Monday, January 9, 2017

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Epilogue



My checkbook was stolen by a so-called friend and my stepmother died. I could deal with Stuff, I could watch BUFFY (cramming in far more per day than I should have), or I could write. Specifically, I dealt with two of those things, so forgive the lapse in writing.

What a great show! Pretty much. I get it.  Pretty much.

Once freed from the Procrustean Bed of high school, the storytelling took off. Dull characters were ejected. Spike and Finn were exactly the regulars we needed, and Anya’s Spock-like take on humanity had just enough Q to keep me loving her contribution. She also served as the antidote to Willow.  And call me whatever it is you want, but I found the series’ (arguably) most beloved character a predictably maudlin and cloying presence. But… people just love Alyson Hannigan. And she’s darned cute, I’ll give her that.  Anyway, the handling of the Slayer Council, the de-cartoonization of Giles back into a real character with dignity, the whole magilla… I enjoyed it. The soapy stuff? Not so much. DARK SHADOWS is a soap. Them’s the rules when you watch. This just felt like popsicle time.

Watching the arcs develop was a joy, even though it often felt like Joss had no real idea where he was going with them. But neither does life. BUFFY still stands with three, genre-oriented, arc driven shows of roughly the same era, and within them, you can feel TV shifting as a medium into the cable age, where the FCC is a joke and producers can tell short-but-long form stories with the same freedom that the first M-rated filmmakers had. I call it the SOPRANOS Era, and we’re still in it. The other shows are BABYLON 5 and DEEP SPACE 9. Each has a different focus, but taken together, DS9 still strikes me as the fusion of the best elements of both. But the monotony that BUFFY often flirted with (which equates to charm if you like hanging out with the characters) was something I never really experienced with my B5 XP of 2012, and I have never experienced with DARK SHADOWS. Why? Maybe the length. Maybe I just like the characters more.

I’ll give Whedon this. He didn’t mine DARK SHADOWS. Yeah, okay, reluctant vampires, but we’ve had so many under the bridge, that’s like saying that the latest Stephen King book is a ripoff of Gutenberg. Of course, I still prefer DARK SHADOWS.

My favorite characters? Xander and Giles, naturally. Finn is right up there. And I like Anya as well. Spike, of course, but he’s everyone’s fave, it seems.

Then there’s the big thing that made me sad. If you look at a text backwards, it’s all about the final actions. Everything is just a prelude to them. In this case, seven years of prelude. At the end of the finale, Willow unleashes a spell that will turn all potential Slayers into actual Slayers. And if I’d been a woman in middle or high school when this came out, I’d be fist pumping the air like an extra in a Bobby Seale biopic. But I’m not.

When these gender inequalities come up, I usually hear a few saws…

This is just the natural process of balancing things out. (No. Just… no. Balance does not mean counterbalancing to the point of an opposite imbalance. That’s called bullying.)
Well, men have had a monopoly on screen heroism forever. (Yes, true. And if a modern franchise, without question, posited men as cosmic saviors because of their testosterone? Whoo-boy.)

But let’s just say I’m some infantile manchild crying into his Paul Elam-embroidered handkerchief at missing out on being a superhero. Fine. Let’s look at it from another point of view. Other than Buffy, the other Slayers have had Issues. Kendra was emotionally repressed to the point that it led to a combat deficit that Buffy had to solve. And Faith? Do we really want even one more Faith running around? I’d argue that we lucked out with Buffy, and even then, it’s impossible to discount the supportive influence of Giles, Joyce, Xander, and Willow. To keep it official, let’s just whittle it down to Giles. Nowhere does Willow also conjure up an army of Watchers to guide these Slayers. Even then, they’re no bed of roses as an organization, with Giles being the wisest and most balanced of them. Given how unpredictable the other Slayers have (largely) been, even-tempered wisdom does not seem to be a criterion in their selection. So, once Willow’s spell hatches, we have a few likely scenarios on our hands, and I’m not crazy about any of them.

The best seems to be a Bad Slayer vs Good Slayer + civilian fight, probably exacerbated by demons and vampires looking to use the conflict as an excuse to wipe out as many Slayers as possible. Humans might even be harvested under the guise of protection by various, seemingly “benevolent” vampire groups.

The worst scenario I envision is the placement of humans and non-slayers as second class citizens as the Slayers, sans any real guidance, become corrupt with their power. I’m avoiding mentioning the overreaction of underpowered males, but you can add gender animosity to the mix for a real hootenany. Nor am I bringing up what will happen when select women who’ve been victims of abuse by men suddenly have godlike powers and near invulnerability.

From a thematic standpoint, this decision is ruinous for me as a viewer. Over and over again, the truly brave and noble characters are those whose only power is confidence in Buffy. You know what? They matter. And they are us. They are the ultimate audience surrogates.

In the end, this is Whedon’s show and he can do what he wants with it. But it doesn’t mean I have to like its implications. The message I took away -- up to that point -- was that superpowers were less relevant than the willingness to make impossible choices in the face of certain death. Man, Xander gets an eye gouged out and he doesn’t even blink the other one. He may not like Buffy’s plan to storm the vineyard, but he perseveres. Again and again, being a messiah only works because of the organized team of loving apostles gathered around. By focusing on Almighty Slayerhood, I feel that this is denigrated.

In DARK SHADOWS, both Angelique and Barnabas face their “big bad” sans abilities, revealing that heroism isn’t about what we can “do.” It’s about our willingness to take necessary action, despite personal risk. Do we really need to be messiahs to achieve greatness and defeat evil? Because that ain’t happening.

What if Buffy had been the last Slayer? Would Xander and Giles have given up? Or would a more dramatic story have resulted? You know, a story of ordinary people struggling to fight impossible battles with only an example to guide them. With the show going off the air, that’s exactly the same position that viewers are in. They don’t have superpowers, either. Just the memory of someone made a hero, not by the divine birthright, but by those who stood by her because of the choices she made. Instead, we get a sexist depiction of an elite group within one gender being elevated above all others… including those of their same sex not born “worthy.” And who determines that?

Not me. And I’m glad it’s not me. I’ll live in a world without messiahs, thank you. We can contrast this with Ben Sisko. He’s very reluctant to accept the mantle of messiah. It never occurs to him to make everyone Emissaries. It’s usually too much for him. What is his last messianic act? To eliminate the other messianic figure and then go away to leave humans to develop on their own.

Because TV shows end. And we are left alone to act on what we’ve gained from the storytelling. Our only superpowers are what we’ve vicariously learned. We are not “Chosen,” as much fun as the thought may be. To paraphrase the contrasting title of DS9’s last episode, we are “What They Leave Behind.” Personally, I measure a story on who I am after the tale is over compared what I can never be. Yes, I know that a story can follow any rules it wants. I’m already Frodo without the ring. How he fares at journey's end is ultimately the fate we share as humans. Dealing with that reality is my favorite type of story.

And Joss Whedon needs to tell his favorite type of story. Few people get the chance, and I’m glad he got his.

Train’s leaving for Collinsport. Time I went home.

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