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BTVS Episode Poll: 5.22 The Gift

Poll behind the cut

Poll #1864940 BTVS Episode Poll: 5.22 The Gift

1. This season finale was the last episode to run on the WB network, and seemed designed to make the series feel finished even if the UPN pickup for the last 2 seasons hadn’t happened. What if this had been the series finale?

Nooooo! Buffy can’t be dead! I would have been pissed off forever!
Better than Chosen
Chosen was better
Chosen was a better series finale, but I coulda done without Seasons 6 and 7 as a whole
I like Season 6, okay?
I like Season 7, okay?
More Buffy equals more better!
Other (explain in comments)

2. Buffy and Giles have a brief, impassioned argument on the morality/appropriateness of killing one person to save the world, with Buffy on the “protect Dawn at all costs” side and Giles on the “if the world ends, DAWN DIES TOO, so don’t be a bloody idiot” side. Who’s right?

Little of both
This is just too hard of a question! Can I shut down into catatonia now?
Other (explain in comments)

3. Giles killing Ben. Awesome? Horrifying?

Awesome -- I always like seeing his Ripper side even if it disturbs me
“She’s a hero, you see.” Gets me every time
Well, they made it hurt less by having Ben be ready to sacrifice Dawn to save himself. And did everybody forget about that quellor demon he summoned?
Other (explain in comments)

4. The gang’s plan turns out to be: go in at the last minute and keep Glory occupied so that she misses the portal-opening time window. Is this a good plan?

Given the circumstances, it’s the best possible plan anybody could have come up with
It’s mostly a good plan, but they really needed a better strategy for preventing non-Glory minions from opening the portal anyway.
It’s not a bad plan, but it gives the episode a curious lack of urgency until the very end
Wait, nobody thought of using the Dagon sphere until now? Why didn’t Buffy or Dawn carry it around at all times?
Other (explain in comments)

5. Up on the tower, Dawn seems ready to die to save the world. Buffy is suddenly certain that it will work if she dies instead -- “same blood” and all that. How does this leap in logic work for you?

Too much of a deus ex machina
The metaphor and the emotion are right, so it works,
Eh. It’s magic. Magic is already a bunch of hand-waving and made-up stuff
It works perfectly and I will explain how!
Other (explain in comments)

6. Favorite extremely Jossish thing in this episode?

The mighty hammer of Thor! I mean troll-god!
Captain America, I mean Buffy, taking out her frustrations on a punching bag until the bag goes flying
Inappropriately-timed sex between Xander and Anya
“This ought to be interesting” -- shove!
I don’t know if it’s my favorite exactly, but he does kill off his hero, in a touching way that makes everybody cry, and nothing is more Josslike than that
Other (explain in comments)

7. Rate this episode!

Mean: 9.23 Median: 9.5 Std. Dev 1.13


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 8th, 2012 01:27 am (UTC)
This is a very good episode, although it’s not a personal favorite. But I did want to address the issue in #5, why Buffy’s sacrifice closes the portal. There are several reasons why I think it works, in spite of the obvious hand-waving.

Stories with magic and other fantastical elements are free to invent plot logic as needed. But fantastical elements which are too convenient or arbitrary can feel cheap and unsatisfying. Magic doesn’t have to obey *other* rules, but it *must* obey the rules of storytelling. For example, a supernatural problem which is a clear metaphor for something should be solved in a way that doesn’t break the metaphor. Power should not come too easily. Big actions should have big consequences. Success should require sacrifice.

In The Gift, Buffy makes the ultimate sacrifice, and intuitively, we are willing to allow such a sacrifice to bring unlikely success. That was a big cost. You get something big in return.

The Season 1 finale, Prophecy Girl, is my personal mark for when the show really began to hit its stride. It’s the first episode where certain recurring themes strongly resonate, such as Buffy’s struggle to rewrite her fate, and the importance of her ties with friends and family as both a benefit and a hinderance. I’m pretty sure it’s not a spoiler to mention that Buffy’s victory in Prophecy Girl hinges on a technicality: Buffy *does* die, but thanks to the modern world having stuff like CPR, she gets better. This is such an unprecedented event that the magic which summons Slayers gets confused, and calls Kendra into service while Buffy is still around. It’s also key to Buffy’s character arc -- she is the Slayer who breaks the rules, and in doing so, succeeds where others are just so much cannon fodder. It also sets up an interesting idea which will become important in Season 7 -- there are mystic forces which continue to think Buffy ought to be dead.

In The Gift, Buffy tweaks a prophecy on a different technicality -- so, there is a very old show precedent for the idea that this will work. Plus, a callback to the Season 1 finale gives a nice sense of closure.

Blood Part 1
Prophecy Girl establishes the idea that Slayer blood is mystically powerful, which is consistent throughout the show. Earlier in Season 5 (Fool For Love) we were reminded of this -- an important episode for this story arc that also plants the seeds of Buffy’s combat fatigue and arguable death wish. .

In The Gift, Spike rhapsodizes a little bit about blood early on, just to remind us that, in the Buffyverse, blood has power -- particularly Slayer blood.

Death is your gift
In the previous episode, The Weight of the World, we were reminded of Buffy’s personal -- prophecy or whatever you want to call it. (Which comes from a place sacred to Slayers, and perhaps from those same mystic forces that think Buffy should be dead?)

“You are full of love. You love with all your soul. It’s brighter than the fire… blinding. That’s why you pull away from it. Love is pain, and the Slayer forges strength from pain. Love, give, forgive. Risk the pain. It is your nature. Love will bring you to your gift. Death is your gift.”

In the Weight of the World, Buffy is afraid that bringing death is her gift, and that she will have to kill Dawn to save the world. In a flash, at the climax of The Gift, she becomes certain that it goes the other way. Her OWN death is the gift she has to give. Also, and this will become important next season, death -- a meaningful death that she can feel good about -- is a gift that is given to her.

Buffy’s inspiration makes sense when you consider that “love will bring you to your gift” is part of the same prophecy. How could love bring her to kill Dawn to save the world? But it’s easy to see how love could bring her to kill herself to save the world and Dawn too. So, this isn’t just a question of thwarting prophecy -- it’s a question of interpreting one prophecy in light of another prophecy.

Edited at 2012-09-08 01:30 am (UTC)
Sep. 8th, 2012 01:28 am (UTC)
Why does Buffy think that her sacrifice will work? Earlier in the episode, she and Giles have a conversation where she says:

“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. If Dawn dies, I'm done with it. I'm quitting.”

The scene plays as if her lack of certainty is purely a function of her combat fatigue -- that she is burned out on making hard choices and sacrificing her own heart for the sake of the world, and she can’t do it any more because she no longer feels it is right.

But Buffy has a history of being right when it really counts. What if her lack of certainty about sacrificing Dawn isn’t just combat fatigue, or because of Dawn’s innocence, or family ties -- what if it’s Buffy’s Slayer instincts at work? What if she really does *know* that Dawn’s death is not the right solution, without having yet seen what the correct solution is?

On the tower she sees the correct solution and is certain, and acts in a moment of certainty. Also -- and we debated this vociferously when the episode first aired, because there was a certain “obviously Buffy dies from falling a hundred feet headfirst onto concrete” faction -- I think it is clear that Buffy dives into the dimensional vortex and -- sort of -- *wills* herself to death. She gives herself up to the forces. The forces take her sacrifice and are appeased. She dies and then falls.

(Further, I believe that she wills herself to death in a moment of peace as she is passing through all the dimensions at once, and that it is *this* heavenly state which she remembers in Season 6 -- but MORE ON THAT LATER)

There has always been an implicit emotional and mental component to magic, that the user’s focus and strength of will is part of what makes it work, beyond saying the right words and throwing the right powders. In The Gift, Buffy makes the magic go her way.

Buffy died for our sins
Most Draculean takes on vampires (and, let’s be honest -- almost all modern vampire stories are Draculean) have a heavy Christian mystical symbolic component. So, even though BTVS is philosophically existential, Christian mythology is very much a part of its foundation. This puts the central metaphor of Christianity -- the idea that the sacrifice of a single powerful individual might save the world -- close at hand. The Gift makes deliberate use of this resonance, with Buffy wearing white, diving into the vortex with her arms spread wide in a “crucified” pose, and the scene taking place just as the sun is beginning to rise.

Not only does this Christlike imagery prime us to accept Buffy’s sacrifice as correct, it also sets the stage for the fact that Buffy won’t stay dead.

Blood Part 2
The Season 5 episode Blood Ties introduces the idea that the Summers blood belonging to Dawn is “the same” as the Summers blood belonging to Buffy. She remembers that moment from Blood Ties right before making her sacrifice, and this is her expressed justification for why she thinks it will work.

This might seem weak and arbitrary, taken purely at face value. But the emotional and metaphoric content behind it, as well as the resonance with previously established show canon, sells it for me.

The unspoken backup plan
If Buffy’s sacrifice fails to close the portal, there is nothing preventing Dawn from sacrificing herself to close it -- and she seems quite ready to do so. So, option one, it works. Buffy sacrifices herself and saves the world and Dawn too. Option two, Buffy sacrifices herself and fails to save the world. Then Dawn sacrifices herself and saves the world. The world is saved either way. But option two is depressing and not very dramatically satisfying.

Perhaps that is the most important reason Buffy’s sacrifice does the trick -- because it sounds the correct emotional note in the viewer.

Edited at 2012-09-08 01:30 am (UTC)
Sep. 8th, 2012 02:42 pm (UTC)
I'm the first to take the poll, yay! (ok that was childish, sorry.)

I don't have time to actually read all your meta right this second - will bookmark/print and then respond later, but I like how you've structured this: first the poll THEN your take, so you're not unduly affecting anyone else's opinions on the subject. Very nicely done.

In terms of #1, why The Gift was not, for me, the "right" ending, I chose #1, #5 & 6 (*insert late season love here*); the best take on the subject I've seen is beer_good_foamy's recent analysis; the gist of which is that Buffy is a "post-modern hero" and that her story is not being subject to a predestined fate but to alter her fate entirely and "go viral" (sharing the Slayer power). In other words, the proper ending to her story is for her to actually rewrite her own story. I love that idea.

This ties in with his further analysis that on some level, BtVS is ABOUT the mechanics of storytelling and authorship. http://beer-good-foamy.livejournal.com/186180.html

Edited at 2012-09-08 02:44 pm (UTC)
Sep. 8th, 2012 03:00 pm (UTC)
Yes, you are first! Normally I'm first, but it was taking a ridiculously long time to update so I had to walk away while LiveJournal was still thinking very hard about stuff.

I'll have to read Beer-Good-Foamy's take on it -- sounds interesting!

Personally, I think it wouldn't have been the right series ending because it undermined Buffy's power too much. There's a subtle suggestion that it's okay to be the female hero, but only if, in the end, you let the universe win. That's not right. In the end, Buffy has to win.
Sep. 8th, 2012 09:39 pm (UTC)
There's a subtle suggestion that it's okay to be the female hero, but only if, in the end, you let the universe win. That's not right. In the end, Buffy has to win.

Oh, EXACTLY. And the thing that troubled me after watching it - or perhaps during - was the notion that she was sacrificing herself specifically for her family (Dawn); which is of course something women do all the time, make sacrifices for the family and put children/spouses first in everything. (That's not to say that's what all women actually do, and of course having children requires sacrifices.) but there was an aspect of it that was a touch too domestic for my taste. (Also there's the theme of subtext of "female protagonist must be tamed/domesticated and brought within the fold of the proper family structure, or else be broken" that runs through so much of our literature, culture, countless movies, etc etc. Which is really what you are saying above, but much more elegantly than I am.)

I think that's why the travesty-that-are-the-comics get to me *yikes I wasn't going to mention*; that the marvelous ending that Buffy wrote for herself by rewriting the rules and changing the world, was in fact bad bad bad-y bad bad and she needs to be punished and humiliated for her "hubris", her attempt to grasp power. (Which was NEVER Buffy's issue anyway; she was never power-hungry. That was Willow's issue.)

I'll come back when I've read this meta in full - and do visit Beer_Good_Foamy's, it's marvelous.
Oct. 30th, 2012 06:14 am (UTC)
Here's my answers to my "other" votes:

Question 3: Giles Killing Ben
To me, Giles killing Ben has nothing to do with Ripper. I'm not sure Ripper would have made the same choice. This is 100% Giles - making the tough decisions to protect his Slayer and the "sorry world" he's "sworn to protect." It's a matter of honor and carrying out his vocation and his oaths. In "Becomming," he sacrificed his body (stood up to Angel's torture) to prevent Acathla's awakening. In "The Gift," he sacrifices part of his soul/conscience to keep Glory from causing the destruction of all dimensions. I think his own words to Ben explain it perfectly well. He has sworn to do what others can not, and "shouldn't have to." I love that last part. He will take the dark burden on his own soul, sparing Buffy's. Part of it is his oath to protect his Slayer, part of it is his love for her (fatherly, romantic, teacher/guardian/Watcher - whatever your flavor of B/G or B-G is). It's a hard choice, but Giles is man/Watcher enough to look Ben in the eyes as he does it. Some people say this is un-Giles-like. I say it is totally in-character for him (self-sacrificing and direct) and is a defining moment for his character in the show. The fact that Ben was not totally innocent makes it easier, but I'd still feel the same way even if he were.

Question 5: Buffy = Dawn Substitute
I think this is a perfectly good use of Deus Ex Machina. It makes complete sense to me. I also find it perfectly reasonable that Buffy did not think of this until Dawn's blood had been spilled, because up to that point, Buffy was totally dedicated to preventing that event. She planned to stand by and protect Dawn even if it were the last thing she every did, or the last thing that Dawn ever saw. Giles tried very hard to make her see the bigger picture for the situation, but she refused to listen to him, going so far as to threaten to "stop" (ie kill) him. She wasn't thinking beyond protecting Dawn. When she realized she had a viable option within her direct control, she took it, decisively. I think it was great writing, not a cheap cop-out.

But that's just me!! :-)

Edited at 2012-10-30 06:19 am (UTC)
Oct. 30th, 2012 05:37 pm (UTC)
part of it is his love for her
I do like that as a motivation -- love for Buffy, and he'll protect her physically and emotionally.

I think it was great writing, not a cheap cop-out
Yeah, I think that Joss worked pretty hard to set it up in the script, especially when you look back to the spirit guide's statement -- this did not come out of nowhere.
Oct. 30th, 2012 10:43 am (UTC)
1) I love S6 and S7, okay? And I also love how it ends, finally, for Buffy, with her smile and her newfound hope. The Gift is a beautiful Season finale, but Chosen is an almost perfect finale for the entire series.

2) It's really a hard question, because it implies two different principles: utilitarism and kantian principle (I'm trying to make it extremely simple here) and it's a long debate and both Buffy and Giles have a point. Can I slip in a convenient catatonia?

3) Awesome and horrifyng at the same time.

4) It's mostly a good plan, but, yes, they could have done it better.

5) Metaphor and emotions are absolutely spot on. It works.

6) The mighty hammer of THOR, yay! "This maiden, she's worthy! She shall possess the power of Thor!"

7) Ten.

Oct. 30th, 2012 05:39 pm (UTC)
Can I slip in a convenient catatonia

Oct. 30th, 2012 05:18 pm (UTC)
One of my very favorite episodes of the series!

1. I like S6 and S7. S6 is probably my second favorite season, after S5. I also very much like "Death is Her Gift ... And it Sucks" by gabrielleabelle, which argues why, thematically, "Chosen" is a much better finale than "The Gift." Still, I find "The Gift" to be a much better episode. Emotionally, character-wise, thematically, plot-wise, it all totally works for me. (FYI, I'm not saying that Gabriellabelle would argue that "Chosen" is better thematically, she doesn't say that. It's my interpretation of her argument.)

2. I completely agree with Giles, but completely sympathize with Buffy. So I picked "Giles is right". But your argument that Buffy's slayer instinct was telling her that sacrificing Dawn wasn't right -- I've never considered that before. Interesting.

3. I chose "Awesome" even if it's not quite the word I would use. Disturbing but definitely not horrifying for me. chevron17 makes a good point that maybe this isn't Ripper. But I'm not sure I know what people mean when they talk about Ripper, actually. Is Ripper the teenage hell-raiser? If so, we only saw him in "Band Candy." Or is Ripper Giles' ruthless, ends-before-means Watcher side, similar to that of Wesley? After all, the first time we hear the name is when Giles is kicking Ethan Rayne in "Halloween" to get information to help Buffy, so it's no wonder many fans associate the name with that side of him. That definitely seems like the same side of Giles as who killed Ben. Anyway I digress. Overall, I'd say it's a very in-character moment, and one that I kind of love because I kind of love Giles. And it doesn't horrify me as much as it seems to horrify a lot of other people, even given that Giles didn't know what bad things Ben had done. Cause Glory sucks, ya know?

6. I picked "touchingly kills off hero", but really this episode is so quintessentially Joss to me that I could name any number of other things as well. The lovely teaser, each character getting their wonderful moment, Willow saving Tara, Giles and Spike quoting Shakespeare, Joss's characteristic directing style (I nearly melt at the framing work in Buffy and Giles' scene in the training room)...
Oct. 30th, 2012 05:46 pm (UTC)
But I'm not sure I know what people mean when they talk about Ripper, actually. Is Ripper the teenage hell-raiser?

I think of "Ripper" as Giles the grimly determined badass, which is why I put the killing of Ben down to his "Ripper" side.

The Wesley comparison is interesting -- his trajectory is kind of like Giles in reverse, where he starts out as the fussy tweedy librarian watcher type and becomes his own version of "Ripper" over time.
Oct. 31st, 2012 04:10 am (UTC)
Asking what people actually think of when they think of "Ripper," as fray_adjacent12, did is a very good point. One's understanding of the Ripper/Giles concept would very much influence how one sees/understands the whole offing Ben business.

I tend to think of Ripper as the unfocused, out-of-control, busting-loose-from-repressive-control younger Giles. That said, we know from Eyghon's (in Jenny's body) words to Giles in his apartment in "The Dark Age," that even "Ripper" did not groove on people getting hurt, and actively tried to avoid such situations. Eyghon criticized Giles/Ripper for being "soft" in this way, always worried that "someone might get hurt."

Giles, on the other hand, I tend to think of as very focused, and very much in-control of himself, his thoughts and his actions. I guess the point I'm trying to make is that "Giles" should not get to "explain away" his killing of Ben as an aberration or an out-of-control "Ripper moment" done in the heat of trying to protect his Slayer and the world. I think Giles' killing of Ben is very deliberate, very considered, and probably part of his plan all along, should he find himself with opportunity. Therefore, "Giles" the educated, wise Watcher makes a conscious decision to perform this act, not a "Ripper" making an unconsidered act like deciding to bust into a clothing store "Band Candy" sort of thing. His little soliloquy to Ben backs this up. What he is about to do, he does with both regret and determination.

In an early Buffy comic while the series was still on-air (not the current Season 8/9 comics), Giles is forced to prove himself to the Council by participating in something called "The Blackshed Trial," if he wants to become the Slayer's Watcher. The Council, of course, don't really expect him to survive, and rather hopes he doesn't. The trial is different for everyone and comes from within the person enduring it. Giles' trial takes the form of his being forced to confront Ripper as a physical entity separate from himself, and choose to kill or be killed. Instead, Giles chooses to take Ripper inside himself, thereby accepting his past as an inseparable part of himself. The Ripper entity nearly kills Giles, but in the end, Giles wins. He emerges from the Trial with his understanding of himself reconciled, ready to become Watcher to the Slayer. Its a pretty cool story, and one I buy into. This is part of why I don't see "Ripper" as separate from "Giles." The man who raised Eyghon with Ethan and the gang is the same man who killed Ben, but he is older, wiser, more experienced, more certain of what his role is (the role he has chosen) in life, and more focused and deliberate in his actions. I don't see a Ripper "side," I just see Giles, and all the amazing things he is, of which Ripper, or his "grimly determined badass" as mcjulie noted, is but one part/flavor of a whole.

In the end, we're probably all talking about the same thing.

(Head spinning, sitting down now, Giles is getting me tea, Ripper is laughing - no wait - they're the same! ahhhh! :-) )

Edited at 2012-10-31 04:14 am (UTC)
Oct. 31st, 2012 05:04 pm (UTC)
I have a bunch of those Dark Horse comics (bought a vendor's entire stock one convention when I was feeling Buffy-starved) but I haven't yet read them all, so I'll be interested to see if it includes that one!
Nov. 1st, 2012 01:23 am (UTC)
I'll see if I can find it and let you know the issue number. I really enjoyed that story. Especially when Giles walks out alive and Travers is not happy ;-) .

Got It! The Blackshed story is broken across the four books that make up "Slayer, Interrupted," Dark Horse Buffy the Vampire Slayer #56-59. The books are also collected into the Dark Horse BTVS Omnibus, Volume 1. If you want to find out how Giles got into the mess in the first place, then you have to drop back to "Viva Las Buffy," Dark Horse Buffy the Vampire Slayer #51-54, also in Omnibus Volume 1. The Omnibuses are available cheap on Amazon - lots of fun.

While Ripper is a bit more over-the-top and nasty in the comics versus "Band Candy," I found the concepts of Giles being tested and choosing to "throw out the manual" once again - accepting his darker self, and using it to his advantage, rather than trying to "kill" or "erase" it (or die trying). To me, this is very in-character for Giles, and a cool concept.

Edited at 2012-11-01 05:57 am (UTC)
Oct. 30th, 2012 06:16 pm (UTC)
As a stand-alone episode, "The Gift" surpasses "Chosen" by several miles. But as an ending to the series, I like the message of "Chosen" way better.
Nov. 3rd, 2012 01:51 pm (UTC)
I think Giles started on a new path by killing Ben - the murder of a person because they might cause a problem. Yes, Ben would probably eventually turn up with Glory, but is it okay to kill to avoid a possibility?

This is a question that comes up again when Giles takes the further step of conspiring to kill Spike on the grounds that even though he has a soul, he is still too dangerous to have around. More than that though (the Spike danger could clearly have been solved by an agreement as to who would watch him when unchained), Giles conspires to kill Spike mainly because Buffy relies on him too much and it is affecting her judgement. I see this as Giles, and not as Ripper, mainly because I don't see any other signs of Ripper in that episode.
Nov. 3rd, 2012 01:59 pm (UTC)
That's a really interesting take on it.

I would also not describe Giles' attempt to off Spike in S7 as Ripper-like, because there is no clear strategic benefit to it.
Dec. 14th, 2012 09:15 am (UTC)
This comment is so late, sorry! But I just wanted to say that I would have 100% agreed with Buffy if she had been arguing that setting out to kill her sister was too great a cost, even to save the world. Where I disagree with Buffy is when Dawn is willing to sacrifice herself when she sees the world being destroyed and Buffy still stops her. That always bothered me because it was very much a case of well Dawn and everyone else are very much going to die at this point anyway, what else are you going to do. But then of course Buffy finds another way *g* But having it so that Buffy just doesn't want to lose Dawn period, even though the world is going to be destroyed and everyone killed anyway, is where I disagree with her character, even while fully agreeing with the principle that it would have been wrong for Buffy to actually be willing to murder an innocent to save the world

And I also always felt like the show undercut Giles being willing to kill an innocent person as quite a shocking a moment as it should have been because we had already seen Ben willing to work with Glory and kill Dawn. Okay it was a horrible position that he was put in, but at the end if the day it was still a choice he made that puts him out of the innocent box IMO, yet the show seemed to want to treat him as nothing but a victim who didn't deserve death in his final episode.
Dec. 14th, 2012 06:15 pm (UTC)
But having it so that Buffy just doesn't want to lose Dawn period, even though the world is going to be destroyed and everyone killed anyway, is where I disagree with her character, even while fully agreeing with the principle that it would have been wrong for Buffy to actually be willing to murder an innocent to save the world

I agree that from a strategic sense, it doesn't always make sense -- but to me it's always seemed to make sense from a character standpoint, because Buffy isn't just fighting to protect one innocent person, she's fighting to protect The Innocent. Which in a way might be seen as fighting to protect her own innocence. So she dies to protect her own innocence -- which ties back into the Jesus metaphors.

A lot of the conflict in Season 7 involves her seeming to change her mind about that -- okay, now she's willing to sacrifice any individual in order to win the war. I don't know if she's more right in Season 7, but it fits the overall arc of the show as her journey to adulthood, and so she finally gives up her innocence.
Jan. 8th, 2013 07:55 pm (UTC)
My Top 5 Meta for 2012
User red_satin_doll referenced to your post from My Top 5 Meta for 2012 saying: [...] Love". Especially recommended is her poll and meta commentary on  "The Gift" [...]
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