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August 12 2016

Buffy, "The Gift", and the Avoidance of Choice. Was Buffy's self-sacrifice at the end of Season 5 a deus ex machina?

I haven't had a chance to read the whole thing yet, but I think the analysis that Buffy's sacrifice was a deus ex machina, essentially a cheat in terms of storytelling, is a very imperfect analysis of Buffy's character. If anything, it was one of Buffy's major traits that she always saw the third option when presented with only two. It just so happens that in this case her third option could only be achieved with her own sacrifice.

A deus ex machina also tends to be a mostly unwarranted outside interference which solves the problem much too easily, whereas in the case of Buffy's sacrifice, they had been building up to it since season 3 and the solution was all but magically easy.
Yes. I found this person's "logic" to be seriously flawed. I read this in the middle of the night, so was having trouble working out exactly what the problems were, so thanks, Mitholas.
Hm. Note to the writer: "Deus ex machina" doesn't mean, "Here's a really kewl term that I hear other people using to criticize works of fiction. I don't know what it means, but I'll bet if I use it to criticize this storyline, it will make ME sound kewl, too."

The writer has no clue what function is served by the deus ex machina in drama (classical or otherwise).
Mitholas, you don't need to read any farther in that essay than you already have, because with what you have read, you've summed up everything that is wrong about it. I'd like to elaborate further, but you've said it all.
This is such a bizarre argument. This is a character decision that has been foreshadowed for two years and fits perfectly with the character's growth and the story's themes. Aside from mislabelling it a deus ex machina, how can they say that self-sacrifice isn't part of a slayer's responsibility? It's the defining burden of being a slayer. It's basically the only choice every slayer before Buffy ever had.
Haha. What?

I don't think those words mean what he thinks they mean. :P
Putting in a word in favor of the article, since nobody has yet. I thought it made a good point.
That's interesting, Kairos. You mean you would have preferred Buffy to make another choice / not have the option of using her own blood? I'm curious about that, if you wouldn't mind elaborating.
I thought the article made an interesting abstract point about pushing characters to their limits, and not cutting off their choices. I disagree with the way the author applied that idea, especially regarding Buffy. Just because Buffy didn't have to choose whether or not to sacrifice Dawn doesn't mean she was given an easy way out. In fact, if that was the only choice, it would have just been a retread of season two's finale, where Buffy did have to sacrifice someone she loved to save the world. We've already seen her make that choice.

For me, one defining characteristic of Buffy's character is that she doesn't just accept the choices she's given. This artcle cites the season seven episode 'Dirty Girls', as an example of her making real choices with consequences, but forgets that the finale was all about changing all of the rules. As in the season five finale, Buffy was faced with a horrible situation, and found a way out of it that was on her terms. These episodes were not about the avoidance of choice: they were about being presented with a very limited choice, and instead choosing to forge your own path.
I appreciated the article, but it's a huge reach. He even acknowledges that the events of Buffy's season 5 finale was set up from "Death is your gift." Buffy even rejects the idea, but "Your question has been answered." comes next & the First Slayer fades away all misty.
On top of all of that, she's being subdued by the Big Bad of the season who happened to be a God. The Counsel were a bunch of dicks. We lost Joyce. Riley ditched out. The whole season is about loss and sets up the finale completely.
The First Slayer goes on about how Buffy is filled with love & it will lead her to her "Gift", then talks about how her love is so bright it burns like the fire and that's why she pulls away from it. The finale of the season is Buffy realizing that she's misinterpreted her First Slayer idea, which was actually a prophecy. The fire will burn you, your love will lead you to your death. You've earned it! It's as if the article suggests that Buffy's second death wasn't earned, when it so obviously was.
So no. Non Deus Ex Machina, not even a cop out. Nothing like it. Seems more like not quite the Climax the writer of the article was hoping for.

Check this though;
I have my own theory that in season 6, episode 3 After Life, after they bring Buffy back from the grave they have a "Hitch-Hiker" to deal with. It is my strong belief that that "Hitch-Hiker" was in fact an Angel from Heaven. It was sent to punish Willow & the Scoobs & Willow knew it too!
If you go back & watch this episode with the belief that that Hitch-Hiker is indeed an Angel, you will have an much more darkly fulfilling experience of Willow all throughout the rest of the season. Especially during the research scene in The Magic Box when Willow is describing how they can kill it. I think she's lying! While Xander is talking to Tara about "Could Willow have known this was going to happen?" and Tara's all "No way! She would never..." & then Willow interrupts with the very answer tey all need. Thamogenesis! I think she knows exactly what she did, & was relying on the fact that Buffy would be back & that they could combine powers (which they ultimately did) to kill it. Willow even waited until Buffy was gone from The Magic Box, chillin' at Spike's crypt, before she "found" the answer.
I don't think Willow knew Buffy was in Heaven, but she knew the consequences. She's way too studious. I love how it paints the remainder of the season even darker. The Demon even looks Angelic!
And later on in the season when Giles confronts Willow & calls her stupid, Willow basically comes back with "I just resurrected a Slayer & manipulated her into killing an Angel for me old man. Don't piss me off!"
Anyway, just a fun little theory :D Man I love Buffy!

[ edited by Gorch on 2016-08-14 02:09 ]
Bluelark, I wouldn't try to substitute a scene of my own invention for the ending of "The Gift", but yeah, I'd be interested in seeing what would happen if using her own blood hadn't come up as an option (or if her gamble hadn't paid off so her sacrifice had been for nothing).

Mostly, I'm thinking about how Angel, in his own series, was always choosing between the lesser of two evils. His actions drew a lot of criticism from other characters and also fans, because the lesser of two evils is inevitably subjective and has some ugly results.

Compared to Buffy, who's faced with the choice between two evils and comes up with a third option just in time, Angel doesn't look too heroic. But the comparison doesn't really hold up, because the narrative of Angel's story never allowed him to have a third option. There were plenty of moments in which he clearly would have sacrificed his own life to save someone, but doing so wouldn't have helped anything, so he didn't.

Most of Buffy's big moments are constructed to showcase how awesome she is. Most of Angel's big moments are about how conflicted he is. Both are great characters in great stories, and there's nothing wrong with both of them sticking to their own theme, but I would have liked to see them switch places once in a while.

Gorch, that's a neat theory! I'll keep it in mind when I rewatch.
Gorch, I like that angel theory. It's true, they didn't re-examine their hitch-hiker concept after they discovered that Buffy was in Heaven.

Kairos, that's a really good point about the difference between the two series. I think of all stories as having their unique gods or Powers That Be (the writers), and that dictates things like whether characters are rewarded for their efforts, punished for doing wrong, and whether chance is ever on their side. And that's where many of the the themes and the worldview come from. When you put it that way, Buffy's PTB are more benevolent than Angel's, which results in very different stories.

An unforeseen get-out clause in the rules about the Key and the portal probably wouldn't have worked on 'Angel', but I think it worked perfectly in 'Buffy' on a metaphorical as well as plot level. 'Death is your gift' is the answer to Buffy's original question of whether she was still able to love. Buffy's relationship with Dawn shouldn't have been real, her bond with her newly-created sister shouldn't have mattered, but her love was real, which is why her blood physically and magically worked. I love how 'The Gift' ends because it's epic and deeply personal at the same time.

I wonder if Buffy's choice looks like an easier way out in retrospect, knowing that she was brought back to life. In a way, what she goes through in Seasons Six and Seven is almost like punishment for making her choice and still getting to live. She doesn't get the peace she was promised and her character flaws become starker as she's faced with more unforgiving decisions.
Potentially unpopular opinion:

I'm not sure I completely agree with the article, but I do agree that Buffy's choice "evaded the dilemma." I don't see it as heroic. She takes away Dawn's choice, and then commits suicide based on a gamble (and one that I'm not convinced should have worked), knowing that the world's only other slayer is not in a position to take up the mantle. She's not making the decision to save the world - she's using saving the world as an excuse for suicide, and in the process she's ignoring the advice she gives to Dawn: to be brave and live in the world with all its hardships.
ntertanedangel, Hmmmm...I disagree. I see Buffy's initial interpretation of The First Slayer's message as a misunderstanding. It's actually a prophecy. We learn at the same time Buffy learns what her "Gift" is. I remember complaining about the episode when it aired, because it was a bit of a disappointing climax.
The circumstances of the season were set up to make it impossible for Buffy to win. But she still wins! She dies (again) but she does so as the Slayer, fulfilling The First Slayer's prophecy. But she does save the day. Just like how it was prophesied she would die when facing The Master. If she had been talking about retiring from Slaying more in season 1, could we not conclude she was suicidal then too? But Buffy has friends, so she won't stay dead for long.
Disappointing Climax, maybe not the very greatest season or writing for the show, but I can't rightly criticize her choice to literally sacrifice her life for her loved ones & in order to save the world. Buffy talks a lot about retirement because the options don't make sense, just because when they finally do and it leads to her death does not make her sacrifice a suicide. She's the Slayer! She saved the world, again.
I don't really see the First Slayer's prophecy as relevant. Buffy didn't jump because it was prophesied, she jumped because she chose to jump. Yes, her choice makes sense of the First Slayer's comments, but beyond that it doesn't really affect anything.

It's been a while since I watched Season 1, but my understanding is that she faced the Master at least hoping that she could fight him and thwart the prophecy. That's totally different than Season 5 where she goes willingly to her death.

I'll grant you that Buffy saves the day. But I don't think saving the day automatically makes her heroic. She has spent nearly the whole season leading up to the finale complaining about her duties as Slayer, refusing to contemplate the hard choices surrounding Dawn, and having (understandable) breakdowns about her difficult life. And suddenly the narrative presents her with a convenient solution that fixes one issue and allows her to escape the others. Nevermind that the logic behind her decision is dubious at best. Nevermind that there is an alternative that would actually be better for the world (allowing Dawn to sacrifice herself, keeping a Slayer active in the world). Nevermind that she's doing everything that she tells Dawn not to do.

It's the changing standards that bugs me the most about this. She's willing to sacrifice someone she loves (Angel) to save the world, except when she isn't (Dawn. And this is before she realizes she has a way out), except that she changes her mind about that later. These are some pretty dramatic changes of heart that I don't feel are properly explained or justified. If you're going to try to convince me that she dies because of some principle, you're going to have to do a better job of convincing me that Buffy has some kind of a coherent ethical framework beyond just "this feels right at the moment."

I actually quite like the episode, but I think the ending fails to establish Buffy's heroism and fails to properly address the difficult issues that Buffy had been dealing with up to that point.
'framework beyond just "this feels right at the moment." '

ntertanedangel I personally think that might not be inaccurate about Buffy; Giles, Willow, a nd Spike are the intellectuals, not Buffy, and it's quite the possibility she's never delved deeply into her own beliefs that way.

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