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Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Buffy season 7 Discussion : Round 3

Friday 14 March 2003, by Webmaster

From: Rhonda To: Stephanie, David, James

Well, after the passage of some weeks, hello again —

For illness and various other reasons, we stopped the round table for a while. And perhaps it’s just as well, since in the intervening time we got the announcement that this is indeed the last season. Knowing this leaves me feeling, even more than before, a weight of all I ought to say — and knowing at the same time that there’s no way I can say it all, so I just won’t try for completion. I wonder what the Buffy writers are feeling ... anything similar?

The March 7 Entertainment Weekly, in which the news became official

For myself, I hope for an open-ending finish — like the last, unfinished sentence of Bleak House — but, like Stephanie, I’m willing to wait and see what the writers come up with. I note that they have been consciously exploring their own (and the characters’) narrative ("Storyteller," for example) in a way that dumps us back into reality — something David? Stephanie? spoke about in an earlier round, and which I’ve written about in regard to John Kessel’s Good News from Outer Space and Moliere’s Tartuffe (yes, in the same essay) — and I really wonder if they’ll do that.

Like James, I hope that it won’t turn out that the last two seasons were a dream, a la "Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge" — it all flashed through Buffy’s mind on her fall from the tower. I don’t think that would be the best way to dump us into the real ... But dealing with reality is what this fantasy certainly seems to be focusing on in this last season. (Well, as if it hasn’t all along.) Okay, my head is spinning about this part, so I’m going to turn to some stuff I have clearer feelings about.

I think what David said about the First being a depiction of the Jungian darkness within us all - "The Killer in Me" and you and all of us — which can’t be separated out for defeat is important. It needs to be recognized and dealt with — but is Buffy going to totally rid the world of the First impetus to Evil? Doesn’t seem likely, does it?

At the same time I think that the struggle against the dark — even accepting that we all, especially the heroic, have something dark within us — is terribly important and is one of the things I want from this show. When I went to do a presentation on Buffy at WorldCon (where they give out the Nebula awards, etc.) in August of 2001 (I think), I attended one session which had a panel made not of scholars or writers but of well-known fans of Buffy. Unlike James, I don’t read fan boards (mainly because I have a deathly fear of spoilage), so I didn’t know the names of these folks, but apparently the large audience really did. (If I recall correctly, by the way, they were all men.)

The chair of the session was a man who — and I’ll say this freely since I don’t recall his name — really offended me by his condescending assertion that Buffy was immature and foolish and somehow lacking because she refused to kill Ben/Glory. Giles, he thought, was the real hero of the scene.

Now I realize that (as Marti Noxon has said) one interpretation of the ending of "The Gift" is that Buffy chooses suicide. But certainly another interpretation is that she has found a way to win without wrongly killing. Giles’s choice to protect the world by killing Ben does indeed simplify things for the storytellers and for his world; but it is nonetheless a choice to partake in evil because of his willingness to kill Ben and his unwillingness to risk the possibility that Glory would return. (President George W. Bush would certainly have gone along with Giles’s reasoning ...).

This is the choice that all the guys on that panel found more mature. I resist this characterization of a particular moral choice (which I question) as indicating "maturity" as opposed to a naive belief in right (oh what a simple term ... but I’m not through yet). They characterized Buffy as naive.

I was very happy to find an overt return to this theme in "First Date," one of Jane Espenson’s episodes (and yes, I do try to refer to Whedon and Company — or the specific relevant writer — as James says, it’s important to acknowledge them all — and Espenson is certainly one of my favorites). James has mentioned, and (if I recall correctly) first supported, then questioned, the idea of the bildungsroman as applicable to this series. As I said to James in an e-mail after that round, I brought up this term in an interview with a Toronto Globe and Mail reporter a while back — and I still find it applicable.

Yes, in some ways it seems Buffy has lost some opportunities for psychological and moral growth; but in other ways, she has really grown. In the scene in "First Date,’ she and Giles are engaged in a conversation of equals — and in fact, to me it seems as though she is almost lecturing him at the end — whereas he, of course, always used to lecture her.

The passage also touches on what we Scooby critics had talked about re physicality, too. I will further note that when I returned to look at it so I could write down the lines for this round, I found that it occurred at the beginning of the episode during the display of the credits — but that they seem to have interrupted that display for this passage — they stop putting names at the bottom of the scene for a while — as if to avoid that distraction during this scene. Is this typical? I guess I should check, but I don’t think so; I prefer to think that the Mutant Enemy folks, like me, found this scene important.

In the preceding episode, Buffy has been given a choice whether or not to have a new chip placed in Spike’s head. I was delighted that we found out the decision about this right away, rather than having it teased out; Giles was horrified that Buffy chose to have the chip removed. (By the way, in the teaser, how wonderful is it that the newest potential says while the dechipping is discussed — in Chinese, a language incomprehensible to most of the viewers — "I don’t understand a word any of you are saying." — the position of almost anyone who might try to join Buffy in the 7th season.) Anyway, here it is:

Buffy: Spike has a soul now. That’s what’s going to stop him from hurting people.

Giles: Buffy ...

Buffy: He can be a good man, Giles. I feel it. But he’s never going to get there if we don’t give him the chance.

Giles: Buffy, I wanted more for you. Your feelings for him are coloring your judgment. I can hear it in your voice. And that way lies a future filled with pain. I don’t want that for you.

Buffy: We haven’t ... Things have been different since he came back.

Giles: It doesn’t matter if you’re not ... physical with each other any more. There’s a connection. That’s what’s affecting your judgment.

Buffy: You think I’m losing sight of the big picture. But I’m not. When Spike had that chip it was like — having him in a muzzle. It was wrong. You can’t beat evil by doing evil. I know that.

Giles: Well I hope you’re right. You’re gambling with a lot of lives.

Yes, she is; but that’s what the good guys do. Good guys gamble on the possibility of good in others, even at the risk of pain and death. Those folks at WorldCon obviously thought Buffy had lost sight of the big picture too, but I don’t.

And how many details are there that we could look at, too — for example, the reference to the muzzle: Spike and dog imagery (go back to Drusilla — and the little dog Sunshine)— nothing new here (I say that in a good way). In "After Life," when Buffy tells Spike she thinks she was in heaven and feels, returned to life, as if she’s in hell, there’s a "Beware of the Dog" sign in the background. You can see the sign in the background again when Spike reclaims his dark leather coat — his dark side, but now under his control? A source of power that connects him to the Slayer side (it was a Slayer’s coat) just as we’ve learned that Slayers are indeed connected to the demon? And we’re moving from the little to the big ...

The big picture (as Buffy says) is that we must gamble — even our lives — to do right. And I am naive enough to believe in that.

I really need to stop — oh, the work I’m not doing (n.b. for Buffy, loving is "the work I have to do" - "The Gift"). But I will add (as I try to dial myself out) that while I could have talked about the show in so many ways in this, my last chance in this gathering of minds, I could not resist simply talking about the story again — and some of all it means. The story still gets us. How grateful can we be for that?

— Rhonda

* * * * *

From: Stephanie To: Rhonda, James, David

Hello all —

I’m finding myself really reflective now that we know Season Seven is definitely the last. Although I have to say that somehow it feels right. I’d much rather Whedon & Co. (I know I shouldn’t use "Whedon" as shorthand for the whole gang, but it makes things so much simpler!!) quit while everything is still feeling fresh, as opposed to letting the show drag on into X-Files territory.

One of the things I’ve loved about this season is the way, without exactly pulling the typical "end of childhood" baloney, it has shown how Buffy is getting too old to keep fighting this fight. That’s not a criticism of her — but rather I think it reflects the natural arc of aging. She’s a little tired (though not worn). You can see it in her relationship with the Potentials: She’s impatient with them, she doesn’t stand for any of their bullcrap. And she’s still much, much stronger than they are. But you also see how their innocence and naivete is a force by itself — they don’t yet know how "bad" the world out there is, and so they still have the freedom to lash out at it with all their might. Buffy, at this point, knows way too much ...

Joss Whedon

I think I’ve said this before, but I’m so glad Whedon (& co!) didn’t make the mistake of trying to freeze Buffy and the Scoobies in time, in high school. They’ve gone on to college or jobs, and now they’ve been dumped out into the real world. That marvelous original conceit — that a teenager, who should be out there having fun and not worrying about much of anything except schoolwork, is actually carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders — means something different when we’re talking about a real grownup with real responsibilities. (This has been handled really gracefully in Angel as well, I think — Cordy, as well as the others, are professionals, out there in the working world. They have to actually worry about paying rent, in addition to keeping the world safe from demons and vamps — the show has never tried to downplay either responsibility.)

As far as Buffy goes, I’m just thinking that Whedon et al are bringing us to a place where we can think to ourselves, This is the -right- place to say good-bye. In terms of trusting a show’s creator and writers, this is a pretty crucial time. Sure, we’re all grownups, and we’ve all seen shows end before — it’s gotta happen at some point. I’m sure we all feel, though, that it’s particularly crucial that BtVS doesn’t just poop out. I want it to come to a really magnificent, fulfilling end, like a great gothic novel, at least partly because I want it to stand as an example of what TV can be at its greatest.

Through six and three-quarters seasons, BtVS has been an amazing balance of textures — I’m less curious to know -how- it’s all going to end than how I’m going to -feel- at the end. That’s the big mystery whose answer I’m looking forward to, a lot — but maybe dreading just as much.

— sz

* * * * *

From: James To: Stephanie, Rhonda, David

Hi all,

As long as we’re weighing in on our thoughts about the end of BtVS, I thought I’d add my two cents. While in the past, I have allowed myself to get attached to TV shows, there’s never been one that so thoroughly captured my philosophical interest. Whether that says more about me or more about the show, I don’t know. Still, the show has sustained my philosophical curiosity (and that of many others) through all its seasons, and today in class I plan on using scenes from the show to explain the contrast in Rousseau between the General Will and particular wills. Any show that can let me do that gets bonus points from me.

And, here’s my big hope for the end of the series: that Joss and company don’t try to wrap up all the loose ends. I really don’t want to see a scene of an older Willow in Istanbul turning a corner and bumping into Oz. That will always happen in my imagination, but I don’t need to see it because then I won’t be able to imagine it. I know that the story of Giles and Ethan isn’t over, but that doesn’t need to be resolved now. I trust the writers will keep the focus on Buffy and the core Scoobies.

After all, judging by "Storyteller," the writers are quite clear on their role: "We are as Gods." Let’s pray that the Mutant Enemy gods remember that revelation always arrives with as many questions as answers.

Best, James

* * * * *

From: David To: Rhonda, Stephanie, and Jim

I’m glad we have the opportunity to talk again about Buffy. So much has happened since we last spoke. Word of Slayer Slang: A Buffy The Vampire Slayer Lexicon, a 320 page (!) Oxford University Press book has spread. David Boreanaz has apparently signed to play Superman in three new movies. A date has been set (shameless plug coming) for a conference in Nashville to both celebrate and mourn the series. Buffy has journeyed back in time to the beginning of the slayer line and learned that she is the last slayer. And word of the end of the series — and of the Mother of all Crossovers in "Chosen," the final episode, the first to be written and directed by Joss Whedon since the musical) — has come.

No wonder that Anya acknowledges in "Storyteller" that "Buffy thinks that this apocalypse is going to actually be apocalyptic." The Big Bad of series television cannot be defeated as readily as the Master or the Mayor or Glory. A series, even a great series, cannot go on forever.

Like the rest of you my mind is on the end. Like you I want it to end well. Earlier I had announced, with the possible end of the series in mind, my intention to root "for Buffy and Buffy to kick some narrative ass." Stephanie’s wish that the end of Buffy may "stand as an example of what TV can be at its greatest" is my wish too.

In "Storyteller," Buffy angrily tells Andrew, as part of her coercion of the tears needed to shut down the Seal of Danzithar, that "life isn’t a story." Given that Whedon once announced his true believer faith in "a religion in narrative," this seems at first glance to be blasphemy. But perhaps it is not: perhaps it announces the acceptance of a kind of creative realism in the face of the possibility that all of Whedon & Co.’s television storytelling may be over. (Firefly has already been axed; Angel’s future is in doubt.)

Seeking to explain his motives in making a video about Buffy, Andrew insists that "The world’s going to want to know about Buffy. It’s a story of ultimate triumph tainted with the bitterness for what’s been lost in the struggle. It’s a legacy for future generations." The "it" of unreliable narrator Andrew is, of course, his Masterpiece Theatre version of the lives of the Scoobies. But his words could well stand as an epitaph for BtVS itself.

"Die at the right time," Nietzsche’s Zarathustra advised. Few television series have demonstrated the wisdom. BtVS just might.

— David

P O P F O R U M Discuss Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Related Sites Here’s the official UPN Buffy site. From PopPolitics, other Buffy-related articles can be found here. Here are other points of interest related to the ongoing discussion: "Stake Out" (Entertainment Weekly); "Producer Marti Noxon Talks Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (Prevue Magazine); BBC interviews with Buffy cast and writers (a season behind, but still a good collection); Salon’s directory of BtVS articles; Whedonesque (a weblog of all things related to Joss Whedon); Restless (a Buffy trivia guide); and, of course, the online journal Slayage.

* * * * *

Stephanie Zacharek is a staff writer for Salon. She has also written for The New York Times, the New York Times Book Review, Entertainment Weekly and Newsday.

James B. South is an associate professor of philosophy at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis. In addition to numerous essays on topics in late Medieval and Renaissance philosophy, he is the editor of the forthcoming (March 2003) Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale (Chicago: Open Court). He and his wife, Kelly Wilson, collect 1960s spy TV show memorabilia (especially The Man from U.N.C.L.E.). His Web site can be found here.

David Lavery is a professor of English at Middle Tennessee State University. He is the author/editor/co-editor of six books, including Full of Secrets: Critical Approaches to Twin Peaks (Wayne State University Press, 1994) and This Thing of Ours: Investigating The Sopranos (Columbia University Press, 2002). ("Coming Heavy," an article on the intertexuality of The Sopranos, was reprinted in PopPolitics.) With Rhonda Wilcox, he co-edited Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002) and runs the online journal Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies. They are also organizing the Slayage Conference on Buffy the Vampire Slayer to be held in Nashville in May of 2004. He is now completing a book on Seinfeld.

Rhonda V. Wilcox is a professor of English at Gordon College in Barnesville, Ga. While she has published on subjects as varied as Molière and Thomas Pynchon, her primary area of interest is good television. She is the author of the chapter on television in the Greenwood Guide to American Popular Culture and of one of the earliest scholarly articles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "’There Will Never Be a "Very Special" Buffy’: Buffy and the Monsters of Teen Life," Journal of Popular Film and Television 27.2 (1999). With David Lavery, she is the co-editor of Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002) and of Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies. A member of the editorial board of Studies in Popular Culture, she gave the opening plenary address at the 2002 University of East Anglia-sponsored conference "Blood, Text, and Fears: Reading Around Buffy the Vampire Slayer."