"She's a hero, you see. She's not like us."
And there you have it.
Xander proposes to Anya. Giles kills Ben. Spike has one of his greatest moments, and then his greatest failure. Willow continues her impressive growth as a witch and saves Tara. And Buffy sacrifices herself to save Dawn and the world.
"The Gift" is a monumental episode for a number of reasons. It's the 100th episode of the series. It's the last episode that aired on The WB. Its "Previously..." montage is an epic, brilliant summary of the previous five seasons. And its ending - Buffy's death - is a logical endpoint for the series. But we know there are still two more seasons, and we'll get to them soon enough. (I will say that, unless my opinion changes when I rewatch it, "Chosen" is a better series finale than "The Gift" would have been.)
One of the truly remarkable things about "The Gift" is how balanced it is. Practically every character gets a great, defining moment that's been developing for a season or longer. Plot threads from throughout season five converge in expected and unexpected ways. And, while it's not a cliffhanger, it leaves me desperate to know what happens next for these characters. It's Joss Whedon The TV Writer at the peak of his extraordinary powers.
You're a killer!
Xander briefly brings up the idea of stopping Glory by killing Ben. "He's an innocent, but not like Dawn-innocent", but then he dismisses the idea. We know, thanks to "The Weight of the World", that Ben isn't completely innocent; though, really, the only way he can truly stop Glory is to commit suicide, which does present an interesting moral dilemma. But nothing - even the knowledge of his Ripper past - prepared me for how chilling it is when Giles stands over Ben's bloody and broken body and snuffs the life from it. (Not insignificantly, Giles puts his glasses (often the symbolic difference between Giles and Ripper) on before killing Ben.)
As Giles himself said earlier in the episode: "But I've sworn to protect this sorry world, and sometimes that means saying and doing what other people can't. What they shouldn't have to."
Spike's story in three screengrabs
"I know you'll never love me. I know that I'm a monster. But you treat me like a man, and that's..."
"I made a promise to a lady."
"Oh? Then I'll send the lady your regrets."
And this one. Of course.
The roots of Willow's upcoming dark turn stretch back to season 3, if not earlier. She was on the sidelines for much of season five, only really becoming a key player again in the last few episodes. She's become an impressively powerful witch; her assured, kick-ass "She's with me!" as she saves Tara's mind from Glory is a great moment. (And so is Tara's "I got so lost!", which gives me goosebumps every time.) Also impressive is her telepathic communication with Spike. Willow's use of her own power contrasts in interesting ways with Buffy's. And that's the thing about season 6 that I'm most looking forward to revisiting, even if there are large parts of season 6 I'm not particularly looking forward to rewatching.
Death is her gift
Finally, we come to Buffy. Her work throughout the entire season is amazing - it's been a heavy year for Buffy, and Gellar carried it superbly on her tiny shoulders. But more than anything in season 5 (even more than anything in "The Body"), the one image of Buffy that has stayed with me most is the look on her face when she puts it all together. As the sun rises and Buffy figures out another, better meaning for "Death is your gift", Buffy has the most amazing look of serene acceptance. (A screengrab didn't do it justice; it made Buffy look like she'd just woken up.) After five years of fighting a war she didn't ask to fight, after dealing with the pain of her mother's illness and death, this is what it comes to:
Dawn, listen to me. Listen. I love you. I will always love you. But this is the work that I have to do. Tell Giles ... tell Giles I figured it out. And I'm okay. And give my love to my friends. You have to take care of them now. You have to take care of each other. You have to be strong. Dawn, the hardest thing in this world is to live in it. Be brave. Live. For me.It's a truly extraordinary moment, worthy of ending what might be the greatest season in TV history.
"The Gift": A+