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Buffy The Vampire Slayer

"Buffy Season 8" Comic Book - Issue 04 "The Long Way Home" - Gonersmovie.com Review

Saturday 7 July 2007, by Webmaster

Reflections on Reflections in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 8, Issue 4

"In this style argue tyrants of every denomination from the weak king to the weak father of a family; they are all eager to crush reason; yet always assert that they usurp its throne only to be useful."

Mary Wollstonecraft

"A Vindication of the Rights of Women"

Part I

Warren Meers, Willow.

Or:

Warren mirrors Willow.

Totally missed that myself, until this Pop Politics article. (Scroll down to "painfully reminiscent"). The first girlfriend to get cerebrally dampened in season 6 was Tara. Willow didn’t want to hear that she was "doing too much magic," so she shut her girlfriend up with a spell to make her forget, and thus drop, the subject. Will has her will.

Warren goes further, but in the same direction, in "Dead Things," with a tech Cerebral Dampener that replaces the will of his ex, Katrina, with his own. And what does he demand from her when he gets her alone?

"Tell me you love me."

Their motives are awful similar, W & W’s. A technological genius who branched out into magic loses a girlfriend. Sad, really. In both senses.

Willow is Joss’s most sympathetic creation; Warren, his most un-.

So on page one he shows us Warren at his most sympathetic, his moment of greatest vulnerability, helpless and hopeless, at the mercy of the merciless, the moment before she flays him alive, and he’s terrified. His most sympathetic moment is Willow’s least. Just two words: "Bored now." ("Bored" is a big, bad word with Joss. Why?) It’s the moment before she becomes what he is, a killer. Is that how his kind spawns?

"It’s All Done With Mirrors" Part II: Making Monsters

“Frankenstein is the story of childbirth as it would be if it had been invented by someone who wanted power more than love.” So says Edward Mendelson at the start of “The Things That Matter: What Seven Classic Novels Have to Say About Life.”

Two quibbles: Love is a power. It’s the power to help. And Frankenstein, like everyone, did want love. His mistake was trying to use a certain kind of power to get it.

So rewrite Mendelson’s excellent essay I must and shall:

"Frankenstein” is the story of a life created by someone who wanted to compel love through domination, not realizing that domination destroys the possibility of love. Thesis sentence: Season Eight is about Love v. Domination. About the confusion of the two, about the difference between the two.

“I Was Made To Love You,” BtVS 5015, mirrors Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein.” Victor builds his creature and Warren builds April the Love-bot “so that he alone can have total control over its outcome.” Victor “sustains himself through his gruesome, pleasureless work with the thought that his creature will owe him more gratitude than any human child ever owed to its father.” (Both quotes come from the first page of Mendelson’s chapter on the book.) Both creators succeed and fail the same way. Victor’s creature lives, Warren’s functions as programmed, but neither makes its creator feel how he thought it would. “[A]s soon as the object of his generosity takes on a life of its own, as soon as it breaks free of his fantasies about it, the ‘beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.’ From this point onward, he thinks of his creature as ‘my enemy’—but the only thing it has done to deserve Victor’s horrified disgust is to reach out for his affection.” Warren’s creation does—was designed to do—the same. (Mendelson, p. 5.) Both Victor and Warren abandon their creations. Both actually leave them alone in their college rooms.

Warren, unlike Victor, is clear about what he wanted. April’s not just a Sex-bot. “I didn’t make a toy. I made a girlfriend.” He has a definition of love that is not strictly limited to super villains: “She cares about what I care about, and she wants to be with me. She listens to me and supports me.” He thought he would love her, and does not understand why he didn’t. “I guess it was too easy. And predictable . . . she got boring. She was exactly what I wanted, and I didn’t want her.” Warren doesn’t realize that she couldn’t give him what he wanted, because she couldn’t give him love. He got what he thought he wanted, and made it impossible to get what he needed.

There are other parallels. Frankenstein’s creature kills his fiancÚ on their wedding night, and April almost kills Katrina. (Gee, that didn’t have symbolism stamped on its ass.) “Mary Shelley gave Frankenstein it’s unique power by portraying its grotesque horrors as the consequence of the most familiar and ordinary causes. The whole moral and emotional content of her book is an extended restatement of a single sentence by her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, in the first feminist manifesto written in English, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792): ‘A great proportion of the misery that wanders in hideous forms, around the world, is allowed to rise from negligence of parents.’” The Frankenstein monster’s creator’s creator’s creator was a feminist! How cool is that, if you’re, like, Joss.

Which brings us directly to Amy, oddly. Hard to remember Amy’s a major character. It was hard for her own mother to remember. Amy appears in the first regular episode after the pilot, “Witch,” BtVS 1003. “Catherine the Great,” winner of the Tri-County cheerleading competition, Homecoming Queen, gives her daughter domination masquerading as love. She definitely takes an interest—practicing with her daughter three hours in the morning and three hours at night. She’s the metaphor for parents who use their children to fulfill the parents’ unfulfilled (possibly unfulfillable) needs. She goes so far as to replace her daughter with herself, switching their bodies, erasing her child’s identity and robbing her of her life.

That was the first time we saw Amy. The last time was “The Killer in Me,” 7013. Early in that episode we learned something Catherine-esque about Willow’s mom. “My mom was—was all proud like I was making some political statement,” Willow tells Kennedy on their first date at the Bronze. “Then the statement mojo wore off and I was just gay. She hardly ever even met Tara.”

Willow’s mom can only see her daughter’s love as a reflection of her own political agenda.

"It’s All Done With Mirrors" Part III: A Reflection on Her Mother

So, how did Buffy know that mirror trick would work?

I’m not asking about the mirror that deflects the atomo-phallic ray in BtVS 8004, because Buffy learned the mirror trick back in BtVS 1003, when she used one to deflect Catherine Madison’s spell back on herself, trapping her forevermore in her own cheerleading trophy.

The answer to the question(s): Good parenting.

Follow my logic. I dare ya. In “Witch,” Joyce proves she’s a good mother by realizing she’s been a bad mother. Joyce suggests that Buffy join the yearbook staff, recalling her own high school stint as photo editor. Buffy mocks the idea and says, “This just in: I’m not you. I’m into my own thing.”

Joyce replies, “Your own thing, whatever it is, got you kicked out of school, and we had to move here to find a decent school that would take you in.”

Buffy walks off, and Joyce says to herself, sarcastically, “Great parenting form! A little shaky on the dismount.”

Joyce is a good mom. She loves Buffy. In this conversation, she started out well, appealing to Buffy’s own desires to take part in activity, making a suggestion that she thinks her daughter might enjoy because she enjoyed it, presenting Buffy with an opportunity for fulfillment. But when Buffy carelessly insults her (“Have you seen the kids that do yearbook? Nerds pick on them!”), she pushes a little hard with the classic “some of the best times I had” blah blah. In the end, instead of appealing to Buffy’s desire for fulfillment, she threatens Buffy’s self-respect by suggesting that when Buffy takes her own path, it leads to arson, expulsion and forced relocation. Good parents nurture their children’s self-respect; bad parents dominate their children by telling them that if they don’t do as they’re told, they’re gonna screw up.

Joyce does, however, set an excellent example for Buffy by being reflective. She empathizes with her daughter, understands how she would feel if her own mother talked to her that way, and feels bad. Presumably, she will go forth and sin no more, or not so much.

Buffy is reflective, too. She empathizes with Amy. “It’s not Amy’s fault. She only became a witch to survive her mother.” This empathy is her real power as a leader. In “Witch,” she displays for the first time her ability to see the real person inside the misleading body, a talent that will save Giles’ life in “A New Man,” BtVS 4013, and which gives her the insight to detect Amy in Catherine’s body.

Children who have been loved are capable of correcting their mistakes, of dealing with their issues, because they see their problems as flaws in a basically good, competent, able, special person. Children who have been dominated grow up on the defensive. They are more likely to deny their mistakes, since their parents used their mistakes to make them feel bad, incompetent and unworthy. Joyce loved Buffy, so Buffy loves herself and can love others. Catherine loathed Amy, so Amy loathes herself, and her self-loathing erupts as other-loathing.

So how did Buffy know the mirror would work against Catherine? By intuition. She already knows in “Witch” that domination rebounds on the dominator. She knows that the way to make her never join yearbook is by telling her it’s the only to save her from herself. And in “The Long Way Home,” she knows that she’s dealing with Amy, and that means she’s dealing with the issues Catherine gave Amy, and Amy’s allies are going to have the same kinds of issues that she does, and the same ways of dealing with them. So: Mirror.

Amy’s bitterly jealous of Willow, always has been. Willow got what Amy needed: unconditional love. Willow didn’t get it from her own self-involved mom, but from Buffy. Amy gets Willow hooked on Rack’s magicks in “Smashed” and deliberately messes up Willow’s attempt to quit cold turkey by “giving” her a magic spell against her wishes in “Doublemeat Palace.” And of course her jealousy that Willow still has the unconditional love of her friends even after trying to destroy the world leads her to cast the penitence spell in “The Killer in Me.” It’s the same old story: Amy can’t deal with her issues, so everyone else has to.

Amy wasn’t trapped in Sunnydale crater. Amy can fly. She likes being somewhere she can nurse her rage. All her rage makes her just a rat in a cage. In “Doublemeat,” she actually reclaims her cage, saying, “It’s not much, but it’s home.” It’s where she lives, spinning in the same little circle, trying desperately hard to go nowhere.

(Thanks to ArielWillow for pointing out that Buffy and Amy are mirror characters over on Le Noir!)

(ETA: I can’t link to that story, Your Majesty.)

"It’s All Done With Mirrors" Part IV: Of (Super, Non or In) Human Bondage

Those who don’t learn their personal history lessons are doomed endlessly to repeat their personal histories.

The Magical Misogynist Meat Puppet is Amy’s man, in more ways than one, I’m guessing. Regarding the many complaints that Joss did a “retcon” on Warren, changing his story canon to suit his present story purposes, I think it’s more likely that Amy is, with magic, retconning Warren to meet her story purposes.

“The Killer in Me” established that Amy sees herself as Willow’s righteous punisher, putting a penitence spell on her because (she thinks) Willow has not paid for her murdering Warren and attempting to destroy the world, but really (I think) because Willow’s friends give her the unconditional love that Amy needs but can’t have. Her attempt to secure Willow’s friendship through domination—by “giving” her a spell when she was trying to give up magic cold turkey—destroyed whatever friendship they had.

So now we hear Warren tell of how Amy saved him from Willow’s evil clutches at the last minute, a story that shows Willow at her worst moment and Amy looking her best. Warren gushes with gratitude (this, too, is a new look for him) toward his savior and sees a silver lining in his own flaying (“If Amy hadn’t been watching you, she would never have started watching me. Watching over me”). His story has some logic problems, mainly that he seems uncertain whether he died (“last two words of my human life”) or was rescued in the nick of time (“she had maybe a four-second window after my skin came off before I died of shock alone), but it’s nonetheless the story that Amy longs to hear. Even the contradictions serve her emotional needs: Warren’s dying makes Willow look worse, but saving him in the nick of time makes Amy look better. The story has emotional logic. It portrays Amy as heroic, deserving of love, and getting it, and giving it. She can even tell herself that the abduction of Willow is a gift of love to her boyfriend, who righteously seeks revenge on his murderer. I could see Amy cobbling a Warren together out of meat and magic just to hear herself praised in such terms. And she does dominate this relationship. If her magic is his skin, he can’t leave. Ever. This is Amy’s wet dream!

And it bears a striking resemblance to Buffy’s . . . of herself as the very picture of nurturing and giving, in her nurse’s uniform, an icon of tending to the needs of others, while it cannot escape the notice of even the casual reader that Nurse Buffy’s two patients are in fact filling her needs . . . their facial expressions suggesting tender enthrallment . . . while their bodies are bound to hers by chains . . . unable to leave . . . Ever . . .

Even in Buffy’s fantasy/dreamscape, however, there is symbolic acknowledgement of the presence of domination (a cupid with a crossbow who shoots an arrow through the heart of a vampire will kill him) and domination’s destructiveness (stakes aimed at flowers=not good for flowers). Waking Buffy once had a self-described “willing slave,” but quickly came to understand that the relationship wasn’t real—wasn’t love. Was just a way of avoiding her issues, not resolving them.

And issues buried unresolved have a way of popping up again, like Katrina’s body in “Dead Things,” which Spike has, out of his warped conception of love, attempted to hide to shield Buffy from murder charges. After Spike tells her she doesn’t have to worry any more, he’s taken care of it, we overhear the police saying the body has washed up just a little ways down the river.

Spike: Oh, balls.

Which brings us to Buffy’s other dream, the one that starts out starring Xander. Again with the domination theme. Dream Buffy grabs Dream Xander by the wrist, pulling him into the bedroom against his better judgment. Dream Buffy’s line, “I’ll be gentle this time,” is hardly reassuring, especially when the kiss that shuts Xander up in the middle of “But—” is decapitating.

Buffy aptly quotes Spike. There is some issue here with which she must deal, and I think the sexual aspect of the Xander dream and the Spike/Angel fantasy is actually a MacGuffin.

"It’s All Done With Mirrors" Part V: Light! Show!

“This is a lightshow,” sneers Amy.

True, but so is television. And we know that can be magic.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a light show, but so is Buffy, the vampire slayer.

“It’s not Amy’s fault,” Buffy said back in “Witch,” BtVS 1003. “She only became a witch to survive her mother.

Buffy can analogize from Joyce’s bad mom day to Catherine’s bad mom life. In "Conversations With Dead People," her inferiority complex about her superiority complex comes from getting a gift she didn’t earn. She got a gift no one can earn and no one can really live without—a mom who truly loved her. Buffy loves her enemy because she loves herself, and she knows her enemy because she knows herself.

In kill or be killed situations, Buffy chooses Option C. Amy’s trying to kill her in issue 4, so Buffy retaliates with . . . something like a personalized television program devoted exclusively to Amy’s issue, a “light show” image of Amy’s nightmare, her own mother. It freezes Amy. Or it reveals how Amy is frozen. To survive her mother, Amy has become her mother.

It’s surprising on the next page to see Amy is unscathed by the grenade, until you realize:

1. Buffy would not have Satsu set off a powerful explosive just a few feet from her own face.

2. Buffy has never blown up a person.

The grenade is some kind of “flash bomb,” a light-and-sound show, like a certain television program with special effects, whose imagery was violent and destructive; but whose intent was the opposite. It’s a kind of catharsis, but I think Joss may wants to purge more than Aristotle contemplated.

"It’s All Done With Mirrors" Part VI: Speak, False Memory

Robin Wood (who must have played some kind of role in the creation of the Whedonmythos…es, since Joss named a character after him before even determining said character’s gender) was horrified by audiences’ reaction to ‘80s horror movies, because they cheered the murdering of characters who were like themselves (and presumably most everyone else) in that they had sex. IOW, they cheered their own destruction.

I’m disconcerted that audiences shout, “Shut up, Dawn,” at screenings of “Once More With Feeling,” because Dawn is the audience. She has no powers, which makes her like Xander, only Xander is the heart of the Scoobs, and Dawn . . . ain’t. Like a television viewer, she’s more passive than active, and when she is active, she seems to serve as (and this is really harsh, given who her creator is) a damsel in distress.

But Dawn is beautiful and good and charming and funny and nice and well-intentioned and has what Tolstoy called “simple” manners, in that she expresses happiness when things go as people of good will wish they would (see, for poignant example, her nearly uncontainable happiness when Willow and Tara get back together, or her unalloyed pleasure when she thinks that they have “made up” earlier in the season, or her catatonia when Tara dies). Dawn=us. Banish young Dawn and banish all the world! (But who has not wished to banish all the world? I have my apocalyptic fantasies, Our Scribe has his, and we’re all fans.)

Dawn responds to life in the Buffyverse as I would: with sheer terror, plus the feeling/certainty that life has been unfair to her and thus owes her, preferably something pocket-sized. She feels lacking, so she steals to compensate. She steals because she doesn’t think she can earn.

And this is Buffy’s fault. Yup, our hero’s fault. Dawn may be the character that the audience is most like, but Buffy is the one we identify with, because, in part, it’s more fun to identify with her. To imagine saving the world. To imagine being that important. That selfless. Like Buffy in “The Gift.”

Let me stipulate: “The Gift” makes me cry. Every time. Just the notes of the theme music make me cry. The shot of James Marsters as Spike bawling his un-beating heart out convulsively=me.

But let’s look at it from Dawn’s point of view. The question hanging over Season Five is, why doesn’t Dawn just kill herself? She’s not real. She can save the world. Her sister was willing to die to save the world. Why can’t she be more like her sister? Jump, Dawn, jump. “Guthrum the good is fallen/Are you too good to fall?”

It’s a good question, but the answer is, Dawn’s not ready to die. Buffy knows she’s a hero. Her heroism is recognized by her friends. They know she’s willing to die to save the world, and they know she deserves to live. They know she has earned her place in this world. When she sacrifices herself, she dies a hero’s death. Her gifts have been recognized, and her death is her greatest gift. She is Destiny’s Chosen, and in her end proves the wisdom of destiny’s choice.

If Dawn killed herself to save the world, she would be (pardon my choice of words, because I think they’re appropriate) Fate’s Bitch. There’s a huge difference between dying because you have decided what’s worth dying for and dying because there’s no other choice. Dawn wasn’t ready to die. She hadn’t lived yet, so she couldn’t die, not without leaving bitterness behind.

Consider Buffy’s parting words to Dawn. She doesn’t tell Dawn that it’s more important to her that Dawn get a chance to live, or that she’d never be able to live with herself if she didn’t give Dawn the chance to grow up and become the beautiful, strong woman she has it in her to be, or that she’d rather die than see Dawn die. She tells Dawn that the hardest thing to do is live, and then she chooses death. Buffy’s sacrifice is not about Dawn. It’s about Buffy. It proves Buffy’s mettle. But it does not, in the end, say anything good about Dawn. Her blood is Summers blood. That means she won the family lottery.* Buffy dies because Buffy is good, not because Dawn is.

There’s a reason that Willow is a mom to Dawn, and Buffy ain’t. Willow sees the good in Dawn, the capacity, the strength, the potential & the actual. Buffy, however, sees Dawn as a problem.

Buffy’s a hell of a good sister to Willow, and a hell of a good mother to her, too. Willow saw little or nothing good in herself before she met Buffy. She was the product/victim of her mother’s self-involvement. But Buffy saw the heroic in her, made Willow her best friend, gleaned her hidden strengths, depended on her, needed her, considered her crucial, vital, essential. Buffy valued Willow’s gifts before anyone else (even Xander, who couldn’t wake up and smell the hottie) and that taught Willow to start valuing herself. Buffy taught Willow how to love.

Dawn’s been the beneficiary of that—from Willow, not from Buffy. Willow appreciates Dawn’s gifts, but Buffy views her little sister as a butt-pain, someone who will get in trouble if left to her own devices (much as Joyce, in her Bad Mom Moment, viewed Buffy).

This is no small sin in the Whedonverse. Remember what Joss considers the First Evil—something that reminds you of all the bad you’ve ever done, that makes you think you will never be loved, that you don’t deserve love. I called it the Low Self-Esteem Monster, cuz I’m a smartass, but I think low self-esteem is a major issue in Whedonverse. It’s the killer in Willow. In “Wrecked,” BtVS 6010, she reveals her belief that Tara fell in love with “super Willow,” not “plain old Willow.”

Buffy: You don’t need magic to be special. Willow: Don’t I? I mean, Buffy, who was I? Just some girl. Tara didn’t even know that girl.

Buffy never looked at Willow as “just some girl.” (It is, however, how she looks at Dawn.) Tara, too, thought of herself as “just some girl” before Willow saw her as much more. That’s the real magic in “I’m Under Your Spell.” BtVS 6007

I lived my life in shadow

Never the sun on my face.

It didn’t seem so sad, though

I figured that was my place

Buffy’s love taught Willow to love herself, and that gave Willow the power to teach Tara to love herself.

Now I’m bathed in light

Something just isn’t right

That couplet (is it?) captures the tension between self-love and self-loathing that’s not only within Tara, but within Willow. Willow’s certainty that no one will ever love her like Tara turns her into a killer when Tara dies. As self-love breeds love of others, self-loathing leads to other-loathing.

Okee-dokee, this part of the essay ain’t done, but it’s already too long, so . . . later!

*ETA: Come to think of it, the family lottery, in this case, was rigged.