It’s not easy for me to pick which episode of Buffy will go in the #2 spot. I reserve my #1 spot for the episode I can watch multiple times and still love no matter what. The #2 spot goes to my favorite season finale. Joss Whedon is amazing at making finales and all the finales to Buffy were great. “Prophecy Girl” was the big finish to a less-than-stellar first season. “Becoming Part 2” is #3 on my list for being the first episode that got me crying over the show. The “Graduation” 2-parter in Season 3 is the most solid season finale. “Restless” is the best absurd theater ever. “Grave” was just a big sigh of relief after the roller-coaster that was Season 6 and still left me crying in the end. And “Chosen” was a contender for this spot because of one majorly awesome moment that changed my life forever.
But the reason I picked “The Gift” over the other finales is because in spite of how it ends, I felt like everyone was at their best in this particular episode. Everyone felt in-character and I actually believed in a good future for everyone if one thing didn’t happen. But that’s stuff I’ll save for fanfiction.
MAJOR SPOILERS ENSUE! IF YOU HAVE NOT FINISHED SEASON 5, STOP RIGHT NOW! Also, Buffy fans, you’re gonna need tissues for this one.
The episode starts out with a breathtaking 38-second recap of literally everything that has happened in the last five seasons before cutting to a shot of someone running down an alleyway. Joss Whedon said that the idea for Buffy was inspired by the thought of “what if the blonde girl who always ran away from the monsters only to get killed actually kicked the monster’s ass instead?” This opening scene shows a young boy running down an alleyway from a vampire, turning the tables on that classic horror movie trope. Then Buffy comes in with a nice opening snark and proceeds to kick the vampire’s ass and stakes him without too much of a struggle. Buffy’s actually surprised that the vampire didn’t recognize her as the Slayer and starts leaving. The boy is surprised that she was able to beat that vampire, saying “You’re just a girl.”
I should tell you right now that the Season 5 opening credits in this episode are my favorite. The only thing missing was a credit for Amber Benson. And no, her opening credit in a particular Season 6 episode does not count!
Buffy returns to the Magic Box. Everyone is figuring out how to stop Glory from using Dawn, Buffy’s little sister, a ritual that would literally unleash Hell on earth. Dawn has the power to open up the portal to Glory’s hell dimension and her blood is what opens the portal. It would take Dawn’s death to close the opening and stop Glory’s hell dimension from bleeding over into Buffy’s world. Xander asks why the ritual has to involve blood. Spike, ever the street-smart one, says that it’s always blood because blood is life.
Buffy does not want to deal with the concept of killing her sister to save the world, even if Dawn isn’t actually her sister. Buffy points out that Dawn is a part of her because the monks created Dawn out of her. Giles reminds Buffy that if the ritual is complete, Glory’s hell dimension will bleed into Buffy’s world and that everyone will die. But Buffy, in spite of the fact that she loves everyone, loves Dawn so much that she doesn’t want to kill her.
Anya decides that they need to stop Glory before the ritual and Spike asks Buffy “When you say you love us all-” only for Giles and Xander to tell him to shut up. It’s a relieving moment in a majorly serious episode.
Xander contemplates killing Ben, but since Ben and Glory share a body, it’s highly unlikely that he’ll come around. In my honest opinion, Ben was never actually human. He was just a “host body” for Glory in the same way Professor Quirrel was the host body for Voldemort. The Scoobies decide that since the ritual needs to take place at a certain allotted time, Buffy can stall for time. Anya remembers the Dagon Sphere to make Glory weak and points out that they have a troll hammer that Buffy thankfully can wield. (In my honest opinion, I wish that the hammer was Mjolinir but that’s just the Avengers fangirl in me.) When they start wondering about how to find Glory, Tara, whose mind has been damaged from Glory stealing her memories, starts crying out about the “big day.”
Over in the bad guy’s hideout, Ben gives Dawn a dress for the ritual. Dawn snarks at him and asks for Glory to come around. And since we’re talking about the Big Bad of Season 5, allow me to use this scene to gush about how awesome Clare Kramer is as an actress for making Glory my favorite Big Bad. Glory knows exactly what she wants and doesn’t care about unleashing Hell in order to get it. She’s hilarious and a total knockout when it comes to looks. She’s basically like a Bond villain only with super strength. You’d be surprised to find out that in real life, Clare Kramer is the nicest lady there is. I actually got to meet her in Comicpalooza and told her about how much I loved the show.
The next scene in this episode finds Buffy taking her frustrations out on a punching bag. She punches the bag off the chain in a scene that Joss will later use for Captain America in Avengers when Giles tells her that stopping Glory is a matter of waiting for the right moment to strike. Giles says that sometimes saving the world comes at the cost of doing something bad, but Buffy refuses to consider it. The two of them sit down on a couch and think things over.
Then Buffy breaks out into a heartbreaking monologue about how the burden of saving the world is taking its toll on her. She doesn’t want to save the world if it means losing everything that she loves. She laments about how the First Slayer, a spirit guide seen in a previous episode, told her that death was her gift and says that if Dawn dies, she won’t be the Slayer anymore.
Dawn changes into the dress that Glory picked out for the ritual and gets taken by Glory’s minions to a tall tower overlooking a construction site.
Back in the Magic Box, Xander and Anya are down in the basement, dressing up after having sex with each other. Xander finds the Buffybot while Anya looks around the basement for the Dagon Sphere. She finds a stuffed bunny instead and freaks out, since she has major bunny phobia. Xander comforts Anya, who tells him that before, she would run away whenever an apocalypse was coming around but since she’s a human and not a vengeance demon, she actually cares for Xander and wants to help save the world. This prompts Xander to propose to her. Anya rightfully thinks that he’s proposing just because the world is gonna end and Xander won’t go through with it. Xander insists that he’s proposing because he believes that the world won’t end and he wants to spend the rest of his life with her. Anya accepts on the condition that she gets the ring “if the world doesn’t end.” It’s at this point that I cry out “We could’ve had it all!” from Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” Screw you Season 6!
Buffy goes to Willow and asks her if she is ready to help. Willow is the only one, at this point, that was able to hurt Glory with the power of her magic. Willow is more focused on helping Tara and thinks that if she can reverse what Glory did and get Tara’s memories back, it could weaken Glory. Willow is at her best in Season 5, in my honest opinion. She uses her magic to help others instead of using it as a quick fix to solve her problems. I have to give Amber Benson major cred for her performance in this episode because it’s not easy to act insane.
Buffy takes Spike to her house. It should be noted, by the way, that at this point, Buffy has disinvited Spike from her house. So when she tells Spike to come in, it’s a majorly important thing. Buffy tells Spike to protect Dawn and Spike promises “til the end of the world.”
Buffy goes up the stairs, but stops when Spike tells her that he understands that Buffy will never love him. (He’ll be proven wrong about that later.) He understands that he’s a monster, but Buffy treats him like a man. Which is surprisingly true. It’s one of the best Spuffy moments in the whole series. And yes, I am screaming at Buffy to kiss him at this point.
As Dawn gets tied up at the top of the tower, the Scoobies assemble at the Magic Box. Willow tells Tara to lead the way. Buffy tells everyone that the mission is to stop the ritual from happening or else she’ll kill anyone who gets near Dawn. Giles and Spike leave quoting the St. Crispin’s Day speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V, only Spike says “we band of buggered” instead of “band of brothers.”
Tara leads the Scoobies to the construction site and there’s a small funny moment when Willow says she needs courage and Spike offers his flask. It’s at this point that I realize that Spike has officially become part of the team, however reluctant an ally he is. It totally sucks at how everyone’s gonna treat him in the next season.
When Glory finds Tara wandering onto the site, Willow comes in and performs the spell that helps Tara regain her memories. Glory starts feeling weak and needs a brain to eat. She finds Buffy standing and snarking at her.
Buffy throws the Dagon Sphere at Glory, who crushes it in her hands. Buffy proceeds to kick Glory’s ass even as her minions pun about this being their day of glory and the other Scoobies proceed to fight off the minions. Willow goes to check on Tara and the two of them have a beautiful exchange.
Who knew those words would be later used between Snow White and Prince Charming in Once Upon a Time?
Glory starts to get the upper hand and kicks Buffy’s head off. It’s at this point that we realize that the Buffy that Glory was fighting was actually the Buffybot. Then the real Buffy appears and hammers Glory Super Smash Bros style. (Incidentally, Clare Kramer has said that ” Did everybody else know the Slayer was a robot?” is her favorite line.)
Dawn starts screaming for Buffy, so Buffy goes up the tower, with Glory following after her. I seriously love the fight scene in the tower because it’s different from all the other major fights in the series. It’s a a close-quarters brawl that really takes advantage of the tower setting, much like Hawkeye and Black Widow’s fight in Avengers. Unfortunately, Buffy and Glory get knocked off of the tower and Buffy loses her hammer.
Thankfully, Xander comes in with a wrecking ball that pummels Glory down.
The Scoobies are cornered by Glory’s minions. Up on the tower, Dawn sees Doc, who once helped her acquire a magic spell in a previous episode. It turns out, however, that he’s one of Glory’s minions. Spike notices that someone is up there with Dawn. Willow communicates with Spike telepathically to go to Dawn and uses her magic to push Glory’s minions aside psychically. Spike confronts the Doc and the battle is unfortunately one-sided in the Doc’s favor. This is a usage of a trope called “The Worf Effect” in which a character who would usually have the upper hand in a situation is suddenly made weak for the sake of drama. Doc takes note that Spike doesn’t even have a soul and asks why the bleach blonde vampire even cares. To which Spike replies:
How can you say that Spike can’t love without a soul when you have something like that?! Seriously, it just proves my theory that the “soul” is just a lack of conscience and vampires are really just humans with majorly corrupted souls. Spike is selflessly putting himself out there to protect Dawn and all out of love for Dawn as well as for Buffy. Unfortunately, the Worf Effect gives Doc the upper hand and pushes Spike off the tower.
Buffy hammers Glory so much that she reverts back to Ben. Buffy tells Ben to get out of town or else. Then Giles comes in.
Take a note that Giles isn’t wearing his glasses. The show points out in an episode that Giles has a habit of taking off his glasses when he doesn’t want to actually acknowledge the reality in front of him. However, he chooses to put on his glasses as he smothers Ben and kills him.
As the Doc cuts Dawn open, Buffy pushes Doc off the tower and Dawn starts bleeding, causing the portal to open. Dear God, I wish this didn’t happen. Glory is dead. Dawn’s blood shouldn’t have caused the portal to open. But it did anyway. Everyone braces for the end of the world.
Dawn prepares to jump off the tower, but Buffy stops her. Dawn knows that she dies if she makes that jump, but the portal will only close with her blood. It’s at this moment that Buffy realizes that her blood and Dawn’s are the same and remembers what the First Slayer told her.
As the sun rises, Buffy realizes what she needs to do. She turns to Dawn and tells her something we don’t get to hear until the end of the episode. She gives Dawn a loving kiss and runs to make a swan dive off the tower.
Buffy’s death is shown as a struggle, followed by a sigh of relief as the magic of the portal kills her.
Everyone gathers around Buffy’s dead body. We see Buffy with a look of peace on her face. Spike cries genuine tears over her death as do the rest of the Scoobies and everyone watching this episode.
The last shot of the episode is of Buffy’s tombstone.
Throughout this final scene, we hear Buffy’s last words to Dawn:
Dawn listen to me. Listen. I love you. I’ll always love you. But this is the work I have to do. Tell Giles I… I figured it out. And I’m okay. Give my love to my friends. You have to take care of them now — you have to take care of each other. You have to be strong. Dawn. The hardest thing in this world is to live in it. Be brave. Live. For me.
Now this is where I dive into my own personal speculations with the show.
I never thought that death was Buffy’s gift. It’s the gift of every other Slayer, yes, but the show has gone out of its way to show that Buffy lived longer than every other Slayer because she had friends, family, and a semblance of a normal life. She had things to live for and her will to live outweighed the usual Slayer death wish.
If you asked me what I thought Buffy’s real gift was, it’s love. It’s Buffy’s love that drives her to protect the world from evil. Buffy’s motivations throughout every single season were based on some kind of love, even if she was unaware of it. It was Buffy’s desire to live and accepting her role as the Slayer that gave her the upper hand in “Prophecy Girl.” Buffy loved Angel enough to let him go in the Season 2 finale, even though it crushed her. It was Buffy’s love for Angel that motivated her into fighting Faith. Once Angel’s life was saved, Buffy’s love for the world pushed her into taking down the Mayor in Graduation, Part Two. It was the combined love of the Scoobies that helped Buffy take down the Initiative in Season 4. Even though Buffy didn’t take down the Season 6 Big Bad, Xander’s love was a major factor in helping to save the world and Spike loved Buffy so much that he sought out his soul for her. In the Season 7 finale, it was Buffy’s love for the potentials that gave her the idea to share her powers with every girl in the world.
Buffy can’t ever be a normal girl but she can’t be a killing machine, either. It’s when Buffy embraces being a Slayer and being a normal girl that she is at her best. It’s Buffy’s love for Dawn that drives her to sacrifice herself, even if it has majorly bad consequences in the next season.
So yeah. As much as I’d love to fanfic the heck out of this episode and make it so that Buffy doesn’t have to die in the end, I still love “The Gift.” It shows everybody at their best and, in spite of Buffy’s death, still left me feeling hopeful.
Because Buffy was right. Life is hard. Just living day to day can be the hardest thing to do because we live in a broken world. And yet, through grace, we are given the gift to find the beauty within this broken world. Through grace, we are given the courage to try and make the world a better place.
Joshua 1:9 says “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed.”
Be brave. Live.