February 16, 2013
So good. Really. So good.
I feel like this season was darker, although I probably say that every season. There are several strong ‘coming of age’ themes, people losing their virginity, cheating, break-ups, surviving high school, driving, seeing their parents mess up*, making big decisions and being unselfish.
Season three continues to tackle common teen issues but with mature behaviour by the characters. I am of course, talking about Angel and his decision to leave Sunnydale so that Buffy can lead a ‘normal’ life. Which is funny, because she is the slayer and I’m not sure how normal her life will ever be.
Part of me respected his sacrifice, that he loved her enough to leave her so she could live a life unencumbered by his condition of being dead and any physical happiness resulting in him becoming a demon again. But on the other hand it made me mad, because, well, they seemed good together and I wanted them to end up happy together. And also, she is the SLAYER, any person she ends up with has got to be able to hold their own in a fight. Angel seems to be pretty bad-ass, so to me, that’s a good match.
In the end I suppose his new spin-off show was the final straw.
(But Angel is dead, I hear you say.) Yes, technically he has been dead in every season but he was in hell for a spell. Turns out some really evil-folk resurrected him, hoping they could get him to kill Buffy.
And their chosen method was quite interesting. And when I say interesting, I mean disturbing. They haunt him with the faces of the people he has killed in the past and suggest that he just ‘gives in’ and ‘takes’ Buffy, he can lose his soul and be free of all his guilt. Angel decides that the best way to resist is to kill himself. Buffy talks him out of it though. At first I thought it was cheesy, Angel choosing suicide. And then it clicked that they were actually talking about suicide. A hugely important, and at that stage, still under represented issue for teens.
I like that they choose Angel, arguably the most indestructible one of all of them, to deal with the important and hard to discuss topic of suicide. It was not the first time we see Angel’s character show an emotional range which I think was, and probably still is unusual for main male characters.
The inclusion of Faith as an alter-slayer-ego is brilliant, she lives life with abandon and affords herself all the little and not-so-little treats in life that Buffy doesn’t. Her character develops more darkly over time and helps us explore choices than Buffy can’t make, the writers not wanting to risk the affection the audience has for Buffy. In fact this season has a great series of interviews with the writers which summarises and analyses much better than I can.
I’ve been sitting on this post for a while. The season is great, but there is something that’s been bothering me and that is the way Buffy and Angel are punished for wanting to have sex.
They are literally tormented by it.
There are some cool things about how they don’t have sex, which to me implies that they have a bond based on interest and mutual respect.
Interestingly both Zander and Willow have sex in this series and they aren’t punished for it. There are apparently no evil consequences when Willow sleeps with a werewolf.
But Buffy can’t have sex with the man/vampire dude that she loves. As the heroine, I suppose, she must remain pure, so that the audience will continue to hold her to higher standards. She is unfailingly virtuous and even when tempted down a darker path by Faith, she resists. The TV formula requires that we place her on a pedestal. It assumes that we can’t handle a multidimensional character.
In the end, this issue is not that the writers didn’t want their characters to have sex, because they do, Willow and Zander get laid. The issue is that the fact that the audience can’t be trusted to continue to love and relate to a young woman who has consenting sex with her boyfriend. Which is just ironic, considering the audience can be trusted to watch a main character who stabs vampires through the heart, fights to the death, sneaks out of her home, skips out on school and consorts with witches. But apparently, sex, was just one crazy act too far. Such is our society.
I wish the show had been brave enough to show a strong woman have sex and not lose any of her status in our eyes.
Because there is nothing wrong with having sex. And liking it. And wanting more.
While I think this show has pushed many boundaries, I guess it wasn’t ready for that one.
* the episode where all the adults act like teenagers is gold. especially Giles sporting the James Dean look.
December 19, 2012
Warning, contains spoilers
*sob* Angel… how could you do that to me… erm, I mean… Buffy.
I totally wasn’t expecting that. Shit just got real.
He turns bad! I mean really bad.
For those of you who weren’t following…. Angel is the vampire who was cursed with a soul,, leaving him tortured and moody. Apparently if he experiences ‘true happiness’ his curse will be lifted. And all it took was him and Buffy have sex for the first time. (I just wish kinda that it hadn’t happened that way. It’s too much like punishing Buffy for having sex and that’s such an old and over-worn narrative.)
I did get really sucked into how their relationship developed and was pretty devastated for Buffy when he turned bad. I did however enjoy the scene where she almost kills him, but can’t quite bring herself to. When he taunts her after she hesitates, she walks away and says ‘give me time’.
But seriously, this is a great series. Xander and Cordelia hook up and thank goodness for that because Xander’s unrequited love for Buffy shtick was getting a bit possessive and annoying. We get to meet Willow’s boyfriend, Oz (Seth Green). They introduce him slowly, just a couple of minutes here and there. But his character develops nicely, he seems like a great guy, except for that whole turning into a werewolf thing. He even turns down having a revenge-at-Xander make-out session with Willow. This series is so refreshingly mature for the teen-genre.
But it also pretty dark at time. They kill off two pretty major characters. One was the ‘other’ Slayer. (Long story) and the other was Jenny Calendar (love interest for Giles). Turns out Jenny has been lying to them and was sent there to ensure Angel doesn’t achieve happiness. But Angel brutally kills her and dramatically and coldly lays her out on Giles’ bed to torment him. It was disturbing. Upsetting even. Awesome stuff.
Whedon sure doesn’t shy away from the tricky social commentary. There was an interesting episode where there is intimate partner violence, a guy kills his girlfriend and everyone except Buffy is pretty forgiving towards the guy. Buffy is unequivocally unforgiving, insisting that the guy is an a-hole and doesn’t deserve forgiveness, even when her friends do want to forgive him. Although there is a bit of parallel process as she clearly blames herself for causing Angel’s conversion. But it was pretty refreshing to see the ‘hero’ who is often the social conscience of a show, be very clear that this guy did not deserve her forgiveness.
Strangely soon after that there was an episode where Buffy is blamed for being assaulted by a guy and told to ‘dress more appropriately’. But I have to assume that because it was laid on so thickly that it was clearly commentary on the ridiculousness of blaming the victim.
There was a sinister part where the coach throws Buffy in to a sewer with a bunch of sea monsters who had ‘needs’. I felt pretty sick at that part and even when the coach was thrown in and essentially raped to death. Buffy said ‘Those boys sure loved their coach’ I felt squicky.
The last two episodes were brilliant. Buffy has to fight evil Angel who has just released a demon who will swallow the world by creating a vortex. Just before she kills him, Angel’s soul is restored by Willow. Buffy is faced with the terrible reality that they only way to destroy the demon is to kill Angel.
I watched with growing horror mixed with fascination when I realised she was kissing him goodbye. She ran him through with a sword and pushes him into the vortex.
This part is worthy of repeating.
The lead female character…..
…… ran her love interest through….. (As in she impaled him)
……. and pushed him in to a vortex.
I can think of very very few examples* when the lead female was a) the last person standing and b) had to kill of the lead guy. Typically the hero (usually male) is ‘rewarded’ with a woman, like a trophy. (Just think of just about all the classic James Bond films you’ve seen)
The last scene is Buffy getting on a bus and leaving town and that what’s I love about this series. No easy endings. He doesn’t bail her out. She kills Angel. And I mean really kills him.
She is faced with tough choices and has to make them and live with the consequences.
BRING ON SEASON THREE!!
*except now I did damn it. The remake of The Thing features a female lead who is the last woman standing at the end after slaying the last remaining man. Although, technically, he wasn’t a man anymore if you catch my drift.
December 5, 2012
So I’ve started Season 2 and the first episode surprised me.
I thought they would just pick up where they left off, but instead they dedicated the whole episode to Buffy dealing with her issues from the last season.
They had great scenes of her staring into space, answering every question with ‘fine’ and generally just being ‘meh’.
The episode was dedicating time to the astonishing realistic idea that she went through some serious shit in the last episode of the first season and you know, maybe that actually took a toll, you know, emotionally. Because actually people are emotional creatures. Who knew?
And it dawned on me. Joss Wedon’s true genius is not that he created a strong female character, it’s that he created a whole series that tells the story of a female character.
Let me explain.
I’m often struck by the fact that even when I watch strong women characters in film and TV I’m still watching a woman in a man’s story. I don’t care how strong the female character is, most of the time, she is still a component in a man’s story.
For example, Farscape. (Yes, I’m a geek, moving right along).
Farscape features a couple of awesome female characters, including Aeryn Sunn, a skilled soldier, expert pilot and just generally pretty kick-arse independent woman. She usually has the biggest gun.
But the whole series is about John Crighton.* It was John Crighton’s story about his coming-of-age. Aren’t they all?
In itself this isn’t the problem. If it was only half the time.
But so many of the stories featured in film and TV are about men, things that happen to men, things that men experience, their adventures, their journeys of self-discovery.
That’s why so many of them fail the Bechdel Test. Women are often just added as an afterthought, eye-candy or fit some other extremely narrow stereotype**.
Rarely do we get to see big budget films and TV series which are about the things women experience, their adventures and journeys of self-discovery. Where women play meaningful roles and which aren’t rom-coms or negative bitchy portrayals of female rivalry. But that’s exactly what Buffy does.
I am gobsmacked by how many films of fiction still don’t feature a 50/50 ration of men and women. I found myself yelling at the screen during The Avengers, ‘They’re made-up! Invent another female character, dammit!’ (Even though Joss Wedon did liberally sprinkle female characters among the secondary characters.)
To illustrate I quickly checked our biggest local theater and checked to see what is playing and grouped them into mostly about men, mostly about women and inbetween. There were 10 mostly about male characters, 3 mostly about female characters and one I couldn’t place. (Full list below, please note I haven’t seen any of them so can’t be 100% sure.)
Not good enough Hollywood. Not by a long shot.
Mostly about Male Characters (10 in total)
Argo, The Hobbit, Skyfall, Killing them Softly, The Life of Pi, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Loopers, Taken, Hotel Transylvania, The Inbetweeners,
Mostly about female characters (3 in total)
Pitch Perfect, The Sapphires, Twilight (I suppose)
Not sure how to characterise Wuthering Heights. I read the book 20 years ago and promptly forgot it. I’m still surprised I didn’t fail that class.
* (and yes I thought it was spelled ‘Kryten’ like the android in Red Dwarf, but I digress)
** for excellent analysis on the handful of reoccurring female stereotypes see any of the Tropes vs. clips by Anita Sarkeesian
November 12, 2012
I’ve finished the first season of Buffy. One I’ve got one word for you; Angel.
I finally get him. I get the fascination. He shows up and disappears randomly. He is mysterious, handsome, aloof, yet protective and deeply conflicted. What’s not to like?
It takes several episodes before he reveals his vampire nature. In fact he waits until after their first kiss. Smooth.
The Whedon vampire look is definitely not sexy. We are not talking Alexander Skarsgard from True Blood here. In fact, does anyone remember the old TV series ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (Linda Hamilton and, as it turns out, Ron Perlman). Well that’s what I always think of when the Buffy vampires show up.
I liked how his nature and furthermore, his curse, were only revealed later in the series. It adds depth to the otherwise formulaic nature of such series.
But I gotta hand it to Whedon, while you’ve got the stereotypical dorks and dicks. In some ways this might have been one of the first shows that depicted geeks, nerds and dorks as heroes, which i suspect played a huge part in the shows success.
For those of us who weren’t in the popular crowd at school, which I suspect was most of us, having a show where the nerds and the school librarian end up saving the day must have been pretty powerful. (Huzzah for the underdog.)
The characters not only had more depth than expected but were so relatable. The popular girl has a sensitive side. The goofy Zander, who has a crush on Buffy shows another, more bitter side to himself when she rejects him. Usually Accommodating Willow doesn’t allow him to use her as a consolation prize and so consequently in the last episode, they all end up home alone on prom night. So what do they end up doing? Killing vampires. I mean, don’t we all?
That last episode also features one of my favourite lines; “We saved the world, lets party”
Now a word about Buffy herself. She doesn’t quite cut it for me as a nerd. Sure she flunks classes a lot because she’s out killing ghouls and what not, but she still looks pretty fashionable while she’s doing it. “I even broke a nail.”
But I like that she lives with her single mom who has a nice sarcastic streak and that she isn’t popular and that she gets the crap beat out of her. (Feminist/non-violent interjection: Did I just say that?) What I mean is that she is not an infallible hero-type. In fact she dies in the last episode and is saved by some pretty ordinary CPR.
We are left with hints of change for season two, “I feel different, stronger” she says. I’m looking forward to climbing in to it.
November 2, 2012
So I watched the first two issues of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, season one last night.
I’ve always kept the fact that I had never watched the series kinda quiet. Joss Whedon, her creator is highly regarded in the feminist community and Buffy herself pretty much has cult status.
In my defense I did see the actual film when it came out in the theatres and it was pretty bad. It was full of Luke Perry, bright colours, stupid jokes (ever get that not-so-fresh feeling Buffy?) and did I mention Luke Perry?
It’s high time I checked out the series.
So I’m watching the first episode and it’s a typical scene, dude brings blonde into empty school building with promises of views and intentions of nookie. She is fearful, nervous. He is insistent, cajoling. She nervously asks if anyone is around, he boldly says no. ‘GOOD!’ she says, and BAM! She turns vampire on him and attacks!
I wasn’t expecting that. Have I mentioned I’m a jumper? I jumped at that one and something in my brain sorta back-flipped. What an excellent way to subvert the damsel in distress moment and set a different tone. It didn’t even fall into the other stereotype; Evil Demon Seductress.
It wasn’t brightly coloured and corny. It’s got lots of dark scenes and it is legitimately scary at times. Although to contextualise this, it’s 1997 scary, not 2012 scary. (And I’m a jumper, so I scare easily.) The lingo is a little quaint, the make-up is make-up like and the effects are a little home-made.
But the fight scenes are awesome! Buffy gets chucked around and smashed into concrete corners but is kicking vampires in the face just as hard. Nobody is pulling any punches.
I’ll keep you posted..
PS – This isn’t going to be academic analysis stuff. More just observations and me sharing my cheesy enjoyment. Or not. We’ll see.