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Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Buffy came back wrong

Tuesday 5 April 2011, by Webmaster

I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, but it seemed like too great a task for me to realistically complete. And I initially had planned to finish it before posting but...well, that’s just not practical (for one, it would be really, really long). So I’ll just set up a tag for it and add to it when I have the time until I complete all the episodes. :)

And for those wondering about the FFL review...I had this project sitting on my hard drive a while. The FFL review is a priority once I get the time to sit down and watch the darn thing.

Okay, Buffy gets a lot of shit for her part in S6. And, yet, most people realize that she is depressed. Although I don’t see her depression being described much more than, "She didn’t want to be alive", which is true.

But I want to take a more in-depth look at that depression. How it’s portrayed in the season. How it affects Buffy’s behavior and perceptions. How the other characters react to it. And then her gradual recovery by the end of the season. And the best way I know how to explore that is to just take it one episode at a time.

Of course, Buffy’s depression manifests in a myriad of different ways. And my explanation here is wholly relative to my perceptions and experiences, as I found Buffy’s struggles mirrored many of my own at the time I watched it. So yeah, it’s personal.

Setting the stage here, but at the time I watched S6, I had just been planning to kill myself. Okay, not the vague, "I wish I were dead" type of planning, but the actively suicidal type. I had a date and method set. I had notes written. Everything was planned, and in the month leading up to that day, I stopped living. I ignored bills, ignored friends, ignored work, ignored everything because I truly thought it wouldn’t matter. I wouldn’t be around next month to worry about any of it.

That was actually a pretty damn good month. There is a great freedom and unburdening when you think that things will be done soon and you don’t have to worry about life’s responsibilities.

No, the hard part came afterward. When I found I couldn’t carry out my plan, I totally fell apart. Because not only would I be around next month, I had to figure out how to live again and start taking care of everything that I had been neglecting. I’m fortunate in that I was able to swallow my pride and ask for help from family.

Buffy finds herself in much the same situation in S6. She’d been done. She’d been free of her responsibilities. The Slaying, the money, the sister...none of it mattered because she was finished. Her struggle in S6 is dealing with the shock of being alive and having to...you know...live.

This exploration is going to try to look at the whole of Buffy’s depression in S6, including how it affects her relationships with her sister and her friends. And Spike, who is pivotal to her emotional arc.

Spike represents the death that she was taken away from. The peace. The completeness. She craves him because he makes things "simple". Because it’s easier to be with death than it is to try to live with a world that’s throwing bills and menial jobs and troubled sisters and troubled friends at you.

Her entanglement with Spike represents her longing for the peace of heaven. It also represents her reluctance to try to be a part of the world. The more she clings to Spike, the more she ignores what’s going on.

Dawn represents the exact opposite, though. The MacGuffin who was created wholly to give Buffy a reason to fight last year, she serves as a reminder to Buffy of why she has to live. Buffy will ignore her through much of the season. Buffy’s eventual acceptance of her duty to Dawn is essential to her recovery by the end.

And now, let’s just go ahead and get to it.

1. Bargaining aka OMGWTF I should be dead!!!!

Well, this is the start of it all. Before we get to Buffy, though, let’s take a look at the Buffy-bot.

The Buffy-bot is perky. The Buffy-bot is happy. The Buffy-bot is like a freaking Stepford Wife.

After all, Buffy’s in heaven. Her counterpart in the realm of the living displays this contentment and blind cheerfulness in the face of utter badness that is going on.

The demon biker gang heralds Buffy’s return and the Buffy-bot’s death. As Buffy is pulled from heaven, the Buffy-bot, with her incessant smiles and happy-go-lucky nature, just can’t exist anymore.

This episode portrays the complete and utter shock Buffy feels upon simply being alive again. She can’t even comprehend what’s going on around her. After the blissed out environment of heaven, anything, even standard Slayer chaos, seems like hell.

In fact, her first words in the episode are to ask Dawn if she’s in hell. Buffy doesn’t know what’s going on. She thinks she somehow got booted out of heaven and sent to the Bad Place. Her default has shifted after being at peace. Anything less than heaven, which is all of reality, feels like hell.

This is a feeling that will not go away until near the end of the season. She will go to great lengths to try to recapture that heaven feeling and regain the simplicity of death. She will often do so at the expense of those around her. It’s not malicious. It’s because she’s almost literally out of touch with reality.

2. Afterlife aka I’m what? where? Why aren’t I dead, again?

We’re still in the "shock phase" here. Buffy is disconnected. She feels as if she doesn’t belong (just as the MOTW demon tells her).

She spends a lot of time in this episode staring. Staring at mirrors, at pictures, at the house. She’s trying to find some familiarity with the world again.

It’s important to note that she feels the world as alien. She still feels dead. When she looks at the photos of herself and her friends, she sees them turn into dead people, skeletons. She won’t shake this feeling easily. Instead, because of pressure from her friends, she will assume the guise of being "okay" while at the same time retaining that "not really there" feeling for a large part of the season.

This Mask of Okayness is formed because she quickly finds out that everybody wants her to be okay.

We see quickly that the Scoobies were invested primarily in getting Buffy back. They didn’t at all consider the effects and ramifications of doing so.

Willow: No! She’s not broken! She’s just disoriented from being tormented in some kind of hell dimension. Probably tortured and...It’s like, we don’t even know how much time passed there for her, possibly years. That’s not something you get over...(suddenly)Oh my God.

Xander: What? Where?

Willow: What if she never gets over it?

Anya: And you think of this now?

Upon finding her back at the house, the Scoobies are loud, inquisitive, and well-meaning, but decidedly not what Buffy needs at this moment. Even when Willow steps back and asks that everybody let Buffy tell them what she needs, she’s placing the responsibility on Buffy to figure this out. Buffy can’t even articulate what she needs at the moment. She barely even knows where she is.

More than that, there is a palpable expectation that Buffy be happy. The most annoying thing for depression-sufferers: Well-meaning friends who expect your happiness on demand.

Willow: But, Buffy... be happy. We got you out. We really did it.

In fact, we see in Willow and Tara’s private conversation that Willow is disappointed that Buffy didn’t thank her.

Willow: If it did go right? Wouldn’t she be...happier? Like, wouldn’t she be so happy we brought her out?

Tara: I’m sure she is.

Willow: Yeah...

Tara: You thought she’d say thanks? Be more grateful?

Willow: Am I a terrible person if I say yes?

Tara: Give her time. She’ll get there.

By the next morning, Buffy is feeling the responsibility of living, being happy, being "okay", and being thankful to her friends for taking her out of heaven. This all not even 24 hours past her resurrection.

Buffy picks it up quickly, though. When the Scoobies are in the yard having their meeting about the ghost, Buffy feigns interest. She zones out a couple times when she’s unable to keep up the guise, but she tries very hard to play along in making sure everyone feels okay.

Willow: How are you feeling? Are you okay?

Anya: It’s all right if you’re still plagued with nightmarish visions of Hell.

Buffy: I’m fine. I’m really...

In her effort to try to act like everything’s okay, Buffy grasps onto the one thing she often does when she’s in a crisis: her work. She hears there’s a ghost and, when everybody else is looking to discuss how wonderful it is to have her back, she redirects everybody to trying to figure out what’s going on.

Willow: You are. Buffy, we’re so glad.

Xander: Yeah. This thing, this haunting thing, we’ll fix it, and then we’ll still have you back, which is...it’s so important.

Willow: Yes.

Tara: It’s wonderful.

Buffy: We should work and figure this thing out.

However, even at this early stage, the mask of normality isn’t working. In the Magic Box, Buffy loses focus and decides to go patrolling by herself.

Buffy: No. I need to go. Um, I know you’re worried. But I...I feel like I have to get out. Sorry.

And Buffy tellingly ends up in Spike’s crypt. After a full day back to life, overwhelmed by responsibilities of friends and Slaying, she goes to the dead person. When she’s feeling as if she can’t connect to anything, she feels comfortable in the presence of someone who’s also dead. It’s notable that Buffy has spent so much of this episode looking in mirrors and staring at pictures in an attempt to ground herself to reality, and yet when she sees Spike, she finally notices and makes a connection with something.

Buffy: Your hand is hurt.

Spike: Same to you.

Buffy: Right

This establishes a pattern that will continue through a large part of the season. When everything else feels strange and alien and not quite right, she keeps finding familiarity with Spike. He quickly becomes the only thing she has to hold onto that reminds her of her death. And memories of her death are much more appealing than the world of the living.

The morning after Buffy kills the monster, she’s putting all her effort towards her Mask of Okayness. She makes lunch for Dawn, and tries to act...perky. Dawn inadvertently heightens this pressure to be "okay", though.

Dawn: They care about you a lot. When you were gone...it was bad when you were gone. But it’ll get better now. Now that they can see you being happy. That’s all they want.

"All they want" is Buffy being happy, something Buffy is absolutely incapable of doing at this point. However, she knows why she was taken from heaven. It’s because her friends needed her to be there for them, and Buffy doesn’t want to disappoint them. So she’ll go to great lengths to keep the mask on and fool everyone into thinking she’s okay.

Directly after this, Buffy goes to the Scoobies and tells them that they rescued her from a hell dimension, and she thanks them for it. She does it because she’s had the message driven home repeatedly in this episode that that’s what they need to hear. Even here, Buffy is sacrificing her own interests and mental well-being to try to make things okay for the rest.

It’s only when she’s out with Spike that she can reveal the truth.

Spike: Say, aren’t you leaving a hole in the middle of some soggy group hug?

Buffy: I wanted a little time alone.

Spike: Oh. Right then...

Buffy: That’s okay. I can be alone with you here.

Why is this? Because his presence reminds her of her time in heaven. Because they both have wounds on their hands, and that’s the first real connection she’d been able to make since being resurrected. Because Spike isn’t badgering her with questions or appeals that she be "okay".

Note this exchange and the difference the dynamic takes between those with the other Scoobies:

Spike: Buff? Slayer? You okay?

Buffy: I’m here. I’m good.

Spike: Buffy, if you’re in— if you’re in pain. Or if you need anything... If I can help you...

Buffy: You can’t.

Spike: Well, I haven’t been to a Hell dimension just of late, but I know a thing or two about torment -

Buffy: I was happy.

When Spike first asks if she’s okay, much like the other Scoobies have done, she gives the party line that nothing’s wrong. However, Spike doesn’t make any insistence that things will be okay or that she’ll be happy soon or anything like that. Instead, he offers up his help in any way, something none of the other Scoobies have done.

This is what Buffy responds to. The combination of her instinctive relation to him and his reaction to her return prompts her to confide in him and reveal what she’s really feeling. In doing so, she sets the standard of using Spike as her confidant which will continue through a great portion of the season (sometimes to destructive ends).

We saw at the beginning of the episode Buffy descending the stairs to Spike, coming down to his "level". He’s not "beneath her" anymore, by her perspective.

And what of Dawn? In contrast to the previous season, Buffy doesn’t pay much attention to her. Buffy’s far too focused on her own issues, and can’t spare the attention required to...notice Dawn. She leaves her at the Magic Box without a second thought, something that Dawn picks up on (and will eventually lead to Dawn acting out in great teenage fashion).

However, during the fight with the MOTW, Buffy does remember Dawn, and even yells at Anya and Xander to get Dawn away.

This particular monster is very specific in this episode. It is a direct result of Buffy’s resurrection, and it takes great delight in taunting her about her present state. The MOTW is the death that Buffy was pulled from, and she doesn’t want Dawn, who represents her reason to live, near it. Even though Buffy feels little connection to Dawn, she still instinctively knows to protect her when she needs to.

After this, Buffy puts an effort in trying to be there for Dawn, which is something she’ll try to keep doing throughout the season. Unfortunately, she won’t be able to keep this up effectively.