UPDATE: Turns out the iPad app for WordPress doesn’t work (which I already sort of knew), because I most certainly hit publish on this in late April/early May, a week or two after the Season Finale Season post. My apologies for depriving the world of this intense amount of analysis on Buffy for a few extra weeks; I know many of you are heartbroken. But without further ado, the post sure to solidify my standing as the most fanatical Buffy fan you know.
And now, to demonstrate my season finale ranking system, a look at how the season finales for my favourite show of all time (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) stack up against one another. Also, since the show ended over 10 years ago, I feel no sympathy for anyone who comes across spoilers in this post. But, I suppose, here’s the precautionary spoiler alert for the content below. Non-Buffy fans/Non-Whedonites should probably just stop reading now; this is about to get really, embarrassingly nerdy.
Quick summary of the results:
For those who either want to avoid the spoilers below or who look at this post and get immediately scared away by the amount of detail:
- Season 5, The Gift (8.7/10)
- Season 2, Becoming, part 1 & 2 (8.1/10)
- Season 7, Chosen (7.7/10)
- Season 3, Graduation Day, part 1 & 2 (6.9/10)
- Season 4, Restless (6.3/10)
- Season 6, Grave (5/10)
- Season 1, Prophecy Girl (4.1/10)
Actual scoring breakdown:
Season 1: Prophecy Girl (average score: 4.1/10)
- Connection – 7/10; a solid last episode of the premier season, however with only 12 episodes, this finale scores lower than some later years just for the sake of being the last episode to a very introductory short season and thus doesn’t benefit from the in depth plot-building that later seasons do.
- Emotionality – 4/10; the emotionality factor also suffers because of the show’s newness at this point in time; you simply don’t care quite enough about the characters yet. While the scene in which Buffy learns that she is destined to die certainly gives the episode a taste of emotional potential, the rest of the episode falls fairly flat in terms of really making you feel for the heroes.
- Unpredictability – 1/10; The only really unpredictable element here was Buffy’s momentary death, and even that was pretty gimmicky. You knew they wouldn’t permanently kill off the main character, so the only real question was “how will she survive”.
- Antagonist – 3/10; The Master – meh. Made sense in the first season for the Big Bad to be a fairly generic vampire, but he was pretty pathetic and anticlimactic overall.
- Conclusionariness – 7/10 – Prophecy Girl concluded what little ongoing plot there was to conclude, but once again I have to fall back on the feeling that this was a pilot season and didn’t have a whole heck of a lot to be concluded.
- Cliff-Hangeriness – 0/10; this episode wrapped up the season but didn’t go any further than that. It makes me wonder if they knew in advance that they had been renewed for a second season, or if the whole first season was aired before a judgement was made?
- Quality – 7/10; while it might not stand up against later episodes, the finale was certainly one of the better quality episodes of the season. I initially gave it an 8/10, however I docked it a point for using the theme music as a (tacky) gimmick within the episode.
Season 2: Becoming (Part 1 & 2) (Average score: 8.1/10)
- Connection – 8/10; I may be rating this finale slightly higher than I should due to my epic love of evil Angel, however I’ll admit that it needs to be docked points for things like Whistler. Flaws aside however, the finale ties together Angelus, Drusilla, and Spike’s reign of evil in a satisfying, edge of your seat, two-part finale.
- Emotionality – 7/10; season two truly showed fans that Joss Whedon wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and kill off key characters, and the finale is no different. While Whistler may be a general low point, his narration at the end of Becoming Part 1 is sure to drive home the emotional tension – and when paired with the drama between Buffy and her mom and the echoes of Jenny Calendar’s death, this finale keeps its hold on your emotions for its full two hour run time.
- Unpredictability – 8/10; This finale has no shortage of twists and turns. From Kendra’s sudden death, to Spike teaming up with Buffy, to the ultimate question of “will they save/stop Angel in time”, this episode ranks near the top of the bracket on this factor for it’s sheer number of shocking elements.
- Antagonist – 10/10; Angelus is pure evil; witty, charming, sociopathic evil. He isn’t afraid to manipulate both friend and foe, doesn’t take no for an answer, and is a demonstration of what can be classified as chaotic evil alignment. Overall, he carries this season and pretty much sums up everything an antagonist should be.
- Conclusionariness – 8/10; Overall, this episode logically and successfully wraps up the season, however I’ve knocked off a couple of points based on the fact that they had to introduce a random, never before mentioned character and flashbacks of said character in order to do so. While I can only assume that Whistler was originally meant to be the same character as Doyle (or vice versa I suppose), there are no words for how glad I am that this awkward weasel never shows up again.
- Cliff-Hangeriness – 8/10; it’s pretty rare that a finale can balance the conclusionary feel with the draw for more action to come, but season two does a pretty darn good job. When we leave off, Buffy has been expelled, kicked out of her home, has just killed her boyfriend, and is leaving town. And to top it all off, the world is another slayer down, meaning of course that a new slayer is waiting in the wings…
- Quality – 8/10; it’s a great finale – but it’s amidst a solid season of great episodes meaning that it doesn’t shine quite as brightly in comparison. Points are awards however for being an extremely well paced two-part episode.
Season 3: Graduation Day (Part 1 & 2) (Average score: 6.9)
- Connection – 10/10; in terms of connection to the season, Graduation Day has it down, neatly wrapping up the high school experience for the Scooby Gang with wit, an epic battle, and just the right amount of nostalgia. From Faith’s season-long decline into evil, to the Mayor’s impending ascension, this two-part episode is a near perfect capstone for Buffy: The High School Years.
- Emotionality – 6/10; while a strong episode overall, “emotional” is not the term I would use for this finale. Graduation Day focuses far more heavily on humour than dramatic tension, and while there’s certainly an undertone of finality, the season three finale can’t even hold a candle to season three’s true emotional roller coasters like Earshot, Enemies, or The Prom.
- Unpredictability – 5/10; this episode kept you guessing as to how exactly Buffy & team will save the day (chase the mayor with hummus?), but really there isn’t ever a question about whether or not they will save the day. Also, knowing that Angel was getting a spin-off reduced the tension surrounding him dying – it’s pretty hard to give a pile of dust his own tv show.
- Antagonist – 9/10; The mayor and Faith? Epic duo for sure. However, I knocked a point off for the mayor-snake’s horrendous CGI. While a good many aspects of this show stand the test of time well, the CGI-mayor-snake is not one of them.
- Conclusionariness – 10/10; When I think of the overall arch of Buffy’s seven seasons, I tend to think of it in three sections: high school (seasons 1 -3), college (season 4), and real life (seasons 5-7). In this vein, and as I mentioned in the “Connection” category, I think that Graduation Day concludes not only this season but the high school era pretty much perfectly. While there were small hints of what is to come as the Scoobies make decisions about their futures, the two-part finale truly focuses on closing out Sunnydale High as opposed to setting up for season four.
- Cliff-Hangeriness – 0/10; they graduate high school, they’ve all made choices about where to go next, and that’s a wrap.
- Quality – 8/10; I’m giving this two-part finale the same score as I did Becoming in season 2, and I’m using the same justification. Great episode, well-paced, but it doesn’t necessarily jump out as being leaps and bounds above other season 3 episodes. Annnnd the mayor-snake’s “oh gosh” always makes me cringe just a little.
Season 4: Restless (average score: 6.3/10)
- Connection – 3/10; overall this finale has very little to do with anything (aside from a sort of thematic exploration of where each character is at). It gets a couple of points for touching on things like Xander’s sense of exclusion from the college-bound Scoobies, and Willow’s inner turmoil over her identity development, but to say that everything in this episode is clearly connected to the previous season would be a stretch. It also doesn’t help that season 4 was sort of a nothing season to begin with…
- Emotionality – 6/10; this episode is emotional in an unconventional way. Putting aside the intense confusion experienced the first time watching, Restless does a good job of exploring the current emotional states and struggles of each character in turn, resulting in a surprisingly good finale to a generally lacklustre season.
- Unpredictability – 10/10; this is the category in which Restless shines – you definitely don’t see this episode coming. As a dream sequence, this finale can (and does) go wherever it wants. Gruesome dream deaths, metaphors galore, and of course, the cheese man; there is absolutely nothing predictable about this episode.
- Antagonist – 7/10; Luckily I get to rate the first slayer here and not Adam, since he would get a considerably lower score as an antagonist. I’ve scored this episode’s antagonist highly here because despite a lack of integration into the preceding season, she is highly unique and has ties to future plot lines in both seasons five and seven.
- Conclusionariness – 3/10; I have to rank this factor the same as the “Connection” score for this episode for much the same reason: it wraps up the single element of the consequences of the spell cast to defeat Adam, but otherwise I would argue that it points the way forward more than it addresses the past.
- Cliff-Hangeriness – 5/10; this score is up for debate since there is nothing concretely left open for resolution, but I found that this finale just really got me excited for season 5! Watching this episode gave me the sense that the show would be charting a new direction from this point forward, and that Buffy and friends would probably be required to grow up a bit in the process. Though I could be reading to far into the fact that since my original viewing I have watched this episode an outrageous number of times (with and without commentary) searching for easter eggs that probably vary from intentional to figments of my overactive imagination.
- Quality – 10/10; this episode is visually stunning and enjoyable to watch in a way that stands alone in the series.
Season 5: The Gift (Average score: 8.7/10)
- Connection – 10/10; this finale scores highly on Connection for a different reason than Graduation Day – while it also contains a highly anticipated climactic battle, what really puts this episode above the curve on this factor is the tie-ins that the season has laid out in advance that all come together in this hour of glory (see what I did there?). From the orb, to the Buffy-bot, to the prophecy of the gift itself, this season’s finale had the groundwork being laid as early as the third season, so of course it deserves high marks on this first criteria.
- Emotionality – 9/10; While I wanted to give this episode a 10 on emotionality, it still pales in comparison to The Body from earlier in the season, so a near-perfect score it is. The emotionality of this episode is directly tied into the above ranking for connection to the rest of the season – by the end of season five you’ve seen the characters go through so much emotional anguish that once you realize where it’s all headed you can’t help but hurt for the characters. Between Xander’s heartfelt proposal, Willow’s magical retribution, Giles’ pseudo-chivalry, Buffy’s final speech, and Spike’s wracking sobs at the end, there really isn’t a dull moment.
- Unpredictability – 10/10; despite the fact that all roads had been leading here all season, this finale kept me guessing right up until its final moments. The revelation regarding the first slayer’s prophetic message and meaning of the episode’s title was perfectly timed so as to keep the tension high not give anything away too soon.
- Antagonist – 9/10; Glory gets a high ranking for sheer damage done, her well-developed personality, and her uniqueness to the series. Also – an epic shout out for providing the basis for the hilarious “Ben is Glory” conversation sequences (So… do we think there might be some type of connection between Ben and Glory?).
- Conclusionariness – 10/10; everything about this episode screams “conclusion”. It ties together every loose end from it’s season in a well-planned and executed finale. This episode is probably one of my favourite season finales of all time.
- Cliff-Hangeriness – 3/10; at first glance the death of the main character might seem like the ultimate cliff hanger. However, if you think about it, it is actually a faux-cliff hanger since in order to continue on with the show you have to assume that the titular character will probably be brought back to life at the start of the next season. This episode also gives zero lead-in to the actual plot for season six, making viewers come back simply to see how they bring Buffy back. Couple this with the shady advertising at the time of The Gift being labeled as the “WB Series Finale” (as the show was to move to UPN for the last two seasons) and this episode felt more conclusionary than cliff-hangery.
- Quality – 10/10; as stated above, this is my favourite tv finale, probably of all time, so of course I’m giving it a top score in quality. In having rewatched the season numerous times, I feel the quality makes a serious jump roughly four episodes from the end and keeps on climbing until reaching the finale. Acting, writing, drama, tension, sacrifice, emotion, it’s all here. Also, she saved the world. A lot.
Season 6: Grave (average score: 5/10)
To start, this episode can’t really stand on it’s own without the preceding two episodes – so with that in mind, I’m going to review Seeing Red, Two to Go, and Grave as a three-part finale.
- Connection – 5/10; this episode scores low simply because the uneven pace of the sixth season makes it impossible to see a clear progression of plot throughout the season. Sure the Trio had their role, and Willow’s magic addiction finally comes to its peak, but the fact that I can’t even review the finale without considering the package deal of the last three episodes speaks for itself.
- Emotionality – 4/10; while the end of season six was far superior to most of the rest of the season (Once More With Feeling aside), the finale still struggled from lack of direction in its leading-up episodes. The three final episodes tried really hard to convince you to care, and while it had its moments, most of those moments felt forced. Sadly, I have to exclude Tara’s death from this review, since I really can’t justify including something that happened four episodes back in my analysis of the finale (but seriously – props to the production team here for making me tear up over the death of a character I hated from the moment she was introduced).
- Unpredictability – 5/10; this factor gets a middle of the road rating since the overall outcome of this season was in no way surprising, however the plot points along the way were decently hard to call in advance (Warren’s death, Giles’ return, Spike’s soul, etc.)
- Antagonist – 8/10; for clarity – I’m choosing Willow as the antagonist here rather than the Trio based on the events of the finale episodes. Sadly, as epic as she is, I did have to take off a few points here because I had to make that distinction. While her magic addiction was an ongoing plot point for season six, she can really only be considered the antagonist for three episodes of the 22 episode season. But man, evil Willow is awesome.
- Conclusionariness – 3/10; mehhh*shrug*. I’m going low here since a) there’s not a whole heck of a lot to conclude in this set of finale episodes, and b) even what little there is to conclude doesn’t really conclude. Warren is now dead and the other two members of the trio simply flee the country; Willow doesn’t end up destroying the world, but there’s no redemption or anything happening until early next season; Spike has his soul and will return to do something with it; and Buffy once again realizes she needs to value Dawn more, but her life is probably going to be just as rough in the future as it has been all year right? Again I say “meh”.
- Cliff-Hangeriness – 3/10; and yet despite my above statement about how nothing is really concluded, I also didn’t feel that the season ended on a cliff hanger either. While things may not have been tied up in a neat bow by the end of season 6, I didn’t particularly care about the bits and pieces left open ended. If I wasn’t so in love with the show by this point in time, the season 6 finale would not have been a huge draw to keep coming back for more.
- Quality – 7/10; this season finale gets a small boost for the sole reason that in comparison to the rest of the season, these last three episodes do stand out as being considerably better than most of the fodder that season 6 had to offer. Now my rankings for this season may make it seem like I hated season 6 with a fiery passion, which is untrue. I loved certain episodes. But as season, it lacked direction, it lacked focus, and it lacked a strong overarching plot to tie everything together (in my mind, the Scoobies generally failing at being adults does not count as a strong core plot). The last couple of episodes however showed that Joss has still got it goin’ on, and ALMOST make up for the atrocities we had to endure this season like Flooded and Doublemeat Palace.
Season 7: Chosen (series finale) (average score: 7.7/10)
And while I said that series finales really have their own criteria to be judged by, the list simply didn’t seem complete without the capstone episode, so here it is.
- Connection – 8/10; while it may not be perfect, Chosen (and the seventh season as a whole) does do a good job of pulling on its seven years of source material to create a satisfying and tense conclusion to the series. However, this episode loses points for its Deus Ex Machina problem solving.
- Emotionality – 7/10; this episode gets a boost here simply for being the last episode and thus has the emotional anxiety surrounding how the show would finally wrap up (and hoping that Whedon wasn’t going to kill off all of your favourite characters on his way out). If it were the finale for any other season it might not have scored so high (thus the need for a different set of criteria), but regardless there were enough emotional highs and lows to keep me invested in the fate of each character throughout, and left me satisfied (if not totally happy) in the end.
- Unpredictability – 9/10; while watching this episode originally I made the general (and ultimately correct) assumption that Buffy & friends would come out on top, however the path there was nothing if not uncertain. Having seen seven years of main characters being killed off certainly brings you to the series finale with a sense of trepidation about the fate of the heroes. This episode gets a high rating on unpredictability because going in it just feels like anything could happen.
- Antagonist – 6/10; the First gets points for being a cool concept, however Caleb loses points for being so darn easy to kill as soon as Buffy takes a real shot at him. I also have to keep this score down ever so slightly due to the extreme variation in toughness of the Turok-Han (seriously, it took Buffy a majorly labour intensive effort to kill the first one that got loose, but give all of these moderately-trained newbie slayers some slayer strength and suddenly the uber-vamps are being dusted right, left, and centre by the dozen?).
- Conclusionariness – 8/10; As a season finale, I would say that this episodes ranks highly for wrapping up the last season of the show (though as a series finale, I would have liked to see a bit more closure for the characters, but I’m rating this in relation to the season, not in relation to the entire series). My biggest problem with this episode was just that I wanted more seasons to follow! But as a season capstone it was perfectly fine.
- Cliff-Hangeriness – 7/10; again, this might be one that you disagree with but, as such a huge fan of the Buffy-verse, when I finished this episode I immediately wanted to know “what happens next?!”, and thus I’m scoring it highly on Cliff-Hangeriness, despite the fact that the primary plot line was resolved. With so much coming out of the blue in this episode, from character deaths to a change in the whole slayer mythos, I wanted more of everything as soon as this episode ended – which luckily the season 8 and 9 comics have given me! And I’m looking forward to season 10 starting soon!
- Quality – 9/10; I thought season 7 was a huge improvement over the mess that was season 6, and the finale was no different. The season built steadily toward this final episode and the finale itself didn’t disappoint. The script was strong, the acting was excellent, the drama was gripping, and the narration and exposition during the scene in which you realize just what the plan is gets credit for giving me goosebumps the first time through. While not quite perfect, this episode was certainly satisfying nonetheless.