The final ever episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was shown here in New Zealand on Wednesday night. You could tell it was definitely the last ever when the four main characters repeated several lines of dialog from the first episode in the series, six years ago. The cycle was closing.
It was always hard to explain the show’s appeal to non-fans. Watching an episode with someone who hadn’t seen it before would turn into an hour of explanations. Like a long running comic book, Buffy had a lot of back story to draw on, which could get a little exclusionary to those who tried to start watching it in the middle. It was often too much, and many people who never watched it thought it was just Beverley Hills 90210 with supernatural stuff. Superficially, it was. Vampires, shopping, witches, boyfriend trouble, demons, flipping burgers, the apocalypse. There was more to Buffy than that (though I’m finding it hard to explain). Perhaps in part the great writing, the long story arcs, the rich characterisation, and let’s not underestimate the viewer-pulling power of a beautiful woman kicking ass. (Note that Buffy had only the latter – and arguably even that – in common with pale imitations like Charmed.)
And like any TV series there were good episodes and bad episodes. Yet when on top form Buffy was amazing. There are several episodes I’ll always remember, but the one that affected me the most was The Body, possibly the most emotionally charged hour of television I’ve ever seen.
In it, Buffy returns home to find her mother peacefully dead. Nothing supernatural, or evil, just the ordinary horror of a fatal brain haemorrhage. It’s totally unexpected, and extremely shocking. That feeling of awful unreality following the news of a close family death lies heavily, and you get the impression that the only thing Buffy is conscious of is the numbing sound of blood rushing in her ears. Not much TV can make me cry. That one did.
There’s nothing worse than once great TV gone to seed (as it looked like during Season 6, the series before this last one). It’s best that Buffy finished now, while on top of its game. But it’s sad to see it go.