20 Years Later, Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Series Finale Is Still One of the Few to Get It RightPhoto Courtesy of 20th Television TV Features Buffy the Vampire Slayer
This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s series finale, titled “Chosen.” In celebration, Paste is looking back on the episode itself, the series as a whole (in both episodic and season rankings), and the characters that defined it. And for more Buffy, look no further than our past musings on one of the greatest supernatural TV shows of all time.
What do you think we should do, Buffy?
Yeah, you’re not the one and only Chosen anymore—you just gotta live like a person, how’s that feel?
Yeah, Buffy, what are we gonna do now?
Buffy looks at them, looks back at the crater, and we are in full close-up as she considers the question, a small smile creeping onto her lips as she decides on her answer.
END OF SHOW.
20 years ago, Buffy the Vampire Slayer came to an end with its series finale titled “Chosen.” After 144 episodes across two different networks, its long-lasting legacy in both our hearts and in pop culture is a testament to not only the series at large, but its pitch-perfect finale, which manages to capture the essence of the show at both its largest and smallest scale, as well as provide the perfect final chapter for our titular heroine and her friends.
One of the best parts about the final episode of Season 7 is the fact that it almost wasn’t made at all. At the end of the fifth season of Buffy, contract negotiations between the Buffy team and The WB stalled, leaving the Season 5 finale as the potential series finale if it were unable to find a new home. However, the early aught’s biggest supernatural teen hit wouldn’t be dead for long when rival network UPN ordered two seasons of the show, ultimately reviving the series—and Buffy herself. Some Buffy purists will say that the Season 5 finale should have been the series finale, that Buffy’s sacrifice to save Dawn (and the rest of the world) should have been her final grand gesture, and that the closing shot (a close up of Buffy’s headstone that read: “She saved the world. A lot.”) would have been the perfect way to end the series. But if that were the series’ true end, Buffy the Vampire Slayer likely would not still be as revered as it is today.
At its core, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is about a girl who never asked to be the Chosen One, never truly wanted the weight of the world on her shoulders, but bore that weight every single time because she knew it was the right thing to do—and knew she was the only one who could. Going all the way back to the Season 1 finale, Buffy tells Giles that she doesn’t want to die, that she’s only 16 and has so much to live for, but she follows through with her foretold mission because no one else could have done it. If the series had truly ended with Season 5, then that young girl would have just been another cog in the Slayer Council’s machine, another sub-25 year-old woman taken from the world before she could ever really live in it. Buffy would have left the world the way she found it—another Slayer would have been called (after Faith’s death of course, but who knows how long the Council would have let her live in prison as the only thing standing between them and a new 16 year-old they could manipulate), and the cycle of violence and exploitation of young women would have continued into perpetuity.
Instead, Season 7’s finale offers the perfect reprieve for a woman that we have watched shoulder the weight of the world for seven years, finally allowing Buffy to not be the Chosen One that she loathed being; now there are hundreds of Slayers, if not thousands to share the burden of protecting the world from the things that go bump in the night. Faith’s comment about Buffy not being “the one and only Chosen anymore” comes off like a teasing barb from an old nemesis-turned-friend, but that statement visibly makes Buffy’s shoulders sag just a little. Just enough that the smile she offers in the very final moments of the series has an obvious meaning: Buffy isn’t the one girl in all the world anymore, and she’s thrilled about it. Season 7’s ending sends a hopeful message about duty and burden, and how the weight that almost crushed Buffy multiple times throughout the course of the series is now bearable when shouldered by many people all at once. It speaks to the strength and power of friendships and human connection, and how we are all stronger when we work together. Of course, the strength Willow siphons from the scythe and into the potential Slayers is magical, but the metaphorical power these women gain from banding together and having each other’s backs is what creates the empowerment felt throughout the finale.
While the series leaves Buffy and her friends on that California highway, staring at the smoking crater of Sunnydale and questioning what to do next, the series and the audience both understand that Buffy’s work didn’t finish when the show did. The comic continuations, which find Buffy and friends starting up a Slayer academy in Scotland and continuing to deal with apocalypse after apocalypse for five more “seasons,” solidify that Buffy’s work was never done in a post-“Chosen” world, but now she just doesn’t have to do that work alone. In contrast to the scared girl afraid of dying at just 16, Buffy at the end of the series does enjoy being a Slayer and being a hero, now that her friends are no longer looking at her as if she’s the only answer to all their problems.
Aside from the ways in which “Chosen” honors and reinforces the legacy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it also encapsulates everything there was to ever love about the show. Yes, there are thrilling fights, over the top explosions, and heart-pounding stakes, but the best moments of the finale are its quietest. Angel and Buffy have a heart-to-heart, Dawn tells Buffy that she won’t hear any goodbyes because she believes they will see each other again, even Anya and Andrew continue to bond as they approach the end of the world. While it is satisfying to watch Buffy swing her bright red scythe around, taking the heads off of vampires left and right, Buffy will always boil down to the relationships between the characters, which all shine in various moments throughout the series finale.
While the episode is not entirely perfect (both Spike and Anya share the same brutal fate of being “redeemed” through death, which is lazy when you do it once, not to mention twice in the same episode), it still manages to create the perfect bookend for the series. It’s difficult to end a show, take it from the many that have tried and failed to satisfy its story and its fanbase over the years, but Buffy’s ending understands the basics needed to truly get it right. At the end of the big, epic fight, there are still many stories left to tell, but we don’t need to see those stories told on screen. In the aftermath of Buffy’s defeat of the First, with her friends around her and thousands of Slayers awakening around the globe, Dawn’s question to Buffy about what their next move will be is strikingly rhetorical for the audience. We don’t need to know the answer; Buffy will continue to fight for the good of the world, like she’s always done, and the closure comes from knowing she won’t be alone in doing so. No matter where the Scoobies go from that California highway—whether it be the Cleveland Hellmouth, a Slayer school in Scotland, or simply on a cross-country roadtrip in whatever post-canon AU your mind can conjure—they will always be together, and that’s all that truly matters.
20 years later, Buffy’s decision to offer kindness to its central heroine persists in the memories of those that watched it, allowing it to live on for as long as it has. While Buffy herself spent most of the series suffering in various ways, she’s rewarded for her pain through her happy ending, making all the heartache and headache worth it in the end. Because even though the town she once called home is now a smoking crater—leaving her childhood home, her mother’s grave, and every memory-ridden building and city block ashes and rubble—Buffy still survived, and she gets to show Dawn the world that they just saved, together and surrounded by those they love. For a show about a girl who never wanted the weight of the world on her shoulders, I can’t imagine a better send-off, and as a fan of the series, it’s all I could have ever asked for.
Anna Govert is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Indiana. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and the wonderful insanity of Riverdale, you can follow her @annagovert.
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