Buffy's Last Stand

Over the past seven years, Buffy Summers has brought the world back from the brink of destruction and closed vortices that would have sucked the Earth into a hell dimension, only dying twice in the process. But this time, the apocalypse is real. On Tuesday, May 20, Buffy the Vampire Slayer will dust her final vamp and battle her last demon. And then the world will end.

For almost seven years now, I've spent nearly every Tuesday night watching Buffy and the Scooby Gang kill vampires, demons and even a hellgod or two. I've spent more hours than I care to count repeating Buffy witticisms, detailing blow-by-blow accounts of action scenes, critiquing the cast's style in clothing, and agonizing over their broken hearts. Buffy night became a ritual in my various apartments, wherever that happened to be. As a recent college grad, interning at an entertainment magazine in Los Angeles, my roommate and I turned down movie screenings, red-carpet openings and record-release parties because they were scheduled for a Tuesday at 8pm. Upon moving to the Central Coast, Buffy night evolved to take-out food, a bottle of wine, chocolate and like-minded Slayer friends.

I'll admit it: When Sarah Michelle Gellar, who plays Buffy, announced that Season 7 would be her last as Buffy, the proverbial stake was driven through my heart.

At first I didn't believe all the end-is-near talk. It's not like Buffy hasn't died before. And it's not like Buffy and crew haven't fought off an apocalypse or six in their seven-season run. When you live atop a hellmouth -- as they happen to do -- it kinda comes with the territory. But this time, it's looking pretty eternal. R.I.P, Buff. You'll be missed.

The vampire slayer got her start on the big screen. In 1992, 20th Century Fox produced a movie about a high school girl named Buffy Summers, cheerleading prom queen by day, Vampire Slayer by night. Written by Joss Whedon, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" was a brilliant story, with witty one liners (and the brilliant Donald Sutherland as Buffy's Watcher) but critics said the direction was less-than divine. And while it quickly became a favorite of my cheerleading friends and me, the movie was hardly a dazzling success.

Lucky for Whedon and fans, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" was reborn in 1996 as a television show, this time with Whedon in control of the production.

The TV show was scary, sexy and smart. It's butt-kicking, sex-kitten heroine slayed the old horror-movie cliché of the cute girl as helpless victim. Buffy was one tough-as-nails chick. On the small screen, Whedon's creation was pure genius.

Unlike many teen-genre shows, Buffy acutely depicted the drama and heartbreak of the high-school-into-twenty-something years. The vampires Buffy fought were often dramatizations of the real monsters we all face: death, separation, alienation, and the horror that is high school. Sometimes they were more vaguely horrific, like the Gentlemen -- tall, thin, toothy undertaker-looking floating demons who steal the voices of everyone in Sunnydale in an attempt to harvest their hearts.

During its seven-season run, Buffy's clever pop culture references and raw emotion resonated with teen audiences and adults alike. At the height of its popularity, 5.3 million viewers tuned in every week to watch Buffy destroy all sorts of evil with her tae kwon do moves and deadly wit -- not to mention her keen fashion sense.

Not only did Buffy destroy the vamps, she did it in style. Anyone with a wooden stake and a decent arm could stick it to the undead most of the time, but fighting in tight designer jeans and stilettos revealed real skill.

Sure, it's a cliché, but at critical junctures in my life I often find myself thinking, what would Buffy do? And what would Buffy wear? At its core, Buffy told a coming-of-age story. The heroine fell in love with Angel, a centuries-old vampire. Unlike most blood-sucking demons, however, Angel was a good vamp. He had a soul. When Buffy had sex with him for the first time, he lost his soul, became a monster, tried to kill Buffy's mom, and opened a vortex that would suck Earth into a hell dimension. It's every girl's worst nightmare. Eventually he got his soul back, but by then it was too late. Buffy had to drive a stake through Angel's heart to close the vortex. Bummer.

Ultimately, Buffy's a good-versus-evil myth. Its heroine is an unlikely savior who's as morally conflicted as the rest of the show's characters -- the witches, vampires with souls and murderous demons turned into humans.

Buffy was chosen to be The Slayer -- she didn't chose this line of work. The truth is, Buffy would much rather go shopping, date boys and do normal girl things than spend her nights patrolling graveyards. Buffy tries to do good and save the world, but even she slips up -- sleeping with her archenemy, a vampire named Spike who had tried to kill her on several occasions.

It's a redemption tale, but its characters pay for their sins. Angel was cursed with a soul so that he would never forget the people he brutally tortured and killed during his bloody reign of terror. Anya, a demon turned human, used to delight in practicing vengeance spells on men. It's no coincidence that in her human days, this former Patron Saint of Scorned Women was left standing at the altar.

Although it deals with serious stuff -- growing up, losing friends and loved ones, and dying -- Buffy always does it with clever writing and dry, wicked humor. There's no laugh track on Buffy. Whedon trusts his audience is smart enough to get the dark jokes, as in the scene when Buffy realizes she will have to kill Angel, her first true love, to save the world. She answers the call of duty in a deadpan voice: "I told him that I loved him. And I kissed him. And then I killed him." It's funny.

By the next season, Angel had been to hell and back -- literally. Right before prom night and her high school graduation, Angel had told Buffy he was leaving for Los Angeles, citing their 200-year age difference, and the fact that he couldn't boink her without turning evil.

All Buffy wanted was a normal teenage life. She wanted her boyfriend to take her to the senior prom.

Like most people struggling between high school and young adulthood, Buffy's had a traumatic six years. She's fought many of the same demons we all face at that time in our lives -- first loves, lost loves, rebellion, growing apart from old friends -- it's just that Buffy's evil boyfriends are literally evil.

She lost her soulmate, Angel the vampire, twice. She discovered that her bratty teen sister Dawn wasn't actually her sister, but rather a cosmic force called The Key, sought by a nasty, hottie Hellgod named Glory, who opened a portal once again to bring about hell on earth.

Shortly thereafter, in a particularly gut-wrenching episode called "The Body," Buffy's mom died -- one of the few natural deaths in the series. A brain tumor killed her mom, driving Buffy to realize that there are some forces more powerful than slayer strength or magic spells. Buffy felt the weight of the world on her shoulders at this dark point, and in her attempt to be strong, she pushed all of her friends away.

A few episodes later Buffy really does carry the weight of the world. In order to prevent a hell portal from opening up, Buffy dove into a vortex, and sacrificed herself in her sister Dawn's place. That time, it was a temporary death. Buffy's best friend, Willow (who also happens to be a sweet lesbian and a powerful witch) used white magic to resurrect Buffy because she believed Buffy was suffering in a hell dimension. It turns out she had been resting in eternal Paradise.

Later, when a demon causes everyone in Sunnydale to burst into song, Buffy admits she'd rather be dead.

At this point in the series, the gang had been out of high school for two years. They realized they had grown apart and begun experiencing all of those post-high school insecurities. Some went to college, some didn't. They found new hobbies, lovers and friends. Buffy spiraled down into a deep depression, and had a violent, destructive sexual affair with a very bad man. She didn't choose a rock musician or an unemployed actor -- Buffy chose a vampire. Spike, a cocky, Billy Idol look-alike from 19th-century England, became a fringe member of the Scooby Gang when a secret government Initiative planted a chip in his head, rendering him harmless to humans. But it doesn't look good.

And now, as Buffy's said repeatedly during Season 7, she's tired. She's lost her drive to fight and she wants to rest. It looks like soon, she'll get her wish.

Or will she? Whedon's famous for not giving his characters -- or his fans -- what they want. When it looked like things were finally going well for Angel and Buffy, wham, bam, Angel lost his soul. Willow's true love died in her arms. Xander left Anya at the altar. And after years of sexual tension, Buffy began a torrid affair with bad-boy Spike that literally brought down the walls. Lately, Spike has become her strongest ally and sometimes only defender.

I have been cheering for Spike (whom I have a huge crush on), hoping that before the apocalypse Buffy will admit she's in love with the demon. As this season nears its climax, it appears that their unlikely relationship has a chance. But in the preview for next week's episode, Buffy's first love Angel came back. And the trailer shows the two kissing. Poor Spike.

Aside from Angel's return to Sunnydale, cast and crew haven't leaked much to the press about the Buffy finale. Whedon has said people will die, although he won't say who, and that the series will go out with a bang.

Here's what I'm hoping to see:

In major girl-power victory (and some spectacular fight scenes), Buffy and the Slayerettes -- a small army of younger, up-and-coming vampire slayers in training -- will jab, kick and stake the undead into nothingness.

Caleb, a priest/agent who believes all women are "born dirty," will be there for the big battle, of course. In a triumph against women-hating religious types everywhere, Buffy will personally kick his misogynistic-preacher ass to hell.

Willow will finally become strong enough to harness her Wiccan power, and will find herself on the good side of the apocalyptic battle. (Last season, strung-out on black magic and enraged by the murder of her lover, Willow tried to end the world. Buffy's physical strength couldn't stop her; Xander's love did. Willow stood on a mountaintop, hell bent on total annihilation, when Xander, who said he wanted to spend his last moments on Earth with his best friend, interrupted her. She violently lashed out at him and he kept repeating, "I love you." Corny, but it worked; his love was stronger than evil.)

This time around, Buffy and company will need both super-power strength and real unity. In end-times like these, count on Xander to be the backbone that holds the Scooby Gang together, even if it costs him his life.

And if he doesn't bite the dust, maybe Xander and Anya can give their love a second chance. Her blunt honesty balances out his sarcasm -- even if her demon background means she doesn't understand his wit most of the time. Dinner parties with these two would be a hoot.

There's no better time to come into your own than an apocalypse, so although Dawn's not a potential slayer, I'm hoping she has earned some supernatural powers after this epic struggle. She deserves it. Maybe she can assume demon-killing responsibilities from her older sister. Buffy needs a break.

In the final scene -- I hope -- Buffy professes her love to an eternally devoted Spike and they ride off into the moonlight (sunset won't work -- he's a vamp) on Spike's motorcycle. She drives.

Jessica Lyons is a staff writer at Coast Weekly.

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