Buffy: Ten Years On

I am fortunate, compared to so many that have fallen deeply down into Buffyverse post original airing, that I mostly watched the series as it unfolded. I had a friend during undergrad in the late 90’s who was very important to me. His mother had MS and was bed-ridden. He insisted I sit down, join in their weekly ritual, and watch Buffy on Tuesday nights with himself and his mother. I had seen one episode prior, S2E4’s “Inca Mummy Girl,” which I have talked about before here. It didn’t stick, and if you watch it now and out of context, you can see why.

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Thus, the first episode I saw on original air date aside from “Inca Mummy Girl,” was S3E8’s “Lover’s Walk.” And in the scope of Buffyverse, it’s a huge episode. Spike returns to Sunnydale and kidnaps Willow, Xander and Willow’s affair is found out by a shattered Oz and Cordelia, Buffy, Spike, and Angel all fight together forecasting things to come, and Cordy (very shockingly) gets impaled. Needless to say I was addicted, and saw every episode in real time from then on.

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To that end, I have personal context in my own life for Buffy. I generally know what was happening in my life “when.” As in, the experience of Buffy somewhat framed my life for that period of time… when I graduated, when I got married to my first husband (and subsequently got divorced, not long after Angel left Sunnydale), when I started working in wine (Buffy started college), when I had certain love affairs, when I moved into apartments that would become important to my history, when my Dad died (“Into the Woods”), when I, when I, when I…

This of course gives Buffy a deep level of resonance for me, but the nostalgia is not what keeps me fascinated or returning to it. At all. The work itself continues to gain credibility as time passes. Buffy not only stands up in all schools of critical theory, it reveals new commentary pertaining to those schools regularly, in a way that few works of art, and especially few TV shows, have been able to. In a very real way the craftsmanship and depth written into Buffy paved the path for shows like, The Wire, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men. Until that time, psychologically aging characters had only been half-heartedly accomplished among any TV series. And no show has so successfully used heavy plot-metaphor and myth to boldly elucidate the universal pains of maturation and living.

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As I sit here, ten years since the last episode, newly graduated with an MFA, miscarrying my third pregnancy in a year, watching the Stanley Cup playoffs (go Pens), and listening to my husband outside mowing the lawn — the doors thrown open and early summer air clouding in, Buffy feels more relevant than ever. I think of things like: the quality of light that meets Buffy’s traumatized expression when she opens the back door in, “The Body” (those windchimes and the sounds of her neighborhood). Or the way the wooden box holding the syringe hits the wall to the right above Giles’ head in “Helpless”…

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What Joss Whedon understands better than anyone else working in TV (and arguably film) and what he portrays, is what’s most important in our experiences: the moments in between; in between finding the body and the arrival of the EMTs. The moment before having to ruthlessly end a friendship (Faith), or maturely and painfully realizing that life has a greater purpose than hedonism (Angel and Buffy and Buffy and Spike). The decisions that are made because we *let* the head or heart win out, and alternately the blinding fear that accompanies trusting our instincts and parenting ourselves.

Whedon’s characters fail time and again in their execution of most decisons, especially where relationships and their own best interests are concerned. They doubt themselves and let their desires win, or worse, let their wishes guide their actions; wishing things were different than they really are and acting as if that were true until they can no longer lie to themselves.

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Ten years ago it was Tuesday, of course. And when the final episode of Buffy ended (“Chosen”), Angel started; the season finale for Angel season 3 “Tomorrow,” where Cordelia is whisked into a divine region and Angel is dropped to the bottom of the ocean.

For me, every Tuesday, and indeed nearly every day for many years consisted of a harrowing, humbling, selfish, and indulgent life, of: waking, writing, working, returning home, yoga, dinner, watching movies/Buffy/Angel, and going out dancing. I knew at the time those were rare, valuable days. They were also extremely hard days of working relentlessly on myself, forcing change and growth, developing disciplines, cornering and conquering fears, and generally using all of my time to craft a larger vision of life. And also  to begin to heal, and tell my truth. I often think of those years as one huge panic attack, fueled by PTSD and panic/anxiety disorder.

While the skills I sought and gained in that time I did not learn from Buffy, I watched it happen for the characters of Buffy, and during the most personally-productive and alienated years of my life, I really was in the best company and that is: the company of very great art, art which retains and compounds its relevance, and facets more deeply  with each passing year.

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Knowledge, Power and Disaster in Buffyverse, Pt. 3 – Giles

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Above, Giles explains the problem with computers in I, Robot…You, Jane, S1E8. .gif by flowerdrop

Key figure and arguably the anchor of early season Buffy, Rupert Giles (Buffy’s Watcher), we learn was a curator at “a British museum or The British Museum”. (Willow, BtVS S1E1) Giles learned that he was to become a Watcher at the age of ten, from his father and mother, who were also Watchers.

His early years required intensive duty to scholastics which eventually led him to a rebellious period when he and his peers delved beyond their studies, exploring the dark and black arts. They utilized books and materials they had little ability to wield or control let alone understand. Giles often cautions Willow, and serves as a direct warning to all, not to reach beyond their means where learning is concerned, especially in the learning of magics. (Fred later serves as a direct warning/example of the danger of intensive scholastics… another entry will cover that.)

Due to his years delving into the black arts, which function in the show as a drug Giles (known then as ‘Ripper”) and his peers tried to control a demon named Eyeghon, who eventually hunts down the entire group, save Ethan Rayne and Giles, and murders each one. This speckled history of Giles’ is revealed in the episode “The Dark Age,” (S2E8).

In this episode Giles’ history directly compromises the most important people in his life: Jenny Calendar and Buffy. Jenny ends up being possessed by Eyeghon (and thus Buffy ends up beating her to a pulp, working out some subconscious father-figure/jealousy issues in the meantime), while Buffy gets held captive by Ethan Rayne who tries to deflect Eyeghon’s attention from himself by offering up Buffy.

The metaphor of knowledge as a drug is therefore laid out early. If school & scholastics are the beer and wine of the education world (with the ability to get one buzzed or even drunk on knowledge/power), magic is the Meth. Magic is the Heroin of knowledge. Magic is a way to utilize learning immediately in a way that can impact the user’s immediate environment. In light of this, each character can then be viewed through this facet.

Willow is clearly cut out to be an addict, with her drive and obsession for all knowledge. Giles was a recreational user who let it get the better of him. Cordelia is content with “beer & wine,” Xander has no appetite whatsoever, and Buffy has a natural aptitude but no time to capitalize on it because she is a Slayer.

At the library (and later at the magic shop), we know Giles tries to keep the most powerful books where the others will not be able to easily access them. We also know Willow quickly begins to ignore this boundary, sneaking the books she wants to read or see. Early on Buffy is in support of Willow, especially when it will benefit her, thinking her behavior is harmless like when Willow proposes they access the books for history regarding Angel. This is one of the first times we see the addict/co-dependent relationship between Buffy and Willow start to shape itself. (Willow’s addiction and the co-dependence of the Scoobies will be addressed in another essay.)

Giles’ cautions to Willow are from a place of experience, and he is never okay with Willow’s behavior, despite seeing from time to time that her considerable, eventual power is sometimes their only hope. Giles’ attempt to use magic for entertainment as an adolescent creates an unshakable problem that follows him well into adulthood and harms what he loves best. Despite seeing this first hand, Willow does not cease to reach for power and knowledge she does not have. Being the smartest student in school and having the best grades does not satisfy her in any way, it causes her to want more. Where Giles tried to utilize knowledge/magic for recreation, Willow becomes an addict to the Nth; falsely believing she can achieve some sort of mastery where Giles failed due to, as she perceives, his ineptitude.

What we know of Giles is that he comes to rest somewhere in the middle where knowledge is concerned. He knows from experience that he must self-discipline and recognize when something is too far out of his realm. If a job is too big, rather than plow ahead and attempt something dangerous, he will generally contact someone with the right abilities or resources for the job. In converse fashion, Willow will always try everything on her own, even when she is well out of her depth. The “fix” she gets when she is able to apply herself successfully is more than enough for her to eat her failures, and the failures  serve to create deeper craving for her to have more successes.

Knowledge, Power and Disaster in Buffyverse, Pt. 2

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Sarah Thompson (Eve) and David Boreanaz (Angel) in Angel S5E5, “Life of the Party.”

No TV program has advocated so much, so constantly, for books and learning as Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BtVs) and its off-shoot, Angel the series (Ats). (That advocacy continues on Buffy producer/writer David Greenwalt’s project Grimm.) The main characters in each series spend long, regular hours with many old and dusty tomes in pursuit of any information that will help them with their crisis du jour. Joss Whedon’s message is continually that the learning done by the generations that have lived before us is a valuable, nearly endless resource that we can utilize to gain wisdom and make living easier to navigate.

Through a myriad of characters, Whedon advocates for learning and knowledge, and often cautions at its addictive nature, the dangers of its power, and the extreme mistake of trying to play God. Whedon uses his characters to further the dialogue with regard to two timeless characters: Eve and Icarus. There is a roster of characters I will talk about, but let’s start with the most obvious statement Whedon makes where knowledge pertains: Eve.

Eve is the liminal character introduced towards the end of Ats. Eve serves as an empowered but reluctant liaison to the Senior Partners (the Senior Partners of Wolfram & Hart Law Firm, being at the very least, forces of extreme evil). We also know Eve doesn’t seem to have a choice in the matter… she is bound in some fashion. She is a “child” of the Senior Partners, though we aren’t entirely sure what the terms or circumstances of that relationship are. Eve seems reluctant, somewhat exhausted. She eventually is forced to sign away her unnatural immortality only to later regain some extended, unnatural life in “Angel: After the Fall” (the graphic novel that continues the story line after series end) where it is revealed she is under the control of the Senior Partners yet again. One gets the idea that Eve, having been created by the Senior Partners for their use in the advocacy of evil, has always been and will always be in their control.

As viewers, we wonder more than once if Eve isn’t *Eve.* The Eve that ate the apple. At one point she is even on screen holding an apple. While there ultimately isn’t enough to entirely support this, it never fades entirely. Eve is nearly always dressed somewhat suggestively and somewhat immaturely, in scarlet red. Of course, red symbolizing the color of sin, the apple, and blood which is presumably on her hands.

If the Eve we see portrayed on Angel had eaten the apple, that would mean she was under the control of evil even while in the garden or that eating the apple brought her under the control of evil. The point of this wondering is to introduce the concept that Joss Whedon loves to punish the Eves and the Icaruses (Icari?) in Buffyverse, often through extreme ruin or intolerable, extended torment. There is a deep history of characters who have sought too much knowledge, too much mastery over nature, with too much meddling due to curiosity, addiction to learning, and desire to control.

Next up: Giles