Buffy the Vampire Slayer's finale perfected the art of the ending
20 years on from Buffy the Vampire Slayer ending, we look back at the very last episode, Chosen.
In the year of our lord 2023, plenty of shows still struggle with the ending.
To be fair, there are various reasons for it – many showrunners don't know how long they're going to have on air, so how do you wrap a show up neatly not knowing whether you've got two, three, four seasons to do it in? Some shows are cancelled before they get a chance to get going (ahem, Netflix). Others (I won't name a certain zombie show) go on for far, far too long just because they can.
But it's certainly not impossible and really, an ending is something that can make or break a show. When you think of a series like Lost, or, more recently, Game of Thrones, you might think of the feverish excitement surrounding it when it was airing. Or you might think of how catastrophically its ending was received.
As we look back at Buffy the Vampire Slayer 20 years after Chosen, the final ever episode, aired, it's clear not everything has aged particularly well. But that ending? Still magical.
Chosen does nothing just for the sake of it – everything has a purpose, and every character receives a fitting ending.
Perhaps most importantly, it's the epitome of every value that Buffy stood for throughout its seven-season run, most prominently female empowerment. Willow (Alyson Hannigan), at the height of her power once again, imbues all of the potentials with the powers of the slayer, resulting in that incredible scene of dozens of girls and women fighting together as they take down the Hellmouth once and for all.
While plenty of other shows have celebrated female empowerment since, it wasn't exactly commonplace when Buffy was airing. As Spike actor James Marsters recently told RadioTimes.com: "Buffy was one of the first shows to make the point that women can fight back."
Of course, there are issues with every girl who has the potential to be a slayer being imbued with new powers that have been pointed out in the years since the finale aired. Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) spent years lamenting the difficulties of being a slayer, why would she not think about any of them potentially feeling the same way? But it still stands to make a powerful point – after years of having to hold a burden alone, she's now supported by girls and women across the world, after she rejected what fate told her and made her own rules.
Then there's the issue of Buffy's love life. It would have been so easy to have Buffy ride off into the sunset with either Angel (David Boreanaz) or Spike (James Marsters) but, in having her stand with her friends and the new Slayers at the end, Buffy proves that she never truly needed either of them – at least not as a boyfriend.
Plus, it allows their stories to end on a much more satisfactory note. After his brief return, we see Angel walk away into the darkness, the same way he entered the series with him and Buffy finally on the same page. Meanwhile, Spike's redemption is complete, as he sacrifices himself to save the world. While he refuses to believe Buffy truly loves him (an earlier version of Spike no doubt would have deluded himself into believing it), he does it anyway – because it's the right thing to do.
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It could also be argued that this female empowerment has continued behind the scenes, with stars including Charisma Carpenter (Cordelia) speaking out against creator Whedon. She was supported by co-stars including Sarah Michelle Gellar. Whedon later denied claims made by Carpenter.
Another key to the Buffy finale still being so well-regarded 20 years on is it was left well enough alone – something that's pretty rare in today's TV landscape. I love a spin-off as much as the next person, but never when it risks impacting the legacy of series (do I need to mention the zombie show again?). Of course, we're not forgetting Angel, which aired almost concurrently to Buffy and ended in 2004. Call me naive, but I see it more as a companion rather than a way of making a quick buck after the end of Buffy.
Also acting as a companion to the series were the Buffy comic books, published between 1998 and 2010. While they're considered canon and continued the stories of many of the characters, moving the story to a different medium avoided any impact that they might have had on the series' legacy as a whole. The fans who wanted to know what happened next delved in, and the fans who didn't were free to enjoy the series as a standalone.
Since the final episode of Angel, while there have been almost constant rumours about reboots and remakes, there's been no suggestion that they'll come to fruition, largely thanks to Sarah Michelle Gellar, who has often pointed out that it was done right the first time. I can't claim to speak for the rest of the Buffy fandom, but I can't imagine a revival for the sake of it being well imagined - just look at the reaction to the recently announced Harry Potter series.
For fans, a good ending couldn't be more important. It's a chance for them to say goodbye to a show that they've spent hours of their life with, and that's often been a constant in their life for years. While everyone has taken away something different from Buffy, it will always be remembered as groundbreaking and fearless and although Chosen perhaps hasn't aged perfectly in every way, it's an ending that absolutely did that justice.
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