[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: David Fury | Director: James A. Contner | Aired: 05/21/2002]
Well folks, we’ve made it! It’s the end of S6 and “Grave” does a very good job of wrapping up the season’s threads, while setting up several new ones for the upcoming final season. But is this a quintessential mind-blowing Buffy finale, the likes of “Becoming Pt. 2” [2×22] , “Restless” [4×22] , and [“5x22″] ? Nope. Right from the start of the episode you can feel the lack of Joss Whedon’s polish, humor, and complexity. Not to say there isn’t any, but not nearly as much and not done nearly as well as Mr. Whedon himself has accomplished in previous season finales. One can look at “Grave” and feel understandably disappointed, but we have to remember that even though this isn’t an awesome Whedon finale, it’s still a very good episode! So let’s talk specifics.
We pick up right from where we left off in “Two to Go” [6×21] . Giles is back! Yay!! This is a wonderful treat. Having him gone for so long makes seeing him here all the more special. Giles tells Willow, “stay on this path and you’ll end up dead.” Boy is he right, but I don’t think Willow really cares at this point. I love the use of continuity when Willow brings up their “spat” back in “Flooded” [6×04] , with Willow saying “well buckle up, Rupert, because I’ve gone pro.” This is nice precisely because it plays off of Giles’ earlier comment, calling her a “rank, arrogant amateur.” This is just solid writing here. Willow then becomes downright scary when her eyes darken, voice deepens, and the room begins to light up; the combination of effects here really won me over.
That brings me to the post-credits follow-up to this moment, when Giles all-too quickly locks her up. This definitely surprised me at first, but at the sake of losing the excitement that was built up from the previous scene. Let’s just say it’s not the decision I would have made, but the scene still works as played. I do like the scene between Buffy and Giles in the training room though — and what a perfect place for them to reconnect (it’s the same place where Giles told Buffy he was going back to England).
Buffy gets Giles caught up with the rundown on what’s happened this season. Immediately following the list of disasters, Buffy (and kudos to Sarah Michelle Gellar for this) has this utterly child-like look on her face as she looks to Giles for judgement of her actions — it, for this one moment, brings me right back to the high-school days, which is a nice little throwback. Buffy expects Giles to berate her for all she’s done, but instead gets something entirely unexpected: pure, undiluted laughter. I know this reaction from Giles has caused mixed feelings from fans, but I personally think it works.
Did we really need Giles telling her how bad she’d let things get — something she (and we) already know? Does Buffy really need to feel any worse about all of this than Giles already knows she feels? No and no. Giles knows Buffy really well, and he can tell by her current attitude that she’s worked through her issues and can see the same strength inside her eyes that we can all now see again. So if he’s not going to talk down to her, what’s there left to do after hearing a list like that completely out of context? Laugh! Plus, it’s just a joy seeing Buffy laughing her heart out for the first time, well, probably since before her mom died. I think this moment was extremely well-earned, and I really enjoyed it.
Buffy’s honesty with herself when talking to Giles is really refreshing as well, telling him, “It took a long time for that feeling to go away… the feeling that I wasn’t really here. It was like… when I clawed my way out of that grave, I left something behind. Part of me. I just… I don’t understand. Why I’m back.” Buffy still doesn’t understand why she’s back, and Giles doesn’t really have an answer to it. I can appreciate the writers leaving this question unanswered for the time being, because it reconnects us with the aimlessness of young adulthood for many people. We ask questions like what is my purpose? Why am I here? What should I do and where am I headed? These are all still very real questions that don’t have any simple answers. Fortunately, S7 will help answer them for Buffy — although the end of “Grave” starts this with Buffy realizing one immediate reason why she’s back is to be there for Dawn.
When Willow unlocks herself from the binding spell, she tells Giles, “Willow doesn’t live here anymore.” We all know that’s not true though. It’s like I said in my “Two to Go” [6×21] review: “When she’s focused on anger and rage, it’s the magic talking; when she’s focused on her emotions (i.e. when she recalls how Tara enriched her life), it’s Willow talking.” The problem lies with the fact that the dark magic is supressing her human emotion so far down that all that’s left is a hollow shell of anger and rage. This new dark creature is still Willow — an admittedly distorted part of her, but Willow chose to become this in her anger and rage, so the consequences of her actions here are entirely her fault.
The action aspect of seeing Willow and Giles duke it out is extremely satisfying, I must say, and a wonderful payoff to the tension between them earlier in the season — let alone the constant hinting of this going back to S2 and S3. The raw effects and mechanics of the fight are overall a lot better than we what saw between Buffy and Willow in “Two to Go” [6×21] . I think the lack of hokey one-liners here is what ultimately makes the difference.
On the other thread of the episode, we see Xander still wallowing in how useless he is. I like how Dawn tells him that his self pity isn’t helping and uses Spike as an example of someone who is proactive. Even better is how Xander throws that example back in her face and reveals Spike’s attempted rape of Buffy. Dawn is exasperated and barely believes him. This moment is to Dawn what hearing about Buffy sleeping with Spike was to Xander. This season seems to also be about peoples’ perceptions of other people being crushed and more humanized or, in Spike’s case, demonized. Anya took Xander off her pedastal, Xander took Buffy off of his, and Dawn took Spike off of hers.
When Willow sucks Giles dry (nice twist of him wanting her to do that), we can immediately see a change in her. The way in which she talks to Giles is more friendly and Willow-like, even as she’s processesing the overwhelming amount of power and emotion. In sucking Giles’ natural magic she’s become connected to the world in way she never knew before. Because she’s got the black magic running wild inside of her right now, this connectedness is twisted into feeling all the suffering in the world. Being overwhelmed by the feeling, she decides she must end the pain in order to end her new pain. Giles’ plan here is risky and could backfire, but even though Willow’s more powerful this way, she’s at least now able to be touched by emotion again, which gives Xander his shot.
I must say I really like the writers’ solution to Willow’s power here. Although I’m not wild about it strictly devolving into an “end the world” plot, being as tired as that is, I do like the idea surrounding it. I think this might have been able to play out just the same if instead of wanting to wipe out everything, Willow just wanted to kill herself. Xander’s intervention could have played out in exactly the same way, and I feel it might have come across as less run-of-the-mill and would have had some intriguing parallels to Buffy’s journey throughout the season. But, even as played, I still enjoyed where they took the plot.
My one big disappointment of this, and the previous, episode is the almost complete unwillingness to delve deeper into the psychological reasons of why Willow got here, which mostly stemmed from a desire for power and control. Although these finale episodes occasionally touch on the idea, they don’t fully explore it as much as I’d have liked. I think that missing piece would have really elevated these episodes into being among the best of the entire series, but instead they fall short. I’ll explore this problem more in the Season 6 Review, as I feel this is largely a missed opportunity throughout the season.
Anyway, at this point of the episode, we have Buffy and Dawn trapped in a fake-looking hole in the ground while Willow’s trying to incinerate the planet. Although I applaud the writers for keeping Buffy completely out of the final showdown, leaving Xander to save the day, I just wish they had picked a more interesting fight for her than corny-looking earth creatures, which just aren’t very interesting to watch. I do appreciate the bonding taking place when Buffy hands Dawn a sword and asks her for help. I found Buffy’s big speech to Dawn a little overraught and over-acted, but I can appreciate the content of it. Buffy tells Dawn, “I don’t want to protect you from the world, I want to show it to you!” This sets up Dawn’s S7 arc perfectly, as we’ll see in “Lessons” [7×01] . Buffy’s hand grasping for the light out of the grave of the crater is an obvious symbolic statement for the return of Buffy to the light and the dawn (wink, wink) of a new day for her. This is a beautiful counter-point to the opening episode of the season.
Far more interesting than what’s going on with Buffy and Dawn, though, is what’s happening with Xander and Willow. What Xander accomplishes here is not only totally awesome, but extremely beautiful. After an entire season’s worth of heartache, pain, rage, and anger, Xander’s love for his best friend of years past is what saves the world. The moment Willow shoots Xander with lightning you can see her twitch with pain — it physically hurt her to do that to her best friend — at a time when nothing else can hurt her. Xander knows this, and keeps coming closer, bearing all the pain and anger Willow throws at him.
There is no doubt in my mind that Xander is willing to die right here to help Willow, and I take his statement as such at face value. Xander tells her, “Where else am I gonna go? You’ve been my best friend my entire life. World going to end, where else would I want to be?” Xander’s entire speech is just beautiful (check it out in the quotes section). Thematically, emotionally, and entertainment-wise this conclusion just works. This scene between them always brings a tear to my eye and is one of my favorites in my years of television consumption. I think that this moment between Willow and Xander represents the perfect end to this particular season. You heard it. Tell your friends.
David Fury’s put together a solid script in “Grave,” but it undeniably lacks that special Whedon feel. But with that out of the way, we have an episode that has a whole lot to like, including one of my favorite scenes in the entire series. Willow’s rise and fall was a long-time coming and, although I didn’t get everything I wanted out of it, I found myself occasionally riveted and always entertained by this climax. Sure I’d have liked — and feel Willow deserved — even more, but I like what we got nonetheless.
Well, that’s a wrap for the episodes of S6! Check out my comprehensive Season 6 Review for organized thoughts on the season as a whole, and then join me for my analyses of the final episodes on this brilliant journey!
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ The way Giles calmy enters the chaos… and controls it. At least for a while. I also like Giles’ genuine concern for Willow, which isn’t a surprise, but is still welcoming to see.
+ Anya’s complete adorableness when she feels left out of the love between Buffy and Giles. She says, “I’m blond!”
+ Xander’s fight-dummy he made for Buffy got a cameo and saved Giles! Yay!
+ When Giles laughs with Buffy over hearing about the past year, the first specific thing they’re laughing about is the notion that Sunnydale isn’t real in “Normal Again” [6×17] , which I think is meant to be a bone thrown to the fans who took the ending of that episode personally. Sunnydale is real people! It’s real I say! Wait a minute… 😉
+ Giles apologizing for leaving, even though Buffy doesn’t want the apology — she wants to accept the responsibility of what happened and not blame it on Giles leaving. Good for her.
+ The poor Magic Box set! I’ll miss you!
+ Jonathan and Andrew fleeing to Mexico. Did you really think it would end any other way?
+ Willow’s black hair slowly turning back to that beaufitul red.
+ Jonathan and Andrew being creeped out by the funny truck driver.
+ Spike gets his soul back! I’ll talk about this a whole lot more throughout my S7 reviews. All I’ll say now is: great move, writers!
+ Kudos to Alyson Hannigan for her exemplary acting during these demanding final episodes — she really pulled it off, and even elevated the occasionally sub-par piece of dialogue.
– Why oh why didn’t anyone try to get out of the way of the flying ball of flame, even after Buffy yelled at them to run. Why!?
– Giles telling Anya he’s dying serves what purpose? A cheesy attempt at audience sympathy? If Willow succeeds, everyone’s dead. If she doesn’t succeed, Giles lives. So… huh?
– It takes Buffy until the next morning to start yelling up for Xander and stop trying to climb out of the mini crater?