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StephenT [userpic]

(Meta) It's About Power

14th June 2007 (14:47)
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I used to think Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a metaphor about growing up. It’s now becoming increasingly clear to me that it's (also) about something else:

WILLOW: I get it now. The Slayer thing really isn't about the violence. It's about the power. ('Two To Go')

BUFFY: It's about power. Who's got it... who knows how to use it. ('Lessons')

THE FIRST: You still don't get it. It's not about right. It's not about wrong. It's about power. ('Lessons')

AMY: This isn't about hate. It's about power. ('The Killer In Me')

When the show repeats a message so often, I think it may be trying to tell us something. :-)  This essay is a look at the theme of power throughout its run. In particular, it shows how season 8 fits into the overall picture but gives us a new angle on it. I also hope to demonstrate how the villains of 'The Long Way Home' fit within this scheme, and how they hold up a disturbing mirror to our heroes...

For many viewers, 'power' codes as something negative. Authority must be opposed or avoided. Some people even claim that the emphasis on power in the show’s later seasons is evidence of its growing fascist tendencies (!). The fake-out at the end of ‘The Long Way Home’, where Buffy sees that General Voll is older, male and military and therefore immediately leaps to the conclusion that he’s opposed to her because he’s a representative of the Patriarchy, is an amusing comment on this view. However, General Voll quickly disabuses her of that notion.  The show’s views on power are more nuanced than that, and change as the show develops and our characters grow up.

Early on, when Buffy and her friends are still children, authority is an outside force: it represents the grown-up world that she is not yet part of. Sometimes this authority is, if not an actual enemy, still presented as an opponent: Principal Snyder in her mundane life, the Watchers’ Council on the supernatural side.  Even the more benevolent authority figures like Giles or her mother are often misguided and foolish; like the heroes of any children’s story, Buffy and Co must find ways to subvert or manipulate their parents in order to save the world.


As the Scoobies recognise their own power – symbolic of their coming of age - it's seen as the way they can now challenge the power of others and be themselves. It’s still an anti-authority message. In case of Buffy, that's generally presented as being a good thing, although not without consequences; it’s part of the growing up metaphor.

BUFFY: No review. No interrogation, no questions you know I can't answer, no hoops, no jumps...and no interruptions. See, I've had a lot of people talking at me, last few days. People just lining up to tell me how unimportant I am. And I finally figured out why. Power. I have it. They don't. This bothers them. ('Checkpoint')

Y'know, on the screen that's a really strong scene; but reading the words written down, it comes across as just a little teenage. "I'm powerful now, you can't make me!" That impression, of course, is even stronger once we turn to Willow. By season 6, she's all grown up and has started calling Giles by his first name, just to emphasise that they're (at least) equals now in her mind, and she doesn’t have to listen to his boring words about caution and responsibility any more.

By season 7, the emphasis has shifted again. Willow’s learned a little humility and maturity. As for Buffy, she’s not just defying authority; she's trying to become the authority herself, to be a leader. Perhaps because she hasn't had very good role models all her life, she's not very good at it. She cuts herself off emotionally, tries to be ruthless. All this is still giving the impression that power isn't a particularly good thing to have: it's just necessary to defeat the First. Buffy is bullying Willow into using her magic and bullying Spike into becoming a killer again because she has to, not because she thinks it's right.

All that seems to be reversed by the outcome of 'Chosen'. The new message is that power isn't wrong in itself, it's how it's used. Sharing power, enabling others, freeing other people to reach their own true Potential – these are noble actions.

Or are they? Plenty of people have objected to the apparent lack of consent involved in Willow's spell in Chosen. Fanfic where someone becomes a Slayer and accidentally misuses her unexpected strength to kill someone is a perennial favourite; and a few people mutter darkly about rape metaphors. Now, there’s an argument to be made that Willow’s spell would only affect those able to bear its burden (“Every girl who can stand up, will stand up”). Contrariwise, if becoming a Slayer is a metaphor for a child attaining adulthood, then a lack of choice is appropriate: try as you might, nobody can stay a child forever. It’s not attaining maturity, but what you do next, which is the moral issue.

Even so, Buffy and Willow's action in 'Chosen' is reminiscent of Buffy's actions in 'Get It Done' – they are forcing people to ‘act their age’ for their own good. And that's morally problematic, and seems to be the issue that season 8 wants to address.

As 'The Long Way Home' opens, we see clearly that Buffy has grown into her leadership role. (This is a good example of how the comics show us things instead of just telling us them, incidentally.) We watch Buffy lead her troops into battle, supervise a training session, interact with them. We see how they talk about her when she's not there. She's comfortable with them; knows their names, jokes with them, borrows their lip gloss. More importantly she understands their strengths and weaknesses, recognises the importance of good morale, and thinks about the best ways to maintain it ("Their first victims. Gotta get 'em past it."). However, she's not pally with them, the way Xander tries to be: she's the authority figure in their lives, and keeps a little distance from them. Both Giles and Xander present her in her absence as the role model, the one who's ultimately in charge.

In other words, Buffy has accepted her power, and is willing to use it. She's grown up. Her strength isn't used to challenge authority, but to be the authority, and use her powers for good.

Except that not everyone sees it like that.

GENERAL VOLL: God help us, if you win then you'll decide the world still isn't the way you want it and the demon in you will say just one thing: 'Slay!'

The danger here is not so much that those in authority will misuse their power. We know Buffy, we know how honourable and self-controlled she is even if the General doesn't. The real threat is that they'll use it in 'our own best interests', without actually asking us if that's OK. By trying to help us, they'll deprotagonise us, reduce us to children ourselves. Make the decisions and deal with the darkness so we don't have to.

With this as the theme, the choice of villains for 'The Long Way Home' suddenly makes sense. After all, Amy Madison probably doesn't think of herself as evil - certainly she never used to. She was once Willow's friend, and in many ways stands as Willow's dark shadow. Faced with similar choices, Willow looked where the path would take her and chose - at the very last minute, granted - to turn away. Amy closed her eyes and jumped straight in. In Willow's words, Amy is "As self-involved as your mom was." She only thinks about herself, and sees other people as playthings for her amusement. She's always used her power for selfish ends. Consider her past:

In 'Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered' she's using mind control or illusion spells on a teacher to get out of doing her homework. She helps Xander, but not willingly - he blackmails her into it; and of course her spell involves playing with people's minds and turning them into helpless love-puppets. Arguably, it's more harmful, if less of an intimate betrayal, than what Willow did to Tara in 'All The Way' and 'Tabula Rasa'.

In 'Gingerbread', when she, Willow and Buffy are being burned at the stake, she uses her magic in an attempt to escape. You'll note that she makes no effort to save the other two: she changes into a rat and makes her own getaway, abandoning them to burn. It's possibly karmic justice that she then ends up stuck as a rat for the next three years.

In 'Smashed', the newly de-ratted Amy can't be bothered to go see her father (who, remember, hasn't seen his daughter in three years). She thinks that would be boring. Instead she manipulates a reluctant Willow to go out clubbing with her. And then, almost her first action is to use a mind control spell on an unwilling victim to make her sexually interested in her companion. Hey, isn't that almost exactly the thing Warren did to Katrina in 'Dead Things'? Maybe Amy and Warren have something in common after all...  After which, Amy goes on a rampage of using her magic to transform and manipulate other people, just for fun, and Willow follows her example readily enough.

In 'Wrecked', Amy continues to lead Willow down the path to perdition. Her final appearance in season 6 is in 'Doublemeat Palace', and although it's a short scene it's a significant one for our theme.

AMY: So this is it, huh? This is gonna be your life from now on? But you're never gonna do it again.
Ever. You're never gonna feel how it made you feel... Hey, Will. It's your birthday... It's a gift. It's magic and it didn't come from you. It came from me. Completely legal. Enjoy.

Here we have Amy meddling with other people's lives again, messing them up... and expecting them to be grateful. Mind you, I'm honestly unclear whether she really believes that she's doing Willow a favour, or if she's being deliberately malicious. Maybe both at once. She wants to shake Willow up - and is probably resentful of her turning away from her after the events of ‘Wrecked’ - but perhaps also feels that Willow would be a lot happier if she forgot this "giving up magic" stuff.

Now compare that to the Slayer Empowerment spell at the end of 'Chosen'. Just like Amy in 'Doublemeat Palace', Willow is giving an overwhelming dose of power to a bunch of other girls, without asking them first or explaining what will happen. Of course, we can argue that Willow had totally different motives; and I think it makes a big difference that the first concern she and Buffy had after the closing of the Hellmouth was to find the people affected by the spell and help them come to terms with it. Even so, to an outsider looking in the similarities between the two are damning. They're both playing with other people's lives without their consent, for an objective they see as a good thing and therefore worth the cost.

Season 8 has another good example of this: Amy's 'rescue' of Warren. (Warren himself being a good example of a character who's completely self-absorbed, incidentally. Although by the end of his season 6 arc he's started seeing himself as playing on the Evil team, hanging around in demon bars and so on, he didn't start out that way. He was just using his powers - technological rather than magical - to serve his own self-indulgent whims without caring too much about the people (and robots) he violated doing so. Just like Amy, in other words.)

It's clear that Warren himself is grateful for his 'rescue', and sees it as nothing but a good thing:

WARREN: If Amy hadn't been watching you, she would never have started watching me. Watching over me. [...] This is the girl.

A more objective observer might speculate that being reduced to a hideous, dripping, shambling monstrosity that horrifies anyone who casts eyes on him is not altogether of the good. As I've observed before, Warren's rambling, disjointed speech patterns also suggest that he's either insane, in constant pain, or maybe both. Amy stepped in and 'saved' him - not necessarily, at this stage, because she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him, but because she knew it would mess with Willow's mind. She may even believe that she was doing Warren a favour - or she may be just using him. We don't know yet. Either way, to an outside observer the implication is interesting. Amy saved Warren's life (sort of) when he was about to be incinerated by an evil witch. That makes her a hero, surely? Just like Buffy...

But she's not the only example of someone interfering in someone else's life "for their own good". Nope. We've got Ethan. He's rummaging around in Buffy's brain, prying into her deepest secrets and hidden sexual fantasies, and she feels violated and nauseous at the thought of it. But he's not doing it to hurt her; he's not even doing it for his own self-gratification, although I won't deny that his motives are ultimately selfish. Like Spike in 'Becoming' whom he so resembles here, he's willing to ally with Buffy to beat the bad guys because doing so will be of direct benefit to him. Even so, it can't be denied that he's acting as a force for good in this episode. Nor can it be denied that in doing so, he's still acting in Buffy's best interests without her consent or approval. Just like Buffy is acting in humanity's best interests without our consent or approval...

On a side-issue, if Amy is Willow's dark shadow, Ethan is Giles's. Both pairs come from a similar background, have similar powers and abilities, and were faced by the same temptations; but while Willow and Giles chose one path, Amy and Ethan were self-absorbed and selfish enough to choose the other. Of course, the question is, are such choices irrevocable? (Well, Ethan's is now, since it's difficult to seek redemption with a bullet through your head). The answer seems to be no they're not (except in Ethan's case, of course)... after all, Buffy had a dark shadow of her own, someone who was to her what Amy was to Willow and Ethan to Giles… but she’s now back on the good team and getting her very own multi-issue comic arc in three months' time.  (I was tempted to continue the analogy with Xander and Warren, but despite their shared geekdom they're not really parallel. If Xander has a dark shadow at all, it's Andrew - who's not particularly dark or shadowy, more of a mirror reflecting whatever's next to him).

In conclusion, Buffy is no longer fighting against authority; she is authority. That's not a bad thing; without the power to change the world, goodwill and the best intentions are useless. The problem is, do we have a moral right to affect other people's lives without their consent? Even if we honestly believe we're acting in their own best interests?

Or does that make us as bad as the people we're fighting?


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Posted by: none of the above (frogfarm)
Posted at: 14th June 2007 14:51 (UTC)

Rather than say anything insightful, I will instead sing:

I fight authority, authority always wins

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

And not sung:

We have met the enemy, and he is us.

Although I suppose it's worth saying that I believe, the only true power worth having -- in fact, the *only* power you can ultimately have -- is over yourself.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 14th June 2007 15:08 (UTC)

So you'd answer my final question with a 'yes', then? :)

On the other hand,
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [wo]men to do nothing.

If you renounce the use of power, and thus fail to prevent a tragedy that you could have stopped, are you morally blameless?

Posted by: none of the above (frogfarm)
Posted at: 14th June 2007 17:32 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 14th June 2007 17:57 (UTC)

Posted by: tessarin (tessarin)
Posted at: 14th June 2007 16:15 (UTC)

Another interesting meta. Buffy worked so well as it was never just a single metaphor show it was always multi metaphor. It worked on many levels and had a number of ongoing commentaries often tied to a particular member of the ensemble cast.i.e Giles struggle for identity after the loss of the work that defines him is an adult commentary that went through S4-5.

I like the drawing of Amy as Willow's dark shadow and I think you are right.But would disagree that Willow chose another path, she chose exactly the same set of tracks as Amy until Xander derailed her. Sure she has a final choice at that moment but it was an emotional rather than rational choice.When Willow confronted Buffy she had the rational chance to take a different path and still chose evil.

As for the aspect of the spell I think this maybe one of the power corrupts tracks that s8 may be on. At least I am hoping so as that is one of the few hopes I still hold out. So I would agree power and authority and who holds it and the legitimacy of that power/authority on both sides looks to be one of the major themes of S8. At least that is my hope.:-) Personnally I wish the scoobies to learn the adult lesson of not always being right especially Willow.

Of course this is one of my problems as JW has a history of assinating characters so that his chosen ones can continue to act without consequence. Willow has clearly learnt neither humilty or restraint as shown by her cavilier use of large scale magic and smug looks.

I agree with you on the authority aspects of the S8 comics but think that in S7 Buffy was trying to be a leader. Unfortunately the poor writing and writer fiat in favour of the heroine made her a poor leader. Her authority was reinforced because her lousy decisions despite themselves were proved right. S8 Buffy does seem to keep her distance and is as you say the remote authority figure to Xander's sergeant.

As for Andrew being the anti Xander yep, no heart, no soul, no morals, no consequences, no humour. Fits perfectly:-)

Me I think JW has started repeating messages with a heavy hand since S6 because he has lost his touch and doesn't know how to tell new stories. The issue I have is the show used to be more nuanced but every since the magic is crack storyline has become preachy.

Another wonderful meta.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 14th June 2007 16:51 (UTC)


But would disagree that Willow chose another path, she chose exactly the same set of tracks as Amy until Xander derailed her.
That's actually what I meant when I said Willow chose the other path "at the very last minute". She decided to stop zapping Xander with Force Lightning, and let go of her grief instead. It's afterwards that she chose the different path, in seasons 7 and 8.

but think that in S7 Buffy was trying to be a leader. Unfortunately the poor writing and writer fiat in favour of the heroine made her a poor leader.
I think it was deliberate; Giles and Wood were pushing Buffy to make hard decisions, be ruthless, cut herself off... all of which came far too naturally to her anyway. If she'd been a popular, beloved leader, she wouldn't have been kicked out of her own house. (Hmm, Buffy as Captain Bligh, Faith as Fletcher Christian? :-) )

Posted by: tessarin (tessarin)
Posted at: 14th June 2007 18:36 (UTC)

Posted by: Chani φ (frenchani)
Posted at: 14th June 2007 16:29 (UTC)

I like what you wrote but...

I used to think Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a metaphor about growing up. It’s now becoming increasingly clear to me that it's (also) about something else

I don't think it's something else, it's still about growing-up and your analysis showed it.

The way you grasp the notion of power or handle it, the way you stand towards authority, changes as you're getting older and leaving childhood, it's part of growing-up.

Once again this makes me think of Kolberg's stages of moral development.


Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 14th June 2007 17:11 (UTC)

I did say 'also', not 'instead'. :-)

The way the show presents power and its consequences does relate to the characters' development and maturity, but it can also be read as a separate ethical question. Especially now that Buffy is an adult. (And adults certainly don't agree on the morality of power).

Your link was interesting; thanks! I did wonder, though, if Kolberg was mixing up child development theory and his own political beliefs? The first 3 or 4 stages do seem to match human development fairly well, but with the latter ones I got the distinct impression that he was ranking them in that specific order because he felt that one was morally superior to the other, not because people actually pass through each stage of development on their way to enlightenment!

You even said in the comments that he acknowledges that most people pass through stages 0 to 3 by adulthood, but then it's fairly random which stage they'll end up in...

Posted by: Chani φ (frenchani)
Posted at: 14th June 2007 17:26 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 14th June 2007 17:45 (UTC)

Posted by: Chani φ (frenchani)
Posted at: 14th June 2007 17:51 (UTC)

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 14th June 2007 17:13 (UTC)

I like the way you lay out the authority issues and the use of Amy and Ethan as mirrors. I think the introduction of Amy, as well as mirroring Willow also speaks to another factor that of family and mothers and becoming your parents. Authority at the personal rather than the political level. Amy had possibly the most dictatorial mother in the verse and while she’s becoming her in many ways (echoing both the spell Catherine cast and the one her daughter cast on Willow) seems to veer towards total indulgence with Warren. Buffy neglects Dawn (who therefore craves authority) in favour of her new role as den mother to the monstrous ‘spawn.’

I think the use of that language suggests the General does have some misogyny issues but the point is those aren’t the point. I’m not sure if Buffy decides to take him on because she thinks he’s covering, thinks he’s wrong in not trusting her not to abuse her position, or out of loyalty to her new ‘found’ family, her girls - she’s beginning to think in terms of her role being to help/inspire/represent them rather than the world.

It seems a lot of people are finding the new story devoid of emotional content but emotional development isn’t just about romance. S7 pushing Buffy to the limit to come to terms with her isolation and her responsibilities and finally transcending them both, now that was an emotional journey. This set up offers plenty of potential to do the same with a different but equally compelling set of issues.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 14th June 2007 17:36 (UTC)

echoing both the spell Catherine cast and the one her daughter cast on Willow
I'd not thought of the similarities in quite that way - good catch. Both mother and daughter are all about manipulating other people's identities for their own pleasure and self-gratification.

the General does have some misogyny issues but the point is those aren’t the point.
Yep. I wouldn't be surprised if he does either... but then again, we've been encouraged to think of male authority figures as being primarily male, rather than authority. To me, he seems to have something of a crusader mentality; he's impatient with compromise, contemptuous of anyone who shows less commitment to the cause than he does; self-righteous, passionate and stubborn. If Faith were around, I'm sure she'd make some pointed comments about the resemblance to Buffy herself. I get the impression his only reactions to a woman in authority would be "whose side is she on?" and "can she do the job?", and nothing else would matter.

It seems a lot of people are finding the new story devoid of emotional content but emotional development isn’t just about romance.
It does get a little soul-destroying when I'm all fired up and excited abut all the big issues that are being raised, and I read comment after comment saying people are "paralysed with not caring very much." But rather than run around fruitlessly complaining, I decided to write this. Lighting a candle instead of cursing at the dark. :)

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 14th June 2007 18:07 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 14th June 2007 19:52 (UTC)

Posted by: Mrs Darcy (elisi)
Posted at: 14th June 2007 21:16 (UTC)

Posted by: 2maggie2 (2maggie2)
Posted at: 14th June 2007 19:28 (UTC)

Thanks for a great essay! I totally agree that a major theme is the temptation to exercise power for "good" ends in a way that is ultimately quite dark. It was a major theme over on Angel, so it makes sense that Joss would want to continue to explore it here. A closely related challenge is the need for powerful heroes to be able to recognize their own darkness, and not assume that their motivations are pure. It's not clear that either Buffy or Xander fully grappled with the darkness that manifested in season 6. Nor is it clear how deeply Willow learned her lessons. They are very quick to assume that they are the good guys. And this can lead to tragic blindness. In this case, perhaps, not noticing if the exercise of slayer power starts to get a bit out of control. (And how can it not -- for the reasons the general offers, as well as others).

Faith is going to be an awesome counterpoint to this because a) Buffy has always used her as a scapegoat for her own darkness and b) Faith really does have experience and wisdom on this point. So I'm excited about the upcoming Faith arc. Lots of ways that dynamic could play out!

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 14th June 2007 19:48 (UTC)

I'm looking forward to seeing Faith too; my only concern is that it might turn out to be a 'fun' diversion (Faith as Eliza Doolittle) rather than building on the main season themes.

I do feel they've addressed the issue of the heroes' own dark sides with the Willow arc, though obviously that's not over yet. But I'd agree that this is still a big weakness Buffy has; she's quick to assume that any faults others point out in her are due to their own issues, not her own problem...


Posted by: Mrs Darcy (elisi)
Posted at: 14th June 2007 19:41 (UTC)
Buffy Anne Summers by thesuthernangel

This is fascinating and I want to argue discuss and I don't have time. Bother. But I'll be back.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 14th June 2007 19:51 (UTC)

ELISI: I get this chip out, you and me are gonna have a confrontation.
STORMWREATH: Count on it.


Posted by: Mrs Darcy (elisi)
Posted at: 14th June 2007 19:54 (UTC)

Posted by: spikeNdru (spikendru)
Posted at: 14th June 2007 23:30 (UTC)
Giles - Thinky thoughts

This was completely fascinating; although I continue to be weirded out that I find your meta much more interesting than the comics themselves. I guess comics are just not my forte, and especially these. I couldn't keep track of the live Potentials in S7 and find it even more difficult with the comics; I can't figure out who most of the characters are (this is totally embarrassing, but I didn't even realize that it was Ethan who was shot until I started reading reviews/meta on the comics); I don't recognize who is speaking half the time, and without your posts and others, I'd have absolutely no idea what was going on or what story Joss is trying to tell. So, yeah, I'm one that is paralyzed with the not caring about the comics themselves, but I'm certainly enjoying your insights on them. Apparently I don't "get" comics in general. (But I did love Spike:Asylum.)

Posted by: selinde2 (selinde2)
Posted at: 15th June 2007 10:40 (UTC)
So I'm thinking...

Not much of a comics fan myself, though happy to make an exception for Joss, and coping fairly well with graphic novels from the latter end of the X-Men series. I, too, am enjoying the reviews, and I quite understand where you're coming from spikendru. Sometimes I think I need a crib for comic books, having clearly wasted my youth not reading them. At the time, novels seemed a lot better, but the world changes. I do like the artwork I've seen so far. So, it sounds like Spike:Asylum is a good read? (Plots to find one...)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 15th June 2007 12:29 (UTC)
Re: So I'm thinking...

Posted by: spikeNdru (spikendru)
Posted at: 15th June 2007 16:04 (UTC)
Re: So I'm thinking...

Posted by: selinde2 (selinde2)
Posted at: 16th June 2007 01:20 (UTC)
Re: So I'm thinking...

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 17th June 2007 01:00 (UTC)
Re: So I'm thinking...

Posted by: selinde2 (selinde2)
Posted at: 18th June 2007 00:17 (UTC)
Re: So I'm thinking...

Posted by: spikeNdru (spikendru)
Posted at: 15th June 2007 16:01 (UTC)
Re: So I'm thinking...

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 15th June 2007 12:17 (UTC)

Posted by: spikeNdru (spikendru)
Posted at: 15th June 2007 15:47 (UTC)

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 15th June 2007 19:18 (UTC)

Posted by: Mrs Darcy (elisi)
Posted at: 15th June 2007 17:41 (UTC)
Slayer by kathyh.

"Guess what I just found out. Looks like I'm not as toothless as you thought, sweetheart."


I used to think Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a metaphor about growing up.
Buffy was *always* about Grrrl Power.

When the show repeats a message so often, I think it may be trying to tell us something. :-)
Heh. You know that message is inherent in all the rape stuff in S6. Mind-rape, attempted rape, Warren/Katrina... it is all about power - the taking/losing of it.

She cuts herself off emotionally, tries to be ruthless.
Essentially she tries to be a Watcher. And I think one of the points of S7 - and the show in general - is that the Watcher's Council got it wrong in how they dealt with things. Emotions are a total asset!

She thinks that would be boring.
Oh I don't think so. She *likes* her father. I think it's that she doesn't want to deal with the reality of the situation - so she runs away, pretends that things are fine. Just like Willow. It's about shirking responsibility.

Now compare that to the Slayer Empowerment spell at the end of 'Chosen'.
Sorry, but that does not work for me *at all*. Forcing a recovering addict to take a drug for fun in no way compares to unlocking the potentials' latent power to save the world. The result of the first action was... well nothing much. The second changed the world. If I squint I can see where you're going, but I think the analogy is too thin. Buffy removing Spike's chip comes far nearer in my book.

A more objective observer might speculate that being reduced to a hideous, dripping, shambling monstrosity that horrifies anyone who casts eyes on him is not altogether of the good.
Have you read Warren Meers: Mary Sue goes septic? I still think that Warren should have been left dead. He loses much of his appeal as straight-forward monster.

The real threat is that they'll use it in 'our own best interests', without actually asking us if that's OK. By trying to help us, they'll deprotagonise us, reduce us to children ourselves. Make the decisions and deal with the darkness so we don't have to.
One word: Jasmine.

More words: This is a subject that has been explored in such depth on AtS that I’m only going to scratch the surface, what with not having enough time... (Btw I don’t think that this means that Buffy *shouldn’t* expore this theme, Buffy’s situation is different.)

Now on AtS we have the Powers That Be, who are very much of the opinion that humanity should be left to its own devices... Yes they have their champions, and *will* intervene in extreme cases, but they have a very ‘hands-off’ policy. Which is of course where Jasmine comes in... because Jasmine is what General Voll fears:

VOLL: “God help us, if you win then you'll decide the world still isn't the way you want it”

JASMINE: I could've stopped it, Angel. All of it. War, disease, poverty. How many precious, beautiful lives would've been saved in a handful of years? Yes, I murdered thousands to save billions. This world is doomed to drown in its own blood now.
ANGEL: The price was too high, Jasmine. Our fate has to be our own, or we're nothing.

(‘Peace Out’)

VOLL: “ ...and the demon in you will say just one thing: 'Slay!'”

JASMINE: Think the price was too high? You haven't begun to pay! Maybe you're right. Maybe I can still make this world a better place. One body at a time. I loved this world. I sacrificed everything I was to be with you.

*Lord*, I adore S4! The themes are *fabulous* and crunchy and the story so DEEP and TRAGIC and I want to re-watch it all right now! *deep sigh* But I’ll move on swiftly...

[cut for length, will continue]

Posted by: Mrs Darcy (elisi)
Posted at: 15th June 2007 17:42 (UTC)
Not Fade Away by amavel_bel.


In S5 of course we have Angel as the one with the power (and the quote from the beginning of TLWH could fit there too. Angel changed the world. And he paid a very, very steep price.)

Anyway, one of Angel’s greatest failings - and one of Angelus’ defining characteristics - is making decisions for others. Angelus got off on - it was his art, dominating and destroying people, but Angel tries to justify it - doing it ‘for people’s own best interests’ (see IWRY etc), exactly what this whole thing pivots around. It’s what Angel struggles with all of S5. He has power - more than ever - but what should he do with it? (“So much power here and you quibble at the price!”) Can he continue saving people one at a time (which is obviously what Buffy plans on doing, and never even considered that there were any alternatives) or will he try something else? And as we saw, his choice might very well have unleashed armageddon...

Buffy’s conundrum is different of course - we see no sign of TPTB or W&H... it’s the people she’s trying to protect that are turning on her (as far as we know anyway).

And that’s all I have time for, sorry. Might be back on... Monday? Woe. Anyway, power is a *great* theme - I just hope Joss does something good with it.

Posted by: Mrs Darcy (elisi)
Posted at: 15th June 2007 19:50 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 15th June 2007 19:58 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 15th June 2007 19:57 (UTC)

Posted by: Mrs Darcy (elisi)
Posted at: 16th June 2007 06:22 (UTC)

Posted by: yourlibrarian (yourlibrarian)
Posted at: 15th June 2007 23:17 (UTC)

Interesting comparisons about Amy and Warren. It'll be interesting to see where the comics go with this theme.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 15th June 2007 23:55 (UTC)

Agreed, although it might be another year before they get back to them, at this rate... :-(


Posted by: arkeus (arkeus)
Posted at: 19th June 2007 07:48 (UTC)


Though i still think you forgot to talk about motivations. Amy was all about being self-sufficient, in order never to be the bullied again. Willow...in my mind, willow was all about being accepted, part of the group. She learned magic because she felt inadequate, not able to help others, and so on. Her spells to tara were about "erasing arguments". Her going to rack with amy was about her not being able to say "no" to a friend.

Of course, willow was, in my mind, able to se that, so in less stressful times, she tried to show she was her own person "being a wicca to her mother, beign the boss of her, practicing magick when Ta

Posted by: arkeus (arkeus)
Posted at: 19th June 2007 07:52 (UTC)

oops sorry

when tara wants to restrains her (remember how tara got scared of Willow using too much magick, and instead of helping her control her *motives* tried to make her stop cold turkey?). For me, Willow oculdn't stop, at that point, doing magic. Like i can't stop reading fanfiction :-) Her everydays magic weren't that dark at the time, so she may have been able to control herself, had tara helped. Or giles. In that respect, both were failures.

OTOH, Buffy learned from that mistake in season 8, and seems to try and teach young slayers, instead of forcing them to be her way like she did in season 7...

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 20th June 2007 21:06 (UTC)

Posted by: arkeus (arkeus)
Posted at: 20th June 2007 21:17 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 20th June 2007 22:51 (UTC)

Posted by: arkeus (arkeus)
Posted at: 20th June 2007 22:58 (UTC)

Posted by: Chris (silent_chris)
Posted at: 21st June 2007 11:07 (UTC)

Interesting point about the way characters mirror one another. I've actually seen a lot of similarity between the Amy/Willow and Buffy/Faith oppositions - much more than either has with Giles/Ethan. I think the Amy and Faith arcs do have a lot of similarities - abusive childhoods, irresponsible use of power and forming realtionships with evil men who happen to give them the affection they feel they've been denied. Neither will make cover girl of Sanity Fair during their evil periods. Both also regard their counterparts as somewhat self rightous goody-goodies who they envy for getting the love and acceptance they feel they are denied. The similarities actually make me hope - over optimisticly perhaps - that Amy might one day find some kind of redemption. If it took Angel to bring Faith back to the good side does that make Oz the person to bring Amy round?

I think it's easy to criticise Amy, and certainly she is no saint, but I think that other characters have misused powers for equally selfish, irresponsible or plain stupid reasons, and have sometimes left much more permanent marks. Willow especially has a list of misdeeds that mirror Amy's own (although Amy isn't the one with attempted genocide on her rap sheet). If Willow has learned anything I think it's because there were people to show her the way, whereas Amy's rejection means that there is no one who will even try to make her see her mistakes. Also I think it's wrong to ascribe Amy's actions simply to selfishness, I think they are just as much about anger, loss, rejection and resentment. You might find powerofthebook's essay on Amy interesting (entry for May 19th).

In term's of the theme of growing up I also think it's interesting that Amy had three years less 'growing up' time than the Scooby Gang having been in a state of non development while in rat form. The gang of course are still very young adults and I think that growing up - like redemption - is much more of an ongoing process. Willow might see a big picture that Amy cannot, but there might be a bigger picture that even she cannot yet see. I think one of the aspects of growing up in Buffyverse - demonstrated in 'Lie to Me' - is that things are not as simple as people might like to think and he gang do sometimes seem to belive that there are Good Guys and Bad Guys, and naturally assume that they are the Good Guys, because to quote Willem Dafoe "everybody thinks they're rightous". Perhaps General Voll can see a bigger picture.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 21st June 2007 12:41 (UTC)

Good thoughts on Faith and Amy. I think there is one difference though - even when Faith was at her most rampagey and evil, there was always a hint that she wasn't enjoying it... but rather she couldn't see any alternative, and thought asking for help would be humiliating and a sign of weakness; and so she tried to convince everyone - even herself - that she enjoyed the way she was. Amy, on the other hand,does seem to genuinely enjoy being evil. So I suspect finding redemption for her would be far harder, if even possible.

Thanks for the link to that essay. I'm begining to think I may have been over-harsh on Amy (not that it excuses her actions now). :)

Posted by: Chris (silent_chris)
Posted at: 22nd June 2007 05:32 (UTC)

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 26th June 2007 18:30 (UTC)

Finally got around to reading this, and it's excellent as always. You bring up the good ideas of s8 - which is always commendable, as clunkily told as they are. ;-) You do have a point about Amy and Warren, though I'd argue it's not the only point that could be made about them, and that they're far from the only way to make that point...

Here's a question (which may have come up in other comments, I didn't have time to do more than skim those) and which blueanddollsome pointed out to me: Doesn't Voll sound a LOT like Mal Reynolds in Serenity (assuming you're familiar with Firefly)?

MAL: Sure as I know anything, I know this - they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, ten? They'll swing back to the belief that they can make people... better. And I do not hold to that. So no more runnin'. I aim to misbehave.

VOLL: God help us, if you win then you'll decide the world still isn't the way you want it and the demon in you will say just one thing: 'Slay!' We're not waiting for that to happen. We will wipe you out. Not just monsters anymore. It's you against the world. You're at war with the human race.

Both Whedonverses follow the same structure here, with shadowmen and power that is given for one purpose and used for another. The evil powers-that-be (as opposed to the actual PTB) turn a girl (Buffy/River) into a powerful tool for their needs, girl revolts and uses powers for better purposes, ptb try to make her fall in line, girl and her friends fight back, discover a big secret (scythe/Miranda) and overturn everything. Yet Firefly takes a different approach; anarchic where BtVS ends up being socialist (in the widest of terms). Mal and the general sound alike (and I'm wondering if Joss realizes just how MUCH alike) because they are both refusing to be corrupted, yet we'd brand the one the hero and the other the villain. There's something to be made of this, methinks... Hmmm...

Here's an idea. The basic difference between the hero's and the villain's viewpoint here is: mankind is fucked up vs mankind is good as it is. Whether it's a question of making the best with what we've got to influence those around us as opposed to viciously guarding what we have from outside influences. A dynamic vs a static viewpoint, if you will.

Should probably have thought this through. Now I don't know where I'm going. Oh well.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 27th June 2007 09:03 (UTC)

I definitely think we're supposed to wonder whether Voll or Buffy are really the villain here. Or at least - we have privileged insight into Buffy's inner thought processes and we know her history, but to an outsider who doesn't have that level of access, it would be a genuine question. As far as Twilight's concerned, they're defending humanity against a self-elected elite of demonic-powered killing machines.

The parallels with Firefly are interesting, although I'd not really considered the specific link between Voll and Mal. Although in that context, it's worth saying that Joss has said that if he met Malcolm Reynolds in real life, he'd probably hate him and detest his politics.

ETA: found the actual Joss quote:
"Mal was supposed to be the hero, but in the loosest sense of the word, everything a hero is not, and everything by the way that my hero is not, because he's something of a reactionary, he's a conservative kind of Libertarian guy. I've often said that if Mal and I sat down to dinner, we'd have a terrible time. I don't actually agree with most of what he says, but he's the person who has to be unutterably tough and sometimes cruel in order to survive, and that to me is a fascinating character, whether or not we'd get along."

- so from that perspective, a parallel between Mal and Voll is a good one, even if it seems unlikely that an army general would be a libertarian...

Posted by: chianazhaan (chianazhaan)
Posted at: 13th July 2011 13:54 (UTC)
Doesn't Voll sound a LOT like Mal Reynolds in Firefly/Serenity

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: 15th April 2008 20:39 (UTC)

Hmm... I've always assumed the power references stemmed from Whedon's whole, unmistakably admirable girl power thing. I mean, the mans famed for his strong female characters.

I've always seen his attacks on power more as an attack on more archaic principles of society; the characters (who are ironically usually weaker than there protagonists) stressing the importance of power are, to me at least, analogies of older generations with deep seated bias towards a particular race or gender. People who have seen a shift in our society, and fear it tremendously.

More specifically, in Buffy at least, rapists. Everyone knows the issue of rape was apparent in Buffy, usually people refer to seeing red (I hope to god that's the name of the episode, it's been far too long since I watched season 6.) But I feel that's pretty much a given... No, you've highlighted just some of the many many times Joss has subtly addressed this issue, and how it disgusts him. As is often said, rape is not about sex, it's about power. If you look at most of the power quotes, you can see the resemblance to this statement and how it applies. (As mentioned in other posts further up, rape doesn't always have to be physical. It can be any act designed to make somebody else feel "weak", and you "strong".)

Whereas I think Angel was more geared towards the power and corruption angle, and almost definitely leaned more towards equality of race- remember, before Angel's spin off pretty much all demons were slobbering beasts. Whedon created a race which we instantly associated with evil, and then showed a completely different side to it thus destroying our preconceived notions; then went further still, turning humans, who up until this point were almost always innocent victims or quirky hero's- into the main enemy throughout the majority of the show. Genius.

So, yeah. To me, the issue of power Whedon raises is simply that no person should ever feel as though they're entitled to it, and that others aren't. Just look at Anya's whole "that doesn't make you better then us, it makes you luckier than us" speech.

And, just out of curiosity, why does everyone feel as though Buffy wasn't justified in her actions in season 7? another of Whedons big points was the idea of sacrifice; and making the hard choices when no one else is willing to. Wesley's a huge testament to that.

Just because she wasn't likable doesn't mean she wasn't a good leader.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 16th April 2008 13:19 (UTC)
Re: Power

I've been thinking recently about Buffy's leadership skills, actually. She did mess up in S7, certainly - she lost the trust of the people she was leading, which is just as important as "making the hard decisions". (Remember, Wesley and Giles both come from the same school).

But I think that (a) she was in a no-win situation anyway (b) she was just 22 years old, had never been trained for leadership and this was her first time in the role. She'd have to be superhuman - um, even more superhuman - not to screw up at least a little bit. But in the end she won through.

I do think that in his more recent work Joss is shifting away from a simple "old-fashioned authority structures are evil" and to a more nuanced "okay, so if the good guys get the power instead, what do they do with it? How do they keep form turning into the bad guys themselves?" We see it in 'Buffy' Seasons 7 and 8, we see it in Season 5 of 'Angel', and I suspect we were going to see it in later seasons of Firefly.

I'm utterly convinced that the initial picture of "heroic Mal" and "evil Alliance" we were shown was looking to be subverted in later episodes. Joss is just too insistent in his interviews and so on in pointing out that the Alliance is actually a pretty decent government for the vast majority of its citizens... and there's even a more personal conflict there in the fact that Inara tells Mal to his face that she supported Unification.

Posted by: jlbarnett (jlbarnett)
Posted at: 28th April 2008 16:10 (UTC)
Re: Power

Posted by: jlbarnett (jlbarnett)
Posted at: 28th April 2008 16:08 (UTC)

To me, the show always seemed to vear away from the power thing. THey'd talk about it, but then they'd do something to show that the person who thought that was on the wrong track.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 28th April 2008 17:35 (UTC)

If I could sum up the shows' philosophy in one sentence, it would be "There are always consequences." It's a premise of both 'Buffy' and 'Angel' that Evil is a real force in the world, but otherwise, everything is nuanced and everything has a flip-side. Power can be used for evil, but if you have no power you can't prevent evil either. Any time you think you see a clear moral message being preached to you, you can pretty much guarantee it will be subverted a week or two later, because in Joss's world grey is a much more common colour than black or white.

Posted by: chianazhaan (chianazhaan)
Posted at: 13th July 2011 13:42 (UTC)
(Meta) It's About Power

Lovely meta on power in the Buffyverse. When you put it together like this it's clearly one of the dominant themes on the show.

Just like Buffy is acting in humanity's best interests without our consent or approval...

Just to make a counterpoint. By making the slayer and support her with the Scythe, both the Shadowmen and the Guardians were acting as representatives of humanity four thousand years ago. (I might be off by a *few* years. *grins*) So I'd conclude that "The Slayer" is allowed to make those decisions. This could have been made more interesting, because there were 2 slayers, but...*shrugs* I think it isn't so much about Buffy having the right to choose for humanity.

I think you should reverse it. If humanity wants to choose for itself instead of having The Slayer choose for them, they have the moral right to do so. But then they also have the moral obligation to clearly communicate that desire to Buffy and the other slayers/champions. If humanity wants vampires and demons to have citizen rights, they can. They can assign slayers the role of SWAT teams of Hostage Rescue Teams or...

That is the most interesting theme that *should* have been answered after Harmonic Divergence and the Retreat arc. Instead we have this simplistic role reversal (and General Voll rantings).

About the Slayer Empowerment Spell. The major issue I have with it, is that the benefits are clearly defined, while the negative aspects are rather vague.

How much different are Potentials from "normal" girls, if at all? Do *all* the Potentials have nightmares about slayers from the past? The answers are important in order to determine whether giving slayer powers to these new girls is good or bad? Are slayers huge blips on the supernatural radar? Is a slayer acting as a honey trap; attracting evil demons? Important questions that determines whether a slayer can choose to stay out of the fight or not.

By having vague negative aspects (some of which can be mitigated by having lots of slayers), while simultaneously having clearly defined positive aspects, it's difficult to construe the Slayer Empowerment Spell as anything other than positive.

Thanks for the meta. I enjoyed reading it.

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