Spike isn’t the only hero of the season, of course; this is still Buffy’s show, though, during the season’s worst moments, the show tends to forget about that. Let’s remember…
Every Buffy season explores a key aspect of life and maturity befitting the title character’s age and development. In season one, Buffy tackles her calling. In season two, it’s her first love. In season three, it’s the end of childhood. In season four, it’s the awkward transition between being immature and mature. In season five, it’s the grim realities of adulthood. In season six, it’s depression and finding a reason to live. The final season is about letting go and moving into adulthood for good.
How does that play out this season? Who is the big bad that personifies that human struggle to move into adulthood? Well, in the context of Buffy, moving into adulthood means no longer carrying the burden of being “the” slayer. How that plays out is with the “potentials,” the girls who are human lottery picks, any one of which could be magically endowed with all the powers of the Slayer in the event of Buffy’s death. The big bad this year is trying to hunt them down and end the line of slayers for good. Who is it? Curiously, it’s a villain we met way back in season three’s “Amends.” In that episode, Angel was coming to grips with all the evil he committed during his season two rampage. Working against him was a non-corporeal manifestation of evil itself, called “the First.” Essentially it is the manifestation of all evil everywhere. Being disembodied, it can neither hurt nor be hurt, but it is a master manipulator and capable of taking the form of any dead person, which it uses to taunt and prod people into committing destructive acts. Throughout the final season the First takes many forms, most commonly that of Buffy herself (since she died in season one), but also Warren in order to manipulate Jonathan, as well as dead members of the potentials once Buffy starts sheltering them.
It’s maybe a hair disappointing that a show subtitled “The Vampire Slayer” doesn’t face off against a vampire as the final big bad, but by this point in the show vamps had become easily disposable fodder, no more threatening than Putties on Power Rangers. Still, we’re at least introduced to the übervamp, a particularly gnarly and superpowered version of the monster, which not coincidentally looks very similar to the “Grr Argh” monster that appears at the end of every credit roll. And in the final battle, we do face off against a horde of them, but the evil at the heart of the season is not a vampire but merely a philosophical representation of the whole concept of evil itself…
Which, now that I write that, is a pretty good idea.
One of the hardest lessons about moving to adulthood and fully leaving childhood behind is the grim reality that the problems you’re soon to face are going to be there forever. Growing up the challenges we deal with change every couple of years as we develop and mature. We go from dealing with wet diapers to nightmares to the first day of school to being bullied to hormones and puberty to the fear of leaving home and setting out; every few years it’s a totally different mountain to climb and then one day, boom, you’re an adult and forevermore it’s your 9-to-5 job, managing your health, paying taxes, the rising cost of cereal, etc. Not to get too depressing here but I can see how Joss might go from the crippling and perpetually crushing harsh realities of life and decide “the big bad to best represent that is the literal manifestation of all evil!”
How do you defeat “evil” itself? You don’t. You can’t. It’s always going to be here as long as the world is spinning. Buffy’s final shot is a triumphant one, with the heroine smiling after being asked what she’s going to do next. She’s smiling not because “evil” is destroyed. She’s smiling because she’s grown beyond having to fight evil’s many forms all the time (I know in the comics she keeps fighting, but whatever). She’s no longer the one and only end-all/be-all hero of humanity. Evil isn’t destroyed but in her last big battle, she stopped evil from winning, and now is happy to pass the torch onto the countless other potential slayers, whose powers are awakened, for them to fight evil wherever and however it may appear.
And how was such a victory pulled off? How were the potentials all able to take the power of the slayer?
Willow goes full Super Saiyan.
Perhaps my favorite thing about season seven is how it brings so much closure to everyone’s character journey…except for Xander who doesn’t have anything by way of an arc (losing an eye is not character development), and only kind of floats around offering sage wisdom (which I guess is his thing now) and running errands. The stars of the season are Buffy, Spike, and Willow.
Willow’s character begins season seven unsure how to move forward. She hit rock bottom in season six (as did everyone) and tried to fix the problem with her magic by quitting it cold turkey. That didn’t work and only led to the explosion of evil in the final arc of the season. She begins season seven trying to come to terms with the fact that she’s become, perhaps, too powerful for her own good. As the year progresses, she’s seen acting like the pensive, unconfident, meek Willow she was at the beginning of the series. It takes new character/potential Kennedy to bring her out of her shell, and though Kennedy was not (and still isn’t) a fan favorite, she serves that important storyline purpose. It maybe could have been written better in the finer details, and the acting could be a bit sketchy at times, but the idea is there and it’s a good one.
That’s a recurring theme this year: The big picture idea is a good one, but the finer points aren’t always handled with care.