One of the greatest challenges Buffy faces in season seven is negotiating conflicting demands of individual and collective empowerment. Trapped by the mythology propounded by the Watchers’ Council that bestows the powers of the Slayer on just “one girl in all the world,” Buffy is faced with the formidable task of training Potential Slayers-in-waiting who will only be called into their own power in the event of her death. In the episode “Potential,” Buffy attempts to rally her troops for the battle ahead:
The odds are against us. Time is against us. And some of us will die in this battle. Decide now that it’s not going to be you … Most people in this world have no idea why they’re here or what they want to do. But you do. You have a mission. A reason for being here. You’re not here by chance. You’re here because you are the Chosen Ones.
This sense of vocation resonates strongly with feminist viewers who feel bound to the struggle for social justice. However, such heroism can still be a solitary rather than collective battle. On the eve of their final fight, after decimating her advance attack, The First-as-Caleb makes fun of what he calls Buffy’s “One-Slayer-Brigade” and taunts her with the prospect of what we might think of as wasted Potential:
None of those girlies will ever know real power unless you’re dead. Now, you know the drill … “Into every generation a Slayer is born. One girl in all the world. She alone has the strength and skill …” There’s that word again. What you are, how you’ll die: alone.
Such references make it clear that loneliness and isolation are part of the Slayer’s legacy. Balancing the pleasures and price of her singular status, Buffy bears the burden of the exceptional woman. But the exceptional woman, as many leaders including Margaret Thatcher have amply demonstrated, is not necessarily a sister to the cause—a certain style of ambitious woman fashions herself precisely as the exception that proves the rule of women’s general incompetence.
In one of the more dramatic and disturbing character developments in the series as a whole, season seven presents Buffy’s leadership as becoming arrogant and autocratic, her attitude isolationist and increasingly alienated. Following in the individualist footsteps of prominent “power feminists,” Buffy forgoes her collaborative community and instead adopts what fans in the United States and elsewhere perceived as a sort of “you’re-either-with-me-or-against-me” moral absolutism—an incipient despotism exemplified by what Anya calls Buffy’s “everyone-sucks-but-me” speech. The trial of Buffy’s leadership is sustained up to the last possible moment.
Drawing attention to the Slayer’s increasing isolation, The First highlights the political crisis afflicting her community, but in doing so he inadvertently alerts Buffy to the latent source of its strength, forcing her to claim a connection she admits “never really occurred to me before.” In a tactical reversal that Giles claims “flies in the face of everything … that every generation has ever done in the fight against evil,” Buffy plans to transfer the power of the Chosen One, the singular, exceptional woman, to the hands of the Potentials—to empower the collective not at the expense of, but by force of, the exception. In the series finale, Buffy addresses her assembled army in the following terms:
Here’s the part where you make a choice. What if you could have that power now? In every generation one Slayer is born, because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule. They were powerful men. This woman [pointing to Willow] is more powerful than all of them combined. So I say we change the rules. I say my power should be our power. Tomorrow, Willow will use the essence of the scythe to change our destiny. From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power will have the power. Can stand up? Will stand up. Slayers—every one of us. Make your choice: are you ready to be strong?
At that moment—as the archaic power of a recently recovered matriarchal scythe is wrested from the patriarchal dictates of the Watchers’ Council—the show offers a series of vignettes from around the world, as young women of different ages, races, cultures and backgrounds sense their strength, take charge and rise up against their oppressors. This is a ‘feel the force, Luke’ moment for girls on a global scale.