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(Review) BtVS 8.22 'Swell'

5th February 2009 (20:39)

'Swell' is in many ways a classic monster of the week episode of 'Buffy'. There's an 'A' plot and a 'B' plot: a threat that needs to be first researched and then defeated, while the characters resolve their personal issues. There's also plenty of symbolism and thematic elements which relate to the overall season arc and move it forward. Not bad for an issue of the comic which concentrates, for once, on two of the minor characters of the Buffyverse and shows us what life's like from their point of view instead of always focussing on the main heroes.


 

If I have a complaint, it's that this was very much Satsu's issue; Kennedy wasn't precisely a nonentity, but she was pretty much there solely to act as a foil for Satsu's character development. None of her own issues - such as the status of her relationship with Willow and the Saga Vasuki question - got addressed. Which could, of course, mean that actually there is no problem and her relationship with Willow is perfectly fine. :-) But we don't learn much more about her than we did before, and I think that's a shame.

The opening teaser confirms one thing to us - Satsu does speak Japanese. (This was, you may recall, a subject of some debate earlier in the season). However, her translation of the man's words isn't exact. According to swanjun on Whedonesque, he does indeed say "Wah! A monster!" but there's no swearing - Satsu adds that herself. And she doesn't translate his last sentence: "Dareka tasukete!' means "Somebody help!". Of course, it could be that we're only seeing the last part of his speech. The woman she's talking to is, I assume, Malita - the same wavy-haired Slayer who's later shown twice looking things up on computers. She evidently is not Japanese herself as she doesn't speak the language, so the Tokyo squad is clearly multi-national just like the Scotland one.

Satsu is shown here as a decisive leader who can think on her feet and come up with effective tactics - steering the monster towards the river and away from the crowds. She's also clearly enthusiastic about fighting. I've seen her being criticised for not stopping to help the man trapped in the armoured car, and you could argue that this is another example of Slayers not caring about ordinary folk. On the other hand, stopping the monster rampaging through downtown Tokyo is probably slightly more urgent, the man is in no immediate danger, and it's not as if there isn't a crowd of people gathered around who could help him. People who, incidentally, show no sign of panic at the idea of a monster on the loose. The citizens of downtown Tokyo are presumably used to that sort of thing.

Satsu's sword has a very reflective blade, doesn't it? This is the second time we've seen someone's expression reflected in it. (8.04 before.)

It puzzled me at first, but the pink voice-over boxes ("Oh crap...") are presumably the demon itself talking. As we later learn, it was paid to steal the prototype Vampy Cat from the armoured car we saw in the first scene, with the intention of luring the Slayers into chasing it to recapture the cat - but it didn't anticipate getting one of its arms chopped off in the process.

Kennedy "just dropping in" by parasail is a little over the top and campy, but it's the kind of humour I appreciate - though I'm sure the feeling isn't universal. It's not the only such moment this episode, either. Presumably there's an aircraft or helicopter that dropped her off. Incidentally, in a nice touch of continuity, the gun she's holding is drawn identically to the one Buffy used to zap the forcefield in 8.01. It clearly also works as a taser, stunning demons with a blast of electricity (not unlike the Initiative's weaponry). Satsu and Kennedy simultaneously kicking the demon once it revives, and its puzzled "...Grrrrr...Grr?" was amusing too.

Now we get to the 'B' plot, and things get interesting. The reference to the 'Korean incident' is left vague here, although it will pay off pretty well at the end of the episode. Satsu's line about Buffy "reviewing her ass" was funny: it shows that she's sarcastic and quick-thinking but also, perhaps, trading on her sexual relationship with the big boss rather more than she should be. The affair is clearly common knowledge among all the Slayers; as Kennedy says, "Yeah, yeah, everybody knows the story." There's clearly an active gossip hotline where Buffy is concerned.

Then there's Satsu's angry remark about Buffy sending "the other lesbian Slayer" to check up on her. From a practical perspective, I doubt that only two out of those 500 women are gay... although this comment does at least put to rest the tongue-in-cheek suggestion some people have made that the Slayer Empowerment Spell turned all the Potentials into lesbians as well as into Slayers. :-)

More to the point, however, Satsu's comment hangs a lantern on a rather significant issue. To be frank, I'm pretty sure that Joss and Steven S de Knight did choose Kennedy as the other character for this issue because she's the other prominent lesbian who is also a Slayer. However, the very fact that they were able to do that says something about the show itself. Generally, if there's a gay character in a story and another gay character appears, it's taken for granted that they'll pair up... that that's the only reason why Gay Character #2 was written into the show at all. But 'Buffy' has clearly now achieved a Sapphic critical mass, where the writers have enough lesbian characters with their own roles and backstories as unique individuals, that they can put two of them together for an entire episode without the expectation that they'll end the story in bed together (or arguing jealously, or dead).

Of course, there certainly was plenty of speculation even so when 'Swell' was announced that either Kennedy or Satsu or both would wind up dead, or they'd pair off together. I'm very pleased that nothing of the sort happened. And Willow/Kennedy are still an item. :-)

Anyway, on with the plot. If you've not seen it, there's a short story about the Vampy Cats on Dark Horse's website; they're being marketed as cute and cuddly vampires for children that will protect their owners by, um, disembowelling anyone who's mean to them. The 'Santorio Corporation' that makes them is a parody of the Sanrio Corporation that makes Hello Kitty dolls.  Meanwhile, our poor demon Gunyarr from the opening scene is being betrayed and killed by a shadowy form which we'll see more clearly later. You have to feel sorry for the guy. After all, he's 'armless.

At night, Vampy Cat comes to life. Given the red eyes and fangs I thought he was going to kill Satsu, and when she appeared in the next scene I was confused - thinking perhaps she'd been turned into a vampire herself... although the sunlight pouring in through the open walls would, with hindsight, make that unlikely. Is that Kennedy talking to Ayumi while Satsu is asleep, incidentally? Or just one of the other Slayers?  Also, note that Satsu now has an Easter Island moai to hang her jewellery on. I'm not positive, but I think that's probably a newspaper clipping with a picture of Buffy she's got stuck on the wall next to it.

Satsu in her kimono (or furisode, I suppose, if you want to be accurate) was quite puzzling until I worked out what was going on. Incidentally, she says here that her parents bought it for her, but later on once she recovers she asks "What the hell am I wearing?" I'm going to assume she's shocked that she unpacked it and put it on, since she wouldn't normally be seen dead in it, rather than that she literally has never seen it before. She must have got it from somewhere, after all. Also, if we assume she's telling the truth, we can also assume that she's not lying when she says her parents reacted really badly to discovering she was gay. That also implies that she was still living with her parents at the time, rather than with a Watcher, so she was probably one of the Undiscovered Potentials.

She's holding a map of Scotland, and we soon learn she's used it to point out where Buffy's new base is. The map shows dots at Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee (slightly off-position) and Aberdeen, but also four other dots - two in the Cairngorms, one near the Isle of Skye and one in Caithness - and presumably one of these is Slayer HQ. (And another might be the Big Ruined Ex-Castle).

Now we have Stepford Satsu going into her misogynistic and homophobic rant about Slayers. I assume this is actually the Vampy Cat inspiring her words; though we have to wonder if this is their own thoughts - or if Twilight programmed them this way, and we're learning his true opinions. Or possibly, he was hoping for a few possessed Slayers to go on TV and make similar speeches to Satsu's, but in public, to discredit them?

What is really interesting is that many of Possessed!Satsu's criticisms of the Slayers are, in fact, things that many of the fans have been raising as problems about them:

"I mean, why are Slayers so aggro? With the hacking and the chopping and the staking! We should be ashamed of ourselves, bringing so much misery into the world! We're nothing but a bunch of self-righteous little ovaries! We march around playing soldier, deciding who's evil and who's not. We're the evil ones! And we're going to get what we deserve!"

Well, the argument is now out there on the page; but given the context, I think the messenger was specifically chosen to discredit it in our eyes. After all, Satsu is basically saying that it's not up to a bunch of women to make important decisions about good and evil or to take action to change the world, when they ought to be staying at home and making babies. I've never heard 'ovaries' used as an insult for women before, but given the context I suspect deKnight used it because he knew he wouldn't be able to get away with writing 'cunts', which is what he probably meant Satsu to be saying here.

Sadly, there were probably a few people in the readership who cheered when Kennedy got punched across the room - though probably not as many as would have done if it happened in Season 7. But she gets her revenge on Satsu; we get yet another scene of a Slayer throwing up on the floor (Satsu and Buffy have something else in common now) and the true nature of the Vampy Cat is revealed in all its really, really gross glory.

Oh, and Satsu's Slayer instincts have absolutely nothing wrong with them if she managed to grab that sword from somewhere or other and cut the kitty attacking Kennedy in half before even noticing her clothing.

Back in my review of 8.01 I wondered if the Slayers flew their helicopters themselves or if they hired pilots. Looks like the answer is (a) - or if they have hired pilots, they're by pure coincidence all young women in the same age-group as the Slayers. :-) Given their supernatural hand-eye coordination and lightning-fast reflexes I'm sure Slayers make excellent pilots, although I'm not sure I'd trust Buffy specifically behind the control stick...  

It wasn't clear at first, but when Satsu groans "Oh, my stomach" it must be because the pilot just put the helicopter through some aerobatics that made her nauseous again... because it's the pilot who apologises. Minor point - Kennedy is in normal clothing, but the other Slayers are all in their combat armour. And Satsu's armour appears standard; none of the teddy bear heads or other extreme customisation of old (though her bright pink fingerless gloves aren't regulation). I'm thinking that post-Buffy and as a squad leader now, she has less need to assert her unique snowflake status quite so much?

The dead sarariman in the Santorio offices looks like the one who arranged for the death of Gunyarr the demon, so presumably he was simply possessed then rather than being in on the plot - and once drained dry he was abandoned. Notice that Kennedy's reaction to the news of the ship heading for Scotland is "They're going after home base!" and Satsu's is "They're going after Buffy!" Still her #1 priority...

The name of the ship - Daikaijū - means "Great Big Monster" in Japanese. This is clearly foreshadowing...  This time Kennedy has changed into proper armour - and "What's Plan B?" "Same as Plan A. You die." is some classic Buffyverse bad guy dialogue.

We get a second mention of ovaries, showing that the first wasn't accidental; these Vampy Cats are clearly obsessed with the things. And there's a disturbing rape metaphor in the attack, as the monster tries to climb into Kennedy's mouth with its friends shouting "Get in her--" (last word cut off, twice.) The idea that the people opposed to the Slayers - or at least these particular people - are motivated by misogyny seems to be laid on with a trowel by deKnight.

The multiple small monsters combining into one huge one is a classic staple of Japanese anime. The really cheesy dialogue may also be, although it's also a Buffyverse standard as well.

And my laugh out loud moment of the episode was when Satsu tosses the flare into the sky, and we discover the Slayers not only have an Army, but a Navy too. A Navy with attack submarines. :-) It's ridiculous in its way, but it's actually explained pretty well as Satsu gives us the pay-off on the 'Korean incident' line from the start of the episode. Incidentally, I assume it's North Korea she's talking about, since the international repercussions of stealing one of their subs would be rather less than taking one from a US ally. For the record, a Sang-O class diesel/electric submarine is armed with two torpedo tubes and has a crew of 15. How Satsu trained her Slayers to use it and where they keep it is left as an exercise for the reader. (Though I do wonder if the Japanese government is complicit - the squad run by Aiko and now Satsu does seem to operate more openly than the ones elsewhere in the world, and of course Japan has a long history of having to fight huge monsters...)

The idea that Kennedy puts smiley faces on favourable evaluations is a cute touch - striking a nice balance between the Slayer Army as a hierarchical organisation and a loose, informal activist network. :-)

And back to the season arc. I laughed again at Xander's "Big buts come with the Slayer territory" and his immediate back-tracking when he realised what he just said. Harmony is now a national TV celebrity and 'vampire rights spokeswoman', apparently, and Satsu asks the question quite a few fans have also asked; why hasn't she been staked yet? Buffy's answer seems reasonable enough, and shows that she has been thinking carefully about a response to the new situation. However, her inspirational speech at the end does strike rather a discordant note:

"We need to stop being whatever we've been and focus. Be more than human, or the less-than is going to win."

From one angle, a fairly standard bit of motivational rhetoric: don't be content with mediocrity, strive to excel, you can be better than you are. But on the other hand, Buffy is quite literally preaching the superman, and dismissing her opponents as Untermenschen. (Or she would be if she spoke German). She's spelling out more explicitly than ever before that she believes her Slayers are better than normal people.

Season Three Faith would be saying "Preach it, sister!" right about now. I suspect Season 8 Faith would be appalled. I wonder if we're supposed to be too?

Oh, and Satsu finally decides to move on with her life and put Buffy behind her, symbolised by throwing her cinnamon lip gloss in the bin. Good for her.

Comments

Posted by: 2maggie2 (2maggie2)
Posted at: 5th February 2009 21:50 (UTC)

Very helpful review!

**
"I mean, why are Slayers so aggro? With the hacking and the chopping and the staking! We should be ashamed of ourselves, bringing so much misery into the world! We're nothing but a bunch of self-righteous little ovaries! We march around playing soldier, deciding who's evil and who's not. We're the evil ones! And we're going to get what we deserve!"

Well, the argument is now out there on the page; but given the context, I think the messenger was specifically chosen to discredit it in our eyes. After all, Satsu is basically saying that it's not up to a bunch of women to make important decisions about good and evil or to take action to change the world, when they ought to be staying at home and making babies. I've never heard 'ovaries' used as an insult for women before, but given the context I suspect deKnight used it because he knew he wouldn't be able to get away with writing 'cunts', which is what he probably meant Satsu to be saying here.
***

This is part of what's bothering me about the raging misogyny of Swell. If you are right that giving these vile creatures this message discredits the message, there's still a problem for those of us who think that at least part of the message is right on. In particular, the slayers are running around deciding who is or isn't evil. They really are a law unto themselves. If demons are metaphors for ids pace Aycheb in her review, that's not a problem. But if they are persons, as Harmony undoubtedly is, the metaphor is substantially more tricky.

But does ME really want to discredit the message? As you say, these issues come back up in Buffy's chilling statement. It does reek of ubermensch/untermensch rhetoric.

Sue has argued that the misogyny comes from Warren who maybe designed these little creatures. Another possibility is that Twilight knows that Buffy thinks this is about girl power, and by throwing in a big heap of misogynist stuff, he'd get her to resist the claim that maybe they need to think harder about judging evil and all the rest. Since as you say, to reject the messenger is to be tempted to reject the message.

If that's the strategy, it's working. Buffy is seeing this as good/evil, uber/unter. And is therefore blind to how this might look to the mensch's in between.

Jane Espenson's interview sure seems to suggest she's well aware of the complexities here. I'm hoping they're intentional. We'll see.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 5th February 2009 23:23 (UTC)

Thanks. :-)

If you are right that giving these vile creatures this message discredits the message, there's still a problem for those of us who think that at least part of the message is right on.

No argument here; I'm one of those people, and it did seem heavy-handed. On the other hand, I think there may be a better way of looking at it: sure, it's okay to criticise a group of people for their activities, if you disagree with them. But if your criticisms happen to sound almost identical to those used by bigots who are prejudiced against that entire group on basic principles - well, you need to (a) analyse your motives to make sure you're not unconsciously supporting the same prejudice (b) be very careful how you word your criticisms, so you don't make other people think you're buying into the same prejudice.

Or in this case - it's all very well to criticise the way Buffy's Slayers are using the power they have, but there's a big moral difference bwtween "And therefore they should learn how to use it better" and "And that proves they should never have been given it in the first place."


Sue has argued that the misogyny comes from Warren who maybe designed these little creatures.

It's possible. Another alternative - which I thought of while reading, but forgot again before I wrote the review - is that these monsters are cartoony, artificial and child-like. Therefore, you could expect their views to be equally simplistic. It's the same reason why they use stilted fake-dubbed dialogue; to heighten the artificiality.


Jane Espenson's interview sure seems to suggest she's well aware of the complexities here. I'm hoping they're intentional.

I've never doubted for a moment tha the complexities are intentional; it was nice to see Jane confirm it in writing. :-) On the other hand, I'm less sanguine than you that there's a single coherent master plan behind it all, as opposed to Joss throwing in a hundred different themes to suit his gut feelings as to what will work and create the emotional impact he wants to achieve.

Posted by: 2maggie2 (2maggie2)
Posted at: 6th February 2009 01:13 (UTC)

No argument here; I'm one of those people, and it did seem heavy-handed. On the other hand, I think there may be a better way of looking at it: sure, it's okay to criticise a group of people for their activities, if you disagree with them. But if your criticisms happen to sound almost identical to those used by bigots who are prejudiced against that entire group on basic principles - well, you need to (a) analyse your motives to make sure you're not unconsciously supporting the same prejudice (b) be very careful how you word your criticisms, so you don't make other people think you're buying into the same prejudice.

I see your point. What I don't see is how the sorts of concerns reasonable people should have about Buffy are capable of being twisted into misogyny. I don't think I'd be one jot happier if Biff were robbing banks, impounding submarines for future use and so on. If this really is supposed to be some sort of "watch out for the subtle ways that misogyny can hold back women" one would think you'd use subtle examples of misogyny to illustrate your point.

To put it another way, I did spend several years as the only woman in an academic department that had a long history of not being so good to women. The guys there really were jerks a lot of the time. But not in any open way. They didn't call me names or use sexual innuendo to keep me in my place or whatever. It was all more subtle. Anyway, maybe what's fueling my reaction about this is that one of the main reasons my former colleagues couldn't hear about their subtle ways they were making life difficult for women is that they were the enlightened sort of men who would never be the boorish misogynists that Warren or Swell are. If misogynists are like that, then these guys are in the clear. Ergo they are above reproach on this issue and people should stop complaining. How is this advancing our understanding of how to navigate gender issues?

I just am confused by how Joss's feminism plays out. But others are good with it and it's not a big deal to me, since I'm not really a feminist any more.

Posted by: itsmrgordotoyou (itsmrgordotoyou)
Posted at: 6th February 2009 03:48 (UTC)

I agree that the story becomes more interesting if reasonable people could share some of Harmony's or Gen. Voll's fears about Slayers. And I too am I little uncomfortable with the simplistic misogyny of the Swell. In my opinion, revealing Twilight as another misogynist villain along the lines of Caleb would be something of a disappointment. It's not a bad story, but we've already done it. I'd rather see a more subtle take on misogyny; or even better, something completely new.

Maybe Twilight's conspiracy isn't all misogynist. Maybe it's more of a loose coalition (or loose collection of dupes). Some of them hate powerful women while others fear any power they don't control, and still others simply hate the supernatural in general, have personal grudges against Buffy, or are simply mercenaries. Twilight could be telling each group what they need to hear, preying on Gen. Voll's fears of superhero vigilantism and the Swell's desire to bite out ovaries, without himself believing in anything but the need to rid the world of magic. (Or whatever it is he really wants.)

Re: misogyny, note that the Vampy Kitties call each other "brother," just to emphasize their non-femaleness.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 6th February 2009 13:11 (UTC)

Twilight could be telling each group what they need to hear

Nice insight. The one thing we know about him is that he's manipulative and scheming.

Posted by: joe_sweden (joe_sweden)
Posted at: 6th February 2009 11:39 (UTC)

Sidebar really, but...if not a feminist, what would you define yourself as now?

I've been questioning the idea of feminism lately, trying to work out how to promote equality across the board without risking sounding like I think feminism has done its job.

Came across an interesting concept the other day - "kyriarchy", which goes beyond the concept of patriarchy to represent all systems of dominance (so, racism, classism, sexism etc etc):


Kyriarchy - a neologism coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and derived from the Greek words for “lord” or “master” (kyrios) and “to rule or dominate” (archein) which seeks to redefine the analytic category of patriarchy in terms of multiplicative intersecting structures of domination…Kyriarchy is best theorized as a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression.


From here: http://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2008/05/01/word-of-the-day-kyriarchy/

Posted by: 2maggie2 (2maggie2)
Posted at: 6th February 2009 16:58 (UTC)

I don't have a handy definition for myself. I think that the institutional barriers for women's advancement are down and that's good. I think the rest of the change has to come from seeing women advance. And as I just said to Stormwreath, continuing to worry about whether men are or are not jerks on this just reinforces the thought that what men do is what really matters. But that really just is personal experience talking -- so you can dismiss my view as that of someone in an odd spot in the social fabric.

Posted by: joe_sweden (joe_sweden)
Posted at: 6th February 2009 20:38 (UTC)

I agree that some of the good stuff that's yet to come is, as you say, from the current and next generations of women filtering through various institutions when they're old enough - eg women judges - though I think there are various respects in which society needs to change to facilitate equality, especially in terms of childcare/working conditions relating to that.

But the one way in which I think people interested in equality (whether feminist, equal-ists, whatever label) need to be particularly on their toes is about all that "feminist backlash" nonsense - whenever there's some bad news, such as a rise in female crime, it's reported as All Feminism's Fault.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 6th February 2009 13:09 (UTC)

What I don't see is how the sorts of concerns reasonable people should have about Buffy are capable of being twisted into misogyny.

Remember how all this started - with Buffy and Willow empowering all those Slayers in 'Chosen'. I know it's hugely controversial and a lot of people still question it, but that's how Joss sees it and therefore that's the basis that Season 8 builds on.

"Once upon a time... I did something good. I didn't do it alone, of course - but that's the point. I found a way to share my power. Girls all over the world were given power - not just strength, though that does come in handy - but purpose. Meaning. Connection."

Saying that Buffy's actions were a mistake, that they have made matters worse, that she should never have done it because of the harmful consequences - sounds an awful lot like saying women can't be trusted with power because they lack the sense to handle it properly.


they were the enlightened sort of men who would never be the boorish misogynists that Warren or Swell are

Sure, there's a risk that people will say "Well, I'm not like them, so there must be nothing wrong with me." And accusing them of being bigots is counterproductive. But I think it can be a motivating factor if you take the approach "I know you're not a bigot, but you need to be careful when you say such-and-such in case people might mistake you for one." :-)

Posted by: 2maggie2 (2maggie2)
Posted at: 6th February 2009 16:47 (UTC)

Well, you are probably right. Though the opening of #11 suggests that we're allowed to look at the dark side of the spell. "yay me" while looking at Simone. I wouldn't expect a repudiation of the empowerment theme. But if we don't get a qualification of it, then I'd conclude that Joss's feminism got in the way of his ability to tell a good story. Or better I'd say he's an exemplar of a really crappy kind of feminism. Cause if women can't be criticized for robbing banks and commandeering submarines (where we presumably would criticize men for doing the same), then just ugh. (As I said to Aycheb, he's already got this problem hanging over him by allowing Buffy to do to Spike what Biff could never ever have done to Spiketta. Or by allowing Willow to do the equivalent of date rate drugs on Tara without having that played out in the same tone it would have played if Ralph had done the same thing to Tara. etc. etc.)

And reading down I see you replied on that. I do agree that we can blend together the two themes. Though I still think Joss would do himself some favors by finding metaphors for the way backlash really does happen, and that he's not doing a very effective job (thus far) of selling the message that Twilight is at least in part an agent of backlash.

Once you've demonized the word "sexist" you really make it hard for people to get better attitudes. Just my experience. Also there's this funny irony. If we're all about getting men to behave better then men are still the agents whose choices and behavior matters. My own experience is that I got a whole lot more succcessful in a very short period of time when I stopped worrying about what my colleagues were or weren't doing because I was a woman, and started just doing my thing. That was my experience of empowerment.

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 5th February 2009 23:25 (UTC)

But if they are persons, as Harmony undoubtedly is, the metaphor is substantially more tricky.
And Harmony does get treated differently than pure id monsters like Swell. There was never any sign of Slayer Central planning to to dust her even before the martyr making potential went through the roof. Still were you to judge Harmony as a person she'd be a locked up person for the guy she killed twice (turned and dusted) in Espensen's MySpace tie-in.

Another possibility is that Twilight knows that Buffy thinks this is about girl power, and by throwing in a big heap of misogynist stuff, he'd get her to resist the claim that maybe they need to think harder about judging evil and all the rest.
Against that Twilight's been shown encouraging and tolerating exactly the type of low level misogny/sexism from Warren and Riley that he comes out with himself but when Buffy isn't around to hear it.

I vaguely remember Joss saying at the beginning that one part of what he wanted to explore with these comics was how people/society reacts to powerful women. I think we're seeing backlash and the consequent entrenchment and for me that's more interesting than the old, black 'white vs Shades of grey dichotomy or the simplicity of power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, pride comes before a comeuppance. Power is complicated and what corrupts (at least in MacBeth's case) is ambition rather then power.

Posted by: 2maggie2 (2maggie2)
Posted at: 6th February 2009 00:44 (UTC)

Harmony gets treated differently yes, but so much? Were we supposed to see her as Soledad's murderer in HD? Cause she was acting in self defense. And if we want to say, well she's a murderer, do we really want to say that private persons have the right to summarily execute other people if they are bad enough? And if we want to say, well, Harmony can't be subject to human law because she's a vampire then the question is, what exactly is she a metaphor for? She's a person. She's done bad things. Are there persons who have done bad things who can be summarily executed by private persons because they are beyond the law? The reason why it's OK for Buffy to slay vampires is they are metaphors for our inner demons. But when they morph into persons the metaphor gets really problematic. And I do think we're supposed to feel that tension here.

I've just never been quite comfortable with Joss's feminism or what he means to be saying with it. In this case, yes we might be worried about backlash. But no, it's a real problem if we deflect real criticism on the grounds that it's really misogyny in disguise. Buffy's robbing banks and submarines. Surely there's some critique of that possible that has nothing to do with the fact that she's a powerful woman.

My perpetual puzzlement is whether Joss knows this or not. A lot of people have complained that Joss gives women a pass where he doesn't do the same for men. I think that argument can be overstretched. OTOH, you could NOT have aired the alleyway scene in Dead Things if it has been Biff the Vampire Slayer pounding Spiketta's face into hamburger, much less air it and then pretend that Biff didn't even have to apologize for it in any serious way. I don't know what to do with stuff like that. It's a bad kind of feminism that says that women are entitled to exercise their power in ways that men are (rightly) condemned for. And I wouldn't know what to do with the comics if we're supposed to see Twilight as a backlash against powerful women and not notice that Twilight's NOT completely and utterly wrong.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 6th February 2009 12:47 (UTC)

I wouldn't know what to do with the comics if we're supposed to see Twilight as a backlash against powerful women and not notice that Twilight's NOT completely and utterly wrong.

Seriously, why can't it be both? Bad people can have good ideas and vice-versa. Evil fascist dictators can still make the trains run on time.

I think that a big part of Joss's plan is to remind us that things are never black and white. It's okay to fight against evil people who want to destroy you even if you have to acknowledge that some of the things they say are right. Equally, it's okay to criticise your friends for their wrong or evil actions even if you agree with most of the other things they're doing. It's a lesson our society probably needs to hear again after the last eight years, although of course Joss was making the point way back in 'Lie To Me'.

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 6th February 2009 17:27 (UTC)

Should Harmony be subject to human law when she’s not human? Human legal systems generally condone killing in self-defense but what counts as self-defense can vary. In wartime self-defense can be replaced by national defense and enemy soldiers simply being in the wrong place something that justifies lethal measures. In some systems the defense of one’s ‘honour’ is considered sufficient justification for killing. Moving away from the real world Buffyverse demons act as if internecine power struggles or simply being annoying are a good enough reason to eliminate one another (Spike dusting the Annointed One, the demon bikers killing the messenger in Bargaining). Slaying Harmony could be justified either under demon law or by considering her an enemy soldier from an occupying force (and yet that hasn’t been done). One rogue Slayer, Soledad, attempted to stake her after seeing how she was corrupting the youth, it wasn’t completely unmotivated. Harmony staking Soledad was an accident of self-defense but sucking her dry *after* taking her out was not.

As to whether Harmony is a person or a metaphor I have issues with reading Buffyverse vampires too directly as victims of racism. If you take the metaphor that far the clear subtext is that the racists are correct, vampires are monsters. It can work if used lightly enough for the focus to be limited to say Xander’s attitude to Anya at the end of Entropy but anything more and you have a mess like That Old Gang of Mine on your hands. Spike, Harmony and to some extent Anya read best to me as almost persons (in a psychological rather than a socio-political sense). They lack something, some essential spark or understanding. Rather than being a metaphor for any single inner demon they address the question of what we need to be complete. In Spike’s case is love enough, in Harmony’s is conformity?


It's a real problem if we deflect real criticism on the grounds that it's really misogyny in disguise

That wasn’t what I was trying to say. Even Caleb had some insightful points to make about Buffy’s issues. She isn’t perfect but just because Twilight is right that there’s a problem that doesn’t mean that we should root for his solution or ignore the baggage his side brings to their analysis.

Posted by: 2maggie2 (2maggie2)
Posted at: 6th February 2009 18:33 (UTC)

My nice answer just got blinked out by my dopey computer. Trying again.

There just is a problem when you have a show where the heroine is running around killing *persons*. In real life it's true that there are circumstances where it's OK to kill persons, but the burden of proof is on the killer to justify her actions; and it really should always be seen as something that is regrettable if necessary. The danger of genre shows (and a lot of action shows) is they tempt us into cheering when persons die. And getting excited about it. This show, at least in the past, has allowed us to be very ambivalent about what Buffy does. Selfless is a prime example. Her staking of Holden is not unproblematic. Even when they show Harmony fail at W&H, they ambiguate it by having her spend the season not eating people, and then failing in a very human way for very human reasons. And of course there's Spike, who has been a problem on this front since School Hard.

But yes, I also agree that it's a mistake to go from there to the idea that vampires are a persecuted minority. The vast majority are seen only in game face and really are just things running around killing people.

I think the show is all about the ambivalence on this. The metaphor of slaying works well in one direction; speaks to something real in us; and is a good thing. The metaphor of slaying can work in another direction that doesnt' work so well if we take the lessons learned out into the ral world.

But this maybe brings us together, because I do expect this ambiguity to be reflected in the ambiguity of the villain. Whenever I say he's not all wrong, I should not be understood as saying he's all right.

I prefer to read the show as being about this tension, one so severe that it really does fracture the text (ergo polarized fandom). But maybe Joss just doesn't see the way some of this plays. So I don't know what to think.

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