exactly that

Posts tagged ‘Summer of Buffy’

Liar

Anthony Stewart Head, as Rupert Giles, a pale British man in a suit, holding a syringe in front of his bespectacled face.One episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that perhaps has the hardest tug on the cockles of where my heart used to be, gentle readers, is Season 3’s “Helpless”. Perhaps I am just all maudlin right now, but there is a nice knapsack full of emotions which I think are worth exploring.

One of the most important principles I hold dear is honesty. It is the guiding principle of our home. It is certainly something I expect, though have often found myself not receiving from, my family members. I have fought to always provide it, even though frequently in my younger life the ability to lie convincingly became a survival skill. Funny how the things that help you often hurt you later in life.

Often times I have found myself on the wanting end of withheld information “for my own good”. You know, that tidbit that isn’t slid to you so that you weren’t distracted from exams or to ensure that you wouldn’t come running to the bedside of a sick relative. It is a fairly regular happenstance that someone will slip up and mention when Uncle So-and So was under anesthesia and had an allergic reaction to it casually in conversation when nattering on about something else that keeps me feeling good about being far from home.

I hate having information withheld from me. I hate it more when it is from people I love.

Even worse, are the times I know something is wrong. I can feel it. Everyone I know seems to be on eggshells. Papa seems tired more so than usual and hasn’t picked up The Kid for a hug today. The air crackle with fear as thick as morning fog on Whitefish Bay. Nothing is wrong and the pancakes are burned, but suddenly my grandfather comes home with a report of a heart that has been beating completely backwards in his chest for over seventy years and needs “corrective” surgery. And I didn’t know he had a surgery at all. No one wanted me to worry or distract me from my life. I suppose I should be grateful that none of these things has ever threatened my life directly, but it did threaten my chances of knowing that I might lose people who meant a great deal in forming me into the person I have become today.

Most of all it hurts when the people who lied to you are the people you trusted with the deepest parts of you.

“Helpless” sets us up for another fun year of celebrating Buffy’s natality (here’s a hint: they always turn out exactly as planned and no one ever dies *nod nod*). Buffy is excitedly discussing with anyone who will listen about the ice show her absent father takes her to every year. He must be more absent than I have come to expect, because I don’t remember him taking her to ice shows the last two years. Wev.

Any time she becomes excited about something it seems that Buffy becomes determined to redouble her Slayer Training efforts, and she begins studying the various uses of crystals and gems with their respective properties. Part of what I love about the show is the special relationship between Buffy and Giles, the one that proves that the influence of a father (not that it is necessary) can come from a place not of blood, but of love and intention and devotion. Through his work and commitment, Buffy has come to trust Giles, possibly more than any single person we see her interact with ever, with her life. When her father fails to come through, Buffy even tries to convince him that Ice Shows aren’t as cartoon-y as everyone thins they are, hoping to get him to take the hint. (If someone were free, they’d take their daughter, or student, or their Slayer…)

Over several scenes, we see that Buffy is a little off her game. To put it in Buffy’s terms, her game has left the country. She comes to Giles, scared, asking for help in figuring out why the thing she which she always thought she wanted to happen is now happening. But even she knows that this is something for concern, because Buffy puts her life in harm’s way every day, and her powers have become a lifeline. When Giles tap dances around this, when he skirts the issue, when he seems less concerned than Buffy, who verges on tears whenever she chances her voice to talk about it, we wonder how Giles can be so calm. We know he loves Buffy like his own kin.

Which is why when she is told to meditate upon a specific crystal during her studies, and we see Giles pull out a syringe to inject Buffy with some mysterious fluid while she is entranced in the flaw deep within, it is alarming indeed. Logical conclusions made through TeeVee magic tell us that he is the cause of this mojo that has afflicted Buffy. We, the viewer are let in on the deed that Giles has committed as we watch Buff struggle with what has been not only done to her, but withheld from her as well. Giles has been intentionally aloof, and now we know why.

The scenes at the Sunnydale Arms show us that, once again, our beloved Watchers’ Council is back in the action inflicting archaic testing and rites upon Buffy when they have spent most of her life “watching” from afar. When a slayer reaches her 18th birthday she is to be tested on her abilities without her…um, abilities, and they seem to feel that the best way to do this is to trick her, without giving her any clue what is happening to her. Sending a scared woman into a boarded up house with a supercharged vampire, in this case one who was turned as a patient from a psychiatric facility, and I am sure I don’t need to go into the deep issues packed up in Whedon’s decision to go that route (how it feeds a stereotype of how people with mental illness are all dangerous, how it exotifies mental hospitals and the people in them who are quite possibly and very likely not dangerous at all) so I am not going to, is rather messed up. Giving her any hint of the test before her invalidates it. And it has been done this way for centuries, so it must be the right way, nevermind, you, that it is rare for a slayer to reach her 18th birthday.

But Giles not only knew, he did this to her. And we watched with wide eyes as Buffy’s trust and autonomy were violated.

Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy, a pale woman in a lavendar shirt and denim ovealls with blonde hair. She is in a dark room with plaster walls, covered in tiny Poloroid photos.Predictably, because this is television, like a good plot voucher, the vampire breaks free and kills one of his attendants, changing the rules up and eventually kidnapping Buffy’s mother, giving Giles the opportunity to slink out from between his rock and hard place. As honorable as it is that Giles finally fessed up to his actions, it was only after the colloquial shit hit the fan that he came clean, inciting Buffy’s ire, breaking her heart (If you touch me, I will kill you…), and imbuing her with enough righteous indignation to realize the talents she still possessed. Lest ye misunderstand: Buffy’s anger is what drove her, not Giles’ actions. Through no good deed of Giles did Buffy realize that she was still resourceful, but I believe through her own desperate inner searching. In fact, it is only after, in an odd moment of kindness, Cordelia has driven Buffy home and she realizes that her mother is gone, that she rises to the occasion.

I tell you, ex-con vamps must have a lot of cash to blow on Poloroids.

Long Episode Synopsis is Long.

Apart from the glaring truth that lying hurts and liars kind of suck (even though we all do it and we try not to), there are serious issues with violation of autonomy here, which might even me a more important rule to me than honesty, but really they are inextricably linked in many ways. The person who knows Buffy better than anyone in the whole world should have known what a clear violation of their relationship that was, how invaded her person would break that trust. In fact, he did know, and instead of fighting against protocol that he knew was wrong, he did it anyway. He allowed people detached from Buffy’s life to make calls and enforce rules upon her body, and then insist that he lie about it to her. Then, they wanted his aid in luring her into direct danger.

In the end Buffy learns the Important Lesson that she was meant to learn in that her powers are not everything and that she is clever and resourceful beyond her supernatural abilities, but, is it any wonder that Buffy’s mistrust of the Council is so vehement? And while her relationship with Giles does manage to mend, I am of a mind that it has more to do with TeeVee magic than actual good writing of the mind of a young woman whose whole world was violated to such a degree.

Buffy is So Whiny…

Sarah Michelle Gellar and Michelle Trachtenberg as Buffy and Dawn SummersExcept, anyone who has spent five minutes speaking to me knows that I don’t really think that at all.

And yet, I find that is a really popular opinion, and it begs the question, why that is?

Because I just don’t see the fly in the ointment logic, at least not in the sense by which people are trying to sell it to me.

Sure, I have had my fair share of “SHUT UP BUFFY” moments (*coughs* Angel Season 01 “Sanctuary” *coughs*), but I think that most of us could use a nice resounding STFU when we are behaving badly every now and again by our friends. But usually, this whole “Buffy is whiny” nonsense comes with a whole mess of evidence that would get Batman a hug and another comic book spin off. (What? Your parents were gunned down in an alley? I bet that really hurt and gave you a lot of emotional stuff to work through!)(But NOOOO! Buffy! You can’t be upset about YOUR MOM DYING!) (Or YOU DYING!)

During our recent Summer of Buffy re watch, we got to round-about Season Five, where people tend to start thinking that Buffy “just isn’t growing as a person” or that she “isn’t written well anymore”. I hear that is where the writing took a crap (I beg to differ), and that it must be because Joss was just stretched too thin with too many shows on his plate (once again, differ). I’ve also heard that it was because he let too many chicks to too much of the writing, but it didn’t seem to be any more than usual. In fact, any changes that were made seemed to be things I found favorable. We had the introduction of Glory, my favorite Big Bad of the series. We had Season 2 of Angel working hard, spinning into the deep dark recesses of Angel’s history with Darla. We saw the introduction of Jane Espenson to the mix. Production-wise, life was great! (Except that it was ALL MARTI’S FAULT!)

Buffy has been doing the dance for five years. She has been taking the strides and getting about as many kicks as she has given in the game of Life as thanks for carrying on her Duty as Chosen One. She got nice big death traps for her 16th and 18th birthdays, when most girls her age and demographic were going through regular milestones like tampons and Prom dates. She carried the lives of most of her graduating class through to adulthood and was thanked with a nifty toy surprise.

She was tricked and bossed around by a Watchers’ Council out of touch with the job she stuck her neck out for every day and yet whom expected her to continue putting herself and her family at risk to continue doing.

In Buffy’s world, life was starting to come apart at the seams. Buffy finds that she suddenly has an adolescent sister, and as added fun, that sister is a mystical key given to her to care for. That key is coveted and hunted by a timeless and greatly worshiped goddess hell-bent on using it to open a portal to a world that will suck this one into oblivion, killing her unknowing sister in the process.

Buffy’s mother also becomes ill, getting incredible headaches, and it turns out she has a brain tumor. Buffy moves home to care for her and her sister. Suddenly, she is thrown into the adult situation of answering medical questions, and insurance questions and making sure that Dawn is fed and tucked in. And also not scared that their mother is dying. Like the adult that she isn’t sure she is ready to be.

And then their mother does die.

Suddenly Buffy is the mother-figure. And the Slayer. And still protecting Dawn because the world just doesn’t stop trying to find your kid sister who is a mystical key just because you are grieving the loss of your mother while carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. Even her dad is in Spain with his secretary.

So who do you turn to if you are Buffy?

Your Watcher? Who just opened his magic shop?

Your boyfriend, who has become an emotional black hole after losing his superpowers? He can’t deal with your brick wall of needing to be strong for everyone else, so he becomes a risk addict, seeing out blood-sucking vampires for fun while you are mopping up your mother’s vomit. He never got over his jealousy of your vampy ex-boyfriend, so since he can’t use his words and talk about he feels, he has to be sucked on or give ultimatums. It’s now, or deep-undercover military ops.

Your friends, who are also caught up in worry about your mother, and helping you take care of your sister so you can care for your mom? Nice Guy Xander who is there to tell Buffy what she wants and badger her about every bad decision she has ever made (…you’re about to let him go because you don’t like ultimatums…)?

It seems to me, that if we had someone, say Spiderman, Batman, Wolverine…who started going through the same thing, they would have legitimate pain. Their need to always be on top of things, their need to stay strong is admirable, and when they crumble under the agony of emotional pain… well it is understood as the regular pain of being a misunderstood superhero.

But this girl?

She’s whiny.

She literally gives her life to protect the people she loves (twice); she trades hers for Dawn’s. Her friends pull her back from the dead, from a place where she was at peace after all the fighting.

But she’s whiny.

Being alive hurts her, and her friends give her shit about it, wanting her to bounce right back to happy-go-lucky life. A life where she has to take up the fight again instead of letting someone else do it. A life where the crushing world of responsibility comes crashing down on her again.

But she’s whiny.

She has to back-burner college and get a crappy minimum-wage job to take care of her sister and home, while Dawn rebels by shop-lifting, and all the while everyone is watching her as if she is going to break.

But she’s whiny.

She is shamed for seeking solace in a less-than-savory relationship with Spike, despite the fact that it seems to give her what she wants. It gives her comfort, and then it is used against her as if it should be a means to discredit her.

But she is whiny.

I find it telling the way that we are willing to hold Buffy to a different standard. She is a different sort of superhero than we are used to. She is young, and a woman, and was the longest superhero of her kind on the telly. But it just doesn’t seem that we are willing to give her the human space of emotion to hurt the way we do some of our other superheroes.

Why is that?

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.

When She Was Bad

When Buffy Season 1 ended with “Prophecy Girl” we saw a lot of things happen.

The Hellmouth actually opened, for the first of what will be many times (I really hope that isn’t too much of a spoiler for many of you), Cordelia drove her car through the school, and Buffy faced The Master and died. For a minute or two (Hey! It’s TV!).

Also through the miracle of TV, Xander (who can never do what he is told, ever, and it always works out to a convenient plot device) and Angel showed up just in time to revive her and send her on her way to be the prettiest Not Zombie ever (that was The Guy’s thing, OK).

So when Season 2 picks up and Buffy is returning from a summer with her dad we have a whole new Slayer who comes back as a whole new, shall we say, snarkier Buffy with a better haircut.

So here’s the part where Joss is gonna get some shit from me: Buffy is so incredibly obviously dealing with Some Issues. She is having flashbacks while training. She is having some really shit-tastic nighmares where Giles tries to choke her to death while her best friends watch, Giles actually being The Master in a Giles mask. To me the most disturbing part of the dream is that Buffy dreams that her friends are asking how she is doing… something that isn’t happening in real life, and that in a way she dreams that Giles allowed her to die, which I think she might actually believe…

So she is lashing out at her friends. Full scale snark at Xander and Willow and Giles. She mocks Willow —  something she dropped Cordelia faster than Kid drops food under the table on a clean floor for doing. She pulls Xander out onto the dance floor at The Bronze and proceeds to do what was henceforth known as her “sexydance” that made both Angel and Willow jealous. In fact, if you mention Season 2 Ep. 1 “When She Was Bad” to some vaguely familiar with Buffy, the first thing they remember is “sexydance”. She romps about with a new personae that manages to get Cordelia to pull her aside and ask if she was running for “Bitch of the Year”.

If Cordelia is up in your shit about your “Joan Collins ‘tude”, then it is time for a deep inward assessment.

But what no one did was try to actually talk to Buffy, which is what bothered me about the writing of this episode.

See, Buffy died, and I am pretty sure that upset her a bit. I know it might peeve me a bit, if I was 16 and had to deal with that. That might have been something she had to work through a bit, the way she felt about dying. So, instead of anyone talking to her about how that felt, Joss wrote everyone doing the logical thing and talking about her. Instead, it kind of felt like her friends just … got annoyed with her and didn’t try to understand what she was dealing with. Sure, Buffy was behaving in all the wrong ways, but her friends weren’t exactly the pillars of strength she needed to get through her situation, either. But, of course we will see that this becomes a theme.

The only person who tries to reach out to her is Angel, the one person most closely associated with the thing that has caused all of this pain, and the one person most likely to elicit the most harsh reaction from Buffy. She brushes him off, is harsh with him, even though we see peeks of her emotionally reaching out to him at the same time (cue heart wrenching music to imply the Cosmically Forbidden Relationship)… Angel is the personification of all that went wrong with her life. The Slaying, the Vampires, and ultimately death. He couldn’t even save her life before or after her death…

The harsh reality of the weight of her responsibility, the painful truth that even her life is fragile hangs on her weary shoulders even as life doesn’t stop to allow her to mourn her own death. Buffy is obviously angry, hurting, and possibly confused about her future. We see this theme again throughout the series, as she has to decide if she should bother planning a future in her life: career, love, even just graduating or getting through tomorrow. The fragility of her role in the world crashed into her path of vision, and she had to face that in the 60 seconds of clinical death (and later with the appearance of another Chosen One).

This stings close to home for people who deal with real life depression, over loss in their lives, or any of the other reasons that mental illness comes crashing down or tries to suffocate us. Often, the people around us give up trying to support us, and withdraw, leaving us to lash out or sometimes give up.

Perhaps Joss didn’t fail as much as I first said.

Perhaps, in Buffy, he has attempted to personify the utter helplessness and angst that people in a deep depression sometimes feel. Perhaps, he has done a perfect job of showing what it feels like to not be able to yell out exactly what is going on inside, how it feels to have suffered what you have suffered because no one really can truly empathize, no one can truly feel your pain

Perhaps.

If only defeating your demons was as simple as smashing a set of bones with a giant mallet.

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