From a Doylist standpoint, I suspect this episode is so great because Joss wrote it in the knowledge that it might be the finale, so he was careful to provide little moments that show how far all our supporting characters have come. At the same time, they don't make any inexplicable leaps so we get a happy ending; qualities that had been downplayed before just shine brighter here. Xander knows he sucks at hand-to-hand combat, so he brings shows up to the fight with a wrecking ball. Spike still loves killing things and he cares about saving Dawn; Giles is ruthless and sincerely motivated by the greater good. Arguably, Dawn takes the biggest level, as she attempts to throw herself into the portal to save the world, but even this doesn't feel like it comes out of nowhere. It feels like watching the flashbacks of Buffy when she was first called: Not someone you'd trust with ordinary things like your lipstick or earrings, yet ready to step up when confronted with massive stakes and destiny.

Another thing I like is the foreshadowing and the Chekhov's guns. "Death is your art. [? y]ou're just a little bit in love with it" (Spike, "Fool for Love"). "It's Summers blood" (Buffy, "Blood Ties"). "Death is your gift" (Sineya, "Intervention"). "I don't know how to live in the world, if these are the choices" (Buffy, early in this episode). Crazy people are drawn to Glory? Use that. There's a troll-god's hammer available? The Dagonsphere? A sexbot with fighting skills? USE ALL OF IT. I love it when the characters act like they know what show they're in and what's happened before. It's extremely disappointing that we never see the rocket launcher or Anya's gun after their introductory episode. The gun especially, since a) it was introduced early in the first season where Anya steps up as a fighter, b) bullets are easier to obtain than rockets, c) Anya is not remotely interested in being PC, and d) YOU CAN TAKE OUT MORE MINIONS WITH A GUN THAN YOU CAN WITH A WOODEN BASEBALL BAT. COULD THEY NOT AT LEAST HAVE GIVEN HER A METAL BAT???

OK, enough salt. I'm not sure why Joss apparently pinned all of his Emmy hopes on "The Body," because I've never seen a more compelling performance than SMG gives here. With her hollow-eyed gaze and quiet catches in her voice, she convinces you that, yes, this is a natural progression of the same girl who once believed the world was worth betraying Angel. Her subtle shift into ?bot mode looks obvious in hindsight, but I didn't catch on until Glory did LOL. Although they exchange only a few words, Gellar and James Marsters sell their characters' simple acceptance of one another beautifully. They know either or both of them would sacrifice anything to protect Dawn, and, for this night, they make their old enmity and Buffy's moral judgments and Spike's sexual frustration not matter.

It would be easy to view Buffy's defiance of Giles's orders as her fighting fate, but I think it's closer to surrender. As Giles points out, Dawn will die like everyone else if the world gets destroyed. While he still believes that the world is worth the pain of terrible choices, Buffy's experiences have taught her the opposite lesson: All that a saved world produces is more suffering, so why bother making hard choices? It's a striking parallel to Willow's conclusion in "Grave," although Buffy articulates her perspective in personal, rather than global, terms. By tricking the portal, Buffy manages to save the world without turning on Dawn, but what if she hadn't gone on a vision quest, and she didn't realize that one life's worth of blood would overload it? She'd be accepting the end of the world.

This non-finale is one of the best finales I've ever seen. I don't regret the last two seasons' being made, but I do think this episode dots the is and crosses the ts better than "Chosen." Buffy meets the usual Slayer end in unusually epic style. The tight focus on regular characters allows everyone we care about to get the attention they need, no glossing-over of their recent relationships required. The final scenes are heartbreaking and funny and hopeful. Life goes on, and it's hard, and what makes Buffy a hero isn't how she died; it's how she lived? fell in love and hugged her friends and tried to find happiness? for as long as she did, in the face of the hard life she got.