Television series are often judged by their series finale, for better or worse. Here at 25YL, we’re going to be looking at both the best and worst finales and what made them great (or not so great) in our “Art of the Finale” series. This week, guest author Mel Reynolds looks at what makes the Buffy the Vampire Slayer finale so great. Got a finale you think should make the list? Be sure and let us know!
On May 20, 2003, Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired its final episode, ‘Chosen’. Over its seven-year run, the show grew from a mid-season replacement with very little expectation of success into a cult hit with a fiercely devoted following, receiving huge critical acclaim and becoming one of the most academically studied television shows of all time.
Over 15 years later, ‘Chosen’ is still lauded as one of the best television finales ever. It has appeared in lists including Entertainment Weekly’s “20 Best TV Finales Ever” in 2013, where it placed ninth. It can be argued that one of the main reasons that ‘Chosen’ continues to be regarded so highly is because the themes at the core of Buffy, which culminate and are so effectively utilised in the finale, are still relevant today, perhaps even more so than they were back in 2003.
Buffy was always concerned with dismantling the patriarchy. The very nature of the show’s premise—the pretty blonde girl in the dark alley finally getting the chance to fight back instead of being killed—grew to become so much more. It’s a commentary on strength in its myriad forms and definitions, bravery, and most importantly power—its trials, dangers, the great responsibility that comes along with it, and the many ways in which it can be used and abused.
In the seventh and final season of Buffy we discover the history of the First Slayer: a girl who was enslaved by a trio of Shamans known as The Shadow Men, and cursed with immense power she never asked for. Chained in a cave, she was infused with the soul and spirit of a demon, and at the cost of most of her humanity, the first of the Slayer line was born. Given that Buffy was always regarded as a feminist show promoting feminist ideals, it’s understandable that some may have been disappointed to learn that the only reason the Slayer exists and has the power that she has is because it was given to her by men. For many this could be seen as betraying the show’s central treatise. But what ‘Chosen’ shows us is that how the Slayer got her power, whilst incredibly important, was never the point of Buffy. It’s about how the Slayer chooses to use that power. Buffy chooses to use it against the very men that enslaved the First Slayer, thus enslaving Buffy herself, all those thousands of years ago.
“So here’s the part where you make a choice. What if you could have that power, now? In every generation, one Slayer is born, because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule. They were powerful men. This woman [Willow] is more powerful than all of them combined. So I say we change the rule. I say my power, should be our power. Tomorrow, Willow will use the essence of this scythe to change our destiny. From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?” – Buffy Summers to the potential Slayers in ‘Chosen’
In the ‘Buffyverse’, the scythe is the Slayer’s version of King Arthur’s sword: a weapon, embodying the Slayer’s mystical essence, that was forged in secrecy by a group of powerful mystic women in prehistoric Africa known as The Guardians. The Guardians forged this weapon for the First Slayer to use to kill the last of The Old Ones (extremely powerful pure-breed demons that dominated Earth eons before humans appeared). The scythe was then hidden from the Shadow Men (and their later iteration, the Watcher’s Council) and sealed in a rock until the time came for the Slayer to need it again. Buffy finds the scythe, still buried in the rock, hidden in the basement of the vineyard run by Caleb, a misogynistic preacher who does the First Evil’s bidding. Caleb has stolen the scythe, but he cannot pull it from the rock, rendering it useless to him. This is a beautiful example of the idea of men stealing power from women but then not knowing how, or being able, to use it. Buffy effortlessly pulls the scythe from the stone, thus reclaiming her power.
In ‘Chosen’, when Buffy and Willow call on the power of the scythe to subvert the rules and make every girl in the world a Slayer, they rewrite the whole history of the Slayer and destroy the lineage that was created by the Shadow Men. The Chosen One is no more, and the power that once belonged only to ‘one girl in all the world’ now belongs to every girl. The Slayer will no longer exist because every girl will find the strength within herself to be the Slayer of the literal demons of the ‘Buffyverse’, and on a more metaphorical level, the Slayer of her own personal demons and the hero of her own life. The concept of the Slayer becomes just that: a concept. It is a metaphor for how every woman has the potential and strength to find and use the power within herself. ‘Chosen’ demonstrates that the true message of Buffy is women reclaiming their power from the men who stole it from them. In order for this central theme and message to hold up, the Slayer’s power had to have been initially given to her by men so that she could reclaim it for herself and make her own choice about how to use it.
Shared power is also a key theme at the centre of ‘Chosen’. The passing of the scythe between the newly-called Slayers during the final battle is a brilliant symbolic representation of this. Because they are now all Slayers, the scythe belongs to all of them and they can all call upon its power. Buffy‘s message of women banding together and using their shared power to quell the power of men resonates loudly today, especially given the huge sea change in the wake of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements. In Buffy, the Slayer’s innocence and life were stolen from her by men, and the show is all about the Slayer’s quest to take that power back. In ‘Chosen’, she does. This echoes the hundreds of stories of women who have been used and abused by men coming together in the last year to reclaim the power that was taken from them.
The theme of how power can be both corrupt and virtuous runs through the arcs of many of Buffy’s central characters, and comes to a head in ‘Chosen’. Several characters that were once bad (or went through a period of being bad) learn how to utilise their power for the greater good.
Spike has grappled with his power as both a vampire and a man throughout the show, but even more so since the self-sought restoration of his soul at the end of the penultimate season. In ‘Chosen,’ during the final battle, Spike uses the power of his soul—and the love contained within it—to defeat the last of the Turok-Han (ancient vampires and agents of the First Evil). He sacrifices his own life for the greater good of the world.
Faith, the rogue Slayer and Buffy’s fierce rival throughout the show, spent years struggling with the power that being the Slayer gave her. As someone with deep-seated self-hatred, the power she gained when she became the Slayer intoxicated her and made her feel superior. It led her down a dark path of self-destruction that resulted in multiple murders. But eventually, through experiences that taught her empathy and how she could use her power to help others, she made the choice to turn her life around. During the final battle in ‘Chosen’, Faith wields the scythe, and upon seeing Buffy in peril, throws it to her in a triumphant moment of unity. Faith was always jealous of Buffy’s power, goodness, and influence, but in ‘Chosen’ they fight side by side, as equals.
In Buffy’s penultimate season, Willow—powerless with grief over the death of her lover Tara—becomes addicted to magic and the power it gives her and tries to destroy the world. After a stint in the magical version of rehab, she learns how to take all the magic she has within her and use it right. It is this power that she calls upon in ‘Chosen’, using it to make all the girls in the world Slayers. This point is also important because Willow is the only person that can perform that piece of complex magic, and unlike the Slayer, she wasn’t given her power by men. She gained her immense power all on her own and uses it to change the world.
As well as perfectly demonstrating the central themes of Buffy as a whole, ‘Chosen’ also serves as the perfect ending for Buffy’s personal journey. Buffy never wanted to be the Slayer. She never wanted to be the only person carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders and the only one with the power to stop the spread of evil on Earth. By the end, she no longer has to be. She can share the load with her fellow women all over the world. ‘Chosen’ gives Buffy the right ending—the ending she deserves.
Buffy choosing to share her Slayer power with every girl in the world is a message that rings as true in today’s world as it did 15 years ago. Not only does Buffy show us that we can all find the strength, power, and humanity within us to be the hero of our own individual lives, it also promotes the idea that when our power is shared and used for the greater good, its impact will be much further reaching. Only when women and their male allies band together and use their collective power to resist the patriarchal ideology that has been forced upon the world, will the patriarchy be no more. This is why the Buffy finale was—and still remains—one of the greatest television endings of all time.
“Slayers, every one of us.”
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