Buffy Season Five: A Feminist Perspective

We move now onto what was once dubbed "The WB Series Finale" of Buffy. On her final year on the network that launched her, Buffy Summers faces her mother's death, what it means to be The Slayer, and gives the ultimate sacrifice for her sister.

Buffy Season Five Feminist Perspective

                This is where personal bias comes in hugely, but I’ll try and make a case for why this is the best season for Buffy’s character and Buffy as a feminist icon here as best I can, with my rose-colored glasses off. Let me say that the best plot arc of the series is from season two’s Surprise to the season three finale Graduation, Day Part Two. There’s something so taut and well-paced about those eighteen months from Angelus emerging to graduation and Angel leaving for Los Angeles that I’ve still not seen reflected in anything else in the Whedonverse (including the shorter lived Dollhouse and Firefly). That arc just works for everyone and it works well. That said, for Buffy Summers as a character, season five is her best arc.  I should add that my relationship preference has always been for Buffy and Spike, and that unlike many fans, I really do like Dawn and thought adding her to season five was a great call.

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                Now that those things are out of the way, this season is pitch perfect to me and should have been the series’ finale. I say this because of several reasons. First, every other year in this series has focused on Buffy and her relationship to a romantic love interest (Angel in the early seasons, Riley in season four, and Spike afterwards). In season five, unique among any other, as Whedon has said, Dawn is Buffy’s love interest. She goes from first thinking like an annoyed older sister (Good one monks!) to someone suspicious of the new being thrust into her life to single mother and, ultimately, to sacrifice, by blood no less, so that her child can live. Buffy’s always been a hero on a macro scale. In this season, however, protecting innocent life becomes more than just the “world” as a general entity or even her friends, it becomes completely personal and to her own flesh (as Dawn was created from Buffy herself). Second, feeding into the idea of Buffy-as-Mother, we also have the loss of Joyce Summers. Oddly, Joyce wasn’t seen very much in season four, which fit with college life theme anyway, but the entire Scooby Gang felt her loss as a mother figure sharply in season five.  Again, with Joyce’s loss came the impetus for Buffy to step up into adulthood and assume motherly responsibilities fully.

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                Furthering her journey into adulthood and into independence comes a pivotal episode and the midpoint of the season, Checkpoint.  Buffy first goes through all the rigors of the Watchers’ Council tests, the questioning of her unorthodox methodology, the flat out condescension through the bulk of the episode until the final verdict session where she realizes she has the control in this situation, where the Council exists to serve her and not the other way around. Thusly, Buffy fires the Council itself, quipping:

“You're Watchers. Without a Slayer, you're pretty much just watchin' Masterpiece Theater. You can't stop Glory. You can't do anything with the information you have except maybe publish it in the "Everyone Thinks We're Insane-O's Home Journal." So here's how it's gonna work. You're gonna tell me everything you know. Then you're gonna go away.”

  She has found her voice as an adult, as a master of her Slayer destiny, and as the leader of her group. She will fight Glory/The Beast on her own terms and the Watchers will, ahem, watch.

  At the same time, this season looks at the grand mystery of the Slayer herself. In Intervention, Buffy goes on a vision quest and meets the First Slayer for a second time (she had previously tried to kill the Scoobies after the joining spell in the season four finale, Primeval). There, the First Slayer enigmatically tells her “Death is your gift.” Disheartened, Buffy believes that this means that all vampire slayers are killers after all and there is nothing more special than that, no greater secret to wielding her abilities.

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                Enter the finale.

                Glory seizes Dawn and is able to start the process of opening the rift between all dimensions by cutting Dawn and forcing her to bleed. Of course, the portal and thus the apocalypse to end all apocalypses cannot be stopped until the bleeding stops and, presumably, Dawn is dead. Giles has already argued for Buffy to kill her sister if the ritual has started. By the time, Buffy is on the scaffolding with Dawn, the only way to stop the coming end is with death. It is Buffy, however, who realizes the sacrifice that must be made is not of her sister (daughter really at a blood for blood level) but of herself. She chooses to accept the fact that “death is your gift” to mean that the sacrifice of her own life is the greatest service she can give, not only for her sister’s sake, but for the world. So, after kissing Dawn goodbye, she swan dives into the portal and closes it, saving the world via martyrdom. Instead of relying on something “masculine,” on death and violence and murder, to continue to save the world, Buffy chooses a “feminine” option---to give her own life for others.

                Finally, I must highlight that of all the advice from the series, of everything that I’ve ever heard from Whedon’s oeuvre, this exchange has always hung with me as, yes, obvious but sage advice none-the-less:

“Dawn, listen to me. Listen. I love you. I will always love you. But this is the work that I have to do…You have to be strong. Dawn, the hardest thing in this world... is to live in it. Be brave. Live. For me.”

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                So sayeth our Chosen One heroine, Buffy Summers.

  She saved the world a lot.