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Thread: BtVS rewatch: SEASON 6

  1. #561
    Well Spiked Stoney's Avatar
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    Hi debbicles. Buffy's progress in balancing herself slayer/human is a great part of the season. The inner mix has always featured so heavily for her, as it has for Willow and especially also Spike and goes on into S7 for all three. Her internal mix is definitely a part of what she has been exploring with Spike but has often tried to turn from around her friends/family I agree, and this links in with that sense of social norms and what she feels she will be accepted for and rejected for. There is definitely a negative side though to stepping outside of her own moral certainty and she has been regaining more of her sense of self now alongside the freedom of having explored aspects of herself she has avoided too. I'm looking forward to watching/responding on Entropy but I'm a little behind following the school hols. Hopefully by the weekend.

    Re: the multiple posts. If you go in to edit your post you should be able to just highlight and delete the repeats. As for why it does it, sometimes when you go to post it seems to fail when it didn't. So when you try to post again it turns out it did manage to post and clicking 'post' again sent a second which appears as a repeat. It is a bit confusing, but you should be able to delete the repetitions through the 'edit' function when it happens.
    Last edited by Stoney; 06-11-18 at 12:05 AM.

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  3. #562
    Library Researcher debbicles's Avatar
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    Hi Stoney, thanks for the suggestion. I've tried that with my other NA post, the one that turned into War and Peace, but my page just reloaded all by itself again. By the time I endured multiple repeats of my post, I realised life was too short to spend on editing and deleting! I don't know what's going on!

    I hope it doesn't happen again but I won't be too surprised to see this reprised. Wish me luck!

    On topic, I did hope that by the end of season 7 Buffy had reconciled her Slayer persona with her other personas. But it still isn't clear to me whether or not that has ever happened.
    You know what I am. You've always known. You come to me all the same.

    "There's a lot of comedy to be gotten from the world's doom spiral right now." Tracey Ullman, June 2018

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  5. #563
    Scooby Gang American Aurora's Avatar
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    Hey, StateofSiege, here’s another response to your fantastic review of Normal Again.!

    In thinking about your review, I wanted to re-address this wonderfully thought-provoking paragraph:

    But to begin with the title, again, with that “Again”— Where and when does the original of which it would be a repetition—and the “Normal” it claims—lie? How can we grasp its duration? The force of its return? Or its cost? And know who pays them? …But a certain normativity shapes this line, the normativity of progressive time, of a movement of recovery that would restore what has been lost and move towards health—it would be, in the terms of this time, but a matter of will, of weakness and strength and personal responsibility, the work incumbant upon the free, autonomous self Buffy is assumed to embody. This is Giles’ pronouncement in justifying his abandonment, one that Buffy herself internalizes, one that Willow’s mistaken assumption of addiction reinforces. This episode shows how much more complex the matter—of temporality, normativity, and their imbrications—has become, and, I would suggest, it puts the notion of “health” itself into question, shows the normative force that shapes it.
    I think you brilliantly bring up the ways in which viewers see the show through their own expectations of narrative, linear storytelling – we push and pull the drama to move forward in a certain way to meet our expectations that there will be a progression towards a sudden denouement chock full of cultural assumptions and reasons for why things progressed the way they did. People generally read drama through the senses – the immediacy of sight or sound or touch – which is really all that we know of the present. And we try to move the drama into the future or look back to see its reflection in the past so that we’re stretching one way or another constantly.

    For me, experiencing a drama is like standing outside on a clear evening. We look around to see a circle of stars wrapping around us, defining the horizontal space while we stand at its center. Directly above is the dramatic climax – the zenith – perpendicular to us. The opposite direction downward is a return to earth – basically, the nadir of the drama. One’s “view” of drama is limited from north to south – or south to north – where the horizon meets the meridian which defines the North-South line. Dramatic movement sends the stars below the horizon as new ones seem to rise in the east thanks to the movement of the earth. This celestial sphere encompasses both the idea of rising, progressive growth as stars rise in the East, which informs our ridiculously ornate ideas of the Orient. And as the stars fall and die, it evokes our vision of the West or Occident on the other side.

    From our limited perspective, it seems like we’re at the center of all this circular activity – with a seemingly bright light like the Pole Star as a Key to guide us. But it’s all distortion – an ordered sequence in our state of consciousness. It all depends upon where you are in the universe when you look at it – and Time is a huge part of that. Like the idea of progressive time, drama rises and falls, rises and falls into a constant, repetitive patter –intensity and moderation alternating endlessly. A succession of counterparts that weave in and out of each other like music, swinging between two extremes.

    And I think that it’s an inescapable condition of drama – the relentlessness of that dual vision is primarily based on a solipsistic impression of the nature of things. It’s hard to break away from that.

    As someone who works with musical theatre a great deal, it’s extremely difficult for me to view art in a more theoretical manner, because music is built upon such a relentless, forward progression of notes – unless you’re working with compositions by John Cage, it’s almost impossible to avoid that. (Personal note – he was a teacher of one of my teachers and as a young teen, I had a wonderful lunch with Cage and his partner, the great choreographer Merce Cunningham at a Japanese restaurant near UC Berkeley that will always be a highlight for me – he was a delightful man even though he was very ill at the time and died shortly afterwards.)

    But I’m also a big reader – and I love to riffle through BIG BOOKS OF THEORY to try and vaguely keep up with the latest theories. So I hope, StateofSiege, that you know how much I appreciate you trying to bring something very different to these discussions – a perspective that takes a much more wide-ranging philosophical view of the show. I think your reviews are absolutely marvelous and I feel that I learn so much from them.

    The concept of “becoming” is so complex and so brilliantly applied to Buffy’s state in this episode – I think I’m slightly layering my own views on top of it! I do think I understand a bit more in terms of how you say it opens into the possibility of true change – but I’ll leave going into that until the end of the episode.

    I think I mistakenly perceived “becoming” as something rather chaotic and lawless because Normal Again is one of those peculiar episodes that’s cherished by certain fans because they’re convinced it’s Whedon tipping the hat that the whole world of Buffy was actually a chaotic figment of one person’s imagination. Called the “Normal Again Alternative”, whole theories have been elaborately spun on the web that describe in immense detail where each Buffy character would be in terms of the mental ward.

    Towards the end of Season Seven, Joss Whedon was asked about whether it was possible that BtVS was actually a figment of Buffy’s imagination – and as all writers do, he played it coy – with an affirmative towards the end that the show was real and it was all in Buffy’s mind!

    WHEDON: How important it is in the scheme of the "Buffy" narrative is really up to the person watching. If they decide that the entire thing is all playing out in some crazy person’s head, well the joke of the thing to us was it is, and that crazy person is me. It was kind of the ultimate postmodern look at the concept of a writer writing a show, which is not the sort of thing we usually do on the show. The show had merit in itself because it did raise the question, "How can you live in this world and be sane?" But at the same time the idea amused me very much and we played on it a little bit, "How come her little sister is taller than her?" "What was Adam’s plan?" We played on the crazy things we came up with time and time again, to make this fantasy show work and called them into question the way any normal person would. But ultimately the entire series takes place in the mind of a lunatic locked up somewhere in Los Angeles, if that’s what the viewer wants. Personally, I think it really happened.
    And then after that affirmation, Whedon toyed with throwing in a reference to Buffy in his run of the comic Astonishing X-Men. Cyclops aka Scott Summers would mention that he had a cousin who thought she was a demon hunter and was currently in a mental hospital. But it never happened – Whedon chickened out.

    Marti Noxon also made it clear that she disagreed with the “Normal Again Alternative” because it undercut the feminist vision of the show:

    NOXON: It was a fake out; we were having some fun with the audience. I don't want to denigrate what the whole show has meant. If Buffy's not empowered then what are we saying? If Buffy's crazy, then there is no girl power; it's all fantasy. And really the whole show stands for the opposite of that, which is that it isn't just a fantasy. There should be girls that can kick ass. So I'd be really sad if we made that statement at the end. That's why it's just somewhere in the middle saying "Wouldn't this be funny if ...?" or "Wouldn't this be sad or tragic if...?" In my feeling, and I believe in Joss' as well that's not the reality of the show. It was just a tease and a trick"
    There is a coda – In 2011, the soap opera All My Children featured a small little storyline about a woman who was having paranoid delusions that she could see vampires everywhere. She was played by former All My Children cast member Sarah-Michelle Gellar.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qV_NwxjT3s

    But the idea of an unreliable narrator and the perspective shift of the world as a possible illusion of the mind is nothing new. It goes all the way back to the idea of maya in Hindu and Buddhist religions – that which is perceived and not perceived, the contrast of a mind influenced by the sunlight as opposed to the darkness of illusion and magic. The idea is that the world is not as it seems – it’s real – but conceals its true nature. There’s a corollary to this in Plato’s “allegory of the cave” in The Republic where people only see a manufactured reality that is a construct of their social identities rather than the truth.

    And it was a big thumping thing in the Renaissance as works such as Cervantes’ Don Quixote and Shakespeare’s Hamlet played with the idea of madness and the perception of reality. One of my favorite plays is Life is a Dream by Pedro Calderón de la Barca in which a Prince is imprisoned from childhood, briefly released and then imprisoned again and convinced to believe that his brief respite from prison was just a dream.

    And then there’s the Zhuangzi, a philosophical work from the 2nd century CE that contains parables, anecdotes, sayings, aphorisms and famously, “The Butterfly Dream” or “Zhuang Zhou Dreams of Being a Butterfly”:

    Once, Zhuang Zhou dreamed he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering about, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know that he was Zhuang Zhou.

    Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuang Zhou. But he didn't know if he was Zhuang Zhou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming that he was Zhuang Zhou. Between Zhuang Zhou and the butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things. (Zhuangzi, “On the Equality of Things”)
    This is known as the “dream argument” that is a major component of Cartesian and Skeptical philosophy. Is life a dream? Can we trust our senses? What if we are just a character in someone else’s dream? Do our dreams represent multiple realities that continue to multiply every night? Descartes claimed that we are convinced when dreaming that our dreams are real – but then we awake to find that they are not. But how do we know we are awake at all? What if we are mad? What if our perceptions are just the work of an evil demon? This always brings to mind Descartes’ “evil demon” concept - which imagines the demon creating an entirely illusory world to ensnare his victim:

    DESCARTES: I shall think that the sky, the air, the earth, colours, shapes, sounds and all external things are merely the delusions of dreams which he has devised to ensnare my judgement. I shall consider myself as not having hands or eyes, or flesh, or blood or senses, but as falsely believing that I have all these things. (Meditations on First Philosoph, 1631
    And this is what makes Normal Again so comical from a philosophical point of view – because it’s an actualization of Descartes’ Meditations musings – Buffy gets poked by an evil demon and subsequently has trouble distinguishing between reality and the illusion of the mental hospital. What makes it even more Cartesian is that she’s not given an infinite number of worlds – but only two in a binary decision split between the real world and the fantasy world. Which should Buffy choose? And that doesn’t even seem as clear cut as we would think – it’s not just Buffy deciding between which is real and which is false – but which version of reality she would prefer because she believes it to be the "normal" correct choice.

    And the scary part is that she prefers the reality in which she’s shackled to a bed and almost comatose.

    But I really love your idea of ‘becoming’ (a fitting term for this show) and ‘affect’ that raises the humanist stakes to something more than the ‘dream argument’ – from what I remember in your review of The Body, I believe you’re talking about the moment of indeterminacy between two things – the “just-before” state when the relation of two things “affects” the other in a multitude of ways – before there is a final determinate stage in which definitions create separation. And this power in being affected and affecting is the basis for a transformative “becoming” – how we interact with the world, how we change and are changed in relation to it. And it relates to how we think and feel about things – cognition and sensation before they become closed and captured – a disorientation that is about what happens when the body connects with itself or the outside world – and what happens when it doesn’t. And that’s certainly a major theme in Normal Again.

    The Opening, ACTS I & II: Almost to Elsewhere—Nearings, Resoundings, Returns
    OPENING—Almost, Too Close, Elsewhere
    We begin with Buffy on the hunt—but tonight brings difference: this is not the repetitive patrolling of the graveyard, the predictable policing of the vampire population that has characterized most of her work as the Slayer this season. No. She has a list, a list with many items crossed out in red, indicating a search in progress. Weeks may have passed since DT, but Buffy has finally, it seems, taken up the search for Warren and his pals, begun working into a heroic temporal arc, entered into “going through” more than just “the motions.”
    Yes, StateofSiege, I think that it helps that Buffy has a direct order to do something in particular – instead of wandering about on patrol – which inevitably ends at Spike’s Crypt – she’s been given a set of clear directives by Willow that help clarify who she is and what she’s supposed to do. And this is an off-set of Willow herself, who is also creating a “normal” persona through her embrace of non-magic computer skills. And so like the Initiative on the track of Hostile 17, Buffy is slowly making her way to the Trio lair as she crosses off the addresses on her list. And she doesn’t even need a tracker.

    And we introduce the idea of looking for something – whether to find them or to figure out what’s going on or just to imagine possessing the thing or person. There’s an intangible quality to the sense of loss in the episode – Buffy looks for the Trio, Willow looks for Tara, Buffy and Willow look for Xander – who’s looking for Tara, the Scoobies look for the Demon – and on and on and on. And yet, where it really matters, they’re not looking in the right places – as we see when Jonathan is caught sleeping instead of keeping an eye on the camera images of outside their house.

    Cut to Jonathan, asleep before a screen, awakening to squirts of water, then the mean-spirited laughter of Warren and Andrew: “Your face is priceless!” the latter exclaims, while the former scolds Jonathan for sleeping on watch—“again.” As Jonathan complains about their living conditions, the close quarters, the immurement, he tells them “I’m going Jack Torrence in here.” This reference to the protagonist of The Shining lightly threads him to Buffy, who, in one of her crueler and more desperate actions, had typed a version of the repeated proverb that made up mad Jack’s great American novel into her social worker’s folder as a sign of that woman’s seeming mental disturbance. Threading Jonathan to Buffy as well, over this episode and historically: the threat of madness, the experience of depression, and the sense of outsiderness, of wrongness, as we will soon find Jonathan excluded from the inner circle of the Trio, a nerd among nerds—an outsiderness that will stem, in part, from his discomfort with the ethical trending of their actions and prefigure his turn against Warren, his awakening, in SR.
    That is brilliant, StateofSiege – I hadn’t made the connection from Jonathan to Buffy before. Of course, encased in his own nightmarish prison of the basement with two men eager to do mischief, he probably feels as trapped as Buffy. Great callback to Gone and Buffy’s gaslighting of the social worker!

    And there’s something truly hilarious about Jonathan sleeping that mirrors Buffy’s soon-to-be-hallucinatory world. When Warren splashes him with water, it’s a parallel to Buffy’s constant rude awakening from one state to another.

    ANDREW: Oh man, your face was priceless.
    JONATHAN: (angry) Yeah, real funny.
    WARREN: It serves you right for taking Z's on lookout again.
    JONATHAN: What do you expect? I haven't had a decent night's sleep since – I mean, I'm going Jack Torrence in here, you know? Stuck in this basement for weeks! I mean, we rented the whole house, can't we at least sleep upstairs?
    ANDREW: We're on the lam. We have to lay low. Underground?
    JONATHAN: It's figurative, doofus! Did you even read Legion of Doom?
    For such a pop culture maven, Jonathan has made a bit of a mistake – the Legion of Doom didn’t start off as a comic book, but as an addition to the Saturday morning cartoon lineup of the early 1970s. The Challenge of the Super Friends was a Hanna-Barbera cartoon series featuring DC superheroes Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Wonder Twins, The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Black Vulcan, Apache Chief, Samurai and Aquaman.

    The series then created a “Legion of Doom” – a team of super-villains put together by mastermind Lex Luthor as a counterbalance to our heroes – Sinestro, Black Manta, Cheetah, Giganta, Scarecrow, Soloman Grundy, Toyman, Riddler, Bizarro, Captain Cold, Gorilla Grodd and Brainiac all lived in a bizarre mechanical helmet-like headquarters called the Hall of Doom. It was sunk deep into a swamp for camouflage, but could come to the surface like a submarine and even fly and time travel if necessary. Hiding from the superheroes, the supervillains float up and down in their subterranean world.

    It was only in reruns that DC decided to capitalize on the popularity of the cartoon series and create a comic book called The Super Friends. But it’s most likely the resurrection of the Legion of Doom in the 1994 comic series Extreme Justice that Jonathan and Andrew are referring to - and gives insight into how they perceive themselves as super villains.

    Of course, Andrew is parroting what Warren has told him – he seemingly believes everything that Warren tells him because Andrew himself is living in his own alternate universe with his crush on Warren allowing Warren’s far more pernicious poison of invective and lies to warp his perspective.

    WARREN: Okay, enough! Midgetor, get back to the monitors. The last thing we need is to be surprised by-
    ANDREW: Holy Geez Louise.
    Pan over to the monitors where another view reveals Buffy peering in the windows of the house.
    JONATHAN: The-the-
    WARREN: The frickin' Slayer.
    JONATHAN: She's right there!
    WARREN: All right, don't panic. Andrew – deploy your little friend.
    But before the group tension can further manifest itself, Warren sees Buffy on the monitor and calls for Andrew to “play [his] little friend”—to summon a demon.
    I love how Andrew uses an Australian digeridoo to summon the demon – an onomatopoetic word of Western invention to describe the wind instrument of the aboriginal peoples of the continent. The musical instrument has recently become the center of a cultural controversy as indigenous groups consider it cultural theft for any outsider to play or even touch one. There’s also a major controversy over the taboo against women using the instrument – and the cultural implications of using its sacred purpose for secular ends.

    But there’s an interesting tie for the writers in the idea of “the dreaming” – a popularized version of Australian aboriginal religion which has become a global phenomenon with New Age groups in particular embracing the idea of a “dreamtime” – the foundation of culture that dates back 65,000 years. A kind of temporal fold that encompasses past, present and future, it explains how humans live within the natural world in a beginning that never ended.

    Why this particular instrument would call up the Glarghk Guhl Kashmas'nik demon is anyone’s guess – but like the First Slayer, the show’s writers like to borrow from ancient cultures in order to give the Buffyverse a solid mythopedic quality. Some of this is a little dodgy today – but it was probably thought to be the height of cleverness then.

    BUFFY: Oh. Hi. You didn't by chance happen to just eat a couple of nerds, did you?
    The creature looks like a cross between an Uber-Vamp and Nosferatu as it nears Buffy – who is totally nonplused by its appearance.

    Back to Buffy, who, it turns out, was nearing her goal—until they saw her first and dropped a distancing force upon her in the form of a waxy demon. Buffy quips and fights—well enough, if not masterfully—until it pokes her with a nasty-looking stinger. Her stinging spins us into an elsewhere, gives us a wan, bedraggled-looking Buffy struggling to get away from some orderlies who are holding her down, whose efforts are followed by a command to sedate her—then a poke with an ordinary-looking needle…. And a pan outward, to the hallway of a hospital ward, to distance-faced patients and nurses, ghosts absent to each other and themselves…. Cut to the Credits….
    And as Demon Descartes pokes Buffy with his Dream Argument, she’s sent straight into the Trio’s own version of the Matrix.

    ACT I—Nearings, Missings, Slippages
    Buffy comes to, confused. Awakens, for a second unsure of what or where, of perhaps who she is. Awakens, unsure—an act that punctuates the season, forms part of its arc. Awakens, but incompletely, still haunted—as she has been all season, as she will be until she can fully awaken in Grave, find a way to live in the presence of her varying temporalities, including that of the past’s haunting, live them together, forming a different modality of time… The act then begins in Buffy’s distancing from both self and surroundings: much of its remainder comprises a series of nearings, some missed, mixed with further distancings and slippages—
    Yes, StateofSiege, that’s quite an arresting way in which this connects to your discussion of “affect” and how Buffy’s disorientation after being resurrected creates a different sense of time. Buffy’s distances herself from the ineffable shadows that light the walls of her Platonic cave.

    We begin with Willow at school, waiting for Tara, rehearsing opening phrases, all of which point toward progressive recovery, of love refounded and health re-established: a possible meeting for “coffee… gay love,” an announcement of the days (“insert number here”) that she has been free of magic. But as Tara nears Willow, she is also nearing, embracing another woman, kissing her cheek—Willow instinctively flees, leaving Tara to glimpse but her retreating back, to feel but worry of a chance, a nearing missed, of a possible misreading.
    Oooh, I like your mention of “health” here as a projection of what Willow fervently wants and tries to create – Willow scripts out an entire playlet of how it should go between herself and Tara. It reminds me of Xander practicing with Willow how to ask Buffy out at the beginning of Prophecy Girl – and a lovesick Willow eagerly eggs him on to repeat his professions of love over and over.

    XANDER: You know how I feel about you. It's, uh, pretty obvious, isn't it? There's never been anyone else for me... but you. And we're good friends, and it's time to take the next step. Would you, um... date me? Oh that's good! Date me! It's terrible, right?
    WILLOW: Huh? Oh, no! Oh, yes, 'date me' is silly –
    XANDER: See, what I should do is I should just start with talking about the dance. (clears his throat) Y'know, Buffy, Spring Fling just isn't any dance. It's a time for students to choose, um... a mate and then we can... observe their... mating rituals and tag them before they migrate. Just kill me!
    WILLOW: You're doing fine!
    XANDER: Why's it so hard? I should just walk up to her and say, 'Hey, I like you. Let's go to the dance together.'
    WILLOW: Direct and to the point.
    XANDER: I'm ready. I wanna do it now. I *gotta* do it now.
    WILLOW: Oh, Buffy's not here. You can practice on me some more. (Prophecy Girl)
    It’s also reminiscent of Spike’s conversation with the mannequin as he practices giving Buffy a box of chocolate and then ends up beating it over the head in anger.

    SPIKE: There's something I got to tell you. About showing you Riley in that place. I didn't mean to – anyway, I know you're feeling all betrayed – by him, not me. I was trying to help, you know. Not like I made him be there, after all. Actually trying to help you. Best intentions. I mean, you know, pretty state you'd be in, thinking things are all right while he's toddling halfway round the bend. Oh, I'll insult him if I want to! I'm the one who's on your side! Me! Doing you a favor! And you, being dead petty about it – me getting nothing but your hatred and your venom and - you ungrateful bitch! Bitch!
    He hits the mannequin with the chocolates again and it falls over. The box of chocolate goes flying. Spike sighs. He picks up the mannequin and replaces it. He carefully rearranges the wig, sighs again, picks up the box of chocolate, tries to stuff the chocolates back in. He composes himself and faces the mannequin again.
    SPIKE: Buffy – there's something I wanted to tell you. (Triangle)
    Just like the first two, Willow is scripting out a version of reality that she desperately wants to happen – looking for Tara becomes a safe version of looking for Mr. Goodbar – a heightened experience that will supposedly solve all the problems in Willow’s life if she can just get Tara back:

    WILLOW: Hi, um, Tara, how are you? W-well, I-I was wondering, maybe, you would wanna go out sometime? For coffee – food – kisses and gay love? Hi Tara. Guess what? Magic-free now for, insert number, days now.
    Willow believes if she can only find the perfect words that she can literally make them manifest that reality. It is magical thinking at its finest – and it never really works in real life. As you say, a nearing missed.

    Then the DoubleMeat—slow death in its most palpable form—where Buffy stares vacantly, infected by the demon’s juice, or the memory of its affects, or both…Over-voice of someone calling her name: Buffy first hears and sees this as a nurse—she is back in the asylum hallway, there, too, staring vacantly—telling her that the time for her drugs has come— Buffy then hears and sees this as the voice of her manager, Lorraine, calling out to her, telling her, “If I didn’t know better, I’d think that you were on drugs”—to which Buffy can only mumble a deadened “Okay… good,” her stare still vacant, as if she were speaking to the nurse, and turn back to the deep-fryer, from which she pulls, yet more vacantly, a basket of fries as charred as her mind seems to be. Then home, where Buffy, changed out of her uniform, comes down the stairs, manifesting a marked effort at energy, to find Willow at the computer.
    I really love this confusion of meanings – the separation between the “normal” and the “abnormal” words blurring and blending together. There’s a major difference in intention that blurs the edges even more – in one reality, Buffy is given drugs that enable her to remain healthy – in the other, she’s taking drugs that cause her to become unhealthy.

    LORRAINE: Buffy.
    FEMALE DOCTOR: Come on, it's time for your drugs.
    BUFFY: What?
    LORRAINE: I said, if I didn't know any better, I'd think you were on drugs.
    BUFFY: Okay. Good.
    This has a kind of Brechtian social critique kick to it – drugs in one social situation are completely acceptable and appropriate whereas the same drugs in another are completely unacceptable and inappropriate and only the social context determines whether they are illicit or legal.

    Normal or abnormal - it's all in the eye of the beholder.

    In this scene, we have nearings, the approaches of friendship, of comfort and acceptance and reassurance and honesty—none complete, but nonetheless nearing presence, nonetheless bespeaking presencing, the desire that moves it: Buffy seems, in her conversations with Willow and Xander, to be close to actually there, to be present, rather than masking absence with the appearance of presence, as she has been all season. (One of the remarkable aspects of SMG’s acting this season has been her ability to portray that masking beneath Buffy’s every gesture and expression.) Willow and Buffy discuss Xander’s possible actions—until Buffy asks why Willow is “all home, hearth, and DSL” rather than meeting Tara. When Willow details her attempt, Buffy first retreats a bit, falls into defeatism, with an “I’m sorry”—until Willow expresses an alternate possibility, and a sentence worthy of S2 Buffy emerges: “Once you fall for Willow, you stay fallen,” accompanied by a reassuring touch.
    I agree, StateofSiege! It’s a great piece of dialogue that harkens back to their earliest days when Buffy tried to give Willow a great big shot in the arm of confidence. And alongside the absence of Tara is the absence of Xander – Willow uses the only skill she has left to her – DSL computer skills that – to ascertain where everyone is and yet she still can’t make contact. She’s looking and looking – and not finding anything – except a Tara she doesn’t want to see:

    BUFFY: Whatcha doin'?
    WILLOW: I'm online, checking to see if Xander emailed.
    BUFFY: Any luck?
    WILLOW: No such.
    BUFFY: Well, maybe Anya found him and they're trying to work it out. How come you're all, home, hearth, and DSL anyway? I thought you were gonna go see Tara.
    WILLOW: Saw her. Saw her completely.
    There’s an interesting use of the idea of “seeing” Tara – seeing her completely as opposed to from Willow’s perspective alone.

    BUFFY: Ouch. Just got a scratch from all that brittle.
    WILLOW: It's – when I was seeing her, she was seeing someone else. A girl.
    BUFFY: You mean-
    WILLOW: I mean not "seeing" seeing. Well, maybe. I don't know, it was inconclusive, and I didn't stick around to find out. Might have magicked my fist through a wall or something –
    BUFFY: Will, I'm sorry.
    WILLOW: I mean, they're probably just friends. I press my lips against my friends' all the time.
    BUFFY: I'm sure they're just friends. Once you fall for Willow, you stay fallen.
    WILLOW: Thanks, Buffy.
    And Buffy isn’t necessarily fibbing here to make Willow feel better – Oz fell for Willow and then left – but came back to try and restart their relationship. So it’s a good bet that Tara will eventually do the same thing – and once again, Willow will choose her. And the other guy who fell for Willow makes Buffy’s words prescient as he enters through the door right after her words of comfort.

    When Xander enters, the two women rush to meet him with relief and acceptance—“You don’t have to explain to us,” words of the unconditional—and with friendship-born skepticism and truth when he asks of Anya and expresses hope to repair the damage he has done. “She was a little—she was kind of broken,” Buffy tells him bluntly, and both greet his hopes not with blind acceptance but the askance they deserve. What we have here is the Scooby core tentatively returning to itself, at least nearing itself: their life may still be that of slow death, with its precarities and wearing out, but that includes the comforts of friendship and its givings: “We all screw up.”
    This is a lovely way of viewing the relationship between the three – it’s notable how Xander lightly taps on the door rather than just coming in. He’s not really sure at first how they’re going to react to him – will they be angry or even uninvite him from the house like Spike in Crush? The moment of standing on the threshold lasts for only a second – but it must feel like an eternity to Xander:

    XANDER: Hi.
    WILLOW: Xander?
    XANDER: I'm back.
    BUFFY: Xander?
    WILLOW: Xander, you're here!
    WILLOW: We missed you, where were you?
    XANDER: I know, I tried calling, but I couldn't without –
    BUFFY: Hey. You don't need to explain to us.
    As you say, words of the unconditional – what I’ve always appreciated about Buffy is how well it depicts the spaces between words for those who know each other too well. There’s no need for explanations – or even speech at all – as they immediately embrace their friend. But Xander’s fearful that Anya won’t feel the same way – and her absence from the group is notable:

    XANDER: Right. Is she here?
    WILLOW: Oh, n-no, you wanna find her?
    Willow is surprised – and it seems that she’s misread Xander’s motives here – he didn’t run away from marriage because he realized that he didn’t love Anya, but because he realized that he didn’t love himself enough to trust himself.

    XANDER: I need to. Her suitcase is gone and some of her stuff. There's a Closed sign on the Magic Box, which, like, chills me to the bone.
    WILLOW: She left a couple days ago.
    XANDER: Was she looking for me? Before she left, did she say anything?
    WILLOW: You mean, between sobs? There was mostly just wheezing.
    BUFFY: She was a little – she was – kinda broken.
    Xander was looking for Anya – but was she looking for him? Of course, the viewer knows that Anya is with D’Hoffryn making a bold decision to turn her back on human ways and turn demon again – just as Spike felt he had the chance to do so in the alleyway – but it’s not certain what she’s chosen yet.

    XANDER: I don't know how stuff got so mixed up! I blew it.
    BUFFY: No. Well – maybe it wasn't the best time to break up with her, but –
    XANDER: No. It wasn't about breaking up. I love her, and god, I miss her so much.
    WILLOW: So, you left her at the altar, but you still wanna –
    BUFFY: You still wanna date?
    XANDER: I guess. I know that I'm a better person with her in my life. But things got so complicated with the wedding, and with my family, and with her – demons, and – what if it all goes to hell, a-and forever? But then I left – and ever since – I've had this painful hole inside. And I'm the idiot that dug it out. I screwed up real bad.
    BUFFY: Hey. We all screw up.
    This explanation is a bit inadequate here – the skepticism you mention is the subtext beneath the words as the actors invest a lot of meaning in their questioning, doubtful tone. It’s even possible that Buffy and Willow always felt uneasy about the ultimate happiness of Xander and Anya and have discussed that perhaps it was all for the best even as they hope that he gets back together with her for his sake. They’re possibly of two minds about their relationship.

    There’s something very psychologically interesting, though, about Xander mentioning the emptiness within now that she’s gone. Without Anya’s love to ground him, he’s no doubt had to face some very unpleasant things about himself – and in some ways, getting her back means that he doesn’t have to deal with them.

    Comfort and giving bring us to Spike and Buffy in the graveyard, where tension—expectancy, its small dashing, admonishment, and Buffy’s flustered attempt to hide their closeness upon the appearance of Willow and Xander, Spike’s responding frustration—mixes with dense familiarity, their fall into easy conversation about the wedding, sitting together. Then the rise of repetition, when the conflict between Spike and Xander, threatens to break into banal violence.
    Yes, StateofSiege, I think that despite Buffy’s hostility towards Spike, their easy banter with each other is an inversion of her relationship with the Scoobies – they have the same spaces between words as they sit beside each other, invested in not investing in each other – if you know what I mean. And it’s notable that in both scenes, they sit next to each other in order to mix up their personal space.

    And Spike asks the same question that love-starved Xander asks about Anya – is she looking for him?

    SPIKE: You lookin' for me?
    BUFFY: Really not.
    SPIKE: Oh. Right then. Off you go.
    But, of course, Spike can’t leave it at that – he asks if Buffy cried. At first glance, it would appear to be about the wedding – but Spike is really talking about the breakup. We saw from the last seconds after Buffy’s breakup as she leaves his decimated crypt that Spike began to cry – and he’s wondering if their breakup affected Buffy in the same way. In so many ways, Buffy’s reactions to Spike assure him that he’s become someone special to her – and even more about what it means to feel alive. And Buffy stops cold – she comprehends both meanings instantaneously.

    Did you cry?
    BUFFY: What?
    SPIKE: The wedding. Two hearts joined for eternity, great pelting showers of rice and so forth.
    BUFFY: You didn't hear.
    SPIKE: What? Families get out of hand? Tear the place apart?
    BUFFY: No. Well, yes, absolutely. But – Xander left. The wedding didn't happen.
    Spike’s reaction is curiously muted and stunned – revealing the inner William Pratt who steadfastly persists in believing in romantic love even as a vampire. He even sits down – perhaps also with the hope that he can lure Buffy close to him in exchange for listening about Xander and Anya.

    SPIKE: Well. Gotta say – I didn't see that coming.
    BUFFY: It was awful. Anya was devastated.
    SPIKE: Is that right.
    BUFFY: And, Xander thinks maybe they can still get back together, but – he hurt her a lot.
    SPIKE: Yeah, well, some people can't see a good thing when they've got it.
    A little heavy-handed there, Spike – and Buffy is miffed. So how long has it been since the wedding? Willow says that Anya left “a couple days ago” – and one assumes that it was a few days of sobbing before Anya went back to D’Hoffryn. So I’m guessing it’s been a little less than a week – not long enough for Spike to hear about the wedding disaster. It’s actually surprising that Clem hasn’t said anything to him about it yet – but it’s also possible that Spike is trying to avoid Buffy after his stunt at the wedding and consequently, avoiding everything and everyone.

    But before Buffy can answer Spike with a cutting remark or a poke in the nose, we find that she is not alone. She has two friends looking for her just as Spike hoped Buffy was looking for him. And as you say, Buffy is embarrassed as the two worlds she’s tried so hard to keep apart keep collapsing into each other just as her Sunnydale life on earth keeps collapsing into her memory of heaven and her memories of the mental hospital will start blending with her memories of life as the Slayer.

    XANDER: Spike. I shoulda known you'd be tagging along.
    BUFFY: Hey, guys. I, uh, I found Spike and was, uh, trying to figure out what kind of dangerous contraband he had.
    SPIKE: Tell you what, Slayer. Let me get out of your way. I'll stop bothering you.
    XANDER: Yeah, maybe you should do that, Spike, just run along.
    Buffy immediately locks herself into Slayer mode and treats Spike like Hostile 17 – dangerous contraband and all. Although the most dangerous weapon Spike wields at the moment is his actual presence – a constant reminder to Buffy of everything she is not.

    It’s also interesting to note how hostile Xander is to Spike’s presence – after all, he has no knowledge at all of Spike’s antics with Buffy up to this point. He knows that Spike helped them during that summer – he knows that Spike saved Buffy from burning herself up – he knows that Spike has been helping Buffy with her duties. So why the considerable aggression here – especially where Buffy’s concerned?

    Although one could look back at his little biting remarks in Gone about macking on Buffy, one could also look at his level of concern when he enters Spike’s crypt to find a fight has taken place. His overly-belligerent manner here is most likely a projection from the way that he’s treated Anya at the wedding – and we get into issues of how the vampires and demons in the series are used as a way to delineate “normality” – when Buffy or Xander attack Spike verbally, it’s primarily used as a way to define themselves. Spike reciprocates when he fumes about the chip and assures them that he could drain them as dry as the Sahara without it or holds the moniker of “evil” close to his chest as an explanation for everything.

    And, of course, there’s a bit of the performative aspect as well – Buffy proves she is the Slayer, Spike a Vampire and both Xander and Spike puff up their feathers for a masculine display of prowess, which Willow immediately recognizes:

    SPIKE: You know, I guess you know all about that, don't you? The king of the big exit. Heard it brought the house down.
    XANDER: I don't need this crap from you.
    SPIKE: Right. Let's not listen to Spike. Might get a bit of the truth on you.
    WILLOW: Okay, okay. Heh. Calm now. Let's, uh, turn around and release this very manly thing the other way.
    But Xander throws around insults and Spike calls Xander a homophobic slur and it goes from bad to worse as both try to dominate the other verbally – and then physically:

    XANDER: I forgot. Willy Wannabite can't hurt me. Dumb to pick a fight, I guess.
    WILLOW: Xander.
    BUFFY: Guys –
    SPIKE: More than happy to beat you right through the pain, you pathetic poof.
    BUFFY: Guys, don't.
    But it’s Buffy who collapses in pain as Xander punches out a chipped Spike.

    As Willow attempts to calm the men down, Buffy first pleads for a stop, then turns to flight, ricocheting back to the asylum just as Xander’s fist extends itself toward Spike, just as that banal violence explodes— There, in her cell, in a conversation between the bedraggled ill-Buffy, on the floor and wedging herself into a corner, and a psychiatrist, bending down over her in a most caringly paternalistic mode, the full nature of her situation reveals itself:
    Doctor: Buffy, can you hear me?
    Ill-Buffy: What is this?
    Doctor: Do you know where you are?
    Ill-Buffy: Sunnydale…?
    Doctor: No, none of that is real. You’re in a mental institution. You’ve been with us for six years. Do you remember?
    Ill-Buffy gives him a look of incomprehension, verging on horror, and shrinks yet further into the corner. The possibility of his words sends her fleeing back—
    Into the impact of Xander’s blow, as Spike tumbles backwards and over—
    Doubled over as if herself struck by Xander’s first, doubled over from the force of the hallucination and its meaning, Buffy finally attracts her friends’ attention, but their question of what has happened, the thought of telling, sends her into flight again—
    Ill-Buffy edges frantically yet further from the doctor, even as he assures her that it is “Okay”—
    Doctor: Look. Look who’s here—
    [Ill-Buffy looks up to see her mother leaning toward her, her father in the background—]
    Joyce: Buffy—welcome home, sweetie.
    Ill-Buffy’s face shows disbelief—distrust—with just a tinge of horror still—
    Fade out, end of act.
    And this makes one ask – is there something significant that triggers the movement from one reality to another? We saw the first flash when she’s stabbed by the demon, the second when she’s at DoubleMeat Palace and the third here when Xander is attacking Spike. In all three instances, there’s a sense not only of flashing quickly through to another reality, but a crossing of realities back in Sunnydale. It’s not a burst of emotion or a truth too terrible to behold that causes the transition – but rather a recognition of the separate realities she so carefully delineates merging together that seemingly forces the movement back into the asylum.

    In that sense, the inhabitants of the asylum – the doctor, the orderlies, her parents – all represent entities that sharpen distinctions, force specific boundaries and allow Buffy to once again turn over her agency to another as she did with her father before he left, her mother before her death or Giles before his departure and then Spike afterwards. Now that her father, mother, Giles and Spike are gone, her mind races to find another way in which to avoid the crossing of certain wires – Buffy and those various aspects of herself being extremely unmix-ey. So it’s not surprising that both parents show up as adjuncts of the authoritative doctor to form a “new” Buffy within the confines of her mind – in many ways, the Buffy that she’s been “looking” for in vain ever since her return.

    ACT II Opening Explanations and Responses
    Back at the asylum. Ill-Buffy’s face opens out a bit: “Mom…?” To which Joyce responds, “Oh Baby, you’re really here—“ Ill-Buffy’s face opens out a bit, but she never comes to full presence—and as the words flow, her expression indicates increasing distress, an unwillingness to trust, to believe—either what she sees or what it might mean. The Doctor tells her parents to talk to her, that their voices, in their sounding, “will ground her”—draw her forth into full being-there. But as Hank assures her how much they have missed her, his “Honey, can you hear me?” suggests her fading, a suggestion intensified by Joyce’s “Oh Baby, stay with us, please—“ But ill-Buffy is gone, back to Sunnydale, where, head down, Buffy moans “No”—be it to the asylum and her parents, or her return away from them, or the violence she reappears into, unclear—
    Yes, StateofSiege, and I think that lack of clarity is the point. It’s even possible that Buffy means all or none of them at the same time – no, I don’t want to go – no, I don’t want to stay. The sense of Buffy as being “missing” in the asylum – Joyce’s “You’re really here” conveying the impression of a comatose or deluded Buffy who is only present in physical form only – and the doctor and parents are looking for Buffy within that shell. But who are they looking for? Who is Buffy, anyway? How long has she lived there? She hasn't lived – she’s only been there. Or here.

    As her friends cluster round her, she assures them of her well-being, despite her obvious distress; Xander bruskly brushes aside Spike’s offer of his crypt as a place of care with “She’s our friend.” And as he and Willow guide Buffy home, Spike can only say, with futility, “A little ice on the back of her neck… She likes that…” The last said to himself, a reminder of the secret intimacy now absent.
    Yes, the spaces of “safety” are ironically defined here by Xander considering her wild whiplash into the world of the hospital – Spike offers to take Buffy to the place of the dead whereas Willow suggests that they take her back to the Summers house. The house is a thin membrane that separates Buffy from the outside world – despite the fact that she contains multitudes.

    SPIKE: Here, let's get her back to my crypt.
    XANDER: Spike, just go, okay? She's our friend, we'll take care of her.
    BUFFY: No, guys, I'm okay. I'm okay.
    WILLOW: Come on, Xander, help me get her home.
    Xander and Willow lead Buffy away, ignoring Spike. He looks after them, partly concerned, partly pissed to the core.
    SPIKE: Put a little ice on the back of her neck. She likes that.
    I like how Spike still maintains the secret – the first part of his phrase is shouted out for them to hear – the second muttered under his breath. Ice on the back of the neck is often used by fighters to quickly cool the body down when it overheats from exertion – but it is also a Chinese practice that clears the mind and encourages health. There are also possible sexual connotations – but the real issue is the intimacy that it encourages – Spike placing ice on the back of Buffy’s neck is both familial and tender and a way for him to show that he enjoys a special intimacy with Buffy every bit as much as her friends do. Spike is still bitter about the breakup and yet still wants to show that he’s an important part of Buffy’s life.

    Back at home, Buffy sits tensely in the comfy chair, Willow, Xander, and Dawn on the couch; while Willow and Xander listen attentively, showing concern and trouble, Dawn’s face is most often a mask, her stare focused less on her sister than on some distanced blank space, distancing. Buffy, for her part, attempts a nearing, a truth-telling, but it proves a struggle, as her face reveals, not just to tell but to remain in presence, there, for them….
    Buffy: I’ve been having these flashes, hallucinations, I guess. Then it was like—no, it wasn’t like—I was in an institution.
    [Dawn turns slightly to the side, fidgets, discomforted— remembering, as we will later learn, an earlier loss of her sister—]
    Buffy: They told me that I was sick—I guess, crazy—and that Sunnydale and all this, that none of it was real.
    [Dawn fidgets more, looks around… When the camera turns to her again, we see that she has grasped Xander’s arm for comfort… Her first turn to Buffy comes only when Buffy addresses her directly:]
    Buffy: Mom was there—
    Dawn: She was—?
    Buffy: Dad, too. They were together, like they were before Sunnydale.
    [Dawn’s face falls back into a mask…]

    Of course, we know that Joyce and Hank were falling apart before Sunnydale—that Buffy describes their presence as she does suggests the infection of the Sunnydale dimension with elements of the asylum—and an asymmetry between its Buffy’s world and that of the Buffy we have come to know…
    I really like the idea of “asymmetry” between the two worlds! Does Dawn “remember” any part of the asylum story that Buffy later tells Willow – or was that also a figment of the demon poison? Of course, Dawn doesn’t have any real memories of Joyce and Hank – they’re just as seemingly fictitious as Buffy’s hallucinations. It’s also possible that Dawn fidgets because she’s waiting for Buffy to talk about Dawn’s place in her hallucinations – and no such appearance happens. And if Dawn believes that the asylum is Buffy’s special place of mental retreat from the horrors of Sunnydale, she also realizes that she’s not been invited.

    Willow takes charge, divvies up responsibilities, but this taking up of the task, of the finding of solutions, sends Buffy into flight—as it but recently has before. This time, however, she does more than go for a walk…Back in the asylum, ill-Buffy has remained lucid long enough to be brought into the Doctor’s office, where she crouches in a chair beside her parents. The Doctor begins to speak of recovery, and Joyce interrupts to ask, “Are you saying Buffy could be like she was before any of this happened?” To this, the Doctor begins a long excursus on ill-Buffy’s “undifferentiated type of Schizophrenia”—detailing the specifics of her delusion, ending with “Every time we think we’re getting through to her, more fanciful enemies magically appear…”
    There’s a lot of lampshading in this scene as the Doctor goes over the history of Sunnydale from a psychoanalytic point of view – not only parodying the essential tropes of the show, but also the desire to quantify and contextualize everything to fit a neat, simplistic theory of Buffy’s psychological state. Buffy invents her superhero powers as a reflection of her grandiose delusions – unable to discern between what is possible and what is not. She invents friends to face overblown conflicts and the more that they break through her mindset, the greater the enemies.

    DOCTOR: Buffy's delusions are multi-layered. She believes she's some type of hero.
    JOYCE: The Slayer.
    DOCTOR: The Slayer, right, but that's only one level. She's also created an intricate latticework to support her primary delusion. In her mind, she's the central figure in a fantastic world beyond imagination. She's surrounded herself with friends, most with their own superpowers who are as real to her as you or me. More so, unfortunately. Together they face grand overblown conflicts against an assortment of monsters both imaginary and rooted in actual myth. Every time we think we're getting through to her, more fanciful enemies magically appear-
    BUFFY: How did I miss-
    DOCTOR: and she's-
    BUFFY: Warren and Jonathan, they did this to me!
    DOCTOR: Buffy, it's all right. They can't hurt you here. You're with your family.
    BUFFY: Dawn?
    HANK: That's the sister, right?
    DOCTOR: A magical key. Buffy inserted Dawn into her delusion, actually rewriting the entire history of it to accommodate a need for a familial bond. Buffy, but that created inconsistencies, didn't it? Your sister, your friends, all of those people you created in Sunnydale, they aren't as comforting as they once were. Are they? They're coming apart.
    JOYCE: Buffy, listen to what the doctor's saying, it's important.
    DOCTOR: Buffy, you used to create these grand villains to battle against, and now what is it? Just ordinary students you went to high school with. No gods or monsters ... just three pathetic little men ... who like playing with toys.

    The word “enemies” provokes an extreme reaction in ill-Buffy: up to this point, her face has been a shifting surface of emotions, as if she were struggling to remain present and understand what had happened to her, but now she becomes agitated, squirms urgently upward, saying “Enemies… Warren… Jonathan… They did this to me…”—her very voice a grasping. This could be ill-Buffy falling back into her delusion, driven by the Doctor’s words to make sense the only way she can—or it could be the actual Buffy breaking through the delusion, seeking to make sense of it and find her way out. Either way, the struggle is short-lived, momentarily stilled by the Doctor’s next words, in which he tries to quiet her, assuring her, addressing her for the first time in this scene: “Buffy, it’s all right. They can’t hurt you here. You’re with your family.” But the word “family” only further disturbs Buffy—whichever one is acting here, or both—provoking her to put her hands to her head and almost moan, as if in pain, “Dawn…?”—perhaps seeking her here or feeling her own abandonment of her sister, yet again. To Hank’s question, which shows the knowledge he and Joyce have taken the care to gather, their familiarity with the specifics of her delusions, “That’s the sister, right?” the Doctor responds with his own interpretation of Dawn’s appearance…
    Fantastic, StateofSiege! Love this reading of Buffy’s reaction to the Doctor mentioning Dawn – that’s a wonderful conceit that Buffy is guilty for abandoning her own sister again. And that may explain Dawn’s absence altogether in her hallucinations – ill-Buffy is far too “sick” to take care of Dawn in the way she deserves. So the asylum is both an escape from the responsibility (like Spike) or a punishment for not doing her duty as a sister and guardian (like her stunt in front of the police station in Dead Things.

    But before we join them, some thoughts: The Doctor’s Version and Buffy’s Unconscious
    The Doctor is an unreliable interpreter—either that, or the version of Sunnydale he is getting is not a full and accurate one—or not the same one as that which our Buffy has been living. For did Dawn actually appear due to Buffy’s “need for a familial bond?” When she does, Buffy and Joyce are closely bonded. Moreover, Buffy did not “rewrite the entire history”—her memories were rewritten by the Monks, yes, but she became aware of this, as did the others, able to distinguish between what actually occurred and what she felt did. Notice, too, that the Doctor offers no details of the defining human crises of Buffy’s life: her parents’ divorce and Joyce’s death. From his perspective, it seems, as from Joyce and Hank’s, all was goodness, normality—the good life of the normative nuclear family—before the onset of ill-Buffy’s illness; as happens with Schizophrenia, it came out of no where, had no precipitating cause (save, we can assume, genetics—but there is also no mention of that). And her parents seem to have no understanding of why their appearance would be such a shock to ill-Buffy, so hard to accept, so impossible to trust—no sense that within the delusion, Joyce is dead, Hank off in Spain with his secretary, living the cliché. Finally, the “inconsistencies” the Doctor names, the fact of her delusions becoming less comforting, his focus on Warren and the others as the Big Bad—this is his reading of the surfacing of the temporality of slow death into that of the heroic, their intertwining, something that he has to efface if he is to maintain the normative line of interpretation of ill-Buffy’s fall into illness and her prior life, the possibility of her return to health, if he is to not see that the battle Buffy faces in S6 is not so much against the Trio as it is with—in, about being part of—Life.
    Yes, the Doctor has many of the factual details wrong about Sunnydale – at certain points, he almost seems like he’s winging it to appease her parents, confabulating theories that he considers to be pretty solid instead of asking Buffy’s opinion. That’s a brilliant point that the Doctor seeks to restore a past version of Buffy in which she was considered normal – not the child of divorce or a teen who burns down her school or sleeps with vampires or has a key for a sister. And we’re not given an explanation for Buffy’s sudden onset of illness. Wonderful point that her parents seemingly don’t know that they’re either dead or deadbeat in her delusions. That’s really a startling point that the Doctor must misread Buffy in order to “save” her.

    Of course, to speak of the Doctor not being aware of or effacing, suppressing, is to speak of Buffy herself doing so, following the workings of the demon juice. I will have more to say about this, about the Doctor, in particular, below. At this point, I must simply note, note and underline: it is not Buffy’s unconscious that is working here, creating the delusions, for the Doctor speaks too much in negations, in terms of what is not true or real, speaks to much in the language of norms. But in Jacques Lacan’s reading of Freud, the unconscious knows no negation: it knows contradiction for this reason, yet there is no word for “no” in the unconscious, which means that it does not know death, that it does not know norms of any kind—although it can know, through repression, the affects of those norms—including no normative sexuality or any form of sexual taboo. The significance is twofold: first, Buffy’s delusions are not a product of her unconscious but her preconscious, the part of her brain accessible to memory, to the conscious mind, even if only dimly or indirectly, the part susceptible to the workings of regulative norms, their interiorization; second, these delusions are not the expression of Buffy’s deepest desires, for such desires emerge from the unconscious alone. Thus in reading Buffy’s delusions, in reading all the Doctor says, the manifestations of Joyce and Hank, Buffy’s response, we must read them not as articulations of Buffy’s desire—they speak, instead, from a different part of her self, the part shaped by biopower and its regulative norms (and, as I will show below, by trauma). At the same time, this does not mean that Buffy’s responses to her delusions do not emerge from her unconscious, that her responses do not thus, to at least some extent, express dimensions of her desire, some of which she may recognize—and some of which may still, even at the episodes end, remain to her unknown, awaiting a later unfolding.
    Wow, that’s truly brilliant, StateofSiege! Fascinating reading of Freud by Lacan – the idea that the unconscious does not comprehend negation means that Buffy’s hallucinations are not really emanating from her deepest self – but from the effects of trauma. And yet, her unconscious reacts to this despite not being the center of the delusions.

    “Three pathetic little men,” briefly—
    We find Jonathan inside, seeing Andrew and Warren return from a trip outside, something that intensifies his feeling of being an outsider within. And Warren further exacerbates this feeling by goading Jonathan, asking him if he thinks they are “plotting against” him, telling him he’ll be told what they’ve just brought “As soon as you stop being all freakazoid.” And when Jonathan tries to act on his own, to go outside, Warren turns paternalistic, condescending, speaking of safety and togetherness, taking Jonathan under his arm with what looks like affection but is more a kind of threatening repossession, a use of his bodily height and emotional sway. In this, Jonathan, whose discomfort and doubts have been growing at least since Katrina’s murder (although, in the moment, he quickly sunk away from his doubts as opposed to acting, sunk into following Warren), again acts as a faint mirror of Buffy, struggling to understand and return to something that would be herself (although Jonathan has a much fainter sense of self, save as a bullied loser…). But Warren reels Jonathan back in with a promise of the coming of progressive time to be achieved together, a time of event and change, a time that reaches towards the (anti-)heroic temporality about which Jonathan has always fantasized: “I know you’re antsy, but things are about to pick up, big time; we just gotta be careful… stick together.” In all of this, we can see the Trio, too, formed by the regulative norms of biopolitics—and dreaming of an escape from slow death through an accession to sovereignty and anti-heroic temporality. We can see them, too, as negative reflections of the Scoobies in terms of friendship—or, rather, their lack thereof, as Tiny Tabby and Puck Robin very finely demonstrated—and thus unable to give the comforting moments of release from the pressures of slow death that affection can provide.
    Wow, this is really fantastic stuff, StateofSiege! I love your identification of Jonathan with Buffy – especially looking at their physical confinement as a mirror of their trapped states, unable to refind themselves again. They’re looking, but they can’t see a way out.

    And we get that motif again of searching for someone – this time it’s Jonathan who has no idea where Warren and Andrew went and is agitated by their temporary absence.

    WARREN: Dude, that poison has got her drooling like a, some kind of-
    JONATHAN: Where have you guys been?
    WARREN: Uh ... picking up some stuff.
    ANDREW: And checking out Buffy on the van's remote surveillance.
    WARREN: Andrew's demon pet has done some number on the slayer. Got her tripping like a Ken Russell film festival.
    This is obviously a reference to the flamboyant film director Ken Russell’s Altered States in which a Doctor of Abnormal Psychology decides that schizophrenia is simply masking other states of consciousness that are just as real as our own. It’s interesting to note that Warren and Andrew know exactly what the poison does – and that Spike is seemingly aware as well – one could ask if it’s a similar substance to what Rack uses to access magic from his visitors.

    JONATHAN: Well, what kind of stuff?
    WARREN: What?
    JONATHAN: The packages. What's in them?
    WARREN: Well, what do you think, Sparky, you think we're plotting against you?
    JONATHAN: Better not be.
    WARREN: It's just stuff, big man. All right, you'll be in the know just as soon as you stop being all freakazoid.
    And there’s Warren trying to convince Jonathan that he’s living in his own delusional world akin to Buffy.

    WARREN: Ah, now, there's the vault.
    ANDREW: I still say we're gonna need eight other guys to pull this off.
    WARREN: I never should have let you see that movie.
    In yet another pop culture quote, we have a reference to Ocean’s Eleven (one assumes the 2001 remake of the 60s Rat Pack classic) where each member in the gang does their part to pull off the perfect heist. It makes it even clearer that the Trio is a mirror-image of Buffy and her friends who all have different gifts. And it also draws Jonathan closer to Andrew and Warren by making the pretense that they’re all one big happy group.

    WARREN: Wha, uh, where you going?
    JONATHAN: Out. Getting stuff I need.
    WARREN: You know, I don't really think that's such a good idea.
    JONATHAN: Why not?
    WARREN: Well, it's – it's just not safe out there ... alone. You saw how close the slayer got. Look, we're, we're a team. Something happens to you, it happens to all of us. Right? Look, I know, I know you're antsy, we all are, but you see, things, they're about to pick up. Big, big time. Just gotta be careful. Right? All right? Stick together. Okay?
    But Jonathan can’t leave – like Buffy, he’s tied down only to protect himself.

    Finally, we should see them all, following Bruno Latour, as living outside their bodies, lacking affect: “to have a body is to learn to be affected, meaning ‘effectuated,’ moved, put into motion by other entities, humans or non-humans. If you are not engaged in this learning, you become insensitive, dumb, you drop dead” It is not that the members of the Trio do not feel emotions—we have seen them express anger, distress, and other feelings—but those emotions come to them through the suppression of the experience of affect that precedes them, the bifurcation moment, that opening to futurity and chance, to becoming and ethical relation that affect brings. There comes to them, thus, no learning to be affected, effectuated, by the entities of the world—hence their insensitivity, their dumbness, in Latour’s terms, their insusceptibility to change, despite all that they experience, and their immaturity. Jonathan is the minor exception, but it will take not just Katrina’s naming of her attempted rape and her death, will take also his sense of his coming exclusion, his realization of Warren’s complete perfidy, in the form of the larger, more ruthless man’s intention to keep the magic power-balls to himself and murder Buffy, to force Jonathan’s awakening. These events, on the other hand, especially the murder of Buffy, only awaken a bloodlust in Andrew, deepening his identification with, his crush upon Warren. Warren himself, in turn, through all they do, probably beginning with Katrina’s turn away from him, ending the relationship that might, in its affective force, have saved him—through all they do, especially the murder of Katrina, only hardens himself against affect at each moment, in every act, deepening his insensitivity, thickening his dumbness—his “big, meaty head”—, until he becomes so enwrapped in his narcissism he lacks all sense of his actual way of being in the world. This manifests itself in the wake of his murder of Tara, when he ventures into the underworld, Willie’s place and Rack’s, and introduces himself, “I’ve been heading an organization, The Trio, you’ve heard of us”—and cannot believe that no one has… “We were evil” he stresses to Rack, deeply offended when the warlock refers to him as a “kid”—and of course evil Warren was, but in a man-child, human way, compared to the likes of Rack or a vampire, evil in the affectless, human way that erupts a million times a day in the human world, carries nothing of distinction, merits nothing “super-villainous” to precede it as a descriptor. For countless humans close themselves off from affect, resist its learning—perhaps if they did not, violence would not be the endemic non-event it has become among us….
    Fantastic reading of Warren – love the term “thickening his dumbness”! The irony is that Warren brags of giving Buffy delusions even as he clutches his own to himself, believing in a pretty grandiose version of himself. He sees life as a cosmological battle – his war with those who wronged him is an end in itself – and everything is a means to that end. Great point that no one else sees Warren this way – not the bar patrons or Rack – there’s nothing particularly special about him that makes him a destroyer of worlds.

    Buffy, Willow, and Repetitions of Trauma
    We come back to Buffy herself, now on the couch, alone, the framed photograph from tWotW, of herself as a happy little girl with a happy, together Joyce and Hank, on her lap. She seems to be staring at it without quite seeing it or knowing what it means, lost in a past that in its absence draws her from the present to no certain place or time, haunted by the promise of her hallucinations, of that past’s recovery, of health—and perhaps by the unspoken trauma lurking underneath all that has not been said in the asylum, what cannot appear there. This is the temporality of depression, haunted, as we will learn, by that of trauma—not the only ones of which we know but also another, one that has been silently exercising a shaping force. Willow enters excitedly with the answer, the promise of a more immediate recovery; Buffy turns away, back towards—although not quite to—the photo, less disinterested in Willow’s news than unable to touch the possibility it offers… Or, unable to have any faith that this one level of cure will make a difference…. What follows: a conversation that at once brings the friends closer through Buffy’s revelation, her honesty—and furthers the distance that has bloomed between them since the resurrection.
    Great point! Willow’s idea of “fixing” things and making them whole and healthy again is what caused the initial trauma of Buffy’s resurrection in the first place. Her action of pulling Buffy out of “Hell” wasn’t initially selfish – it was an instinctive reaction to losing Buffy and having to place herself within Buffy’s shadow – only to find out how much she was lacking in terms of taking Buffy’s place. Willow has never hungered for power – her tremendous need to excel doesn’t stem from a Warren-like delusion in her own greatness, but in a desire to be noticed. The pressure on Willow to lead the group, raise Dawn, fight the powers of darkness, “fix” Buffybot and maintain relations with both the human and the demon world – plus the residual guilt of Buffy going to Hell because Willow focused all her attention on Tara during the fight with Glory – led Willow to feel resurrecting Buffy was the only choice possible.

    I think that the trauma of Buffy’s death wasn’t limited to Buffy herself – every member of her group was affected by their specific actions that day. Spike was unable to stop the doctor from cutting Dawn, Willow was too busy restoring Tara’s sanity, Xander was concerned with a wounded Anya and Giles found it necessary to kill Ben against Buffy’s moral principles. Dawn herself probably felt that she should have jumped in her sister’s place. Only Anya – who was never that connected to Buffy herself – and Tara – who was literally out of her mind at the time – seem to have escaped personal torment over what happened that day. None of these personal assessments of failure are fair – but they haunt the mind all the same.

    So Willow rushing in with an antidote is akin to Spike’s “I save you every night” line – Willow is reenacting her traumatic experience over and over again in order to “fix” it this time. Of course, this is different altogether from the kind of trauma that you’re talking about with regard to Buffy – her trauma causes temporal disturbance in a very different way – which is why Willow cannot understand it.

    Buffy: I feel so lost.
    Willow: I know. You’re confused. It’s the crazy juice inside you.
    Buffy: No. Even before the demon. I’ve been so detached…
    Willow: We’ve all been kinda slumming it.
    Buffy: Every day, I try to snap out of it. Figure out why I’m like this.
    Willow, [insistently]: Buffy, look at me. You are not in an institution. You’ve never been in an institution.
    Buffy: Yes… I have…
    Willow: What—?
    Buffy: Back when I saw my first vampires… I got so scared. I told my parents—and they completely freaked out. They thought that there was something seriously wrong with me, so they sent me to a clinic.
    Willow: But you never said anything…
    Buffy: I was only there a few weeks: I stopped talking about it, and they let me go. Eventually, my parents... just… forgot…
    Willow: My god, that’s horrible—
    Buffy: What if I’m still there? What if I never left that clinic?
    Willow, [insistent again]: Buffy, Buffy, you’re not. I’m so sorry you had to go through that—but it’s the past. You’ve gotta trust me. We’re gonna get you that antidote. Xander’s hunting the demon right now.
    Buffy: Alone? He can’t. It’s too strong.
    Willow: It’s alright. He’s got help.

    On one level, Willow is absolutely supportive, caring. But on another, she brushes past Buffy’s attempt to discuss her current depression and its cause, which Buffy frames in normative terms, in terms of her need to “snap out of it.” Note the steps: Buffy says that she is lost, and her tone clearly implies that more than her current hallucinations are behind her displacement— Willow immediately delimits the lostness to the influence of the “crazy juice inside” Buffy, to something that she can fix— Buffy presses: no, it began before the demon— Willow switches tactics, broadens the problem inflecting Buffy to one coursing through all their veins, lifting the blame from Buffy and closing off, again, exploration of her particular lostness— Buffy tries again, speaking of her daily attempts to find herself, to effect a change— Willow shifts tactics once more, brushing away the “everyday,” Buffy’s insistence upon her displacement’s duration with a focus back upon the immediate present; speaking with urgency, demanding that Buffy cease staring into space and look at her, she utters pronouncements designed to reassure, work as a kind of scientific proof: “You are not in an institution. You’ve never been in an institution.” Buffy then drops the bombshell, divulges the information she long withheld from her best friend, withheld even during their years of great closeness: “Yes….”
    Great detail of how Willow and Buffy are at loggerheads here – they’re on different wave lengths with Willow attempting to define what Buffy finds it hard to speak of. Nice catch of Willow’s factual attitude – she repeats the phrase in varying ways to impress the black-and-white difference between real life and Buffy’s hallucinations – only to find that it’s more blurred than she knew. But has Buffy actually been in an institution? Some fans say yea and other nay – and others say that it doesn’t really matter as long as Buffy believes she’s been in one and feels the trauma from the experience.

    And from Willow’s shocked “But you never said anything”—as if that fact somehow holds a kind of truth value, or should, given their friendship, the story follows, punctuated by Willow’s expression of sympathy. But when Buffy expresses fear of her commitments duration, of the presence of the past, Willow follows again with Newtonian logic, the of a clockwork universe in which time is well-behaved, in which the past, present and future know how to remain in their proper places. (One might, as an aside, expect better of Willow, as she has surely studied quantum theory—but perhaps in giving up magic, she lost physics as well… She does, after all, explain in GiD that magic works off physics…)
    I’d say it’s even simpler than that – Willow’s trying to bring everything down to a normative level because of her addiction. Creating clear boundaries and well-ordered time frames enables her to deal with the cravings of wanting to use magic to explore and experiment outside of the box.

    Willow thus seeks to relegate Buffy’s clinic experience to “the past”—as if knowledge and language could force events to lie like stones in the year they befell— Or perhaps they are like stones, but stones roll, dead as they may be, and as Melville writes of the stones of Palestine, which have for millennia there abided:
    Behold the stones! And never one
    A lichen greens; and, turn them o’er—
    No worm—no life; but, all the more,
    Good witnesses.
    ———Clarel

    Life stones may not carry, but trauma—they are its witnesses….
    Ah, what a lovely quote!

    Willow, however, cannot think such temporal complexity, at least not now, must keep the periods of time’s passage radically separate. She thus jumps from her insistence upon the pastness of Buffy’s actual asylum experience to her curing of the present one: “…but it’s the past. You’ve gotta trust me. We’re gonna get you that antidote. Xander’s hunting the demon right now.” the past—Right now— And Buffy gives up trying to speak of the temporal intertwinings and dissolutions, turns rather to the most immediate danger that Xander has placed himself in for her sake… Here, Willow remains, still, afraid of the discussion Buffy attempts to open, possibly feeling her own responsibility, unable to bring it to the surface, for she has no quick solution for it now—now that she has renounced magic and the prospect of simply wiping Buffy’s mind. And in insisting, even after Buffy’s revelation, that Buffy’s time in the hospital is “the past,” Willow tries to hold to progressive, linear time, the time of solutions and cures, to shy away from the past’s persistence, its ever-surfacing in and shaping of the present and future—in Buffy’s life, Buffy’s mind, and, perhaps, her own. Buffy, on the other hand, remains haunted by the past, finding, perhaps, in it, the answer to her question of why she is “like this”—a possibility that presages her dreadful solution to come. A solution that is underlined by her parents’ earlier response: they “just… forgot”—they did not want to know, that is, want to know Buffy herself. Once they had their proper daughter returned to them, they suppressed all in her that did not fit their normative mold, impressing upon Buffy her previous and possible future wrongness to them—and its consequences—silently demanding that she oppress those dimensions of herself that could not shape themselves into their regulative norms. And while they comfortably forgot her time in the asylum, it could not but haunt Buffy, linger as a threatening knowledge of what her fate would be if they were to know, if she were to allow but a wisp of her actual self to float free…
    I think that Willow’s desire to ignore the past also stems from the tension between her conservative father who believed in upholding old law so strictly that he wouldn’t allow her to see a Christmas Special and her forward-thinking mother who taught her that the old law should be overthrown in favor of a new law that would be the embodiment of a utopian revolution. It’s not unusual that someone raised by two very different parents would be guided by a combination of both – a utopian vision with strong elements of coercion/law to carry it out. Willow has convinced herself that this is the healthiest thing to do – turn your back on the past while upholding the past’s stranglehold on the present and future.

    There’s something very haunting in Buffy caught between two worlds while believing that she “came back wrong” – with her delusions and her life as the Slayer and her sex with Spike surely the height of wrongness and anti-normal behavior. The idea that Buffy lives with the knowledge of what freeing herself might mean – the incarceration and punishment that might ensue – surely tears her apart inside.

    This helps explain the asymmetry between Buffy’s history and her fearful interpretation of it: in the first, it was her parents who judged her crazy and committed her—until she stopped talking about vampires, until she returned herself to normative daughterhood; in the second, it is Buffy who fears that she is crazy, that her parents were correct, that blocking truthful self-expression was not the answer—or, at least, not something she was able to do—, that she has remained in the asylum, is there now. What lingers between these versions, born of the first and birthing the second: the trauma of her commitment, of her trusted parents’ regulative determination and betrayal, combined with the sense of wrongness it brought her—unintentional, well-meaning, and loving as Joyce and Hank’s decision may have been—, as it intersects the trauma of her resurrection and the sense of wrongness it has brought her, the sense of wrongness and the sense of betrayal, this time by those she now most deeply trusts, her chosen family, Willow and Xander—unintentional, well-meaning, and loving as their decision may have been. Hence Buffy’s inability to believe in Willow’s optimism, her promised cure: not only does it address only her most present ailment, but Willow herself turns away each attempt Buffy makes to speak about that ailment’s connection to her continuing distress, her depression and trauma, involving, as they do, the recent past of her resurrection. Hence, too, the failure of Willow’s insistence, her “but it’s the past. You’ve gotta trust me,” to convince, inspire hope—even if the hallucinations end, Buffy knows, her time in the clinic will not. Hence, thus, the logic of the demon juice, the logic of the form taken by the delusions it has induced: on an affective level, Buffy has never left that clinic, for she remains haunted by its trauma; she has never worked through it, as her inability to ever speak of it shows. And on that affective level—on the level of her betrayal by those whom she has come to most trust, a betrayal that repeated the one her parents committed when they first sent her to the clinic and then… forgot, a betrayal, that is, by the family she made to replace the original family that betrayed her—the resurrection returned her to that clinic…. Only now, the trauma of the event, accompanied by its affective force, renders her case far more severe, so severe that nothing as simple as not talking (much as she tries this) will deliver her from its walls—
    Wow – that’s really a striking reading, StateofSiege! You’re right – in many ways, Buffy has never left that clinic, but carries the possibilities of other Buffys – healed Buffys – with her wherever she goes. The betrayal of her parents still stings even as she tumbles into it all over again after her resurrection. In so many ways, the Doctor represents an authoritarian attitude in the need to define her illness, list the many categories into which it falls and then recommend a specific course of action that is both deadly to her friends in Sunnydale and potentially deadly to herself in a psychological sense seems highly problematic to me. The Doctor here is a composite of every authority figure from Giles to Hank to Quentin Travers to even her friends and lovers who try to put Buffy in a box and define her from their perspective.

    And there’s also the feeling of sheer horror in the belief that one has come back wrong, that one is slowly going mad – the reality that one’s experiences aren’t even valid. That her sex with Spike doesn’t even exist – it isn’t even real like everything else around her. The cultural pressures to conform and believes and adhere to certain ideas and ways are metaphorically expressed through Buffy’s vision of being in a mental institution. Apparently, the fact that she’s no longer successful as the Slayer and faces weak enemies seems to be a symptom of increasing health – the less fantastical her delusions, the supposedly more healthy she is.

    I’ll try to finish this up tomorrow, StateofSiege and then post the first parts of Seeing Red this weekend! Thanks again for such a thought-provoking review!
    Last edited by American Aurora; 07-11-18 at 09:13 AM.

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    Aurora, as always I've really enjoyed reading your thoughts. In particular I thought this was a great insight into the season...

    And, yet, it’s obvious that Buffy becomes more and more incapable of accepting the life she’s chosen – she tells Giles in The Gift that if Dawn dies, she’s through. And yet, she goes through with the act of her own death in order to fulfill that goal – and now, she’s unwillingly been brought back and find it impossible to believe in the naïve dreams she held in pre-Heaven Times. Which leads her into having sex with a vampire that she hates and loves at the same time.

    It’s a brilliant move by the writers – not only to dramatize the conflicting desires of modern feminism (wanting to shatter sexist stereotypes while embracing certain societal codes of feminine normalcy) but as an exploration of our greatest inner grief – which comes from believing that we have failed to live up to the expectations of ourselves and others. In terms of loss, we are all taught how to be successful – but rarely how to fail.

    When the Deputy Mayor is accidentally murdered by Faith, the difference between Faith’s apathetic reaction and Buffy’s horrified reaction speaks volumes as to how failure is merely a matter of moral perception. And Buffy knows failure well. Like a Greek or Shakespearean tragedy, Buffy is hit with one damn thing after another throughout her short life that chips away at her belief that she can have it all. And each painful shock chips away at her attempt to defy the odds, sending her farther and farther into a downward spiral of chronic guilt and pain that always underlies her seemingly hopeless efforts to save others and prevent tragedy.
    As we are creeping towards the end of the season attention is falling to how characters are trying to manage their insecurities and the problems they've recognised, especially clear with Buffy and Willow. Even if they are taking steps there is a constant weight of still not being at ease and the impact that just the fear of failure can have. Many of them are having to face some pretty huge mistakes, not always ones they've foreseen, and how they move onwards and respond to these are key moments in their journeys overall. Anya's step back to the seeming comfort of vengeance is not something that will be truly addressed this season but is one of the consequences of the events in it. Although for different reasons, as with Spike, Anya needs a changed perspective to view her past with wiser eyes.

    It is interesting to me that you suggest that a sense of failure is tied to moral perception. Although Spike has shown fears of failure and has displayed traumatic responses to it, it can of course be understood through his own focus on image and sense of self rather than wider morality before he's souled. So I can see how both Spike's and Anya's upcoming/continued journeys really supports this. It instantly made me think of Spike's internal battle over choosing to try to bite the girl in Smashed, his coming troubled/mixed reaction post attack in Seeing Red and how differently that sits to his souled response in S7. Anya's initial pain at the ruination of her relationship clouds her own changed morality at first and more time and experiences are needed to draw out realisation there.

    I really appreciated your thoughts too on how Willow is reconsidering what feels 'normal' to her and turning back to methods that are inherently harder now just because what she had advanced on to have become her learned approach. What was simpler originally has become the harder approach to take.

    I was interested to see Marti Noxon's thoughts on how Buffy being locked away in reality would pull down the basic premise of empowerment that the show is looking to say women should feel. It is in better accepting herself and aspects of her life that are hard and not what she would have wished for that Buffy is taking steps towards more control. Despite definitely agreeing with this and the asylum as an hallucination, seeing the clip from All My Children as a play on the whole idea was very funny.

    And this is an off-set of Willow herself, who is also creating a “normal” persona through her embrace of non-magic computer skills. And so like the Initiative on the track of Hostile 17, Buffy is slowly making her way to the Trio lair as she crosses off the addresses on her list. And she doesn’t even need a tracker.
    I like the idea of this repeat on returning to basics and that this can be hard to do too. I think it is important to give weight and importance to all the experiences that have come before and how that shapes and changes you. Even going somewhat backwards has to be reimagined as a total return to what was just isn't possible. How that links what you were saying about the characters looking for something in the episode, which goes alongside the sense of things being missing which SoS outlined, all creates a focus on their sense of the here and now being inherently tied to what was and what could be that's just great.

    Willow believes if she can only find the perfect words that she can literally make them manifest that reality. It is magical thinking at its finest – and it never really works in real life.
    This sense of trying to verbalise what is wanted is really interesting when considered against what you raised in Anya's practice over her vows and then her coming attempts to get Xander cursed in vengeance in Entropy. The desire to shape the world just through wishes and fantasy again as the characters are faced with the harsh truths in life. And this is not necessarily never reaching what is wanted of course but that walking the path isn't always easy. And that is interesting again when we consider that it's actually the verbal approach that wins and gets through to Willow at the season end when she is trying to physically force the world to her will.

    Interesting link to the film Altered States, another that I haven't seen. I'd never really picked up on the point that those who are aware of the demon type seem to understand what is happening to Buffy. As Buffy herself has little actual knowledge of the specific demon it really supports that it is the usual way that the poison attacks. In this way it is perhaps not a million miles away from what Xander went through in Hell's Bells, where the literal fears and unhappiness those affected have play fundamental parts in building their responses to ensure they are deeply affected by the hallucinations.

    I think that the trauma of Buffy’s death wasn’t limited to Buffy herself – every member of her group was affected by their specific actions that day. Spike was unable to stop the doctor from cutting Dawn, Willow was too busy restoring Tara’s sanity, Xander was concerned with a wounded Anya and Giles found it necessary to kill Ben against Buffy’s moral principles. Dawn herself probably felt that she should have jumped in her sister’s place. Only Anya – who was never that connected to Buffy herself – and Tara – who was literally out of her mind at the time – seem to have escaped personal torment over what happened that day. None of these personal assessments of failure are fair – but they haunt the mind all the same.

    So Willow rushing in with an antidote is akin to Spike’s “I save you every night” line – Willow is reenacting her traumatic experience over and over again in order to “fix” it this time.
    This is a great link again to the importance that facing failure and fear of failure has on the characters. Of course in looking to fix things it is an attempt to change the situation and subvert the failure rather than face and accept it. Both Willow and Spike were reimagining doing something 'better' 'faster'. But for Buffy to 'heal' here she faces the idea of having to knowingly fail in a way that directly threatens her own sense of self and her moral integrity and so it isn't the way to health that she chooses.

    So we are all acting under a rather specious view of “health” in which we are unknowingly ruled by apartheid-like structures that hem us in and that shapes our ends, Rough-hew them how we will. In that sense, we are all our own Law – and the Law is an ass, as Dickens says!
    On a lighter note, this reminded me of Dogberry, with his insisted knowledge of and connection to the law as a night officer in Much Ado About Nothing. So concerned is he about slight to his perceived status when insulted and told he is an ass that he's deeply disappointed the slur wasn't officially noted in the meeting and so he bemoans the lack of record and determinedly insists it is remembered by all there, "But masters, remember that I am an ass, though it be not written down, yet forget not that I am an ass."


    - - - Updated - - -

    **EDIT**
    Just a couple of housekeeping notices. As Entropy hasn't yet had much discussion and with the upcoming Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year hols it seemed to make sense to alter the dates for the hols and to allow for final catch up. Hopefully slotting the episodes around the holidays will keep some discussion going and have us all on the same episodes for the final two parts of the season in the new year. So Seeing Red has moved to 30th Nov, Villains on the 14th Dec, then Two to Go on the 4th Jan with Grave hitting the 18th Jan.

    Also, a first heads up that I will open the S7 sign up sheet just before Villains is due, so around the 13th December so look out for that on the new posts. As usual it will be done on a first come first served basis and we'll start by selecting just one each.

    Right, back to Normal Again/Entropy in the meantime.
    Last edited by Stoney; 09-11-18 at 01:17 AM.

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    Hello, I'm bouncing around again, I do intend to get back to the few responses the review has, just later. Thanks for the schedule shift Stoney. This is just followup thought up randomly since the last post but written here and now. The reboot show and comic have been on my mind, and during a Got Talent YouTube binge I saw things that reminded me of Johnathan and Andrew so I knew I wanted them in; just wasn't sure how to build up to it; here's my shot.

    Thinking it over, Warren delights in being an enemy to the Slayer but doesn't even have the foresight to protect himself from vampires; thinking he can just strut his way into a demon bar after he shot Buffy, thinking reputation would be enough. It's one thing to want to take down the Slayer, but you should be able to defend yourself from vamps if you were to actually succeed. Warren's immature entitled attitude would make him popular in certain places online today. His jealousy that a woman gets to be the actual superhero drove him to be the villain in his mind; causing him to overlook he's a tech genius and could become rich from either a computer or perhaps military company if he still wanted to make weapons for a living.

    For all the times Buffy is knocked down and the less then glamorous fast-food job she had recently; she does have her little Scooby clique, was awarded as the Class Protector (ironically given to her by Johnathan) and she does have the benefit of superpowers and literal magic in her life. With Giles gone and having proved herself to be capable; if she wanted to stop Slaying I think she could very well do so; her since of duty and wanting to help is too strong. There's also privilege which has been think-pieced well enough already as she is a straight, white woman from middle class California. The possible reboot show will be for a different time and from a different perspective with a black woman lead. We all know what Warren would say to that. Minority rights and this genre have always gone hand-in-hand; superheros inspire and protect; particularly with the X-Men. It'll be a thorny issue in mainstream entertainment when Disney gets the mutants back; why are the Avengers loved when mutants are hated and feared? The Avengers often end up looking like jackasses and you really shouldn't piss off a telepath. https://imgur.com/a/ArZRi

    There are reasons to criticize the Scoobies; it happens enough in think-pieces after all. Even the reboot comic seems to have Willow as gay from the start; "Gay now!" in Triangle was one of those criticism sticking points. But hell,if a Flintstones comic can make connections and metaphors to complex topics like marriage equality and solider PTSD; maybe a new comic or show can do the similarly while honoring what came before. No, I'm not kidding.

    http://www.dorkly.com/post/82072/wiiiiiillllmaaaaaa


    Andrew's attempt at super-villainy is something the Scoobies don't even remember; along with his name. Johnathan's little time loop was more like a prank early chipped-Spike or Anya might pull then an actual danger to Buffy. Andrew eventually joins the Scooby clique and Johnathan died trying to protect people who would mostly never know what he did; much like the Scoobies do. Had they never met Warren I envision them as entertainers of a sort:

    Johnathan with "magic" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zh4TJv53rCo

    Andrew would get an office job or something but also have a secret talent to be memorable: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2oO3G3u4I0 This guy's going to be on The Flash

    Johnathan is betrayed and dies but ultimately Andrew tries to better himself and protect people in his awkward, annoying Storyteller way. He doesn't even run from the final battle. Warren think he wants chaos, entropy and even accidentally kills Tara but quickly gets to know he's a non-entity to the supernatural. He wanted to change the world by being the supernatural kingpin; Willow the one with real power turned him into supernatural road-kill. Buffy ends the series by breaking the "one girl in all the world" tradition and it ends on a hopeful note despite all the variables that would create.


    Progress and entropy sometimes you cannot tell one from the other but it's how we grow.

    Thanks for reading again.
    Last edited by DanSlayer; 10-11-18 at 08:01 PM.

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    Ace DanSlayer, thanks for adding some more Entropy thoughts for us. I've added it as a part 2 in the links to the reviews on the first post of the thread. I'm definitely going to get to watch the ep and respond in the next week.

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    Hey, DanSlayer!

    Some fantastic follow up points on Entropy! I was just working on little bits of Seeing Red and actually adding a small bit about the Trio - so your comments came at just the right time!

    Sorry I haven't gotten to Entropy yet, but I'm just finishing up Normal Again and got a job that has me literally doing four-five hours nights of sleep. It's all over tomorrow and then I can get back to finishing up my rewatch responses.

    You are always the guru I go to for trends in popular culture - and as always, you amaze me with your depth of knowledge. I had no idea about The Flintstones comic - that is just - well - amazing!

    I'd love to hear any other thoughts you have on the Trio in terms of how they would fit into pop culture right now - would Warren be attracted to the incel movement as PuckRobin suggested? How does the average guy who love pop culture feel about all that right now?

    Hurry - tell me quick so I can steal it for my own review!

    Honestly, I always learn something new every time you post.

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    Hey Aurora! Take your time, you have some reading to catch up on as well.

    I'd say Warren is "too smart" for that. Were he around today he'd likely have gone into some kind of social media outlet rather then directly be involved in shootings; spreading the message for others to cause violence probably. Why risk himself if he can get cannon fodder? You may remember the big celebrity nude photo leak a few years back? I'm not even going to name the place; just know that it has a lot of spinoff boards on many different topics and has been directly linked to some of the more current online hate movements. It's also been the place for something as "benign" as genuine leaks of new Pokemon months in advance. Seems pretty harmless but Pokemon is a huge international company worth millions and that's a major breach. Anime boards can turn toxic pretty quick; funny how they don't seem to actually fight to protect something or better the world like most shonen heroes; Goku who brought anime to boys in the West was and still is voiced by a woman in the original Japanese too. The racists admire Japan's extremely restrictive immigration policies but ignore the population crisis they're having right now; to the point where the Japanese Prime Minister has basically started asking people to have more sex to make babies.

    Steve Bannon got a boost in the younger demographic after he noticed a huge movement taking down World of Warcraft cheaters. Go to gaming and bring them into politics. That type of audience realizes they have power nowadays. https://youtu.be/ej_5vyDkZgU?t=154 (Buffy reference!)

    EA messed up big time with Star Wars Battlefront 2 loot boxes and I do think it may need to be regulated akin to gambling; they also took a huge hit on Battlefield V pre-sales and pushed it back a month; the main reason seems to be the playerbase doesn't want female playable characters:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_W...ns_controversy

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battlefield_V#Pre-release



    Other then incels there's many other groups like red pillers (yes it's a Matrix reference) and though I can't verify it, many appear to be married men in relationships with families that harbor Warren-esque beliefs which is even more scary as they defy the isolated loner logic. And then actual men's issues like double standards in the court system when it comes to seeing their kids or PTSD and such get lumped in with the "men's rights" that are the misogynistic groups.

    Not to mention even more mainstream sites like Twitter have big issues. In addition to bots, they were the last platform to ban/remove content of Alex Jones and only after they looked extremely bad in the process. Yet they remove Olympics gifs in seconds so copyright holders can play their time-delayed exclusive rights without it being freely seen on the internet early; $. These groups know how to manipulate the algorithms. Go incongentio mode on YouTube and watch 1 political video or game review. Even if you start with official sources in about 3 or 4 autoplays you can end up into conspiracy videos so easily.

    Now, creators trying to be more diverse can be done wrong. Iris on The Flash got the racist hate for casting a black woman in the role but also support from fans who want the inclusion. More recently though the writers wanted to make Iris more relevant and literally have a #feminism episode too (it's actually in the dialogue more then once). Despite the fact that everyone else on the team either has powers, is a genus in their field (or her father a senior ranking cop) or oftentimes both; Iris is the team leader and given the spotlight, despite the fact she at best has an online blog that does okay and a handful of combat training we never actually saw. She runs into the no-powers Xander background problem but can't "like the quiet" as the female lead and main character's wife. Even the feminist fans are mostly unimpressed as all her work and identity center around being married to The Flash and taking down the villains; she doesn't really have her own life (neither do any of the other characters but I digress). So they try and be progressive but do it badly in the eyes of that audience while also pissing off the Warrens who won't go away as long as there's wi-fi.
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    Dear American Aurora

    As ever, your analysis of AYW gave more than much to think—

    I utterly agree with your general assessment of the episode, particularly this:


    American Aurora
    I have to be honest and state upfront that this is my least favourite Buffy episode, beating out any of the Season One “monsters of the week” or Beer Bad by a mile. And it’s not because Buffy breaks up with Spike – that was a necessary, logical step for the character to take and it actually showed that Buffy was growing out of her reliance on Spike as an escape from all responsibility and learning to love life again. It’s not because Riley returns to Sunnydale either – I have no objection to Riley coming back and giving Buffy an outside perspective on her life which is sorely needed.

    No, As You Were is my least favorite episode of all time because in order to have Buffy reassess her life and make a clean break with Spike, it seems to be necessary to shame Buffy at every turn – and in doing so, it inadvertently upends the message of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. They say that Sarah Michelle Gellar was upset by the balcony scene in the Bronze – but for my money, the most embarrassing episode that truly drags Buffy’s character through the mud is As You Were. The question for me is – was it truly necessary?

    To be honest, I find Angelus tormenting Buffy after losing her virginity or Spike having backdoor sex with Buffy at the balcony far more palatable than watching Buffy squirm under the gaze of Riley who tries not to notice her mortification at how low she’s supposedly sunk – the humiliation that she goes through in almost every scene is almost grotesque. As You Were hammers the viewer over the head with the idea that Buffy’s going down the wrong path, Buffy’s not living up to her ideals, Buffy’s got to turn things around like Riley has. And there’s merit to that – Buffy has made some wrong choices.

    But the ways in which the writer Douglas Petrie has specifically dramatized events to show us this leaves too many unanswered questions. Why is Buffy shamed for trying to make it through a very trying period in which she has to juggle parenting, working and slaying in addition to household chores like washing, cooking and cleaning while Riley flies around the world from one glamorous location to another? How can Spike possibly be the “Doctor” from everything we’ve learned so far in the series and why does Riley’s sudden appearance and pursuit of this creature fail to make much sense?

    Despite the depiction of Riley’s new wife as brave and resourceful, why are we left to automatically assume that Buffy might have been better off staying with Riley when – to be honest – the Sam/Riley relationship and line of work doesn’t remotely seem like anything that Buffy would have gone for anyway? We also aren’t given enough information about Riley and Sam’s relationship to make any judgments except on the shallowest level – and even then, it’s not all peaches and cream from this viewer’s perspective. We’re obviously supposed to see Buffy’s life from Riley’s point-of-view – and in Riley’s eyes, it’s not a pretty picture – but that all depends on your value system and what you consider to be important in life, doesn’t it?

    And this complicates one of the major themes of the episode – everything is not as it seems. Viewpoints shift and change depending on how one looks at something – appearances can be deceiving – but the fundamental change needed to grow as an individual is very, very hard.


    That, moreover, the “Previously On” and the remainder of the episode do all they can to efface the real reasons for the Buffy/Riley split, suggesting, rather, that the blame lies with Buffy alone, even as the events of the episode provide no clear evidence that Riley may have significantly changed in so short a time, only posit that he has—while his failure to apologize to Buffy actually suggests that he has not—all these elements, as you also finely demonstrate, further clarify the problems that plague AYW in its entirety, that make it an episode I always skip in my rewatches, save when I feel obligated to forebear, as I did before writing the NA analysis…

    I find myself here compelled to quote and summarize you at length, American Aurora, because I so very much agree—my differing views on the idea of “growth” aside—I loathe the episode to the same degree, for the same reasons, for the barbarity—the unnecessary, incoherent barbarity—that you so acutely dissect above and in what follows, feel that your words deserve repetition…

    There is so much else that I love about your analysis, but if I attempt to begin a list, it will go on forever… So I’ll just stop here, stop and then alight on a few select points….


    Alight for longer and shorter spaces of time—first noting that this all shall be most non-linear (not that, as everyone here knows, I have shown myself much given to linearity before) and doomed to end rather abruptly: the fact is that I have cut it in half, for the second part metastasized into a rather monstrous speculative exploration of Spike, trauma, and ethics, one that began in your brilliant discussion of his relation to the concept and matter of Home and spread into a reading of Seeing Red and beyond… And as I did not wish to pre-empt your marvellous review with my ramblings, I thought it best to hold that section back for now, to rather combine it with my response to your reading to come—



    First, briefly, of necessity—

    A bow to this, which articulates so perfectly the essence of Buffy’s “Tell me you love me”:

    American Aurora
    So she deals with the fantasy of losing what never was by pulling Spike into a fantasy of she knows deep down will never be – at least not in Spike’s current state as a soulless vampire. It’s probably one of the cruelest acts that Buffy ever commits in the show.


    Secondly, on Spike and Riley, Parallels and Change—


    American Aurora
    When faced with an impossible plot twist (and if you’ve ever worked on older shows, they’re plentiful) it’s fun to try and untangle it. So although I really like the idea of Riley being a vindictive, lying son-of-a-bitch of an unreliable narrator, I’ll try to come up with an alternate plot that also fits the facts.

    Yes, American Aurora, your alternative gave pleasure… Although I’m not sure about it in the end: on the one hand, it makes more sense than any possibility I’ve seen put forth—much as I, too, adore “the idea of Riley being a vindictive, lying, son-of-a-bitch,” that one does not work—on the other, there is just not enough textual evidence to ground it… It also does not really fit with Doc’s affect to me, for he seems much more engaged in things old than in those new… That said, I admire the ingenuity of your plotting, which imbues the episode with far more coherence—and does at least, as you say, “fit the facts” on a basic level—than anything in the surface plot itself, as you have shown with such relentless elegance.

    In the end, moreover, what matters with regard to this aspect of the plot comes down to this, as you say:


    American Aurora
    The issue isn’t really how or why, though – it’s enough to show that soulless Spike lacks the kind of moral boundaries that he needs in order to be a genuine boyfriend to Buffy. He outright lies to her face when she asks him about the eggs – he’s proven himself both an untrustworthy partner and friend.

    And your following reading of the scene between Buffy, Riley, and Spike is truly perfect, catching all the nuances and complexities within, reaching backward and forward—

    I started collecting the passages I found most densely resonant, wanting to quote them for emphasis, but the gathering grew and grew… Instead, I shall focus on this one (with an aside to note your marvellous catch of the spare two occasions when Spike uses the word “delicious” and what that word signifies about his emotional state), on this parallel I had not caught:


    American Aurora
    What’s interesting is the parallel between Spike and Riley here – both characters attempt to make Sunnydale their home – both fall in love with Buffy – and both end up in houses of the dead and eventually flee the city, coming back changed men. And just as Riley’s flight was indirectly caused by Spike’s discovery of his dirty little secret he’s hiding behind walls, Riley is about to turn the tables on Spike and do the same to him when Spike’s own dirty little secret is about to be exposed.

    The parallel gives much to think—but it gives most in retrospect, from the vantage of Spike’s return, gives most, that is, in contrast: for Spike has truly changed then, undergone a fundamental transformation in being, has shown the courage to submit himself to such change. And his ability to do so illuminates the extent to which Riley… Riley has changed on the surface alone… As you say, so much here involves appearance and actuality—something I’ll explore further below…




    Third, on Buffy, Riley, and Irony—

    (What follows may sound slightly mad, but I was taken by a certain ideas… perhaps it is just the musings of a literature professor run amok… if so—great apologies….)

    Although, American Aurora, I did not attend to the directions in my own analysis of NA, for reasons I explained, I much appreciated your doing so here: Petrie’s bromance with Riley approaches the comical ( I could go on for ages about its incomprehensibility, starting with a point you make below and moving on to banal fantasies of masculinity, but I think it would just be kvetching, so I’ll demur…), with his insistence upon the “coolness” of Riley’s gadgets and car and Kevlar—especially given how very far from cool Riley proves himself to be the more he speaks and acts, how much more coolness Buffy manifests with her subversive irony towards Riley’s boyish toys and authoritative manner, all of which you so perfectly explicate:


    American Aurora
    Buffy’s constant baiting of Riley’s oh-so-important-mission should be proof enough of why they’re not suited for each other at all. Although Buffy takes her job seriously, she does it with a sense of humor that Riley sorely lacks. As opposed to Angel and Spike – who are both drowning in mordant humor even as they fight the bad guys – Riley is incredibly earnest in his job.

    I still find it very odd that Whedon believes that the problem with Riley as Buffy’s boyfriend was that he was a normal, human, all-American guy – when the biggest problem to me seems to be a total lack of acknowledgement that things can be very different than what they appear to be on the surface – which is the fundamental definition of irony. In ancient Greek, the word eirōneía means dissimulation or feigned ignorance – the Socratic Method derives from this idea – the clever underdog who triumphs over the arrogant fool through wit and wisdom. It’s a disruptive force that undermines the kind of power-based force that Riley represents – black operations that work outside of the normal laws of society often to the detriment of the general populace. Not unlike the Watchers Council and their own Wetworks Gang of merry murderers.

    I’m not sure I follow your point about Riley being a nice normal, human, all-American guy and appearances—unless what you mean is that despite his normal, human appearance, he is given to violence under the cover of a belief in its goodness… Although is that not always true of the normal, human, all-American guy, given our country’s human, all-American history of genocide? (Not, of course, that I think that Joss had that in mind, which may be the point you are making… )

    That said, I do share your sense of the oddity, for reasons that will become clear below—


    But I do take your point about Irony, take it gladly, take it and would extend it:

    Centuries after the Ancient Greeks, German Romantic Friedrich von Schlegel, in one of his philosophical fragments—F. Schlegel primarily wrote fragments—defined irony as “permanent parabasis”: now this would seem to be a paradoxical—if not an ironic—definition, for parabasis, as I know you know, names the moment when an actor in a play momentarily breaks the dramatic illusion by coming forth to address the audience; thus permanent parabasis would either suspend the illusion indefinitely or, perhaps even worse, leave it constantly in danger, open to breakage or interruption at every moment. And as Paul de Man would write many years closer to our own, “that’s what Schlegel had in mind. You have to imagine the parabasis as being able to take place at all times.”

    (Yes, of course, Brecht… But this is not the place for him, much as I would love to engage you in a discussion of Buffy as the quintessential Brechtian figure, her slaying as a kind of Estrangement-Effect… )

    Now Schlegel was and remains quite scandalous—Hegel absolutely despised him, went as far as calling him “evil”—I won’t go into the specific reasons for that, although they do involve my argument about Buffy and her shift from progressive to non-metric time…

    More than that, one of the reasons Schlegel remains so scandalous—academia still supports a small industry of Schlegel scholarship devoted to sanitizing him—involves his constant engagement with irony, what he has to say about it….

    To begin with “permanent parabasis” and think it in terms of Buffy: as you say, Buffy subverts “the kind of power-based force that Riley represents,” by which I think you mean hierarchical authority, established order, power that not only thinks it knows all and best but that hoards power and knowledge, doling them out only to enforce its will. And Buffy works as permanent parabasis in relation to such power, in whatever shape it takes, endlessly disrupting it, suspending its illusions, interrupting its violence whenever its danger looms too large, threatens innocence.

    (When Buffy slips from the flow of irony, as happens in S6 due to trauma, depression, and slow death, and then in S7, when the influx of Potentials forces her into the position of Authority, she slips from the singularity of her Slayerness, from the ethical shape it takes. In S7, she regains it only after she is kicked out of the house (a stupid action—but a necessary one for reasons they cannot understand) and has her night of non-metric time with Spike: in her confrontation with Caleb the next day, Irony imbues her every word and move….)

    Confronting Permanent Parabasis can be most disturbing—especially because, Schlegel will point out elsewhere, irony ultimately remains “incomprehensible,” as Buffy ever remains to those Powers she disrupts—

    And as she remains to Riley—

    For Riley’s difficulty with Buffy, the difficulty that drove him into the fangs of the vampire prostitutes, first, and then out of Sunnydale and back into the Army—it was not the time Buffy spent with her sick mother—much as he resented that... The problem nestled around matters of power, incomprehension, and, on Buffy’s side, trust—

    Yes, Buffy had trust difficulties of her own in the wake of her father and of Angel’s turning, but her relationship with Riley never reached the point where they would surface—save, perhaps, in Buffy’s inability to tell him the full story of Angel—, for Riley proved himself untrustworthy before that could happen:

    In S4, he had initially shown himself moving towards a capacity for both trustworthiness and comprehension: he freed Oz, abandoned the Initiative, declared himself an “Anarchist”…

    But he never was…

    At that point, rather than turning from a soldier, turning into an Anarchist, one devoted to the subversion of Authority itself, he was subverting a specific authority by following another—by doing what Buffy would do, whether he realized it or not…

    And then, later, even before his power-draining surgery, he repeatedly expressed a longing for the Initiative and its power, speaking wistfully of the rapidity with which it would have been able to deliver information on Dracula, speaking of his desire to instrumentalize the doubled Xanders by doing experiments upon them… And he delivered the Dracula line—to be patiently rebuffed by Buffy—in a manner that suggested the interchange had happened before, more than once over the Summer just gone by….

    For Riley never ceased to be a soldier, welded to the chain of command, the demand for obedience—and the banishing of irony…

    This welding also prevented him from contentedly being “the Mission’s boyfriend,” in Graham’s words: he could not be thus content not because Buffy was a woman who had more power than he—this made him uncomfortable, but he may have eventually adjusted to his subordinate position, as he did to one in relation to Professor Walsh—but because she was not part of a chain of authority, of command, nor was herself the Authority, the source of command, was rather, ever, a Permanent Parabasis suspending the illusion of Authority’s Power and Righteousness:

    No one gave her orders, and she did indeed lead, but she never did so as the Authority in a regulated chain: she deployed her power not to rule others but as a gift to those who needed it, and in doing so, she was always (save in her worst moments…) given to improvisation and creation and listening in relation to those with whom she worked, subverting the stability of any order, including her own—

    And while Riley professed love for Buffy’s constitutively ironic singularity—


    Riley: I have Buffy-Buffy: being the Slayer is part of who you are—you keep thinking I don’t get that, but…. Buffy, if you led a perfectly normal life, you wouldn’t be half as crazy as you are—I gotta have that, I gotta have it all: I’m talking toes, elbows, the whole bad-ice-skating-movie-obsession, everything. There’s no part of you that I’m not in love with. (tR)

    And while Riley was in love with Buffy—it was a love that he could not, in the end, bear…

    Early in the relationship, in expressing his attraction, Riley had said:


    Riley: You’re really strong—like… Spider-Man-strong.

    Buffy: Yeah, but I don’t stick to stuff… But yeah.

    Riley: And you’re in charge—you’re like, make the plan, execute the plan. No one giving you orders.

    Buffy: I’m the Slayer.

    Riley: I like it.

    Buffy: Yeah—?

    Riley (nodding): But give me another, oh, week to get ready—and I’ll take you down. (aNM)

    In the last line, Riley expressed a desire unquenchable, a desire that dovetailed ever his desire for Buffy—his love—, a desire whose expression would emerge as a habitual gesture, first in physical challenges or verbal promises of physical victory to come, then, after surgery rendered such victory unthinkable as—


    Riley: Maybe instead of you trying to take care of me, we agree to take care of each other—deal? (NPLH)


    At stake here was not a desire for dominance, a desire for a submissive Buffy, one pliant to his will, as the physical challenges might first seem to indicate. Nor was it, as a surface reading of the last quoted line above might indicate, a desire for technical equality, an emotional balancing of power once all chance of physical balance had dissipated. At stake here for Riley was stability: a sure place on which to stand, a grounding he found lacking.

    That such grounding should be lacking—this provokes no surprise, for Riley had become intimate with Irony (with the ways in which Irony infuses Buffy’s slaying and her relations to order, life, and ethics), and Irony, as Schlegel would warn, is dangerous: “Irony is simply something one cannot play games with. It can have incredibly long-lasting effects.” And thus Irony also is simply something one cannot take seriously, as Riley sought to do, for the effects will be the same…

    Along the same lines, Schlegel would write in his Critical Fragments, in one on, of course, Socratic Irony:


    In this sort of irony, everything should be playful and serious, guilelessly open and deeply hidden.… It is the freest of all licenses, for by its means one transcends oneself, and yet it is also the most lawful, for it is absolutely necessary. It is a very good sign when the harmonious bores are at a loss about how they should react to this continuous self-parody, when they fluctuate endlessly between belief and disbelief until they get vertigo/swindled/deceived and take what is meant as a joke seriously and what is meant seriously as a joke.


    As J. Hillis Miller will then gloss this passage, “The attempt to master irony leads inevitably to vertigo, as though one had lost one's footing in reason, no longer had ‘understanding’ in the literal sense of something solid to stand on under one's feet, had been swindled or become a self-swindler, deceived or a deceiver self-deceived, in an endless unstoppable oscillation or rotation, like being caught in a revolving door.”

    Those first sentences offer a perfect description of Buffy’s slaying: In this sort of irony, everything should be playful and serious, guilelessly open and deeply hidden.… It is the freest of all licenses, for by its means one transcends oneself, and yet it is also the most lawful, for it is absolutely necessary—

    And while Riley thought he got it, thought himself far from a “harmonious bore,” he found, over time, Buffy’s dissonance, her utterly free lawfulness, insupportable, yearned for the harmony of “we take care of each other,” the settled places that, in his mind, such balanced care would offer—

    For Riley found himself in “vertigo, as though [he] had lost [his] footing in reason, no longer had ‘understanding’ in the literal sense of something solid to stand on under [his] feet…”

    Riley found himself in vertigo not because he had sought to master Buffy in the ways that we might immediately read the word—through obvious forms of domination and submission, following, perhaps, patriarchal norms—but because he had sought to master her, despite his professed love for her craziness, by imposing order upon their relationship. While the vertigo was initially exciting, an unfamiliar thrill, the long-term effects of which Schlegel wrote began to wear upon Riley, wear violently, given his history, his shaping by the army and, perhaps before, the patriarchal flatness of rural Iowa (I lived in rural Iowa for a year… It was very, very… pale… and flat...)—a shaping that also moulded his desire to move toward a settled place in a hierarchical system, one with orders and chains of command; a shaping that left him unable to grasp, to know himself outside its regimes, to find sense beyond its definitions of reason:


    Spike: Hey, hey—! Let’s be reasonable about this!

    Riley: You may have noticed, Spike (punches him in the face): I left reason about three exits back— (ItW)

    Thus even after Riley realized that Buffy did not love him, he attempted to salvage something akin to love, to create something that might, in his mind, lead to love, by defining their positions in relation to each other, their roles and obligations and expectations, their needs and desires: he established in his mind what it meant to be lovers—to say “boyfriend and girlfriend” would be more precise—and then set out how they should “take care of each other” in specific ways, how he should do x, y, and z, while Buffy should do a, b, and c. Saving Buffy from the Heavy Metal Vamp and patching her up after—that gave Riley deep pleasure. Avenging her gave him a greater one—that is what a truly loving boyfriend should do. This proved that he had a unique place in Buffy’s life, mattered to her as no one else did, could give her things that no one else could give. Buffy not calling him when she learned of Joyce’s illness—bad. Talking to Spike about it—crushing. It said that not only had Buffy not turned to him in crisis as a girlfriend would to her boyfriend; worse, she had turned to someone else, to Spike no less, which meant that anyone could take his place, even a soulless anyone. Then, later, when he learned that Buffy had indeed broken down and cried about Joyce, her madness and the chance of her loss—just not in his arms—Riley was again crushed, for it again meant to him that he had no proper place in Buffy’s life, that she would not turn to him in pain and vulnerability, something she would, did she care for him, had she made a place for him as her boyfriend…

    But Buffy did not run to Riley when the tears began to fall—

    Not because she did not love Riley, for I think she did—for all that she was not in love with him—, but because she did not live, did not move through the world as he did, did not conceive relationality in such plotted, ordered ways. Even when not speaking with its words, the spirit of Irony—by which I mean not an actual spirit but a way of being—imbued her; thus in the freedom of her lawfulness, at once guilelessly open yet deeply hidden, she moved with a spontaneity, an improvisatory rhythm in her suffering and in her slaying—as essential to her ethics and grace as it was to her survival…


    Riley: You’re getting stronger every day—more powerful. I can’t touch you. Every day you’re just a little further out of my reach—

    Buffy: You want to touch me? I’m right here—I’m not the one running away.

    Riley: Not yet— (OoMM)

    But Riley could not understand Buffy, could not grasp her, touch her—not because she sought to elude him: he kept reaching out to find an ordered living, a moving through the world along set lines, a thing that was not there—leaving him with nothing “solid to stand on under [his] feet” once the chain of command that shaped his powers of comprehension had been subverted…

    And in the resulting vertigo, he spiralled into the embrace other women, kept spiralling, again and again, making no effort to end—


    Riley showed how deeply grounded in his ungrounding from reason, in miscomprehension, his turn to vampires—to paying a woman vampire to suck his blood—was in his final conversation with Buffy:


    Riley: I think, this thing started—it was just some kind of immature game: I wanted to even the score after you let Dracula bite you—

    Buffy: I did not let Dracula—

    Riley: I know…. on some level, I know that. But I was still spun… I don’t know… I wanted to know what you felt—I wanted to know why Dracula and Angel have so much power over you—

    Buffy: You so don’t get it…

    Riley: I wanted to get it, Buffy—I wanted to get you.

    Buffy: So this is my fault? Gee.. Hey, Buffy’s so mysterious—I think I’ll go out and almost die. (ItW, emphasis added)
    The problem, however, was not that “Buffy’s so mysterious”: the problem was that Riley could not conceive power outside hierarchies and control. Angel never had power over Buffy, for they were in love, which meant that love itself, its power, moved through them both, subjecting them equally, each to the other and both to it. What happened with Dracula—that Riley put Angel and Dracula together this way shows the faint distance of his grasp—that was a temporary submission, born of Dracula’s magic powers (and, I think, Buffy’s desire to gain what he seemed to know about her power), powers to which Buffy did not fall a second time. Most crucially, Riley, in seeking to understand why Buffy did not love him, could only reason in terms of power and control, only reason that she loved Angel because his power—a power Riley lacked—compelled her to do so…

    And he was so without a footing in reason that he gave up all power, put himself at risk of death because he thought that that was what Buffy had done with Angel…

    But in doing so, he discovered something else, discovered what he thought was an at least smeared, smudged copy of the unique and settled place he had so sought from Buffy:


    Riley: It’s just, these girls…

    Buffy: Vampires. Killers.

    Riley: They made me feel something, Buffy—something… Something I didn’t even know I was missing until…

    Buffy: I can’t—I can’t hear this—

    Riley: You need to hear this—

    Buffy: Fine. Fine. Tell me about your whores. Tell me what on the earth they were giving you that I can’t.

    Riley: They needed me.

    Buffy: They needed your money. It wasn’t about you—

    Riley: No. On some basic level it was about me: my blood, my body. When they bit me—it was beyond passion: they wanted to devour me. All of me.

    Buffy: Why are you telling me this?

    Riley: It wasn’t real—I know. It was just physical. But the fact that I craved it, that I kept going back—even though it was fleeting, they made me feel as if they had such… hunger… for me.

    Buffy: And I don’t… make you feel that way?

    They needed me…. On some basic level it was about me: my blood, my body.

    In biting Riley, sucking upon him, drawing their life from his, the vampire “girls”—we may speculate upon Riley’s use of that word in place of the more respectful “women”—made him feel not only that they needed him but that he alone would satisfy their most primal need: they made Riley feel as if he had a place in their world, a place that he alone could fill. They gave him a place to stand (or lie supine across…). A place from which the world again became, he thought, intelligible—the world, Buffy, and himself.

    But he was wrong—wrong not only in his understanding but in his attempt to explain it as a misunderstanding, “It wasn’t real—I know. It was just physical.” The need and its specific focus upon him were absolutely real—as well as absolutely random and absolutely momentary. For in the always delimited duration of their intimacy, each woman did need Riley in his personal specificity, but this specific need came only because his was the specific warm body, his the specific blood that chanced to be there. It could have been someone else—and soon it would be. To them, for those moments, Riley in his specificity was utterly necessary and utterly fungible.

    To be in a place where one is at once completely necessary in and of oneself yet utterly fungible—that is the place of a soldier. The military compels obedience in part by evoking in each soldier the strong but illusory sense of her unique value, the sense that she must be the specific one at a specific place at a specific moment to do a specific good and necessary thing, even as it allows the truth of her fungibility to loom, a clouding threat. Each soldier is absolutely needed to perform x act—until she dies… Then another soldier will be put in her place, drawn to save, to kill in the same way. This aspect of his life—this Riley never grasped, not being given to ask questions for himself, not being shaped to see, to think outside the matrices of power that made him. Nor could he see it after he had officially left, walked outside: he was still so fixed on fixing himself, on being fixed to a necessary place, that he could not apprehend the extent to which his mind had been always already fixed to see according to a determined logic of structured relations and commands.

    Thus he could not see the illusory nature of the place he filled in the vampires’ non-life, and thus he could not see the way in which he imposed a certain military structure upon his relationship with Buffy…


    None of which to say that Riley was wrong to claim that he felt something with the vampires that he found lacking in his relationship with Buffy: “right” and “wrong” are not words that apply in this context…

    Riley sought a relationship shaped in ways that did not fit Buffy’s way of moving through the world, and Buffy could not draw Riley into that movement because she was not in love with Riley—and because, in the end, I think she could not trust him…

    I know that at the end of S4, at the end of The Yoko Factor, Buffy referred to Riley, in anger at Willow, Xander, and Giles, as someone she could trust… But she was speaking in anger—for even then, I am far from certain that she truly trusted Riley… And certainly by the commencement of S5, something had changed: the affective force moving between them carried intimations of distance and doubt; Buffy also began to use sex—kissing, primarily—to cover a host of unspoken things. And when true problems arose, Buffy kept them to herself or turned to Giles or others: she did not tell Riley about her mother, nor did she tell him about Dawn. Buffy would later blame herself for this, would pick up Xander’s line, would say that she was “shut down”—something she did, I have always thought, because of her tendency to blame herself, to fall into a sense of her own wrongness, especially given her investment in Riley as a proper boyfriend, an investment that rendered her unable to admit to herself that she was not in love with him, that she did not trust him. Then, too, her mother’s illness and the revelations about Dawn left her little time for introspection about the relationship. But it is clear by the opening of S5 that she did not fully trust Riley, and I speculate that the change may have come as the depth of Riley’s military shaping, its ineradicable hold upon him, became clear over the Summer, just as it became more and more clear as S5 progressed…

    All of which is to say that they did not, in the end, break up because of Riley’s betrayal: that was the catalyst, the event that brought to the surface, made actual a rupture that had occurred long before, occurred because they had long ceased to meet each other fully, give each to each what the other desired:

    All is over if what one finds for the other no longer reaches him: there is no love that is not an echo (Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections from a Damaged Life).


    All of which makes their relationship and its ending very sad—but far from tragic…

    Which brings us back, finally, to AYW

    I agree with you, American Aurora, that the very sight of Riley, the sight there, in DMP, spurs Buffy to dream—dream of a release from the Hell in which she’s living, dream of a return to the self whom Riley loved, the self whom she can neither feel nor embody, the self whom she deems to be a better one than the wrong form in which she returned, in which she feels now condemned to barely exist… And finding Riley married, happily married, happily moved on, at home in himself—this all intensifies her own sense of displacement and wrongness and despair, leading her to Spike, to her cruelty, to…

    As for Riley—

    He says that he was “terrified” about seeing Buffy again… Yet he was able to do so, able to return to Sunnydale not because he had changed but precisely because he had not. Admittedly, his vertigo had ended, he had regained his grasp on reason somewhere in the depths of the jungle, somehow in the slaughter of demons; this stability, however, was born not of change but of reversion to his soldier past: rejoining the army stilled the effects of Irony, gave him a place to stand upon, a place in the chain of command, a place from which both world and self became once more comprehensible. The army gave him his grounding place, and Sam solidified it: their relationship provided him everything that he felt what he had had with Buffy lacked, and it does so not simply because Sam is in love with him where Buffy was not—it does so because for all her quickness to question him, her humour, Sam adheres to the same hierarchies of life and vision as does Riley, moves with a certain predictable stability through the world—moves, as you say, with along the lines of a Mary Sue. She may joke, but her jokes are not ironic. And in this, Sam further extends the place upon which Riley has to stand, even as she challenges him in a comforting kind of way.

    Riley is thus able to return to Sunnydale and recruit Buffy because he is in a stable place, is happy there because it is stable—and because he is recruiting her to work in his world, his world of ordered chains of commands (incoherent though it be, incompetent though he be in running it), not her improvisatory one (hence his insistence upon her donning Kevlar… ), a world in which he is the one to give the orders….

    Of course, after ten minutes in this world, Buffy’s irony emerges—emerges in a way it barely has for the entirety of S6… And with it emerges, slowly, I agree with you, the realization that Riley is not what she wants—that he never was The One—even as he provides a momentary refraction upon all that is so very wrong not in her but in her life, a refraction, too, on the difference between the two….


    I thus agree so very much, American Aurora, with all you have written, and even more, I am most grateful to it, for it gave me so much to think, helped me to understand core aspects of the Buffy-Riley relationship that I had not before grasped—

    At the same time, as you near the end, I am not so sure…

    When you write, for example,


    American Aurora
    Riley…. reassures Buffy that they’re not in a contest because one can never truly be happy until they’re dead – and in the Buffyverse, maybe not even that. His happiness could end at any moment – his marriage could fall apart, his wife could die, his job could end – and he could end up in the same place as Buffy.

    RILEY: This isn't about who's on top. I know how lucky I am right now. I love my work and I love my wife.
    BUFFY: I know. I kind of love her too.
    RILEY: So you're not in the greatest place right now. And maybe I made it worse.

    Buffy smiles and nods her head – she’s beginning to suspect that despite the whole initial nightmare of Riley’s return, it may actually have made things better in the long run.

    BUFFY: No.
    RILEY: Wheel never stops turning, Buffy. You're up, you're down, doesn't change what you are. You're a hell of a woman.

    Riley’s words are a foreshadowing of what Spike will say to Buffy in the empty house in Touched:

    SPIKE: When I say, "I love you," it's not because I want you or because I can't have you. It has nothing to do with me. I love what you are, what you do, how you try. I've seen your kindness and your strength. I've seen the best and the worst of you. And I understand with perfect clarity exactly what you are. You're a hell of a woman. You're the one, Buffy. (Touched)

    Here, Riley’s words… they ring, to me, a bit hollowly… And set next to those of Spike, that ring sounds with greater hollowness: for Spike speaks then with such depth, such passion—and with such true knowledge of Buffy, knowledge won through such pain. Riley’s statement, in contrast, comes after he has shied away from learning anything significant about Buffy’s life—and death—in the past year, comes after a relationship in which he showed he did not fully understand her, much as he loved her in his own way. No doubt he means it, but his iteration fails to carry the power and significance as does Spike’s utterance of exactly the same words, just as his return to Sunnydale seemingly changed pales in comparison to Spike’s journey.

    Similarly, Riley’s lines about the wheel strike me as a tad easy, a tad cliché… Riley can speak of being up and down because he knows that no matter where he sits on the chain of command, he will have some settled place there, a place to stand—he will not again find himself in vertigo, will certainly not know the abyss Buffy has been living in, utterly displaced from herself in mind, body, and time since her resurrection. The words come easily to him for that reason—and it is perhaps for that reason, too, that he evades any knowledge of what Buffy has undergone in his absence, what has brought her to be in what he terms, in a grand understatement, “not in the greatest place”: he fears too close a touch might send him into vertigo once again. So Riley, throughout his visit, clings to his world, assures that Buffy joins him there, acts within it, assures that he does not enter hers. Hence no talk of his misdoings, hence all the apologies come from her, all the wise pronouncements from him. Perhaps it helps Buffy, but I still find it rather condescending—and suspect that a willingness to deeply listen, along with finely felt apologies on his part, might help her more—

    She does, after all, go spinning into the asylum, spinning quite close to murder, just after—

    And I say none of this out of loathing of Riley: in the end, I have nothing against him, do not find him bad or evil, find myself feeling a certain fondness for him at times... I just find him here rather self-satisfied, unwilling, in the end, to take the smallest risk, and ultimately unchanged—only more fully fixed in his soldiery ways, showing us so fully why Buffy could never trust him nor be in love with him, much as I do think that she did love him in a way…


    Finally—

    You say, American Aurora, that Buffy “takes responsibility” for her relationship with Spike—

    But again, I am not so sure…

    Yes, she admits to it, but only to Riley, who already knows, and admitting is not the same as taking responsibility, especially as she only admits it to Riley: on one level, she fears his disapproval, but on the other, she also realizes, on the deepest level, that he is not among the most crucial people in her life—to admit to him is not the same as telling Willow or Xander or Dawn, which she pointedly does not go on to do. Her admission to Riley is not the first step in taking responsibility before those who form the daily substance of her life, those whose judgment she truly fears—

    Nor am I sure that this admission is specifically what leads her to break up with Spike—although the surfacing of Irony may be…

    But as I wrote at the start of this post, to get to this point, I need to work through a set of ideas about Spike that also grew out of your wonderful post, which I will do after you have written, and I have learned from, all you have to give us on Seeing Red….

    For now, endless thanks, again, for what you have given me to think—


    And dense anticipation of more to come….


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    Sorry to say I've pushed the dates around a bit again. The holiday season just hasn't been kind to allow space for reducing the overlapping and continuing to the final eps of the season. Aurora has agreed to hold on to SR for 14th Dec, so that will be our final review up for 2018. I'm crossing all fingers and toes that we'll all be on the same ep by the end of the year and ready to move on to Villains at the start of 2019, due now on 4th Jan. We'll then have Two to Go on the 18th and Grave on the 1st Feb. Finally completing our epic S6 rewatch!! I'm going to drop a note to the final three reviewers to make sure these dates are flagged.

    I've decided that I will put the S7 sign up sheet out on the 2nd Jan and have stuck a reminder in my diary to bleep at me to do that. I was going to put it up between Christmas and New Year but thought there was a greater chance some people might not be free to drop on and get the chance to grab an ep then, so into the New Year seemed a better option.

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    Entropy, according to a jargon buster I’ve just read in a science magazine, is integral to explaining the second law of thermodynamics. It reflects the number of different ways the components in a system can be rearranged. So, to use this post to illustrate entropy, the letters making it up have low entropy: there’s only one way to sequence them to produce what I’ve written. But if you scramble the letters, that results in higher entropy, as there are lots of ways to rearrange them after they’ve been jumbled up. The second law of thermodynamics reflects that it’s easier to go from an ordered page to scrambled letters than vice versa. It’s easier to break an egg than unbreak it.

    So entropy seems to be a crucial stage in the process, and doesn’t necessarily mean disintegration. But this is Buffy, and Buffy Season 6. So it’s purely the negative aspects of entropy – the “falling apart” as evinced by Tara quoting from, yes, The Second Coming – that concern this disparate group who previously held together with love, if nothing else. The Beatles might sing “all you need is love” but for our intrepid protagonists, love is not enough. Except for Tara and Willow. More on that later.

    So I agree with you, DanSlayer, progress and entropy – sometimes we can’t tell one from the other, but that’s how we grow. Trouble is this episode doesn’t show us, I don’t think, growth within the group, either collectively or individually.

    I find the whole look of this episode is gorgeous, beautifully lit, edited and acted. The dialogue is a tad clumsy from time to time but the actors overcome that. And the music, for me, is sublime. Especially the scene in the Magic Box with Spike and Anya.

    To me, the acting honours in this episode belong to Emma Caulfield, who is splendid as Anya. Within each discrete scene she displays such a wide range of emotions that I find her performance mesmerising. She’s funny, she’s pathetic – in the true sense of the word – she evokes my sympathy, she makes me laugh, she makes me cross at a couple of points. I could go on. She’s a star. I also love seeing Kali Rocha again, she’s superb as Halfrek. Very inventive curse on the man who didn’t pay child support. But why is she hanging around still?

    It isn’t clear what the Trio are up to, apart from dubious tactics in chasing vampires or why they want the talisman. But it’s all part of their nefarious long game and hats off to them for their planning, if not for their team spirit. Andrew betrays his true emotional leanings in his breathless admiration of Spike’s *ahem* prowess. And covers quickly. No way does he want to be on the outs as Johnathan is. This group is also disintegrating.

    Anya wears red, reflecting her state of mind and acting as a warning beacon, both for what she’s going through now and what is yet to come. The whole intercut scenes of Anya trying to get the girls to curse Xander are very funny and well-done.

    Sadly we see Anya has indeed returned to the vengeance gig. Frankly I hardly blame her, but in the end we see all she wanted was comfort. I loved seeing how Willow hugs her, those two have come a long way. But what I don’t understand is how none of them clued into how she was manipulating the conversations. Perhaps it’s because they’re all so absorbed in themselves they have nothing to spare?

    As for Xander, ugh, this is a really low point for him, I think. First off, even when it’s demonstrated beyond an iota of doubt that it can’t possibly be Spike who has planted the cameras, he persists in holding on to his idea. Then I just want to pelt something at him when he gets all self-righteous with Anya – none of your damn business what she does now, you twerp! Generally speaking, what else is anyone, male or female, supposed to think when they’ve been dumped at the altar and suffered public humiliation? I want to cheer Anya, until she distances herself from Spike – he was just there, she says dismissively – which is the thing she does that makes me cross.

    As for Buffy, I found her attempts at being perky quippy Buffy painful and brittle. I appreciate that many watching her little chat with Spike will probably be applauding her. Well done. You’re distancing yourself from him, showing emotional maturity, etc, etc. Unfortunately to me she just comes across as the classic snobby girl who thinks she’s too good for the man she’s been using for comfort. She’s above all that. He can’t have feelings, according to her personal canon, so she treats him as if he doesn’t. I think she should have been more careful, to hark back to Xander’s words from Crush – and I paraphrase here – yes, because I should always be careful not to hurt the feelings of a murderer. I don’t find that her dog-in-the-manger attitude towards Spike does her any credit, and in his shoes I would certainly have drawn completely the wrong conclusion as well. Her scene with Dawn makes me cross – again, she’s trying to put distance between herself and her actions, a relationship she is shown as instigating, or encouraging at the very least. If the writers and producers actively wanted me to dislike her, they couldn’t have done a more effective job.

    As for Spike, hey, what’s with that bleep bleep awful shirt, babes? And you made that mess in the shop, you should help clear it up. I cringe at the “sexy dance” line, because I want him to stay faithful to Buffy. Or the idea of her, at least. Alas, it’s not to be. Other than that, I choose to put a generous interpretation on his giving up the secret at last – well, I would, wouldn’t I – he was sorely provoked, and clearly was prepared to be staked. Spike is disposable to Anya and Buffy, to be used then thrown aside. Sorry, but again, what did Buffy expect? Marsters as always portrays Spike with such depth and subtlety that I feel his pain every time I watch this.

    Yes, I know, I should perhaps be more temperate and objective. Calm down, debbicles, it’s just a television show!

    Anya in the end pulls back from cursing Xander. Thank goodness, because she couldn’t come back from that. EC is amazing in this whole Magic Box scene. She blames herself for Xander breaking up with her, secretly is afraid she is inferior and unworthy. As an aside, she still doesn’t show any awareness for her own indirect part in the whole fiasco of Hells Bells.

    Willow and Tara are shown as reconciling. And here sadly is the scene that actually makes me see red. Tara just wants to skip to the kissing. For pity’s sake, woman! Willow mind-raped you (twice counting Tabula Rasa), actually physically violated you at least once that we know about and still hasn’t shown a jot of self-awareness about any of it, never mind remorse. I am constantly boggled at what message I am supposed to draw from this. For me this is the storyline that actually does depict that someone gets back with their abusive ex who remains defiantly unreconstructed.

    I don’t mean to ruffle any feathers in saying this. I think it’s great that I can feel so strongly about this episode still, after all these years, and that it can still make me ponder on these difficult and sensitive subjects.

    I would say, roll on the next episode, but that’s even more agonising. Even after all these years.

    Thanks to all here on the board. Hope you’re all keeping well. It’s good to be back.
    Last edited by debbicles; 04-12-18 at 01:18 PM. Reason: I'm OC. What can I say.
    You know what I am. You've always known. You come to me all the same.

    "There's a lot of comedy to be gotten from the world's doom spiral right now." Tracey Ullman, June 2018

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    Hey, StateofSiege, here’s a very late response to your marvelous review of Normal Again.

    My deepest apologies for the long delay – real life took a huge chuck of time and I’ve finally gotten things in order again after dealing with work and personal responsibilities. But I’m eager to delve into your review again – the most fascinating part of it is yet to come!

    I also wanted to say how wonderful your post on As You Werewas – some really fantastic things about Riley that I want to address once I’ve gone over your lovely Normal Again review. And then I also need to get to Entropy before posting Seeing Red. Hopefully, I’ll start posting at some point next week after we get to discussing DanSlayer’s review as well.

    I was thinking about the theory of ‘affect’ and how it worked in relation to the concept of the vampire in the Buffyverse – I think I’m starting to get a tiny grasp on the concept (but I am amazingly SLOW at this despite getting a few books on the subject!) and I’m curious as to what you think of the theory as applied to vampires.

    Am I right in saying that the whole idea of the ‘affect theory’ rests upon the idea of affects that are grounded in physiology rather than culturally created and precede any emotion or cognition – the ways in which bodies ‘affect’ one another seems essential to the way in which we perceive the world and experience emotions? So does that mean our memories work in tandem with the ‘affect system’ to shape our reality and our responses – so is there a difference between humans and demons in how they experience emotions? Could this somewhat explain the differences between soul or no soul? Of course, Angel and Spike have physiological reactions – but is there a fundamental difference between how they process that information as opposed to human beings? The ‘affect’ between bodies (things) doesn’t change – but the neurological reaction afterwards is perhaps fundamentally different? Not in a subjective way, but in an autonomic way because their brains are hard-wired differently in how they respond to stimuli which in turn has an effect on the emotions produced.

    So when they cognitively process sensations, is it possible that vampires process the stimuli through a very different route of ‘affect’ than human beings? The potential of all the stimuli that vampires react to may result in something very different since they have no circulatory system, no heartbeat, no need to breathe – and a seemingly extreme imperviousness to pain compared to a human being. It may be that gaining a soul allows for a greater breath not only of emotion and moral cognition, but ability to be ‘affected’ by outside sources and other bodies in a more recognizably human manner.

    Or I’m probably just talking blather!

    To be honest, I still think I’m faltering on this theory – even though it sounds potentially thrilling, I’m not quite grasping it yet and I’m fearful that I have it all wrong. It’s very difficult to grasp because I think I’m filtering it through other theories that don’t apply. I’ve put on hold a couple of books at the library and downloaded a few Kindle books, so I hope that I’ll gain a much wider understanding than I have at the moment.

    I did want to briefly talk about the idea of ‘affect’ in terms of color, though – I can’t find any studies on it, but the word reminds me of the abstract expressionists and their obsession with how color ‘affects’ our psyche long before we experience emotions or thoughts. The emphasis upon spontaneous action to create psychological states reminds me a bit of the theory - the immediacy of the varied materials, images dripped and drawn and smeared and lined and clumped attempts to bypass emotion and cognition to reach a deeper unconscious stimulus – a manifestation of the art of pure creation. And the idea of Color Field painting tries to transform the idea of color as a stimulus within a context to something far more interesting – using the tension of various colors as a form of action as they assault the senses. High-arousal colors like red, yellow and orange and low-arousal colors like blue, green and violet activate different areas of the brain.

    And when we look at Buffy, there’s obviously a great emphasis on the color black – not only its association in Western culture with death and mourning in our culture, but its symbolism in terms of power because it absorbs all other light in the color spectrum. Buffy’s life is drawn in various shades of black – from the vamps that she loves to the nighttime sky she patrols under to the unlit coffin that she wakes up in – and she associates it with being the Slayer. And in the opening scene of Normal Again, Buffy is wearing a black leather jacket and hat overlaying a white scarf and shirt.

    But it’s interesting to realize that Buffy’s alternate reality of being inside the mental institution is swathed in white – her clothes, that of the orderlies, the walls, the other patients – the color opposite of her life in Sunnydale – white represents purity and innocence in our culture as reflected in wedding dresses and coming-of-life rituals – but it also reflects the absence of color and can feel oppressive and even terrifyingly bleak. In Eastern cultures, it signifies death and mourning and hospitals use white to convey a kind of sterility that drains everything around it of significance.

    So the two versions of reality are polar opposites in terms of color – Buffy changed into a brown outfit for the middle part of the episode – but as the lines continue to blur between the two versions of reality, Buffy’s clothing also continues to mirror this – she soon dons another white shirt and black pants outfit in Sunnydale as she switches to her white frock in the institution. Which represents death better? The warm, dark color of black in Sunnydale – or the cold, bright color of white in the Institution? Dante himself chose Ice over Fire as the final ninth circle of Hell – the endless white field of vision a more terrifying prospect than fiery black because of the lack of sensation after freezing. Something that Buffy mentions more than once in Once More With Feeling – after “heaven” life is more water than fire, more flooded than enflamed, more frozen than burnt.

    I talk a bit more about this in Seeing Red, but I think that the polar opposites of fire and ice are on display in Normal Again as well. And it’s ironic that Buffy is haunted by this polarization because her memories may not even be real – but the residual effects of trauma and her feelings of wrongness are real and stem from a past sense of being “wrong” that’s somewhat merged with an even greater fear of having “come back wrong.”

    But do any of her friends understand her feeling of disconnect? Buffy’s strange confession of being in an institution when her parents found out about her interest in vampires is hard to reconcile with everything we've learned so far in the series. Surely Joyce would have evinced some kind of memory of placing Buffy there in [I]Becoming[I] when she learns that Buffy is a Vampire Slayer – and yet, there’s not even the smallest hint of recognition. But outside of the demon poison, is there anywhere else that Buffy could have gotten this from if it wasn’t real? There’s always the possibility that the Monks implanted the false memory in her brain when they created Dawn from the Key – believing, perhaps, that Buffy would be more likely to bond with Dawn over the experience and protect her. I dunno. It’s a hard retcon to crack – but regardless of whether it really happened, Buffy believes that it did – and that’s all that matters.

    But Buffy’s friends seem to be wholly concentrated on their own issues – even as Spike and Xander search for the demon to cure Buffy, they read everything through their own particular emotional angst.

    There’s the same sense of “looking” for something or someone that permeates the episode – especially with its failure to resolve properly – the sought after object in Buffy’s psyche is never really found in a proper sense. But as with Willow searching for the Trio, Spike and Xander search for a specific Big Bad in order to break the spell and bring Buffy back to herself – and this is a corollary to both Willow and Co. searching for Buffy in a Hell dimension to bring her back and Spike searching for “Buffy” as a romantic partner who lies just out of the realm of possibility. And there’s the sense that if one can just find the glass slipper that everyone will live happily ever after. But the grim demeanors of the two men shows that it’s not the case.

    Spike and Xander, Redux— Willow’s reassurance carries us to the scene, to the demon hunt, with “help”: Xander and Spike, unhappily paired in hunting, briefly: Driven by loss and pain and an inability to understand, as well as the moral incapacity to maintain the boundaries he would wish to hold, Spike seems less and less able to hold to secrecy, more given to the revelation that he knows Buffy dreads, the one that will, for her, constitute a betrayal. But Xander, still, cannot quite see what is clearly before him, so that Spike can easily backtrack into vague references to “alternate realities” and goading about Anya—until the demon comes and the two are forced to fight together, with and not against each other, for Buffy’s sake, for the promise of her return… (The Spike-Xander interactions doubtless deserve more attention than I can give them, presaging Entropy and SR as they do, going back to each man’s romantic troubles, linking them, but perhaps someone else… )
    After the physical altercation with Xander in the graveyard, it’s amusing to imagine Spike’s reaction when Xander then comes to him for help with tracking down the Glarghk Guhl Kashmas'nik demon. No doubt Spike wanted to say no – but he grudgingly accepts because he doesn’t really want to hurt Buffy – not much. And there’s always something about a spot of violence before bedtime.

    But it’s surprising to see that what Spike really wants is someone to talk to – he’s agreed to go off with Xander because he wants to unburden himself of the intense emotions that are squeezing him dry. Spike doesn’t ever seem to do well alone and despite his snarky exterior, he longs for some kind of sounding board to express his feelings. We see how he constantly snarks at Angel in Angel Season Five and shows up in the most unlikely of places in Sunnydale – not as many surprise encounters as one would think. The neediness of William Pratt compels companionship – even if it means teaming up with Xander Harris.

    From Xander’s point of view, Spike is just there for the muscle – otherwise, it’s unlikely that he would have even considered calling on him. But despite his annoyance at Spike’s crush on Buffy, he uses Spike’s feeling to convince him to help – Spike’s litany of woe shows that Xander has explained to him what Buffy’s going through and how her hallucinations are incapacitating her. Just like in The Gift, Spike’s feeling are useful because they allow the Scoobies to use his strength and endurance against foes who endanger the lives of Buffy and Dawn.

    But it still means that Xander has to put up with Spike’s complaints as they walk, searching for the demon. One would think that Spike would take the search more seriously as he babbles while Xander looks carefully around them with a flashlight. But then again, Spike doesn’t like to let his guard down and reveal himself very much – his nonchalant attitude towards Buffy’s state of mind seems out of character for a lovelorn vamp – but it’s most likely an act that covers up his bitterness and anger at Buffy dumping him.

    There’s a bit of a kicky energy to this scene because of the energy between Spike and Xander – who is so rarely paired with men in the show – especially after the departure of Giles and Oz. He may hate Spike – but he understands his psychology in a different sense than that of Buffy, Willow and Anya. So he doesn’t take Spike’s idle talk very seriously – he knows how the vamp loves to complain and argue and make everything about himself.

    SPIKE: So, she's having the wiggins, is she? Thinks none of us are real. Bloody self-centered, if you ask me.
    From Spike’s point of view, Buffy refuses to acknowledge their relationship because she’s really trying to deny the fact that she’s come back wrong. Her sexual passion for Spike has him confusing physical need with love and he sees her desire for him as a sign of romantic love – something he devoutly wishes was true. But now that they’re broken up, it’s harder to maintain the illusion that Buffy is simply denying who she is.

    And Spike is still smarting from Buffy’s initial dismissal when she first collapses – her accusations of Spike holding secret contraband an unconscious reminder of the demon egg fiasco that broke them up permanently. But instead of feeling guilt over his actions, he blames her instead. She’s just not seeing things clearly – so her hallucinations make sense in Spike’s mind – she’s already practiced in keeping alternate realities separate.

    But Xander doesn’t want to become invested in Spike’s litany of complaints – and he makes it clear to Spike why he’s there – not to have a personal conversation with Xander, but to provide backup.

    XANDER: Spike, we need muscle, not color commentary.
    But Spike’s mind starts to turn to his own bizarre situation – stuck in Sunnydale with a chip in his head, in love with a Slayer, being her sex poodle – and there’s a parallel with Buffy as Spike thinks about the “wrongness” of the situation that he mentioned a season back when he blamed Drusilla breaking up with him for his predicament:

    SPIKE: If you hadn't left me for that chaos demon, I never would have come back here! Never would have had this sodding chip in my skull!
    Spike turns from Drusilla to Buffy.
    SPIKE: And you – wouldn't be able to touch me because this with you is wrong. I know it. I'm not a complete idiot. You think I like having you in here? Destroying everything that was me, until all that's left is you, in a dead shell. (Crush)
    And now Spike has been dumped again – even though he feels he’s done everything she’s asked of him. And so he thinks once again about how this is “wrong” – and likens the idea of an alternate reality where they’re all living in a snow globe as preferable to the reality of what’s happened to him.

    SPIKE: On the other hand, it might explain some things – this all being in that twisted brain of hers. Yeah. Thinks up some chip in my head. Make me soft, fall in love with her, then turn me into her soddin' sex slave –
    Notice the order of things that Spike’s mind immediately jumps to – from the chip to softness – just enough to fall in love with her – and then back to hardness as her willing sex slave. Spike felt empowered when he was having sex with Buffy regardless of who held the reins – now that their sex is over, he feels soft and weak once again.

    But Xander finally registers what Spike’s inadvertently said and reacts:

    XANDER: What?!
    And Spike almost rolls his eyes as he looks at Xander and sighs – oh, yeah, big secret – and then sluffs it off as an “example” of what Buffy’s mind might be spinning – like a world without shrimp:

    SPIKE: Nothing. Alternative realities. Where we're all little figments of Buffy's funny-farm delusion.
    Spike’s disgust at having to hide his relationship with Buffy not only comes from his feelings for her, but from his loss of status as a chipped vampire. Xander looks down on Spike not only because he’s an evil vampire, but because he’s a pathetic loser who supposedly can never get a girl like Buffy. And it’s obvious that Spike wants to tell Xander that he’s wrong – he wants to do this so badly that he becomes sloppy and almost lets the secret spill out.

    But the anger at being thought of as soft and less than a man galls Spike – so he takes the opportunity of taking Xander down a notch:

    SPIKE: You know, in a different reality, you might not have left your bride at the altar. You might have gone through with it like a man.
    Spike doesn’t understand why Xander ran from Anya – he obviously believes that Xander was simply too frightened to go through the ceremony because of some perceived fear of responsibility. He can’t fathom in his soulless state that Xander’s real motive in many ways was to avoid hurting Anya – Spike can’t see the possibility that placing a romantic fixation on a person above all else might possibly end in disaster – which results in tragic consequences later on.

    Xander himself doesn’t seem too put out by Spike’s words – at least, not as much as usual. There’s probably some massive guilt there that makes Xander believe he deserves a bit of a Spike-with-chew-toy verbal punishment – the vamp berating him for leaving Anya isn’t too far off the mark.

    But both also seem to relish the possibility of a fight to relieve emotional tension. As Xander stops to threaten Spike, there’s not much passion. The animosity between them isn’t truly felt – it’s more about going through the motions of playing at “Spike” and “Xander” at this point to maintain their personas within the group dynamic.

    XANDER: Okay, one more syllable about Anya –
    Fortunately for chipped Spike, the demon suddenly appears with a wicked gleam in his eye. It’s odd that the Trio would allow the creature to continue to wander around Sunnydale – couldn’t he accidentally skewer their parents or someone they care about? Have the two men come too close to the Trio’s new hideout? Has the creature been programmed to only attack the Scoobie Gang? Or perhaps Andrew simply lost control of the creature once he summoned it?

    Whatever the reason, the demon seems to mindlessly attack them as Spike glares at Xander, annoyed:

    SPIKE: Oh, balls. You didn't say he was a Glarghk Guhl Kashmas'nik!
    XANDER: 'Cause I can't say Glar –
    Apparently, Spike didn’t expect this much action – although he gamely fights the demon as Xander shoots tranquillizer darts at it and gets in a few punches himself. After a small tussle, the demon finally goes down at the second dart.

    XANDER: I altered his reality. Get it, I –
    And now it’s Spike who ignores Xander as he sniffs and shakes his neck – the lack of reaction to his joke only separates the two further – human and humorless demon:

    XANDER: Never mind.


    And now that they’ve found their target, we switch back to Buffy – who is utterly unsure what she’s even looking for as Dawn brings her tea.

    Her sense of being in a reality within a reality is a pretty amazing concept if you think about it – there’s a self-conscious awareness ever since her resurrection that Buffy is living within a manufactured mythopedic world and this drug-induced splitting of identity that creates an Escher-like mirror of possible realities within the same moment is just an extreme example of what she’s been experiencing since waking up in that coffin. “This isn’t real – “ that she sings to Spike extends to everything in her fragmented state.

    Your wonderful description of how those around Buffy – like Willow – try to create a normative experience that promotes a certain ideal of “health” by collapsing the competing realties (not only of asylum/Sunnydale but past/present) creates a kind of shadow effect in Buffy. The past is always trying to take form within the present, a constant companion for those who suffer from depression brought on by past trauma – changing shapes as it informs her thoughts and actions even as Willow tries to carefully banish them from the room.

    And a lot of this has to do with Willow’s own attempt to deny her own past – the more she can rid Buffy of her supposed “hallucinations” and comparisons with an idealized (or abhorred) past, the easier it is for Willow herself to carefully walk the tightrope of sanity.

    Buffy, Dawn, the Asylum, and Language Bleeding— The next scene gives us Dawn and Buffy together, alone, for the first time— Note that while Buffy has been able to near herself to Willow and Xander, this has not held for Dawn. Here, as Dawn nears to comfort her with tea, Buffy can barely look at her sister, turns away, cannot meet her eyes, merely tries, unconvincingly, to assure Dawn that she’s fine….
    It’s so interesting that Dawn is adamantly trying to tie Buffy down to her world – she knows that her origins are very different from her memories and she must suffer from the same kind of bifurcated mindset as Buffy, a simultaneous self-awareness that she’s both human sister and ball of green fire. There’s most likely a tremendous desire there to create a solid world around her which is only aided by her acquisition of things to create the sense of solidity. Buffy’s prodding questions – why is Dawn taller than her, why is everything falling apart? – are vague attempts to create this sense of solidity – but Buffy herself is so confused that she has trouble distinguishing between the Buffy who has no sister and the Buffy who sacrificed everything for her:

    And as Dawn protests, Buffy falls into the language of health, the words of the Doctor bleeding into the series of non-sequitors she utters:
    Buffy: I should be taller than you—
    Dawn [smiling, attempting cheer]: Maybe you’re not done growing…
    Buffy [struggling]: We’re falling apart. We have to try harder, to make things better—
    Dawn [pleadingly]: I’m trying—
    Buffy [insistent, even as she struggles to remain present]: Your grades… stealing… Willow’s been doing you chores, hasn’t she?
    Dawn [protesting, attempting deferral: It’s the fever: it’s cooking your brain.
    Buffy [still struggling to find words to hold herself there, to forestall flight]: We have to deal with these things— [emphasis added]
    And with those words, the impossible task they hold, the task of taking up life as slow death, precarity, predictable, repetitive crises and wearing out, Buffy flees—
    Great point StateofSiege,, that Buffy is parroting the doctor in the sense that she’s looking for words that define what SHOULD be true. I think she finds it very hard to relate to Dawn in this scene – she’s already distancing herself from the reality she thought she knew. Dawn should be taller, things should be better, everything’s wrong – Buffy’s mind runs through all the terrible things that don’t match her ideal version of reality – what’s healthy, what’s morally good, what’s normal – and she’s starting to tip towards the side of reality that doesn’t include Dawn and all these appalling memories even as she reassures her that everything will be alright.

    Before taking up that flight, I would note that Buffy here adopts not only the language of the Doctor—“We’re falling apart”—but the language she herself deployed in TL: when first confronted with Dawn’s transgressions and her own responsibilities for her, Buffy took up the normative language of parental authority, of charts and graphs and chores and gold stars, took them up in place of what Dawn most deeply sought, which was felt connection, a connection Buffy still cannot give, has not been able to give since her return, if not since Joyce’s death, despite the temporary resolutions of Forever and O&FA; this stems, in part, as we will discover in the next episode, from her determination to keep Dawn away from her life as a Slayer, on the pretext of defending her—but as Dawn herself will point out, given that Buffy is the Slayer, Dawn is constitutively exposed to danger, and Buffy’s futile attempts to shield her but serve to wall off from Dawn the most essential part of her life.
    Great description of the Catch-22 Dawn finds herself in as Buffy both creates the dynamic in which Dawn is eternally in “trouble” and yet also keeps Dawn at arm’s length from the most important element in Buffy’s life. Some of this has to do with Buffy taking on the responsibility of “mother” to Dawn, I think – as the Slayer and the Mother, Buffy has to deal with very different concepts of nurture/protection and she seems to be unwilling to merge the two into any kind of coherent whole. Some of this might be due to her past desire to keep her “normal” home life with her mother completely separate from her Slayer duties – a supposed necessity as the Watcher’s Council points out – and we’ve seen dramatizations of what happens when a Slayer mixes their personal life with their calling. We get good vampires losing their souls and sons left parentless – there’s a constant barrage of negativity when it comes to both Buffy and Willow embracing their supernatural powers.

    And this isn’t a problem only for female superheroes – men suffer as well – poor Peter Parker often gets the worst of it – but there’s an especially damaging dynamic because of the societal expectations and obligations that women are expected to fulfill that are a bit more restrictive. And so there’s a wide separation between what’s designated “normal” and what’s meant to be “hidden” or “controlled.” There’s a reason so many teen stories right now are about women hiding their superpowers and grappling with doubt over where they fit into society – it’s an interesting social phenomenon that is reflected in current social trends.

    As Stoney pointed out, it will only be in bringing these threads of her life together—it is only in realizing, that is, the possible imbrications of the temporalities of the heroic time and slow death that Buffy will learn to live again in either, will learn, even more, how to create another modality of time, will through this learn to give Dawn the care she so desperately desires.
    Yes, I do agree that Buffy needs to come to terms with the various threads of her life – and Season Six/Seven is in many ways a dramatization of that emergence into something new.

    Back in the asylum, it is clear that Buffy has been speaking aloud to Joyce and Hank. To this, Joyce becomes insistent:
    Joyce: You don’t have a sister.
    Ill-Buffy: Dawn—
    Joyce: No, honey. Say it. It’ll help you believe it.
    Ill-Buffy [with effort, reaching, not quite successfully, for firmness and belief]: I don’t have a sister.
    Ill-Buffy [then backtracking, more softly but still with a certain firmness]: I know, I didn’t grow up with her, these monks…
    Hank: It’s your mind, playing tricks on you.
    Joyce: You’re our little girl. Our one and only. We’ve missed you so much. Mom and dad just want to take you home and take care of you.
    Great parallel to Willow’s previous conversation here! Two sides, pushing equally to create an idea of “health” through Orwellian persuasion. “I don’t have a sister” becomes “He loved Big Brother.”

    At this promise—a promise of safety, of belonging, of no longer feeling out of place, of being free of the responsibilities she finds beyond her, free of the temporality she cannot make sense of, at this promise of being truly home, which Buffy herself has not felt for so long, ill-Buffy reaches out, attempts to touch— Only to find herself touching Dawn, from whom she recoils—and a following shot will show their hands next to each other, perhaps lightly, accidentally, touching—but not holding…
    Fantastic points, StateofSiege! Yes, Buffy is unwilling to change the ways in which she connects with Dawn – it’s only through her value as the Slayer that Buffy finds much connection between herself and those that she helps. Buffy is a hero who saves people – who prevents others from perpetuating cruelty upon others – and she has slowly developed her personality to concentrate upon those qualities – but when it comes to her own sister, she has no idea how to relate that experience to her own life. Your mention of the “slow death” is a fascinating one – and I can see the redemptive qualities of Buffy learning how to create another modality of time that allows her to change.

    For as Buffy’s words to Dawn bled through to her parents, so has ill-Buffy’s words there bled through to Dawn, who says, deeply hurt and accusatory: “I’m not even there, am I?” Buffy tries to protest, but Dawn continues, “You said it a second ago: you don’t have a sister—“ As Buffy reaches again for protest, Dawn presses on, “It’s your ideal reality, and I’m not part of it.”
    There’s something truly tragic here – Dawn is most likely projecting her own “ideal reality” on Buffy and anguished that it doesn’t appear to match Buffy’s in any way. We see that Dawn has actually been “listening in” on Buffy’s Big Brother moment and taking it literally – unable to understand that Buffy’s flight from her sister has everything to do with shame and fear and not a loss of love.

    That this is not Buffy’s ideal reality we know, much as it may hold things, such as Joyce, for which she deeply yearns—and at this moment, it has clearly offered her something, home and seemingly unconditional care (once she wills her way back to health), for which she as deeply longs—but that Dawn would see it this way bespeaks her own sense of having been always and already excluded from Buffy’s care since her return and the death of Joyce. So as Buffy again attempts protest and explanation, Dawn abruptly, angrily, turns away, announcing that she is going to finish her chores…
    Fantastic point, StateofSiege! Just as with Willow, Dawn is projecting her own needs on Buffy – reading her multiple realities as specific choices rather than a multitude of identities that reflect a shattered psyche recovering from trauma. In Buffy’s jumbled mental state, she’s unable to distance herself enough from Dawn (and later, Spike) to resist the lure of the asylum – as you say, it’s a temporal reality that she deeply longs for that erases all the sins of the past and collapses them into a safe “delusion” that Buffy can then comfortably eradicate. Of course, that also entails eradicating her friends as well, but since they’re no more than delusions, what possible real-life consequence could there be?

    I’m going to stop here now, StateofSiege, but I want to crack open a few books again and take another look at some of the theories you’ve been discussing in your review before I get back to this tomorrow. In particular, I want to be on the same page as much as possible as I look at the last part of your review – which was very moving to me.

    It feels so good to be back! More tomorrow!

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    From Xander’s point of view, Spike is just there for the muscle – otherwise, it’s unlikely that he would have even considered calling on him. But despite his annoyance at Spike’s crush on Buffy, he uses Spike’s feeling to convince him to help –
    Xander does the same with Angel in Prophecy Girl. Using his feelings for Buffy so that he could lead him to the Master's place.

    I, too, would like to see the scene with Xander asking Spike for help after their spat earlier in the episode.
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