Monday, March 5, 2012

Women in Horror: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of my all time favorite TV shows. I started watching it when I was 11 and watched almost the entire show in its first run. (I missed the last season when I started college.) Now, I'm rewatching the entire thing and, as an adult, I can truly appreciate how good this show is and how it shaped my fragile little mind at a young age. It's about a girl who is called to fight the vampires and demons and stop the world from ending time and time again, but it's also about so much more.

In any other movie or TV show, Buffy would be a hapless victim of a supernatural creature that would die within the first 5 minutes and Xander Harris would be the badass vampire slayer, rescuing damsels in distress. This basic horror convention is refuted time and time again. Xander never has any sort of magical powers or supernatural abilities because to do so would undermine the entire concept of the show. He does contribute to the group, but he largely stays the same as his best friend Willow becomes a powerful witch and Buffy grows in power as the Slayer. I never recognized that it was odd for Buffy to be the heroine of the show until I watched the series as an adult and saw a big, strong jock ask diminutive Buffy to walk him home. I love that Joss Whedon's idea for the show was to take a girl most would believe to be insignificant and make her extraordinary.

Other than her supernatural powers, Buffy is a normal girl who still goes through most of what other teens do. Her emotions and femininity don't disappear just because she's strong and powerful. She tries to find love and her place in the world beyond slaying. Her experiences are slightly different because of the supernatural nature of the show. It may be ham handed at times, but the parallels to Buffy's experiences in her supernatural world parallel real life experiences of young adult girls. She loses her virginity to Angel and he turns into a sadistic monster, reflecting the real life experience (and her later college experience) of a guy treating a girl like dirt after sex. These metaphors are sprinkled throughout the show and really resonated with me as a kid as well as now. Buffy has other life experiences that aren't veiled in any sort of metaphor, such as her mother dying.

The Body is one of the best episodes on the show and even ever on TV. This is one of the many instances when Buffy with all her Slayer powers can only sit by and do nothing. Each of the characters deal with Joyce's death in their own way and represent the different stages of the grieving process. This episode never fails to bring tears to my eyes, especially Anya's speech, which relates her childlike inability to grasp death and how to act in such a situation. The entire look and flow of the episode is completely different to reflect what goes on in Buffy's mind as she grieves: her fantasies of saving her mother, her perceived meaning behind the doctor's words, her view of the EMT as he explains to her what happened to her mom. One of the most jarring things about this episode is that there is absolutely no music. It makes the episode feel stark and the viewer is unable to escape the grief and pain. I can't watch this episode without crying. Each of the characters' performances are exceptional, especially Anya and Willow. This is only one of a long list of awesome episodes (Hush, Once More with Feeling, Fool for Love, Passion, etc.)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a great horror show that deals with heavy life subjects, but also has quirky, sarcastic humor laced into every episode. Although the first season is kind of painful to watch, it becomes a good and enjoyable show rather quickly. Each season is unique and the characters change in surprising ways over the seven seasons (and the eighth season in comic book form). This show is timeless thanks to the writing and the wonderful cast. It will always have a special place in my heart and hold one of the top spots in best TV shows ever.

My rating: 10/10 fishmuffins


Niala Wesley said...

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of my all-time favorite series and Buffy Summers is my favorite character (Dean Winchester tries to inch into the top spot) out of any genre.

I also watched it in its original airing and didn't realize at the time how groundbreaking it was for women. I was only 10 and had already been watching Xena Warrior Princess so I never doubted women could be emotionally and physically strong.

I really need to write analysis of every episode to prove that there wasn't a single one that didn't have brilliant moments or something intelligent or thought provoking to say about society. So few fans love every single season and usually say that the first three are the best or the last three or that only certain ones are great while others suck. I think they are all amazing.

And since you mentioned Buffy's romance with Angel, I just want to say that I love that it accurately portrayed how someone would be if they were involved with a vampire. It wasn't any of that "you killed innocent people? I don't care because I love you so much!" I loved that Buffy was frustrated with Angel continuously trying to hide things from his dark past (which was emotionally manipulative of him and would usually come back to bite her), knew he was out of line when he asked if she loved him before being willingly to tell her about Drusilla, flat out told him that while she loved him she did not always trust him (because he wasn't always trustworthy), and made it clear later in Amends that while she wanted him to live he really hadn't proven that he wasn't more than a monster (by that time he'd had his soul since 1898 and the few good deeds he did were Buffy-related and they both knew that at the time he saw her as his salvation and tied his redemption up with her love and forgiveness of him and helping to keep her alive and her light shining amidst the darkness).

About The Body, while I liked Anya's speech I was greatly annoyed by it as well. If it was said by someone like Dawn (a 14 year old finishing up 8th grade) I could've sympathized but Anya had murdered people no different from Joyce for over 1,100 years. Not truly understanding grief or the permanence of death after all the people that died because of her was disgusting.

For me the most emotional part of that episode is Buffy finding her body and the subsequent use of the words "the body". My mom is named Joyce and she has always had serious health issues and it was in the realm of possibility that I would enter the house one day and find her dead on the couch. Joss Whedon wrote Buffy's mom dying of a cerebral aneurysm because that is how he lost his own mom. He did a great job showing that initial numbness and almost disbelief (the first stage of grief is denial) of death. I still remember when my grandma died and watching as people came and removed her body from her bedroom. So many think you go straight into sobbing and big outward signs of emotional distress but I know that if I lost my mom or someone else I loved it wouldn't happen like that. It would be like Buffy. Noticing what a bright sunny day it is outside and fixated on the phone buttons and pulling down her skirt so she was decent when the paramedics came and realizing there were things that needed to be done but just feeling so immobile as if time stopped.

titania86 said...

I think Anya's speech is powerful because she is coming to terms with being human. She did kill people for over a thousand years, but she was a demon. She had no soul and she felt gratified and happy with her work. This is the first time loss like this has affected her and she sees how it truly is.