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.
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.