Overall Rating: 6.7
Once again, there's a whole crap-ton of things happening in this episode, but none of them are fully sucking me in yet - they haven't gone "all in" and won't for a few more episodes yet.
Wikipedia has a recap, but if you don't watch these episodes, you're going to get lost - they are running five different mini-stories all related to the major war arc all at the same time. Suffice to say, Buffy gets her butt kicked by an uber-vamp, Spike tortured by the First but doesn't break thanks to Buffy's encouraging words in the previous episode, and Buffy exits to fight the uber-vamp again, only to get her ass kicked even more severely, culminating in a gloomy, yet rousing speech in which she officially declares war on the First.
The most effective pieces of this script are fairly dark - the show has definitely gone down a decidedly darker road in this finale - we are cool with here at RightFans as long as they keep up the lovable characters and the occasional splashes of humor and pathos to keep us going (and they do). The First tried tempting Spike, but he eventually resisted, with the help of Buffy. Now our common enemy tries to break him with psychological and physical torment and that is failing too, because Spike knows that he's got someone who believes in him and expects him to do good. These scenes work very well - as the first changes forms from Buffy to Drusilla to Spike and back again, it tries every angle it can find to twist his mind and he never breaks. Meanwhile, Buffy gets repeatedly pummeled by the new breed of vampire (the Turok'han) and the horde of potential slayers Giles was able to locate arrive just in time to see the beatings wreck Buffy's optimism in slow motion. Fun!
Seriously, though, this episode is kind of scattered and they have so many things happening at once, it feels very rushed. I think they would have been better off focusing on one or at most two plots in this arc at a time and cutting out some of the unrelated material than throwing all of this at us at once to establish the new stasis for the final 12 episodes. It's not that what we got was bad...just that we could have spent more time with Spike or seen a bit more of the process by which Buffy came to the realization that she was going to have to give herself to the hellmouth and declare war, whether she was ready or not. Overall, these last two episodes were solid, but a little haphazard and they pale in comparison to what is to come.
As noted, there are many scenes that work beautifully, even while the whole episode was feeling rushed...but the structure of the plot revelations throws me out of the illusion on several occasions.
Marsters and SMG are getting most of the screen time at the moment and doing well with what they're given. The new cast of slayer wannabes has a few guest actors that are fairly talented, and we're about to see a lot more of Kennedy (Iyari Limon) so we'd better get used to her style quickly. But nothing really and truly stands out this week. And actually...SMG's big final speech does not land with much of an impact...it feels a bit flat.
They don't quite hit the high notes very forcefully...a positive bonus is awarded for Spike's character arc demonstrating the power of faith and unconditional love (without dipping off into sexual misdeeds).