was too recent a change in attitude (episode-wise at least). Is he conflating his time with Buffybot with the real Buffy? Heh, probably.
I liked Buffy giving the worst 'inspiring' speech ever to the gang. I seriously liked that, it was oddly badass, and it gave the finale such a different feel along with the fact that she's not necessarily gonna operate in the world's best interests, with a justification that's achingly easy to accept and agree with (a world that forces these choices might not deserve to be saved).
So uh, hu-where's Ben? Did Guyles make him pass out so he can take him somewhere safe? (I'm kidding, but this is genuinely what I thought the first time lol, it's so clear now but I still did not grasp it and I don't think it's ever mentioned again? Is that a spoiler?)
In response to the comment just before me: thanks for reminding me to use the HD Buffy releases as an excuse to revisit the show once more down the line, I might get some (angry) amusement out of seeing which shots throughout the run are ruined.