Before delving into any of the show’s politics, this much needs to be said: season seven – the show’s last – is terrible. Not just mediocre, or bad, but truly, genuinely shit-tastic, such that any greater point is undercut by the horribly contrived narrative mechanics. To wit:
– Caleb, evil preacher and agent of the First Evil, has super-strength enough that in Buffy & Co.’s first battle against him, he kills several potential slayers, gouges out Xander’s eye, and neither Faith nor Buffy is able to inflict any injury against him. But after Buffy is cast out of her house, she returns to Caleb’s lair, where she defeats him by… running really fast. No, seriously, she outruns him, in what might well be the most cartoonish moment of the entire series.
– When the potential slayers (and Buffy’s friends) vote her out of her leadership role, choosing Faith instead, Faith acts reasonably, listens to input, and takes decisive action, but then OH NO A BOMB!!!! Of course. Because nobody else but Buffy can be the leader, for any reason, even valid ones. BUFFY 4EVA!!!
– Buffy finally kills Caleb using some super-special, mystical axe, the origins of which are never really explained (someone starts to explain it, but then oops she dies mid-sentence!) – but from what little we learn, it has no relevance to any slayer-mythology that has been presented previously, and is pretty much the definition of deus ex machina.
– Or, wait, there’s an ever better example! In the show’s finale, Angel shows up from LA with a mystical amulet, and although his presence is a relief – he is pretty much the sole character in the entire season to whom Buffy does not condescend – his purpose is ludicrous. See, Angel’s got some mystical amulet to deliver that just might help save the world! Good thing, too, since everything else we’ve heard all season long is that there is no way, ever, in the history of the universe, to defeat the First Evil. Pretty handy for this amulet to show up, huh?
– What I remembered most clearly from the finale was Buffy (and Faith) sharing their Slayer strength: using Willow’s mad witch skills and the power of the Magic Axe, Buffy and Faith break down the traditional line of secession and allow all potential slayers to participate fully in Slayer-dom. It’s a great idea, and there’s a sappy but sweet montage of girls around the world awakening to this newfound strength, and if this were the solution to defeat the First Evil it would have some real poetic resonance. Except… it doesn’t do a goddamn thing. No-longer-potential slayers still get killed by the vampiric agents of the First, and what ultimately saves the day – by turning the town of Sunnydale into a giant crater – is that stupid goddamn amulet (worn by Spike, not Angel, because even the insufferable merit redemption). The slayer-share concept is so cool, and so beautiful, and such a perfect ending to the series, but as played out it is also useless, and that’s a damn shame.
– Also, Buffy gets mortally stabbed in the abdomen, but then picks herself up and manages to parkour her ass across the entire rooftop landscape of Sunnydale, outrunning the formation of the aforementioned crater. What? Yes, Slayers are supposed to heal faster than the average joe, but they’re not immortal, and this is just lazy and stupid.
And why such gymnastics of plotting? To foreground Buffy, at all times, and at no cost to the character. See, when Buffy gets voted out of leadership, the motivations of the other characters barely matter: she’s the hero, and so even voted out she’ll defeat Caleb while silly Faith is leading her charges into bombs. At no point does Buffy have to seriously confront the idea that she doesn’t always know best; at most she grapples with messaging.
This is a shame, because what made the show great in its earlier years was its acknowledgement of everyone’s strengths, demonstrated best in the conclusion to Season Four – in order to defeat the mongrel monster Adam, Willow (“the spirit”), Xander (“the heart”), and Giles (“the head”) perform a spell to combine all of their powers and act through Buffy (“the hand”). The idea that Buffy can be enriched by others’ contributions, or that she has anything to learn from others, is rejected in season seven, and to disastrous (and humorless) effect.
Seriously, you guys, “Buffy” was a great show for a while, but its last season sucks.