(meta) Buffy's fashion sense and season 8
There's recently been a fair bit of discussion about Buffy's choice of clothing in Season 8 - specifically, why the girl who once told Maggie Walsh "You mean the camo and stuff? I thought about it but, I mean, it's gonna look all 'Private Benjamin.' Don't worry; I've patrolled in this halter many times" should now be going around wearing a kevlar flak jacket, military-style webbing and combat boots. Isn't that out of character? Isn't this just more proof that the comics are unworthy of our attention? Etc etc.
<- Not Buffy's choice of style icon?
To give my answers to the question, I wrote a short story: Unstylish Yet High-priced Boots. If you've not read it yet, you might want to go over there first before you read the rest of this meta. There was a fair amount of background thought that went into the ideas in that fic, not all of which I necessarily made clear enough in the text. So I thought I'd do a director's commentary style breakdown of it (something I enjoy doing anyway), and at the same time explain some of my thoughts on why she's wearing military gear now. There's also a look at Buffy's general state of mind, and my thoughts on her and Satsu. Original story in black, added comments in brown.
Unstylish Yet High-Priced Boots
The title is, of course, a reference to Buffy's line in 'Once More With Feeling'
Buffy collapsed down onto her bed with a sigh. It wasn't getting any easier. Dull fingers tugged at the zip of her Kevlar jacket; she slipped it off and threw it rather more forcefully than she'd intended over her shoulder. Bad move, when you're a Slayer.
The beginning of the story is fairly light-hearted, at least compared to what will come. Buffy's clearly had a hard day at work, but we've all been there, haven't we? Or so we think.
The thud as it hit the wall raised dust and would have shaken all the ornaments off her shelves, if she'd had any.
It's actually this thump that Satsu hears, and why she shows up later in the story to see if anything's wrong.
Mom had had ornaments. The house in Sunnydale had been full of pretty things. All gone now. Swallowed up in a crater, along with the house itself and everything she'd known, everything she'd been. It was a brave new world now.
I think this is key to understanding Buffy now. She really has lost everything from her past (especially if Los Angeles has also vanished...); but she's not normally the sort of person to let that stop her. She keeps on going. The 'brave new world' comment can be read as bitter or ironic, but it's also her refusing to let the unknown future daunt her. Suck it up, Summers. You're a big girl now.
She sighed again and leaned back to pick up the jacket. It'd fallen down between the bed and the wall, so she had to wriggle over and stretch. The texture of the cloth snagged against her fingers as she held it.
We saw in 'The Long Way Home' that Buffy's bed stands near the wall, but there's room for Amy to get between it and the wall to confront Xander.
Maybe she should buy some new knick-knacks for her room? Some vases with flowers, perhaps. Something pleasant to look at.
As opposed to old-fashioned portraits and a rack of weapons. I'm not sure if they were already in the room before Buffy moved in, or if she chose that décor - the weapon display does seem like something she might want, but I'm less sure about the pictures. I actually like the idea that she thought that if she was going to live in a castle, she ought to pick out interior furnishings to match that style. But now, when she's feeling homesick and depressed and missing her mother, she wants something more homey and feminine instead.
She suddenly hated the shapeless grey bundle in her arms, longing to tear it to shreds. She never wanted to have to look at it again; so lumpy and ugly and .. and... practical.
Here's part one of my answer to the charge that wearing armour is out of character for Buffy. Yes it is, but she's decided to wear it anyway. And so, naturally, part of her resents the idea and hates the armour. So why does she wear it anyway?
Damn it. She knew why she had to wear it. Why she insisted the girls wear it, despite their moans and complaints. It had saved Jacqueline's life tonight, for one thing.
...Because it saves lives. In particular, it can save the lives of the younger, less experienced Slayers - and Buffy is famous for taking her responsibilities seriously. I did put in the idea that many of the Slayers would object to the armour, just as 18-year old Buffy objected to wearing camo gear in 'The I In Team' - but Buffy has managed to convince them otherwise. I'm sure that the main reason she wears it herself is to lead by example, rather than because she actually likes it.
However, Buffy is also practical and willing to use whatever advantages she can get to win. I'm sure that her objections to the camo gear were not just "it looks ugly", but that she genuinely didn't see the point. She'd been patrolling and killing demons for years in her normal clothes, so what advantages would it bring to dress up in olive green drab instead? (Not to mention that I'm sure she was deliberately being a little rebellious there, and possibly even feeling self-conscious about her lack of height, and that dressing up in the boys' clothes would make her look ridiculous). However, she's now fighting opponents who use guns, so a bulletproof vest suddenly looks like a much better idea. Not to mention that military gear with its pockets and tough boots and everything is actually designed that way for a reason: it's useful for people who do the sort of things a Slayer does.
Though Buffy wasn't entirely sure if Jacqui would thank her or curse her for that, when she finally recovered consciousness. If she recovered... No. Don't think like that.
And suddenly the story turns really, really dark on us. The name 'Jacqueline' was chosen purely at random. She's possibly French, since we haven't seen any French Slayers yet. And she'll possibly curse Buffy because the armour didn't stop her being crippled for life by her injuries, and she might wish she'd died.
The demon's claws had sliced straight through her arm into her torso. Without the armour, she'd have been cut in half. With it, she only suffered half her ribs caved in, a punctured lung and perforated intestines. She'd been coughing bright red blood as she lay there, crumpled and broken.
There was actually a little misdirection going on there. I mention the demon's claws going through her arm straight away, but then concentrate on the injuries to her abdomen - perhaps lulling people into thinking they're the most serious problems. Then hit you with the fact that yes, like I told you, the demon also ripped her arm off.
Incidentally, Kevlar by itself is good for keeping out bullets and similar pointy things like stakes, but useless at protecting against slashing weapons like knives, swords or demonic claws. However, many armoured jackets also include metal or ceramic plates sewn into the lining to protect against such things as well, at the cost of making the jackets bulkier and heavier. But what's weight to a Slayer? That's why the demon's claws didn't penetrate into her body; the impact 'just' crushed her ribs and drove the splinters of bone through her internal organs.
After that, killing the demon had been easy; it had shrivelled and burned in the white-hot wild rage of four infuriated Slayers. Killing it had been easy.
There's a Rudyard Kipling allusion there:
"He will meet no suave discussion, but the instant, white-hot, wild,
Wakened female of the species warring as for spouse and child."
Badly hurting one Slayer in front of four of her friends was the last mistake that demon ever made... The shrivelling and burning part is, if you hadn't guessed, metaphorical not literal. :-)
Carrying Jacqui out of there had been one of the hardest things she'd ever done.
It wasn't that she was heavy. She'd felt light as a silk scarf as Buffy had cradled her head in her arms, one of the other Slayers taking her feet. Only the convulsive periodic heaving of her chest and the blood still bubbling slowly from her mouth to show she was still alive.
And that's a Wilfred Owen allusion:
"If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues."
Comparing Jacqui's weight to a silk scarf rather than, say, a feather, was a deliberate fashion-related contrast to the heavy jacket.
A normal human would probably have died right there, of shock and blood loss and pain; but Jacqueline was a Slayer. Slayers were tough. Slayers never gave up, even when every breath was an agony.
Damn it all, she'd probably recover from the injuries to her torso, given time. Not a scar to be seen - at least, not on the outside where people could see it. Slayer healing was a wonderful thing. It could heal almost any wound.
Yes, Buffy's thinking about Jacqueline here. She's not at all comparing her own situation and feelings. Nope. That sort of transference has no place in a story set in the Buffyverse.
But it couldn't regrow her arm.
Wham! Had you forgotten her arm? (and the armoured jackets only protect the torso, not the arms).
Beer_good_foamy picked up a point here that needs more discussion. Modern surgery probably could re-attach an arm, assuming it was cleanly severed and recovered quickly. It would seem logical that magic should be no less capable. My assumption was that the arm was not just chopped off, but mangled beyond all hope of recovery. Possibly eaten, or dissolved in demonic slime. However, I thought it would spoil the flow of the narrative - and perhaps be too morbid - to go into even more of that kind of detail.
Neither could magic. As soon the helicopter touched down on the castle roof a tiny red-haired tornado had rushed towards them, already trailing magic in her wake as she drew the energy into herself for a healing spell. She'd stabilised Jacqueline's condition, eased her breathing, and mended the holes in her intestines with a special added charm to prevent peritonitis. But not even Willow could repair severed limbs.
She'd drawn Buffy aside to explain that privately, her eyes haunted and miserable and full of self-blame. She'd explained how the power could restore health, knit bones, seal wounds; how it could fight off infection and disease. But it couldn't replace an organ that had been completely destroyed
Yes, this is my explanation for why Willow can't regenerate Xander's eye. She can use magic to put together things that are broken, but not to recreate something entirely out of nothing... at least, not safely and reliably. Yet.
- or well, it could, in theory, but the new replacement would be a thing of enchantments; it would be completely permeated by magic, and it might, you know, develop a will of its own and become an evil hand that attacked its owner, or it might turn into an icky tentacle or something overnight, and she didn't want to take the risk, even though she knew there ought to be a way to make the spell work, but she wasn't good enough yet, and -
You might have gathered that I tried to write that paragraph much in the style of how Willow herself would have said it. :-) It does seem like a plausible limit on her power, with the note that she could do more than that, if she were willing to take the risk. And yes, I was thinking of Lindsey with that evil hand reference.
Buffy had cut Willow's increasingly frantic babbling short with a kind but firm "Will! Will!" and when that failed, had shaken her by the shoulder. She'd thanked her for her help, reassured her that she'd done more than anybody else could have done already, told her not to worry, then swiftly changed the subject by handing over the magic whosit they'd been fighting the demon for in the first place. Willow's eyes had lit up, and Buffy felt vaguely guilty as the witch ran off to start studying it.
No, I have no idea what the mystical maguffin Buffy gave Willow really was or why they needed it. But Willow is happy to switch into research mode, and Buffy feels guilty for knowing her well enough to see the ideal way to distract her.
She loved her friend dearly, and in most things she knew she could trust Willow with her life... but she also knew that there were some temptations it just wasn't fair to put in her way. Magic being exhibit A. She might be all goddess-y and enlightened and one with the universe now, but the old Willow was still in there too. And a Willow worried that her powers weren't yet good enough to cast a spell that could help people, but was incredibly dangerous... Buffy shuddered. Best to keep her distracted, and well away from all thoughts of experimentation.
That's experimentation with magic. Get your minds out of the gutter. We don't actually know if Willow is still struggling with the temptation to slide back into using dangerous magic just because she can - or even if she's become dangerously blasée about it, as some people suspect - but it seems reasonable given the lack of more detailed information.
So. Sponsoring a witch. Yet another responsibility to pile onto Buffy's attractively slender and not at all broad shoulders.
'Sponsoring' in the sense Faith uses it regarding Angel, not that Buffy is paying her £1 for every mile she runs or anything. And the comment about Buffy's shoulders is because there are her own thoughts, and I think she'd object in a quirky fashion to the idea of being broad-shouldered...
Along with nursemaiding five hundred Slayers, managing an international organisation, preventing apocalypses every other week, and - oh yeah. Fighting a war against humanity.
Another point BGF made: Buffy isn't supposed to be nursemaiding the Slayers, they're supposed to be all empowered now. Well, yes. In her better moments Buffy would entirely agree with that idea. But at the moment she's fragile and depressed and feeling all the burden of her responsibilities crushing down on her.
Couldn't she just go home now? But home was a mile-wide crater in the ground. This was her home now, or as much of one as she'd ever have again.
Awww. I'm not sure if that's exactly true - I doubt she'll live in the castle forever. But on the other hand, it is her home now. I'm thinking she would feel an attachment to the place after living there for a year, even if she's not entirely content there. Mixed emotions, in other words.
She knelt to unfasten her combat boots, and tugged futilely at the laces. They were matted and sticky and shrunk taut, and she hoped desperately that it was demon blood and not Jacqueline's blood that made the leather clammy and smeared red stains all over her hands as she struggled with them.
You don't suppose that Buffy having blood on her hands, and hoping desperately that it isn't Jacqueline's blood, is symbolic or metaphorical or anything, do you? :-) I note that this story does take place in a Scottish castle, too... although there's no sign yet of Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane. Maybe the walking trees will be in a later episode.
The boots wouldn't come off. Hands that could bend steel bars in half scrabbled helplessly over bindings that wouldn't come undone, knots she couldn't untie. Part of her yearned to rip the things in half with brute strength and fling them far away. Another part was ready to give up;
Yes, more of that pesky metaphor stuff.
ignore them, curl up in her bed and sleep with her boots on, maybe try again in the morning. But she wasn't going to let the things beat her. Her vision grew blurry, tears of anger and exhaustion and grief sparkling in her eyes and slipping down her cheeks, her fingers turning red and numb as she pulled and tweaked and teased at the unyielding bonds.
That's the thing about Buffy. However bad things get she never - except once near the end of season 5 - gives up. She keeps on fighting. it's why she's the hero.
"Is something the matter, ma'am? I heard - oh! Oh, I'm so sorry, I'll come back again later, I-"
Satsu heard the thump and came to see if something was wrong. I assume Buffy either left the door open, or didn't hear Satsu knocking so she pushed the door open. Now she sees Buffy crying and gets all embarrassed.
Buffy looked up, blinking and rubbing to clear her eyes, angry at her own weakness. The dim silhouette in the doorway resolved itself into the anxious and embarrassed form of Satsu, looking as if she was about to bolt down the corridor. Buffy gave her a watery smile, wiped her nose, beckoned her into the room.
"Yes, e-even your fearless leader gets all weepy and silly sometimes. Now you know my secret, I'll have to kill you."
Even at times like this, Buffy can still manage a quip.
Satsu grinned, but her eyes were compassionate. "Sumimasen, sensei-sama, but in your present state I think I might even win that fight."
Thanks to bishopcruz for pointing out that Satsu should probably have just said 'Sumimasen, sensei' without the -sama. That's basically the Japanese for 'Sorry, ma'am': sensei is a title of respect given to teachers, professional or well-educated people, and martial arts instructors - which is the sense Satsu uses it in here. She's basically saying that even though she's only a student compared to Buffy the master, she could probably beat her in a fight right now.
I assume that Satsu is actually Japanese, rather than of Japanese descent, but there's nothing to prove that either way so far. My view of her personality is likewise based on slender clues. She always calls Buffy 'ma'am', is respectful, and from her comments to Leah in 8.04 seems very modest about her abilities. She's observant (she's the first one to spot the Twilight symbol in 8.01) and a good fighter . On the other hand, her extreme customisation of her clothing and unconventional style statements suggest that she's someting of a rebel at heart. Hence, I depict her as rather reserved and shy, but determined and with a wicked sense of humour bubbling under the surface that she does her best to hide.
Buffy managed a sharp look up at that, but she had to concede that there was no way she'd be proving Satsu wrong tonight. She slumped back on the bed, massaging her fingers painfully. The younger Slayer noticed, concern filling her face.
"Are you injured, ma'am? Should I get help?"
"No! No." Buffy gestured weakly at her feet. "It's just.. stupid boots. Don't know why we wear them."
Satsu looked for a moment as if she was about to explain why - probably by quoting Buffy's own words back at her
The assumption here is that Buffy has explained at great length to the assembled Slayers how the firm non-slip grip of the boots' soles, their ankle protection, etc, can save your life in a fight. Which doesn't make the boots any less ugly - just practical.
- but then clearly thought better of it. Which proved that she was a very wise young woman. Instead she sat on the end of the bed and reached out a tentative hand.
Again, this is Buffy's thought processes. She knows she's being a bit unreasonable about hating the boots, and is grateful to Satsu for being tactful enough not to mention it.
"Would you like me to help you take them off, ma'am?"
"That... that would be heavenly. Thank you." Buffy stretched out on the bed, lifting one leg obediently - and then raised her head up to look back at Satsu in curiosity.
"Not that I'm ungrateful, but - why?"
Satsu was suddenly busy with the fastenings of Buffy's footwear, so she couldn't see her face - but Buffy could almost swear she was blushing. But her voice was calm enough when she replied.
She's blushing because she doesn't want to tell Buffy how much she loves her, of course.
I'm working on the assumption in this story that Buffy hasn't realised yet how Satsu feels about her. We do know she spends personal time in Satsu's company (to discuss hairstyles), and some of the other Slayers have already noticed this and commented on it. I'd guess Buffy thinks she's interesting and shares many of the same interests and is generally comforting to be around, but there's nothing more to it than that... but she has noticed recently that Satsu seems to seek out her company more than the other Slayers do. How she'll react as and when she finds out Satsu's feelings is an interesting question... probably not the same way she behaved with Willow five years earlier, at any rate.
As for Satsu, I do think that there's probably a lot of hero-worship in her feelings for Buffy: but that she's seen enough of her real strength - her character, compassion, bravery, etc - that her feelings could be turning into genuine love rather than just a crush. When Willow told her to kiss Buffy in 8.03, I think that it helped to crystallise her feelings and realise what they really were.... which is why she was so self-conscious when Buffy picked her for the mission afterwards.
"Because I've watched you. You have to be strong always, so that the rest of us do not feel afraid. But there are some things you should not do alone: some things are easier if you have help."
I have Satsu speaking perfect English without an accent - she doesn't have one in the comics either - but with just a hint of formality to suggest that it maybe isn't her first language. Here she's telling Buffy why she's worthy of respect and love.
There was a firm tug, then Satsu raised her head and looked back at Buffy with a dazzling smile, holding up her prize in triumph.
"Such as taking off boots, for example."
Ending on a bit of light-heartedness. The message, of course, is that Buffy isn't alone; she has allies and friends with their own strengths, and they can help her and support her if she lets them.
How does the story continue? Well, after taking off both of her boots, Satsu doesn't proceed to remove the rest of Buffy's clothing. :-) She sits there and chats to her for a while, comforts her about her worries, tries to distract her with a bit of more light-hearted talk; then leaves her to get ready for bed while she returns to her own room.
Where she might well replay the scene in her head but with it taking something of a diversion after the removal of Buffy's boots, but we'll respect her privacy and not go there. ;-)