Once upon a time, a girl was chosen for a singular destiny, a life of solitary combat, ending, inevitably, in a premature but possibly noble death. She wasn’t the first, and nobody expected her to be the last. She was a dutiful soul, and went to war with the forces of evil, just as fate seemed to require. Then she expanded the fight, redefining her destiny by putting together a group of committed and powerful allies. In the end, she and these followers remade the world.
Vast oversimplification, right?
This Buffy the Vampire Slayer rewatch wrap-up post has been a long time coming, I know, in part because I’ve had a enormous cluster of other things going on (moving house! the lead-up to launching my new trilogy! adopting feral kittens!) but also because I needed time to digest seven seasons worth of columns and all those hours of TV.
Back when the show first aired, I was active on a number of newsgroups that seem horribly old-fashioned now in the age of the FaceTweet. BtVS was, I’ve realized, the first show I watched as it aired with a big online community, people who happily dug into every episode, exploring it line by line, monster by monster, scene by scene.
It was really fun, that first time, a little like being at the world’s biggest sleepover. Everyone there had the same favorite show! Nobody knew what was going to happen. Everyone had theories. After Jenny Calendar died, we all worried that our favorite character might be next.
The age of the kick-ass woman on TV was past its infancy, but in some ways she was still just toddling. We came out of the Seventies with Jamie Summers, a bionic woman who never really got to punch anyone, despite her super-strength, and the Angels of Charles, who did creditable crime fighting against Scooby-scale villainy and cowed their enemies by brandishing guns and cleavage at them. In the Eighties we got Ripley, of the Alien franchise, and things started to look up.
Xena preceded Buffy onto the small screen, and there was a matter-of-factness about that show that I hadn’t seen before. Here was a woman with combat skills… and she wasn’t being presented as a zoo exhibit. What surprised me even more, though, was when Xena’s sidekick Gabrielle started to get into battles. Say what? They’re gonna let two women fight? Effectively?
Buffy had that same yeah, of course attitude and smarter scripts.
If watching the show online with a bunch of pals was a sleepover, watching it with all of you was a master class.
It’s different, of course, simply because we all knew the whole story going in. We could look at a season two episode and already know what would become of the seeds the writers were planting. We knew who would lose an eye and who would hook up. We knew which storylines and characters we liked best. Separately and together, the fans of BtVS had analyzed the show scene by scene, frame by frame, character by character. For years!
As if all that weren’t enough, the show’s creators had gotten in on the act, giving interviews after the fact and speaking in DVD commentaries, talking about every and anything that went into the creation of the show. So, while the surprise of the unfolding story might have been gone, later viewings like this one occur with so much more raw data. It’s not just the episodes—it’s the thought and information built up around them.
So here’s a question: did anyone change their minds about a significant part of the series, as we watched it all here together? Did you go from being a Bangel shipper to a hardcore Spuffy advocate? If you considered Xander loyal, noble and true from the get-go, did our conversations about his treatment of Cordelia and Anya give you pause? Did anyone go from loving the Mayor or Glory to deciding Adam was the best villain ever?
I’m not sure I can say my gut feelings—the things I loved best about the show—shifted that much. Affection for a given character or person is, in part, about looking past their flaws, right… even when we maybe shouldn’t?
(Things I loved best, in no particular order: Xander, “The Zeppo,” all the other flagrantly comic episodes, the musical, Dark Willow, Faith, Giles being fatherly to Buffy, Giles being scary to just about anyone else, Angelus, the Mayor, Glory, Jonathan, and sometimes Dawn.)
What I did gain, as we all talked it through, was an appreciation for the nuances, a greater sense of how even-handed the show was even when it was showing me things I liked less.
(Also in no particular order: Tara’s death, the long build-up with the Slayettes, everything about Andrew, Giles’s various betrayals, Riley’s S5 pity party, the Doublemeat job, and sometimes Dawn.)
Watching the whole show again while discussing it here did, in particular, cast a good deal of light on seasons six and seven. I may have been a bit dismissive, on earlier viewing; in any case, our debates were illuminating. I still find many of those episodes tough to watch, but I agree with those of you who argue that their construction is sound—they are the sometimes-hard slogging that takes the Slayer and her Scoobies through to “Chosen,” and beyond. They have depths, I concede, even if the murk of those depths is off-putting.
A good deal of our collective enjoyment of the show and debate about same—in comments threads on various episodes—centered around Buffy’s romantic relationships. Romance generated a lot of the story’s heat as well as its conflict, and I’d argue Angelus’s return was what made season 2 some of the most unforgettable TV ever aired.
But what’s been most interesting to me about Buffy, this time around (and possibly the first time too, I’ll add, because memory is untrustworthy and it was a long time ago) isn’t who she’s dating but the growth she experiences in her career as a Slayer. It’s the way she transforms herself from someone the Watcher Council sees as a mayfly—an easily replaced and short-lived warrior, someone to control, use and throw away—into a key player in the battle between good and Big Bad. Changing the rules, building first a squad and then an army, and setting herself up to lead a higher and more effective fight against evil is a stunning accomplishment.
And what was best about the rewatch? Why, it was having that group viewing experience again, with all of you. Thank you all, very much, for coming back to Sunnydale with me. It has been a pleasure and a privilege.
A.M. Dellamonica has a book’s worth of fiction up here on Tor.com, including the time travel horror story “The Color of Paradox.” There’s also “The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti,” the second of a series of stories called The Gales. Both this story and its predecessor, “Among the Silvering Herd,” are prequels to her new Tor novel, Child of a Hidden Sea.
If sailing ships, pirates, magic and international intrigue aren’t your thing, though, her ‘baby werewolf has two mommies’ story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. Or check out her sexy novelette, “Wild Things,” a tie-in to the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.