Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 5, Episode 22: The GiftWritten and Directed by Joss Whedon
This is it: the 100th episode, the intended series finale, and what the previous 99 episodes were building towards. At least, that's the theory. In practice, we all know that Buffy was renewed for a further two seasons of extremely dubious quality - two seasons that, personally, I could have done without. The Gift's ending is, for me, perfect. Buffy embraces her purpose - which, it has to be said, is not a particularly pleasant purpose, but it's what she knows she has to do, and she goes out a hero, rather than the dismal wreck to which she was reduced in Season 6. And despite the sadness inherent in ending any series with the death of its lead character, it has to be said that The Gift contains enough optimism for it not to be a monumentally depressing experience. Willow restores Tara's mind, Spike proves his worth, Xander proposes to Anya... A year later, of course, all of these points would be negated in spectacular fashion, but hey, I said all along I might just pretend Seasons 6 and 7 didn't exist, and given the choice of dead Buffy, or dead Tara, dead Spike and dead Anya and two seasons of crappy episodes, I'd take dead Buffy any day.
It has to be said that this episode is filled with as many plot holes as the ones leading up to it. In typical Buffy fashion, a bunch of McGuffins are brought out at the last moment to help turn the tide in Team Buffy's favour, including the Dagon Sphere which was brought up in Episode 5 and then never mentioned again until now, and Olaf the troll's enchanted hammer from Triangle, which has now suddenly become Olaf the troll god's enchanted hammer, so the writers can justify it doing damage to Glory. And, of course, we have the whole debacle regarding the fact that, in reality, Buffy giving her life to save Dawn's would not have closed the portal. After all, the phrase is "Until the blood stops flowing, it will never stop", not "Until someone with the same blood jumps into the portal and is zapped to death, it will never stop".
But I think these are minor details. The Gift is a fantastic episode through and through. It has doom and gloom, it has rampant emotions, it has laughs, it has the Buffybot, and it even has a bad CGI dragon (those sort of things are something of a Buffy staple). In his commentary for the final episode of Season 7, Chosen, Joss Whedon pretty much admitted that he'd said everything he wanted to say in The Gift. That, straight from the horse's mouth, pretty much sums up my opinion of everything that followed Season 5: redundant. We got some good episodes (Once More with Feeling being the highlight), but when I ask myself if the monotony, bitterness and plain bad writing, acting and directing, mixed in with the odd decent episode, was worth it to get a further two seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, my answer is a big fat "no".
PS. This was the last episode of Buffy to be shot by the show's original cinematographer, Michael Gershman. All subsequent episodes were shot by his second in command, Raymond Stella, who tended to cover the episodes Gershman was directing himself.
Overall rating: 10/10.