[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Douglas Petrie and Jane Espenson | Director: Marita Grabiak | Aired: 05/13/2003]
“End of Days” is not at all awful and is certainly watchable, but it’s also quite a disappointment. There’s no other way to say it. We’re at the end of what’s my favorite television show and we have to sit through a bunch of unwieldy exposition about an overly convenient plot device thrown into the story at the last second? Come on guys! You’re better than this! Remember in my review of “Empty Places” [7×19] how I related the end of the show to a flickering candle? Well, the candle’s getting dim again.
This is a plot-heavy episode with a falsely billed epic title. One particular scene really sticks in my mind when I think about it: Willow and Giles doing booooring research on the scythe. It’s a whole lot of meandering, exposition, and last-minute revelations that really cheapen the stakes of everything going on. And that’s how I feel about the episode as a whole. Now with that said, there’s still a handful of quality scenes worth cheering about that still give the episode a sense of purpose and quality.
The scythe itself represents a mistake on the part of the writing staff. When Buffy tells us that this scythe is all they have going for them, I can only respond with “huh?” The timing and appearance of the scythe is incredibly contrived and forced. When the writers throw in a plot device and/or item specifically meant to get the protagonist out of a tricky situation, something’s definitely gone wrong. Although I’m a fan of how the scythe is used as a metaphor in “Chosen” [7×22], it doesn’t wash away how it reeks of convenience and lazy plotting here.
A conversation between Buffy and Xander represents another problem that shows up in “End of Days.” How did things so quickly become alright between Buffy, Willow, Xander, and the rest of the group? I’d expect a lot more hostility there despite Faith’s failed mission. Buffy makes jokes to Xander and gives him a speech about how much she needs him, yet it all just feels off to me. Earlier Willow cracks a silly joke that Buffy smiles to. I don’t feel like these reactions have been earned after what just happened. It’s like the writers ran out of time and have jumped right into oh-####-the-series-is-almost-over mode. It just doesn’t feel right to me. One bit of self reflection we get is from Willow in terms of whether she can perform magic under pressure, but even this is ground that was already covered in “Get it Done” [7×15].
The primary problem of the episode is really solidified by the long-winded expository scene between Buffy and the Guardian in the Pagan Temple. For one, why does Buffy instantly trust this lady with the scythe? Secondly, what’s with all the nonsense about all the ancient groups watching other ancient groups? Buffy’s confusion is palpable. Why only now is all this information coming to light? It’s actually kind of amazing that in all that talking, we didn’t learn anything relevant. She talked a lot and confirmed that the Shadow Men eventually formed the Watcher’s Council, but beyond that interesting tidbit it pretty much felt like a lot of filler to me. This is the second to last episode of a great show! It pains me to have any moment of screen time wasted like it is in several places here in “End of Days.”
Now, fortunately, there are several things the episode does right. One scene that rubs off as much more successful is between Buffy and Faith. Buffy correctly informs Faith that the deaths the group incurred were not her fault. Faith also gets introspective and finally begins to understand Buffy and her burden. It’s easy to be jealous or criticize someone from the outside, but it’s not so easy when you’re in their shoes and have to do that job. Even though Faith had all those people supporting her, she felt alone as ever before. Faith then tells Buffy, “and that’s you. Every day.” Buffy solemnly responds, “I love my friends. I’m very grateful for them. But that’s the price of being a slayer.”
Another scene that works for me is the reunion of Buffy and Spike after their special evening together in “Touched” [7×20]. After some fun word play between them and a clear avoidance of discussing what they shared the other night, Buffy insists they discuss it. Spike’s reaction is nothing short of amazing. He says, very rawly, “Last night was… God, I’m such a jerk. I can’t do this … it was the best night of my life. If you poke fun at me, you bloody well better well use that [scythe] ’cause I couldn’t bear it. It may not mean that much to you but-” Buffy jumps in and whispers, “I just told you it did.” Spike, not completely convinced that she was there with him yet, directly asks her “Yeah, I hear you say it but- I’ve lived for soddin’ ever, Buffy. I’ve done everything. I’ve done things with you I can’t spell. But I’ve never been close to anyone, least of all you. Until last night. All I did was hold you, watch you sleep, and it was the best night of my life. So yeah, I’m terrified. … Were you there with me?” Buffy honestly says, “I was.”
When Spike pries a little further to figure out what this means for them, Buffy has a very human response: “I don’t know.” Some may feel this comment is a cop-out, but I personally feel it is the most honest response that Buffy could have given. But what is clear is that the two of them definitely love each other. It’s what they do next about it that is left open-ended as the series rolls to a close. What a journey for both Buffy and Spike.
Although it’s hard to pick a favorite scene in the episode between the stand-outs, I might have to pick Andrew and Anya at the hospital. We sadly haven’t seen much attention devoted to Anya’s jouney to find herself in the aftermath of the brilliant “Selfless” [7×05], but this conversation directly picks up that thread. Although it’s not as much as I had hoped for, I’m still thrilled we got closure to this character thread — it’s more than most shows would give us. Andrew asks the very pertinent question of why Anya doesn’t just leave town and run away. What’s different?
Anya points out that she took off before (“Graduation Day Pt. 1” [3×21]). What’s changed is that “Well, I guess I was kinda new to being around humans before. But now I’ve seen a lot more, gotten to know people, seen what they’re capable of and I guess I just realized how amazingly screwed up they all are. I mean, really, really screwed up in a monumental fashion. … And they have no purpose that unites them so they just drift around blundering through life until they die, which they know is coming yet every single one of them is surprised when it happens to them. They’re incapable of thinking about what they want beyond the moment. They kill each other, which is clearly insane, and yet here’s the thing. When it’s something that really matters, they fight. I mean, they’re lame morons for fighting but they do. They never quit. So I guess I will keep fighting too.”
Sometimes Anya really surprises me with how insightful and touching she can be. It’s cool to see Andrew continuing that self reflection that awoke in him after “Storyteller” [7×16]. And then… there’s the wheelchair fight. This is what Whedon shows do best: have a genuinely serious moment, and then follow it up with a hefty chuckle to help sink in that warm feeling and connection to the characters. Wonderful.
So that all pretty much sums up what “End of Days” is about. It’s a plot-heavy outing that does boast a few great character scenes, but overall isn’t sure of what it’s trying to do. As the penultimate episode of the entire series, it’s extremely lacking. The last thing I wanted is long-winded exposition scenes this close to the end. Thankfully Buffy, Spike, Faith, and Andrew save this one and make it a worthwhile watch. “Touched” [7×20] aside, I just expected more out of the final group of episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Fortunately, “Chosen” [7×22] gives us a fairly satisfying conclusion to it all, flaws and all.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ The post-explosion intro scene was well done.
+ Andrew drinking Capri Sun.
+ Buffy dropping down into the cave with the scythe and kicking a lot of ### in front of a bunch of injured potentials.
+ Buffy kicking the door to the Pagan Temple down.
+ Buffy’s fight with Caleb is pretty fun to watch, although the editing is a little sloppy in a couple places.
+ Angel! It’s great to see Angel make an appearance again. It’s also great to have him simply enjoy the show of Caleb vs Buffy. It’s almost like the ghost of Mal (Firefly) is coming to beat up Buffy because his show got cancelled and hers didn’t.
– What the hell was Caleb doing down in the Pagan Temple? Was there another entrance somewhere? Was he just hanging out sipping on martinis while Buffy and the Guardian were having that chat?
– Dawn tasering Xander in the middle of the highway? There had to be a better way to handle that.
– Why did Buffy need to kiss Angel? Wouldn’t a warm hug suffice? I know Whedon’s trying to pander to all the various fans, but after what her and Spike have shared ever so recently, I don’t think an insta-kiss for Angel was really appropiate. Then again, they had to leave us ‘wondering’ about whether Spike will go into a murderous rage after seeing them kiss! Sigh. At least Whedon doesn’t stoop as low as actually persuing that obviously stupid route in “Chosen” [7×22].