’End’ is near for ’Buffy,’ one of TV’s best
By Ted Cox
vendredi 16 mai 2003, par Webmaster
When "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" debuted six years ago, even its fiercest defenders - and I’ve always considered myself one of them - wouldn’t have dared suggest it would wind up one of the best dramas in TV history.
Yet, when "Buffy" ends its seven-season run, at 7 p.m. next Tuesday on WPWR Channel 50, the show will enter the TV pantheon - at least in the opinion of your friendly neighborhood TV critic.
Some might continue to scoff at the very idea of a teen horror series attaining the level of high art, but allow me to insist that those who have pooh-poohed it have missed the best, the most powerful and the most sustained coming-of-age allegory TV has ever produced.
Strip away the surface violence and the vampires and what you have is the story of a young woman coming to terms with her immense powers, a tale of guilt and redemption, freedom and responsibility, friendship and love vs. evil and death - in short, the very issues all young adults have to deal with at some point.
"Buffy," creator Joss Whedon and co-producer Marti Noxon have achieved all this with a playful, postmodern, self-referential wit, a brutal and often uncompromising flair for drama, an unerring sense of the zeitgeist and a willingness to deal in poignant emotions while resisting sentimentality.
All these qualities are on display in tonight’s penultimate episode, "End of Days," likewise airing at 7 p.m. on Channel 50. Yet, having seen it - and, no, I haven’t seen next week’s closely guarded finale ; no one has outside the show’s inner circle - I have to insist that this is not the time for neophytes and naysayers to jump on the "Buffy" bandwagon and discover what all the fuss is about.
The show’s usually nimble way with a story - confronting demons and other forms of disaster, yet always finding a way to return (almost) everyone to solid ground at the end of the hour - has been abandoned out of necessity. "End of Days" finds the series hurrying pell-mell toward what Whedon has envisioned for the end. (He wrote and directed next week’s concluding "Chosen.")
What’s more, after last year’s tip-top sixth season, the series has suffered quite a bit in quality, staggering at times toward the finish after title star Sarah Michelle Gellar announced she was leaving. There has been a halfhearted search for a replacement, centering on the apprentice Buffies who populate the corners of tonight’s episode, and they’ve never figured out what to do with Buffy’s sister, Dawn, played by Michelle Trachtenberg.
So it’s no time for newcomers (they should wait for the DVDs). Yet the show’s faithful fans will find that all the characters are being placed in position for a dramatic and stirring conclusion.
Tonight, in a bow to the running theme of female empowerment, Buffy attains a weapon willed to her by a mystical group calling themselves "Guardians - women who want to help and protect you." Along the way, the show indulges in some of its trademark self-deprecating wit.
"What’s your name ?" says an apparent goddess.
"Buffy," she replies.
"No, really," responds the disbelieving vision.
Yet Buffy’s running mate, Alyson Hannigan’s witch Willow, continues to doubt her ability to control her own powers - having almost destroyed the world in a vengeful fit of pique at the end of last season.
Anthony Stewart Head’s Giles, the series’ constant counselor, tries to coax her into action, knowing she’ll be needed in the titanic upcoming tilt with "The First," short for "the first evil," this season’s villain of villains.
Having lost an eye in a recent conflagration, Nicholas Brendon’s Xander ambles around in an eye patch looking like Basil St. John of "Brenda Starr." Yet, as ever, he remains a critical player. (It was Xander who single-handedly turned Willow from the brink of destruction.)
"You’re my strength, Xander," Buffy says. "You’re the reason I made it this far."
Eliza Dushku’s competing slayer Faith gets bumped aside in an explosive opening. Emma Caulfield continues to supply a winsome comic relief as the reformed vengeance demon Anya. She is an example of Whedon and Noxon’s inventive ability to replenish "the Scooby Gang," Buffy’s close-knit group of friends and helpers, which gets its name from the mystery-solving quintet in "Scooby-Doo." (They haven’t been without their missteps, witness Tom Lenk’s wimpy Andrew.)
Nathan Fillion, rescued from Whedon’s outer-space Fox flop "Firefly," returns as Caleb, the epitome of the show’s ornery and confrontational satire. (Dressed in priestly garb and misquoting the Bible for his own ends, he has already called down the ire of Brent Bozell’s arch-conservative Parents Television Council.)
Last but not least, there is also James Marsters’ Spike, the latest in a series of nice vampires - bad guys fighting to be good. He has served as the fulcrum of the series this season, as most of the Scoobies insisted he be killed, but Buffy maintained her belief in his ultimate redemption. Tonight’s ending puts Spike again at the pivot point, combined with the arrival of a secret guest star who will be no secret to fans who can almost set their watches to the time of his return.
What beckons next week ? Whedon could go for full tragedy. He could set the series down on a happy ending with Buffy, who "saved the world - a lot," according to the epitaph on an earlier tombstone, doing it one more time. She could die and yet be redeemed by the Guardians - the "Oedipus at Colonus" transcendence of tragedy. She could wake up in an insane asylum with all seven seasons a product of her imagination - a finale the series first posited last year.
Whatever happens, "Buffy" has already sealed its place in the pantheon. I can think of few dramas that have been more consistent ("The Sopranos"), a few more that have been as emotionally powerful ("Northern Exposure," "Hill Street Blues"), a few more than have been as daring ("The X-Files," "The Twilight Zone") and none that has been better at creating its own universe, staying true to its tenets and yet applying its stories to real-world concerns.
Most viewers won’t know what they’ve missed until it’s gone.
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