. . . Buffy the Vampire Slayer

. . .

Things that don't scare me, a very special episode: Ray Harryhausen dinosaurs. As Hotsy-Totsyite Juliet Clark commented while watching the inexplicably controversial season finale of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "I can picture the Mayor guy ruling the world. I can't picture a computer-generated lizard ruling the world."

. . .

You know you'll never write anything for GettingIt when... you realize that you watch "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" for the sake of its script.

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Jolly Jokester Jolly Jokester's Injenious Japes
Q: Got a match?

A: My waist and your fast!

. . .

Another poor shmuck discovers that doing a good job only protects you from office politics so long as you stay out of office politics, 'cause once that happens you've made office politics part of your job and it's probably not a part you'll be good at. The difference if you were doing a good job on Buffy the Vampire Slayer is that you get to spill backstage gossip after you're fired, like these quotes:

Along with an interesting acting note:
The thing I do like about her [Eliza Dushku] is that she came over to my place and practiced "action acting" with me. That means putting extra body movement and facial expressions into your shots. It edits with the stunt double better that way and adds to the illusion. It's hard for Sarah to do that though because it feels like overacting to a lot of actors. Some pick it up right away.
Which reasonably explains why I didn't start watching the show till Eliza Dushku showed up....

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TV Comment: "The Replacement" - Buffy the Vampire Slayer

There's a type of male bonding that begins with Calibanism and ends in narcissism: The sheer blatancy of the overlap between our faults brings on mutual hostility (possibly due to a mutual fear of disclosure), whereas continued exposure reassures us that these faults are often found not only forgivable but charming. Which is a delightful thing to learn. For a while, anyway; in my experience, this particular type of friendship doesn't have much staying power.

. . .

In the nick of time, tireless indexer Juliet Clark sends the following:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Alternate Season Episode Guide, 2000-2001
Out of My Mind (aired October 17, 2000)

Riley and I are getting to be good friends. We're tracking a pair of lowlifes who have been terrorizing the UC Sunnydale campus with a series of dimly-lit illegal boxing matches and offscreen murders. We discover that the hoodlums are headquartered at an abandoned gas station on the outskirts of town. We follow them there and proceed to beat them up. Suddenly somebody asks, "Where's Buffy?" Cut to the set of a Coppertone commercial, where Buffy and another blonde model are lying on beach towels. Nothing happens. Then we return to the action at the gas station, where Riley and I have tied the bad guys to an abandoned car and are taunting them with witty but not overly cruel remarks.

Into the Woods (aired Dec. 19, 2000)

Buffy is gazing out her bedroom window at night. She has a sweeping view of Santa Barbara; the neon lights on the Mission are glowing in the distance, and the houses on the hillside twinkle cheerily. Actually they are Christmas lights attached to a piece of plywood painted black, but the effect is still charming and romantic. Buffy looks pensive, knitting her eyebrows slightly as she continues to stare out the window. One of the little white lights goes out. "Riley?" Buffy seems to be sniffing the air, searching for something. "Riley?"

Intervention (aired April 24, 2001)

Spike has succeeded in luring Buffy back to his home, a trailer in the middle of People's Park in Berkeley. He claims to have found Buffy's lost purse under a bush, although obviously he stole it himself the last time they went to the movies; anyway, he invites her to his house to pick it up. In the trailer, Spike once again declares his love for Buffy. Buffy decides maybe she would like to sleep with him after all. The next morning, Spike shows Buffy all the things he's bought for the trailer, anticipating domestic bliss with his beloved. He's got a complete set of wooden spoons and several pounds of butter. Buffy is confused, then incensed. "Vampires don't eat butter! Anyway, I just wanted to get you out of my system." She exits. "You were almost as good as that robot," Spike mutters to the swinging cardboard door of the trailer.

Fall Season Preview (aired May 22, 2001)

Of course, Buffy is not really dead. She's been adopted by a family of vampires. This is legal because the vampires are not quite dead either. Angel turns out to be Buffy's step-brother. Hilarity ensues.

Fall Season Preview, Part 2 (aired July 15, 2001)

The ultra-secret Sunnydale Villains' Convention is underway, and by coincidence, the Scooby Gang is also holding a meeting at the conference hotel. They begin to suspect that something is wrong when they pass by the ballroom and see crowds of people dressed entirely in black leather. What they don't know yet is that the newest member of the Gang (a blonde who looks like an even smaller Sarah Michelle Gellar) is actually a spy for the villains' union! But soon she reveals her allegiance: she springs up in the middle of the Scooby meeting and swings her chair around her head, sending off sparks that threaten to zap the principal cast members' brains. This was why the new girl brought her own chair to the meeting, instead of sitting in the plush pink hotel furniture. Buffy tries to disarm the demon, but her magic chair seems to be indestructible. Luckily, Spike happens to have dropped in on the meeting; together, through a monumental effort, he and Buffy reduce the chair to tiny chunks of pressboard. When the chair is finally defeated, Spike breaks a remnant of leg into two tiny pieces. He puts one in his mouth and offers the other to Buffy. Gazing into each other's eyes, they eat the chair together, like bread.

Pre-Season Summer Movie Tie-In: Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (aired August 24, 2001)

A couple of idiots hear there's a Buffy fan convention coming up. They go to the mall in their Chicago suburb to buy costumes with sequins and special beaded glasses. They don't have any money, so they have to forge a check. But they can't decide what name to sign. They know the last name is Rodriguez, but the first name might be Matt, or Scott, or Jeff. While the clerk looks on, they practice various signatures in the margins of the check. After a while the exasperated clerk says, "Chinese proverb: even the woman with only one leg still has stinky feet. Also, those who have just hanged themselves are usually crazy." The clerk is not Chinese.

The First Annual Buffy Awards Ceremony (aired August 30, 2001)

Everyone's invited, even me. I discover that in fact I'm a member of the cast: I play the Irrelevant Older Friend. Because I'm just a recurring character and not a regular, I don't get a prize, but all the major players walk away with awards. All except Sarah Michelle Gellar, who is enraged. She complains to a security guard at the airport on the way home: "I even know the guy who put on this show! The last time I saw him he was all patting me on the nose and stuff, like we're supposed to be friends!" Later I'm sitting on the floor with some of the other cast members, discussing the upcoming season. Although I am only the Irrelevant Older Friend and not a professional, the other actors seem to value my opinion. I express my concerns: "There was something foreboding about the way Giles handed Buffy that bottle of detergent a couple of shows ago. I don't know, but somehow I felt that the show as we knew it ended with that gesture." The others nod thoughtfully.

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Invidious comparisons

Eagle-eyed Juliet Clark plucks this juicy hank o' middlebrow from Lewis Lapham's column in the September 2001 Harper's:

"Because the schools serve a spiritual and political purpose instead of an intellectual idea, they cannot afford to make invidious comparisons between the smart kids and the dumb kids, between the kids who read Shakespeare's plays and those who watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer."
Elsewhere, another professional pundit does his dirty job of turning a short paragraph into a full column. (And I regret to say that my weblog compeers, those gay betrayers, are not linking to the original....)

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Only a void in a guilty cage

The Gospel According to Buffy (via AKMA) rightly points to the revelation of Buffy's post-resurrection nostalgia as one of the most affecting moments of last season. Rightly, but misleadingly, since its "heaven" was more a leap off the wheel of suffering, and Buffy returned less as comicbook Christ than as comicbook bodhisattva.

Oddly, another effective episode-closer much more evocative of Christianity goes unmentioned: the confession. Although not exactly endorsed by canonical law, hysterical refusal of atonement is common enough in Christian melodrama from the ascetics through Graham Greene.*

TARA: Do you love him? I-It's okay if you do. He's done a lot of good, and, and he does love you. A-and Buffy, it's okay if you don't. You're going through a really hard time, and you're...

BUFFY: What? Using him? What's okay about that?

TARA: It's not that simple.

BUFFY: It is! It's wrong. I'm wrong. Tell me that I'm wrong, please... Please don't forgive me, please... (sobbing) Please don't... Please don't forgive me...

Could be, though, that the emotional power of both scenes has less to do with deep-rooted theological instincts than with the narrative medium.

In a television series, we can be sure that the regulars will return, no matter how much crap they're dragged through, and we can be sure that they'll stay together, no matter how dreadfully they may have behaved towards each other.

Previously on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," our hero suffered death, betrayal by her first love immediately upon her loss of virginity, killing her first love, betrayal by a fellow slayer, betrayal by the second guy she ever slept with, being left by the third guy she ever slept with, the death of her mother, at least six apocalypses, and death again. Frankly, she was in a rut. Life hadn't much new to offer -- as is being proved redundantly by the current season -- and the only possible reason to be strapped into another cycle of pain was contractual obligation. Given Sarah Michelle Geller's movie-star ambitions, she could really put her heart into lines like "I was finished. Complete."

Similarly, it's not all that hard in real life to achieve non-forgiveness: people refuse to forgive each other all the time. Only on a TV show would Murray Slaughter and Ted Baxter survive in the same office for seven years. Only on a TV show would a character murder, torture, attempt to destroy the universe, and then work his way back into the gang by dint of heavy squinting. Trapped in such an obvious facade, one can understand straining against genre constraints toward some sense of reality.

In both cases, a narrative construct attempts to escape her defining narrative. For viewers who have willingly surrendered their empathy to the fiction while maintaining knowledge of its absurdity, this technique intensifies our identification with (and investment in) the character while reinforcing our own (shared) doubts. Simultaneously threatened and reassured, it's no wonder we feel our chains yanked.

As support for that secular explanation, I offer the third most affecting episode of last season,** in which the show's wobbly plotline was explained as the junk-culture-sodden megalomaniacal fantasy of a nearly catatonic young woman who'd been institutionalized since 1996: as direct an attack on suspension of disbelief as one could imagine.

Of course, it's possible that "deep-rooted theological instincts" are also a matter of "a narrative construct attempting to escape her defining narrative" -- but investigating such a synthesis might well lead us outside "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" proper.

* Adolescent panic when facing the moral relativism of adult life may be less culturally specific.

** But my favorite single scene of last year -- the fourth episode confrontation between bristling mentor Giles and waveringly "nice" Willow -- was just well-executed genre stuff.


Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.