Buffy The Vampire Slayer is returning… in some form. Whether it is the (second) reboot of the premise or a spin-off remains to be seen. However one thing is certain; no matter what path it takes, it has a lot to live up to. The Joss Whedon TV series starring Sarah Michelle Gellar as the titular slayer, is one of the most beloved shows of all time.
So while we wait for news on what the new Buffy The Vampire Slayer might bring, we’ve been looking at the first six seasons of that classic show and its spin-off Angel. This time, we look at Buffy’s final season, the year that the First Evil emerged to destroy the world, Buffy faced uber vamps, and recruited an army of potential Slayers. Willow adjusted to her days post dark Willow and the death of Tara and Spike gained a soul. It was the season in which Buffy returned to the newly rebuilt Sunnydale High and met Principal Robin wood, son of the dead slayer Nikki that Spike killed.
There was certainly a feeling of the show entering its end game and indeed the finale ‘Chosen’ literally ended with Sunnydale destroyed in a final apocalyptic battle. There is a lot of contention over the final season; it started strong with more fun and humour than its season six days but with Sarah Michelle Gellar stating that season seven would be her last, the focus on entertaining character episodes seemed to give way to a long-running story arc focusing on the potential slayers, none of which were engaging as the core cast, who seemed a bit side-lined at times.
Before we head into the top five episodes, I also need to make a special reference to the closing scene of opening season seven episode ‘Lessons’ as the First appeared to Spike, transforming from one big bad to another. Warren, Glory, Adam, the Mayor, Drusilla and the Master. Just think how great it would have been if this hadn’t been their only appearance
But enough about one of my favourite moments of Buffy The Vampire Slayer‘s history. Let’s get down to the top five (and one worst) episodes of its seventh and final season…
In season five, Spike got an origin tale in ‘Fool For Love’ with flashbacks telling his story from human to vampire and killer of two Slayers. Buffy The Vampire Slayer attempts to recreate the magic with ‘Selfless’ a story that tells the story of Anya – from human to vengeance demon and back to human again. After the events of season six, which saw her jilted by Xander and returning to her demon ways, season seven has dealt with her increasingly dark behaviour. She already created a demon out of a ‘client’s’ ex-boyfriend in ‘Beneath You’ and things gets increasingly worse when she creates a spider demon to slaughter a whole fraternity, just to prove herself to boss D’Hoffryn. It’s a path that Buffy can no longer tolerate, putting her at heads with her former ally and friend.
The beauty of this episode is that it actually makes Anya a sympathetic character despite her actions. She has lost the man she loves, Xander, and her ties to Buffy and co. have seen her punished by D’Hoffryn. It’s also a lot of fun, the flashbacks presenting her as enterprising Scandinavian housewife who transforms husband Olaf into a troll after he cheats on her and then proceeds to live a life of vengeance; the scene in the Napoleonic Wars with fellow vengeance demon Halfrek is a lot of fun though it would have been great to have had more of these. There’s also a wonderful throwback to season six’s ‘Once More With Feeling’ and an entirely new song that shows her at her happiest in her wedding dress before cutting back to the harsh reality of her battle with Buffy, impaled on a sword.
It’s a bittersweet episode, resulting in Anya returning to humanity. Sadly the focus on the potentials in the rest of the season means she is one main character that suffers with a lack of focus or screen time. But what a great character-centric episode to go out on.
7×07 Conversations With Dead People
This is the traditional debut of the season big bad episode with a twist. It is often touted as the best episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer‘s final season and it’s not hard to see why as Buffy, Willow and Dawn are visited by dead people – be it a vampire, a ghost or the spectre of Joyce – as the First Evil makes its first move.
Buffy’s conversation with former school friend turned vampire Holden (Jonathan M. Woodward) is rather pleasant, catching up on school days and reflecting on how far they have come. It makes their eventual fight and his dusting all the more tragic. Willow meanwhile encounters the ghost of recently dead character Cassie (Azura Skye) who comes bearing a message from Tara, telling her to kill herself. It’s a rather disturbing act, the First Evil attempts to convince a powerful magical enemy to commit suicide in order to take her out. The original plan was to have Amber Benson reprise her role, but understandably she felt it would diminish the character of Tara. The final storyline is perhaps the most disturbing though; dawn finds herself in the midst of a horror movie as she experience visions of her mother tortured by a demon.
The final messages from the dead people, warning of the darkness is a incredibly unsettling set up for the Big Bad. Sadly, like the former big bad cameos in ‘Lessons’ the execution didn’t quite measure up to the set-up.
Tom Lenk’s Andrew takes centre stage in the magical late season seven episode that adds some well needed humour before the final push of apocalyptic episodes. There is a great breaking of the fourth wall as it opens with Andrew in a wing backed chair and smoking jacket, greeting the audience with tales of the vampyr, before cutting his attempts to complete a video documentary on the Slayer, her allies, the potentials and the First Evil.
Jane Espenson’s penultimate script for the show is full of witty and funny moments; Andrew mouthing Xander’s words as he reviews a captured conversation with former love Anya, the heavy, adoring focus on Spike and the bolder, silly moments like Buffy with her wind blowing behind her like a shampoo commercial as she pours cereal. But there is also a deeply emotional core to the episode too as Buffy lures Andrew down to the Hellmouth opening. His tears as he breaks down over killing Jonathan, preparing for death at the hands of the slayer, is heart-breaking. The reveal that it is those tears that will seal it is a lovely moment of redemption for a character that started season six as a desperately geeky big-bad wannabe.
7×18 Dirty Girls
‘Dirty Girls’ kicks off the final five episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer in style with the return of Faith and the debut of Nathan Fillion (crossing over from Joss Whedon’s recently cancelled Firefly) as evil priest Caleb, disciple of the First Evil. He certainly makes an impression and there is a sense that season seven would have been improved had be appeared earlier; he’s a self righteous preacher with a dark streak and powers to kick Buffy’s arse. Faith meanwhile, having aided Angel is season four of Angel, adds some real strength to the good guys as Buffy and her embark on a strained alliance, not seen since the early days of season three. And the misconstrued ‘Storyteller’ call back as Andrew tells the potentials how she fought and killed a Vulcan was hilarious.
Caleb really gives the First Evil a proper presence on the show. Interacting with his master wearing the guise of Buffy, these conversations are fascinating in themselves. It’s also the episode that adds some momentum as Buffy takes the fight to the First Evil after learning of his secret vineyard lair. The battle at the climax of the episode is shocking, brutal and what puts this episode on the list. Even with Faith at her side, the good guys are beaten; Caleb kills a potential with his bare hands, breaks the arm of another and then in perhaps one of the most jaw dropping moments of the season, plucks out Xander’s eye. It’s a cruel blow, ending the episode on a tragic note.
7×22 – Chosen
Ending that five episode run is ‘Chosen’, the finale of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. It might not quite reach the heights of the other potential finale – season five‘s ‘The Gift’ – but it comes close. It’s a bold, dramatic climax to the battle with the First Evil as Buffy leads her army directly into the Hellmouth to save the world once more.
The episode kicks off with the final epilogue on Buffy and Angel’s on screen relationship. Having appeared in the closing scene of the previous episode to aid her, Buffy takes down Caleb with her new scythe once and for all and then, one last passionate kiss later, shares her cookie dough analogy with her former love. She isn’t ready for love, proper love yet and yet for all those Buffy and Angel shippers out there, there is hope that maybe one day they might be together. What then follows is the final preparations for war an the biggest twist of all to come. The scenes in the abandoned High School as Buffy, Willow, Xander and Giles talk about what they might do next is a wonderful call back to the closing moments of season one’s ‘The Harvest’ and Giles’ “the earth is still doomed” is a perfect bittersweet line.
The battle in the Hellmouth is suitably epic, Buffy and Faith leading the potentials into battle, even if the Turok-Han should probably have wiped them out before Willow’s spell was activated. The music is genuinely awe-inspiring, the battle brutal and thrilling, and the spell to activate all the potential’s power across the world is a fantastic twist that turns the tide. Spike dying as the amulet tears through the Hellmouth is another heroic moment (even if it was a little undone by Angel season five). Sunnydale is destroyed as the heroes makes their final escape mostly unscathed (aside from Spike, Anya is killed in a shockingly quick, brutal fight). The final shot of Buffy and her friends, looking out over the crater that was Sunnydale, a small, tired smile on the Slayer’s face is a lovely final shot, closing off a terrific seven years of one of the greatest television shows of all time.
As for the worst episode? The trouble with Buffy The Vampire Slayer‘s final season is that the potentials and First Evil took over the show for much of its run, sacrificing other potentially great stories with our favourite characters. There wasn’t really a bad episode in the season, but there is one that epitomises all that didn’t work in season seven…
7×12 – Potential
The name says it all. As season seven moves into its second half, there is an episode that suggests that Dawn is a potential slayer herself. It seems a little ridiculous, considering she was already the Key (though maybe sharing Buffy’s blood might have added a little credibility). But rather than adding any real drama, it just comes across as dull and tired. the sub plot of Buffy training potentials also feels somewhat arduous, considering that there isn’t really an engaging character in the bunch (sorry Kennedy). And coming off the back of Buffy’s dramatic fight with the Turok-Han, it’s an episode that lacks the momentum to drive the season forward.
That concludes our look back at the best of each season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, though we still have two more seasons of Angel to cover before we conclude the top five episodes of every season of the Buffyverse.