I'm not one of those people who buck a trend just for the sake of being different. But the more other people say about the finale, the less I am inclined to talk about it. (However, I wrote this line and then, er, went on at length, as you can see below.) As a single episode, it gave me some happies. As the last episode of the season and the series, it leaves me frustrated. I should have known that all my questions about this season would remain vague--there's no way they could tie up all the loose ends in one ep while still doing justice to character arcs, such as they were. So now I have to try and figure it all out. The myth of Gaia is a foundation that helps me think about the season and about the finale:
So, we had a Big Evil, the First Evil. It's incorporeal. Classic talking villain. It hangs around for months, taking on various guises and whispering negativity in people's ears--for the most part ineffectually. It can only act through Bringers and Ubervamps. Its plan is to open the seal on the Hellmouth and loose its minions on the world, so that when they outnumber humans, it can assume corporeal form. This would probably take quite a long time, and its only real short-term plan seems to have been to eliminate the watchers and slayers who might stand against its advent. To do this it allied with Caleb and brought him to Sunnydale. Caleb was somehow invested with superpowers, on par with that of slayers--not sure if we ever found out how. Caleb fucked around for a bit but never seemed to go for the gold. Meanwhile, he was hiding a powerful scythe or sickle, what we can think of as Gaia's sickle, a special weapon of female and slayer power. Not sure we ever found out how he got it, or why he was keeping it around. Eventually, he kills the Gaian oracle and fights the slayer, and is castrated and cut in half. All very sybmolic. Oh and by the way, he's a false priest.
On the Buffy front, we learn about the origin of slayers, which seems to suggest that they were more or less impregnated with demonic strength in a ritual initiated by the ur-watchers. We see Buffy reject all that. We see Buffy try to claim the power of a lonely leader, and we see her learn to share it. We learn that the ur-watchers bound female power by somehow creating the rule that there could be only one slayer in any generation. In the finale, female power defies male law and flowers through all potentials.
The tension the season is about slayer power: the slayer is caught between the masculine power of the watchers--who in convenient shorthand we can call Good, as they represent the power of light to fight darkness--and the rather masculine power of the First Evil, as represented by Caleb, who is not so incidentally a priest. Between good and evil then--stark, absolutist extremes--is the female force of the earth, of Gaia, of nature. Nature is where good and evil, dark and light, mingle: demonic power harnessed by a girl's body, a powerful witch who channels forces of dark and light, a death-giving sickle helping to birth new slayers.
Allied with this principle is a vampire with a soul--again, a blending of dark and light--who sacrifices himself to close the Hellmouth. And if I look to the Gaian myth, Spike could be thought of as a kind of Cronus figure. But the story isn't a perfect parallel; if they're drawing on it, it's messy. Gaia gave birth to monsters who hid inside the earth--the Ubervamps? Gaia doesn't want more monsters to be created, so she gives a sickle to her son Cronus in order to castrate her husband, Uranus. When he is castrated, his blood forms the Erinyes, or Furies, among other beings. So what are the parallels? It's Buffy who performs the odd, symbolic castration of the bad father power, Caleb. It's Spike who kills off a bunch of monster children who were boiling up from the depths of the earth. The slayers are a lot like Furies.
It's kind of a mish-mash, and it would probably help if more of the dialogue and nuances of this season were fresh in my mind. Gaia--or at least her mouthpiece, the oracle--is killed, which diverges from the pattern, but it doesn't matter, it's just a Jossian plot device, and female power gets reborn in thousands of slayers.
If you skip around in mythology, Gaia becomes Kali, a goddess who blends darkness and light, good and evil, with powers to give both death and life, death and rebirth--definitely not "all good" as the Christian god is thought of. The first slayer is a perfect visual embodiment of Kali, and everything we've seen of slayerhood in Buffy and Faith bears that out. The slayer is the arm of Kali, but her job isn't just to fight evil and kill things--it's also to nurture, which is why she's given responsibility for Dawn, and why she has to learn to share her power to birth more slayers, and why she can't cut herself off from others like Xander and Willow, who represent love and creative powers (which is, I think, what Willow finds for herself at the end), or from erotic love (lingam, yoni, you know). It's all interconnected, as Willow says in "Lessons."
So anyway. That's my interpretation of Jossverse metaphysics. Otherwise, not a lot would make sense. You'd just have a Dark Yapping Evil and a crazy priest and a haphazardly killed oracle and some ur-watchers. But really in the end the slayer dilemma appears to be about feminine versus masculine principles--or maybe even a genderless primeval power versus a gendered western god, though I think that idea is a little too complex for the show to impart--and pagan (or Wiccan) versus Christian principles. And also the idea--well, I'm sure there are terms for this, but I can't think of them: it's the idea of good and evil being two sides of a natural force, yin and yang, stemming from one source, versus the idea that they're separated, diametrically opposed, and that you can simply slot people into one camp or the other. In the end, everything runs together, and you can't say good = men, evil = woman (think of Caleb's rants), or good = slayer, evil = vampires (think of how slayer and vampire join hands at the end). Power has two faces, and in the end it's probably all about balance.
Which makes Barb the most clever and prescient fangirl ever. Heh.
But all of this was just a way to avoid talking about more emotional reactions and stuff. If I didn't know that he'd be back in some form for Angel next year, the ending of the finale would have crushed me. I simply would not be able to accept Spike's death. I don't care how perfectly a sacrificial death seems to work for his arc. I don't buy it and I don't give a fuck. I want him to stick around. Even knowing what I know, it makes me angsty as hell. I can't let myself think about it, or I'd have a hard time dealing.