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My Concerns with "Chosen"

For the entire history of the Buffy Phenomenon, "Chosen" has been rated as one of the ten best episodes of the entire show. I think that it is a good episode, but it has far too many flaws to be a great episode. In this essay, I discuss some of the flaws that keep this episode well away from the standard set by the best episodes of the show.

Excessive Dei ex Machina

In "A New Man," Riley found himself needing to know the plural of "apocalypse." In "Gone", the nerds stumbled over the plural of the word "nemesis," and Buffy was confused until Holden set her straight in "Conversations with Dead People." I relate to this as "Chosen" makes me want to know the plural of "deus ex machina." Apparently, the preferred plural is "dei ex machina," so I use that term.

The reason for my interest is that the events "Chosen" depend on three dei ex machina:

  1. Buffy finding a neat-looking ax in "Touched" that she wielded in "End of Days" and "Chosen."
  2. Angel coming to town with a powerful amulet in "End of Days" and giving it to her in "Chosen."
  3. Willow somehow using the neat-looking ax to turn all potentials (including ones who have yet to be found) into slayers in "Chosen."
Having even one deus ex machina is a lazy writing device. Having three is even worse. I can sort of understand the first. After all, the ax already appeared in the Fray comics, so it was not invented just to solve Buffy's problem. In fact, some have speculated that Joss Whedon inserted it into this show just so the prop department could make a copy for him. The second is semi-understandable as it may tie into what is expected to be the fifth season arc in Angel, so there is time for characters on that show to pay a price for the deal that got Angel the amulet if not for the amulet itself. Furthermore, the amulet led directly to Spike's death, so it did not come cheap.

The final deus ex machina, however, went too far. The problem with using magic in a story is that it could easily be used to solve otherwise unsolvable problems. Therefore, the characters are never in danger and never risk failure. After all, Willow can simply rescue them with a spell. As long as this is the case, there cannot be any tension in the story.

There are a few of ways to use magic without this problem. One would be to limit the effectiveness of magic. This would let magic solve simple problems, like the lack of party decorations in "All the Way." Major problems, such as not having a competent army to fight what was allegedly a competent army, would have to be solved through other means. However, this makes magic much less impressive. A story could also have antagonists capable of using equally powerful magic to counter what the protagonists are capable of doing, like Voldermort in the Harry Potter films and novels. However, on Buffy, there was no opponent powerful enough to counter Willow at her peak. Finally, there can be consequences to using powerful magic that would make its use very undesirable in all but the most dire emergencies.

The show has taken the final route over the last few seasons with both direct and indirect consequences from powerful spells. When Jonathan made himself the center of his universe, he created an evil demon that he could not defeat. After Buffy broke the spell, Jonathan found himself even more isolated socially. When Willow and the others cast the enjoining spell in "Primeval," the First Slayer tried to kill them in their dreams in "Restless," and Buffy found herself questioning the nature of being a slayer to the point of wondering if she was capable of loving. When Willow and the others resurrected Buffy in "Bargaining," they created a thaumogenesis demon that possessed Anya, Dawn, and Xander and later tried to kill Buffy in "After Life." Later Willow went down the path of becoming Dark Willow by the end of the season. These consequences ensure that magic is not just a simple way to solve a problem that the writers got into.

The problem in this episode is that Willow cast a very powerful, universe-altering spell whose effect far exceeded anything seen before on the show, save for Jonathan's spell. However, there were no negative side effects. Joss Whedon used magic as a simple way to solve a problem, something that Giles and Tara attacked Willow for doing in the beginning of the sixth season. The show needed to have direct and indirect consequences for this, something that was not possible given that this was the final episode of the show. The direct consequence of the spell could be anything as long as it serves as a deterrent against using such a spell. There is, however, a very obvious indirect consequence from using the spell that could have been used but was not.

The characters seemed to assume that giving young women Buffy's power would turn them all into versions of Buffy: conscientious defenders of humanity and warriors against evil. They apparently forgot that power corrupts. Instead of creating many versions of Buffy, they created many versions of Faith circa early third season. Not all of the new slayers will go down the path that Faith took. However, Faith, at least, had a watcher before arriving in Sunnydale and had Giles once she arrived. Many of the new slayers that we saw in the montage have no watchers, and, with Giles being close to the only surviving watcher, will never have the personalized attention that Giles was able to give Buffy and Faith even if the new slayers are located. These new slayers would be even more likely to turn evil than Faith was when we first saw her. There is a possibility that this issue will be addressed in Angel. However, without giving away any spoilers, it is safe to say that Angel will deal more with the consequences of the final episode of its season rather than the final episode of Buffy, so this problem will probably be ignored.

First Evil Never Came Close to Winning

With few exceptions (Blake's 7 comes to mind), the heroes will eventually defeat the villains in the end if the show has not been cancelled first. Therefore, suspense comes from not knowing how the heroes will win rather than from not knowing if they will win. Still, it is far more exciting when the heroes win just when the villain is about to succeed than when the heroes win when the villain is a long way from succeeding. The previous six seasons of Buffy understood this.

The pattern here is that the final battle takes place as the villain is about to succeed. The consequences of failure would have been disastrous. In "Chosen," the First Evil was a long way from succeeding. If Buffy failed in this episode, she could have tried again later if she survived. This robbed the final battle of much of its meaning.

Ignores the Enormity of of Sunnydale's Destruction

The destruction of Sunnydale meant the destruction of the town where Xander and Willow spent their entire lives, where Dawn spent her entire life as a human (albeit with false memories of living elsewhere), where Buffy spent the last six and a half years of her life, and where the other characters spent anywhere from a few months to several years of their lives. Their homes and all their possessions went with the town, yet they only seemed to care about the destruction of the mall.

Among the casulalties:

Some of the material items may be replaced, although the sentimental value would be lost forever. Willow appears to be supported by her relatives, but Xander, Buffy, and Dawn would be in a serious financial situation. Xander had started a career and should be able to find new employment, assuming that he can track his old supervisors as references. However, he has nothing to support him until that happens. Buffy and Dawn lost the only asset of value that they had—their house—although they owed more than the house was worth. To get any compensation, Buffy would have to convince her insurance company that her policy covered whatever type of catastrophe the authorities claimed to have occurred. Their relatives have not been much help so far, so there is no reason to expect help in the future.

Beyond the personal loss for the characters, the destruction of Sunnydale also resulted in the destruction of a town with a population between 30,000 and 40,000. Most of those people probably left with whatever belongings they were able to put in their cars, but they still lost their homes and other possessions. Most of these people would not have homes to go to. It is also possible that there were still some people remaining, all of whom would have been killed. Finally, there was a large loss of infrastructure, including a branch of the University of California system and any highways that pass through town. It will be an enormous drain on state resources to replace them. The destruction of Sunnydale would not be equal to the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina, for example, but it would cause very serious problems that were never addressed.

Missing Elements

Before "Chosen" aired, I wrote down five things that I expected / wanted to happen:

  1. An explanation for who or what spoke to Dawn in "Conversations with Dead People" and why she or it did so.
  2. An explanation for what Beljoxa's Eye said in "Showtime."
  3. An explanation for Giles's out-of-character behavior, particularly in episodes like "Lies My Parents Told Me" and "Empty Places."
  4. A confrontation between Angel and Spike over the changes in Spike over the last two seasons.
  5. Most importantly, I wanted a clear end to the Willow/Kennedy relationship.

As it turned out, one of the above was touched upon and the rest were ignored. It was left to episode commentary to find out that the First Evil took on Joyce's appearance in order to mess with Dawn's head. Furthermore; other than the unavailability of Eric Balfour, Robia La Morte, and Kali Rocha; it was never explained why the First Evil targeted Dawn over Xander or Giles or Anya or another character who participated in the final battle. The unavailability of Amber Benson did not prevent the First Evil from targeting Willow, but there was a clear reason why the First Evil would target her.

The statement from the Beljoxa's was very vague. Unless there was more that we did not see, it was unclear why Giles and Anya concluded that the First Evil was acting now because of Buffy's resurrection in "Bargaining." Slightly more plausible candidates include Xander's reviving Buffy in "Prophecy Girl," which caused two slayers to exist at the same time; and Buffy's death in "The Gift," which would be the first time a slayer died without causing a new slayer to be called. Each of these instances disrupted the slayer line more than Buffy's resurrection did in "Bargaining." Furthermore, Willow's spell turning all potentials into slayers would have been an even bigger disruption, which should have empowered the First Evil even more.

There was never an explanation for why Giles seemed to be so distant from Buffy this season and why he seemed so afraid of any kind of fight. Instead, we got a reversion to the old Giles in "Chosen." My hypothesis is that he may have been one of the people who dug through the wreckage of the Watchers Council headquarters and helped recover the bodies of his former colleagues. This would be a traumatic experience and might explain why he seemed to be a different character for much of the seventh season than he had been in the first six seasons. Ideally, we should have had a Giles-centered episode explaining this, but we at least needed an explanation.

I wanted a direct confrontation between Spike and Angel in which Spike pointed out what he and Buffy repeatedly did in the sixth season and in which Spike pointed out that he earned a soul rather than had one thrust upon him. Although Spike and Angel never confronted each other directly, Angel still got the news through Buffy, so this sort of occurred.

Finally, I never saw Willow and Kennedy as being a good match for reasons that I described in my commentary on "The Killer in Me." I do not like the idea of Willow being romantically involved with a minor, and I do not think that the characters are suited for each other even if Kennedy were an adult. This episode was the last chance for the relationship to end, so I wanted it ended. Unfortunately, the relationship seems to be as strong as ever when the episode ended.

Other Issues

In "Bring on the Night" and "Showtime," the turok-han was portrayed as a super vampire. In fact, it was nicknamed as the ubervamp. It threw Buffy around like Adam and Glory used to do. It was either invulnerable to staking or its chest could withstand a stake driven in at Buffy strength. The shear number of ubervamps in "Chosen" should have overwhelmed the new slayers, causing the massive carnage I had been hoping for every since potential slayers arrived. One ubervamp alone should be more than a challenge for Giles, Principal Wood, Xander, Dawn, Anya, and Andrew together even if all six ganged up on it. However, we saw these characters do fine even though the characters were outnumbered and had no superpowers. In the process, only one of the six was killed, and that was by a bringer who snuck up behind Anya.

I like Anya, but I do not object to killing her off in this episode. I understand that Anya was doomed the moment that Emma Caulfield said that she would not play the character again after the seventh season regardless of whether the show continued (a statement that she later backed away from). Furthermore, I do not object to giving her a simple battle death rather than the heroic death that Spike received. It is a simple fact of life (or a fact of death) that people die in battle. I do have two objections. First, in a 42-minute episode, the death of a major character was deemed to be worth only about two seconds. This suggests that it was not that important and that Anya was thrown away even more unceremoniously than Tara was. Second, the characters did not seem to be upset at her death. Xander was the only character who even noticed that she was gone, and he seemed to get over her death pretty quickly. With Tara's death, at least Willow and Dawn appeared to be upset even if they had almost completely forgotten about her by the beginning of the seventh season.


It is easy to conclude from the above that I hated "Chosen." After all, I wrote only one other essay describing my problems with an episode, and that was for the truly dreadful "The Killer in Me." "Chosen" did have many good points. I enjoyed many of the small moments, such as the Dungeons & Dragons game, and the battle was one of the best action scenes of the entire show. However, I do not see this as being a great episode or even a near-great episode by Buffy standards. Season finales should rise to a level above the typical episode, and a series finale should have risen to a level beyond the typical season finale. Instead, it was by far the weakest season finale. It was a decent episode overall, not a great one. It was a disappointment because of high expectations.

This page was last modified on January 13, 2013