Buffy the Vampire Slayer began its seventh and ultimately final season with a metaphorical return to its roots. Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) enrolling at a rebuilt Sunnydale High School and Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) quickly installing there as a guidance counselor seemed to poise the series for a return to teenage metaphors and a lighter tone after the darkness of the previous season. But when a new villain is announced by taking the form of each season's previous "big bad" villain, Buffy embarks on an extended story line that mirrors America's deepening commitment to the "war on terror" and the post-9/11 invasion of Afghanistan. The continued assaults of the First Evil -- the malevolent but bodiless force from which all other evil springs -- force Buffy to become the general of an ad-hoc army and stage a preemptive strike against the Hellmouth. The resulting story line brings the series to an ultimately hopeful finale, but one suffused with loss. Some fans and critics think that consistently excellent writing was an early casualty of the season. For one thing, series creator Joss Whedon had a full slate executive producing the spin-off Angel and the short-lived Firefly. The introduction of copious new faces in the form of Buffy's new slayer-in-training army didn't leave room for much focus on the show's established characters. When the Scoobies were bestowed with extensive plot lines, they often reflected the season's overarching themes of loneliness and the isolation of power.
Cut off from her friends by returning to the vengeance-demon fold, Anya (Emma Caulfield) finally comes to terms with her search for herself. Meanwhile, Willow (Alyson Hannigan) struggles to redeem herself and master the immense powers that nearly destroyed her. Newly ensouled Spike (James Marsters) finds redemption of his own as Buffy's lieutenant and protector. Geeky former villain Andrew (Tom Lenk) throws in his lot with the good guys who didn't really want him. Dawn and Xander (Nicholas Brendon) struggle with their roles as non-combatants.
Despite a jokey subplot that toyed with the idea that he was an agent of the First, Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) tries unsuccessfully to check Buffy's autocratic recklessness. New Sunnydale High Principal Robin Wood (D.B. Woodside) proves an enigmatic presence at first, but the eventual revelation of his ties to Spike and the slayer line adds yet another personality to the Scoobies' rapidly expanding ranks. The return of reformed rogue slayer Faith (Eliza Dushku) for the final five episodes helps fulfill the promise that the seventh season would bring Buffy back to its roots.
Written and directed by Whedon himself, the series finale turns the concept of "the chosen one" on its head. New and beloved characters alike bite the dust, as does the town of Sunnydale itself. But Willow and Spike at long last find their redemption, and the show's feminist themes found an excellent final metaphor. ~ Brian J. Dillard, Rovi