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(Meta) Buffy's character arc and choices in later Season 8

6th April 2010 (13:15)

Buffy is a hero, but she isn't perfect. It's the fact that she has flaws, makes mistakes and sometimes lets her heart rule her head that makes her achievements all the more impressive. In light of that, I want to talk about her character arc in the middle of Season 8, from 'Time Of Your Life' (8.16-19) through to the most recent issue of 'Twilight' (8.33).
(1645 words.)

 


A few months ago, Buffy killed her best friend.

With all the drama and angst over her "losing the mission" by having sex with Twilight, I think that's a key to her current state of mind that's too readily overlooked. Remember when Buffy killed Angel back in 'Becoming Part 2'? It was so traumatic and devastating for her that she ran away, not only from her home but from herself for months, changing her name and trying to start a new life. The repercussions of that killing were still with her well into Season 3 - and arguably, her inability to give her heart over to anyone else fully and unconditionally ever again is a consequence that's still affecting her today. When Buffy killed Willow in 'Time Of Your Life', it was even staged much the same way. Angel was standing in front of a glowing dimensional portal; Willow was standing in front of a glowing dimensional portal. Buffy stabbed Angel through the heart with a sword; Buffy stabbed Willow through the heart with a Scythe. Why should we expect the emotional aftereffects to be any less devastating?

And indeed they are. When she first returns to her own time and sees present-day, not-dead Willow, Buffy's immediate reaction is to rush over in floods of tears and hug her and tell her she loves her - much to Willow's embarrassed surprise (and leading to one of my favourite Kennedy lines). In the next issue, 'After These Messages...', when Buffy meets Season 1 Willow in her dream, her very first comment is "Willow! Alive!" and she goes on to marvel that she's not evil and Buffy hasn't killed her yet.

When she meets Season 1 Angel - and remembers that this is Angel before she knew he was the 'baddiest bad', which is kind of ironic in hindsight - her main concern is to ask his advice about Willow. Angel's reply is, of course, also full of dramatic irony given his role in Seaso n 8 - if he knew something about another person's "past... and future" he wouldn't tell them, because you can't change their past and telling them about their future could lead to all sorts of unforeseen consequences. Buffy takes his advice to heart and doesn't tell Willow about killing her... but we will see in 'Retreat' that it's still weighing heavily on her mind, and arguably plays the major role in shaping her actions all through that arc as well.

There are more subtle consequences as well. In the first half of the season, Buffy's state of mind has often been described as 'depressed', 'isolated' or 'disconnected'. While that's true to an extent, I think it's only half the story. Buffy is now the leader of a worldwide organisation; she has over 500 followers who are loyal, enthusiastic, and in many cases hero-worship her. She's surrounded by people. In earlier seasons she was alone because she was the only Slayer in the world (or the only sane, non-imprisoned Slayer) and nobody else could understand her; but now there are a couple of thousand Slayers. The fact that she still feels disconnected is quite ironic: Buffy herself certainly thinks so. Xander speculates it's because she's the leader, and so still has to stand apart and think thoughts and make decisions that others are spared.

So there's another thing to consider: Buffy, at an age of no more than 24 and with no formal qualifications other than a high school diploma, is effectively head of a multinational corporation. Quite an achievement. I can think of at least three occasions in the first half of the comics where we are shown Buffy late at night, alone except for Xander, still hard at work while all the other Slayers are safely in bed. And yet she's intensely proud of what she's done, what she's achieved. This is her life's work; she believes she's changed the world for the better. A little loneliness is a price worth paying for that.

In 'Time Of Your Life' Buffy saw that all her work was for nothing. Her legacy would vanish and be forgotten, her Slayer Army not even a footnote in history. And while she's still reeling from that shock, she's manipulated into killing her closest friend.

It would be entirely understandable if she sank into despair after those revelations, gave up hope. But Buffy doesn't do that. She comes back fighting. Notice how much more attention she pays to reconnecting with her friends and family after she gets back; with Andrew in 'Predators and Prey', with Dawn in 'Living Doll', with Xander in 'Retreat' and 'Turbulence', with Willow and Giles and even Faith in 'Retreat'. She's seen the price of isolation and is trying to change that. Moreover, in 'Retreat' part 1, we see that she's still trying to think of ways to change the future, prevent Willow from turning evil again. In the heat of battle - and, just to note, immediately after one of her Wiccans has died a horrible death right in front of Willow's eyes - Willow takes a captured demon away to, we're led to assume, torture for information. Both Faith and Giles react with instant horror and disgust. Buffy, more nuanced, says she hasn't time to worry about ethics in the middle of a battle... but afterwards, when she's alone with Giles, she reveals that she's just as worried about the path Willow is heading down:

"Oh, Giles. You don't know the worst of it. You're right. More than you know. I'm killing her. I mean, I have killed her. Did, am, and will.
"What?"
"I went to the future and evil Willow was there and I killed her and what I'm doing now could be how she got that way. Evil. And dead."


Buffy's much-criticised plan to ask Oz for help in suppressing their magic was conceived in that moment. Hiding from Twilight was only a secondary benefit; Buffy's main concern when she thought up the idea was to find a good excuse, a convincing reason that would persuade Willow to lay down her own magic before it was too late. Not to mention that Buffy, herself, was starting to despair at all the deaths that were resulting from her decision to empower the Slayer Army:

"Giles, are they right? Are we the bad guys? We've killed. Since the beginning. All of us. Even the best of us--"

When she thought she'd changed the world, Buffy accepted the cost in lives as a price worth paying to save the world from Evil. But now she's seen that in the future nobody even remembers her Slayer Army. Are the deaths of her friends and followers merely a futile waste? Does she have the right to ask them to die for her if their deaths will turn out to be meaningless in the long run?

In that conversation with Giles, she seems to have decided that the answer is 'No'. And in the next few issues, Buffy acts like a nine-year weight has been lifted from her shoulders. She doesn't have to be The Slayer anymore; she can just be Buffy. She even dares, finally, to forget Angel's advice and open her heart to Willow, confess her sin of killing her. And then she goes further. Without the pressure of leadership, she has the space to realise that her feelings for Xander have been developing into more than just friendship, and she decides to take the risk of telling him. Remember Buffy's trust issues that I talked about in the first paragraph? That's a huge scary emotional step for her to take. and of course it goes wrong, because she was "too late" and hadn't realised Xander just spent the last dozen issues falling in love with her sister.

So here's Buffy at the end of 'Turbulence'. She's tired of fighting. She's scared of being the cause of her friends' deaths. She's seen how liberating it can feel to just lay down her burden, stop being the leader. She's feeling closer than ever to her friends, and yet she's unlucky in love, rejected romantically. She believes that her creation of the Slayer Army all comes to nothing in the end, and so all those deaths are ultimately futile - and her own fault for dragging those innocent girls into her war. She's starting to wonder whether Twilight was right all along.

And then she discovers that Twilight was Angel all along, and he tells her he's been trying to protect her and (secretly) prevent the killing, and he offers her a chance to be happy.

Even if her mind is not being affected by the 'unholy glow', is it really that surprising that Buffy is tempted by his offer? Under these circumstances? She's always been impulsive and trusted her instincts.

And besides, I wonder how Xander will feel about the fact that Angel is now Buffy's rebound guy from him? ;-)


I don't know how this is going to end. I don't think Buffy is making the right decision here - but as I've tried to convey in this essay. I think she's making a very believable and human decision. One that has been foreshadowed and led up to for much of the season. In the end, though, I don't believe that Joss's final message will be that it's right to give up the fight for a better world.

"Strong is fighting! It's hard, and it's painful, and it's every day. It's what we have to do."
-Buffy, 'Amends'

"It was supposed to calm the population, weed out aggression. Make a peaceful... it worked. The people here stopped fighting. And then they stopped everything else. They stopped going to work, stopped breeding...talking...eating... There's thirty million people here and they all just let themselves die."
-Dr Caron, 'Serenity' (and see the cover to issue 8.37 for a comparison...)

 


Comments

Posted by: lusciousxander (lusciousxander)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 12:48 (UTC)
Scoobies by maharet83

Wonderfully put. I was going to write something similar, but obviously not as good as yours to Emmie in her latest post about losing Buffy the Hero.

As someone whose favorite character is Xander Flawed Harris, I prefer my hero Buffy to make mistakes and be human. It makes me admire her more when she rises up again. I'm also someone who found Buffy, Xander and Willow far more interesting and enjoyable in S6 than the victims Spike, Anya and Tara.

What's happening in the comics doesn't bother me, because first, I haven't read the whole story yet, and second, I know that something fishy is going on with Buffy and Angel.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 13:10 (UTC)

Thank you. :-) Those are very much my own thoughts.

(Well, my favourite character is Willow, but it's equally because she's so utterly flawed and screws things up so completely that she's so interesting.)

We're about to get issue 34 of a 40-issue season. We're still in "tear down the heroes" mode, so they can build themselves up again in the final arc. Which means, of course, that this week's comic will probably make things worse, not better. :-(
(*And* I probably won't get to see it until Thursday or Friday, so i'll be two days behind everybody else...)

Posted by: lusciousxander (lusciousxander)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 13:16 (UTC)
Oh Pooh! by mirasol

Me, too. :( Tomorrow I have to go to my cousin's wedding in another city, so no internet access for a couple of days. I won't be able to see the reactions either. :-( (I don't usually get to read the issue until two/three days later, but I've always been interested to read others' reactions.)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 13:32 (UTC)

I try to avoid reading the reactions until I've written my own review, but occasionally I succumb.

With it being Easter and Monday having been a public holiday here in the UK, I suspect the comic deliveries will be delayed by a day, so it'll be an even longer wait than normal.

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 13:35 (UTC)

I was going to ask you that. Curses.

Posted by: phil_k_87 (phil_k_87)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 13:14 (UTC)

Thank you again for a very insightful meta. I especially loved the part how "After these messages ..." was indeed ironical in retrospect, and it makes me think I really should re-read all the issues again.

And you are making a good case for Buffy's decisions, and I cannot even blame you of fanwanking, damn you!

And besides, I wonder how Xander will feel about the fact that Angel is now Buffy's rebound guy from him? ;-)


Mind you, he didn't even think she meant it in the first place, so I am expecting something in the lines of "I knew it".

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 13:33 (UTC)

Thanks! I get the monthly comics, but I've also been buying the TPBs when they come out (for keeping long-term) and re-reading them then. There are a lot of layers to the season!

Edited at 2010-04-06 13:33 (UTC)

Posted by: 2maggie2 (2maggie2)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 13:28 (UTC)

This is an insightful meta. I've often wondered how it is that the end of ToYL ended up NOT having big reverberations for the audience. You've done an able job of pointing to the subtle effects it's had on Buffy -- but the story isn't working the way post-Becoming worked -- because post-Becoming we all knew and felt just how traumatic it was. It's either because of the change in medium, or the distancing that was felt because it wasn't OUR Willow that Buffy ran through. Either way, the dramatic power just wasn't there, and it ought to have been. As you say, it intentionally echoed Becoming. In any case, the result is that I think the vast majority of fans would need your meta to really see the connections -- and that shouldn't be how it works on a plot point that's as central as this one obviously is.

I agree it's understandable why Buffy would fall into Angel's arms. I think for me what's making this really unpleasant is the PR department selling a hardcore Bangel line, assuming that the audience is entirely a Bangel audience, and watching the Bangels eat it up with glee. It's creating a lot of cognitive dissonance. Or (as a lot of the folks who've given up on the comics would say) it really is just truth in advertising and people who don't want to see Buffy as Bella-lite should get the hell out now. And if it is just a line of crap for marketing, what does that say about DH's respect for the true believing Bangels?

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 13:48 (UTC)

Thanks!

I think there are a variety of reasons why Willow's death at Buffy's hands wasn't given as much weight - and I freely admit, it was only recently that I realised myself how crucial it was to the whole of the story afterwards.

At the time, I remember, I myself was more concerned about working out what Willow was trying to achieve, and why she set up the whole thing. The parallels to 'Becoming' were something I only realised as I wrote this meta. And yes, there was all the timey-wimey wibbly-wobbly stuff (copyright S. Moffatt) to distract attention from the emotional impact; and the fact that it was a 2D drawing of Willow rather than a living, breathing three-dimensional Aly Hannigan who we saw being stabbed - not to mention the fact that I'm sure a lot of 'discussion' now about S8 is by people who've heard about it second-hand rather than actually reading it. :-/

I can believe that most of the feedback Dark Horse are getting about the story is pro-Buffy and Angel. Remember, they aren't "in fandom". They don't read our discussions on LJ or Buffyforums or wherever. I believe Scott has mentioned that he does look at Whedonesque to get an impression of fan opinion, but he deliberately doesn't post there or join in the discussions. Instead, they get fanmail, letters and email; they have people come up to them at conventions; they have journalists interviewing them.

I can easily believe that outside of the hardcore fanbase, people still think of Buffy in connection with Angel first and foremost, and that's who they ask about and where the interest lies. Buffy/Angel are iconic and famous, even if Buffy/Spike makes for a more engaging story.


what does that say about DH's respect for the true believing Bangels?

I think their reaction to the very concept of a "true believing Bangel" (or Spuffy, or any other shipper) would be to blink in bemusement and then back away slowly and carefully, making placating noises.

Posted by: 2maggie2 (2maggie2)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 14:32 (UTC)

I remember wondering why the big gutting wasn't seen as gutting -- but it didn't have much staying power with me, either.

With the PR -- yeah, the casual fan seems to be about the Bangel. But we're still left with the problem that either Joss really IS writing a story that assumes that Bangel has been basic and central all the way through, or the PR department is amping something up way out of proportion. I'm not happy either way, and it's made the fandom become distinctly unpleasant in a way it hasn't been up until now.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 14:41 (UTC)

Honestly, I think a lot of this PR department 'ramping up' is just them replying to questons and giving interviews the way they always have - but we're taking their every last little word and agonising over it for thousands of lines of analysis. Like I said to Caroline, it's like Kreminology duing the Cold War.

Also, Scott seems to be particularly tight-lipped and spoiler-averse, so he's not willing to give the slightest clue that there might be a twist coming up. He always was, but the Twilightgate debacle seems to have badly burned him. Contrast the TV show, which had hundreds of people involved from producers to teaboys and electricians and non-dialogue extras, and so spoilers and hints were forever leaking out. Dark Horse are much tighter in that respect, because they're so much smaller.

Posted by: 2maggie2 (2maggie2)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 14:47 (UTC)

Except I'm having to use my micro-reading skills to get around the apparently obvious message that Buffy has always been about Angel... which isn't the show I was watching. And it wasn't micro-reading skills that produced those covers or decided to splash that panel. So, they're hyping an all-about Bangel line... and yes, the hype gets amplified because they Bangels are knocking themselves out trying to get more pro-Bangel statements from them.... but I don't see the PR department as blameless in this at all. Whether they initiate it or simply answer in response they are pounding home a view of the show that trivializes it and makes Buffy look like an anti-feminist icon. (Sorry, it's not been pleasant for quite a while, and every day seems to make it worse not better.)

Posted by: Kate (slayerkate)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 18:09 (UTC)
Buffy and Xander

I agree with you on this. I don't remember where, but Joss said he likes Twilight (the novels). That shocked me, because I've seen them as being very anti-feminist. I've always felt like the series would have been better if they had marketed it as horror instead of romance.

Within the canonical characters, I like Buffy/Xander. Outside of it, I can see her with anyone from Shawn Spencer (Psych) to Dean Winchester (Supernatural), the biggest correlation being that all of these men are human. A lot of people seem to forget that Buffy had no idea that Angel was a vampire when she developed an interest in him. Maybe if she knew beforehand, BtVS would have been different.

I do think that the only thing Angel ever really did right (for Buffy) was when he came to pay his respects after Joyce's funeral. Of course, he was there to help the Slayer in battle, but Buffy has always been more than a destroyer of demons, and she needs someone who can respect that about her. I don't think Angel is able to do that, simply based on the fact that he's a vampire.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 18:19 (UTC)

The way I think about it, the problem with Angel was that he saw Buffy for what she represented to him - redemption, goodness, a second chance - rather than her as a person. Buffy the person was a naive teenager who wrote "Buffy/Angel 4eva" on her school notebook and shared almost no interests in common with him... so he preferred to ignore that part.

Spike, I think, started out the same way - Buffy was the Slayer, a challenge for him to overcome, and she stayed that way pretty much until he got his soul... but then he was able to see her for who she really was.

As regards the timing, though - Buffy thought Angel was annoying but gorgeous at first; she only really started thining of him as her boyfriend after she knew he was a vampire.

Posted by: William B (local_max)
Posted at: 7th April 2010 18:29 (UTC)

This might be my unguarded optimism about the comics, but I feel like "Time of Your Life's" place in the narrative is still yet to be made clear to us. For me at least, that's held off the emotional impact to some extent, because I feel like I recognize that we don't really know that's Our Willow. I also agree with Stephen's point that there's a lot of energy expended into figuring out why Willow does what she does. And neither, really, does Buffy--she really doesn't know whether the Fray future happens, now that she can change things.

Plus--the "Becoming" parallel is there to point out that while Buffy kills Angel hot (emotionally, with "close your eyes"), but she kills Willow cold. Future-Willow is suicidal and wants Buffy to kill her. And Buffy kills her to get back to her time to prevent this future, which includes Willow in it, from taking place. I think the emotional devastating for Buffy comes later, but the biggest impact is about what Buffy is capable of and of what Willow is capable of becoming. I don't think we're supposed to have the same degree of emotional reaction to it as we are to "Becoming," so I'm not convinced it's a failure of TOYL that it doesn't have a huge emotional impact. (Though, maybe that was the intention, in which case it didn't really succeed for me.)

The PR really is terrible.

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 13:34 (UTC)

I don't know how this is going to end. I don't think Buffy is making the right decision here - but as I've tried to convey in this essay. I think she's making a very believable and human decision.
This as they say on the internets. It does seem that most of the sturm and drang about Buffy having fallen from feminist grace is based on the assumption that the only possible explanation of her falling for Angel’s explanation is that she’s blinded by lurve and while love is blind I don’t think it’s the main thing blinding Buffy at this point.

Angelus was always a master manipulater and Angel has the same instincts. Tell people what they already fear is true, tell them what they want to be true but daren’t hope. As you pointed out Buffy’s been blaming herself for all the slayer trouble since TOYL (in fact even before that it started in A Beautiful Sunset). The root cause of all the attacks and the pogroms has been fear and loathing of the changed new world from the beginning. She has been able to blame Twilight for them but the Twilight turns out to be Angel not some idiot like Caleb and Angel confirms what she’s feared all along, the hate was already there and would have happened with or without his intervention. Then he gives her something she wants to be true, he tells her she’s not sucking power from her dead girls. Then he caps it all with a modified version of Xander’s successful pep talk about things happening for a reason (I thought that was dubious in Superman). There’s a reason they’re glowing, there’s a reason all this is happening. Follow your instincts (it’s what she does best) take the risk, make the leap. It’s not as if you have anything to lose (you can’t help the girls you just make people hate them even more). Be happy. Make me happy. Make me proud. These are all things she’s bound to be susceptible to in her current state.

ETA: With hindsight there’s been a lot about love in this season and one of the few admirable expressions of it was Willow letting Tara go at the end of her visions quest. I wonder if this season it’s Willow who might be the one to help Buffy out of whatever hole she’s digging for herself.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 13:53 (UTC)
buffy-willow

Yes. Nice summary. I don't know if Angel is consciously and actively manipulating Buffy for his own reasons or if he's been himself misled (and is putting his Angelus talents to work on someone else's behest), but you're right how well it's tailored to her personality.

I hope Willow is the one to save her this time, but then I'm biased. :-)

Posted by: ubi4soft (ubi4soft)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 13:36 (UTC)

She was forced to take these decisions (while I push) and if at the end of S8 Angel will be right in his "pushing" the story will be about the little blond girl who needed to be showed the way by the wiser old boyfriend. And will break poor Emmie's heart.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 14:05 (UTC)

Honestly, I think that's diminishing three years of us watching Buffy as a strong, confident leader, admired and feared by friends and enemies alike, who changed the world and then discovered that afterwards, the world was all different. None of what we read is taken away.

I'll admit, I don't like plot revelations where we discover the evil villain was manipulating everybody all along. I disliked it in 'Angel' Season 4 when Skip made his speech about Jasmine - but that doesn't mean I can't now watch 'Amends' or 'Hero' or 'Reprise' or 'The Trial' or 'Lullaby' and enjoy them.

But as i've said several times in the last day or two, this is only 80% of the way through the story, and anyone who doesn't think there's going to be a twist or subeversion in the final act really has never watched anything written by Joss Whedon.

Posted by: Caroline (jamalov29)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 13:48 (UTC)
buffy manip-zugma

I enjoyed reading your thoughts , I like your rational approach and your analysis of Buffy's character ( even without having read the comics )

While I understand why many readers try to guess what's going to happen,it seems wiser than anything else to wait until the whole arc is completed- but it's a shame we're having these repeated interviews or statements from different members of DH that really gives cause for concern or worse.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 14:11 (UTC)

Thanks! You know, one of the criticisms that always baffles me about the comics is that Buffy is "out of character" in them. One of the reasons I'm enjoying them is because of how in character she is!

I sympathise with the people at Dark Horse. They've got a job to do, and when journalists ask them for an interview or fans write to them, are they really supposed to tell them to go away? But like I said to Maggie in the comment above yours, they're not part of fandom and they fail to appreciate just how intensely people analyse their every word, and how emotionally invested in the outcome they are. It's like Kremlinologists during the Cold War, trying to decide who currently held the most influence in the Soviet government by analysing photographs to see who was facing towards the leader and who was turned away from him...

Posted by: Caroline (jamalov29)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 17:05 (UTC)

they fail to appreciate just how intensely people analyse their every word, and how emotionally invested in the outcome they are. That is a reasonable explanation.
They would be surprised by the most passionate side of fans, or by the huge emotional impact the fate of fictional characters have in our lives. ;)
Your comparison with the Kremlinologists works for me.

Posted by: erimthar (erimthar)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 14:42 (UTC)
pic#85222149

I think it will be revealed that Buffy and Angel are both being manipulated here.

Since the end of AtF, Angel's motto has gone from "We help the helpless" to "they're mortal, they have to die sometime." We just witnessed Buffy go from (perfectly understandable) homicidal rage to sex in the space of... what, three or four pages?

No, I don't think it's remotely in-character for Buffy to be sharing a midair boff with a man who has (whatever his reasons) directed the deaths of hundreds of her friends, who are still apparently dying right at this very moment. That's the difference between this and Buffy/Spike or Xander/Anya... Spike and Anya hadn't successfully killed their own friends, and they had stopped killing by the time their Scooby relationships began. Neither of them were necessarily remorseful for their past lives, and this may be called out as a case of situational ethics, but that's just the way human emotions work. We forgive the deaths of strangers much more quickly than we do the deaths of friends.

That's why I don't see Buffy's latest decision as being particularly "believable and human." Rather, I think it's bizarre and inexplicable, absent some sort of influence. But we've already seen, and been told, that there are greater forces at work here than just Angel and Buffy, and all is not right.

But all is not supposed to be right at this point in the story. This isn't a happy denouement... it's the culmination of the Second Act, when the offal hits the fan with three years' worth of pent-up force.

I'll admit that this is a very difficult part of the story to read for me... more so than anything that's come before. I expect it will continue to be for quite some time. There's a distinct possibility that I'll get all the way to the end and realize that I hate it, and that Buffy's story has been ruined for me.

But that was always the risk. In any race, some drivers will cross the finish line in triumph and some will hit the wall in flames.

I'm still on the track, but it's getting very slippery.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 14:59 (UTC)

Well, I'm sorry you disagree with me. :-(

I think aycheb laid it out well: Buffy doesn't really, in her heart, blame Twilight for the deaths. She's come to see them as an inevitable result of the world changing - and if anyone is to blame for that, it's herself.

I do think there's an element of "I give up, I can't do this anymore" in her actions here. That's why I included the two quotes at the end, because I don't think this will be the last word.

As for the idea that Twilight, personally, "directed the deaths of hundreds of her friends" - I think we need to remember what Joss wrote in 'The Chain':

"There's always a name. Lincoln. Hitler. Gandhi. The name can inspire terror, awe... sometimes great things. But there's millions of people go into making a name."

The mask and the flying boots and the flashy cape are great at drawing attention. It's too unsettling to realise that we're all capable of hatred, evil and bigotry, be it against Jews, Muslims or Slayers. So we look for a scapegoat. Someone we can point to and say "It's his fault. He organised and directed it." It's an abdication of responsibility; but hey, blaming the guy in the jackboots is easier.

But anyway, I definitely agree with you that this isn't the happy denouement. We'e 85% through the season - and fun fact; 85% through Season 5 was 'Intervention', when all the gang were really worried because Buffy was apparently having sex with Spike. ;-)

Edited at 2010-04-06 15:02 (UTC)

Posted by: erimthar (erimthar)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 15:31 (UTC)
pic#85222149

Oh, I didn't disagree with everything you said. I disagree that Buffy's actions are in character, but I don't think they're supposed to be.

I think aycheb laid it out well: Buffy doesn't really, in her heart, blame Twilight for the deaths. She's come to see them as an inevitable result of the world changing - and if anyone is to blame for that, it's herself.

I think the killer is the person primarily responsible for killing, myself. Buffy didn't order people to murder Slayers. Twilight did.

But even if she does blame herself, her current actions are not an appropriate response by any sane standards. I know she's used sex to punish and degrade herself in the past, but that doesn't seem to be the vibe here at all.

As for the idea that Twilight, personally, "directed the deaths of hundreds of her friends" - I think we need to remember what Joss wrote in 'The Chain':

"There's always a name. Lincoln. Hitler. Gandhi. The name can inspire terror, awe... sometimes great things. But there's millions of people go into making a name."

The mask and the flying boots and the flashy cape are great at drawing attention. It's too unsettling to realise that we're all capable of hatred, evil and bigotry, be it against Jews, Muslims or Slayers. So we look for a scapegoat. Someone we can point to and say "It's his fault. He organised and directed it." It's an abdication of responsibility; but hey, blaming the guy in the jackboots is easier.


But Twilight did organize and direct it. A scapegoat is someone who is not guilty of the crimes for which he's being punished. Context and circumstances don't absolve the guy in the jackboots of what he's done. IMO.

But the real issue for me is less what Angel's done, and more how Buffy is responding to him right now. The explanation he's given her is far, far short of what would plausibly be needed for her to not only forgive him, but kiss and have sex with him. If she's fully in charge of herself here, it's orders of magnitude more callous and uncaring than anything she's ever done before.

I think it would, in fact, be a betrayal... the closest and most unexpected, from the viewpoint of her friends. Xander, who watched his girlfriend die horribly in his arms. Willow, who was tortured and lobotomized. Satsu and Faith and the other Slayers, who have seen their sisters and friends murdered by the hundreds and could just as easily have been among the dead themselves... and may yet be.

But anyway, I definitely agree with you that this isn't the happy denouement. We'e 85% through the season - and fun fact; 85% through Season 5 was 'Intervention', when all the gang were really worried because Buffy was apparently having sex with Spike. ;-)

Joss definitely has many twists and turns in store. Fairly sure I won't like all of them, but I never have.

It's a real problem now that there's such a long time between installments of the story. I'd rather have seen this arc all at once as a graphic novel, rather than dribbled out over the course of half a year.

I really need to agonize less over the imaginary problems of imaginary people, I guess.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 15:42 (UTC)

Buffy didn't order people to murder Slayers. Twilight did.

Unless I'm missing something, the only times we've been shown Twilight personally ordering anybody's death, it was people on his own nominal side, the side of the people opposed to Slayers. Everything else is just assumption, because, like I said, of the flashy waving tentacles distracting our attention. Twilight's the obvious figurehead, therefore everything his followers do in His name must be his doing.

I know she's used sex to punish and degrade herself in the past, but that doesn't seem to be the vibe here at all.

Absolutely. There seems to be a disturbing anti-sexuality vibe in a lot of the discussion at present, but honestly, Buffy having sex isn't automatically meant to be "degrading" her. It's the opposite: Angel's argument to her is to ask her to stop punishing herself and just finally, for once, let herself be happy.

Posted by: erimthar (erimthar)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 15:57 (UTC)
pic#85222149

But it should take more than just a few reassuring words to convince her to stop punishing herself, and a LOT more words to stop her from punishing Angel and do a complete 360 on her attitude toward him, in such a miniscule amount of time.

We know that Angel directed the missile attack on the castle, the attack on the Scotland island base (his troops were present), Gigi and Roden, and the Tibet attack.

We can't be certain yet about the Tokyo vamps or the victims that Willow found while looking for Faith.

The Swell, on its mission to possess, drain and kill the world's children, invoked Twilight by name, but it's not fully clear whether it was referring to Twilight the man or Twilight the force. Either way, though, it's pretty solid evidence that "Twilight" is not a good thing by any moral standards.

I think it's a safe bet that Buffy and Angel are both in grave danger here, in more than one respect.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 17:27 (UTC)

We know that Angel was in the same room when Warren and Amy directed the missile attack on the castle. It was entirely their idea. He looked at their missile, said "Hmm" and walked off.

It's not a big stretch to interpret that "Hmm" as "Hmm. I'm pretty sure that Buffy will have defences adequate to cope with something as pathetic as this." If you prefer your Angel to be darker, you could add "And if she doesn't she ought to, so this will be a wake-up call. And besides, my mole tells me that she and Willow already left for New York, so she'll be safe whatever happens."

Posted by: erimthar (erimthar)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 17:48 (UTC)
pic#85222149

Oh, I don't think it was ever his intention to kill Buffy. He needed/wanted her for whatever he's up to now.

But it seems he was perfectly willing to kill anyone else, including the other Scoobies, without more than a shrug.

We also saw that he was perfectly willing to order his own employees summarily killed for no reason that any moral person could consider just or deserved.

And, as a military leader, he's responsible for anything done under his supervision.

Twangel has said many things I simply couldn't imagine Angel (or any person with good intentions) saying:

We need to strip Buffy of her moral certainty...
This ends with her turning her sword on herself...
They're mortal, they had to die sometime...
I want to watch this...
I haven't killed anyone...

I think "Twilight" is certainly something more than just Angel in a mask, and that something is what's calling the shots right now. I suspect it's a primal force dedicated to preserving the balance at any cost, that Buffy will eventually defy it by banishing all the demons from this dimension (maybe with Angel's help, maybe not), and that season 9 will likely deal with the consequences of that.

Posted by: mikeda (mikeda)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 23:10 (UTC)

couldn't imagine Angel (or any person with good intentions) saying

Angel's playing a role. In his mind, he's pretending to be evil in order to accomplish a good end. As shown in his infiltration of the Black Thorn, however, one tends to have to do some actual evil on the way when using that strategy.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 23:19 (UTC)

Agreed. (And of course there's the danger of the slippery slope, of justifying one more evil deed than the next just to avoid blowing your cover. I'm not blind to the possibility that Angel/Twilight has fallen into that trap; I just disagree that he's always been nothing but evil this season.)

Posted by: Emmie (angearia)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 20:28 (UTC)
Buffy Bad Day

I wish I was in a different frame of mind to read this. Maybe tomorrow. :(

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 6th April 2010 20:49 (UTC)
buffy-satsu-healing

Posted by: Emmie (angearia)
Posted at: 1st January 2011 11:50 (UTC)
Buffy Tired/Weary

I've finally come back to this meta after all this time (thanks to your end-of-the-year round-up) and I really enjoyed it.

When I think back to my reactions about Season 8 this past year, it feels like I was building up to this collision of growing awareness of feminism and how it related to the Whedonverse. I've described some of what goes down in Season 8 as unwittingly tailored to be a feminist nightmare. There's still so much that upsets me about how the story was executed, but I'm enjoying looking back at the bigger picture now.

I think there's something strange about this switch in medium. With my TV viewing experience, I was more passive and followed the story closely on an emotional level first and foremost. And after the fact, I'd go back and ponder the underlying meaning. With the comics, because it's by nature a more active reading pursuit, plus there's so much time in between issues to dig into the underlying meaning, I started becoming disturbingly and overwhelmingly aware of the upsetting content of Season 8. What made me so upset right around the time the Twilight arc was peaking, it still makes me upset--I still agree with many of the basic principles (frex Season 8 male gaze) of my critique.

But in this instance, the controversial metanarrative coupled with a challenging medium less-than-perfectly executing an incredibly complex story... well, there's a reason for the dissonance. The metanarrative overwhelmed the clarity of the narrative (and the clarity of the narrative was already on shaky ground due to less than stellar execution at times).

I think Season 8 is going to be one of those stories I can enjoy best when it's finished, when I can remove the shock factor and parse out the metanarrative so it doesn't negatively affect my reading of the narrative. And look how challenging it's become for me to simply enjoy the story: it's like the frequency's getting too much interference and I won't be able to fix it completely until the story is done.

Anyways, very well done meta. I'm planning on starting a reread building up to Issue 40's release. :)

Edited at 2011-01-01 11:52 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 2nd January 2011 13:20 (UTC)

Thanks! I like the way you posted in reply to your own comment from eight months ago saying you hope someday to be able to read this. You kept your promise! :-)


There's still so much that upsets me about how the story was executed, but I'm enjoying looking back at the bigger picture now.

I can go along with that. In the heat and fury of discussions at the time, it's easy to lose the nuances, to lose sight of the fact that like any creative work, S8 contains both good and bad. It seems to me that a lot of elements of the story can be interpreted multiple ways, and some of them are a lot more problematic and negative than others.

Season 7 ended on a strong feminist note; it made a deliberate, bold statement that women sharing power is a good thing. And then S8 seemed to go back on that. It showed the negative consequences of Buffy's action; it showed her not coping too well with the after-effects of what she and Willow did. I certainly disagree with the people who claim that this was a deliberate anti-feminist message by Joss or by the "boys' club at Dark Horse" (sic), some sort of "Ha ha, look at the silly women who can't cope with having power!" statement - but I can certainly understand why some might reach such a conclusion given the contrast with the previous season. (Personally, I think the idea that women have to be perfect and flawless in order to be role-models is almost as anti-feminist as the opposite; it smacks of pedestalisation. Fo me, Buffy is a hero exactly because she's imperfect and screws up, but keeps on going nevertheless.)

I think (and hope) there's going to be some interesting meta coming out once the season's over and people start re-reading it. It's a lot easier to understand the big picture when you know how the various story-lines will end, and which elements will turn out to be the crucial ones. Re-reading some of the reviews and meta and comments people wrote earlier last year s certainly an interesting experience... the fervent belief that Joss was preparing the ground to declare Buffy/Angel to be the One True Pairing who would end up together forever and live happily ever after is particularly ironic! :-)

Posted by: Emmie (angearia)
Posted at: 2nd January 2011 13:36 (UTC)
Buffy Tired/Weary

It showed the negative consequences of Buffy's action; it showed her not coping too well with the after-effects of what she and Willow did. I certainly disagree with the people who claim that this was a deliberate anti-feminist message by Joss or by the "boys' club at Dark Horse" (sic), some sort of "Ha ha, look at the silly women who can't cope with having power!" statement - but I can certainly understand why some might reach such a conclusion given the contrast with the previous season. (Personally, I think the idea that women have to be perfect and flawless in order to be role-models is almost as anti-feminist as the opposite; it smacks of pedestalisation. Fo me, Buffy is a hero exactly because she's imperfect and screws up, but keeps on going nevertheless.)

Ah see, I have problems with the narrative on a feminist level for different reasons than that. It's not about wanting Buffy to be perfect. It's funny (as in, initially frustrating and now just perplexing) that this is the second conversation in so many days where I feel like I'm assigned the Buffy-is-a-perfect-human-being stance by default. Not that I think you were saying that, per se, but that you described a feminist critique prompted by my mentioning it. My issues have to do with the culmination of Dawn's arc in #25 and then Buffy's part in #33/34, where Kenny and Angel play the bad boyfriends who abuse the object of their affections--the women should by all rights be kicking them in the family jewels (as Buffy once did before) for the abuse and manipulation, but instead it's the women who feel it's their fault. Both Dawn and Buffy are written to play the victims--they believe they brought it on themselves, when in reality it's the Bad Boyfriends.

Anyways, one of the reasons I love Buffy so much is because she's so fucked up. That's why she's relatable to me.

For me, Buffy is a hero exactly because she's imperfect and screws up, but keeps on going nevertheless.

For me also. I keep feeling this impulse to provide Buffy-is-flawed street cred, so I'll mention that what you just described is very much how I portrayed Buffy in my epic-length Season 8 fic. She fucks up and she keeps moving forward (while fighting the impulse to give into despair).

I do think there's going to be some very interesting meta to come once we finally have the whole picture.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 2nd January 2011 14:25 (UTC)

It's funny (as in, initially frustrating and now just perplexing) that this is the second conversation in so many days where I feel like I'm assigned the Buffy-is-a-perfect-human-being stance by default. Not that I think you were saying that, per se, but that you described a feminist critique prompted by my mentioning it.

Sorry. :-( But you're right; it's not that i'm saying this is your belief about the season; it does, however, seem to be the main or underlying criticism of the season in many, many of the critiques I've seen, including the one I read most recently and is therefore uppermost in my mind.

I agree that they fell down on the Dawn storyline, though I don't have quite the same visceral dislike for it. They should have made it more clear that Kenny was in the wrong, yes; but I don't see it as a bad thing narrative-wise that Dawn also felt guilty and blamed herself. See my previous point, re: women characters don't have to be perfect and flawless in order to be role models. :-) Dawn did cheat on her boyfriend; she felt bad about it and beat herself up for her 'sin' (by letting Kenny take his revenge on her, because she felt she deserved it); but then she learned to move on, stop blaming herself, do the adult thing in apologising to Kenny for what she did wrong and letting him apologise to her for his own deeds; then dumped him and started a much healthier relationship with a decent guy. Yes, there wasn't enough emphasis on what Kenny did as being abusive: but to me, he was more of a plot device for Dawn's story. And ultimately, what he did was on a par with what Xander did in 'Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered', what Willow did in 'Something Blue' or 'Tabula Rasa', and not nearly as bad as what Willow was about to do to Veruca in 'Wild At Heart' before she repented at the last minute. People using magic to take revenge after a bad relationship break-up is pretty much par for the course in the Buffyverse. The show generally acknowledges that what they did was wrong, but it rarely dwells on making them suffer for their transgressions afterwards.

At least nobody on the show ever sewed pieces of raw chicken or seafood into the bottom hem of the curtains in their ex's front room. :-)


(As for Buffy; in hindsight, I think giving up her Slayer powers in 'Retreat' and having sex with Angel in 'Twilight' came from the same place emotionally: she wanted to give up the fight, surrender her power. But both times, when she saw the consequences of her action she realised she couldn't abdicate responsibility like that; she took it up again and inspired others to fight alongside her.)



she's so fucked up. That's why she's relatable to me.

She's also a strong person who keeps on going even when things get rough and enjoys a lot of support from the people who love her. Which should also be relatable. :-)


Posted by: Vampmogs (vampmogs)
Posted at: 7th April 2010 04:35 (UTC)

Great meta! I can’t tell you how nice it is to read something like this right about now. I think I’ll be taking a break from fandom in-between the next two issues if it gets any worse. I don't think I can take any more of it :(

I agree 100% with everything that you've said, there's been a clear build up to this for quite some time. Though, and I’m not sure if you actually disagree with this or not, I do think that Buffy is being influenced by the glow. I think what happened is (because I don’t think Joss would be interested in absolving either Buffy or Angel completely) that in order for the glow to overpower her *she had to let it.* Buffy had to stop fighting, she had “listen to what her body is telling her”, and *that’s* where her despair comes into it. Angel promised her a connection and happiness, the two things she’s craved all season.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 7th April 2010 10:07 (UTC)

Writing this was kind of like taking a hot shower, you know? Clears the head...

As regards the glow: yes, I have been leaning towards the idea that it's an outside force controlling her actions (and Angel's). I'm not 100% sold on that, though - I assume we'll find out soon enough - and part of what I wanted to achieve here is show that Buffy's actions are understandable even if she's not being influenced by anything, and her decisions are absolutely 100% her own. Your idea that it is an outside influence, but it can only take control of her if she lets it, is the perfect compromise. :-)

Posted by: Vampmogs (vampmogs)
Posted at: 7th April 2010 13:35 (UTC)

Well, it's just that Joss doesn't strike me as the kind of guy interested in a story where we can blame it all on the glow, you know? Maybe for an episode or two but not for an entire season. Especially when they've already invested so much time into pushing Buffy towards the grey.

So yay compromise!

Posted by: the infamous Midwestern subterrainean Explodebear. (hkath)
Posted at: 7th April 2010 04:41 (UTC)
hugs [BtVS]

Thanks so much for this post. I really needed some good meta tonight, and I was happy to think back to Time of Your Life and find even more meaning in it. I think it's really significant that before we knew it was Angel manipulating and orchestrating this whole conflict from behind the Twilight mask, we had this interlude of future!Willow doing some manipulating and orchestrating of her own. I'm still not convinced she's strictly evil in the future - I think it's more complicated than that, and that her physical appearance may actually be part of the act, something to make it easier for Buffy to kill her.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 7th April 2010 10:13 (UTC)

Glad you enjoyed it!

There's definitely a lot of manipulation and hidden manoeuvring behind the scenes here. Willow being re-empowered by a wave of magic from the future in 'Turbulence' must surely also be connected to the 'Time Of Your Life' plot. I'm hoping it's all explained, though kowing Joss I'm sure there'll be a few loose ends we have to fanwank...

Future Willow seemed *tired* more than evil to me. However, remember that she knew perfectly well that Harth was kidnapping and murdering humans to spread vampirism across Haddyn, and she did nothing to stop him and even verbally approved of his actions. I assume she was doing that just to gain his trust so she could manipulate him into the final confrontation with Mel and Buffy - but it's still being complicit in evil. And of course (I suddenly realise) it's another exact parallel to what Twilight is doing back in our own time...

Posted by: the infamous Midwestern subterrainean Explodebear. (hkath)
Posted at: 7th April 2010 10:55 (UTC)
everybody die always [BtVS]

Yep, it's really quite strikingly similar... if we look at their actions from that exact angle.

There are a lot of things that I find really easy to gloss over and miss at first glance, like that magic-from-the-future thing. I read it, obviously, but I don't know that it struck me as all that significant because story-wise there wasn't much time to dwell on it. It feels like they just snuck it in there. However, I don't think the pacing is necessarily *bad*... I actually really like how I can read the comics once for the plotty what-happens-next factor and then go back over them and find all these "oh, shit" moments that do carry weight, just in a different way than the ever-advancing main plot.

Sorry if I'm not making sense! It's extremely early at the moment and my browser seems to think "snuck" is not a word, so I'm quite confused.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 7th April 2010 11:44 (UTC)

You read them the same way I do. There's a lot in there that you don't pick up on first reading.

My dictionary says that 'snuck' is a "dialect or US colloquial" form of 'sneaked'. :-)

Posted by: dancing till the world ends (lynnenne)
Posted at: 7th April 2010 13:54 (UTC)
angel buffy spike

Great meta, as always. I agree that Buffy's liason with Angel is an escape from reality for her. Buffy's love interests have always been more than characters - they represent parts of herself. She's embracing the darkness, here (there's a reason why Angel is called "Twilight" in this comic) - just as she embraced the darkness with Spike in Season 6 as an escape from herself.

This ties in very nicely with your earlier meta about Angel and Spike representing differing aspects of Buffy's character, and how she's (literally!) embracing one while pretty much ignoring the other. I think the whole point of the comic, in the end, will be about restoring that balance within herself.

Edited at 2010-04-07 13:55 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 8th April 2010 16:23 (UTC)

She's embracing the darkness, here (there's a reason why Angel is called "Twilight" in this comic

Good point - though of course, "twilight" isn't entirely dark nor entirely light, it's the halfway point between the two. You enter the darkness via the twilight - which is very ominous - but you also leave it that way too.

Thanks!

Posted by: William B (local_max)
Posted at: 7th April 2010 18:18 (UTC)

This really gets to the heart of Buffy's arc over the past several issues. (I haven't read #34 yet, so no comments on that.) Ever since "A Beautiful Sunset," Buffy has been blaming herself, personally, for the tensions between the slayers and the world at large; her early "Not being bad is what separates us from the bad guys," I think, dissolved when she had to face up to the idea that her robbery may have had consequences. I think she tried to hold onto her moral certainty throughout "Time of Your Life," but the events shook her tremendously. So eventually, Willow says that everything is Buffy's fault, and Angel says that everything is Destiny, and it's so much less painful to take the latter.

I like the idea that "Retreat" was in great part a way to power-down Willow so Buffy wouldn't have to hurt her. Maybe part of powering down the slayers was a response to the idea that the line was going to die out anyway? I feel like her actual textual motivations were a little opaque, because I was never totally clear in the run-up to "Retreat" what physical threat to the slayers Twilight posed.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 8th April 2010 16:31 (UTC)

Willow says that everything is Buffy's fault, and Angel says that everything is Destiny, and it's so much less painful to take the latter

I like that idea. Although avoiding responsibility is something Buffy isn't very good at; her conscience and sense of duty are usually too strong. Maybe it's more that by blaming it all on "destiny", that implies that it was all for a purpose and wasn't just a meaningless waste after all?

I do think they skimped on the storytelling before 'Retreat', but I think what we're supposed to conclude is that it was a slowly developing avalanche. The authorities already thought Slayers were dangerous; then public opinion turned against them. The demons that were attacking them started to get more organised, and the governments joined in too, and ordinary people turned away and refused to help them, and cheered on the people branding them as 'dangerous terrorists'. So Buffy was feeling isolated, and her people were being attacked more and more often.

Then they lost their base, and were apparently hunted out of their second, and then their third was attacked as well, and people were dying, and she felt like she didn't have a moment's rest to think and plan and come up with an answer. Kind of like 'Spiral'; she just wanted to escape for a while so she could work out her next step. But what was, I believe, meant to be a temporary expedient to *hide* their power turned into *giving it up*, because Bayarmaa didn't fully understand what she and Oz had been doing, or at least didn't explain it very well.

Posted by: William B (local_max)
Posted at: 8th April 2010 20:05 (UTC)

Yeah, I think if Buffy accepts that sleeping with Angel is DESTINY then she doesn't have the same responsibility to make her own choices. Also, Angel offers her the possibility that Buffy's powers aren't coming from the dead slayers. I like the observation a lot that the fact that Twilight is Angel and so she loses her enemy to clarify things. But Angel also offers Buffy absolution of a sense by saying, "This is not your fault. Those dead girls are not your fault. These powers are not bad." It's removing specific things she can be angry AND guilty about, but the anger and guilt is still there...so, uh, she's going to $*#@ it out.

I think you're right about the runup to "Retreat." Generously, we can assume that all of that took place in the universe, and it was imperfectly and insufficiently shown. I also am not so sure that Buffy really wanted to let their power go away temporarily--I believe that was the plan initially, but part three had Buffy genuinely convinced this could be a new life. This didn't happen in "Spiral," but to be fair it's hard to imagine her wanting to live in a Winnebego.

But what was, I believe, meant to be a temporary expedient to *hide* their power turned into *giving it up*, because Bayarmaa didn't fully understand what she and Oz had been doing, or at least didn't explain it very well.

I choose to believe that Bay didn't really understand, and not that she didn't explain it well--because the latter doesn't really make me feel very impressed with her, considering the importance of the matter.

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