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Posts tagged ‘Joss Whedon’

No Good Deed (Part II)…

Cordelia Chase, as portrayed by Charisma Carpenter, a pale woman with dark brown hair, standing on stairs holding a long, slightly curved sword.Angel seems to be a neverending arch of consequences and well-intended deeds that just can’t go unpunished. Angel is constantly making decisions that seem like the right thing to do at the time but always seems to turn up with another twist later. It’s probably a nice effect of that curse.

In “I Will Remember You” he fights a demon and becomes mortal. Everything seems to be hunky-dory and sex and ice cream until it turns out that he has been taken out of the fight for Good, and that Buffy will spend the rest of her (now shortened) life trying to protect him. He makes a choice (without consulting Buffy) to take the day back and trade in his mortality. The consequence is that Buffy loses that memory while he carries it. In “Hero” Doyle sacrifices himself to save a group of half demons, like himself, and with a final kiss, passes his only valuable possession on to Cordelia — his visions from The Powers That Be. Something he was never supposed to do, or so we are lead to believe. That point is still up for debate.

But have them Cordy does. And destroy her they almost do, but not quite. Doyle’s sneaky little transfer (because it was, in all regards, a violation of Cordelia’s autonomy to have them shoved on her) builds in Cordelia like a ticking time bomb, slowly killing her over time. Yet she holds on, and no one notices. Cordelia, prior to becoming a demon or a higher being, is strong without being supernatural. Eventually she is given a choice, and though we later discover that this choice is really a setup for the mass catastrophe that is going to be Season 4, Cordelia chooses Angel and his mission after seeing how it would destroy anyone else to have them. She chooses the visions that have been killing her, and asks to be made part demon so that she can keep them without them killing her. While this undermines the idea that a woman can be strong without being supernaturally imbued, we get to see Cordy being strong for Angel because she has grown as a person, emotionally, and physically.

The results of that choice, are something that can be discussed ad nauseam, and have been before. Cordy being hijacked is a point of contention with me, and I watch S4 just to get from S3 to S5. See s.e. smith’s posts about Cordelia for further explanation. My favorite character deserved to a better ending than that. And even though I have written about her before, I need to revisit this. I don’t want to go into this at length now.

Angel is forced to free a man, by Wolfram & Hart, in order to save Cordelia, and it turns out that he is pretty much misogyny personified.

Wesley’s choice to betray Angel and steal Connor opened the path for Connor to grow up on Qor’toth, and made him the angry and hurting person that he was. His entire life was a result of manipulation, first by ancient powers to create him, then by Holtz, then by Jasmine. Connor’s anger was the weight on one side of the fulcrum that convinced Angel to take the deal with Wolfram & Hart, eventually resulting in the alteration of everyone’s memories, and prolonging Cordelia’s life, allowing her time to come back to him in the 100th episode, “You’re Welcome”.

Faith, whose choices and consequences deserves a whole post of her own, makes some important choices on Angel that viewers of Buffy alone never really see, and that Buffy really neglects to give her credit for. Faith, with Angel’s help learns to take responsibility for her poorer choices in Sunnydale and is a model prisoner until she is attacked by someone paid to off her by those killing Potentials. When Wesley comes to her because Angelus is loose and the Beast is trying to provoke him into helping he and Cordelia-Goddess-Vessel, she makes the choice to bust out of the Pen and help. She uses a vampire drug to bait Angelus into drinking from her, knowing it could very well kill her, but hoping it will do what must be done. For the first time Faith goes all the way as a Slayer, and winds up as the Guide in Angelus’ dream sequence (or whatever). In the end, she stops Connor from dusting Angel after his soul has been put away, and she is able to return to Sunnydale with Willow for the Big Finish, a redeemable player.

When Fred first touched Jasmine’s blood she saw the Goddess who forced her way into the world for what she really was. Fred couldn’t stop until someone else saw what she saw. She needed Angel to see that their free will was being taken away. In the end, she enabled Team Angel to stop Jasmine from taking over the world by peaceful force. It wasn’t until Lilah showed up to reward them with the LA branch of Wolfram & Hart that she realized that what they had actually done was, indeed, as Lilah had said, traded World Peace for Free Will. That moment revealed in Fred’s character just how much she believed that what they were doing was right, and how much she believed that she was on the good side until she saw the consequence. It was the first time she doubted their mission.

The amulet given to Angel by Wolfram & Hart by Lilah, I believe, was indeed intended for Angel to wear in Sunnydale in the case that he didn’t choose to take their deal. The way that it captured Spike and tethered him to the firm demonstrated that they intended to have Angel one way or another. Angel gave the amulet to Buffy to use as she wished, to allow it to be worn by a champion. Buffy insisted that Angel leave, to be the second defense, just in case. She gave it Spike, who wore it proudly, but who, in doing so, was wrenched into a hell devised by W&H to hold onto the wearer. Instead of redemption it brought more work at the hands of the Senior Partners in their production.

Gunn’s brain modifications give him confidence that he really, IMO, didn’t need. Gunn was more than a hired brute, but the modifications made him feel like he was more than he had ever lived up to being, that he was giving more to the team than in the past. When they went away, he panicked, and allowed himself to be manipulated by the doctor into signing papers to help import his illegal artifacts. One of those was an ancient sarcophagus requisitioned by Knox, unbeknownst to Fred. When it ended up in her department, her innate curiosity got the best of her and Illyria was set loose upon her. Gunn set off a chain of events that allowed Knox to fulfill his plan to bring Illyria back in Fred’s body so he could worship them both together. I honestly believe that he death is what ultimately causes both Wesley and Gunn to be so saddened and able to allow themselves to die, Wesley in “Shall Not Fade Away”, and Gunn later in S8 in the comic, when he is changed to a vampire.

Perhaps another re-watch would reveal more overlapping themes. I actually enjoy catching the moments where the two shows arc into each other. The thought that there is often not a clear-cut Good or Bad choice, that many times what seems like the true path to doing the right thing could result in harm somewhere along the way, even if you never see the end result yourself.

No Good Deed (Part I)…

 

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No Good Deed (Part I)…

 

Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers, a pale woman with blonde hair. She looks on with the beginning of a smile, as if a great weight has been lifted. A pale brunette woman (Eliza Dushku as Faith) is blurred in the background.

Final image from "Chosen", Season 7 and Series Finale

It happens to be that one of the thing that I adore about the shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel is that they have a knack for spinning out the long-lasting effects of the consequences of the actions of their characters. While Buffy certainly gets much credit for, if perhaps at some points too much, and Angel is not exactly drowning in, feminist messages, I think that the theme of visiting upon the importance of understanding that all actions, even actions taken under with the best of intentions, have long abiding consequences is an important one for anyone interested in social justice to understand. These consequences might not always be what we imagined or envisioned when we set out upon our mission, and they may not always be shiny, happy, results.

 

The concept that “No good deed goes unpunished” is certainly not lost on Whedon, or, it seems, any of the many writers who helped to bring these stories into fruition. We start as early as “Prophecy Girl” in S1 of Buffy, where Buffy herself, knowing full well that her prophesied fate was to meet the Master and die, embraced that destiny full on to avoid allowing anyone she had come to care about to have to go in for her. As noble as that was, the end result was an upset in the lineage of Slayers, awakening Kendra, a second Slayer, and changing the flow of the distribution of power. As Faith says at the end of S7, they were never meant to exist together in time, and perhaps that is why the dynamics between Faith and Buffy were always in a constant state of upheaval, even though in the end they were able to pull together and discover that they were able to work as a team after all.

In a similar vein, and following with the theme of “Buffy dies a lot”, bringing Buffy back from the dead in the beginning of S6 certainly had the best of intentions. After knowing one person who went to a hell dimension in a sacrifice to save the world (albeit, unwillingly), it wasn’t a far stretch for Willow to imagine that Buffy was in a similar predicament after her own sacrifice in “The Gift” at the end of S5. In an intended noble gesture, Buffy’s friends fiddle with dark powers they didn’t fully understand, wrenching Buffy back from what we later learn is Paradise where she was at peace. What they accomplish is the creation of a malevolent spirit who must destroy her to remain in the world, and, as we find out, awakening Buffy right where they left her — in her coffin under ground. Buffy as to dig herself out to a loud and harsh world where she thinks she is indeed in a hell dimension. Finally, in S7 we find out that this one act, intended to rescue a warrior from an untimely and unnatural death weakened the Slayer line enough to allow The First to act out and attempt to wipe it from time.

When Buffy and Willow, along with Faith and all the other Potentials decide to awaken all Slayer Potentials in order to give enough power to the Potentials in order to fight The First, they succeed in stopping it from succeeding. The idea is that the power of The Slayer should be shared, not doled out to one girl in each generation simply because a group of men generations ago were too weak to fight and resorted to horribly violating a girl. For a moment I am reminded that the violation of young women by men is about power, and in my mind, the power of a Slayer, in this series is intended, however well it is delivered, is about taking that power back. The speech Buffy gives in “Chosen” still makes me cry each time I watch it, because it has a lot of not-just-television relevance to it. But that act of incredible power, while allowing them to Save The World (again) had the consequence of giving Slayer powers to people who, due to circumstances beyond their control, were not capable of handling them, such as Dana.

Dana, we meet mid-season in S5 of Angel in “Damaged”, a very disturbing episode that I have written about before and should re-visit. She has been heavily abused by a serial killer as a child. This, in addition to the dreams and visions that potential Slayer experience throughout their lives, are presumed to have made her “insane”. When her Slayer potential is awakened by Willow’s spell, power that, arguably, she probably would never have received otherwise, she breaks out of the mental hospital where she is, and is unable to control her powers because of the way her mind is coping with that abuse. This episode is one of the most difficult for me to watch. But all the same, Buffy and Willow probably never envisioned a Slayer who was not ready to handle the powers given to her. I am not sure how I feel about the exploitation of an abused women with a disability to make this point. I strongly feel that Steven S. DeKnight and Drew Goddard could have perhaps found a better way to get this message across than continuing on with the Crazy Brunette meme, or perpetuating more harmful stereotypes about mental illness. But here it is, Dana, and this story of a woman who must now be forcibly sedated for her own good because of what Buffy and Willow did.

Tomorrow I hope to continue this discussion by analyzing instances on Angel where the consequences of their well-intentioned decisions went awry, but feel free to have at it in comments. I may be laggy in approving or responding to individual comments.

 

The Cautionary Sex Ed Tale From Season 2 of Buffy

One of my friends, the Red Queen from Elizabitchez, told me once that she uses the story arc from Season 2 of Buffy beginning with “Surprise” to teach about sex ed and teen relationships. Or something to that effect. It makes more sense when she tells it, but the gist of it was that this particular story arc of this particular season is biting (no pun…OK I can’t even type that because I totally intend that pun).

s.e. smith from this ain’t livin’ and also from FWD/Forward has already done a nice evaluation of this story arc, that I encourage you to read, and the fact that I found it enlightening and that it may influence what I have to say here should sit with you while you read what I am about to go on about, possibly at great length as I am wont to do. Ou also mentioned to me one day in a chat conversation that Joss himself denies that this story arc was meant to send a message about shaming a teen girl about sexuality. I encourage any of you with the ability to do so to watch the episode “Innocence” and deny that this message is there. Intentional or not, Joss has once again fallen into that trap of writing that trope.

But before I leave your head spinning with a bunch of references to things that I haven’t explained, I suppose I should get into the story arc of Buffy and Angel, the lost soul, and of course, the loss of Buffy’s virginity.

This is the story that starts with a girl who gives her virginity to her loving boyfriend and ends when she sends him to a Hell Dimension with a giant sword through his chest after he turns evil and goes on a murderous rampage through her town, killing all of her friends because he has lost his soul.

In “Surprise”, Buffy has one of the famed prophetic dreams bestowed to a Slayer where she witnesses a few events leading up to Drusilla killing Angel. Given the “wiggins” by the whole thing, Buffy rushes to see Angel who both reassures her, (read: dismisses her fears which could be genuine concerns) and confesses that he has been feeling deeper feelings for her, that she returns (TV speak for “I really want to get it on”).

We also learn that Jenny Calendar is a descendant of the particular tribe of Gypsies fabled to have cursed Angel with his soul restorative. Turns out she was sent to Sunnydale not just to wow us all with her computer prowess (because as we will learn we have Willow for all of that) but to keep an eye on Angel and Buffy, but not ever to clue them into why. Folks, I have watched enough tee vee to know that denying principal characters vital information about their character never bodes well for anyone. This hardly proves the exception.

In a plot line that leaves me wondering if it is some odd coincidence that Buffy and Drusilla seem to have something akin to Birthdays on the same day, and keeping with the longstanding tradition of birthdays that suck (also steeped in punnage) for Buffy, our Slayer and her undead beaux fail to keep Drusilla and Spike from getting their hands on most of the pieces of a demon who was so powerful that he couldn’t be killed by any weapon forged during his time (this point is important!). Just as Angel is prepared to take off for Asia on a boat to hide the last piece in an attempt by Ms. Calendar to pry the would be lovers apart, they are thwarted. Soaking wet and battle-wounded, Buffy and Angel wind up back at Angel’s not-so-secret and well-decorated hideaway and become a little less would-be.

This becomes the precipitating event for the releasing of Angel’s soul back into the ether, turning him back into the evil, cruel, infamous vampire that he once was, catching everyone unawares.

This is the part in the story where the boyfriend, after getting the Nice Girl to give up her virginity to him becomes the World League Asshole.

Except, when I remember being warned to protect my sacred flower from boys like that, the ones who are just Wired! To Need! Sex! I was never told that they would become blood sucking demons who would hunt and stalk all of my friends, slowly torturing them to death while sending me immolate-o-grams in the form of my friends-turned-new vampires.

It isn’t too far of a conclusion to draw that Buffy is being punished for having sex. That was the message I took away from this. In fact, since in parenting we have discussed with Kid about good and poor choices I asked her what she thought of what happened to Angel, and unprompted she said “Well, Buffy made a poor choice, and now Angel is evil”. It took a bit of discussion before we corrected why this was the wrong message to get, but that why, yes, I could see why she gleaned that from what we had just seen. It is important that while she might get messages like these from pop culture (and pop culture is full of these slut-shaming innuendos aimed at young women, teens, and young girls), that she understand that the message is wrong. And intentional or not, again, Joss, this is the message you are sending to young girls!

The act of sex itself is without morality. Positive or negative. Sex can just be sex between consenting people.

The intent of the people involved are what makes the experience a healthy one or an unhealthy one for either person.

When people care about each other, or when people are consenting enthusiastically, like Buffy and Angel both were (as we understand that at this point that Angel didn’t realize that his actions would have this effect) that this was a positive portrayal of sexuality. This was something they both decided they wanted together. There was nothing wrong going on here, aside from that curse, which in a way violated both of their autonomy, but that is deeper than this conversation right now. And metaphysical. I am not going there.

When either party isn’t consenting, such as when one person coerced the other, or is emotionally manipulative, or if for any reason it isn’t entered into freely, then we have a problem. But that isn’t what happened here.

Usually, as I understand it, one partner is not a soulless demon, or about to become one. Though, experiences from my past would tempt me to believe otherwise, I understand that what happened to Angel is make-believe

Sometimes, when sex occurs between two people, sometimes one person who hasn’t been honest about who they are, changes. The sex can become a tool to perpetuate abuse, and that is what we are witnessing displayed here, an attempt to convert Angel from role one to role two without a logical connection to make that make sense, unless you are to presume that Buffy is being punished.

For what?

Well, being a big old teen slut of course!

Even breaking it down into parts, we understand that Angel, via his curse, is being punished for the crimes of his past. But even Jenny Calendar can’t say what Buffy is supposed to be punished for when confronted with all of the facts. We are left to draw our own conclusions. Surely, if she had just kept her legs closed…

This remains a theme for a long time in Buffy’s love life. Her next sexual encounter is a one-night stand, and the other participant, while not unleashing a murderous rampage on her loved ones, does indeed treat her cruelly all the same.

Then, I hesitate to even address the awfulness who is the emotionally demanding Riley, who is in need of more than he is capable of giving, and who is also unwilling to accept being in a relationship with a woman who is more dominant and also stronger than him. After Riley loses his artificial abilities he betrays Buffy by seeking out risk-taking behaviour. Here, Buffy is punished for being emotionally unavailable while trying to cope with myriad Bid Effing Deals, and Riley just can’t deal with being the second seat to anything. Carrying over into Angel, Buffy goes to L.A. to confront Angel over a crossover story arc, which leads to them getting everything they want. Only, this carries the heavy price of Angel becoming human, her almost dying trying to protect him. She is punished again, having to trade in her memories (Joss loves messing with memories) and her day of happiness for her life, and effectually, Angels as well all really without her knowing or having a say. After returning from the dead (again), Buffy has a sexual relationship with Spike that she is ashamed of, because she has already figured out that having sex is wrong, even if it is to help her fill a need when her world is spiraling out of control and she just needs one thing to hold on to, even if it is a physical burst.

Not until Buffy chooses work (being the Slayer) and family (devoting all her time to Dawn) over love and personal life for herself does this theme of punishment let up, even for a moment. And never is it ever happy for her. The message I glean from this? A woman can’t really have it all. You have to choose, or something, namely yourself, will surely suffer.

The Cautionary Sex Ed Tale From Season 2 of Buffy

One of my friends, the Red Queen from Elizabitchez, told me once that she uses the story arc from Season 2 of Buffy beginning with “Surprise” to teach about sex ed and teen relationships. Or something to that effect. It makes more sense when she tells it, but the gist of it was that this particular story arc of this particular season is biting (no pun…OK I can’t even type that because I totally intend that pun).

s.e. smith from this ain’t livin’ and also from FWD/Forward has already done a nice evaluation of this story arc, that I encourage you to read, and the fact that I found it enlightening and that it may influence what I have to say here should sit with you while you read what I am about to go on about, possibly at great length as I am wont to do. Ou also mentioned to me one day in a chat conversation that Joss himself denies that this story arc was meant to send a message about shaming a teen girl about sexuality. I encourage any of you with the ability to do so to watch the episode “Innocence” and deny that this message is there. Intentional or not, Joss has once again fallen into that trap of writing that trope.

But before I leave your head spinning with a bunch of references to things that I haven’t explained, I suppose I should get into the story arc of Buffy and Angel, the lost soul, and of course, the loss of Buffy’s virginity.

This is the story that starts with a girl who gives her virginity to her loving boyfriend and ends when she sends him to a Hell Dimension with a giant sword through his chest after he turns evil and goes on a murderous rampage through her town, killing all of her friends because he has lost his soul.

In “Surprise”, Buffy has one of the famed prophetic dreams bestowed to a Slayer where she witnesses a few events leading up to Drusilla killing Angel. Given the “wiggins” by the whole thing, Buffy rushes to see Angel who both reassures her, (read: dismisses her fears which could be genuine concerns) and confesses that he has been feeling deeper feelings for her, that she returns (TV speak for “I really want to get it on”).

We also learn that Jenny Calendar is a descendant of the particular tribe of Gypsies fabled to have cursed Angel with his soul restorative. Turns out she was sent to Sunnydale not just to wow us all with her computer prowess (because as we will learn we have Willow for all of that) but to keep an eye on Angel and Buffy, but not ever to clue them into why. Folks, I have watched enough tee vee to know that denying principal characters vital information about their character never bodes well for anyone. This hardly proves the exception.

In a plot line that leaves me wondering if it is some odd coincidence that Buffy and Drusilla seem to have something akin to Birthdays on the same day, and keeping with the longstanding tradition of birthdays that suck (also steeped in punnage) for Buffy, our Slayer and her undead beaux fail to keep Drusilla and Spike from getting their hands on most of the pieces of a demon who was so powerful that he couldn’t be killed by any weapon forged during his time (this point is important!). Just as Angel is prepared to take off for Asia on a boat to hide the last piece in an attempt by Ms. Calendar to pry the would be lovers apart, they are thwarted. Soaking wet and battle-wounded, Buffy and Angel wind up back at Angel’s not-so-secret and well-decorated hideaway and become a little less would-be.

This becomes the precipitating event for the releasing of Angel’s soul back into the ether, turning him back into the evil, cruel, infamous vampire that he once was, catching everyone unawares.

This is the part in the story where the boyfriend, after getting the Nice Girl to give up her virginity to him becomes the World League Asshole.

Except, when I remember being warned to protect my sacred flower from boys like that, the ones who are just Wired! To Need! Sex! I was never told that they would become blood sucking demons who would hunt and stalk all of my friends, slowly torturing them to death while sending me immolate-o-grams in the form of my friends-turned-new vampires.

It isn’t too far of a conclusion to draw that Buffy is being punished for having sex. That was the message I took away from this. In fact, since in parenting we have discussed with Kid about good and poor choices I asked her what she thought of what happened to Angel, and unprompted she said “Well, Buffy made a poor choice, and now Angel is evil”. It took a bit of discussion before we corrected why this was the wrong message to get, but that why, yes, I could see why she gleaned that from what we had just seen. It is important that while she might get messages like these from pop culture (and pop culture is full of these slut-shaming innuendos aimed at young women, teens, and young girls), that she understand that the message is wrong. And intentional or not, again, Joss, this is the message you are sending to young girls!

The act of sex itself is without morality. Positive or negative. Sex can just be sex between consenting people.

The intent of the people involved are what makes the experience a healthy one or an unhealthy one for either person.

When people care about each other, or when people are consenting enthusiastically, like Buffy and Angel both were (as we understand that at this point that Angel didn’t realize that his actions would have this effect) that this was a positive portrayal of sexuality. This was something they both decided they wanted together. There was nothing wrong going on here, aside from that curse, which in a way violated both of their autonomy, but that is deeper than this conversation right now. And metaphysical. I am not going there.

When either party isn’t consenting, such as when one person coerced the other, or is emotionally manipulative, or if for any reason it isn’t entered into freely, then we have a problem. But that isn’t what happened here.

Usually, as I understand it, one partner is not a soulless demon, or about to become one. Though, experiences from my past would tempt me to believe otherwise, I understand that what happened to Angel is make-believe

Sometimes, when sex occurs between two people, sometimes one person who hasn’t been honest about who they are, changes. The sex can become a tool to perpetuate abuse, and that is what we are witnessing displayed here, an attempt to convert Angel from role one to role two without a logical connection to make that make sense, unless you are to presume that Buffy is being punished.

For what?

Well, being a big old teen slut of course!

Even breaking it down into parts, we understand that Angel, via his curse, is being punished for the crimes of his past. But even Jenny Calendar can’t say what Buffy is supposed to be punished for when confronted with all of the facts. We are left to draw our own conclusions. Surely, if she had just kept her legs closed…

This remains a theme for a long time in Buffy’s love life. Her next sexual encounter is a one-night stand, and the other participant, while not unleashing a murderous rampage on her loved ones, does indeed treat her cruelly all the same.

Then, I hesitate to even address the awfulness who is the emotionally demanding Riley, who is in need of more than he is capable of giving, and who is also unwilling to accept being in a relationship with a woman who is more dominant and also stronger than him. After Riley loses his artificial abilities he betrays Buffy by seeking out risk-taking behaviour. Here, Buffy is punished for being emotionally unavailable while trying to cope with myriad Bid Effing Deals, and Riley just can’t deal with being the second seat to anything. Carrying over into Angel, Buffy goes to L.A. to confront Angel over a crossover story arc, which leads to them getting everything they want. Only, this carries the heavy price of Angel becoming human, her almost dying trying to protect him. She is punished again, having to trade in her memories (Joss loves messing with memories) and her day of happiness for her life, and effectually, Angels as well all really without her knowing or having a say. After returning from the dead (again), Buffy has a sexual relationship with Spike that she is ashamed of, because she has already figured out that having sex is wrong, even if it is to help her fill a need when her world is spiraling out of control and she just needs one thing to hold on to, even if it is a physical burst.

Not until Buffy chooses work (being the Slayer) and family (devoting all her time to Dawn) over love and personal life for herself does this theme of punishment let up, even for a moment. And never is it ever happy for her. The message I glean from this? A woman can’t really have it all. You have to choose, or something, namely yourself, will surely suffer.

Xander Harris: Nice Guy (TM)

Joss is tricky.

We really thought he had given us something completely fresh and new, and in many ways he had. He was used to that. He had written for Roseanne, which was ahead of its time, and in many ways, Buffy was also ahead of its time.

Buffy seemed to flip the narrative. Superhero girl takes on Big Bads. Two girls and a dude, which is a complete flip. If you don’t believe me, think of all the entertainment media geared at teens and young adults, and how the main cast of principal players is usually two guys and a girl. Off the top of my head I come up with Harry Potter (Harry, Ron, Hermione), Percy Jackson (Percy, Grover, Annabeth), Star Wars (Luke, Han, Leia), Scrubs (John, Turk, Elliott), Avatar – The Last Airbender (Aang, Sokka, Katara) all with this construction. There are more, but I don’t want to get monotonous. Buffy gave us the opposite construction, the first show of its kind and of its time. Buffy’s best friend, Xander Harris is even the guy who needs to be rescued from time to time. That is definitely against the narrative.

Except, Xander isn’t really comfy in that role, and he lashes out and pushes back against that frequently in what is affectionately know around The Sphere as Nice Guy™ behavior. He often gets it Buffy’s face about it, even when it was to his own benefit. When Buffy saves him from a bully, knocking the bully against the soda machine (“Ooh! Diet!), Xander flounces off angry because of his male pride (don’t take it out on me, this is his wording). Angry and raging, he prefers to be punched by other dudes than saved by the tiny girl.

When Buffy first moves to Sunnydale, Xander is quick to try to stake his claim by searching her our. Hot new girl is instantly something that Xander wants to know all about, and he even follows her around and is the first to uncover her secret. He opines about how much he wants to be with her to his friend, Willow, often complaining to about how “girls never want to be with” guys like him, all the time oblivious to the fact that Willow herself has feelings for Xander himself.

Xander often times acts as though being such a decent person entitles him to the type of attention from women that he desires, certainly from someone, if not from Buffy herself. It certainly should entitle him to dictate who is and isn’t good enough for Buffy to devote her attention to since it isn’t going to Xander. After all, who is this Angel guy? It isn’t Xander! How can he possibly be good enough for her? He couldn’t even save Buffy when she died! He does this repeatedly with both Buffy and Willow, criticizing both Angel and Oz, and often trying to go tete a tete with Angel over Buffy’s maidenhood… or something.

Xander continues to display his staggering Nice Guy™ personae even after he enters into his (at first secret kissy-face) relationship with Cordelia. When he isn’t attached to Cordy at the lips, he is talking incessantly about Buffy to her, or later, Willow, ignorant of the perfectly wonderful (admittedly flawed) person in front of him. Xander’s treatment of Cordelia is heartbreakingly cruel (and probably indicative of what is to come, because Joss, I have a major beef with you and your treatment of Cordy). After Cordelia stands up to her friends in order to keep her relationship with Xander, he repays her in kind by betraying her with a person he didn’t really want to be with until he couldn’t have her.

Xander later has a relationship with the ex-demon, Anya. While I haven’t really gotten to those seasons in our Summer viewing yet, the episode “Hells Bells” stands starkly in my mind. Xander and Anya have a curious relationship that has a lot to be examined, but the way that Xander leaves Anya, even if when confronted with what he fears he might turn into one day, is inexcusable. Xander makes this choice based on his own fears and desires, and uses that moment to walk away to absolve himself of any responsibility. He leaves Anya, alone and embarrassed in front of both of their families (with his family loudly abusing and blaming her for ruining everything), and without the chance to discuss the issues at a less emotional time for both of them. Though the future vision of himself turns out to be a falsehood, presented by a demon bent on vengeance, Xander is unable to set his feelings aside in order to consider what his actions are going to do to Anya. This has huge repercussions…

Xander Harris, while having many incredible qualities that shine through in the course of the series and being many things that make him valuable to Buffy and the rest of the “Scooby Gang”, has a lot of problematic issues written into him as an overarching character, including the way he views and treats women. He, in many ways epitomizes the definition of Nice Guy™. I wonder if Joss created Xander to be this intentional stereotype, as a foil for the That Girl that is so oft written into other shows and movies. That stereotypical young woman who has to be rescued and who nags on the guys with her and who embraces everything that everyone says is wrong with women today.

I wonder.

Yes, Joss may be tricky indeed.

The Hellmouth Presents: Dead Guys On Ice

a pale woman with blonde hair in a grey tank to with her arms cross across her midd, and a darker complexioned woman with black hair in a purple long-sleeved shirt in the same pose stand back to back. The both have their "serious business" faces on. They are Sara Michelle-Gellar as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Bianca Lawson as Kendra the Vampire Slayer.In the way you would expect a two-part episode to be, Buffy, Season 2’s “What’s My Line” parts I and II have a lot to unpack in them.

In the beginning of Part I it is Career Week at Sunnydale High, and Principal Snyder, in all of his infinite glory has decided that his project of the week is to make sure that Buffy participates. Of course, like we have seen already, the future planning portion of life as a Slayer is filled with many things: doubt, cloudiness, uncertainty, and possibly (another) death. How is a girl supposed to plan a career around all of that?

Even Giles seems a bit grumped out that Buffy isn’t as studious or book smart as he would like, and as expected, Buffy gets a little up in his card catalog about that. She reminds him just how he could get another Slayer that might be more to his liking: She could die and he could just watch the next one.

Buffy is painfully aware of both the fragility of her current situation and the what is to come. And what most people write off as whininess (something that irks me to NO END), I see as a well deserved side effect of the bitter pill of being very self-aware. Buffy fully understands that every time she goes out into that graveyard she could never come back, and that she only need to slip once and the burden she carries on her shoulders would slip to the next person. While, yes, she is “The Chosen One”, she is but a tool of The Powers That Be (even if we haven’t met them yet) and a person the Watchers’ Council only care about for the moment; the next moment she could be dead and their biggest concern could be the next Chosen One. I imagine being both So Important and at the same time Hardly At All is an odd balance on a fantastical fulcrum.

So, while Buffy is whinging trying to imagine balancing her duties with a future she can’t grasp, Angel offers to take her ice skating to help her forget about being cosmically chosen for a bit. During all of this we see that Buffy has been stalked by the Order of Taraka, magically imbued badass assassins and Angel has been stalked by… a mysterious Black Girl who rides in the cargo bay of airplanes and beats up on preppy looking white boys, and who accidentally sees Buffy kissing Angel, clearly misunderstanding their Cosmically Forbidden Romance for, well, sexay vampire love because who would… OH NEVERMIND!

This dark and curious stranger with the deadly moves gets the jump on our Vampy Heart-throb, (NO NOT HIM! STOP LOOKING AT ME EDWARD!), and when Buffy can’t find him, she comes all forlorn to his bed for a nap.

Where she is jumped! By none other than…

Kendra, the Vampire Slayer.

As much as I love Joss Whedon, he has a problem with non-white people in his shows, and Kendra is only my first taste of many. I loved the idea he went with here, of Buffy dying for only a minute, and that being long enough to awaken the next Potential, but there were so many faily things to unpack with Kendra’s character.

First off, is the back story of Kendra being whisked off by her parents to nobly give her as a babe to her Watcher to be raised, because some faraway exotic tribe would have some greater sense of duty, as opposed to clueless Joyce Summers, who can never be told. Why would Kendra’s parents be more in-the-know? Because they are closer to The First? Remember how exotic and savage she was?

Everything about Kendra was exotic, from her accent to her “only shirt”, to her not being permitted to talk to boys. She was raised in a funny culture far away with funny customs, and WOW IS SHE ODD, AMIRITE? But don’t forget she IS HOT! Whooo! You can even talk to her in any language! Buffy does this, using “amigo”, or other words ending in “o” as if that makes them easier to understand because Kendra has dark skin and a funny accent, she must understand this funny language you ARE MAKING UP!

In many ways, she was constructed as the anti-Buffy. It is hard to convince me that it is a coincidence that a non-white woman was chosen for this role. The dark to the light, the unemotional, perfect form, well-learned, no-shades of grey Slayer that Kendra is. I felt that she was to be the Yin to Buffy’s Yang (if you knew that in Mandarin one means, almost literally “sun” or is part of many words meaning “light” and the other the same in many words meaning dark, it gets even more interesting a comparison).

Even at the end of the episode, Kendra gets a moment to be a wise woman to Buffy, letting her know that being a Slayer isn’t just a job that she does or is fired from. She has wise words for her to set Buffy back on her way (but don’t forget to NOT hug her, because Kendra is a BAMF, and do not touch her, HELL-O). Oh, and ha ha! Buffy explains to her to make sure to use the seats on the plane! Oh that funny Kendra! We’ll see her again. The exotification of Kendra the Vampire Slayer isn’t over.

Another interesting thing I feel I need to discuss is the torture turn made-for-TV-sexy-time that keeps turning up in everything. OK, it isn’t like I am watching reels and reels of Cinemax after 10 PM or, but after watching what the Mord’Sith do in Legend of the Seeker, and reading more about it in The Sword of Truth series (of which I should blog soon), now I am watching on Buffy what Drusilla is doing to Angel (pouring holy water on him as he is restrained w/ his hands tied above his head, etc) as an hor d’orve to the ritual that will restore her to full power and, I am a little overloaded w/ this imagery right now.

Is there no other way to make the point that these people enjoy inflicting pain on beings who are morally good? None?

Practically every representation of Vampire sex is violent (See: Breaking Dawn, True Blood, the entire Darla story arc on Angel, or even “The Fanged Four”). It is always angry and/or it always hurts someone or destroys buildings or furniture.

Every representation of pain for pleasure is advanced by an “evil” entity onto a “good” entity.

It is kind of ridiculous.

I understand the role of the Mord’Sith in Legend of the Seeker, how they are created, how they are “bonded”, how they become redeemed, and even, possibly, how they are supposed to be meant to be read as “strong female characters”, and I will blog about that and the representation in both the books and the TV series later. I won’t engage in an in-depth discussion of them here, only a cosmetic one about how they apply to my point over-all.

I also understand the relationship and history between Dru and Angel; I understand what Angelus did to Drusilla when he created her (OH LOOK ANOTHER POST TOPIC!), but there is quite a bit of triggery sexy-time vampire relationship in this episode (and other times). It is dark, it is disturbing at some points (enough so that I will send some viewers away to refill a water bottle or for a bathroom break), I get what is going on here: Dru is having her revenge. But is this the way this type of sex play is always meant to be? Pain inflicted by the one in power, and always painful, never enjoyable for the one receiving it? I find that hard to believe, and yet it is always depicted as such. Especially in fantasy series like this.

Of course non-fantasy series’ seldom, if ever do it better (thinking legal/cop dramas, or even CSI with its “Lady Heather” arcs that made me so uncomfortable, as if she was a spectacle).

I think Joss does it just about as well as anyone else here, which I think is not well at all.

If anyone wants to discuss this, feel free; the idea of pain for pleasure as part of a healthy sex life is a little out of my AOE, and I don’t want to do it an injustice. But I get disturbed by the way it seems to turn up always displayed as a negative thing. Something that is always enacted by the depraved (those without souls, those tortured since early childhood, etc.). I don’t buy that it is the only way to depict such a thing.

Previous Summer of Buffy blogging conveniently archived.

Seize the Moment, Because Tomorrow You Might Be Dead

Today marks the end of Second Grade for The Kid, and as I promised her a while ago it also marks our kickoff for the Summer of Buffy. This is an idea inspired by my friend, Brave Sir Robin, and it seemed like such a great idea that we have decided to rock it here. Plus, due to some conversations here and there, it will give me a chance to re-evaluate some themes, characters and other fun stuff.

Jumping right in.

While Buffy was revolutionary for television during it’s time, what happened to Buffy Anne Summers is not, IMO, uncommon. Buffy has not chosen this path as a slayer. She, however shallow it might seem to some, just wanted to be on the cheerleading team, have some friends and graduate high school, but a destiny she couldn’t have imagined was dropped into her lovely lap. I wrote a while back that there seems to be this understanding that the weight of the world must hang on the shoulders of a woman in order to convince her to take up her duties. She didn’t ask to be the Slayer, in fact, she tried that at the point we show up in Ep. 01, “Welcome to the Hellmouth”. All that got her was kicked out of her school (also we find later that it caused her parents divorce) and sent packing to Sunnydale.

So when she tried to avoid the destiny she blamed for ruining her life it just kept crashing down harder. Giles, the librarian, is sent by the Watchers Council to train her, and a mysterious stranger (Angel!) follows her to make sure she knows what Epic Doom is in store for all of the new friends she has made. Nothing like having a bunch of dudes give you major guilt trips to force you into doing something you don’t want to do that has hurt you before, that will probably re-victimize you again. In this arena, Buffy, the Slayer, is given no respect or authority for being The Slayer. If fact, it is used to put her in a position of less-than for quite some time until she takes that authority back (but we haven’t gotten there yet, so we will talk about that later).

The ancient destiny to which Buffy was born stripped Buffy of her autonomy. She tried to outrun it, but instead it sent her running straight into the Hellmouth where she would be most needed and where she would spend the next seven years fighting for her life (losing that fight twice) and for the lives of those closest to her. It seeped into every aspect of her life and impacted every facet of every relationship she had, the ones to which she was able to divulge her secrets and the ones to which she was not.

This stripping of her autonomy is frustrating, to the character of Buffy for sure, and to the critical viewer (myself included) as we see it chip away at pieces of her childhood, hurting her in ways that allowing her to reveal her secret would resolve, and then having her secret revealed when she most didn’t want it. While it speaks a great deal to me about the voice of a woman in our world — something I think is something that Joss Whedon wanted to intentionally bring to light — it also makes me hurt as a woman who as a teen had her choices removed from her constantly because she was undervalued and deemed to have no rights to make them, and who was a young woman subjected to abuse through the removal of her autonomy. That is something that Whedon could not possibly understand, as much of an ally as he wanted to be when he created Buffy, and however much of an ally he is trying now to be (how successful he is at that is still debatable). He is not a woman who has had his autonomy taken and his experiences erased.

Joss Whedon gave amazing life and depth to Buffy, made her real and believable, but there was a depth to her pain that was so real that it stung so much — a little too much for some, and I sometimes question that. Was it too far? Was it just far enough to make people outside of that experience understand it a bit more? Possibly, but maybe it also just reinforced the idea that even extraordinary women should be hurt if it is in the name of The Greater Good.

For anyone who wants to and has access to the entirety of Buffy, we will be viewing it over the duration of the summer. We will probably do it in chunks, and discuss it in those chunks as story arch permits, pausing to address particular episodes and/or character analysis along the way. Feel free to join us!

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