Did Buffy have a deathwish?
I originally posted a version of this on alt.tv.buffy-v-slayer a few months ago, but thought that the different audience here on LJ might also be interested. (Plus, if you can't plagiarise yourself, what else can you do?)
It's prompted by a simple question: was Spike right?
"Every day you wake up it's the same bloody question what haunts you: Is today the day I die? It's a warrior's pain, a warrior's question and you ask it every time the sun rises. And every day you manage to survive, you're only partly relieved because you know - it's just a matter of time.
"Death is on your heels baby - and, sooner or later, it's going to catch you... And some part of you wants it. Not only to stop the fear and the uncertainty - but because you're just a little bit in love with it. Death is your art. You make it with your hands, day after day. That final gasp, that look of peace... Part of you is desperate to know... What's it like? Where does it lead you? That's also a warrior's question. A warrior's curiosity.
"So you see, that's the secret. Not the punch she didn't throw or the kick she didn't land. She simply wanted it. Every Slayer has a death wish. Even you."
My first problem here is that I'm not really sure what "a death wish" actually means. It's a phrase that's used in casual conversation often enough, but what is the reality?
I don't think that Buffy's mental state can ever really be characterised as a death wish in Spike's sense, apart from, perhaps, a very brief moment; even though I do believe she's suicidal in 'The Gift'. (Joss is on record as denying it; but what does he know about it, anyway?)
Suicidal feelings can come from anguish, despair and, maybe anger - all feelings that most of us experience from time to time, though hopefully never to the point of being suicidal.
Anguish: when the pain is too great to bear. It can be physical pain; some crippling impairment that makes life not worth living; the loss of a loved one; or being forced to do or endure what cannot be endured. This is what I think motivates Buffy in 'The Gift'.
Despair: when life just doesn't seem to be worth the effort, and death is just easier. This would be Buffy's motivation in the earlier part of Season 6.
Anger: when someone believes that killing themselves is the only way to hit back at someone who has hurt them. The "That'll teach them! They'll be sorry when I've gone!" response. I'm not sure Buffy ever experiences this one, though: it's really the ultimate expression of powerlessness, which she rarely ever feels.
However, what Spike seemed to be talking about wasn't just accepting death as the least bad alternative in a horrible situation: it was about positively embracing it, seeking it out, accepting it as a lover. According to Spike, the Slayer doesn't give up and die: she wants to die, to experience herself what she's given to so many others in her short life. He almost makes it sound as if curiosity is the motivation - as well as the desire for peace after the struggle. Did Buffy ever experience this?
Perhaps this ties in with what the First Slayer has to say: "Death is your gift." It has lots of interpretations, of course: she gives death to the demons she slays, making the world a better place; she can use her own death as her gift to Dawn and to the world, saving both from destruction. Indeed, for Buffy her own death was a gift: and she goes into it with open eyes. "This is the work I have to do. Tell Giles I... I figured it out. And I'm okay." And after that, she felt that "I was happy. At peace. I knew that everyone I cared about was all right. I knew it. Time didn't mean anything, nothing had form... but I was still me, you know? And I was warm and I was loved... and I was finished." In that brief moment on top of Glory's tower, I would say that Buffy did have a deathwish. She wasn't raging at the dying of the light; she was leaping joyfully straight into it, her arms open and a look of bliss on her face.
However, there's one very important thing we have to remember about the First Slayer: Buffy ultimately rejects every lesson she has to teach. "You're not the source of me." In 'Restless', the First Slayer tells Buffy she has to abandon her friends: "No friends, just the kill. We are alone." Buffy refuses to agree. In 'Get It Done', the First Slayer tells Buffy that her own power is not enough - but again she refuses the extra power when it's offered and demands knowledge instead.
So why should 'Intervention' be the exception? Death might be Buffy's gift - but ultimately, at the end of season 6, she rejects it and embraces Life instead, climbing out of her grave then turning around to give Dawn a hand up out of it too.
If you'll forgive me getting all Campbellian for a moment, Death, Apotheosis and Resurrection is an essential part of the Hero's Journey. They die and achieve bliss; but the mark of a true Hero is that they return to the world, to share their gifts and knowledge with the people they left behind. "Mastery leads to freedom from the fear of death, which in turn is the freedom to live." If Buffy had taken the easy way out and stayed dead, she wouldn't be a hero - but equally, she had to die first to gain the self-knowledge it brought. She now knows the worst that can possibly happen to her - and that she can survive it.
Or to be more prosaic, she's got over her Slayer death wish by dying, and then deciding she didn't like it after all.
Told you things would get Mythic...
(And my essay comparing Buffy's story to Campbell's Hero's Journey in more detail is coming soon...)