StephenT (stormwreath) wrote,

(Meta) My Season 7 Manifesto

I've been thinking about the subject of this post for a long time - whenever some argument springs up about 'Chosen' or the amulet or the First Evil or the morality of empowering all the Slayers. And finally, I decided to write down ten statements that declare What I Believe To Be True about 'Buffy' Season 7, and especially its final few episodes. Some of these are, I think, self-evident - although still surprisingly controversial in some circles. Some are more a matter of opinion, but my statements describe what I believe makes the most sense or is what the writers intended to say. There's probably more I could say or other questions I haven't addressed, but this essay was getting far too long anyway so I decided to limit myself to ten.

Here they are:

1. There is a good reason why the turok-han that Buffy fought in 'Bring On The Night' was much stronger than the legions of them that the Slayers fought in 'Chosen'.
2. The Slayers managed to defeat the army of turok-han themselves, which means that Buffy's plan worked. The fact that the amulet wiped them all out and closed the Hellmouth permanently was an unexpected but welcome bonus.
3. Buffy's plan made good tactical sense. Her victory wasn't solely down to luck.
4. The First's defeat was primarily moral, not military.
5. The fact that the amulet was worn by a man is not a betrayal of feminist principles.
6. The Slayer empowerment spell affected only those women who were ready and able to accept the power.
7. Potentials were already different before they became Slayers.
8. Becoming a Slayer was a good thing for those people it happened to.
9. A Slayer is not a demon.
10. The Slayer spell was empowerment and liberation, not a violation.

1. There is a good reason why the turok-han Buffy fought in 'Bring On The Night' was much stronger than the legions of them that the Slayers fought in 'Chosen'.

And that's because the one The First chose as Its champion was the meanest, toughest, most dangerous of them all. It was as much stronger than normal turok-han as Spike or Angel are tougher than normal vampires. It's also possible that The First empowered it with extra strength in the same way that It did to Caleb.

2. The Slayers managed to defeat the army of turok-han themselves, which means that Buffy's plan worked. The fact that the amulet wiped them all out and closed the Hellmouth permanently was an unexpected but welcome bonus.

I probably need to clarify what I mean by "defeated the army". It doesn't mean killing every last one of them: it means slaying a lot of them, forcing the rest to flee and hide, and delaying The First's invasion plans for a long, long time. That would have been a great victory, but it wouldn't have meant the end of the war. To use a historical analogy: Japan had already been defeated militarily by 6 August 1945; her armies were broken and no longer a threat to anyone, but they were still fighting viciously in scattered pockets all over the Far East. The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ensured a final, conclusive and so-far permanent end to Japanese militarism. The amulet did much the same to Sunnydale's Hellmouth.

How do I know the Slayers had already won? Mostly because of two specific lines of dialogue, and my interpretation of the backing music and the way the fight scene was shot. Those lines are first, when an unseen Slayer shouts "They're leaving! They're retreating!" and secondly, of course, when Spike says "You beat them back, it's for me to do the clean-up." Now, that first line has actually been quite controversial in the past, because it doesn't appear in the shooting script and therefore a few people have refused to admit it exists, but it's definitely there. The second is surely clear enough. Would Spike really be talking like that if the Slayers were still locked in a desperate life and death struggle? I suppose, if you were determined to minimise the Slayers' efforts, you could argue that Spike was being extremely modest in downplaying his role in the victory, not to mention openly lying to Buffy about her own contribution to it. Because that would be totally in character for him, yeah?

As for the cinematography and music: once Buffy has defied The First to Its (/her own) face, the music changes pace and becomes triumphant, we see Slayers we'd previously thought done for - Buffy herself and Faith  - get up again and go back into battle, and we watch a dramatic CGI shot of Buffy killing several turok-han with a single blow, Vi killing three in the space of about three seconds, and so on. All these things indicate that the tide of battle has turned and victory is at hand. All that remained was, as Spike put it, "the clean-up".

Some people argue that however well the Slayers were doing up there on the cliff face, there were still plenty more turok-han down below and therefore it was premature to say the battle was won. That's fair enough as an abstract point, though there are again plenty of historical examples of an army being routed and thoroughly defeated without the actual death rate being all that high. The Battle of Plassey in 1757 is a classic example, where a British East India Company army of just 3,000 men defeated a Bengali army of 52,000 men. The Bengalis only lost about 500 casualties (the British lost 65), but their army's morale was shattered and the defeat so total that it led to 200 years of British domination of their country. Given the clear authorial intent shown in the dialogue and music and filming of 'Chosen', I think it's safe to say that the turok-han weren't about to make a miraculous last-minute rally and pull victory from the jaws of defeat.

3. Buffy's plan made good tactical sense. Her victory wasn't solely down to luck.

I'll admit that this assertion relies on several assumptions, not least of which is that the writing and direction of the episode do nothing to imply that her plan was a bad one. I should also point out that unlike most of fandom, I also argue that her plan in 'Dirty Girls' wasn't actually bad so much as unlucky. However, let's break it down.

Why did she open the Hellmouth herself? Wasn't that reckless?
Not really; as she says herself, waiting until The First is ready to attack would be the mistake. We've seen that It can recruit new Bringers, and presumably It can also create new turok-han; so the longer Buffy waits, the larger the enemy army will get. Meanwhile, The First can pick away at the Potentials, demoralising them and perhaps killing a few of them off here and there... so waiting conversely reduces Buffy's strength. Finally, allowing It to pick the moment to attack cedes the initiative and makes Buffy's forces vulnerable to a nasty surprise at the worst possible moment.

How is charging into the Hellmouth different to charging into the vineyard?
Because this time, Buffy knew what to expect. She'd received the vision from the Shadowmen and knew exactly what was waiting for her in the Hellmouth. Tough as they are, turok-han are still vampires... and by 'Chosen' Buffy knows she can defeat them (remember the three she fights in 'End Of Days'). She has the Scythe, and she has Willow's Slayer spell, and she even has that amulet thingie.

Why didn't they wait until Willow's spell took effect before going down into the Hellmouth?
It's a good question, with three possible answers. One is "because they're dumb", which seems unsatisfying and also contradicts the evidence of the show, which is that despite her occasional ditzy moment Buffy is certainly not stupid. The second is because they believed that as soon as The First realised what Willow was trying to do, It would tell the turok-han and Bringers to attack anyway - so why wait? The third, which I prefer, is that Willow could only cast her spell after the Seal had been opened and the magical Hellmouthy energies released. It's surely not a coincidence that she has to cast it in the Principal's office, directly over the Seal, is it?

Couldn't they have waited outside the Hellmouth and killed the turok-han as they came charging up?
It's possible: in all honesty, this is probably one of the things that was done for dramatic effect. A climactic battle scene in a small, dark and crowded room with vampires climbing a staircase one by one wouldn't be very exciting as the climax to seven years of the show, would it? But there's also the fact that by entering the Hellmouth, Buffy's companions would have room to spread out and fight properly; all cramped together in a dark space might have lead to some nasty accidents.

Why didn't they keep quiet and hide inside the Hellmouth until the spell took effect?
Partly, I think, because it's simply not in character for Buffy and her friends to sneak around as if they were afraid of the monsters, rather than vice-versa. Partly it may be because The First probably knew they were there anyway as soon as the Seal was opened.

Why didn't they send Spike in alone with the amulet?
Because they weren't exactly sure what it would do; because they didn't know how long it would take to activate, and he might need Slayers to protect him until it did; and because Spike would have told them to sod off if they'd suggested it. Not to mention - as I discuss below - that the amulet's activation might actually have been caused by Buffy's defeat of The First.

How did she think 30 Slayers could defeat an army of vampires?
She says it herself. She'd been slaying vampires for years and frankly, they're not that scary... at least, not to a Slayer. Incidentally, there's been a long-running debate about exactly how many turok-han they had to face down in the Hellmouth, with many people loosely throwing about numbers like "thousands". In fact, when I once enlarged a screencap of the "big scary vampire army" scene and counted heads, there were only about 300 or so visible. Sure, there might be hundreds more off-camera, but we're still talking the very low thousands at most. And again with the historical examples: Rorke's Drift 1879, 4,000 or more Zulus versus 139 British. Buffy and Faith were no more outnumbered than Chard and Bromhead even if you don't account for the fact that a pissed-off Slayer is a more dangerous opponent than a Welshman with a single-shot rifle.

Purely random thought: is there Chard/Bromhead slash? Not that I'd particularly want to read it myself, but on the theory that "any kink exists somewhere on the Internet" I'm curious...

4. The First's defeat was primarily moral, not military.

On the face of it, The First's plan was to invade the world with an army of vampires. According to what it tells Caleb, once its own worshippers outnumbered the humans It would be able to take corporeal form. This military threat was in turn defeated by military means - Buffy's Slayers.

However, I've always believed that The First's true agenda was to corrupt and destroy humanity from the inside, one by one. What would an immortal spirit of pure Evil really care about physical bodies or conquest? In this light, I believe The First takes more pleasure in individual moments of degradation and betrayal than in any amount of blood and slaughter... and its objective in Season 7 was to corrupt that shining symbol of humanity's resistance against evil, the Slayer. What finally defeated it was the moment where Buffy, stabbed through the abdomen and apparently broken, refused to give way to despair. At that moment, The First vanishes, the dramatic triumphant music starts and the turok-han are driven back. That, I would say, is the decisive moment.

Of course, the fact that Joss Whedon tends to think in terms of dramatic character developments rather than realistic military strategies supports my contention that this was the author's intention. :-) It was Buffy's inner strength and determination that drove away The First, just as it was Spike's courage and desire to do what was right that destroyed the Hellmouth.

I'll also mention two theories which make a lot of sense even if they aren't specifically proven on screen. One is that Spike's amulet activated almost the very moment after Buffy defied the First and caused it to retreat, but not before. That might be a coincidence... but it might also be because that defiance and the First's retreat was necessary for it to activate. Maybe it drew its power from the triumphant release of energy from the surrounding people once they knew they were winning, or perhaps The First's presence was preventing it from activating.

The second theory is that The First's willpower was motivating its army, filling them with strength and ferocity in a watered-down but more widespread version of what It did to Caleb. Once It realised there was no chance of breaking Buffy's spirit, and that killing her would no longer end the Slayer line, It lost interest and left. The turok-han were now merely vampires, and easily defeated. I got this idea, as you might guess, from Tolkien (and also Timothy Zahn).

5. The fact that the amulet was worn by a man is not a betrayal of feminist principles

Yes, I've seen this argument advanced in all seriousness; and it's thoroughly silly. First, as I've pointed out above, the amulet wasn't the sine qua non of the victory anyway. Secondly, Spike was carrying the amulet at Buffy's request and as part of a plan she devised; it doesn't detract from his heroism and self-sacrifice to say that she deserves the overall credit for the victory. And since I'm not a radical separatist - which would be quite an awkward position for me to take given my circumstances - I don't believe that feminism requires men to be superseded and sidelined. The fact that a man (Spike) can willingly accept a woman's leadership and fight beside her is surely a powerful feminist statement?

6. The Slayer empowerment spell affected only those women who were ready and able to accept the power

Firstly, I don't believe that the spell turned young children into Slayers, and I doubt that anyone older than their early twenties was Called. We've only got negative evidence for this, in that the youngest Slayer we saw was a week or two short of her 12th birthday (going by the actress's actual age), and the oldest - Dana - was apparently 25 or so. There's also evidence from 'Harmonic Divergence' where a new Slayer, in the post-Chosen world, is Called on the day of her 16th birthday.

Secondly, a lot of the girls we saw becoming Slayers did so at some moment of danger to themselves or others. This might be dramatic or otherwise - Soledad was about to be beaten up by a girl gang, the nameless Slayer of 'The Chain' was about to be run over by a truck, even Baseball Girl looked like she was about to be hurt or humiliated - but it looks like the mysterious Powers that decide who will become a Slayer do take such things into consideration. These girls might not necessarily have wanted to become Slayers, but it seems like they needed to.

You might argue that Dana (from 'Damage') is a poor candidate for becoming a Slayer. However, after being victimised and haunted all her life, being Chosen finally allowed her to feel strong and to conquer her demons. It was nothing but a good thing for her. Maybe less good for those around her.

7. Potentials were already different before they became Slayers

This is implied a few times by things Buffy and others say during the season: that the Potentials are already more capable, stronger and faster than normal people even if they're not superpowered. Part of this, of course, may be simply the result of their intensive training...  in fact, in many genres someone like Kennedy who's been intensively trained in weapons and martial arts since she was eight years old by a secret and reclusive order of warlocks and assassins would be considered a superhero anyway! She's certainly received just as good training as the average fictional ninja. However, it's also implied that even people like Amanda who had a normal upbringing are simply better at this.

What this means is that becoming a Slayer is not imposing something from outside; it's awakening a potential that already existed.

On a side note: it was never discussed anywhere in the show where Potentials come from in the first place. It doesn't seem to be hereditary, at least in the narrow sense that if Buffy's a Slayer then Dawn and Joyce must therefore also be Potentials. It's possible that there is a genetic element to it, but if so it's a gene that's widely distributed and only rarely expresses itself... and from an evolutionary perspective, very few Slayers live long enough to reproduce. Alternatively, maybe there's some entity (the Slayer Spirit, the Powers That Be, the Guardians?) actively creating Potentials. I've suggested elsewhere that the Guardians once knew a magical ritual to create new Potentials, and garbled and misunderstood versions of this ritual - that occasionally work, but usually don't - are preserved in popular culture around the world as "blessings for new babies" or similar. Or maybe it's a mixture of 'all of the above'.

One criticism of the "Potentials are different to normal people" approach is that it lays the show open to charges that it's advocating oligarchy, the triumph of the Overman and the creation of a master race to rule over the rest of humanity. (No, I'm not exaggerating the criticisms that have been levelled at Joss over the years.) 'Chosen' didn't present it like that, of course; the message of the big montage scene was that Everywoman was becoming a Slayer, that every girl who can stand up, will stand up. Unless she's already a witch, an ex-demon or a ball of green glowing energy, of course. As we found out in 'Angel' Season 5 and 'Buffy' Season 8 it didn't work like that: only about 2,000 women were actually Called rather than all three billion of them. (Has anyone ever written an AU post-Chosen fic in which it did happen that way, incidentally?) Even so, the emotional message of 'Chosen' was one of general empowerment.

(And, of course, the 'dangers of creating a master race' theme is exactly what Joss chose to explore in Season 8, so it's not like he was blind to the potential problem.)

8. Becoming a Slayer was a good thing for those people it happened to

This is surprisingly controversial, considering that Buffy herself was never in any doubt that having superpowers was a wonderful thing. What she hated was the responsibility that came from being One Girl In All The World... the fact that everybody relied on her alone, she had nobody to turn to who could understand what it was like, that if she didn't fight evil herself nobody would and the resulting deaths would be on her conscience. The fact that it was never-ending, with no hope of relief short of her death. The fact that being the one and only Slayer made her the target for every demon and vampire and warlock with a grudge or something to prove.

Empowering thousands of Slayers removed (most of) those downsides of being a Slayer, leaving the upsides.

(Of course, in real life things are never quite that simple, which is why Season 8 is exploring some of the consequences of Buffy's action. But that doesn't take away from the basic message that things became better for all concerned. Quantity has a quality all its own, as Josef Stalin once said.)

There's one specific point to address, which numerous people have made the subject of fics over the years; that a girl suddenly becoming a Slayer might accidentally use her unaccustomed strength to hurt or even kill someone else... and by extension, Buffy and Willow would be responsible for that. While a clever idea, I've never thought it worked that way: all the girls being empowered seemed to me to know exactly what had happened to them, and be in full control... whether it's Baseball Girl's cheeky smile or the look of determination in Abused Trailer Girl's face. 'The Chain' made that explicit, with the emphasis on how the new Slayer was hit by all the accumulated knowledge and memories and wisdom of the entire preceding Slayer line all at once. Of course, it doesn't mean that a newly Called woman will use her powers for good, but it seems clear to me that she'd use them with understanding. And I've already said I don't believe in toddler Slayers. :-)

(Linked to this, we need to note that Buffy never wandered about smashing and destroying things accidentally because she didn't know her own strength, the way fyarl!Giles did in 'A New Man'. Even though she was often shown to be quite clumsy when it came to non-Slaying activities.)

9. A Slayer is not a demon

We're told that the Slayer power is "demonic in origin". Your origin might be an important part of you, but it doesn't define you. (Or "You're not the source of me", as Buffy would say.) Eating sushi doesn't turn you into a fish, and being infused by power drawn from the heart of a demon doesn't automatically make you a demon yourself. I believe that Buffy, Faith and the other Slayers are no less human than, say, Willow or Giles or Ethan.

I have toyed with the idea that the power behind the Slayer line is not merely magical energy but a conscious and self-willed entity, the Slayer Spirit, which plays a part in deciding who will be Chosen. Even in this case, while it may technically be a demon I think that after tens of thousands of years of being linked so closely to so many human girls, it would have become a very human kind of demon in its outlook and attitudes...

10. The Slayer spell was empowerment and liberation, not a violation

This is a complex and fraught area of discussion, but to me it boils down to a very simple proposition: giving somebody more power, as long as they have the information to use it wisely, is never a bad thing for them. As I discussed in my essay on Willow and the will to power; without it, we are helpless to affect the world around us. We merely the slaves of events. Gaining power means liberation.

Of course, giving power to people who've never enjoyed it before doesn't always lead to good results. That's kind of the point. We can try to control our children's lives in their best interests, but doing the same thing to adults only infantilises them... liberty includes the freedom to make mistakes. Both Adolf Hitler and Margaret Thatcher benefited more from women's votes than from men's, but that doesn't mean that giving the vote to women was a mistake. Likewise, not every new Slayer might use her powers wisely, but the fact of having them gives her more choices and more options about what to do with her life.

The biggest problem with my view of the Slayer empowerment spell, of course, is the so-called 'rape metaphor'. In 'Get It Done', the creation of the First Slayer was shown as a violent act carried out without her consent, and Buffy herself raises the analogy of sexual violation. How does this differ, critics ask, from what Buffy and Willow did in 'Chosen'?

The first approach to answering this is to point out that the practical effects were very different. The First Slayer was being removed from her normal life, turned into a tool in the hands of the Shadowmen - a weapon - like all Slayers after her until Buffy. The women in 'Chosen' were being given something else: additional power and additional choice, with no obligation at all to give up their normal lives unless they wanted to. I'm not saying that this obviates the consent issue, but I'm sure we all agree that if the choice is cake or death, being forced to eat cake is a minor inconvenience compared to the alternative.

It's sometimes suggested that Buffy and Willow honestly believed that every surviving Potential had already arrived in Sunnydale, and so Buffy's "Here's the part where you make a choice..." speech was, in her mind, genuinely giving everybody who would be affected by the spell the chance to vote on it. All those thousands of Potentials in the rest of the world came as a complete surprise. While perhaps not satisfying from an emotional perspective, this does at least absolve Buffy of any formal guilt for imposing superpowers on women without their consent... she had no mens rea for the action and used due diligence to prevent it.

I used to believe also that there may have been an element of Willow's spell that caused it to only affect those girls who were willing to become Slayers, at least subconsciously. 'The Chain' disproved that theory, although it still leaves open the possibility (as mentioned before) of it only affecting those women who needed to become Slayers.

However, my main argument against this charge is to say that really, the question of consent is the wrong question to be asking. Becoming a Slayer wasn't something imposed on these women from outside... it was already there inside them in potential, and it was only "the rules made up by a bunch of men thousands of years ago" that prevented them from all having that power. It was the Shadowmen who violated their consent, and all Buffy and Willow did was ensure that these women could enjoy the benefits of that long-ago action as well as having to suffer its downsides. They were breaking the chains, not adding new ones.

On a metaphorical level, just as the story of 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer' was that of Buffy growing up and becoming an adult woman with full acceptance of her responsibilities, so Slayerhood is a metaphor for adult agency. You don't choose to become an adult, you don't "consent" to puberty or maturity. It happens regardless of your wishes, but you do get to choose how you respond to the changes in your body and your life.

So what was the point of the heavy rape metaphor in 'Get It Done'? I think it's because the show was talking about power. On one level, the First Slayer was being empowered, and that's a good thing. However, the Shadowmen were weighting her down with so many chains, both literal and symbolic, that her power was effectively useless to her. She was a prisoner, taken away from her previous life and taught that she had "No friends, just the kill". If she dared show independence, those long sticks wielded by men were always there to beat obedience into her. (Nope, absolutely no phallic symbolism or patriarchy metaphors going on here, no sir...) Without knowledge of the world around her and wholly dependent on the Shadowmen, she became nothing but a weapon in their hands. It's not accidental but rather highly symbolic that Buffy's response to the Shadowmen's offer of more power was to demand knowledge instead - because to change the world around you effectively you need both.

What she and Willow gave the other Slayers was power without the strings attached, and with the ability to gain as much knowledge as they could. That's something very different to what previous generations of Slayers had to face.

"Even if you see them coming, you're not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does. So, what, are we helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are going to come, can't help that. It's what you do afterwards that counts. That's when you find out who you are."



ETA: I wanted to make a couple of comments based on the discussion below, for the benefit of anyone coming to this post now:

1. In saying that Buffy was already winning the battle against the turok-han before the amulet activated, I'm trying to assert her independent role in the overall victory, not doing down anybody else's contribution. Buffy defeated the vampire army. Spike closed the Hellmouth forever. Everyone else also did their part.

2. One suggestion that came out of the discussion was that Buffy already knew in advance exactly what the amulet would do (thanks to Giles being able to translate its operating instructions far better than Angel managed, presumably). This wasn't revealed to us, the audience, to preserve suspense. While I'm not 100% convinced of this yet, it would change several of my assumptions in the ten points above
Tags: buffy, meta
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