[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Joss Whedon | Director: Joss Whedon | Aired: 05/20/2003]
Well, folks. This is it! The final episode of the uniquely brilliant Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I feel a bit overwhelmed at not only finally making it to this review, but also at the task of analyzing what sums up seven seasons of pure emotion, thought, and excitement. My goal here is to stick to “Chosen,” so don’t mistake this for a comprehensive series review — look to the Season 7 Review for both a thorough look at the entire seventh season and the series as a whole.
When thinking about this episode I, instinctively, feel the need to ask hundreds of questions. Is this a fitting finale to the season? Is it a fitting finale to the entire show? Do all the major characters get satisfying endings? Did it work thematically? Plot-wise? Is it even fun to watch? The questions are endless. Instead of going through a long list of bullet points that need addressing, I’m simply going to let my thoughts flow and see what happens.
With that said, I will say that I feel “Chosen” fails on a plot level but wildly succeeds on a thematic and overall enjoyment level. If the plot had been sanity checked for more than a few seconds and the episode been given more room to breathe (i.e. been made a two-parter), I think we might have been looking at a perfect score. But, alas, it was not to be. What we have instead is the epitome of a great episode that’s rough around the edges. But in the end, I feel it gets the most important pieces right. So, without any more dulcet prose on my part, let’s talk “Chosen.”
You know, Caleb not actually being dead in the beginning of the episode would really annoy me in just about any other show. But Buffy has done so many unexpected things throughout its run, that even a moment like this is still able to get a little bit of fear out of me. It was always hard to tell what was around the next corner on Buffy, and all those years of throwing me off makes even the expected moments a little scary. Now with that said, why did Caleb have to get back up?
The ensuing conversation between Buffy and Angel is interesting. First of all, while I do appreciate that Angel showed up and that he brought some useful information, his attitude doesn’t really jibe with the events of S4 of Angel. Also, Buffy tells Angel that she needs him to run a second front in case she fails. Why didn’t she, you know, tell him about what’s been going on a little earlier? I know the town is shut down, but she could have told him before that. While Angel’s appearance felt very natural in “Forever” [5×17], here it feels extremely forced.
Now that my situational complaints involving Angel are over with I can get to the meat of their conversation. Well, first of all, much of it is the expected Whedon brand of funny. But beyond that, it hits on some big topics. For one, Angel pries into Buffy’s business with Spike. When Buffy says that she doesn’t “see fat grandchildren in the offing with Spike,” I feel she’s saying that she doesn’t plan to settle into a permanent romantic relationship with him at this time. The power of the relationship they share right now isn’t romantic love anyway, it’s the kind of pure love that we saw in “Touched” [7×20].
Buffy goes on to explain with the “guy thing” that “I always feared there was something wrong with me. You know, because I couldn’t make it work. But maybe I’m not supposed to. … Because… okay. I’m cookie dough. I’m not done baking. I’m not finished becoming whoever the hell it is I’m going to turn out to be. I make it through this and the next thing and the next thing and maybe one day I turn around and realize I’m ready. I’m cookies. And then, you know, if I want someone to eat m- or enjoy warm, delicious cookie-me, then that’s fine. That’ll be then. When I’m done.” For some reason beyond my comprehension, there’s a lot of people out there who absolutely hate this “cookie dough” speech.
So let me address this speech. Number one, cookie dough is delicious and no one can argue otherwise. Don’t dare speak badly of any cookie dough references! Number two, I think this little speech of hers succinctly and humorously sums her up on this topic. I think the start of this realization arrived during “I Was Made to Love You” [5×15] — that she needed to get comfortable with herself before she had any hope of really making a romantic relationship work with someone else. This was not only a beautiful insight, but it was also a brilliant one. I wish more people would take the time to get to know themselves before entering serious relationships in the hope that the other person will somehow solve all their issues and complete them.
In spending that time since “I Was Made to Love You” [5×15] to figure herself out, Buffy’s learned a whole lot along the way; what a lot of her weaknesses, problems, and even strengths and virtues are. But the truth of the matter is that she’s still young. She’s still figuring herself out. She’s not ready to settle down and start a family or even be in a romantic relationship at the moment. Not only does she not need it right now, she doesn’t even want it! Some day, when she is whole and ready, she will likely want these things. But for now, she’s content with continuing to figure out who Buffy Summers is. And so am I.
In Buffy and Spike’s follow-up conversation, she hands Spike the amulet thereby signifying she thinks of him as a champion. What an amazing evolution of their relationship. It’s really quite touching and well deserved. Also nice is that Buffy formalizes her battle strategy by something the First tells her. This revelation leads to the first part of the scene where she shares her plan with the entire group, a plan we’re not fully let in on until later. Although I’m still not too happy about how quickly tensions were resolved between the big players, I won’t lie that it is nice to see them all on the same page for the last episode. It doesn’t excuse the lack of build-up, but it’s nice to see nonetheless.
Buffy’s final speech is pretty awesome, I must say. She says to the entire group, “I hate this. I hate being here. I hate that you have to be here. I hate that there’s evil and that I was chosen to fight it. I wish a whole lot of the time that I hadn’t been. I know a lot of you wish I hadn’t been either. But this isn’t about wishes. This is about choices. I believe we can beat this evil. Not when it comes. Not when its army is ready. Now. Tomorrow morning I’m opening the Seal. I’m going down into the hellmouth and I’m finishing this once and for all. Right now you’re asking yourselves what makes this different. What makes us anything more than a bunch of girls being picked off one by one? It’s true, none of you have the power that Faith and I do. So here’s the part where you make a choice.”
Besides wrapping up Buffy’s character arc very well, another thing “Chosen” does quite well is spread around the love to a lot of the other major players. There’s sadly just not enough time to give everyone the closure they really deserve, hence why I think it was a grave mistake not to make this is two-part episode, but with that said there’s still a lot of nice bits and pieces. One of these is the interaction between Faith and Wood, who finally make a real connection with each other. Clearly the sex-fest in “Touched” [7×20] didn’t mean anything, at least to Faith. But it’s in their scene here and a moment at the end of the episode that they strike a real connection that goes beyond the physical. Not that their night together isn’t addressed though.
Faith says to Wood, “It’s nothing personal. It’s just, after I get bouncy with a guy, there’s not that much more I need to know about him.” Wood then challenges her and counters with, “That’s bleak. … That’s good to know, ’cause for a second there, I thought it was more defensive, isolationist slayer crap.” This dialogue exchange is not only hilarious, but it’s also very revealing and evolving. It’s so wonderful to see Faith growing as a person in the final episode. Willow also gets a moment of self reflection when her and Kennedy are discussing Willow’s fear of what she may do when required to perform this insane spell. Although I’ll never feel that Kennedy is the right person for Willow, I appreciated their scene together here.
I know there’s a lot of people out there who feel the Buffy and Spike fade-out scene was a cop-out, but I personally love it. The truth is that you can’t make everyone happy, ever. I personally don’t care what, if anything, happened down in the basement, because the foundation of real love between the two of them at this point is all that really matters — that’s where the transformative power, confidence, and strength in each other comes from. Based on what Buffy told Angel earlier in the episode, I doubt Buffy and Spike did anything physical, but even if they did it would only reaffirm the connection they already shared rather than say anything new.
While the first half of “Chosen” is very character focused, the second half is very action-focused. Buffy’s entire plan is fun to watch, but not very well thought out. This is another instance of where the details of the plot get lost. Although plot mishaps aren’t high on my list of priorities, when there’s enough of them it starts to chip away at an episode’s integrity. The real problem here is that Buffy’s entire plan makes absolutely no sense. Metaphorically speaking, which I’ll get to in a minute, it’s brilliant. But plot-wise, it’s brain-dead. Let’s think about this…
So the plan is to open the seal, have the big guns (except Willow) and all the potentials jump into it, use Willow to make all the potentials into slayers, and then have ~30 or so slayers fight thousands of ubervamps? Not a very bright plan to start with, but even this plan could have been a whole lot better. For one, why not wait until Willow works her mojo before jumping into the Seal? Even better, why not open the Seal and use it as a chokepoint to slaughter the ubervamps that try to cram through it? And didn’t the Seal always close itself up before? Why does it stay open this time to allow them to escape? On top of all this, there’s Spike and that amulet. Just how much do they know about it that we’re not told on screen? There’s a little bit of evidence to suggest those documents Angel gave Buffy had more information than we’re given, but it’s confusing to say the least. It’s a pretty safe bet that without that amulet going all holy fire and brimstone that the entire group would have been slaughtered and brought about an early apocalypse.
Also, why are the ubervamps so suddenly not uber? Was the one in “Showtime” [7×11] a special one? If so, why do all the others look so similar? And how does a human Anya kill one let alone kill another by slicing it in half? These are vampires, right? So, it’s safe to say that the details of this entire plot not only don’t add up, but are a complete mess. This is sloppy plotting Joss, I’m sorry to say. This should have been air-tight for the series finale.
Okay, so from a plot perspective Buffy’s plan is pretty stupid. So let’s now talk about it from a thematic perspective. From this vantage point, it looks a lot more successful. We can tell something special is happening when there’s this beautiful parting shot of the core four having a throwback conversation to the early parts of the series (I loved Giles’ “the earth is most definitely doomed”) which transitions to Buffy walking down a hallway with Xander and Willow, leaving Giles behind. Then Willow pulls off on her own leaving only Xander and Buffy. Then Xander pulls off on his own leaving Buffy to herself — all alone. Isn’t this familiar? But wait! The camera pulls back to show Buffy walking into a new family: a whole slew of soon-to-be slayers with Spike also at her side. This is of great thematic significance, since it represents the concept that Buffy’s burden of being alone can now be shared — she’s not the chosen one anymore. Fantastic directing here.
When the battle inside the Seal begins, we get a great flashback that finishes Buffy speech from earlier. This speech sums up the entire theme of the episode, the season, and a long-running theme throughout the series. That’s the theme of female empowerment and the use of power in general. Buffy sums up what this means when she says, “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 the 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.” After seeing the shot of the girl stepping up to bat with a confident smile on her face to Buffy’s concluding “Are you ready to be strong?,” how can you not get a little emotional and smile? Just a beautiful speech and a beautiful moment. This entire plan is a wonderful resolution to Buffy’s series-long burden of loneliness and lack-of-connection.
Although this is a really positive and inspiring moment, I can’t ignore the brand new can of worms it opens either. By having Willow use the power of the scythe (and tapping into the hellmouth) — Buffy’s power — to give all the potentials the Slayer’s power, one could very easily argue that although it’s being used for good in this fight against the First, isn’t Buffy really just throwing her burden onto a bunch of unsuspecting girls?
I suppose a counter-argument can be made to say that by sharing the power between all of them, that burden is manageable, but that really boils down to how precisely this power was shared. If all the potentials have the same strength and slayer heritage as Buffy, they’ll certainly have each other for moral support in handling the new burden, but they’ll all still have to deal with many of the drawbacks of being a slayer, albeit not the Slayer. Even if all the potentials with Buffy agreed to this infusion of power, isn’t Buffy relieving a bit of her burden at the expense of all these other girls? And what about the big elephant in the corner of the room: the potentials that weren’t part of Buffy’s group — the ones that never got asked if they wanted this burden and implied responsibility? Faith is a perfect example of the Slayer’s power gone wrong. Buffy’s move is gutsy and fascinating, but not without its own moral grayness. By doing this, is Buffy really all that much better than the Shadow Men (see “Get it Done” [7×15])? Whether completely thought-through by Whedon or not, it’s a satisfying yet gutsy way to end the series thematically. I think I’m a fan.
Okay, now that I’ve gotten most of the theme and plot talk out of my system, I can spend a little time just admiring the action. Just how awesome does this episode look? Like, wow. They really outdid themselves here. Most of this CGI and choreography looks movie-quality. After 144 reviews, I hope you’ll indulge me while I let my stream of conciousness flow out while watching all of this…
“Ahhh, Willow’s all cute and totally awesome. Ooo, scythe toss to Buffy! Felicia Day (Vi) looking badass! Slow-mo vampire decapitation with the scythe!! AWESOME! OMG, Andrew and Anya are hilarious together and… bunnies! Go Giles and Wood, you are both way outnumbered! Grin to Xander and Dawn’s ‘greenhouse effect.’ Anya got sliced in half! Woah! No! Wood got hit! And poor Amanda! Sadface! I’m glad the fight’s not all moonbeams and pennywhistles though. Buffy getting back up from her stab-i-tude, putting the First in its place, and then kicking all kinds of ass is giving me goosebumps! Love the ‘determination face’ slow-mo shot. Epic. Also epic? The music. Robert Duncan, you rock! ‘Oh bollocks’ and how ’bout Spike’s beautiful holy laser of justice? Xander looking for Anya is a big sadface! Buffy and Spike’s final farewell is perfect! I love the flaming hands. And woah to Spike completely incinerating! What a fitting way for him to go! Awww, Dawn looks heart-broken from the back of a departing school bus thinking Buffy isn’t going to make it. Buffy’s building jumping looks great! A little excessive? Sure, but why not! And how about all of Sunnydale and the hellmouth getting sucked into a giant crater!? Now that’s a way to end the series with a shock and a bang! And then they follow that up with a reference to Spike always crashing over the Welcome to Sunnydale sign. Ahhh, such a sublime ending.”
Okay, thanks for indulging me in that slobbering geekfest. The parting scene of the series warrants a bit of discussion. First of all, the moment when Buffy jumps off the bus and looks back at the open road is very meaningful and exhilarating. In that moment, we feel what Buffy’s feeling: freedom. My only complaint here is that it’s too short. I would have appreciated that shot to have been held for several seconds to let us soak it in, and for the ‘what do we do now’ discussion to have been extended. With that said, I still liked what we got. I enjoyed Xander hearing how Anya died, Wood faking-out Faith to prove that she actually cares for him, Giles’ mention of there being another hellmouth in Cleveland (in what I believe is a reference to “The Wish” [3×09]), Willow correctly pointing out that they did something far more important than saving the world, they changed the world, and the final moment of the series being on Buffy’s smile for the unknown future that awaits her.
“Chosen” is a tough one to score. A part of me desperately wants to give it huge accolades and a fitting score for the finale. But the fact of the matter is that this is not the perfect finale. In many ways it is but as a whole it’s not, and to ignore that ‘just because’ would be cheating all of you out of a completely honest analysis. I actually think I might still be being a bit overly generous, but it’s something I’m content with. At the end of the day this is still one of the best series finales I’ve ever seen.
So that’s it! I’m sure I probably missed a few things, but that’s what you faithful commenters are here for. I hope all of you had fun over the four years I spent writing these reviews, sharing my thoughts and opinions of the best television show… that I know of. Although exhausting, I’m very happy I accomplished this childhood desire (reviewing a television series) with one of the few shows that really warrants this kind of attention. But before I ride off into the sunset, don’t forgot to check out my upcoming comprehensive Season 7 Review! It’s shaping up to be quite the parting gift. 🙂
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Angel walking away like he did in “Graduation Day Pt. 2” [3×22]. Nice little throwback there.
+ Dawn kicking Buffy. Simple and effective.
+ Spike’s drawing of Angel on a punching bag. Priceless.
+ Buffy calling the First “The Taunter.” Nice.
+ Giles, Xander, Andrew, Amanda, and a sleeping Anya playing a game on the night before the big battle. Funny, and totally fitting.
+ Nice to get one last parting shot of the Summers’ home.
+ Xander telling everyone to go to the bathroom now, so there’s no problems during the fight. There’s a little plot detail that always gets ignored by other shows and movies. Very fun to see it addressed.
+ Andrew’s pre-battle shout-out to his brother Tucker (see “The Prom” [3×20]).
+ Hurray for White Willow! Although I think this end could have been led-up to slightly better, it’s still a satisfying end to her journey.
+ “That was nifty!” Classic Willow. 🙂
+ How does everyone know where this Pagan Temple is!? I suppose the vampires could track Buffy’s scent, but it still doesn’t explain Caleb.
+ Angel gets whacked by Caleb and isn’t even able to move until right after Buffy slices him? Did Whedon think we wouldn’t notice that?
+ The quick remainder to Buffy’s fight with Caleb. Liked the moves and the slicing, wasn’t quite as wild about Caleb just letting it happen.
+ How does that scythe always stay so shiny? Is it mystically imbued to look like it just came off the manufacturing line?
+ Why the crappy CGI shot on the Seal? Seems unnecessary considering all the quality CGI in the episode.
* (WARNING!!! ANGEL SEASON 5 SPOILER AHEAD!!!) Buffy’s comment involving putting Angel and Spike in a room together to duke it out. Well, to all our enjoyment this actually happens in the Angel episode “Destiny” .
* (WARNING!!! ANGEL SEASON 5 SPOILER AHEAD!!!) Spike yells out from a dream “I’m drowning in footwear!” This is likely a humorous reference to the fact that Spike will end up in L.A. next. Cordelia pointed out in “Welcome to the Hellmouth” [1×01] that she’d “kill to live in L.A. That close to that many shoes?”