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

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