I was a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer all through my teenage years. From age twelve to my freshman year of college, I spent every Tuesday night in front of the TV, basking in leather-clad bad guys, quippy good guys, and the romantic drama between the two. I never missed an episode, and taped most of them so I could watch them again whenever I wanted.
In case you somehow managed to miss out on this cultural phenomenon,Buffy the Vampire Slayer was about Buffy Summers, a regular Californian teen girl who finds out that she’s the Chosen One, destined to protect humanity from vampires and other forces of darkness. The show takes the feeling, shared by most teenagers, that “high school is hell” and makes it literal. An unpopular girl who feels like no one sees her becomes actually invisible. A weird new roommate is genuinely a demon. And when Buffy worries that having sex might change her relationship with her boyfriend – well, I’ll just say that it definitely does.
It’s hard to pick a favorite episode out of seven seasons of TV that were all hugely important to me, and which I still regard fondly. But if I had to go with just one episode, I’d chose “The Gift”, the season finale from Season 5. Part of the reason it’s my favorite is for the episode itself: Buffy is forced to choose between saving a loved one (her younger sister, in this case) and saving the world. There seems to be no way to save both. It’s a decision she’s faced before, but she’s older now, tired, and less willing to sacrifice others for the greater good. Despite the overall tragic tone, the episode also has some hilarious lines of dialogue, an adorable marriage proposal, and fantastic visual effects.
But I also love this episode for how it works within the structure of the show as a whole. It’s the last episode of the fifth season, and five seasons was originally the length of the actors’ contracts. Knowing therefore that the show might end with this episode, Buffy’s writers planted foreshadowing and hints about the events of “The Gift” over two years before the episode itself aired. Two years! That’s an amazingly long time to wait for a payoff. I admire anyone who can manage such long-term plotting and carefully crafted structure. Call-backs, deliberate repetition, and foreshadowing are some of my favorite storytelling tools, and “The Gift” uses them all heavily. As much as I enjoy seasons six and seven, if “The Gift” had been the last episode ever, I couldn’t argue with that choice. It’s a perfect resolution to everything that came before.
Plus, the ending always makes me cry. I love TV that can draw strong emotions out of me.
Check it out: