Redemption and Grace
If Fundies were interested in ideas, they'd be fascinated by Buffy. Unless I'm mistaken, this year turns out to be an extended inquiry into the nature of grace and the limitations of redemption, questions that would have fascinated the theology fans of the 17th century.
It's interesting to see how Joss Whedon and (especially) Marti Noxon actually explore these issues instead of merely asserting them. I love Spirited Away, for example, but Miyazaki's masterpiece has a tacked-on moral (always remember who you are) that's hardly more organic than the notoriously-subverted lesson of the Wizard Of Oz (there's no place like home). This weakness comes with the territory; all of these are Parsifals -- bar mitzvah tales -- in which our hero sees the hidden world of grownups and, for the first time, does what adults do. The last line of Spirited Away, "I think I can handle it," is an idiomatic translation of "Today, I am a man."
But Buffy isn't doing that any more. Spike's done the unforgivable, and he desperately needs to be forgiven. We've established that enduring terrible trials is necessary, but it wasn't sufficient: he has a soul again, against all odds and in defiance of natural order, but that doesn't really change things. How can Buffy love him? Faith (in Buffy) and prayer are unavailing. Good works don't do it; join the Scoobies, save them, save the world: been there, bored now. Nor is Love enough, clearly, for at this point Spike is once more love's bitch.
We know that against this opponent we cannot win, nobody can, we can only hope to save something good in the coming darkness.
And this year is not a Parsifal, whatever it is. Again and again, we're being reminded of what Angel told Buffy in that cemetery so many years ago (and what Joss, I suspect, is telling his heroine): "This isn't about you. It was never about you. And you fall for it every time!"