I see what they're doing, dramatically, and I understand the logic...but that doesn't mean I have to like it.
Wikipedia has the valid info on this one - it is a logical plot construction, but not a particularly innovative one.
If you wanted to end a franchise on the ultimate battle of wills between good and evil, slayer and demonic forces, life and death - I can understand you setting up this really obvious dichotomy...but it's not what I would have preferred to see for several reasons. Caleb clothes himself in biblical language, spiritual reverence and outward morality, while beneath the surface, there is only evil and excuses. This sort of personality most assuredly exists and can be found in religious walks of life, but whether they intended it or not, the Buffy writers have essentially pit Buffy against religion by demonstrating that it can be bent to an evil purpose by an evil mind. Just because such things can and do happen does not mean I wanted the final battle to be between an Atheist slayer and a Reverend serving the demonic equivalent of Satan. And before I get accused of being overly sensitive due to my belief in God (as opposed to Whedon's professed atheism), allow me to walk you through the history of a show steeped in Biblical symbolism and imagery and filled with distinctly Christian moral lessons that appear to be watered down by the events of this episode.
- Buffy's rightful gift - the reason she existed through season five - was love in the sense that Jesus demonstrated love for all of mankind, by giving Himself up to save us all from sin and death. When she fell from the tower in "The Gift", she landed momentarily in the portal, her legs crossed and her arms stretched wide like the Crucifix. That wasn't done accidentally.
- Nor was it an accident that when Buffy was gone, she was in Heaven. HER WORDS...not mine. How can there be a heaven without God? For that matter, how can Spike get his soul back and have that matter if the soul isn't the spark of goodness in him bestowed by God? Ditto Angel.
- I can't count, with all of my digits, the number of episodes which focused on the power of love, forgiveness, charity, and hope to turn the tide in seemingly impossible situations. Note - those things did NOT involve sex. And the few times Buffy DID have sex, bad results followed. Angel lost his soul and nearly destroyed the world, Riley got his rocks off getting eaten by vampires because he was in a committed and COMPLETELY loveless relationship that never should have gone as far as it did. Parker was a tool and a user. Spike...Spike tried to RAPE Buffy because when she said no before, she always came back. Her abuse of Spike nearly destroyed her! And the fun doesn't stop with Buffy. Oz nearly destroyed Willow when he couldn't resist beastly temptation. Xander and Anya began having sex utterly capriciously and Anya wound up le3ft at the alter because Xander finally grew up and realized a marriage based on lies and constructed around fear and haste couldn't work. Anya got back at him by doing Spike - which...helped SO much. Joss's point hasn't been that sex is bad...but it certainly SEEMED to be that sex was not something to be taken lightly and that if you're going to be having it, you'd better know that it's for keeps. And now we have Xander and Anya doing it just to put a neat little bow on their relationship so they can move on? And Faith hitting on Spike just so she can get a few cheap orgasms?
- It's funny they should bring Faith back now - supposedly reformed. When we saw her last, she was a victim of her own lack of faith - made low by her own selfishness and fear of consequences. She assumes that men couldn't possibly desire her for reasons other than her body and therefore gets only the worst kind of sexual attention (and abuses the few good and kind souls that pass her way). The central reason, lo those many years ago, for Faith's treachery was her inability to take responsibility for her actions - romantic actions (sex without commitment), physical actions (murder of a human which she insisted was an accident that she shouldn't be punished for), antisocial behavior (pushing people away because if they get too close, they might realize she's just a scared little girl). Yet now...supposedly all better...she's still the same old faith when it comes to her womanhood. I'm sorry, but I call BULLSHIT on that one.
Whether they intended to or not - their insertion of Caleb the preacher man into a story that lacked direct religious overtones has made this a fight between false religion and true atheism/mysticism - that upends years of tradition in this franchise and spoils its legacy, IMHO. The fact that this preacher is a blazing misogynist who insists on calling all of his enemies whores, kills them indiscriminately and for now reason other than to amuse themselves etc and oh BTW, speaks with a Southern drawl...it's a not-so-subtle suggestion that Southern religious fundamentalists are, by definition, anti-women - I find that offensive. I have many issues with Southern religious fundamentalists - and with fundamentalism in general, but I don't believe in stereotyping whole groups of people. And frankly, Buffy had done such a good job AVOIDING man-hating post-feminist propaganda that I had some hope they would steer clear of it entirely. That hope was foiled here.
I think I would have rather seen a final showdown that pitted Buffy against someone she held dear - if the First can infuse any man with its power, why not attack Buffy's closest friends? Why not fight dirty and from within her ranks? The external imagery not only insults my intelligence, but it feels forced and tacked on...not to mention cliche and obvious.
Honestly...am I really the only one who finds this final "boss baddy" over-the-top and insulting, as well as banal and unimaginative?
This episode succeeds in providing us with a very powerful bad guy to fight mano-a-mano and to represent evil incarnate so that Buffy has something to hit. But I think the evil on display is, at best, a caricature of a bogus stereotype, and that's a shame.
Nathan Fillion does a lot with his role - it's just a shame his role is retarded. Xander's big speech about Buffy having earned their loyalty and trust was powerful and effective. And I have nothing but praise for Elisa Dushku's acting chops, though the hilarious attempt at flirting sexy-poses was kind of silly.
It's all been said...this feels like a betrayal of everything that Buffy has stood for in the past. It does get better toward the end...but in this episode...I feel highly deflated.