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Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Gift

[Updated May 2, 2013]

From the moment Buffy has her epiphany on the tower, I start losing it, no matter how often I’ve seen The Gift. Joss Whedon always said that he never worried too much about plot details if he could cut through to the emotional truth. In S5 I think he combined plot and emotional truth incredibly well. While my views on which is the best season are intense but variable, to quote Anya, on a given day S5 is my favorite season.
I’ll start with the ending, because that’s the whole point of the season. Indeed, it’s the whole point of the series. Buffy’s dive off the tower is the end of her journey. As you know, my view is that Buffy’s journey was one of becoming an adult. As I read it, her dive represents the fact that she’s leaving childhood behind and launching herself into the new dimension of adulthood. James Marsters: “Thematically, I think that [Joss] tied up his original premise, which is how does a young child become an adult and pass through adolescence. And all of us vampires are just metaphors for those problems. I think that in the moment that she sacrificed her life to save her sister she became a true adult.”

The key (pun very much intended) to the episode is that it finally tells us the answer to the question we should have been asking since Dawn first appeared: who or what is Dawn? I’m talking metaphor here, and so is Buffy when she gives us the answer: “She’s me. … Dawn ... is a part of me. The only part that I --”. To coin a phrase, Dawn is Buffy; Buffy is Dawn.
This doesn’t mean we have to see Dawn as representing part of what Buffy actually is, though that’s certainly possible. It does mean, at the very least, that we should see Dawn as how Buffy sees herself (in part; Dawn serves more than one metaphorical purpose – see  below).
Now I can revisit the opening episodes to see how they set up this theme and the story line. In The Replacement we saw Xander split in two, creating a competent, mature half and a childish, inept half. Both were Xander, one mature, the other immature. The same principle applies to Dawn and Buffy. Both are Buffy.
What part of Buffy is Dawn? We can see her as the child part, or perhaps the human part, the vulnerable part of Buffy. The Replacement hinted at this throughout. Aside from the mature/childish contrast, it used key (heh) phrases associated with Dawn. When the two Xanders confronted each other in front of Anya, SuaveXander told his twin “You don’t belong here.” That’s what the crazy man told Dawn in Real Me. Or there’s this: “ScruffyXander [to Willow]: “I get in trouble and Buffy saves me.” That’s what Buffy does with Dawn.
The whole point of the season is that Buffy needs to learn to incorporate Dawn into her life. In metaphor, she needs to find a way to preserve her childlike innocence as part of her adult persona. It’s something Buffy learns gradually. At the beginning of the season she almost resents Dawn’s presence. She accepts her in Family and takes responsibility for protecting her starting in Shadow and continuing through the rest of the season, even though she doesn’t quite see Dawn as “real”. The uncertainty about Dawn’s existence (references to her as a “shadow”; “am I real?”; all of Blood Ties) are because Buffy’s not sure her human, innocent self still exists after all she’s gone through as the Slayer (Intervention).
Blood Ties demonstrates Dawn’s reality and Buffy confirms it metaphorically at the end of that episode – “It’s Summers’ blood” – but she doesn’t make the connection in real terms yet. The stress of her mother’s death, on top of everything else she’s been through over the last 5 years, leaves her feeling hard and emotionless, so she treats Dawn harshly in Forever and again with resentment, almost, in Tough Love. That’s exactly the opposite of what she needs to do. That final revelation comes only on the tower.
The question is, why does Buffy have to learn to keep some part of herself childlike and innocent as she enters adulthood? To answer that we have to talk about what Glory represents.
It’s never said explicitly, though they drop clues. In IWMTLY Buffy says that “I've had it with super-strong little women who aren't me.” That obviously refers to Glory as well as April, both of whom resemble Buffy in this and other respects. Buffy tells Giles in Family that Glory “was kinda like Cordelia”, expecting us to remember that Cordelia was Buffy’s shadow self, what she could have been: “Before I was the Slayer, I was... Well, I, I don't wanna say shallow, but... Let's say a certain person … we'll just call her Spordelia, looked like a classical philosopher next to me.” (From Helpless.)
Glory is Buffy’s Slayer side, or at least what Buffy fears her slayer half could make her as an adult: insane and super-powered. Insane because the harsh reality of adulthood is enough to make the whole prospect of adulthood seem crazy, which is why there’s an emphasis throughout the season on the way Buffy and others act crazy, Glory made people crazy, etc. Super-powered because Buffy is. Remember how Riley described what pure SlayerBuffy would be like in The Replacement? “The slayer half would be like slayer concentrate, pretty unkillable.” That pretty much describes Glory.
As is the case with Dawn, Glory isn’t necessarily what Buffy’s slayer half actually is, but what Buffy fears it could be. Glory – Buffy’s fear of what adulthood might entail – came from out of Buffy’s mind, which is why the episode of that title immediately preceded Glory’s first appearance.
The net effect of this is that Glory is Buffy too. Glory and Dawn are the two halves of Buffy. One side is how she sees herself, the other is her fear of what becoming an adult might make her. Slayer Buffy needs to avoid becoming a hard, ruthless killer, and she does this by preserving her inner child, her human half. In metaphor, all adults need to preserve their inner child in order to avoid becoming hard and unfeeling as adults. Just as was the case with Xander in The Replacement, Buffy needs both to survive.
The split personality theme also appears with Glory and Ben. Ben, like Dawn, exists in his current form only as a result of magic, but he represents the opposite side, the wrong path to take. In TWOTW Ben had the chance to protect Dawn, but rejected that route for selfish reasons. We’re supposed to see his failure in stark contrast to Dawn’s willingness to sacrifice herself and Buffy’s actual sacrifice in The Gift. Buffy sacrifices herself for her sister, Dawn was willing to sacrifice herself for the world. Ben refuses to sacrifice himself for anything, not for Dawn and not for the world. Ben represents, ultimately, a selfish form of adulthood that willingly sacrifices others for its own benefit.
Now let’s go back and see just how magnificently the season set these themes and brought them to fruition in the plot. In Buffy v Dracula, Drac told Buffy that her power was rooted in darkness and Buffy recognized her fear that being the slayer was making her hard; she needed to understand it better. As it turned out, what she needed was to be able to maintain a connection – to link; “the Key is the link” – to her humanity. That’s introduced at the very end of the episode in the form of Dawn.
The Knights wanted to “sever” the link because they represent a faction which doesn’t want Buffy to become an integrated, whole adult. If Buffy or any woman became an authentic adult, that would threaten the patriarchal, traditional world view because a woman would be seen as an equal.
Real Me opens with Buffy seeking her true self: “GILES VOICEOVER: You are the center. And within you, there is the core of your being ... of what you are.” Buffy’s search is interrupted when Dawn interferes, knocking over the crystals and demanding to leave. In part, at least, Dawn is Buffy’s true self, the core of what she is.
In Real Me, Dawn tells us about herself, but what she’s really telling us all along is about Buffy. That whole episode isn’t about Dawn at all; it’s about how Buffy’s human half sees the world. Think about this language from Dawn’s first voiceover (the first meaningful words we hear her say): “Nobody knows who I am. Not the real me. It's like, nobody cares enough to find out. I mean, does anyone ever ask *me* what I want to do with my life?” That’s Buffy talking about herself.
If you recall, I made a list of Dawn’s attributes in my post on Real Me. Here they are again: “She keeps a diary. She loves Willow, she loves Xander, she loves her mother. She thinks Giles might not like her because he’s so old, she finds Buffy’s training boring, and she resents the fact that Buffy is always telling her what to do even if, in some sense, she idolizes her sister. She likes Tara, she’s not so sure about Anya. Interestingly, she expresses no opinion about Riley. She feels isolated at times, and she gets to be the child of the family in a way that Buffy wishes she could.”
Just to tick off quickly the similarities, Buffy kept a diary when she was younger (Angel, Ted); Giles called Buffy to her Slayer destiny in Welcome to the Hellmouth and has pushed her ever since (From Nightmares: “I should have been more c... cautious. Taken more time to train you. But you were so gifted. And the evil was so great.”) As a result, he tends to have little patience for Buffy’s less adult moments (“I'm serious, Buffy, there's going to be far less time for the sort of flighty, frivolous-….” Real Me); Buffy has a mixed relationship with Anya (see, e.g., Superstar or Buffy v. Dracula); Riley is pretty self-explanatory at this point; Buffy’s sense of isolation is well-established; and the whole point of the season is that Buffy needs to overcome the belief that her human/child side is a hindrance to becoming an adult.
Buffy accepted Dawn into her family in the episode of that name, but she didn’t yet realize Dawn’s importance to her. She wasn’t sure that Dawn was even real. In Blood Ties Dawn cuts herself (prefiguring her fate in The Gift) and asks, “Am I real?”. That’s really Buffy’s question about Dawn; she’s not sure after all these years of Slaying that there’s any humanity left. Buffy may not be sure of her humanity – she’s still unsure in Intervention – but all season long we’re shown that Dawn’s flaws are Buffy’s flaws, her strengths of character are Buffy’s too – think Buffy’s klutziness throwing knives in Helpless or breaking the ice cream machine in The Initiative, “Bitty Buffy’s” courage in Forever. “It’s Summers’ blood.”
Buffy told Riley in Real Me that “*She* gets to be a kid, and she acts like it's the biggest burden in the world. Sometimes *I* would like to just curl up in Mom's lap and not worry about the fate of the world.” That’s what we all feel like when it comes to growing up. Childhood is simpler; adulthood is scary. It would be so much easier if we could just curl up and let Mom take care of it all. Buffy even tries running away from her destiny, first in Spiral then, a different way, in TWOTW. That’s what we’d all like to do.
We don’t need to run away from adulthood, though, we need to grow up. What S5 is telling us is that we can preserve some part of our childhood when we do. In fact, it’s essential that we do that (see more below).
Real Me also set up The Gift in the plot outline. The basic story of Real Me was that Dawn was kidnapped and tied up by an evil blonde woman with super powers who threatened to kill her. That, in substance, was Glory’s plan too. Both whined to Dawn while she was a captive and Harmony promised Spike that Buffy would “be dead by sunrise”.
Spike’s promise to defend Dawn “till the end of the world” has to be understood in the context of the metaphor. Dawn is Buffy’s human half; Spike has now pledged to defend Buffy’s human self. He’s not in love only with the Slayer, but devoted to the whole of Buffy.  It’s interesting, too, that Buffy commends her better half to Spike’s care. Spike had told her in Fool For Love that he would slip in and have himself one good day. Buffy got “that final gasp, that look of peace” and it turned out to be the worst day of his unlife.
Now let’s look at some of the issues raised by The Gift.
Ursula LeGuin wrote the famous short story I’ve linked above (I modified the title slightly to make it refer to Buffy in particular). If you haven’t read it, please do now; it’s very short. I think the connection to the points I’m now going to discuss will be obvious.
The events of The Gift pose two controversial moral dilemmas, both involving Giles: Should Buffy save Dawn or save the world? Was Giles right to kill Ben? Let’s take them in that order.
I can understand Giles’s point about Dawn. It’s a standard utilitarian argument: save the greatest number. It seems irrefutable. And the fact that Giles has sent out an innocent (Buffy) every night for 5 years, risking her death to protect the world, means that Giles has come to accept that as part of his role.
But while I understand Giles, three reasons convince me that Buffy was right about Dawn and he was wrong. First, Joss signaled his own view of the issue in Triangle. There, Xander – Buffy’s metaphorical heart – faced what was structurally the same “Sophie’s Choice” dilemma that Buffy faced in The Gift, when Olaf told him to choose between Willow and Anya. What did Xander do? He refused to choose – “that’s insane troll logic” – even at a cost to himself personally (Olaf broke his arm and threatened to kill him). That’s exactly what Buffy did in The Gift when faced with the choice between Dawn and the world. Buffy wasn’t willing to kill her innocent charge – the Slayer is not just a killer after all – but she was willing to die for her. Killing Dawn turned out to be unnecessary, which is pretty devastating to Giles’s argument.
Joss: “The question of what is a Slayer which we brought up in the very first episode [i.e., Buffy v. Dracula], what does it mean, does it just mean being a killer? And answering that with “No, it means living in a world where life and death are an issue and putting your life on the line.” That’s what she learns about being a slayer, and it’s a beautiful thing.”
Second, the plan to kill Dawn was the plan of Gregor and the Knights. Does anyone think they were right after all? That Buffy should have handed Dawn over to them? That Ben was right to kill the mental patients in Listening to Fear? Maybe it’s just me, but Dawn’s life seems a lot more valuable than the lives of those who want to hack her to pieces in order to save their own. The Knights and Glory were both willing to use Dawn as a means to their end; Buffy saw Dawn as an end in herself.
Dedalus, one of the posters at AtPO, expressed this point very well. After quoting Buffy’s recognition that “she’s me”, he continues:
“Now compare with our old friend Schopenhauer -

‘How is it possible that suffering that is neither my own nor of my concern should immediately affect me as though it were my own, and with such force that it moves me to action? This is something mysterious, something for which Reason can provide no explanation ... This presupposes that I have to some extent identified myself with the other and therewith removed for the moment the barrier between 'I' and 'not-I.' Only then can the other's situation, his want, his need, become mine. I then no longer see him in the way of an empirical perception, as one strange to me, indifferent to me, completely other than myself; but in him I suffer, in spite of the fact that his skin does not enfold my nerves.’

I do think it is profound. A morality that is not forced by external means or threats, but one that truly springs out of a spiritual or psychological realization. It's not a commandment to treat others as you which to be treated, but rather a living impulse after which you cannot help but treat others as you wish to be treated because you and the other are in fact one. The self is transcended and the unity of all life presents itself.

And isn't this really what was going on in The Gift? If it is, it means Buffy's epiphany is more far reaching than simply what it means to be a Slayer ... it's about what it means to be human. And face it, you just don't get that on most television shows.”

Karen pointed out in comments that the view of the Knights represents the sin of despair: “I really like the argument that the choice between Dawn and the world (and Xander’s insane troll logic choice between Anya and Willow) is a false choice. And this is where I think the Knights have also put themselves into the position of believing a false directive from their God. They (and Giles) think that the choice is preordained, predestined. Thus they deny free will, the chance for a third unorthodox option. From a Christian point of view, they’ve fallen into the sin of despair, they’ve denied the opportunity for the working of Divine Providence through them by losing faith, in themselves if not in a deity.”
Third, we have to account for the metaphor. Buffy’s “real me” is not just innocent, she represents the part of Buffy who will balance her slayer powers with human love and innocence. Ben’s “sister” is insane and will destroy the world. Dawn needs to be protected, Glory – i.e., Buffy’s fear – needs to be subdued.
Dawn, as her name metaphorically suggests, also represents the future. She’s that part of childhood that we need to preserve as we face the fears that adulthood presents, the part that does not bear the weight of the world. It’s no accident that the events on the tower occur as day breaks, just as April said in IWMTLY: “it’s always darkest before [the dawn].” Daybreak, dawn, has always been the poetic image for the promise of a new day, a new future.
Dawn represents the future, not just for Buffy but, because Buffy stands for all of us, for the whole world. Would the world be worth saving without that, without promise for the future? Not in my view, no, and certainly not if achieving that hollow victory forces Buffy to murder her own sister. Flesh of her flesh, blood of her blood (h/t fresne).
Buffy didn’t sacrifice herself to save the world as it is, she sacrificed herself to save Dawn and what she represents of what the world may be.
Buffy didn’t just walk away from Omelas killing Dawn, of course. She also refused to kill Ben. Was Giles right to kill him? For a deontologist, killing is generally wrong, though it might be justified for some on the ground that the person had done something to deserve death. Even assuming Ben had done something of that nature, a deontologist might respond as Gandalf did to Frodo, when Frodo suggested that Gollum deserved death: “Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”
It’s more complicated when we consider Giles from the consequentialist perspective. IMO, the answer depends on what Giles knew and when, and on what his motivation was.
Xander raised the idea of killing Ben in the Magic Box. He rejected his own suggestion in the face of silence from the others on the ground that Ben was an “innocent”. Interestingly, Giles said nothing at this time, but the consensus seemed to be that killing Ben was something they could not do.
Now, Ben certainly was not innocent, but Giles didn’t know the things we know. He didn’t know that Ben summoned the Queller demon. He didn’t know that Ben turned Dawn over to Glory. He didn’t know whether Ben would voluntarily sacrifice himself to save the world from Glory. He did know that Ben probably saved his life in Spiral, which makes the killing particularly ruthless.
Nor can we be sure of the exact timing of the killing. Buffy told Ben that Glory “missed her chance”, which implies that the time had passed for her to use the Key. OTOH, we then see that the breakdown between worlds didn’t begin until Buffy got to the top of the tower. Somewhere in that time Giles killed Ben, so it looks like Glory could possibly have made it if she had re-emerged.
Then again, Giles didn’t say that he was killing Ben in order to save the world, as would be the case if Glory could have made it. What he said is that he was killing him to save Buffy, with the world as a purely secondary consideration: “And sooner or later Glory will re-emerge, and ... make Buffy pay for that mercy. And the world with her.” Since it’s not clear that Glory could in any way use the Key in the future, maybe Giles meant that Glory could kill people or brainsuck them; bad, certainly, but not apocalyptic. His primary motivation seems to have been protecting Buffy.
The thing is, though, that Buffy didn’t need protecting, and never for a moment thought of killing Ben to save herself. She was just minutes (at most) away from her dive off the tower, doing so to save the very person Giles had wanted her to kill. And if he had thought it necessary to kill Ben in order to prevent Glory from using the Key, he was too late for that also thanks to Doc. Both of his most convincing motivations are therefore invalid – his act saved neither the world nor Buffy. I don’t know if that makes his action meaningless, but it makes it hard to justify his decision except on the ground that it was right to kill an “innocent” (as far as Giles knew) in order to stop Glory from brainsucking future victims.
This leaves us to consider Buffy’s actions on the tower. I often hear fans call her leap a suicide. Two factors convince me that it wasn’t suicide. First, Buffy stopped Dawn from jumping before she herself made the decision to jump. Buffy was going to carry out her plan to defend Dawn to the end, meaning Buffy had to stay alive to do that. In fact, she was so determined to live to protect Dawn that she earlier had threatened to kill her best friends if they came near Dawn. Buffy’s decision to jump came only when she realized that she had an alternative that could save Dawn while also protecting the world.
What happened when Buffy had her epiphany? In The Replacement, Riley told her that being the Slayer was part of who she is. On the tower she realized that Dawn – her human side – was equally a part, even a more important part. Like Xander in The Replacement, she recognized that she needed both halves to be complete. She integrated her two halves, which means she grew up, became an adult. She could now close the split in the universe, which was the metaphor for the internal sense of separation she’s felt from the very beginning of the series (e.g., NKABOTFD).
Second, we know it wasn’t suicide from her decision in TWotW to keep fighting. Buffy’s last words re-emphasize the decision she made in TWotW not to run away from her responsibility as The Slayer. She tells Dawn “But this is the work that I have to do.” She’s not ducking her responsibility by committing suicide, she’s accepting it by sacrificing herself for Dawn. When she goes on to tell Dawn that “the hardest thing to do in this world is to live in it” – a very existentialist sentiment – she’s warning her of the difficulty that comes with responsibility. It demands courage: “Be brave. Live. For me.” And, again, who is the Dawn to whom Buffy is giving this advice?
Suicide is a confession of defeat. Buffy wasn’t defeated. She beat Glory – her fears – into submission. She found a way to save her own humanity in the form of Dawn. Adulthood no longer holds any terror for her. Dawn was breaking into sunrise when she dove.
Joss said, “"Buffy" is hard [to write] because it is completely grounded in human experience. Every episode has to be about what, you know, what it feels like to go through a certain period in your life. In the rite of passage that is your life. We can never do an episode that is purely fantastical and exciting because the show is about growing up.”
In five seasons he took her from shallow teenager to heroic adult. And he did it brilliantly.
Trivia notes: (1) The S5 DVDs don’t show the actual “previously on” introduction when The Gift first aired. You can find that intro on the S7 DVDs as an easter egg. (2) The five previous apocalypses to which Giles referred: The Harvest; Prophecy Girl; Becoming 2; The Zeppo; and Doomed. (3) If you’re wondering how Olaf suddenly became a troll god, and his hammer the hammer of a god, the reason is that he was supposed to have been described that way in Triangle. The word “god” was left out of that episode for some reason and Joss was upset about it. At least that’s the rumor. (4) When Spike tells Xander that “blood is life”, that repeats a phrase which appeared twice in Buffy v. Dracula. Yes, I think that’s intentional. (5) Buffy found the Dagon Sphere in No Place Like Home. (6) Spike tried and failed to lift Olaf’s hammer in Blood Ties. (7) Glory’s reference to Buffy’s friends as her “cartoon pals” is probably a reference to Scooby Doo. (8) Previous references to the Slayer as a killer can be found in Who Are You?; Restless; and Intervention. The idea goes back at least to Faith in S3 (see my post on Consequences). (9) Anya “skedaddled” in Graduation Day 1. (10) Buffy locked Spike out after the events of Crush. She invites him back in here. Note the metaphor in her position vis-à-vis Spike: Buffy stands above him on the stairs, representing their respective status. (11) The St. Crispin’s Day Speech is from Henry V, Act IV, sc. iii. (12) Xander’s exclamation “Shpadoinkle!” comes from Cannibal, the Musical.  (13) When Xander says that “the glorified bricklayer picks up a spare”, he’s using a term from bowling. (14) Giles kills Ben by suffocating him, just as the Queller demon Ben summoned killed the crazy people. That may be its own commentary on Giles’s act. The fact that Giles chose a method which wouldn’t leave a mark also suggests that he didn’t want to face the moral judgment of the SG for his action. (15) If you were wondering how Doc knew about Dawn, there was a very subtle clue: his tail. We saw it in Forever, and it looked reptilian: “From underneath his bathrobe a greenish, scaly tail pokes out.” Put that together with this dialogue from Blood Ties: "The key is also susceptible to necromanced animal detection, particularly those of canine or serpent construct." My emphasis. (16) In Graduation Day 2 Faith’s words to Buffy -- “Little Miss Muffet counting down from 7-3-0” -- refer to the fact that two years (730 days) from that day Buffy will die. This is that date. Note that in GD2 Buffy substituted her own blood for that of Faith. (17) Faith also told Buffy in GD2 that Buffy had “miles to go [before you sleep]”. That’s taken from the Robert Frost poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”. The words of the poem are generally taken to mean that you have duties to fulfill before you rest. Those words therefore describe Buffy’s journey from then to her dive off the tower. (18) A related reference occurs in Buffy’s dream in Restless, a year later, when Buffy looks at a clock which says 7:30 and Tara tells her “that clock's completely wrong”. (19) In Who Are You, Faith finds Buffy’s credit card and uses it to buy an airline ticket. She reads off the number and then the expiration date: 5-01. The Gift aired in May 2001. (20) The Gift was the last episode to air on the WB. The show moved to UPN for Seasons 6 and 7.


  1. Can't wait to see what you do with the flawed but intense season six!

    1. Thanks. S6 is a challenge. I have some criticisms of some parts, but I really like a lot of it.

  2. I'm on a deadline, so I haven't had time to post (I hope to add some comments in a few days), but for now, I just want to thank you for the beautiful final post and for lovely work all this season, which is my favorite.

    1. Second that! Also been too busy to comment in any thoughtful way on these last few posts - but as I mentioned way back at BvD, this is my favorite season and these last few eps deliver in so many ways. And you've done an excellent job with the whole season, tying so many threads together. Perhaps a few more substantial thoughts at the weekend.

  3. Incredible write up! I love how you tie the whole season together. This really is my favorite season on a given day, as well. I especially love parelleling the story arc of this season to Season 2.

    Also, I read the short story you linked to, which I've never read before. Very powerful, brought me to tears. Thank you.

  4. Thanks to SoS, aaron, and Allie for the very nice compliments. I really appreciate it.

  5. Mark I wanted to thank you for such an outstanding analysis of The Gift. Your reviews are always excellent and this one is superb.

    I really like the argument that the choice between Dawn and the world (and Xander’s insane troll logic choice between Anya and Willow) is a false choice. And this is where I think the Knights have also put themselves into the position of believing a false directive from their God. They (and Giles) think that the choice is preordained, predestined. Thus they deny free will, the chance for a third unorthodox option. From a Christian point of view, they’ve fallen into the sin of despair, they’ve denied the opportunity for the working of Divine Providence through them by losing faith, in themselves if not in a deity. I have always equated this issue with the one you referenced from LOTR, when Gandalf defends Gollum. So cool that you mention it in this context.

  6. It's been a while since I've stopped by here, but I just had to say that this look at Season 5 and "The Gift" is absolutely fabulous! It's so well put together that I'll have my work cut out for me when I get to updating my own S5 reviews (I'm about to start this process with S2). The connections you make are well presented, and your case for the season (which I also feel is Buffy's best) really comes through. Great work, Mark! Thanks. :)

    1. Thank you! Your own reviews set a pretty high standard, so I'm flattered indeed.

  7. Something I find odd about this episode is it's sort of a perspective flip of "Prophecy Girl". In that episode, Buffy decides to face her certain death in order to protect others, and when Giles, her parental figure, insists on sacrificing himself in her place, she punches him out and goes on ahead. Then in "The Gift", Dawn decides to face her certain death in order to protect others, and when Buffy, her parental figure, insists on sacrificing herself in Dawn's place . . . well, Dawn doesn't try punching Buffy out, but I think she would've if she could've.

    If we're supposed to side with Buffy in "The Gift" and support her decision to sacrifice herself in place of Dawn, does that mean, when re-watching "Prophecy Girl", we're supposed to hope that Giles makes Buffy stay in the library while he goes and gets killed by the Master in her place?

  8. In plot, I see both cases as a question of duty: as Buffy says in The Harvest, "I'm the Slayer and you're not". Had she let either Dawn or Giles take her place, she would have forsaken her calling.

    In the metaphor, both situations were crucial to Buffy's journey to adulthood. Had she stepped aside in either case, she would have fallen off the path of her destiny.

  9. First time posting here. I am very late to the game, but I only just discovered BtVS about 7 months ago.

    Mark, you've done amazing work here. I especially loved your S5 analysis. I never would have found the Buffy-is-Dawn-plus-Glory, but as soon as I read it it made perfect sense.

    I loved the ethical discussion regarding Giles's killing Ben. I tend to agree that in the text, he did not strictly have to do it to a) save the world or b) save Buffy or Dawn. However, if you believe that Glory came from Buffy's mind (subtly shown to us by the fact that she arrived just after Out of My Mind), would it not be appropriate for Buffy's metaphorical mind, Giles, to be the one to take Glory down?

    Thanks again for all your time put in to our Buffy obsession.

    1. Thank you! And welcome to the club. It's pretty impressive that BtVS can still attract new fans 10 years after it ended.

      Your suggestion about Giles makes perfect sense. I wish I'd thought of it. :)

  10. I just realized a small thematic link between Becoming & The Gift that runs through Lover's Walk & Blood Ties.

    Angelus opens the portal to Acathla using his blood - the Doc does the same in The Gift using Dawn's.

    It's nice to see the motif of blood as life manifest more than once. Continuity porn.

    This is my #1 episode of the series and your take on it makes me love it even more. I really wish that I had been here when you were in the process of posting these essays.

    1. Blood will open the portal in S7 too. I guess Joss just hates lymph rituals. :)

  11. Many thanks Mark for making my rewatch so much more worthy and interesting! I'm also super happy I finally came to read this post because I had missed or not understood many of your hints in the previous one! :) Thanks for re-putting everything in context.

    Two things though!
    The first one is about your analysis of the previous episode. You said Spike was wrong in FFL and that Buffy didn't have a death wish. But this piece of dialogue between Buffy and Giles in this episode could make one think otherwise:
    Buffy: "I don't know how to live in this world if these are the choices. If everything just gets stripped away. I don't see the point. I just wish that... (tearfully) I just wish my mom was here."
    I don't think we know for sure if she has a death wish or not in TWOW since she is in catatonia and by definition doesn't do anything most of that episode. It's not until she jumps in The Gift and we hear in play back what she said to Dawn before jumping that we learn that if she does have a death wish (and she does have that "look of peace" on her face), she "transcends it with her love" (in parenthesis because I've read that in a comment somewhere else). It's not that she wants her responsibilities to stop but because she takes the decision of the ultimate responsibility, to sacrifice herself to save Dawn.

    That's said, and though I really like this finale, I feel the writers do pass the buck on many of the issues the season has raised, and that if the series were to have stopped with the Gift, their message was slightly ... hum, void of sense might be too strong. But you know, she "jumps" into adulthood and ... dies in doing so. I think many of her fears and issues are not dealt with until the finale of season 7, and that there is a huge continuity between season 5, 6 and 7 for that matter.

    1. Thank you for reading and for the very thoughtful comments you've left in so many episodes. And will leave in S6 and S7, I'm sure.

      On the death wish issue, as I see it the words you quote are in the context of (a) Giles wanting to talk about killing Dawn; and (b) Buffy saying (just before your quote) "I sacrificed Angel to save the world. I loved him so much. But I knew .... what was right. I don't have that any more."

      The way I see it, she was saying that IF she had to sacrifice Dawn after having given up so much with Angel, THEN she wouldn't know how to live in such a world. Her epiphany on the tower meant she never had to reach that point. YMMV, of course.

      I completely agree when it comes to S6 and S7. I really like the conclusion of S7.

    2. I just left another one on "after life"! ;)

      I see your point. Makes complete sense. So I agree with you but also think that there could be more to it.

      For the sake of debating: she does say "if these are the choices" and the choices in question keep on materialising. One could read the: "I don't have that anymore" also meaning that she is not only confused but is lacking the (hum) determination (?), compass maybe or will to sacrifice anything else on the name of what is right.

      The fact that she first says to Dawn "tell Giles I have it figure out" clearly calls back to this conversation and dilemma - which she is *facing* on the tower. Except as you say she doesn't have to sacrifice Dawn, she can sacrifice herself instead. So if she does have a death wish, I feel it is not with the meaning that Spike gave to it in FFL (that almost morbid curiosity of knowing what's next),just that she turns it to something positive somehow because she does it for love. But the 'laying down her responsibilities' point of the death wish is (I feel) potentially still there - which IMO ties it up nicely with season 6 and makes this season much more meaningful.

      Also, I don't think it is only Angel's loss - when she says that she wishes her mom was here (so sad)...of course, this death was 'absurd' and not the result of any choices Buffy had to make but her mom was stripped away from her life and she still has to live in that world.

  12. Hi Mark, I rewatched and read your comment on 'All the way' (still trying to work up all these metaphors you mentioned and Dawn's role in that season...) and it made be want to come back here and comment on something else: your point on Giles.

    I'd tend to disagree with your two points:
    - that he could have done it for justice - and that "justice" would sometimes involved a killing of a human being.
    - that there was no threat left.

    As you said, as soon as you enter the world of the supernatural in Buffy, your actions become Buffy's jurisdiction. And Buffy the judge, with her spirit, mind and heart, exercises mercy here. (I think that decision is different from the point the writers are making with Dawn and that insane troll logic at that moment in the season).

    Then comes Giles, the mind - realistic, pragmatic, maybe even cold - who exercises I feel a 'principle of precaution' (consequentialist is what you said). We know that the ONLY Achilles' heel Glory has is Ben. We can assume that Giles knows that Ben doesn't control Glory at all and won't in the future. Now, for the last 25 years she has been on earth (was there ever a baby Ben/Glory?) all she has wanted was to go home. Now, she could definitively seek revenge, decide to rule this world, or grow stronger and find another way home.

    I feel the writers illustrate well the difference between a 'heroic' judge applying different considerations for its ruling and the decision a more 'cold' and pragmatic person (more "man" as says Giles, meaning being not pure or perfect?). I think he is indeed protecting Buffy from a future choice and regrets, and the world potentially - just as he says. I'm not sure if the writer are telling us what is wrong or not in a situation like but rather highlight the difficulty of such choices, and or different takes on that principle of precaution I mentioned ( in another context: What is the required level of reasonable doubts we have to have on the safety of a product to ban it?)

    1. Heh. I've always wondered how the Ben/Glory thing was supposed to work. Was she there when Ben was a baby, or did she somehow get forced into him later? Just how long has she been on Earth anyway? And how does that square with the ancient nature of the Key? Most of the time I decide it's best not to think too much about this.

      As for the moral question, I'd agree with your last paragraph that the whole situation highlights the difficulty of moral choices. I'm not sure Giles was wrong; I do think what he did was questionable.

      But the whole situation is complicated by the dual nature of Ben/Glory. Glory doesn't deserve mercy, Ben doesn't need it. I'd agree that Giles did it, at least in part, to spare Buffy any future regrets, but as it turned out she was just about to jump off the tower and die. Given that fact, how should we assess his action?

    2. Glory says in the TWOTW:
      "I've been waiting an eternity - well, 25 human years - and it all comes down to tonight."
      So would that mean that she grew up with/in Ben and therefore could die with him of old age?? In such a short time, how come they've already written like a prophecy about her and the knights how did they organise so quickly? Yeah - weird.

      I guess on the moral issue, I hear you in the context of that episode (season). Buffy won, and killing Ben seems to be aimed more at us, viewers, than to have any purpose in the series - when everything is about Buffy as you have demonstrated again and again. Or maybe it's because no evil is truly defeated until dead (and despite its dual nature), especially when Glory seems to be 'manipulating' Buffy/ Giles by 'releasing' Ben when she can't fight back so as to be spared?? Giles doesn't know the portal was about to be opened nor that Buffy would have to jump; and killing Glory in that sense was not the real trial for Buffy but saving the world is - hence Giles doing the deed?

      Also, Glory is not the one opening the portal after all. I've always been wondering by the role/presence of Doc in that episode- what does it say about the consequences of others' actions (including Dawn)?

  13. My whole issue with the Dawn and Glory shadow self/part of Buffy thing, particularly as it relates to Cordelia as you mentioned is that I don't think it's enough to justify their existence or at the very least not enough to make them likeable characters.

    Cordy may be known as Buffy's shadow self but she was obviously a lot more than that being an interesting character in her own right the managed to get a major part in the spin-off and is even more popular than Buffy herself in some circles. Faith has a similar thing going on.

    While Dawn being representative of Buffy is fine and dandy and all the fact remains that as a character in her own right she is very lacking and much like with Riley it's clear she was only there to be someone for Buffy to play off of and or to serve a function in the story. In contrast characters like Spike, Oz and Anya who were not intended to be around for long are much more popular because they were much more interesting people outside of their mere function in the show.

    1. I agree that recurring characters need to be well-developed in their own right, not just as metaphors for aspects of Buffy. I think the show generally does this well. Whether you like a particular character, per se, seems to me mostly a matter of taste. We all have our own favorites (and dislikes).

  14. This is beautiful. The episode was so moving, and your insights really make it sparkle.

    There are a couple of things that have been nagging at me about this episode since I watched it yesterday.

    1) The symbolic ending leaves just Dawn, the human/child part of Buffy, alive. All three of the adult/Slayer symbols are killed (the responsible, “good” adult in Buffy herself; the irresponsible, potential “bad” side in Glory; and the indifferent/selfish adult path in Ben). I feel like the weight of Dawn’s survival needs to be balanced somehow. And, while I wouldn’t personally read Buffy’s sacrifice this way, that may be what gives some symbolic heft to the “Did Buffy commit suicide?” question, because if only the child survives, then it’s almost like there ISN’T a way for a responsible, integrated adult to survive in this world. (This seems underlined by the fact that we actually see Buffy’s broken body; she isn’t just sucked into the portal like Angel.) It feels almost like a statement that there’s nothing good about adulthood, and only the childlike innocence of humanity is worth preserving. This is compounded by Giles, our resident adult for five seasons, being willing to sacrifice Dawn and also actually killing Ben. All of which is morally gray if not totally wrong. Let’s just say it’s not making me that excited about being an adult.

    2) The same problem exists narratively. The reasons for Dawn not to be the one sacrificed just aren’t quite compelling enough for me. I think there’s a VERY compelling reason for Buffy (and the Scoobies) not to actually kill her, but I don’t buy the reasons for her not to be the one to jump. She’s not morally required to, but she’s willing, and it would be heroic for her to do so. She knows she’s not really human; she knows that Buffy is the hero of the world (and it likely won’t get another Slayer when Buffy dies since Faith is still alive and is morally ambiguous/incarcerated at this point). And we don’t know for sure (that I can remember) that there are no other uses for this super dangerous Key (just that Glory only gets one shot). So if the Key’s still around and the world has no hero, what then? I accept that the reason that Dawn can’t die is the symbolism of her being Buffy’s humanity, or, more broadly, the hope for the future. Which is fine, I guess, but my mind wants something stronger in the story itself. I guess the main arguments would be that Dawn’s just a kid (but Buffy wasn’t much older when she started facing death routinely). And also that Buffy’s the Slayer doing the work she has to do (but you don’t need Slayer skills to jump off a tower the way you need them to take on the Master, for example).

    Also, the idea that the portal won’t close until the blood stops flowing … well, Dawn’s blood is still flowing – she doesn’t have super healing powers so I’m thinking her wounds are still open – so why was Buffy’s leap enough to satisfy it?

    I think the answer is emotional truth vs. plot details, but still. It would almost make more sense for Buffy and Dawn to jump in together, or at least for there to be some way to transfer the Key-ness to Buffy, ensuring its destruction. I guess I’m being very Giles here and should try to be more like Buffy. :)

    Overall, I think the episode is great, even wonderful, and, in the end, these are just the reasons that it’s not quite as effective as “Becoming, Part 2” in terms of season-enders. But it’s still very high on my list of best episodes!

    1. I think your criticisms are fairly widely shared. A few thoughts on them:

      1. I'm pretty sure Joss does think adulthood sucks. It's a lot of hard work to be an adult, as we're about to see. And then, as Joss says, "you die".

      2. I think Buffy herself is the one who needs to jump. Metaphorically, of course, that's essential. But emotionally too within the story. Buffy's reached the point where she does consider Dawn her child. No parent could ever let the child make the sacrifice if the parent had the ability to.

      3. It's pretty strongly implied that this is Glory's one shot to use the Key:

      "WILLOW: We don't have to kill her. Uh, we just have to stop her from doing the ritual. I mean, there's only the one time that she can do it, right?

      SPIKE: Yeah. We get her on the ropes, we just gotta keep her occupied till it's too late."

      This is kind of out of nowhere, but it's in the dialogue.

      4. That "same blood" thing didn't make much sense to Anya either. :)

      I love The Gift, but I'd agree with you that Becoming is better.

    2. Oh, wow. Of course re: #2. I was so focused on the Dawn as Buffy part that my brain just kind of lost that mother-child layer, which was so obvious! If you imagine Joyce and Buffy on that tower ("as precious as you are to me"), then it all becomes clear. And I'm a pretty new mom, so I really should not have missed it!

      And, wow again, because that also makes me kind of reconsider #1, too. Because while I disagree with Joss that adulthood sucks (though it does have sucky parts), one of my main reasons is that parenthood is so amazing. But if you think of Dawn as Buffy's child, then you could see Buffy as experiencing one of adulthood's ultimate wonders and, thus, there is something good about adulthood left in Dawn's survival.

      So I think that leaves us with just one relatively minor bloody plot hole. :) Still not quite enough to vault it over "Becoming" but amazing stuff.

    3. Since I embarrassingly left it out of my last reply, thanks for the kind words.