I finished all seven seasons of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” recently and I feel like I’ve lost a dear friend.
Immediately after “Chosen,” I posted this on the wall of the friend who got me into the series:
i finished “buffy”
and now my life is over
and my heart is torn
between the contentment of completion
and the despair over being done
and i feel so much better to be alive
and yet so empty for the life i haven’t lived
I don’t know if I’ll ever forgive her for introducing me to Buffy Summers and her Scooby Gang and the inimitable characters that could only emerge out of the creative cesspool/palace that is Joss Whedon’s mind. That’s wrong; I write “forgive,” but if anything, I should be clutching her hand and sobbing, thanking her for pushing me to explore Sunnydale and meet its assorted terrors, freaks, and fearless outcasts.
It just seems so weird, to be done with such a pop culture monument of a show. Yeah yeah yeah, I still haven’t watched “The Sopranos” or “Six Feet Under” or “The X-Files” and those are all sure to be long, taxing television journeys, but reaching the end of “Buffy” always seemed so unattainable, even when I was knee deep in season 4. This was the show that put Joss Whedon on the map, that made Sarah Michelle Gellar an icon for young women everywhere (though reportedly she despises being identified as Buffy; way to bite the hand that fed, SMG).
But what’s interesting is the way that the mythology of “Buffy” has evolved over time. When I first started the show, I heard nothing but the most positive things about it from fans: “It’s amazing!” “It’s so feminist!” “Joss Whedon is a god!” “You’ll LOVE it!” While those statements are, for the most part, true (although I am not of the mind that Joss Whedon is nearly as feminist/female empowering as he purports to be) (but that’s a statement to unpack for another time), there’s things about “Buffy” that I had to learn and accept for myself before I could begin to take the show even a little bit seriously. The first season is a mess in terms of tone and pacing (HYENAS, anyone?!), and while the series does find its footing pretty quickly afterward, it does from time to time dip sharply into super soapy moments, and there are some really wonky storylines and relationships. Like, let’s talk about consent… or rather, let’s skirt that issue and the way it clouds the entirety of Buffy’s relationship with Spike post-“significant change.”
THAT SAID, there’s so much about this show that just clicks in ways that are crazy. While Whedon’s casting and costuming choices for his female characters highlight particular representations of “femininity” (hey ladies, nice bras, oh wait), it’s important that these women don’t, like so many action heroines, substitute physical prowess for masculinity. Buffy can wear heeled boots while kicking your ass, and that’s awesome. Also, Willow as a character is absolutely fabulous. Seriously, what other show would not just have but actively champion a lesbian Wicca magical mastermind? Go geeks!
And I can’t even begin to talk about Faith or Anya without wanting to fist pump or something. They’re both remarkably frank characters, with some of the most candid observations about both the world in which they live in and the world in which we live in. Women these days are still mocked and taunted for being forthcoming with their sexuality, and while sexuality isn’t something that people should be forced to express openly, it’s refreshing to have these women embody traits that are usually negatively associated with our sex (such as Faith’s “bad girl” bravado or Anya’s, well, everything), and then for the show to deconstruct those traits and reinforce what could’ve been really shallow or trifling characters.
Let’s pretend Dawn never happened. Although to be fair (and here I’m mostly projecting what my roommate feels concerning Dawn), it’s not like she chose to be what she ended up being. It’s more like, Whedon, it’s difficult to feel any empathy and protectiveness toward a character who’s so fucking annoying. But, she’s also a young teenage girl, so that’s par for the course. But, we as a society so universally put down the opinions and problems of young teenage girls, so maybe that’s the point he’s trying to address here?
Whatever. I guess my opinion is invalid anyway because I’m the only person in the world who adores Riley*, so.
And of course, it’s impossible to talk about “Buffy” without talking about the remarkable episodes “Hush” and “Once More With Feeling.” While my personal favorite episode is still “Selfless” because of the amount of pathos Whedon elicited from me (which makes it sound like it’s difficult to get me to feel, which is totally untrue) (I mean… this blog exists) (tangent over), the very first “Buffy” eps I watched were the aforementioned two, for a class about sound in film. What Whedon manages to do with these two episodes is 1) meet his critics head on and 2) subvert genre conventions, to both extremely comedic and dramatic effect. Like, the first time I watched “Hush,” I knew that the episode was going to end with the kind of dialogue (or not dialogue) that it had, but that didn’t lessen its impact.
While my favorite show is still “Mad Men” because of its searing breakdown of the 1950s American dream, which also happens to be the mythical model of Americana that so many people in the present cling onto, “Buffy” definitely took ahold of my life in ways that I really didn’t think it ever would. From its ridiculously ’90s (and now, ridiculously awesome) opening sequences to the corduroy overalls to the disgusting primordial evils to the subjective hotnesses of Angel versus Spike (versus Riley: said no one but me) to the crazy camera style choices that Whedon and co. employ (see: “The Body”) to the wide-eyed wonders and heartbreaks and alt-music (I see you, Aimee Mann and Michelle Branch) to the oh my god CHEERLEADING and to the many, many apocalypses,
this show perfectly encapsulates what it means to celebrate the journey, not the destination. “Buffy” is about defeat, which always shadows victory. It is about despair, which, no matter how great your triumph, always feeds off of and feeds into fear. But it’s also about destiny, or rather the subversion of singular, divinely ordained, and lonely destiny, in a way that’s unexpected, thrilling, and yes, empowering.
Life is the mission, and it’s up to you to determine how you choose to live. You have the power. You are the power. But in a society so obsessed with the notion of self-determination and self-sufficiency, it’s refreshing for a show to acknowledge that no one, not even the Chosen One, can get by without a lot of help from her friends.
*in my defense, only the pre-jealous and terrible version of him
(Image: Dream Weavers by Autumn de Wilde)