7.19 Empty Places
7.21 End of Days
Follow along in Bite Me!
If you’re watching Angel, this week’s episodes are:
4.19 The Magic Bullet
4.21 Peace Out
Follow along in Once Bitten.
Before we move on to this week’s episode, I said in a recent post that I would continue on with S5 of Angel for everyone who has been watching and wants a forum in which to chat with other Angel fans about the episodes. And because S5 is my favourite of the Angel seasons, I’m not going to leave you hanging. So I suggest this as the schedule:
5.2 Just Rewards
5.4 Hell Bound
5.5 Life of the Party
5.6 The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco
5.9 Harm’s Way
5.10 Soul Purpose
5.12 You’re Welcome
January 31 (aka the Emotional Rollercoaster Week!)
5.13 Why We Fight
5.14 Smile Time
5.15 A Hole in the World
5.19 Time Bomb
5.20 The Girl in Question
5.21 Power Play
5.22 Not Fade Away
As I mentioned in that post, I won’t be commenting each week because unfortunately I’ve made other commitments at the beginning of the year that prevent me from doing so, but I hope to make a comment or two and just open the floor to all of you. (And if there’s any Buffy Rewatch contributor out there reading who wanted to write anything for one of those weeks, please let me know!)
But now on to this week’s trio of episodes, containing the top moment of the season for me, and the lowest. We start with “Empty Places,” where Sunnydale clears out and leaves only our Scoobies, the Slayer, and the Potentials behind. As if Buffy weren’t lonely enough already… This is a wonderfully written episode by Drew Z. Greenberg, filled with great dialogue, lots of sight gags, and then… that ending.
Things I loved:
• Clem!! Oh Clem. This is the last time we’ll see him, and James C. Leary, who plays him, is just wonderful. I haven’t talked about him enough in this rewatch, but from the Dorito taste test to kitten poker, every scene in the series with this guy is gold. I remember several years ago being at some fan convention at a signing table, and I was seated between Harry Groener (The Mayor) and James Leary. They were lovely, and between autographs they were flipping through a copy of my book (this was the second edition with Buffy and Angel on the cover) and they flipped to the colour photos in the middle, and began snickering at the photo of David Boreanaz. “He looks like he’s in a boy band!!” they laughed. Leary just kept going on about how he couldn’t believe his name was in a book. I think the guy is brilliant, especially in this episode:
Clem: “We've seen some bad stuff in this town before but, you know, this time, it's like it just seems different, more powerful. (shakes his head) I don't think anyone's gonna be able to stop it. (catches himself) I mean, I'm sure you'll do fine. Complete confidence in you. Heh. Uh, if anyone can do it, you can, because you...rock! If you save the world, I'll come back, we'll have drinks. When! When, I mean. When you save the world. (Buffy nods) It's gonna be great with all the... rocking. Maybe... maybe you should just get out of town this time.
• The hospital scene between Willow and Xander. Every time I think of Xander losing his eye, I picture this scene, and Willow desperately trying not to cry while wringing Xander’s hand, and joking about parrots and peg-legs while Xander begs her not to cry. It breaks my heart every time. I love that this close to the end of the series, we come to the friendship that was there before anything else was.
• Anya and Andrew conducting the tutorial for the Potentials, especially Andrew writing “breakup sex” on the whiteboard, haha!
And now for the thing I don’t love: that end scene. The first time I saw it, it infuriated me. The second time, same thing. Same thing the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh… In this rewatch, many scenes have felt different to me. I’ve felt sympathy for characters who grated on me the first time through, I’ve changed my mind about certain character decisions, plot points, arcs, even entire episodes. But my feelings the first time I saw this episode have not changed. I hate all of them for doing what they did. Willow, how could you go along with it? Xander?! You’re the one who gave the speech in the previous episode about why we need to trust Buffy. She’s always saved you, you guys freakin’ pulled her out of Heaven and she forgave you and came back to save your asses AGAIN (oh yeah, I’m THAT guy in this scene, “Oh really? You want to rag on my speeches and say I effed up? YOU PULLED ME OUT OF HEAVEN, dillweed.”) and yes, she made a mistake, but she turned out to be RIGHT as we discover at the end of the next episode. You ungrateful, lousy S.O.B.s. I’ve always hated the scene of them ganging up on her in “Dead Man’s Party” and even that didn’t seem quite as bad this time around, but this? Nope. I can’t forgive a single person in the room for what they do to her. YES her speeches have been grating (honestly, I know a lot of people found them rousing but I just hated them, and I really disliked Buffy whenever she gave one because they were always overly dramatic and annoying) and yes, a lot of people were hurt and killed when you went to the winery. Caleb is terrifying and he is going to kick your asses. So yeah. Go ahead and kick out the one person who might be able to save you. I mean, who needs HER?
And BTW, while I’m on this rant, here’s my fantasy stage direction:
DAWN: I need you to leave. This is my house, too.
[Buffy punches Dawn in the throat.]
Ah. That would have helped a bit. Like, REALLY Dawn? This is your house, too? What after-school job are you working to help pay the bills? Buffy should be spending all of her time planning a way to avert the apocalypse but she’s down at the school working a full-time job on top of being a Slayer all night long (like, seriously, the writers never built SLEEP into her schedule) so she can keep all of you in cutesie pajamas and cereal. Anya? Willow? Dawn? NONE of you are working, just Buffy. So no, Dawn. No. This is NOT your house, too. SHUT UP.
OK, rant over. (I would recommend to all that this is an episode you should NOT watch with me. My poor husband has seen me freak out on the television one too many times with this one. SO ANGRY.)
OK! On to better things. Because guess what? Spike totes agrees with me. (Of course he does. He’s my boyfriend.) “Touched” is one of my favourite episodes in the final season, and this time through, despite being an Angel/Buffy shipper (yes, fine, I said it) for many, many years, every time I see this episode I’m instantly a Spuffy. Forget Angel, Buffy: SPIKE is the guy you need in your corner. He’s wonderful and amazing and sticks up for you when the rest of your Benedict Scoobies are turning their backs on you. (Sorry, there I go again.) In fact, let’s just look at that scene in all its glory:
WILLOW (walks toward Spike, wringing her hands, nervously) Uh...while you were gone, we all got together and t-talked out some disagreements that we were having. Um... and eventually, after much discussion, Buffy decided that it would be best for all of us if she took a little time off, a little breather.
SPIKE (stares in disbelief) Uh-huh. I see. Been practicing that little speech long, have you? (Willow looks hurt and walks away) So, uh, Buffy took some time off right in the middle of the apocalypse, and it was her decision?
XANDER Well, we all decided.
SPIKE Oh, yeah. You all decided. (chuckles) You sad, sad, ungrateful traitors. Who do you think you are?
WILLOW We're her friends. We just want—
SPIKE Oh, that's ballsy of you. You're her friends, and you betray her like this?
GILES You don't understand—
SPIKE You know, I think I do... (disdainfully) Rupert. You used to be the big man, didn't you? The teacher all full of wisdom. Now she's surpassed you, and you can't handle it. She has saved your lives again and again. (the others roll their eyes and avoid eye contact with Spike) She's died for you. And this is how you thank—
FAITH Hey. Why don't you take it down a notch or two? The time for speech-giving is over, bat boy.
SPIKE (crosses his arms) Oh, is that right?
FAITH Yeah, that's right. Save your lack of breath.
SPIKE (shrugs) All right. (punches Faith)
YES!!!! You Go, Spike! Pffffft on the rest of you. I hope the First finds you and eats all of you.
Ok. Breathe. Rant officially over. Let’s instead look at the other brilliant Spike speech, which for me is my favourite moment of the entire season. Buffy has hit her lowest, and she’s beginning to believe what everyone is saying about her. And then Spike comes to remind her who she really is.
SPIKE You listen to me. I've been alive a bit longer than you, and dead a lot longer than that. I've seen things you couldn't imagine, and done things I prefer you didn't. I don't exactly have a reputation for being a thinker. I follow my blood, which doesn't exactly rush in the direction of my brain. So I make a lot of mistakes, a lot of wrong bloody calls. A hundred-plus years, and there's only one thing I've ever been sure of: you… I'm not asking you for anything. When I say, "I love you," it's not because I want you or because I can't have you. It has nothing to do with me. I love what you are, what you do, how you try. I've seen your kindness and your strength. I've seen the best and the worst of you. And I understand with perfect clarity exactly what you are. You're a hell of a woman. You're the one, Buffy.
BUFFY I don't wanna be the one.
SPIKE I don't wanna be this good looking and athletic. We all have crosses to bear.
Tears!! Just reading that makes me well up. Marsters pulls it off beautifully, as does Gellar, who has to sit there and react, and she’s a master of letting that one big tear well up in her eyes for the longest time before letting it drop at exactly the right moment.
“Touched” is a brilliant episode, where Spike touches Faith’s face by punching it (hehe), and touches Buffy’s heart by telling her what she means to him. The First laments to Caleb that it’s not able to touch things, and Buffy realizes that touching is exactly what allows Caleb to get the upper hand – don’t let him touch her, and she wins.
The end, where she sees the scythe (which was introduced in Joss Whedon’s Fray comic as the weapon used by Fray, a vampire slayer from 500 years into the future), is epic.
Did I mention I ♥ Spike?
And then we come to “End of Days,” with Buffy prying the scythe out of the stone like it’s Excalibur and Anya’s terrible bedside manner with the wounded Potentials (oh yeah, I forgot to mention the ingrates got blowed up real good) and Buffy telling Xander he is her strength despite him turning on her so recently (seriously, Nikki, LET IT GO) and we finally discover what happened to Miss Kitty Fantastico (a comment I’ve always despised… NOT funny, writers) and the wheelchair fight and the Guardians… and the return of Angel.
Remember how I told you about the party I had for the S6 finale and everyone cheering and screaming when Giles showed up? When you hear, “Hey!” behind Caleb, I still remember my husband going, “YEEEAHHH!!” and leaping off the couch. I’ve NEVER seen him do that since (if you know him, you know he’s a super low-key guy). So that’s a highlight for me, just because of his reaction to it.
And now, we prepare for… the end.
The last featured guest host of the entire Rewatch (sniff… I can’t believe I’m typing that!) is Cynthea Masson, who has brought us a lot of gems throughout the rewatch with her comments on “Lie to Me,” “The Dark Age,” “Beer Bad,” “Who Are You?,” “Superstar,” “Where the Wild Things Are,” “Buffy Vs. Dracula,” “Real Me,” “The Replacement,” “Normal Again,” “Entropy,” and “Seeing Red.” I’ve always loved her insight on these episodes, and I was very touched (ah!) when I read her comments on this week’s episodes. Thank you, Cynthea. I don’t think I could have possibly gotten a better compliment than this one.
Take it away!
We are nearing our own “end of days” here at the Great Buffy Rewatch. What an extraordinary task and remarkable achievement this has been for Nikki Stafford! And what a pleasure it has been for all of us—fans and scholars who were given an opportunity through Nikki’s generosity of time and exuberance to discuss at length one of the most intellectually engaging television shows of all time. Several years ago, I told my brother I would never watch a show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer. “Buffy”—the name I had opposed—evokes a mere “girly girl,” as Caleb calls her in “End of Days” (7.21). Even the Guardian (one of the women who forged the ancient scythe), upon learning Buffy’s name, responds with “No, really” —a splendid moment in which Whedon and company remind us of our own early prejudice against the series’ title. But, as Caleb discovers, this “girly girl” can “King Arthur” ancient weaponry “from solid rock” (“End of Days”). Time and again, from “Welcome to the Hellmouth” (1.1) to “Chosen” (7.22), Buffy consistently defies expectations. The entire series certainly defied my expectations. After watching a few episodes, I became a Buffy fan; after a few seasons, I was en route to becoming a Buffy scholar. Who could have predicted a show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer would inspire dozens of academic books and hundreds of articles? Who would have predicted, eight years after the series ended, a community of Buffy fans and scholars would participate in a year-long forum for critique and discussion? Thank you to Joss Whedon and his creative team for Buffy. Thank you to Nikki Stafford and her creative team for the Rewatch. Thank you to all the contributors and to all the followers who have posted comments and responses week after week. None of us could have created the breadth of the Great Buffy Rewatch alone.
In “Empty Places” (7.19), a monk shows Spike and Andrew an inscription once hidden within the walls of the mission: “It is for her alone to wield.” For her alone—these words about the scythe and the Slayer hearken back to the beginning of the series: “Into every generation a Slayer is born. One girl in all the world. She alone will….” Alone—this word reverberates through the final episodes. In “End of Days,” Faith tells Buffy, “I’ve never felt so alone in my entire life.” She is referring to her role as leader of the Potentials, the role she assumed during Buffy’s imposed absence. As Buffy emphasizes in her response to Faith, being alone is “the price of being a Slayer”: “I guess everyone’s alone. But being a Slayer, there’s a burden we can’t share.” Buffy’s conversation with Faith may best be remembered for Faith’s clever retort (“Thank God we’re hot chicks with superpowers”). However, in view of thematic concerns of the final episodes of the series, the repeated focus on “alone” is arguably the more significant aspect of their conversation. Buffy is not alone, not really—but this is what she must come to understand. Faith’s existence as a Slayer confirms that the precept “one girl in all the world” is not, as the saying goes, written in stone. I would contend (though not in detail here because of spoiler concerns), this brief conversation between the Slayers is a critical juncture on the path leading to Buffy’s primary choice in the series’ final episode, “Chosen.” To me, the title “Chosen” refers not to Buffy as the “chosen one” but instead to the decision Buffy chooses to make despite her prescribed role. By the end of the series, Buffy challenges what she has repeatedly been told and repeatedly believed— [spoiler]:Buffy chooses not to remain alone as a Slayer.
The three episodes leading up to “Chosen” deal on various levels with the concepts of being alone and being together. “Empty Places” opens with a shot of a man adjusting the “closed” sign on a door. Vehicles are lined up; residents are slowly making their way out of Sunnydale. The Scooby gang (and their growing band of Potentials) will be left alone to conquer the hoard from the Hellmouth. While briefly alone in her office at the deserted high school, Buffy picks up a framed photo of Xander, Willow, and herself; they are several years younger and appear to be happy together. The shot of Buffy holding the picture is poignant; it epitomizes the problem that will lead to her expulsion from the group—Buffy believes she is alone; being happily together with her friends is an image within her grasp but a reality currently outside her reach. She has been friends with these people for years, yet by the end of this episode they will abandon her. Indeed, even before she is forced to leave her companions and home, Buffy complains that others are not supporting her. Having learned that Spike has been sent away, Buffy protests to Giles, “You sent away the one person that’s been watching my back—again.” Though Giles assures her, “We’re all watching your back,” Buffy responds, “Funny, that’s not really what it feels like.” Buffy feels alone, and that feeling is about to become manifest.
When everyone, including Giles, Willow, and Dawn, gang up on Buffy and challenge her leadership, Buffy replies, “I don’t understand this. For seven years, I’ve kept us safe by doing this—exactly this. Making the hard decisions. And now, what, suddenly you’re acting like you can’t trust me?” (“Empty Places”). When I first saw this episode, I agreed with Buffy completely. What are they thinking? I still find the scene difficult to watch because, for me, the decision to oust Buffy lacks any sort of logic. But I am now also willing to accept the scene on a symbolic level—that is, pushing Buffy away, forcing her to be alone in a different way than she has ever been before, helps her to begin her journey toward [spoiler]: her choice not to remain alone. “We have to be together on this, or we will fail again,” asserts Buffy (“Empty Places”). Giles responds, “We are clearly demonstrating that we are not together on this.” Buffy is right—they must be together, but first she needs to be alone in order to fully understand what it means to stand together in the final showdown.
For one thing, Buffy needs to realize that part of her loneliness stems not from the behaviour of others but from her own attitude and choices. When speaking about the Potentials to Spike (who has searched for and found Buffy alone in a stranger’s home), Buffy says, “I cut myself off from them. All of them. I knew I was gonna lose some of them, and I didn’t—You know what? I’m still making excuses. I’ve always cut myself off. I’ve always—Being the Slayer made me different. But it’s my fault I stayed that way. People are always trying to connect to me. And I just—slip away” (“Touched” 7.20). Equally as important as this admission is Buffy’s choice not to be alone on this particular night. She asks Spike to stay with her and then adds, “Will you just hold me?” In this moment Buffy reaches out for someone rather than cutting herself off once again.
Meanwhile, the concept of being “alone” is likewise emphasized with Faith. When the First visits Faith in the guise of Mayor Wilkins, he tells her, “nobody will ever love you” (“Touched”). In other words, she too will be alone. Shortly thereafter, when Robin Wood enters the room to speak with her, Faith rebuffs him at first. He responds, “I'm gonna leave you alone,” at which point she immediately admits that the First had visited her. In other words, when he offers to leave, she invites him to stay. As they talk, he sympathizes with her: “Listen, nobody wants to be alone, Faith. We all want someone who cares, to be touched that way.” The scene eventually evolves to include sexual intimacy between the two of them. Thus in both the scene with Buffy and the scene with Faith, we watch a Slayer who feels alone reach out to and be comforted by someone else. Add to this mix the sexual couplings of both Willow/Kennedy and Xander/Anya, and a focus on being alone is gradually replaced with a focus on being together.
In “End of Days,” when Buffy meets the Guardian and asks who she is, the Guardian replies, “One of many. Well—time was. Now I’m alone in the world.” This ancient woman despite surviving hundreds (thousands?) of years, dies “alone in the world.” Like the scene in which Faith and Buffy discuss being alone as Slayers, this scene presents Buffy with another opportunity to think about what it truly means to be alone. Will the Slayer, like the Guardian, die alone? Is being alone the destiny of the Slayer? Or is being alone a choice? “End of Days” provides a counterpoint to being alone through an emphasis on Buffy’s connection with others. For example, Spike confesses to Buffy, “All I did was hold you and watch you sleep, and it was the best night of my life.” “Were you there with me?” he asks her. “I was,” Buffy confirms. Xander also speaks of his connection with Buffy: “I just always thought that I would—I would be there with you, you know, for the end.” These relationships with others, emphasized through the dialogue, help Buffy to understand that, unlike the Guardian, she does not have to be alone. Next week, in “Chosen,” Buffy will make her choice—one from which we can all glean a moral lesson.
In “Empty Places,” Caleb says to Buffy, “History’s gonna look back at you, at me, at this place, and they’re gonna see the glory.” I read these as metafictional words—that is, as an expression of Whedon and company’s faith in the series rather than merely a vaunted expression of Caleb’s plans under the First. The people who look back on the Rewatch will see something that I consider glorious: an extended text that academics and non-academics chose to create together. As both a fan and a scholar, I believe we need more such projects in this world. Thank you again, Nikki Stafford, for helping us to make this choice. You did what Buffy would do.
Aw. Blushing. Thanks again, Cynthea.
Next week: We come to the finale. As I mentioned last week, next Tuesday night I’ll be posting my own thoughts on the finale and the rewatch and the entire series of Buffy. That will be followed by several guest posts, poems, haikus, videos, and artwork by many of our contributors. I’ll be rolling those out on December 28 starting at 9 a.m., one every hour at the top of the hour. You are in for some amazing treats, I can tell you. I LOVE what people have done! Unfortunately, poor Angel’s finale will get short shrift. Join us here next week for our final Buffy chat. Sniffle.