This post is chock full of spoilers. Seriously, all the spoilers. If you haven’t watched Buffy, you should stop reading and start Netflixing now. Come back when you’ve finished all seven seasons.
The first rule, the first truth, the first thing we know in entire series of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show comes from a voiceover repeated to us over and over at the beginning of each episode in the first two seasons: “In every generation there is a Chosen One. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer.”
As we do in any fantasy series, and too often in reality, we accept the rules of the world as they’ve been laid out for us. This is how things are! It’s the status quo, and we never question it.
Throughout the series, we’re led to hate this rule because of the toll it takes on Buffy. We even perhaps doubt the writers’ logic in interpreting the rule, with the details of Kendra’s and Faith’s activations after Buffy’s temporary death.
This truth we never question is supported by an ancient organization, the Watchers, who pass down the knowledge and training and keep an eye on these young ladies who are basically sacrifices in the name of protecting society. Maybe it’s crappy, but it’s just a fact of life.
Much has been said about the feminism, or lack thereof, of BtVS as a series. Here, I’m more interested in focusing specifically on the series finale, which I think is one of the more subversive hours of television I’ve ever seen. By the time we get to this episode, we’ve been watching the show for seven years, and the most fundamental truth about the universe is about to be turned on its head in a revolutionary and empowering way.
Halfway through the last season, the writers give us an episode with some details about how the first slayer came into existence: three warlocks chained her up in a cave and fused her with a demon spirit to make her stronger. At the time, it seemed to me like a throwaway subplot, though it did give Buffy a nice excuse to yell some feminist vitriol at those ancient jerkfaces:
“You guys? You’re just men. Just the men who did this. To her. Whoever that girl was, before she was the first slayer…You violated that girl. Made her kill for you because you’re weak.”
And here’s where the subversive genius of the last episode comes into play. In the final episode, we realize this little exchange serves a purpose, that it shows us the only reason this first truth of the series exists is that these three oppressive men non-consensually forced it on the first slayer, totally arbitrarily. And we see that our characters are more powerful than those men were. But friends (and this may blow your minds): this message can be applied to more than just Buffy! Many of the sexist (and racist, and classist, etc) norms we struggle with in real life are just here because a bunch of old dudes thousands or hundreds of years ago decided to put them in place and everyone since has been accepting and supporting them. If we want to believe we can change them, we have to believe that we are more powerful than the ancient people who created them were.
In “Chosen,” the final episode, The First Evil visits Buffy in the night to taunt her, quoting that old beginning rule (“Into every generation a slayer is born…”). Afterward, she tells Spike “I just realized something. something that really never occurred to me before. We’re gonna win.”
Cut scene! Buffy has just shared her idea with the Scoobies and potentials, but the audience is in the dark. What is the reaction of the gang when she tells them her mysterious plan?
Faith: “It’s pretty radical, B.”
Giles: “It’s a lot more than that. Buffy, what you’ve said, it flies in the face of everything we’ve ever–every generation has ever done in the fight against evil. I think it’s bloody brilliant.”
Pretty explicit in retrospect, yet as I watched it I still had no clue what this mysterious idea could be, until eventually we get a flashback to Buffy’s explanation:
“Here’s the part where you make a choice. What if you could have that power now? In every generation, one slayer is born, because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule. They were powerful men. This woman is more powerful than all of them combined. So I say we change the rule. I say my power should be our power. Tomorrow, Willow will use the essence of the scythe to change our destiny. From now on, every girl in the world who might be a slayer, will be a slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice: are you ready to be strong?”
DRAMATIC MUSIC! KICKASS FIGHT SCENE! She and Willow literally empower the potential slayers. It is radical, and it’s also unbearably awesome.
Then, finally, there’s that smile at the end, when Dawn asks her “What are we gonna do now?” Did your heart not swell with triumph?!
It was a clever choice to name the episode “Chosen”–a perfect symbol for the final shift in thinking that not just saves the world, but changes it. Since that very first episode, we’ve had it beaten into our heads that Buffy is the Chosen One. If you’re like me, you never really noticed that passive voice, but in the series finale it was inescapable. Who chose it? Until now, those three dudes from thousands of years ago. But as of today, the slayers have chosen their fates for themselves- much happier fates now that there are more of them, one hopes. And that last question Dawn poses is a choice as well–a choice Buffy’s never really had before. She smiles as it fully dawns on her that she has control over her own life.
If we all question the passive voices and the first rules in our own lives, and claim our power over them, I like to think a smile like that awaits us all.