I Like My Heroines Emotionally Fucked

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Buffy is a depressing character. You don’t notice this at first because she is introduced to us as a flippant teenager who knows what’s what about saving the world from vampires and who acts terribly blase about it. Comedy + thriller! Scream! Being dead for like five minutes, however, changed Buffy. The beginning of a new season – S2 + S3, Buffy is doing things that are hurting others because she doesn’t know how to deal with the traumatic events of last season’s last episode. S2, she reels from being not dead, from the prophecy, from the Master. S3 she has to deal with the death of her boyfriend.

Buffy is a loner and an outsider. Season 1 was rife with close-ups of Buffy’s face registering Cordelia’s insults, whether off-hand or direct. It’s not as though Buffy was always a freak – she had to give up being Cher in L.A. because of her calling. No wonder Buffy takes her relationship with Angel the way she does – there is limitless safety and trust. That safety and trust gets expressed in how Angel’s always got Buffy’s back.

Angel is again like Vampire Bill – always there for the heroine, such as when he saves Buffy from Dr. Jekyll /Mr. Abusive Boyfriend mutt (S3, 03). That must’ve been one of the few times Angel actually saves Buffy because while they often fight as a team, Angel is back-up. The only time Angel ever got the upper-hand on Buffy was when he was a demon sans gypsy curse and she was emotionally mucked up about him. In this way, Buffy is a much more progressive character than Sookie. She can take care of herself, and she can get herself out of jams. She does need help but there is no misunderstanding about who is the slayer and whose job it is to take out the ringleader of the bads. This is interesting given the obvious sexism that many characters in the Sunnydale universe express – going back to the Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Abusive Boyfriend example, he says a lot of things that even modern misogynists do not say. Modern misogynists say what is in a nutshell “you’re a whore of a girlfriend!” in a whole other language nowadays.

While it can be argued that the logistics of these universes – Buffy is a slayer, her superior physical shape is a given, while Sookie as a telepathic waitress, is obviously going to be a little less up to the survival test, it is interesting to juxtapose the sexual politics and the sexual identities of the main characters. Mr. Xander is incredibly capable of some nasty nice guy vitriol (“why won’t buffy like me?”/”willow is my pasty-faced friend”/”i hate cordelia but i’m making out with her”) as is Cordelia who gets away with some valley high bullshit because she is superficial so that makes it okay (?) – in fact, Buffy has more interesting characters because although they appear to be PC People of the Nineties who like to make scripted one-liners on the surface, they are dark, and a lot of things that they say get swept under the rug.

This ability to surprise comes from the balancing act of expectations Joss Whedon weaves to keep us on our toes - Buffy is a broadcast television show off the now defunct WB Television Network (now CW) with a roster of shows like Dawson’s Creek, Roswell, Popular - it’s assumed then that in some episodes the scare is not serious. it’s pure goo and fun. you know halfway through that this is no big deal, that this is just a stop-gap story line. The suspension of disbelief Whedon asks from us fluctuates from episode to episode, and that’s why he’s able to hit back with something that amazes my mind. I couldn’t believe THAT happened when everything was so easy.

Buffy’s ongoing identity crisis only gets deeper, more serious the more she navigates life as a slayer. She accepts her destiny but she’s not happy about it. What is ironic about Faith telling Buffy to loosen up is that that’s exactly what Buffy tells Kendra. Time and time again she wishes to be just one of the nameless masses. She wants to be normal, the key thing about her identity complaints. Having a relationship with a demon cursed by a gypsy was actually the most stablest thing Buffy got going on in her life. It’s not that Buffy needs to be in a relationship with Angel, but that having met him she’s not the same person as she was before. He’s changed her a lot more than being the slayer ever did – that’s all the feelings. that’s being a bummer to her friends. that’s flashbacks, dreams, living in the past, in your head. that’s sad, and i love my Buffy.

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