You are viewing stormwreath

StephenT [userpic]

Buffy season 4: a question of identity

2nd January 2007 (00:33)
Tags: ,

(This was originally inspired by elisi's review of Buffy season 4, where she lamented that "Adam is pretty much hopeless. He's dull and ugly and never does anything interesting." While I don't think I’m about to change anyone's mind on that, it did strike me that he fits well into what I believe is the overarching theme of season 4... identity.)

Season 4 is about identity, and it's about masks. It's about people not being what they seem, and people struggling to discover who they really are. It's the season when the old certainties of life are shattered, and it's not yet clear what will take their place. Season 4 is when everything changes.



You think you know.
What's to come, what you are...

You haven't even begun.

(Note: unless marked otherwise, all episode quotes are from 'Restless')

In many ways, this is the season where the show comes of age. In the literal sense, Buffy, Xander and Willow are now 18, legally adult and living away from the parental home for the first time. (Well, apart from Buffy's few months in LA after 'Becoming 2'...and Xander is living under the parental home rather than away from it, but anyway.) Season 4 also marks the bridge between the three 'High School seasons', with their strong focus on metaphor, external threats and an episodic format, and the last three seasons with a more serialised format and action arising more from the characters' own interaction and personality. So in a sense, the show's own identity is also in flux.

Now, when I started recapping the season to write this, the one thing that struck me above everything was just how many of the plots revolve around mistaken identity or people not being what they seem. Just consider:
  • Kathy, Buffy's roommate, is a demon in disguise; and she's trying to steal Buffy's soul so she can perfect that disguise.
  • Riley and his frat brothers aren't just students and Maggie Walsh isn't just a professor of psychology.
  • In fact, Maggie's identity includes a second layer of deception: she's not the benevolent leader of the Initiative, dedicated to protecting humanity, that Riley believes her to be.
  • Veruca isn't just an intense young woman who sings in a band: she's a werewolf, and that's why Oz is drawn to her.
  • The Fyarl demon that 'killed' Giles is, in fact, Giles himself. And was Ethan being malicious and deliberately evil, or just playing a practical joke on his old friend?
  • Buffy is really Faith. And vice versa. (At least for one episode.)
  • Is Jonathan really the centre of everything, multi-talented, charismatic and loved by everyone?
  • And why is Tara sabotaging Willow's demon-location spells?
As for episode 4.22, it breaks all the rules for 'normal' season finales... but instead it treats us to an in-depth and intimate tour of our four main characters' subconscious beliefs about themselves. What could be a better finale for a season that focuses on identity?

With so many episodes being about deception and masks, the heroes' struggle to establish their own identity is put into sharp contrast. They're at the stage in life where this is a major concern for them. Living at home with your parents and going to school is a very structured environment. There are rules to follow, people making major decisions on your behalf: you don't really have to think much about the deeper issues. Of course some people chafe against that - that was the theme of season 3, where Buffy was first tempted then frightened by the idea of rebellion. But in season 4 all our main characters have left behind their structured lives - Buffy and Willow at university, Giles unemployed, Xander having to earn a living.

Will they be able to find their own inner purpose, and create an identity for themselves? Or will they just drift along without any structure? Or, perhaps worse, will they allow other people to dictate the structure of their lives on their behalf, and mould them into what other people want them to be?

Xander

By all accounts he had a lousy childhood and was never very fond of school, but it did give him a routine, a dependable structure. Now he's drifting. An endless cycle of minimum-wage, casual jobs, which are mostly played for laughs by the show. Living in his parents' basement... in fact, it's rather remarkable that he maintains his optimism and general good nature.

"I got other stuff going on. Gotta have something. Gotta be always moving forward."

This suggests hidden strength; but his own poor estimation of himself holds him back. As we see repeated again and again in 'Restless', he's afraid that he's being left behind; that his friends are moving on in life and leaving him going around in circles - literally, as he always ends up back in the basement.

JOYCE: "Oh, no. Anyway, they all left a while ago."
BUFFY: "I'm way ahead of you, big brother."
WILLOW: "I'm way ahead of you."
GILES: "Hmm. Now, the others have gone on ahead."

His situation won't be resolved until the start of season 5 and 'The Replacement', when his gain in self-confidence and recognition of his own true strengths sets him on path that - apart from some rather serious backsliding in S6 - will result in him being the most mature and adult of the Scoobies by the end of S7.

Speaking of that backsliding... it's interesting that Xander's dream in 'Restless' is filled with the most obvious sexual imagery of all the dreams, but his actual real-life girlfriend only features briefly, when she gives him her blessing to go off and enjoy a threesome with Willow and Tara instead! Indeed, his dream revolves around being offered tantalising promises which are never actually fulfilled... and ends when his father tells him "The line ends here with us, and you're not gonna change that. You haven't got the heart." So Xander believes he'll never have children? Judging by his own experiences at his father's hands, its not surprising he's afraid of the prospect. When it comes to family life, "That's not the way out."

Giles

He's not literally coming of age, of course, but is in a similar state of transition; he's lost both his jobs (as librarian and as Watcher), he feels purposeless. He's a father-figure watching his child leave the nest. He's proud of her, but also feeling useless - and perhaps also experiencing a little resentment and desire to get his own life back. In 'Restless', we see him trying to understand what can't be understood: "And I can defeat you with my intellect. I can cripple you with my thoughts." - of course, he can't. No parent can understand a teenage child, let alone the spirit of the First Slayer... :)

In contrast to Xander, Giles doesn't progress in the next season; if anything, he backslides, trying to recover his father-figure role with Buffy. Making the 'hard' decisions on her behalf (killing Ben, leaving her alone to stand on her own two feet, having Spike killed...) instead of discussing them with her - as if she were still a 16-year old child rather than an adult and colleague. We only see a hint of the more healthy relationship between them that could exist right at the end, in 'Chosen'. Hopefully, that wasn't too late...

Willow

In some ways she has the most obvious 'finding your identity' story. Willow goes to university and blossoms intellectually, magically and sexually; the shy, geeky wallflower with a crush on her best friend becomes a self-confident, enthusiastic student and accomplished witch, in a committed relationship with another woman. Of course, her massive insecurities are still lurking under the surface, as we see when Oz leaves her and her world temporarily crumbles... and Willow's dream in 'Restless' is all about her fear that it's all an act, that she's the same old Willow underneath and her popularity is based on false pretences.

Even in her relationship with Tara, there are hints of the darkness to come. She's manipulative, keeping Tara's existence a secret and not introducing her to her friends even though that's what Tara wants, because she wants to keep her all to herself. In 'Restless' the scenes between Willow and Tara are all warm, dark and languid, with soft voices and soft (if eerie) music and a red colour palette - all very womb-like (and in the first scene, Willow pulls aside a red curtain to let in the harsh daylight - while in the second, Joss's commentary admits that the red curtains were intended as a Big Obvious Female Sexual Metaphor).

A womb may be very cosy and pleasant, but you can't really spend your entire life there (your mother might object, for one thing). By contrast, the theatre set has discordant music, bright light, clashing colours and far too many people... is this Willow's view of what real life is like? No wonder she prefers computers or magic. And interestingly, the scene where she and Buffy enter the empty classroom has the most realistic sound and lighting of all... does Willow think that her life's only real when she's fighting evil alongside Buffy? (or is that over-thinking it? :) )

A final, truly sinister note comes from what Willow's doing to Tara in her dream. At first viewing, it's simply a very sensual and intimate scene. Once fans discovered that the words Willow was painting on Tara's back were from a poem by Sappho, it added an extra layer of meaning. Now, I don't know if the costume department chose that specific poem deliberately, or if it was a coincidence (it's Sappho's Ode No.1, so presumably would be the first in the book), but I was curious enough to track down the words myself (H T Wharton's translation):

Tara

Immortal Aphrodite of the broidered throne,
daughter of Zeus, weaver of wiles,
I pray thee break not my spirit
with anguish and distress, O Queen.
But come hither, if ever before
thou didst hear my voice afar, and listen...

So the words Willow is writing, quite literally behind Tara's back, are an invocation to Aphrodite, goddess of love. How romantic... but in the Buffyverse, when Willow calls upon a goddess and commands her to listen, it's not normally just a matter of poetry! With that in mind, let's look at how Sappho's poem ends:

Thou, blessed one, smiling with immortal countenance,
didst ask what now is befallen me, and why now I call,
and what I in my mad heart most desire to see.
"What Beauty now wouldst thou draw to love thee?
Who wrongs thee, Sappho?
For even if she flies she shall soon follow,
and if she rejects gifts shall yet give,
and if she loves not shall soon love, however loth."
Come, I pray thee, now too, and release me from cruel cares;
and all that my heart desires to accomplish, accomplish thou,
and be thyself my ally.

"If she loves not, shall soon love, however unwilling."?? In her subconscious mind, Willow is already casting a spell behind Tara's back, to force her to love her. And some people say the plot of S6 came out of nowhere...

Anya, Spike, Faith, Riley

Before we get to the show's title character, a quick round-up of the secondaries. Anya's identity, of course, is very much a work in progress. She's learning how to be human, and at this stage it's mostly played for humour. Spike, too, is going through a radical reassessment of his identity, forced upon him by the Initiative. However, through most of S4 he's not accepting the change, but still trying to get back to what he was. "You feel smothered. Trapped like an animal, pure in its ferocity, unable to actualise the urges within." (Adam, 'The Yoko Factor'). Faith is forced to accept that nobody in Sunnydale really cared about her (well, maybe the Mayor did - but his video message screams manipulation to me. He's subtly making her feel hopeless and desperate, so he can goad her into carrying out his beyond-the-grave revenge on Buffy)... and by the end of her two episodes, she even hates and despises herself and what she's become.

As for Riley, he's this season's poster boy for the search for an identity. He starts out secure and happy, knowing his job and his place in the world, and not having to think about it too deeply. Meeting Buffy and being betrayed by Maggie forces him to question everything. It's a shattering experience as his entire world falls apart: one of the strongest images of the season is in 'Goodbye Iowa', as he lies in the infirmary bed clinging to Buffy's scarf as if it's his only lifeline to the world. In the end, he defies everything - even the chip controlling his body - to do what his own conscience dictates is right.

And finally:

Buffy (and Adam)

She starts out uncertain and insecure - you know you're in trouble when Willow is more self-confident than you are - and Sunday exploits this brutally. 'The Freshman' thus sets the tone for the season. At first, Buffy struggles to find her new adult identity by doing the things she thinks she's supposed to do. Be a normal girl. Have a normal boyfriend. She seizes on the Initiative enthusiastically because she thinks it can provide her with a ready-made cool new life, and she wants to be part of it. But it's built on sand. She can't fit in even before the secret of 314 is revealed; she's too used to independence and speaking her mind.

She loves her friends and family, but all season long she's drifting apart from them. In 'This Year's Girl' Faith brutally exposes the fact that she hasn't been to visit her mother in weeks... and in 'Restless', she's worried about Joyce living inside the wall, but when Joyce suggests that she could break down that wall, Buffy ignores her and wanders off. In 'The Yoko Factor', she rejects any help Willow, Xander and Giles might offer her:

"Is that it? Is that how you can help? You're not answering. Go on. How can you possibly help? So I guess I'm on my own. And you know what? I'm starting to get why there's no ancient prophecy about a Chosen One And Her Friends."

While she (and all of them) get over the immediate effects of that tantrum, it does show a clear pattern (and one that will be repeated in season 7: note that after that speech quoted above, Buffy storms off to find Riley, just as in S7 she turns to Spike). In 'Restless', Buffy knows she should find her friends: but instead she goes out into the desert:

BUFFY: "I'm never gonna find them here."
TARA/THE FIRST SLAYER: "Of course not. That's the reason you came."

But Buffy's sense of self is still in balance. The spirit of the Slayer within her has led her away from her friends out into the desert; but she remembers that there's more. "There's trees in the desert since you moved out. And I don't sleep on a bed of bones." In the end, she can defeat the First Slayer because she refuses to accept an identity forced upon her by others. "You're not the source of me."

Doing what you're told to do, being what you're expected to be is attractive. Safe. The ultimate symbol of this is Adam. Unlike the many identity-thieves and mask-wearers of this season he's totally upfront about who and what he is: in fact, he's the only one not affected in the slightest by Jonathan's spell in 'Superstar'. But Adam had no choice in his identity: it was programmed into him when he was created in a laboratory... and he accepts that willingly, even sees it as an advantage.

"I have been blessed. I have a gift that no man has, no demon has ever had. I know why I'm here. I was created to kill. To extinguish life wherever I find it and I have accepted that responsibility." ('Who Are You?')

Filled with child-like curiosity, Adam seeks to learn about the world; but he already knows his own place in it. Each new fact he discovers just confirms his ideas. Ultimately, he is defeated by something he can't understand, because it's entirely outside his programming. He dies asking a question, a look of confusion on his face.

So is the answer just "Do your own thing"? Not really - for a start, how can you be sure it's your own decision? Riley had an actual chip implanted in his body without his knowledge, that could control his actions; but all of us are affected by our upbringing and surroundings. That needn't be a bad thing in itself if you recognise the influences and choose rationally.

Buffy recognises her apartness from her friends and the influence of the Slayer spirit, but she realises that's not all there is to her life. It's not the source of her. Discovering her true identity will be her task in the next three seasons.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep.
- Robert Frost

...be back before Dawn...

Comments

Posted by: none of the above (frogfarm)
Posted at: 2nd January 2007 05:26 (UTC)

Trust me, I love all of this, but the biggest whammy for me...

With that in mind, let's look at how Sappho's poem ends:

And they said "Restless" couldn't be analyzed any more...

If she loves not, shall soon love, however unwilling

O MAH FREAKIN GAWD.

Thank you *so* much, for pointin' that out.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 2nd January 2007 21:49 (UTC)

O MAH FREAKIN GAWD.

That was pretty much my reaction when I first read the translation. Except I was more restrained and British about it. :)

Just as a side note, something I didn't realise before is that almost none of Sappho's poetry has survived - she is, after all, one of the earliest known poets in recorded history. Most of the fragments we do have were preserved because they were quoted by other people, in their own work or even as 'examples of how to write good poetry'. It's as if 2600 years from now, none of Joss Whedon's own work will have survived, but future scholars will be able to read our LJ posts and reconstruct it...

Posted by: δημιουργός (somercet)
Posted at: 3rd January 2007 02:05 (UTC)

That's not unusual; Sophocles wrote over eighty plays but only seven survive.

It's as if 2600 years from now, none of Joss Whedon's own work will have survived, but future scholars will be able to read our LJ posts and reconstruct it…

*giggles*

*snorts*

Oh, man, they are gonna have an eff'ed up idea about what exactly was on that show!

Posted by: Just Keeping Things In Perspective (quietpoet)
Posted at: 2nd January 2007 07:01 (UTC)
effulgent

WOW. Just when I thought I understood an ep...someone points some things out that I had never seen or thought of before. Great work! I'm saving this to my memories

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 2nd January 2007 21:52 (UTC)

Thanks... I will confess to some nervousness before posting it that people would just read it and say "yeah, yeah, randomLJuser10 said all of that last year in much more detail"... :)

Posted by: hobgoblinn (hobgoblinn)
Posted at: 2nd January 2007 12:10 (UTC)

It's interesting that the poem has the Goddess volunteering to do this-- the speaker is asking to be listened to and helped, but it's the goddess who offers to make the beloved love her back. Then again, trust Willow to call out to a goddess and know what its likely to do. I guess it just brings up for me the old question of responsibility, and how it's kind of divided-- Willow's for calling out for the divine help to shape her world as she wants it, but also the fact that these forces are way outside her control and have their own agendas in the face of her invocations. Kind of like addiction which makes people act in ways they can no longer control-- I have a hard time assigning complete responsibility to such people.

Thanks so much for this analysis. Have you ever done one of S6 and 7? I'm wrestling with how my nano story has "jumped the shark" and how to get it back on track, and thoughts like these sometimes suggest ways to redirect the story.

And thanks for friending me! Again, I am honored.

Got to go roust small hobgoblinn and get him ready for school. Have a fun day.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 2nd January 2007 22:12 (UTC)

The speaker is asking to be listened to and helped, but it's the goddess who offers to make the beloved love her back

Interesting point... although it seems clear to me that Sappho fully expects that Aphrodite would use her power to compel her beloved...the only question is whether the goddess will deign to answer her call in the first place. (I don't know if it's clear from the extract I quoted - I did leave out the central section of the poem which talks about Aphrodite's chariot pulled by sparrows(!) - but this isn't presented as being the first time Sappho's called on her for help.

But then, Willow always thought that she could summon up whatever power she wanted, and it would always behave in a reliable, repeatable, scientific way. (If it didn't, she usually blamed her own lack of skill, not the magic itself). An addiction metaphor does seem appropriate, somehow. :)

Have you ever done one of S6 and 7?

Not in this level of detail - though obviously there's my posts here on Willow, Kennedy and the Slayer origins which I presume you've seen? Other than that, there's various things I posted to Usenet, but they were mostly individual contributions to larger debates rather than all-encompassing essays.

Also, thanks for the comments, and you're welcome.

Posted by: δημιουργός (somercet)
Posted at: 3rd January 2007 02:14 (UTC)
egs-wandplay

Interesting point… although it seems clear to me that Sappho fully expects that Aphrodite would use her power to compel her beloved…

Are you sure? Based on this poem, and some others of Sappho's I've read, it sounds more like Aphrodite only promises the narratrix (heh heh, word fun to type!) that the spurning beloved will herself, one day, fall in love… but not necessarily with Sappho! It seems to take a more Shakespearean detachment: "One day, she too will love, and hurt [and know how she hurt you]".

In fact, I would describe the last three lines as a kind of threat: "Love me now or who knows who'll you get." A bit like the Stones' "She's So Cold".

And hey, for all we know, these poems have worked in the past! Maybe Sappho has reason for self-confidence. ;-)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 3rd January 2007 20:34 (UTC)

Based on this poem, and some others of Sappho's I've read, it sounds more like Aphrodite only promises the narratrix (heh heh, word fun to type!) that the spurning beloved will herself, one day, fall in love… but not necessarily with Sappho!
That's not how I interpret it, but to be fair it would be much easier to have this discussion if I could read Ancient Greek. (Of course if you can, I'll bow to your interpretation...)


And hey, for all we know, these poems have worked in the past! Maybe Sappho has reason for self-confidence.

So the answer to the question "what do Willow Rosenberg and Sappho of Lesbos have in common?" is "both of them had eyes that turned solid black when they got angry or arrogant..." ? :)

Posted by: δημιουργός (somercet)
Posted at: 3rd January 2007 21:31 (UTC)

That's not how I interpret it, but to be fair it would be much easier to have this discussion if I could read Ancient Greek. (Of course if you can, I'll bow to your interpretation...)

Ha. Never mind reading the Greek, I would require twenty years experience in ancient papyrus restoration. Sadly, I'm in IT. There are other translations that come more closely to your argument:

"See, if now she flies, she must soon follow;
Yes, if spurning gifts, she soon must offer;
Yes, if loving not, she soon must love thee,
Howso unwilling…"

I have to admit, that turns the Ode into a psychological horror story, as half the Greek myths are, anyway.

"both of them had eyes that turned solid black when they got angry or arrogant…"

I can see the film strips in poetry class now. 'Twould do wonders for attendance. ;-)

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 3rd January 2007 08:57 (UTC)
perfect

I found a slightly different translation linked on wikipedia, in which it seems that the goddess uses persuasion rather than force to achieve her aims. Willow never does *force* Tara to love her (although she wishes she could have made Oz stay in Something Blue). The forget spell is often described as a mind-rape but I think a withholding-of-information would be more accurate. Like the lies junkies tell to cover for their habits. Maybe lies are mind-rapes from the point of view of the deceived. Violations of trust.

Still from the re-ensouling onwards Willow has had a tendency to do magic that affects other people without asking for their permission or even thinking about whether she should. But you make me think (again) about Tara’s complicity. True the poem is being written literally behind her back but throughout Restless Tara comes across as the one character who knows what’s going on. Which could be Willow (and Buffy) projecting but later when she sings “Under Your Spell” she makes it sound like a desirable state and she chooses to return to Willow before they’ve gone through what she judges to be the proper process. Complicated.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 3rd January 2007 20:50 (UTC)

Thanks for the link - I hadn't seeen that one and it's interesting to see some of the alternative interpretations that can be given to some of the words.

I agree that 'mind-rape' is an oversimplification for what Willow does, although it's certainly a violation. On the other hand, if Willow had drugged Tara so she was unable to refuse consent, then slept with her, she'd be guilty of rape... and wasn't what (probably) happened after the fade to black in 'All The Way' pretty similar?

Personally, I don't think Tara appeared in 'Restless' at all. Amber Benson was playing the First Slayer:
"You're not in my dream."
"I was borrowed. Someone has to speak for her."

(Hence why I wrote Tara/The First Slayer in the essay, with the obvious nod to S7). And in 'OMWF', the first version of 'Under Your Spell' is clearly dramatic irony. But it's true that Tara is a lot more willing to forgive Willow than, perhaps, she ought to be.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 3rd January 2007 20:53 (UTC)

I don't think Tara appeared in 'Restless' at all

Correcting myself to say she doesn't appear in Buffy's section of the dream. It's definitely Willow's and Xander's concept of her in their respective dreams. (Does she appear in Giles's segment at all? I can't remember her there.)

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 4th January 2007 08:48 (UTC)
perfect

If Willow had drugged Tara she would have been mentally incapacitated in a general sense, unable to withold consent to anyone and likely not to remeber any of it. Willow's spell was a far more surgical strike, Tara was able to refuse consent she just didn't remember why she might want to. She lacked one specific piece of information but retained agency in a general sense, which is why I think it's more accurate to compare Willow to a seducer than a date-rapist in this instance. More interesting as well. Lies can feel such trivial sins, like little glowy flowers you can hold in the palm of your hand, not really harmful at all. If you look at it that way it's possible to understand how Willow could have done what she did and still maintain her illusion of being a good person without assuming that she'd lost all capacity for moral reasoning and unacountably become stupid as well as bad.

Posted by: petzipellepingo (petzipellepingo)
Posted at: 2nd January 2007 14:33 (UTC)
best show ever btvs by touristrgirl

Wonderful essay. "If she loves not, shall soon love, however unwilling."?? In her subconscious mind, Willow is already casting a spell behind Tara's back, to force her to love her. And some people say the plot of S6 came out of nowhere... You know, for all the times that ME swears they just made up things as they went along, you have to wonder if Joss wasn't quietly pulling their strings.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 2nd January 2007 22:16 (UTC)

Oh, I'm fairly sure that "Willow will get overcome by magic and go on an evil rampage, possibly caused by the death of a loved one" was established as a general concept early on - it certainly was by season 5, because Tara was originally going to be killed in 'Tough Love'. It's the actual details of how they get from A to B that they made up.

Plus, I'm sure they often looked through previous episodes and thought, "hey, there's this cool reference we didn't explain at the time.... maybe we could expand it into a plot and then convince people it was planned this way all along?" :)

Posted by: Mrs Darcy (elisi)
Posted at: 2nd January 2007 16:14 (UTC)
Tease by awmp.

Fascinating!

(And I'm sure I *did* say something about Adam being an existential monster, questioning life and thus tying it into the season... *g*)

Anyway, this is very, very good and spot-on. I'd love to go into more detail but I've already been sat here for too long...

*puts in memories*

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 2nd January 2007 22:18 (UTC)

Thank you.... though you can always read it in small installments and get up for a walk in between, you know! ;)

(I did consider whether to break this down into two parts, actually, or even move the specific comments about 'Restless' to a separate post just on that episode... I don't know if people would have seen that as a good or bad move?)

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 2nd January 2007 20:14 (UTC)

Season 4 is about identity, and it's about masks. It's about people not being what they seem, and people struggling to discover who they really are.

You make me think.

Arguably the whole of Buffy rests on people not being what they seem but the distinctive thing about this season might be how quickly people (Willow and Buffy) are to assume that they’ve solved the mystery. I don’t really see much sign of them struggling with their identities. Willow in particular emerges fully formed as college girl in The Freshman and realizes that she’s in love with Tara almost as soon as Oz returns. Buffy thinks she can’t hack it out of high school but one victory and she’s all “college not so scary, at least I know what to expect.”

I think this echoes both the underlying confidence that Adam has in his self-knowledge and the closing words of Restless. Buffy seems to be balancing her dual responsibilities pretty well this season. Study by day, slaying by night with almost none the pining for a “normal life” that featured so strongly in seasons 1-3. Notably, she doesn’t get together with Riley until after she finds out about his less ordinary existence. That self-acceptance and confidence is illusory though, it assumes amongst other things that Joyce will always still be there to come home to. Season 4 is a transitional one but, as you imply, the real struggle hasn’t even begun.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 2nd January 2007 22:40 (UTC)

You make me think.

Yay! That's what I was hoping for. :)

Arguably the whole of Buffy rests on people not being what they seem

I'd say it's more that the heroic, epic stuff like vampires and sacred destinies is just a distraction, and really people are ust people underneath it all. Which is sort of what you said, but carries very different implications.

One of the things I was trying to show was that each character reacted to the change in circumstances in different ways. Yes, Willow did seem to settle quickly into college life and not suffer any particular angst over it - and the show used this as a deliberate contrast to Buffy. But, especially with the benefit of hindsight we can see hints of the drama to come... that her new identity isn't as secure as she herself thinks.

As for Buffy, I think I put more weight on her search for a normal boyfriend (Parker, then Riley), her enthusiastic embrace of the Initiative (reminiscent of her enthusiastic embrace ofhanging out with Faith so much in early S3), and then her freezing out Riley, refusing to be open with him (for example, about Angel) because she doesn't think he could accept her life as it really is. She's accepted her role as the Slayer and doesn't want to give it up any more, true - but I don't think she's given up her craving for a normal life either.

Ultimately, I think S4 raises the question about identities, but it doesn't try to answer the questions it poses. In the earlier seasons, we were presented with a binary choice - Buffy as Slayer, Buffy as normal girl. Now she's willing to combine the two... but as 'Restless' points out, we don't know if that will actually be possible in the long term, and what effects it will have on her and her friends. Thinking that you've sorted everything out and you know all the answers is just as dangerous as floating around in a cloud of existential angst demanding "why am I here?" "What's my purpose in life?". As you say, Adam exemplifies that complacency well.

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 3rd January 2007 10:33 (UTC)
buffies

Spamming you again, sorry about that :-)

Ultimately, I think S4 raises the question about identities, but it doesn't try to answer the questions it poses.

Nods happily. And also to the recursiveness of people/heroes/people not being what they seem. I really liked how you summed up the differences in characters' responses to the brave new world of after-high-school and hadn’t thought about how it applied to so many of them besides the core four.

Back to Buffy (being my obsession), I think the meaning of ‘normal’ changes in S4. Before, when she was alternately wistful and angry about it, normal seemed to mean the charmed life she had as a feted cheerleader before destiny caught up with her. It was all about wanting to be child again. A naughty child sometimes (playing hookey with Faith) but still warm and loved and not even begun. Post-graduation it’s as if she’s accepted becoming an adult and can even be enthusiastic about the possibilities (vis the Initiative) but still worries about being accepted. She worries about what people would think of her but more because of what she’s done than what she is. What would Riley think if he knew she’d been foolish enough to date a vampire, what would her friends think if they knew how she’d treated Spike and how she'd let herself be treated by him. More about being good than being normal. Respectable in the sense of being worthy of respect.

Posted by: tessarin (tessarin)
Posted at: 4th January 2007 11:55 (UTC)

Interesting essay certainly good food for thought. Not to sure I agree with all of it as in retrospect I have found that a lot of ME's forshadowing is as you say an A + B point with the road in between made up as they go along. I think restless was meant to foreshadow for a lot of the characters but not to sure it actually does for Xander.

The problem with S6 isn't the underlying ideas but the execution. Not to sure I agree with your assessments of the secondaries. I think the scoobies did care for Faith in S3 certainly Buffy and Xander did but she pushed them away and I think the mayor definately cared for her, probably the only pure emotion he felt. Obviously this has changed in S4 when they really don't care about her other than as an adversary.

As for Spike I think that his identity never changes he is always pretty much the same S2- S7/S5 Angel its just his focus shifts from Drusilla to Buffy.

Like your take on although would the original intention to have Maggie Walsh around for the whole season have altered the tenor of your assessment here ?

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 5th January 2007 12:23 (UTC)

I think restless was meant to foreshadow for a lot of the characters but not to sure it actually does for Xander.
You don't think Xander's father tearing out his heart and saying "the line ends here" foreshadows 'Hell's Bells'?

I think the scoobies did care for Faith in S3 certainly Buffy and Xander did but she pushed them away and I think the mayor definately cared for her, probably the only pure emotion he felt.

Well, I was thinking about the current situation rather than what might have been if Faith hadn't gone wrong/been driven away in mid-S3. But in 'This Year's Girl' the main emotion towards her seems to be that she's an annoying distraction... no empathy or sympathy for her at all. Angel's the only one who still has that. As for the Mayor, I agree that he genuinely cares about her, but even in S3 I tyhought there was a strong element of manipulation in it. He was deliberately corrupting her and driving her step by step away from humanity.

Posted by: tessarin (tessarin)
Posted at: 5th January 2007 12:50 (UTC)

On the Hell Bell's foreshadowing, I think part of my issue is that I just don't like the episode. Certainly I agree with you it can be construed as foreshadowing and may have been intended to be so but I tend to think that with the ME writers admittance that they parked Xander after the Zeppo that basically it was more them retconning a loose plot end in this ep. Rather than a growth of the character, otherwise we might have seen more of his relationship with his father to validate this?

On Faith I agree with your assessment in season 4 although there is always the problem of her move from Buffy to Angel.

As regards the Mayor as Bear_good_foamy also said I believe his reaction in graduation part 2 and the fact they were able to use the knife to goad him goes to the genuineness of his emotion.

My last mangled sentence in my original comment was meant to say that I really liked your take on Buffy and Adam , but I did wonder whether this would have changed the take of other characters in the season. I.e in some ways she was being setup as a reflection of Giles for Buffy as regards another authority figure.

Really interesting take and am interested in seeing what you write when you get round to season 5.

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 4th January 2007 13:37 (UTC)

Brilliant. Particularly like your views on Willow - alternate translations notwithstanding - and Xander; "That's not the way out", indeed. Interesting: in all 3 dreams and "alternate" worlds after Xander begins his relationship with Anya, she doesn't appear to play a vital role; he barely mentions her in "Fear, Itself", she's a bit player in "Restless", and in "Tabula Rasa" he doesn't give her a second glance. Foreshadowing, lack of true love, or simply overlooked by the writers? I dunno.

As for Faith and the Mayor - not sure I agree. The show kept the Mayor's relationship with Faith ambiguous throughout s3 - does he really care for her or is he just using her - up until "Graduation Day, Part 2". IMO, the scene where he freaks out in Faith's apartment spells it out: he really meant what he said about "no father could be prouder". I don't buy that between grieving for Faith in the hospital, trying to kill Buffy for what she did to her, and eventually getting himself killed over it, he would be calculating enough to sacrifice Faith for revenge. I think he means exactly what he says: if she ever wakes up, she won't have anyone on her side (true, even if Buffy wavers briefly), and everyone will be after her (also true – the police and the council are right on it). Yes, he's a bit harsh, but that's tough love for you; he's only got one chance to tell her. Plus, she could have used that machine on anyone. Go up to the hottest, richest girl in the Bronze, slap her hand and walk away with a new face and a new life, safe and sound. But Faith is too fond of her strength; as badly as she doesn’t want to be Faith, she doesn’t want to be powerless. Hence, she goes after Buffy.

Adam is an interesting concept on the identity subject - it's no coincidence that he's basically Frankenstein's monster (Mary Shelley's erudite one, not Boris Karloff) upgraded with Windows 98 and the question marks removed. But as an opponent for Buffy, there's nothing personal in it. No hard choices. In s1, Buffy had to accept death. In s2, she had to kill the love of her life. In s3, she had to try and murder Faith (metaphorically, part of herself). In s4, she just had to become strong enough to beat Adam hand-to-hand. There was an opportunity to do something more personal with Riley's chip, but then he just digs it out of his chest and all the hard choices are gone again; just beat the bad guys.

However, Adam is very interesting in "Restless".

RILEY: Buffy, we've got important work here. A lot of filing, giving things names.
BUFFY: What was yours?
ADAM: Before Adam? Not a man among us can remember.


Which Adam are we talking about here, exactly?

Buffy is, explicitly, about subverting rules. "Restless" contains a number of nods to s7 and Buffy's eventual overthrowing of everything the Slayer has ever been. In s3, she fired the council. "Restless", after s4 and its "military organization bad" theme, fires the very idea of old solutions, labels, organizations, pillow forts, guns and all, going back as far as Adam - the other one, the one with the apple. (I could go off on a tangent about “patriarchal power structures” here.) In her dream, Buffy has the bag that shows up 3 seasons later in "Get It Done" - the link back to something older, before any man remembers: the first Slayer, the primitive. Essence.

First Slayer: I have no speech. No name.

But what is that essence? By s7, we know. It's a demon. It's a tool (hands without spirit, heart or wisdom). Buffy tried the Council thing; didn't work. She tried the Initiative thing; didn't work. She’ll try the lone Slayer thing; won’t work. She's going to have to find her own way. (Had she paid attention, she would have known that way back in 1992.)

MERRICK: You do everything wrong.
BUFFY: Sorry. I take it back.
MERRICK: No. Do it wrong. Don't play our game.


Like you say, "Restless" sets up the three following seasons: s5 (Buffy vs the Vampire Slayer - or Buffy vs Death; in "Restless", the First Slayer defines herself as death and destruction), s6 (Buffy vs Life) and s7 (Buffy vs the very idea, structure of Slayerhood, “one girl in all the world” etc.) And wow, how it does it...

(Reposted due to bad html tags.)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 5th January 2007 12:31 (UTC)

The show kept the Mayor's relationship with Faith ambiguous throughout s3 - does he really care for her or is he just using her
I'd say both. He becomes genuinely fond of the tool he's using, even if it's in his nature to try and twist her into the darkness. I'm particularly thinking of 'Doppelgangland' where he announces he's going to have Willow killed, and when he see's Faith isn't comfortable with that he quickly distracts her with gifts. He shows occasional flashes of coldness, like his threats to her if she fails him. And he slowly lures her on with small, then medium, then larger acts of violence... first just making sure she knows he's ordering deaths, then having her kill demons, and finally sending her to kill huimans, all the time making her more and more complicit in his crimes and giving her reinforcement when her conscience still seems to plague her. The Mayor is not a nice man, however friendly he seems.

Great thoughts on the rest of it; I've nothing really to say except 'I agree'.

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 5th January 2007 21:55 (UTC)

The Mayor is not a nice man, however friendly he seems.

Very true. I'm not saying he is. But does that necessarily make him unable to feel for Faith like he says he does - and shows every sign of doing?

BUFFY: And whatever you think you're feeling, it's not love. You can't love without a soul.
DRUSILLA: Oh, we can, you know. We can love quite well. If not wisely.


Spike is not a nice man - as he himself points out, he's a monster. Does this mean his feelings for Drusilla (and later Buffy) are just fondness for a good tool? Yes, the mayor manipulates Faith. (Not unlike how Spike manipulates Buffy in s6.) Well...

Even in her relationship with Tara, there are hints of the darkness to come. She's manipulative, keeping Tara's existence a secret and not introducing her to her friends even though that's what Tara wants, because she wants to keep her all to herself.

Is Willow simply "fond" of Tara? Do we, indeed, see ANY friendship or relationship in the Buffyverse (if I were a cynic I'd add "or anywhere") that doesn't to some extent feature manipulation by one against the other into doing or not doing something they wouldn't have done otherwise?

Yes, I'm twisting your words here, I know. Sorry. There is definitely some sneaky headfuckery against Faith by the Mayor - at first, he does see her as a very powerful soldier and probably not much more. But just like she warms towards him he warms towards her (those threats - all, what, one or two of them? - come early on, not in "Choices" or "Graduation Day").

I'm not denying that the Mayor is evil, or that he's a bad influence on Faith. I'm just saying it's obvious to me that his feelings for Faith go a lot deeper than fondness for a good minion, and even if it's possible that he coldly sits down and thinks up a way to use Faith as a kamikaze pilot against Buffy (wouldn't be the first time someone does something OOC in the Buffyverse) I find it hard to swallow considering everything else we see him do in "Graduation Day"; panicking, grieving, spitting fury, forgetting all about the ascension for petty vengeance...

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 6th January 2007 01:55 (UTC)

I'm not denying that the Mayor is evil, or that he's a bad influence on Faith. I'm just saying it's obvious to me that his feelings for Faith go a lot deeper than fondness for a good minion
I wouldn't deny that, and I think you're right to point out how his behaviour towards her changes over the season, from outright manipulation to genuine love. I just have a problem with over-romanticising it and saying "aww, even the evil Mayor had fluffy bunny feelings for Faithy".

He loved his wife too, and yet she died cursing him. Wonder why?

He seemed genuinely fond of the people of Sunnydale, even though he knew he'd deliberately built the town over the Hellmouth so they would be sacrifices to the Old Ones.

Maybe he genuinely thinks that without his protection, Faith will be doomed to a swift and ugly death. ("Once I'm gone, your days are just plain numbered."). Or perhaps he thihks she won't want to go on living after he's dead? That demonstrates a certain monomania and self-centredness (duh...), not to mention lack of faith (heh) in her capabilities. But if he genuinely just wanted the best for her, why not put a false passport and ID, a ticket to Mexico and a few thousand dollars in that package, rather than the Draconian Katra? No, I think he deliberately set her up to strike back at Buffy; but then again, he was also helping her survive and go into hiding, so it wasn't a kamikaze attack. Two birds with one stone.

In other words, I see no contradiction in the Mayor feeling genuine love for someone, and also being a cold, manipulative bastard behind his smiling mask. Rather than comparisons to Spike and Drusilla, I think Angelus' and Darla's love for each other might be a better match...

Posted by: none of the above (frogfarm)
Posted at: 9th January 2007 01:32 (UTC)

He loved his wife too, and yet she died cursing him. Wonder why?

My impression was simply because she was old, weak and frail, and had just enough mind left to see that he wasn't. But...

if he genuinely just wanted the best for her, why not put a false passport and ID, a ticket to Mexico and a few thousand dollars in that package, rather than the Draconian Katra? No, I think he deliberately set her up to strike back at Buffy; but then again, he was also helping her survive and go into hiding, so it wasn't a kamikaze attack. Two birds with one stone.

In my favorite S4 eps post, I called "This Year's Girl" and "Who Are You":

...a beautiful and heart-wrenching look at the best present the Mayor ever gave Faith, and how it didn't quite work out. He knew what she wanted more than anything; and for that brief time, she got to live the dream.

Maybe it's just my fanwankery, but that's how I always read it. Yes, two birds with one stone; a way for him to use her to strike back at his enemies from beyond the grave, specifically Buffy who foiled his Ascension (he assumes, if Faith sees this tape and gets this package). But also a genuine attempt to give her what she wanted most -- for better or worse.

(For me, no matter how much Faith acknowledges that Wilkins was an evil manipulative bastard, she still has definite limits to the kind of crap she'll let people say about him around her. Call it a lesser version of the same attitude that makes her refuse to let Xander get too nasty about Angel; no matter how much she loves and respects Xander, Angel is the man who truly saved her. And she'll never forget it.)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 10th January 2007 01:43 (UTC)

My impression was simply because she was old, weak and frail, and had just enough mind left to see that he wasn't.

Well, that's pretty much what I assumed too when I first watched it. But thinking about it a bit more... whatever spell or bargain Wilkins made to get his eternal youth (or eternal middle age, whatever) he didn't bother to extend it to her as well. Clearly his ambition was more important to him than his marriage, however much he loved his wife. He chose to outlive her.

Even assuming he didn't actually sacrifice her or drain her youth as part of the bargain, of course. :)

As for his gift to Faith... it's a nice take on it, and I can see that point of view... but it's also an incredibly destructive thing for him to do. Faith wanted acceptance and respect, and was jealous of Buffy because she had both; I don't think she ever actually wanted to be Buffy. By the end of 'Who Are You?' that's who she was becoming... which meant that Faith herself was ceasing to exist. I can't help see at least an element of après moi le déluge in that: part of Wilkins didn't want Faith to survive him.

I wouldn't argue that he loved her and wanted to help her out; just that he was evil enough that even his generous acts had a hugely selfish and destructive undercurrent. Possibly one he wasn't even consciously aware of, though that's debatable.

I fully accept that if Faith were a real person and reading this, I'd be in danger of a severe beating right about now. :)

Posted by: Chani (frenchani)
Posted at: 10th January 2007 12:13 (UTC)

Questions of identity yes...and the Willow/Tara raised the issue about the kitty's name. They didn't know her identity yet !

Later in Buffy's dream Tara revealed the name but as a riddle when she announced the coming of Dawn.

A while back I used another translation for Sappho's poem and wrote this:

"Ornately throned deathless Aphrodite, wile-weaving daughter of Zeus, I beg you, don't overcome my spirit with pain and care, mistress..." - Sappho 1, the invocation to Aphrodite. (all the credits go to Klytaimnestra who did the translation in an essay in 2002 !)

It’s very interesting. Of course both women being lovers, the Sappho’s poem tp Aphrodite makes sense. But I think it was also foreshadowing S5 and what a Goddess, Glory (who was btw so vain, so Aphrodite-like), did to Tara (“overcoming her spirit with pain!”), and even maybe Tara’s leaving (leaving Willow first and leaving the world then when she was killed) in S6 (after all Willow is writing the poem so she might be the one whose spirit will be overcome with pain!). BTW I really think that Glory and Willow worked in counterpoint. In Tabula Rasa, Willow tried to manipulated Tara’s mind and Tara got mad and mentioned what Glory had done to her. Buffy fought both Glory and Willow (S6) and both were stronger than her. No wonder that Willow was called a Goddess by Kennedy in Chosen!


I agree with you the scene definitely foreshadowed season 6. And the rest of the poem points it even more.

Also about Buffy and Adam, and to stay with Greek mythology, the way Buffy's dream begins with Giles trying to hypnotize the girl with his watcher's watch made me think of the theme of Pygmalion as part of the identity theme. Are we our own people or the others' dolls and creatures? It's a major arc on BTVS, running through the 7 seasons until "Chosen". It's just a bit more obvious in season 4.

Pygmalion, the sculptor,begged the gods to grant him a wife like his statue and Aphrodite turned the statue into a real girl...Galatea.

Buffy turned out to be the anti-Galatea since the Council could never “model” her up.

What about Adam? He's Maggie's statue come to life...and Riley is the real boy. In this case Pygmalion is a woman and she wants to made the perfect soldier…Galatea is both Adam and Riley.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 11th January 2007 00:50 (UTC)

Buffy's dream begins with Giles trying to hypnotize the girl with his watcher's watch made me think of the theme of Pygmalion as part of the identity theme. Are we our own people or the others' dolls and creatures?

Interesting point to raise that does tie into the whole theme. Giles telling Buffy that "this is the way men and women have behaved since the beginning" while Buffy laughs and telling him he's being old-fashioned could well be a summary of Giles' and Buffy's whole relationship in the early seasons... odd that in his mind he's still trying to mould her that way... and indeed, still thinks of her as a child.

Not to mention Buffy's Watcher telling her "You have to stop thinking"... ("The last Slayer did not talk so much.")

Thanks for reading, and posting!

Posted by: Rebecca (nikitangel)
Posted at: 14th April 2008 13:29 (UTC)

I really enjoyed this, thank you.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 14th April 2008 21:48 (UTC)

Thanks! (And it was interesting for me to re-read what I wrote all those months ago, too...)

34 Read Comments