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August 20, 2013 8:22 PM   Subscribe

"Unlike most teen dramas, Buffy wasn’t a narrative about finding an identity; it was always about having a lot of them." Kim O'Connor for The Toast on Buffy Summers, growing up, identity, and how saving the world every week is a better model than just getting through high school.
posted by The Whelk (113 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nice find! thanks..

"You might, for instance, spend 19 years of your life as an only child, only to one day find you have an annoying little sister"

That was, without doubt, the one plot line that truly confounded me.
posted by HuronBob at 8:48 PM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Another recently-found good read about Buffy: Jenny Trout's Buffy Rewatch...
posted by bitter-girl.com at 8:55 PM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


"How've you been?"

"Rat. You?"

"Dead."

"Oh."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:57 PM on August 20, 2013 [20 favorites]


I've always liked the idea that Buffy isn't so much a coming of age story but one about adolescence in general, with all its foibles, and I think that the way that O'Connor talks about it as somewhat dire, with an apocalypse every week, is really accurate. I really had a hard time identifying with characters for whom the world wasn't likely to end when I was that age; this is probably why I read and wrote so much fanfiction, as I seem to talk about on here a lot. The stakes (sorry) did seem really high at the time.

The other thing that seems to make Buffy more suited as an adolescent story than anything else is the fact way that it deals with balance between characters. I feel like there's this expectation in childhood that sort of slowly dies during adolescence of certain kinds of social roles, of having a place to fit, and of evenness in groups. It's part of what makes the 3-5 person adventuring party so appealing. There are always places made for everyone to fit, it seems-- friendships don't fall apart or fade away, they last forever, because everything feels like forever at that age.

Angel, on the other hand, feels like young adulthood. The way Cordelia attaches herself to Angel when she's in a town where she knows no one, the way friends can pretty much fuck you over, disappear for a year or two, and come back sort of broken and sort of changed, the very early on death of someone who seems essential, the general aimlessness and purposeless that they so often seem to end up having-- that feels like a true exaggeration of young adulthood in the same way that Buffy feels like a true exaggeration of adolescence.
posted by NoraReed at 8:59 PM on August 20, 2013 [27 favorites]



That was, without doubt, the one plot line that truly confounded me.

You know, I will defend that storyline on any number of story grounds, meta-fictional grounds, thematic grounds, but it really just comes to the fact that Buffy and Dawn have the same age gap as me and my brother and no, I didn't really notice he was like, a person until he was a young teenager and suddenly all UP IN MY STUFF AND HAVING OPINIONS AND A PERSONALITY.
posted by The Whelk at 9:00 PM on August 20, 2013 [25 favorites]



I've always liked the idea that Buffy isn't so much a coming of age story but one about adolescence in general, with all its foibles, and I think that the way that O'Connor talks about it as somewhat dire, with an apocalypse every week, is really accurate.


I once thought I was very clever in High School by defending Buffy to a teacher during Lunch period (what..teachers didn't ..eat with you at Lunch?) by saying it wasn't like what is LIKE to be in High School, it was what it FELT like being in High School was like.
posted by The Whelk at 9:01 PM on August 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


Buffy and I were apparently born the same year.

I am 31.

This is not OK.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:32 PM on August 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


The motivation for their split, of course, was to prevent worldwide human annihilation. Those were the stakes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which rightfully portrayed the process of growing up as a series of encounters with total fucking apocalypse.

Yes.
posted by rtha at 9:40 PM on August 20, 2013


Gah essays like this made me wish I liked Buffy more than I do. This was interesting and insightful.

It made me reflect on how serialized storytelling is often more satisfying than one-off narratives because of how the story's nature allows it to have open ends, sometimes left unclosed for years. There's something about that which rings true to life, in which things which happened twelve years ago will suddenly resurface and dominate your life, briefly maybe, or maybe it'll feel in retrospect that the last twelve years of your life were just a lull spent waiting for this recurrence. And then five years from now something else comes back and it all seems to flip once more.

This also spits in the face of the notion that you should leave your past behind you. The past isn't dead: it's alive and shifting, and it won't die until you do. You see old events in a new light because of what's come up since, what's happening now; that story you thought you knew how to tell when you were 8 is a different story when you're 14, and 20, and 66. And that's okay. You don't need answers.

There's a lot about Joss Whedon that frustrate me endlessly, and on the whole I don't think he's on par with the really good screen writers/directors of our era by any means, but I will give him this: everything I've seen of his had an honesty or integrity to it. He seemed to make the best thing he knew how to make, and didn't fall for a lot of the bullshit that even much better shows like Veronica Mars ultimately found itself dealing with. Which is why talking about Whedon shows is way more fun, for me, than watching them: they're fascinating to talk about and analyze, when you can separate the ideas that went into making the shows from actually having to watch the damn things.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:52 PM on August 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


The bestworst thing about Buffy came years later when I realized that Xander is a textbook Nice Guy.
posted by elizardbits at 10:11 PM on August 20, 2013 [22 favorites]


Xander's monologue in the season 1 finale is cringeworthy.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:16 PM on August 20, 2013


wow, reading the Buffy wikia I realized for the first time that the comics really did continue the story lines. I kind of imagined they were just episodic.

any suggestions for where to start for an old Buffy fan whose been out of the universe since 2003? (I'd even forgotten that Sunnydale was destroyed).
posted by jb at 10:18 PM on August 20, 2013


Xander's monologue in the season 1 finale is cringeworthy.

Which one? There's, like, three of them.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:51 PM on August 20, 2013


Nicholas Brendon owns a copy of my first book. I feel the need to remind myself of that from time to time.
posted by The Whelk at 11:01 PM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Xander's monologue in the season 1 finale is cringeworthy.

Which one? There's, like, three of them.


Oh wait, I found it:
XANDER
... So Buffy! I wanted to -- there was a thing I wanted to ask you. To talk to you about.

BUFFY
Okay. What's up?

XANDER
Why don't we sit down. Over here.

He steers her toward the bench by the fountain.

BUFFY
Okay, now you're making me nervous.

XANDER
There's nothing to be nervous about, silly. Ha.

There's a kid sitting near where Xander parks Buffy. He greets the kid thus:

XANDER
(a greeting:)
Hey.
(a command:)
Leave.

The kid does, as Xander sits by Buffy.

BUFFY
Well?

XANDER
You know, Buffy, Spring Fling is a time for students to gather and -- oh, God.
(loosens up, and:)
Buffy, I want you to go to the dance with me. You and me. On a date.

A moment, as this sinks in.


BUFFY
Xander, I don't know what to say...

XANDER
Well, you're not laughing, so that's a good start. Buffy, I like you. A lot. I mean, we're friends, and we've shared experiences, we've fought blood sucking fiends together, and that's a good time, but... I want more than that. I wanna dance with you.

BUFFY
Xander... You're one of my best friends. The best friends I've ever had. You and Willow, I mean, I love you guys so much --

XANDER
Well, Willow's not looking to date you. Or if she is she's playing it really close to the chest.

BUFFY
I don't want to spoil the friendship we have.

XANDER
I don't want to spoil it either. But that's not the point, is it? You either feel a thing or you don't.

He waits, knowing the answer already.


BUFFY
I don't.
(off his reaction)
I'm sorry. I just don't think of you that way.

XANDER
Well, try. I'll wait.

BUFFY
Xander...

XANDER
No. Forget it. I'm not him. I guess a guy's gotta be undead to make time with you.

BUFFY
That's really harsh.

XANDER
I'm sorry. I don't handle rejection well. Funny, considering how much practice I've had.

BUFFY
I never meant to --

XANDER
You know what? Let's just not.

He bails, wandering off under the archway. Buffy sits by herself on the bench, bummed.
Daaaamn, Xander. Why you gotta make it weird?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:19 PM on August 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


any suggestions for where to start for an old Buffy fan whose been out of the universe since 2003?

There's a load of prequel stuff in the Angel comics but I was never into that series so I skipped it all and went straight into Buffy season 8, binged on the lot then picked up on the Spike series between 8 & 9.

Season 8 goes somewhere very strange, clearly the joy of plotting without the constraints of TV budgeting and real live actors sent the internal consistency a bit awry but I actually loved the whole thing.

Season 9 kind of splits into parallels with Buffy on one track and Angel and Faith on the other with Willow and Spike in and out. Buffy 9 has so far been a bit meh but I'm really enjoying Angel and Faith, and I've loved all the Willow subplots - Willow Wonderland is great, and Goddesses and Monsters is pretty much my favourite episode of whole trajectory so far.

Mostly though I just love that story goes on. Also I was never into episodic comics before but I suddenly get how the whole superhero thing works in this medium, and some of the artwork is almost heartbreakingly perfect. I'm really enjoying it.
posted by freya_lamb at 3:45 AM on August 21, 2013


I really grew to hate Xander over the course of the first two seasons, and he never got better.

But I did love that show.
posted by jeather at 3:55 AM on August 21, 2013 [12 favorites]


Daaaamn, Xander. Why you gotta make it weird?

Because he was 16, and because characters without flaws are boring?

No matter what the character wanted, I never felt that the author(s) suggested that Buffy should have dated him just because he was "nice". Characters can say and do things the authors disagree with.
posted by jb at 4:54 AM on August 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Daaaamn, Xander. Why you gotta make it weird?

Because rejection hurts, especially when you're a teenager?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:18 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, inviting Buffy out and being sad when she said no was not jerky. Insulting her for saying no was jerky but understandable. But over and over he does these really nasty things and he's still played as the everyman-turned-hero. Season 6 ending, how much I hate you.
posted by jeather at 5:22 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can happily watch seasons 1-3 as long as I just don't think about seasons 4-whatever. Those first three are a great show about adolescence and high school, the rest is a lousy show about itself.
posted by Legomancer at 5:40 AM on August 21, 2013


Because rejection hurts, especially when you're a teenager?

Yeah, Xander handled it ok, not great, but ok. Canceling the wedding with Anya at the last minute was not ok. Talking Willow down from her murderous ramapge was very ok.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:46 AM on August 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Daaaamn, Xander. Why you gotta make it weird?

Because he was 16, and because characters without flaws are boring?

Because rejection hurts, especially when you're a teenager?


Guys, I was just being glib. It wasn't a criticism of the writing.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:48 AM on August 21, 2013


I really grew to hate Xander over the course of the first two seasons, and he never got better.

Wow. When you see it all on one page like that...

Wow.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:52 AM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Talking Willow down from her murderous ramapge was very ok.

Just to be clear, the part of the S6 ending I disliked wasn't that Willow was prevented from destroying the world, it was that Xander was the one who did it. I wouldn't mind if Xander had been positioned as a jerk who also did heroic things complexity moral greyness blah blah, but he was portrayed as a good guy who we should like and identify with (for all that the show was called Buffy, we were supposed to identify with Xander) and not a Nice Guy with a sexism problem.
posted by jeather at 6:02 AM on August 21, 2013


Just to be clear, the part of the S6 ending I disliked wasn't that Willow was prevented from destroying the world, it was that Xander was the one who did it.

Quibble if you must, but I did appreciate the brazen anviliciousness of the world being saved through the unconditional love and forgiveness of a simple carpenter.
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:06 AM on August 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


hey, jeather, thanks for linking that. I was recently rewatching the first season and was surprised by how much it seemed to be all about Xander Harris and his needs as regards the teen girl archetypes (the cool--pretty--outcast; the cool-pretty--queen bee; the not-cool--pretty--good girl) and how I did not remember it being like that. And then I got into the second and third seasons with the virginity-demon-breaking up as sending someone to hell arc and Xander was such an asshole and so out of place with how I remembered reading the show.

It's interesting. The first two seasons, it's really hard to parse it as Xander being a supporting character; he's so responsible for the conflicts and because so many episodes are structured around his ego. But if you read him as the central character, it's really gross,

He may be well-written as a clueless young man who doesn't realize how destructive and sexist that Nice Guy bullshit it, but he doesn't learn. He doesn't grow past it, though, which makes him more problematic as a character as time goes on.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:07 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't mind if Xander had been positioned as a jerk who also did heroic things complexity moral greyness blah blah, but he was portrayed as a good guy who we should like and identify with (for all that the show was called Buffy, we were supposed to identify with Xander) and not a Nice Guy with a sexism problem.

Xander the character was always a bit problematic for me, as he embodied a lot of the worst aspects of male nerd stereotypes. So his willingness to go try and save Willow through simple love struck me as moral complexity for that character.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:14 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know what really bothered me about the writing in Buffy, even series 1-3?

That goddamn book cage.

Every. Single. Time. they locked someone or something up in that shoddily constructed piece of chickenwire, they/it would escape or get busted out. But did anyone learn? Hell no. Next episode - "what shall we do with this raging horrorbeast that is temporarily unconscious?" "How about we lock it in the book cage and leave it unattended? That's always worked before." "Good plan!"
posted by ominous_paws at 6:39 AM on August 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


(the book case thus being a spiritual ancestor of Echo in Dollhouse, who was *always* picked as the best doll for the job, despite going bonkers and endangering the lives of all involved every time she left the bloody building)
posted by ominous_paws at 6:41 AM on August 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


There's also the fact that he's a really static character whom they totally fail at dealing with post High School.

Seriously, by the middle of the first college season, Xander should've been fast tracked into some kind of supernatural capacity, Watcher Training, Demon Bar Bartending, whatever. They show kept having to jump through hoops to explain why he's still there. If they hadn't retconned in military training* they would've had nothing to do. I can understand wanting to have an "average joe" character with one foot still in the real world, but Post-Zeppo it feels off for the series to still have that character. By the time you and your entire graduating class have defeated a huge snake monster, it's time to take off the "But we're just normal kids!" gloves.

*Hey how about that, Xander goes into the military post HS and comes back a season and a half later as a more mature young adult? He was effectively put in narrative cold storage during that time anyway.
posted by The Whelk at 6:45 AM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


The first two seasons, it's really hard to parse it as Xander being a supporting character; he's so responsible for the conflicts and because so many episodes are structured around his ego.

YES. Having recently rewatched the first few series it's amazingly how many episodes are driven by "oh god, we left Xander on his own again and he's trying to have sex with someone (which will almost inevitably turn out to be a something by the end of the episode)."
posted by ominous_paws at 6:46 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


UGH I LOVED BUFFY SO MUCH.

I also had a huge teenage crush on Oz at the time.

Out of curiosity I just now went and read some plotlines of the comic series, which I never had an interest in...

After Buffy and Angel fought in the air and in space, they fell under the influence of an external power, had sex and created a new universe, which in turn caused extradimensional demons to flood their dimension ahead of its impending destruction.

What? I don't even. I'm glad I stopped with the TV finale.
posted by Windigo at 6:49 AM on August 21, 2013


The comic series is ....very much enjoying the freedoms of the new medium.

(everyone I introduce to this show falls in love with Oz. Sedate Zen Guitarist Dream Boyfriend.)
posted by The Whelk at 6:51 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


See this is why Andrew>Xander. When he's totally fucked up the narrative acknowledges it. Xander has his moments and I don't hate him but he sort of gets molded for whatever the episode needs and tends to get certain kinds of lines whether or not they're really that funny. And often they're sexist nonsense.

Also, Andrew-vision is the best part of Season 7, not that there's a very high bar.
posted by NoraReed at 7:02 AM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I really grew to hate Xander over the course of the first two seasons, and he never got better.


I didn't really get Xander until a little while ago, and I don't think Joss even really got his character until season 7.

He's the one who gets to be a regular grown-up.

That is to say, he goes from being a walking collection of the geek social fallacies to being a pretty decent human being (but this is only fully realized by season 7). That being said, part of this development is the realization that he fucked up pretty badly during this process (like, leaving a vengeance demon at the altar badly). Unlike nearly every other character, he's not special (even by normal teenager standards), and he doesn't have powers, and some pretty bad things still happen to him (he gets turned into a hyena, one of his best friends dies, he loses an eye, his penis gets diseases from the Chumash tribe), and he just has to take it in stride. Amy's experiences are somewhat similar, but she is never really able to get past the fact that she was stuck as a rat for several years, and blames Willow for this (even though she was the one who turned herself into a rat).

So Xander gets to become a real boy an adult, but it is tempered with regret for what he did to Anya; and the realization that he can never fix it, and that he has to live with that. The opposite of Xander is Warren, and that way leads to getting all your skin torn off by an angry Wicca (or, at the very least, flaming out on Kotaku every time someone mentions that girls might like gaming).

In this sense, his trajectory probably ends at something like a lesser Giles (and this is hinted at in crazy-ass season 8)- a reminder that strength can come without magic powers, and that it is one's experiences and choices (good and bad) that define a person. Giles was always the adult, and in many ways the moral center of the show, but again this is tempered by regret (in Giles' case, regret for having to follow the family business, rather than pursuing a promising career as a Transylvanian mad scientist).
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:22 AM on August 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


I also had a huge teenage crush on Oz at the time.

I have a huge grown-up crush on Oz. I have a great love for Oz because Oz is the only one of the teenaged Scoobies who understands boundaries.

He utters one of the most healthy, adult lines ever said on television: after [SPOILER for S3] Xander and Willow kiss, angering Oz and Cordelia, Oz tells Willow that he needs some time away from her to sort out his feelings. She keeps pressing him and he responds "Look, I'm sorry this is hard for you. But I told you what I need. So I can't help feeling like the reason you want to talk is so you can feel better about yourself. That's not my problem."

That phrase is a model for how to distinguish between My Needs and Your Needs, between My Responsibilities and Your Responsibilities. I'm sorry this is hard for you, but that's not my problem would have been a useful phrase for me as a kid; I wish I'd seen the show as a teenager just so Oz could model that useful behavior for me*.

I always read Xander as having a tacitly expressed Nice Guy problem, and that's instructive: Nice Guys can actually be, y'know, nice a lot of the time. The Nice Guys in my life were just like Xander: funny, fun, easy to be around ---- until suddenly they weren't, because BAM out of nowhere they're flooding you with sexually frustrated resentment.

Compare Xander's entitlement (the belief that his attraction to his friend Buffy means Buffy should be attracted to him) to Oz's more moderate approach when [SPOILER FOR S4] returning to Willow, a person he actually dated quite seriously, when he says "I know what I put you through, and I'm not gonna push. But I am a different person than when I left."

Oz makes overtures to her, like suggesting "Or we could sleep a little while" when Willow notices they've talked all night and suggests going to breakfast. But even in his single-minded desire to win her back, he follows that up with "Whatever you want." And truthfully, Oz checking Willow's single status with Xander ("I talked to Xander, and he said you didn't have a new guy") strikes me as a little... icky, I guess... when he could have asked Buffy, or asked Willow, or just taken a chance without doing recon.

*Oz isn't perfect; in S4, for example, there's some werewolf-on-werewolf action and all the ensuing drama. But he's better at respecting boundaries and being honest than most TV characters, and better than many real-life people.
posted by Elsa at 8:45 AM on August 21, 2013 [23 favorites]


I always thought Xander, like all the main characters on Buffy, was supposed to be a fundamentally good person who has flaws and occasionally fucks up big time. I think jeather's link to the Xander-hate rant has a lot of good points about crappy things Xander did, but I would disagree with the author's assumption that we're supposed to agree with or cheer on Xander while he's doing them. His inability to deal with life's disappointments and his own mistakes is pretty typical, especially when you're young and immature. I never saw it as something we're supposed to emulate. Maybe we're supposed to identify with it, but more in the, "oh god, I can relate to [insert Xander mistake here]."

There's also the fact that he's a really static character whom they totally fail at dealing with post High School.

My take on this is that lots of people have that friend who fails at dealing with life after high school, and in Buffy, that friend is Xander. I don't find it unrealistic or problematic from a storytelling point of view. He spins his wheels for awhile and doesn't cope with it particularly well. And, expanding on the "everyone in Buffy screws up," I think Xander post-high school is partly a Giles mistake. Giles didn't sign on to be a parental figure for anyone but Buffy, but he ended up with Xander and Willow too. His failure to adequately deal with Willow's growing magic is directly addressed by the show. But why didn't he train Xander to fight or suggest he go off to England to train or do anything about the fact that this kid who looked up to him was hanging around, struggling, trying to help out, but ultimately putting himself and others at risk? And sure, maybe Xander should have done something about the Xander problem, but it's pretty clear (to me) from the way he's written that he's insecure and confused and has no parental or authority figures other than Giles to give him a push or support. I agree with WhiteSkull that he does grow up eventually, but I always thought his immaturity and flailing around for much of the series was kind of the point of his character.
posted by Mavri at 8:52 AM on August 21, 2013 [12 favorites]


Because rejection hurts, especially when you're a teenager?

That conversation between them took place about a week after he tried to rape her while under the influence. He pretended not to remember what happened and went on with his life as though he hadn't tried to rape his best friend the second he became physically stronger than her.
posted by elizardbits at 8:59 AM on August 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Seriously, by the middle of the first college season, Xander should've been fast tracked into some kind of supernatural capacity, Watcher Training, Demon Bar Bartending, whatever.

Nope. There's a lot to dislike about Zander, but what I always liked about his character was the fact that he was the normal shithead who kept sticking around while all - and I mean all - of his friends became supernatural beings with godlike powers.

He was crass, he was a jerk, he was insensitive, yes. But he stuck it out and kept in the fight despite the fact that he was always overmatched - by the opposition and by his own allies. Why? Because under it all, Zander loved his friends, and even if they were more than capable of handling the challenge, he wasn't letting them do so alone.

My read on Zander is this - he was ever the outcast; the nerdy loser at school with few friends. He never fit in, never felt a part of anything, and his defense was always a quick mouth and an emotional attack. He is highly emotionally sensitive, both about himself and the people around him - he is quick to inflict emotional pain whenever he feels threatened, and can do so very well. It's the only defense he has. He can't do anything to stop you from hurting him, but he can hurt you this one way.

He went very quickly from feeling a part of something with Buffy to again feeling like the outsider and outcast - he has nothing special to offer, had nothing to contribute, so he deals with that in his usual passive aggressive way and looking like a jerk, while still coming out and showing up and often doing the dirty little jobs that no one else has time for. Because he's waiting for the moment they're going to kick him out as useless, and his little displays are just ways of preparing everyone (especially himself) for that moment and attempting to lessen the emotional pain of it.

That's why (in my mind) Zander was the only one who could stop Willow in S6; what was needed was some emotional honesty, and at that moment, Zander was the only one who could apply it. He was also the only one who Willow wouldn't see as a threat, and it was one of the few, if not only, time Zander used his emotional understanding in a good way on the show. When he made himself vulnerable emotionally, he was at his strongest...but you couldn't have him vulnerable that way all the time, or he would be an annoying character in a different direction.

In a world full of people who were always better, more skilled, more talented, smarter, more knowledgeable, Zander played the only card he had. I view it as him protecting himself the only way he knew how. It would've been nice to see him grow up about that, but he didn't - and not everybody does. Such is the world.

That doesn't mean he wasn't a shit, but I always felt like I understood him.
posted by nubs at 9:03 AM on August 21, 2013 [12 favorites]


Elsa, I share your love of Oz, and for the same reasons. I always love how he turns Willow down the first time she tries to kiss him because he understands that she's trying to (IIRC) make Xander jealous. And I agree about the "that's not my problem" speech. It's brilliant.
posted by not that girl at 9:04 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


and yes yes OKAY YES I am also the Elsa who commented over at The Toast I am a whole grown-up who has been commenting on BtVS here and there and everywhere for the last few days WHATEVER
posted by Elsa at 9:13 AM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


That conversation between them took place about a week after he tried to rape her while under the influence.

While under the influence of hyena spirits.

He pretended not to remember what happened and went on with his life as though he hadn't tried to rape his best friend the second he became physically stronger than her.

They all did.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:39 AM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, Buffy. Fandoms come and go, but Buffy is my forever girl.

It's funny. When I started watching the show, aged twelve, the summer between seasons 2 and 3, I identified so hard with Willow I actually started picking up her speech patterns. Later, though, when 'awkward smart girl' stopped feeling like a comfortable identity-- when I couldn't *find* a comfortable identity-- it was Xander I felt closest to. As a teen, I never identified that strongly with Buffy herself.

Now, though? I get her. Because the world never stops throwing challenges at you, and you never really feel ready for them. You just have to keep up the good fight, even when it makes you tired, even when you feel lonely and isolated. And you come out stronger on the other side, every time.
posted by nonasuch at 9:48 AM on August 21, 2013


Well, Buffy and Willow actually thought that Xander had no memory of the attack, and decided not to mention it to him because it was not his fault. Xander and Giles both knew that Xander did remember it, and decided that Xander didn't have to apologise to Buffy or worry about whether the assault upset her because that discussion might make Xander uncomfortable. It's like the definition of privilege.

I like Xander having to take some time to find his way. I like that he never became more than human. What I don't like is how, the entire show, he never really took responsibility for the stuff he did. MAYBE with leaving Anya at the altar, but not for the shitty way he treated her all the time before that, not for the crap he did to Cordelia or Buffy, not for lying to Buffy all the way back in S2, etc. He wasn't emotionally honest: he did shitty stuff, which he maybe knew was shitty, and then he tried to pretend it never happened, and neither the characters nor the narrative ever called him on it and we all moved on.
posted by jeather at 9:49 AM on August 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


Also, CAN WE TALK about the finale? Because, despite the issues I have with the last couple of seasons, the finale is so, so perfect thematically.

Buffy's biggest struggle was always the way her power made her feel isolated-- from 'normal' girls, from 'normal' life, sometimes even from her abnormal friends. And the show found her a way out-- not to give up her power, but to share it. To make other girls, strong, too, so strength wasn't a burden she had to carry alone any more.

That felt exactly right.
posted by nonasuch at 9:50 AM on August 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


Giles didn't sign on to be a parental figure for anyone but Buffy, but he ended up with Xander and Willow too. His failure to adequately deal with Willow's growing magic is directly addressed by the show. But why didn't he train Xander to fight or suggest he go off to England to train or do anything about the fact that this kid who looked up to him was hanging around, struggling, trying to help out, but ultimately putting himself and others at risk?

ALTERNATE REALITY SEASON FOUR PULLING IN CONCEPTS FROM THE ENTIRE RUN INCLUDING THE ONES THE FINALLY GOT TO IN SEASON SEVEN:

Presumably, one of the things keeping Giles' on the Waters Council shit list was both his paternal attachment to Buffy but also the desire (grown slowly, from rules-lawyer Season One Giles to rabble rousing rebel Giles) to give Buffy something resembling a normal adulthood. So that's fine, Buffy goes to college and Giles potters about his apartment, all cut off from the Council resources, feeling awful for himself and listening to his Dad Was Cool Once records while trying to figure out a non creepy way for a 50 year old man to score some weed when the idea hits him.

There are still *things* out, things hunting people and killing them and doing god knows what else. And the Council isn't interested in doing anything about it. Who knows how far up the institutional rot goes? They could very well be in cohoots with something like The Mayor. In any case, they're ineffective, bureaucratic, fussy and wrong.

He can't change it form within anymore, and can't keep sitting around feeling sorry for himself, if nothing else, he has a duty to keep Buffy and by extension, the people she cares about safe.

Whats the best way to keep someone safe? What's been the core of every Watcher's duty?

You train them.

WIllow? Oh she's got a headstart, yes college is exciting but consider this your Not-Dying-Independant-Study. You found a more talented study buddy? Bring her. Xander? Why not take all the experience you've got running around with us, saving the world, and funnel it into a formal training program and skill set. Running, jumping, climbing trees and some light wilderness survival skills. Everyone should be basically a trained EMT at this point cause ho boy do they do some stupid shit on a regular basis.

Yes, Buffy deserves a normal life. but you people aren't the Slayer and you keep getting into situations that just scream "ritual bloodletting." If you made it this far, you where never going to have a normal life but hopefully with time you can have a better chance of a longer life.

Cue drama was Willow gets the always-an-A-student-college shock cause in Rupert's Giles Training Camp For Slayer Adjacent Peoples, Xander is doing much, much better.

But he stills a job cause dear multiple lords in multiple heavens he cannot go back to his parents. Hey isn't that Ex-Demon still around? The one with her ear on the Demon world? Grab her, use her demony connections to get Xander a job at Clem's. Might be useful to have an ear in there. Also Spike? The psychopath in the leather jacket? He's been mysteriously neutered and unable to murder people recently. Could be valuable, if annoying.

You know a good way to foment a Maoist revolution? You replace the local governments, people start going to you with problems, send tax to you and not the state, you cut out the middleman until you become the defacto government. There's not many of the Council's functions he can replace but he does know of a certain countryman with the emotional maturity of a blueberry scone stomping around LA, encountering all sorts of things they should have a better written record of.

They'll need a front, maybe something like a literal storefront - plus funding.

It's not CALLED The Shadow Council of course, but it's lack of formality, focus on getting nitty gritty with the monsters and demons, weapons training for all members, and multidisciplinary magic-and-pointy sticks education with a diversity in non-human members makes it a formidable opponent to the increasingly caged in and isolated Council. If he's not careful, he could lead to a full on schism.

But he's not careful, cause Rupert Giles doesn't want a schism. He wants a civil war.

They never got punished for the things they made him do.

Not punished enough.
posted by The Whelk at 10:10 AM on August 21, 2013 [12 favorites]


Xander and Giles both knew that Xander did remember it, and decided that Xander didn't have to apologise to Buffy or worry about whether the assault upset her because that discussion might make Xander uncomfortable. It's like the definition of privilege.

Eh, more like it wasn't his fault, touchy subject, so why push it? Not a perfect course of action, but understandable.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:13 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whether or not it was his fault, Xander might have been able to recognize that it's shitty timing to hit on the same person a very short time after his body tried to rape her*? That does not require that much wherewithal.

*this is super awkward phrasing that you think I would have gotten used to after watching Supernatural
posted by dinty_moore at 10:27 AM on August 21, 2013


I still wish that Whedon had been able to go ahead with the Ripper series. Watching ASH wasted in Merlin just broke my heart.
posted by Ber at 10:28 AM on August 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Not to mention REPO! That movie made me sad in multiple ways.
posted by Strange Interlude at 10:33 AM on August 21, 2013


Well, Buffy and Willow actually thought that Xander had no memory of the attack, and decided not to mention it to him because it was not his fault. Xander and Giles both knew that Xander did remember it, and decided that Xander didn't have to apologise to Buffy or worry about whether the assault upset her because that discussion might make Xander uncomfortable. It's like the definition of privilege.

I think you're applying a realist-fiction standard to a fantasy-fiction scenario. Xander didn't get pissed and try to rape Buffy, he was possessed with Hyena spirits. I mean, there are ways you can usefully say "this storyline about possession is also asking us to think about intoxication of various kinds" but it would be a failure within the world of the story for the characters to address head-on the symbolic or metaphorical implications of the fantasy story (that is what happened so fatally in S6 with the Willow magic-addiction storyline, where suddenly magic was crack: ugh, ugh, ugh, ugh).

There is no "appropriate" way for someone to react to suddenly being possessed by Hyena spirits--I mean, if we wanted to address the events of BtVS in a realist manner, all those kids would be institutionalized by the end of S2. There's a sense in which the vast majority of the incidents have to be simply brushed under the table and confined to the memory hole because it's simply not possible--without changing the genre of the show entirely--to address all of their moral and psychological implications in anything like a realistic way.
posted by yoink at 10:53 AM on August 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


but it would be a failure within the world of the story for the characters to address head-on the symbolic or metaphorical implications of the fantasy story

Yes, it's a good thing we didn't have multiple episodes of Buffy dealing with the fallout of her running away at the end of S2. Or an episode of her dealing with her anger at the Master at the beginning of S2. Or half a season of her dealing with her resurrection in S6. That would have been a failure.

Buffy deals with fallout. Willow deals with fallout. Faith deals with fallout. Anya deals with fallout. Xander does not. I mean, the hyena one isn't the biggest deal -- I really do understand why Xander kept it secret and as his sins go, it's among the mildest -- it's just the beginning of the Xander doesn't really suffer the consequences for his actions the way the other characters do thread that runs through the show.

(I really am a huge fan of the show. I rewatched it last year. I'd be happy to also go on about all the things I loved about it. It's just not perfect, and Xander Harris is one of the problems with it. There's a huge we-hate-Joyce group, too, though I am not in that group.)
posted by jeather at 11:10 AM on August 21, 2013


I don't quite get the "OMG, Xander is the Nice Guy!" criticism either--especially not as applied to that scene in S1. If anything the scene (played to heartbreaking perfection by SMG, by the way) is a critique of the "Nice Guy" narrative. We're not supposed to side with Xander or buy into his self-serving "you only get it on with Bad Guys and ignore Nice Guys like me" narrative--we're supposed to see through it for precisely the kind of compensatory self-mythologizing that it is. Whatever else is going on in BtVS it's not a "why can't you realize that perfect love is right beside you??" story.

But, on the other hand (and one of the things that is generally--though not unfailingly--admirable in the Buffyverse is the desire to explain and understand everybody's motivations) nor would it be morally healthy to condemn Xander as irredeemable simply because he indulges in the Nice Guy narrative. It is, surely, hardly the worst of human failings to tell oneself when one is rejected that the person rejecting you is making a mistake and failing to see those good qualities which you are sure would win them over if only they would give you a chance. Above all it can surely not be an irredeemable failing in a 16 year old kid?
posted by yoink at 11:13 AM on August 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


There's a huge we-hate-Joyce group

I refuse to believe this.
posted by yellowbinder at 11:13 AM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


There are some very odd issues around consent and non-consent in the series.

[Assume this comment to be riddled with spoilers, and also with triggers.]

- Rapey-Hyena Xander followed closely by pushy resentful Xander has been addressed above, and I agree that it's problematic (if perhaps realistic) to have him play-act forgetfulness instead of acknowledging that even though he wasn't in control of his body at the time, he knows that she felt hurt or scared or angry. And it's especially problematic when shortly afterwards, he pitches woo to her and gets angry and aggressive when she gently demurs.

- Amy's love spell, which puts almost every woman in Sunnydale into a Xander-lovin' thrall, is vile, but at least Xander realizes that when Buffy is about to open her coat to display her nude body beneath it. No matter how much he might like to see her naked, he knows that it's wrong to manipulate her into sexual behavior without her willful consent. "Sometimes the remote impossible possibility that you might like me was all that sustained me. But not now. Not like this. This isn't real to you. You're only here because of a spell."

- Werewolf Oz having werewolf sex with werewolf Veruca sidesteps the issue of Oz's consent (and to some extent, the issue of willful, intentional cheating on his part) by having Oz "not remember" what happened, except in bits and pieces, eliding his responsibility for sexual indiscretion.

- Buffy is angry with Riley for having sex with Buffy's body during the Faith-Buffy body swap. They talk out this problem, but no one acknowledges that Faith raped Riley [see rape by deception; I think an undisclosed body-swap qualifies as "deception or fraudulent statements or actions."] I would expect Riley to need some help getting over that, and especially need time and understanding while he re-learns his previously innate trust that his lover really is his lover.

- I don't even like to think about the women Jonathan has sex with in Jonathan's fantasy world where everyone is hot for Jonathan all the time. Talk about rape-by-deception. Ick.

- And the whole Buffy-Spike pairing, which builds up a lot of violent sex-play and culminates with Spike trying to rape Buffy. It's unclear to me whether the show (whether that's Whedon or other writers; I'll just settle for "the show" as the voice speaking there) knows that violent or forceful sex-play is perfectly okay for consenting adults, or that the show knows that forceful sex is not a gateway for rape.

On some occasions, the show clearly acknowledges sexual assault or rape: Buffy being offered as a reward to the swim team, for example, or Warren, Andrew, and Jonathan's mind-control devise that they use to target a woman (Warren's ex, as it turns out) into being their love slave. But the less-examined incidents of muddy or absent consent complicate my feelings about the show.
posted by Elsa at 11:20 AM on August 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yes, it's a good thing we didn't have multiple episodes of Buffy dealing with the fallout of her running away at the end of S2.

You're missing my point, which was not "they must never speak of anything that happened in any one episode ever again." Actually one of my favorite things in BtVS is the continuity and the willingness to chase themes and plotlines across multiple episodes. What I was objecting to was having the characters react in a realist mode to something that was only conveyed at the metaphorical or symbolic level within the show.

Buffy running away was not a "metaphorical or symbolic" event--it was a real thing that really happened in the world of the show; of course it would have fallout, and of course she should deal with it. Xander attacking Buffy was--within the fictional world of the show--something that happened solely and purely because he was possessed. Yes, we were asked to think about--at a metaphoric or symbolic level--how this related to his actual desires and to male/female sexual politics etc. etc. etc., but it would be confusing registers for Xander to speak to those metaphorical and symbolic issues head-on in his conversation with Buffy.
posted by yoink at 11:21 AM on August 21, 2013


No, what Xander did -- try to attack Buffy -- really happened, just like Buffy really ran away, and it would not have been odd for him to apologise or (more realistically) for Giles to have checked that she was ok. It would have been odd for them to discuss the deeper meaning of people changing into hyenas, but not to discuss the actions that were taken. (Though compare with Halloween, where Buffy and Willow fairly explicitly discussed what happened and their choices etc.) But this was early S1 Buffy, which was uneven and not wonderful with continuity (remember the very best friend from The Harvest who was killed and never mentioned again?). So although I don't think this story was the biggest deal, I think it set up a series where Xander didn't deal with consequences. He lies to Buffy about Angel's soul and no one ever mentions this again. He keeps the engagement secret, he disappears from his wedding, but his consequence for the former is nothing and the latter is mostly that his friends are also sympathetic to Anya. He brings Sweet to Sunnydale and the fact that he summoned a demon is never mentioned again.
posted by jeather at 11:29 AM on August 21, 2013


I think an undisclosed body-swap qualifies as "deception or fraudulent statements or actions."

Arguably--but here, too, we're getting into "let's pretend that this is realist fiction and then judge how it would meet those standards." There is a point where magic simply makes the situation too unlike anything that could happen in reality for it to be useful to really push the "but if this really happened..." analysis too far. I mean, you say that "no one acknowledges that Faith raped Riley" which is in a literal sense true (the r-word is never used, IIRC), but it's utterly clear that what Faith is doing is completely wrong-with-a-capital-W. If we're worried that the show is "sending the wrong message" it's pretty clear that the message of the show was very solidly "kids, if you get your hands on magical body/personality swapping device, don't use it to sleep with the lover of the person whose body you steal!" And the final scene of the show does quite a lot to explain how, exactly, Riley chooses to process what happened:
BUFFY
She's gone. Not a trace. Giles says
the Council guys have cleared out,
too.

RILEY
I don't understand. How could she
have… how is it possible?

BUFFY
Magic.

RILEY
I knew there was something… I
should have picked up on it, I
should have just --

BUFFY
You slept with her.

RILEY
I slept with you.

She looks at the bed, suddenly doesn't want to be sitting there anymore. Crosses to the window.

RILEY (cont'd)
Man would I like to get my hands
on her… but not in a sex way…

BUFFY
I don't think she's coming back.

RILEY
I guess she had her fun.

BUFFY
(looking out the window)
Yeah… Fun…
That "I slept with you" line (and the way he delivers it) pretty clearly reads as "look, as far as I was concerned I was having sex with you and it's just not worth the psychological angst of trying to apply real-world identity/consent questions to a crazy magic-created situation." It seems a reasonably healthy kind of response, in fact.
posted by yoink at 11:35 AM on August 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


No, what Xander did -- try to attack Buffy -- really happened

Only if you are willing to simply ignore--for the sake of clinging desperately to a realist-fiction interpretation of the events--the problem of simplistically attributing identity to someone who is undergoing demonic possession. Was Xander "Xander" in any simple sense when he "tried to attack Buffy"? If so, was Buffy "Buffy" when she slept with Riley, or was she "Faith"? If Xander is still "Xander" when he is possessed by a Hyena demon then why is Buffy not still "Buffy" when "possessed" by Faith's personality?
posted by yoink at 11:38 AM on August 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


And, of course, the whole question of identity under the condition of demonic possession gets us sooner or later to the Angel/Angelus problem, one which I think the show was never really able to make good sense of and which causes endless grief in the fandom.
posted by yoink at 11:43 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


But these events did happen to these characters. Yes, everyone agrees that Riley is not to blame for trusting that the body of Buffy was Buffy, and that Faith behaved immorally.

If I were Riley, I'd be traumatized by realizing that the body I had sex with contained a stranger and an enemy, not a trusted lover, and then feel doubly angry and betrayed when I realized my lover was angry with me for that traumatic event that was beyond my control or consent. The fact that he apparently copes well with his rape in the immediate aftermath doesn't make it okay for everyone else to ignore that trauma, especially when this is a show largely aimed at a teenaged audience.

I understand the point you're making, and I think your arguments are reasonable, but I don't think we're going to agree about the consequences of these narrative choices.
posted by Elsa at 11:50 AM on August 21, 2013


I have carefully left off the question of Angel/Angelus (and the related Spike issues) because -- yeah. That's going to muddy things.

Fine, what Xander's body did was try to rape Buffy. I have agreed that I don't think Xander did anything wrong while he was possessed. His body did -- and it's interesting how he was separate from the pack when they killed the principal, because if Xander doesn't bear responsibility for hyena!Xander's actions why could he not have killed someone and gotten off freely? After all, he was possessed and bore zero responsibility! I'd argue it's because the audience would not forgive killing the principal but would -- and did -- forgive the attempted rape.

Again, though, even if we posit that no one should ever have mentioned this hyena story again because of whatever reasons we want (maybe because the episode wasn't very good), this is not the only time that Xander did something horrible and didn't have to deal with consequences the same way that the female characters regularly did.
posted by jeather at 11:59 AM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


If I were Riley

But that is the cornerstone of a realist response, isn't it? I mean that's how we test the realism of a fictive narrative "If I were in that position, how would I react?" But that's exactly where we have the problem of the stories actually being set in a fantasy world. Quite often you get scenarios where the question "how would I react if.." is pretty damn speculative if not downright meaningless. How would you actually react if you were told that when you slept with your lover last night it was actually somebody else "wearing" your lover's body? You'd see about convincing the person who told you that to seek professional medical help, that's how you'd react. O.K., you might say, but what if, somehow, they really convinced me? To be honest, I have no idea how I would react in that case. Everything I thought I knew about the world and the nature of human identity would have been thrown up in the air. I really can't say with any confidence at all how I would react because nothing I thought I knew about the world would be reliable any more. How can I be sure of anyone's continuity of identity if this personality-swapping thing is a real possibility?

Insofar as I can imagine being convinced of the truth of this scenario Riley's personal reaction actually strikes me as a pretty healthy one. "I choose not to see myself as a victim." I don't, actually, agree that it's a Bad Lesson to send to teens that they shouldn't keep insisting to someone that they are a Victim if they choose not to see themselves in that way.
posted by yoink at 12:00 PM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


this is not the only time that Xander did something horrible and didn't have to deal with consequences

True. One of the worst ones, actually, in my eyes is "Once More With Feeling"--which in every other way, pretty much, I see as one of the best things ever done in episodic TV. But it really grates on me that we're just not supposed to care that Xander knows perfectly well what is causing multiple deaths and other carnage all around him throughout the episode and says nothing because, what, he's embarrassed to own up?
posted by yoink at 12:04 PM on August 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


You'd see about convincing the person who told you that to seek professional medical help, that's how you'd react.

But that is how a reasonable person would react (and indeed, is how Joyce did react, before the events of the series began, to Buffy's earlier revelations about slaying vampires) to most of the events of the series. The show is predicated upon portraying characters, some human and some not, reacting to events you and I would find incredible.
posted by Elsa at 12:06 PM on August 21, 2013


Xander knows perfectly well what is causing multiple deaths and other carnage all around him throughout the episode and says nothing because, what, he's embarrassed to own up?

Does Xander actually know all along? Or does he connect the dots at the very end when the precipitating vents are revealed? I always thought it was the latter --- which still shouldn't excuse him from culpability --- but maybe I misread that.
posted by Elsa at 12:08 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's "precipitating events," of course.
posted by Elsa at 12:14 PM on August 21, 2013


He knew he was bringing in a singing and dancing demon -- he thought it would make everyone happy. After his song with Anya, when they both say how terrible it is and Giles tells them about people burning themselves up, he doesn't say anything about which demon it is. Then they all do research, Xander doesn't say anything. Then Dawn is kidnapped. Nothing from Xander. Only once Buffy is prevented from (semi-deliberately) dancing herself to death and Dawn convinces everyone it wasn't her does he finally admit it, and although we have fallout from Buffy's admission and, shortly, from Willow's use of magic, we never mention Xander's summoning a demon and then hiding his knowledge of it again.
posted by jeather at 12:18 PM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


He knew he was bringing in a singing and dancing demon -- he thought it would make everyone happy.

OH NO YOU'RE RIGHT

XANDER

XANDER

OH XANDER YOU ARE THE WORST
posted by Elsa at 12:20 PM on August 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm not actually sure how much sense it makes to obsess over fine questions about, e.g., how precisely someone should feel and respond after, possessed by a hyena spirit, the inhabitant of their body attempts to sexually assault someone else... Buffy is a show in which innocent people are being killed, brutalized and terrorized fairly routinely, and yet people generally just dust themselves off and move on. It's a show (like other shows) in which a million different things don't quite make sense, and in which people don't react as they really would, especially over the long haul. I'm not sure what's to be gained by subjecting it to scrutiny as if it were real in this one specific way. That's a little too Tumblry, IMHO.

But, that having been said, it's perfectly reasonable--in fact, it seems like the most reasonable position--to say that Xander didn't do anything to Buffy--the hyena spirit did. It's as if Xander had been picked up by a monster and flung at Giles in an attempt to kill him (Giles). One might very well be filled with inchoate sadness that one had been the projectile in such a situation...but it would be weird to feel guilty, or to believe that one were really guilty. These aren't cases of people doing things, but of things being done to them.

Another way to look at the whole Xander question, anyway is: why treat the character so badly? It's really too bad that in a show that's so good, and that has such good female characters, the central male character (the only male member of the core group) is made into such an incompetent loser. I do realize that there's something illuminating about the inversion of the norm...but one might say: for the women to kick ass, you know, it's not necessary for the dude to be an incompetent loser...
posted by Fists O'Fury at 12:21 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


But it really grates on me that we're just not supposed to care that Xander knows perfectly well what is causing multiple deaths and other carnage all around him throughout the episode and says nothing because, what, he's embarrassed to own up?

This is the single biggest thing about the entire series that has always bothered me. I guess it makes sense to the Xander-haters for him to have done such a thing, but I always thought it was completely out of character for him to summon the demon in the first place and then not to fess up. It's like they wanted to do a musical episode and got to the end and thought up the laziest, sloppiest explanation for the whole thing.
posted by Mavri at 12:30 PM on August 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


I always thought the hyena spirit was a metaphor for peer pressure. I mean, I certainly had friends who became assholes after hooking up with a new crowd. I guess the supernatural nature of these plots makes culpability a tricky subject. Agreed on the dancing demon summoning though, I will still randomly think about that while about my business and get pissed off about how that point is completely nonsensical and washed away without a thought.
posted by yellowbinder at 12:40 PM on August 21, 2013


> "for the women to kick ass, you know, it's not necessary for the dude to be an incompetent loser..."

There's more than one "dude" on the show. Giles is not an incompetent loser. Angel is not an incompetent loser. Riley is not an incompetent loser. Spike is not an incompetent loser.

Xander's incompetent loserness is actually an aberration compared to the other regular male characters.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:02 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not actually a huge Xander defender (like I said, I was mostly annoyed by him until recently), but he's not exactly in the best company:


Angel is a brooding mope who is oh so tortured.

Riley is Slab Bulkhead.

Spike is a genuine mass-murdering psycho.

Sweet Andrew killed one of his best friends (although he does feel really bad about it).

Xander is a guy who fucks up a lot, but is trying to do better.




Giles is still awesome.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:13 PM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's like they wanted to do a musical episode and got to the end and thought up the laziest, sloppiest explanation for the whole thing.

Yeah, I think it was one of those things where either at the very beginning of breaking the story you say "Ha, I know, stupid ol' Xander will have done this without thinking of the consequences!" and then never revisit the point or right at the end you're desperately pitching ideas about Who Was Responsible and you say "hey, wouldn't it be funny if stupid ol' Xander just sticks his hand up? I mean, who would expect that?" and it's late and everyone's tired and they just want to go home so you stick with it, even though it makes just zero sense.

Of course, it's one of those problems that all these kinds of serial genre shows run into. In the early days you can get away with all kinds of throwaway stuff and people just aren't heavily enough invested in the characters of the mythology of the show for it to matter. There are all kinds of gross discontinuities or acts that are wildly out of character just to move a story point along or what have you. So long as the stories keep moving everyone's reasonably happy. But then as it all becomes more interwoven and as people are furiously retconning everything from the early days into some grand, overarching seamless narrative in which it All Makes Sense if You Only Pay Attention the writers--even on a pretty continuity-heavy show like BtVS--just cannot invest as heavily in that view of the narrative as the audience does. They still need to feel they can write a throwaway joke that you basically aren't meant to really stop and think about even if when you do stop to think about it it makes the whole narrative a nightmare.

It still surprises me in OMWF, though, every time I rewatch it, because it is otherwise such a meticulously crafted piece of writing and is, above all, deeply dedicated to Moving the Big Narrative Arcs Along. It's a profoundly continuity-laden piece, which is all the more remarkable for a one-off stunt premise. In the end it's probably all to the good that they never addressed any of this because if they had there's really nothing they could do short of treating Xander as a psychopath.
posted by yoink at 1:20 PM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Giles is still awesome.

Giles is awesome, but you have to kind of close your eyes and go "la la la la la la la" through either "Lies My Parents Told Me" or "Empty Places" to maintain that belief. Someone once wrote a fanscript for an episode--20.5 I think--that came after "Empty Places" and explained away all the ghastly violence done to so many of the characters in the last few episodes as, essentially, the actions of the First. It wasn't a great episode in itself (nor was it trying to be) but it was a wonderful retroactive attempt both to make the First into a meaningful villain AND to explain the bizarre actions of so many of the major characters in late S7. I did a little Googling and I can't seem to turn it up. I found it immensely satisfying to read back in the day--it's far and away my preferred understanding of the events of that season.
posted by yoink at 1:29 PM on August 21, 2013


Hey, I found it. If, like me, you get towards the end of S7 with a kind of clench-jawed rage at the writers ("what the fuck? Have they never even watched this show?") you might find this a soothing balm. It isn't really a "story" so much as it's a "oh, this explains why almost everything in this season has sucked so badly," but it does a pretty good job of capturing the characters' voices, I think.
posted by yoink at 1:46 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


The musical only makes sense if Dawn, who was dumb/naive enough to accidentally set off a demon, did it. Xander would know better--it only works because Sweet the demon is apparently heterosexual and gets turned off the idea of having a "queen" when Xander says he did it.

I prefer to think that Xander just said it to cover for Dawn, really.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:45 PM on August 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


I prefer to think that Xander just said it to cover for Dawn, really.

Yeah, that would be a nice retcon. They should do that in the comics some day. Dawn could tell Xander that she first really fell for him when he took the rap for Sweet. Unfortunately it doesn't explain everyone just letting Xander off the hook. I guess you could throw in a "but everyone knew it was my fault nonetheless."
posted by yoink at 3:52 PM on August 21, 2013


I have been thinking about this thread since this afternoon and have come to the conclusion that y'all have ruined Xander for me, DAMN YOU. :(
posted by Jacqueline at 3:55 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


After find out that they had all ('kept for Giles) conspired to pull Buffy from heaven, Xander's mistake looks like entirely forgettable. Nobody should be pointing fingers at that point.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:58 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


y'all have ruined Xander for me, DAMN YOU. :(

Instant cure: go watch "The Zeppo."

Xander's o.k.; he's just not the brightest knife in the drawer and very young. He makes some lousy decisions and some really good ones. And then every so often the writers have a stroke and make him do something truly unforgivable (wedding episode, I'm looking at you). But any long form TV series will have some "let's all just agree to forget about that episode" episodes. I think Xander's journey is ultimately an interesting and rewarding one.
posted by yoink at 3:59 PM on August 21, 2013


After find out that they had all ('kept for Giles) conspired to pull Buffy from heaven, Xander's mistake looks like entirely forgettable. Nobody should be pointing fingers at that point.

Eh, "we did something dreadful to our friend, but we did it with the best of intentions and it isn't necessarily irreversible" isn't, ultimately, in the same league as "I unleashed a horrible, murderous evil on the world and instead of owning up and helping bring it to an end as soon as possible I let many innocent people suffer a ghastly, painful death."
posted by yoink at 4:01 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


He did it to give everyone (or just him and Anya) a happy ending, so it's definitely in the same league since he did it with the best of intentions. Plus it's not clear that Xander knew Dawn's necklace was the problem.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:08 PM on August 21, 2013


He did it to give everyone (or just him and Anya) a happy ending, so it's definitely in the same league since he did it with the best of intentions. Plus it's not clear that Xander knew Dawn's necklace was the problem.

He had good intentions in summoning the demon; he did not have good intentions in not speaking up about it. I'm not saying that summoning the demon was unforgivable; clearly we're not meant to imagine that Xander foresaw the horrible deaths. But unless we're supposed to think that Xander is a total moron then he couldn't possibly have summoned a demon whose powers involved "singing and dancing" and not have any idea that the events of the episode are unrelated. I mean, he thinks summoning the demon will give them a "happy ending" because it will make things like a movie musical. Even if he had some shred of hope that the demon he'd summoned wasn't the demon causing all the musical mayhem, he was clearly under a profound ethical obligation to say "hey guys, this might not be the reason all this is happening, but you should know..."

On the other hand, with bringing Buffy back from the dead, one of the real misses in the show was that it never really had a sufficiently serious down side. Yeah, Buffy was unhappy and depressed for a while, but basically she got over it. The consequences really should have been profoundly more troubling--in order to explain why resurrection spells weren't being done all the freaking time. Pulling Buffy out of heaven was bad, sure, but there's no reason to suppose she's permanently banned from reentering the same heaven.
posted by yoink at 4:17 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


not have any idea that the events of the episode are unrelated

er, "related."
posted by yoink at 4:26 PM on August 21, 2013


Giles became a lot less awesome for me starting at the beginning of Season Six:

1) It's months after Buffy's death, so they know no new Slayer has been called by her death.

2) The group is being pushed to its limits by ordinary packs of vamps, even with the help of the Buffybot and Willow's magic.

3) Willow is shouldering even more responsibility than Buffy was at the end of Season Five; she's assumed some of Buffy's duties--the leader of the group on patrol, she's helping raise Dawn. In addition to that, she keeps all of her Willow duties--big gun for magic, fixing the Buffybot.

4) Willow's having trouble making the Buffybot talk like Buffy, which is not too surprising given that it's a sex robot designed by some creepy loser who lived in his mom's basement. Giles tells her it's really important that the bot fool everyone--disastrous things might happen if anyone knew Buffy was dead.

5. Willow's been really powerful at magic for only about a year. Before that it was as many failed spells as successful ones.

6. Giles has decades more education and experience fighting demons than anyone else.

7. Giles is the only one besides Buffy who has a sacred calling. Everyone else is a volunteer.

8. Giles is the only one who has ever gotten paid to fight demons. It must have been a really generous salary, or he's independently wealthy, because he was able to buy a BMW convertible and the Magic Box after a year of unemployment, and before his salary was reinstated the Watcher's Council. Everyone else (except Spike) is either working or going to school full time.

9. Xander and Willow have saved his life on numerous occasions. (Anya, Tara and Spike may have as well, I just don't remember).

Giles looks at this situation, and decides to leave.

Not because he's going to break Faith out of prison (or kill her to call a new Slayer), or to bring in help from other sources, but for personal reasons.

It's utterly indefensible to leave under those circumstances. The group needs more support in Buffy's absence, not less. He even tries to leave without at least telling them in person that they're losing a fighter and researcher.

The thing that kills me is that if Willow had been as "responsible" as he supposedly thought she was, she and the others would all be dead when the demon pack attacks the town at the end of Bargaining. If they're pushed to the limits by ordinary vampires, there's no way they'd survive a massive demon invasion.

It makes him seem like a hypocrite to me--this was the guy who always pushed Buffy to make sacrifices to save the world, and he can't stick around more than a few months after she dies? However painful it might be to continue in her absence, the rest of the group was mourning her too. Spike, a soulless vampire, showed more loyalty to Buffy's friends than Giles did.

I basically see him as a deeply flawed person. I like him, because he does have his moments, but he also has his fairly spectacular failures--and he doesn't have the "young and dumb" excuse that the kids have for theirs.
posted by creepygirl at 6:30 PM on August 21, 2013 [12 favorites]


But unless we're supposed to think that Xander is a total moron then he couldn't possibly have summoned a demon whose powers involved "singing and dancing" and not have any idea that the events of the episode are unrelated. I mean, he thinks summoning the demon will give them a "happy ending" because it will make things like a movie musical.

Hey was it ever shown how Xander got the amulet? I just rewatched "Once More with Feeling" and it's really odd Xander wise. At some points it seems like he has an inkling of what's going and then just forgets. It happens several times throughout the episode.

Anyway, it's never shown how or when Xander got the amulet in that episode. Dawn was shown stealing it in a flashack at the beginning. Also, as good as the musical aspects are, the professional dancer who plays Sweet just blows everyone else away with the singing, dancing and tapping. Realy good performance.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:39 PM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I personally have chosen to deal with the end of OMWF by pretending that Xander summoned the demon by accidentally bleeding in the jewelry drawer while putting up shelves at the magic shop. Because that makes 9000% more sense than what actually happened.
posted by nonasuch at 6:45 PM on August 21, 2013


I don't know if this is an acceptable reaction or if it's just personal neurosis, but I was bothered that Xander's losing his virginity was played off as such a joke. Faith fucks him because, well, he's there and he's desperate, and then she boots him out and it's pretty much a punch line with no emotional significance attached whatsoever.

For all that Xander has his moments of nice guy-creepiness, it seemed perverse to me that Buffy lingers on its women-characters' romantic/emotional problems but then is completely content with Xander undergoing an event that by all means could be emotional damaging or at the least impart some very unhealthy ideas about sex, and just kind of tossing it off. It struck me as cruel in a very casual way.

In part this is my problem with Whedon as a showrunner: when he cares about a topic or character issue, he's capable of doing a wonderful job exploring them; but he's so damn careless with his characters and plots. A lot of Buffy's style reminds me of Twin Peaks, which Whedon obviously was somewhat inspired by, but Twin Peaks had an aching empathy for all its characters, even the smallest ones. It was a violent and hurtful show, but it depicted violence and pain as the tragedy it is. Buffy obviously didn't have the same ambitions, but it still has moments in which characters who are rich in some ways are depicted as utterly shallow in others, and sometimes this results in shitty things happening which we're supposed to be, like, just temporarily okay with. It's sloppy, and it's why I couldn't keep watching the show after season 3: despite its reaching some marvelous episodes, it left me with no faith that the show would keep taking me to places I'd be happy to go.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:06 PM on August 21, 2013


I don't know if this is an acceptable reaction or if it's just personal neurosis, but I was bothered that Xander's losing his virginity was played off as such a joke. Faith fucks him because, well, he's there and he's desperate, and then she boots him out and it's pretty much a punch line with no emotional significance attached whatsoever.

There's emotional significance for him, just none for Faith. He later tries to talk Faith down based on their 'connection'. And fails, obviously.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:11 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not only does he fail but she rapes him and attempts to physically harm or possibly kill him, doesn't she? I haven't watched that episode in a long time, but I seem to recall that. It made me really uncomfortable that we have two attempted rapists-- Faith and Spike-- in the main cast (if on and off), but at least Spike getting ensouled makes him sort of a different character later so that I don't feel so goddamn uncomfortable about liking him. Faith has a lot of weapons, and one of them is sex, and she really does try to directly harm Xander with it.
posted by NoraReed at 10:26 PM on August 21, 2013


Alternate Seanon four with the Shadow Council and Xander learning harsh lessons should be a thing

plus .you can totally rrewrite the.military thing to whatever you like. I.liked Riley, he was totally a boy scout dogooder not used to complex paranormal shit.
posted by The Whelk at 10:43 PM on August 21, 2013


Quibble if you must, but I did appreciate the brazen anviliciousness of the world being saved through the unconditional love and forgiveness of a simple carpenter.

Holy shit, how did I miss the carpenter thing?
posted by She Kisses Wyverns at 12:33 AM on August 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Holy shit, how did I miss the carpenter thing?

Also, I just now realized that the first letter in Xander is a freaking cross.
posted by Strange Interlude at 5:45 AM on August 22, 2013


Xander's losing his virginity was played off as such a joke

No one treats it as a joke--certainly not Buffy. It completely devastates Willow, Xander is played as tragically foolish for thinking he has some kind of special "connection" with Faith and Buffy tries gently (and with clear awareness that this is all horribly distressing for Xander) to disabuse him of the notion that Faith actually cared for him.
posted by yoink at 7:08 AM on August 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Dawn was shown stealing it in a flashack at the beginning.

No, she isn't. We see her steal the amulet when she comes into the magic shop after school. She sees it lying on the counter and sneaks it into a pocket. We are left to assume that Xander had found it in the magic shop and worked the invocation out of one of the magic books there. But, really, we're clearly not meant to think about that at all.
posted by yoink at 7:12 AM on August 22, 2013


I don't think anything Xander did was irredeemable, I just think the show never bothered to make him have to redeem himself, so they could throw out the most horrible things he did -- not admitting he called in Sweets, etc -- and let it go, because they had done that for every other thing he ever did in the show. (This was sort of one point of The Zeppo -- that whatever he does has no consequence.)

Giles leaving was one of the worst-plotted parts of the show. It was entirely out of character for him. I know Tony Head wanted less work, but there had to be a better way to get him off the show. I would have preferred they kill Giles than to have him desert Buffy when she has no money and was just dead a few months ago.
posted by jeather at 7:26 AM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have personally chosen to deal with OMWF by *never watching it*--I was pissed off, however, that the really significant plot point that the friends DID NOT rescue Buffy from eternal hell but from eternal peace is revealed in such an out-of-character for the universe and clearly-uncomfortable-for-the-cast-episode. Forget the plot holes; it was a dumb idea in the context of the show.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:38 AM on August 22, 2013


I have personally chosen to deal with OMWF by *never watching it*

What? That's a little crazy-pants given that OMWF, along with "The Body" and "Hush" is perennially in the discussion for "best episode of BtVS ever." I mean, degustibus non est disputandem and all that, no one says you have to love it. But choosing to never watch it? It contains some of the best work everyone associated with the show ever did. Sure, the "WTF Xander?" thing is a problem, but it only rears its head in the last few seconds of the episode and its pretty easy to accept that we're just not meant to think about it. Other than that the episode is tightly plotted and really moves the major storylines along. And the cast are only "uncomfortable" in the sense that they're being challenged; a challenge they all rise to magnificently.
posted by yoink at 8:47 AM on August 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Giles leaving was one of the worst-plotted parts of the show. It was entirely out of character for him.

Well, yes and no. The problem with Giles leaving (which, as you say, was mostly just a "Tony Head wants more time with his family, fuck, what do we do?" thing) simply points to a larger problem in the whole Buffyverse which is that they never could make any sense out of the relationship between the slayer and the Watcher's council. Nothing, at all, about that relationship is coherent, so it's hard to make any sensible statements--within the terms of the mythology of the show--about what is or is not rational for any given Watcher to do.

Think about how often we learn that the Watcher's Council has simply failed to pass on some crucial bit of information to Giles or that it refuses to believe something he's told them or what have you. It's as if they're a giant multinational company and he's just some schlub in a regional office who can't get management's attention. But none of that makes any sense; Buffy is The Chosen One. She is the sole raison d'etre for the Watcher's Council. They should be obsessively attentive to everything that is going on in Sunnydale--even given the fact that they don't expect her to live very long. And Giles--for understandable story purposes--is constantly portrayed as being seen as a bit of a loser and an outsider by the other watchers, but that, too, makes zero sense. He has an active slayer and she keeps not dying. By any standards he should be pretty much a legend among his fellow watchers, most of whom will never have an active slayer in their lives.

The huge contradiction running through the show, though, and complicating even more the question of the relationship of the slayer to the Council is the relationship of the Slayer to the Hellmouth. In the first season, the Hellmouth is simply a "theory" that Giles is working on--but there's no special relationship between the Slayer and the hellmouth. It just so happens that Buffy, the latest slayer, happens to be active in Sunnydale. By S7 (when the writers all seem to have forgotten the first few seasons) the slayer has become "the guardian of the hellmouth." By the logic of S7, Giles leaving Sunnydale is decidedly "desertion": a soldier running away from the front lines of the battle. But by the logic of S1-S4 (at least) Giles-in-England is no more or less likely to be able to keep fighting the good fight than Giles-in-Sunnydale. In fact, if anything, it would make the most tactical sense for Giles to take his demon-fighting skills elsewhere than Sunnydale because all any demon or vampire has to do to make sure they never tangle with the Slayer is avoid Sunnydale.

Of course, within the terms of the show these are problems that mostly don't obtrude upon one's enjoyment of the story. Pushing "but how would that really work?" questions too far with any fantasy narrative virtually always gets you to a point where things begin to unravel. The writer's real skill is in allowing those contradictions or inconsistencies to lie far enough back in the shadows that you're not forced to think about them by the logic of the main narrative and by and large BtVS does an excellent job of that.
posted by yoink at 9:11 AM on August 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


Having watched it when it aired, I disagree with this statement most profoundly:

a challenge they all rise to magnificently.

But I was being glib about the WTF Xander thing.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:37 AM on August 22, 2013


> "Buffy is The Chosen One. She is the sole raison d'etre for the Watcher's Council."

The Watchers' Council certainly wouldn't be the first organization to suffer from serious mission drift and start holding meetings and following protocols just for the sake of holding meetings and following protocols.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:40 AM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fic Prompt: The Watcher's Council has many secrets and questions, like why do they keep treating The One Girl In All The World as a disposable nuisance? Because they have many secrets and they tell that "one girl in all the world" story to everyone.
posted by The Whelk at 9:47 AM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Watcher's Council was stand in for high school and college administration aka the mean, stupid adults. Their actions make a lot of sense when viewed in that light.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:52 AM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


The problem with Giles leaving (which, as you say, was mostly just a "Tony Head wants more time with his family, fuck, what do we do?" thing) simply points to a larger problem in the whole Buffyverse which is that they never could make any sense out of the relationship between the slayer and the Watcher's council. Nothing, at all, about that relationship is coherent, so it's hard to make any sensible statements--within the terms of the mythology of the show--about what is or is not rational for any given Watcher to do.

I certainly agree that nothing about the Watcher's Council has ever made sense. But Giles as mentor and as father figure (which is what his roles are), and the character we've seen over 5+ seasons by then, would not have deserted Buffy like that. I agree that John Q. Watcher might have done so, sensibly -- had Wesley actually taken over from Giles it might have been in character. But we're not asking what a Watcher might do, which is pretty much anything, we're asking what Giles would do.
posted by jeather at 9:57 AM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


But Giles as mentor and as father figure (which is what his roles are), and the character we've seen over 5+ seasons by then, would not have deserted Buffy like that.

I mostly agree with this, in fact (and worse, much worse, violence was to be visited on the Giles/Buffy relationship in S7) but there is something to be said, I suppose, for the "she needs to learn to stand on her own two feet" reason that Giles gives (primarily, of course, in the "1980s training montage" song in OMWF). I mean, post high school most children in the contemporary US world do go away from their parents and try to cope with the challenges of the world on their own and we mostly do think of parents who don't let them do that as overprotective hoverers. Not, perhaps, when those children have just been brought back from the dead, but one could also argue that to insist too much on that is to start mixing up the metaphorical/symbolic level of the storytelling and the practical/realistic level.
posted by yoink at 10:24 AM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Having watched it when it aired, I disagree with this statement most profoundly:

a challenge they all rise to magnificently.


Well, as I say, degustibus non est disputandem. Yours is a distinctly minority taste, however.
posted by yoink at 10:26 AM on August 22, 2013


Buffy Summers And Dean Winchester, BFFs
posted by The Whelk at 10:06 PM on August 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Quibble if you must, but I did appreciate the brazen anviliciousness of the world being saved through the unconditional love and forgiveness of a simple carpenter.

Xander saved the world without magic or superpowers, just a hand of love and friendship extended to someone trapped in a valley of immeasurable grief.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:29 PM on August 22, 2013


How about we give Xander some credit for accepting Buffy's rebuff, and staying friends? He never held it against her after that, was loyal to the point of losing an eye, despite the rejection. That's the opposite of the "nice guy" who gets angry about always being in the "friend zone." Xander valued that friendship extraordinarily highly. It's one of the things that made me like him, back when they were still setting up his character with that rejection in season one.

Also, I always thought it was supposed to be cannon that he was just covering for Dawn with the dancing-demon thing. Was I just not paying enough attention? Is there evidence that he wasn't? She does have the amulet, and is about to be taken down to the underworld to be queen... Then Xander takes the rap for her. I figured he was just being heroic.

As for the FPP -- I can't believe the author got through that whole argument (which I agree with) without citing the "I'm cookie dough" speech in which Buffy comes out and explicitly textifies the subtext that the author is pointing out:
Buffy: I'm cookie dough. I'm not done baking. I'm not finished becoming who ever the hell it is I'm gonna turn out to be. I make it through this, and the next thing, and the next thing, and maybe one day, I turn around and realize I'm ready. I'm cookies. And then, you know, if I want someone to eat m- or enjoy warm, delicious, cookie me, then that's fine. That'll be then. When I'm done.

Angel: Any thoughts on who might enjoy - Do I have to go with the cookie analogy?

Buffy: I'm not really thinking that far ahead. That's kind of the point.

Angel: I'll go start working on the second front. Make sure I don't have to use it.

[starts to leave]

Buffy: Angel. I do. Sometimes, think that far ahead.

Angel: Sometimes is something.

Buffy: Be a long time coming. Years, if ever.

Angel: I ain't gettin' any older.
posted by OnceUponATime at 3:43 PM on August 26, 2013


She does have the amulet

Yeah, but we see her find it on the counter of the magic shop early in the episode and swipe it. It's pretty obvious she doesn't recognize its significance--it's just part of her kleptomania thing (when she sings the "Does anybody even notice...does anybody even care..." line she's just opened up her box-o-stolen-trinkets and is trying the necklace on...it's clearly just yet-another-stolen-trinket to her, not a magical demon summoning tool.) So no, alas, Xander-did-it-to-save-Dawn isn't canon.
posted by yoink at 3:54 PM on August 26, 2013


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