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Joyce's ups and downs

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  • Joyce's ups and downs

    Joyce is definitely a character that I have gained a lot more appreciation for since discussing her and properly considering the situation that she is in. My initial feelings on her were very critical, but I've come to see that I wasn't fairly contextualising things that she did. She's new to the town as well when they arrive and is clearly trying to get things set up at the gallery and establish a secure home for herself and Buffy. I do think in S1 especially she does unfairly, or with poor consideration, voice her doubts of how well Buffy might settle into their new lives and how well she'll do at school. But I can understand where she is coming from and that being a single mum and lacking ready support means it is hard for her to balance.

    It struck me yesterday though that one of the things that is often thrown at her and Buffy raises too in Graduation Day, is that she didn't fairly question what was at the root of Buffy's distractions and problems, the causes of the blood on her clothing etc. This sense of being somewhat lax and absent was something that I felt strongly when I first saw the show, but I now think is somewhat harsh. Part of me still does feel that she should have been pressing more about what was happening. But Buffy was being secretive and, like it or loathe it, the addition of Normal Again does add some context too as a traumatic past event that may have generated coping mechanisms of avoidance. I am bothered somewhat by that, but the responses to trauma and fear can be hard to consciously manage.

    And we do see Joyce come to challenge Giles when Buffy is absent in Anne. Her anger that someone was conspiring with Buffy to keep these things from her and was influencing Buffy like that. It's good to see this push back and direct confrontation when she is finally forced to face the truth of what has been happening to Buffy.

    Following that in S3 we do then see a real sense that Joyce is trying to positively influence Buffy's life, even if it is somewhat in trying to steer her away from slaying. So, although it is entwined with the exposure of a possible underlying wish that Buffy was 'normal', Gingerbread does also perhaps expose a desire in Joyce to understand the pressures on Buffy too. Just met alongside this strong wish to eliminate them. Her encouragement to go to college, her wish for Faith to take on the slaying and her eventual conversation with Angel all show this. Is it contradictory to stand and criticise her for not asking questions when she should have originally and then turn and criticise her for trying to actively influence Buffy's future later? Her conversation with Angel in The Prom I do find problematic for trying to impact these things without involving Buffy. But, I hadn't really considered before I saw Liam Duke's reaction to the episode that, it also displays a lot of courage to go and face a vampire like that. She believes Angel is good now, and she gives acknowledgement of his feelings for Buffy, but taking that chance and going there still took courage, determination and belief in what she was doing for Buffy. She really does want the best for her daughter, even if there are points where I think her own wishes for Buffy outweigh considering Buffy's, or she doesn't hit the bar that she could in being supportive. Generally, we're seeing someone coming to terms with something that any loving parent would find incredibly difficult to accept.

    By the time that Joyce leaves the series I think that she and Buffy had gotten really close as adults as well as with their dynamic of mother and daughter. The pressure of Joyce's illness and caring for Dawn is something that could be seen as an unfair burden on Buffy. But Dawn is very much something they take on together and the way Joyce shares what is happening to her in terms of her health looks to include Buffy. With Buffy's increased age and her independence having developed some it feels like a more positive development of the times when Joyce opened up about her parenting struggles with Buffy in the earlier seasons. Something I do feel was unfair at times when Buffy was younger, although I can see as part of Joyce's isolation. And Joyce's acceptance of Dawn and knowledge of her as being given to them at that later stage too, whilst you can argue for sure is potentially affected by the spell, I think does also show her greater acceptance of Buffy's life and her willingness to participate in it.

    On reflection, quite a lot of time and thought has gone in to showing Joyce's struggle and journey alongside Buffy's too. The show doesn't just restrict itself to the story of the main characters growing up as it gains layers by seeing that against the paths of those around them. Across the five seasons we actually get a lot of insight into Joyce's character and her relationship with Buffy. She can definitely be included in those on the outskirts that are still given consideration and gradual development. Something that is a real strength of the series for me.

    So what are your feelings about Joyce? Where do you feel she gets things terribly wrong or incredibly right? How do you feel about the journey that she and Buffy take across the seasons?

  • #2
    The only time I ever think Joyce is being blatantly unfair is at the end of Bad Eggs. Punishing Buffy because she wasn't waiting for her in the library in amidst of what she believes to be a deadly gas leak is ridiculous. It doesn't help that earlier in the episode she's complaining to Giles about Buffy being a "burden." I overwhelmingly disagree with fandom's criticisms of Joyce but she's not depicted flatteringly at all in that episode. Drunkenly and publicly tearing Buffy a new one in Dead Man's Party was also not her finest moment by any means but I generally do understand that the last 3 months would have been extremely stressful for her and hard to cope with.

    Otherwise I was always pretty sympathetic to Joyce and thought she was doing the best she could whilst regularly being kept in the dark by everyone else. For instance, I never was angry at her for her reaction in Becoming II or "kicking Buffy out" in what was clearly something she said in the heat of the moment and instantly regretted straight after. Much like Riley and his "cheating" in Into the Woods I sometimes think fans take the metaphor of Buffy "coming out" and react to it literally and seem to have the same animosity for Joyce as they would a homophobic parent kicking out their child. Whereas the truth is that Joyce had just seen a vampire dust in front of her, was told the world was on the brink of ending, and that her daughter was a super hero who was going to go and try and kill her boyfriend. Of course she was going to have a meltdown and Buffy was quite intolerant and dismissive of that too ("Just have another drink") which compounded things and made Joyce erupt like she did.

    Maybe she should have restrained herself at times regarding some of the things she said towards Buffy, particularly in S1-S2 where regularly brought up what happened in LA or feeling disappointed in her. However, I can also understand that as a result of Buffy seemingly "falling in with the wrong crowd" and "acting up" she had to uproot her entire life and move away and then is obviously frustrated when she sees signs of history repeating itself ("We haven't even finished unpacking and I'm getting calls from the principal"). I can really understand Joyce's frustration and confusion when it comes to Buffy because she's so obviously a good, kind-hearted and smart kid but from Joyce's perspective she keeps inexplicably making choices that get herself into trouble that do not match or make sense against the personality/type of person she obviously is. That would have to be really confusing and frustrating for Joyce and I don't blame her for getting harsh or brutally honest with Buffy as a result of that frustration. I mean, Buffy burned down a school building.

    I can understand Buffy's resentment towards Joyce for not picking up on the warning signs and feeling like it was neglectful on her mother's part. At the same time, Joyce had an entire group of people (including an adult) deliberately conspiring to keep her in the dark and shut her out. And despite that she never harbours any ill will towards Buffy's friends and whilst she is, justifiably, angry at Giles she doesn't hold onto that anger and even invites him to dinner in Dead Man's Party and is willing to work with him in Band Candy to accomodate the time he needs with her daughter as well.

    Never, ever had a problem with her going to Angel in Prom. She thought she was doing what was best for her daughter and I think most parents would do the same. I actually loved her for it and honestly thought much more highly of Angel for taking it on board, showing her politeness and respect as Buffy's mother and being compelled to do something about it instead of flatly ignoring her or throwing her under the bus to Buffy.

    I do disregard the Normal Again retcon because I think it's careless character assassination and I don't believe in a million years Joyce would ever do that. As far as I'm concerned Buffy was confused as a result of the demon poison and had trouble separating fact from fiction and that's that.

    What I do know about Joyce is that she uprooted her entire life to give her daughter another chance. She didn't bash Hank despite him clearly being a deadbeat despite having ample opportunity to do so and doesn't bring up the cheating that Buffy suspect happened. She acted as a surrogate mother to Willow and Xander and their respective partners, not only looking after them constantly throughout high school but also inviting them over for the holidays as well etc. She's incredibly compassionate and caring towards Dawn and doesn't let her motherly instincts waiver even for a moment upon learning that Dawn isn't really her daughter and never once blames her for the danger her presence puts them under (including having to at one point go into hiding for her own safety in Checkpoint). After being beaten, tied up in her own home and threatened with a knife she still manages some empathy for Faith and recognises that she was deeply unhappy and in need of help. Her protective instincts towards Buffy kick in immediately despite the horror of what she had just witnessed and she lies to the police to protect her when saying she witnessed Ted just fall down the stairs of his own accord. She is a total badass when she stands up to Angelus in Passion and demands he leave Buffy alone. She's kickass again when she whacks Spike over the head with a fire axe and tells him to get the hell away from her daughter or threatens to stake Angel herself in Lovers Walk. And overall she copes pretty well with Buffy being the Slayer, attempts to be supportive and encouraging even when she hates the fact that it will in all likelihood result in Buffy's death, and puts aside her own feelings for the good of the world and her daughter at times it would have been incredibly difficult to do so (leaving town in Graduation Day I). She's flawed and has imperfections but I also think that Buffy is very much her daughter in so many positive ways.

    And Kristine Sutherland is charming, extremely likeable and nails every scene she is in. She can be incredibly grounded and real when she needs to be and then pure camp when the scene calls for it as well (her perfect delivery of "You killed him!" in Ted). I feel she really "got" the tone of the show and was a fantastic addition that I miss a lot after Joyce's death. There's some moments in the series where due to a combination of both the writing and her performance she reminds me so much of my own mother ("Buffy you can shut me out I am pretty much used to that. But don't expect me to ever stop caring about you because it's never going to happen. I love you more than anything in the world") that it honestly shocks me but is very comforting at the same time. I always felt after she left that the Summers home/set never felt warm, cozy or inviting really ever again. She brought so much heart to that house and afterwards it felt quite cold and empty to me.

    ~ Banner by Nina ~


    • #3
      She was a pretty standard depiction of a parent. The kind that doesn't want to see problems that are right in front of her because then she'd have to deal with it. On a writing level, it's just an extension of Sunnydale Syndrome. After all, if she acts like a good parent, Buffy's secret identity is getting exposed pretty quickly. Writing necessity is irrelevant though and she's just distant and disinterested in her daughter. It made sense in S1, but by S2 she should have been aware of all things going on. Sneaking out, blood on the clothes, the random happenings, the bizarre amount of time spent with an older teacher.

      I don't know if I think she wants what's best for Buffy, not in going to college or her little talk with Angel. I'm certain she's convinced that's what she's doing much like Angel was, much like Giles was later. But you know, Willow thought she was doing what was best when she resurrected Buffy and erased Tara's memories. Much like all the things that went down pre-Becoming, it never seems to occur to Joyce to ask her daughter about any of it and take her into consideration.

      Joyce was always background to me. A plot device and source of conflict most of the time. I never warmed up to her as a character in her own right because while she does very understandable and human things, she's kind of like S5/S6 Dawn in that it's never addressed. She blames Giles, she blames Buffy, everyone but herself


      • #4
        Obviously there was a writing necessity in Joyce being wrapped up in setting up the gallery and not wanting to see Buffy's school life unravel again that can paper over some of her blindness. Although I do understand not liking the Normal Again revelation as vampmogs feels, I do think that traumatic responses can result in people behaving in ways that aren't what you'd expect of them. So it does for me add in another element of why Joyce may have been looking past the signs of something she couldn't bring herself to face. But that element aside, I don't think that we see someone who is disinterested in their child and doesn't want what they genuinely believe is best for them. Joyce makes it clear when talking to Angel that she feels that Buffy's perspective is going to be weighted down by her emotional investment in a relationship that Joyce can't see a future in. I don't disagree that the absence of Buffy in those discussions feels off, but Angel can make his own choices and he was clearly already feeling concerns that Joyce's visit just added to. And it does turn out the way that Joyce thought in how Buffy responds to Angel breaking up with her, even if she is later telling Willow that she can see his (and so also Joyce's) point and does agree with it.

        All the way through, S1 onwards, Joyce is pressing Buffy to do her best and make a success of herself. She doesn't want her to get kicked out again. Of course you could say that's just so that she doesn't have to move herself again, but she is constantly advising Buffy and showing an interest. Her time is just very stretched. She might not remember what try outs Buffy is going for in Witch but she is conversing with her about other possibilities she could try. She wants to go to see her in the talent show and she's engaging with her about her experiences and wanting her to enjoy them when she gives her the dress in Prophecy Girl. Joyce is struggling as a single parent but with moving and trying to support Buffy, reading all those self help books, she clearly cares. I think she does obviously worry about not being good enough as a parent.

        That Joyce gets it wrong in varying ways is, as you say, understandable and human. For me the way that Joyce's development is addressed is in the shifts and changes that you see in her relationship with Buffy, her processing of Buffy's life and gradual greater acceptance of it.


        • #5

          Two things to add on behalf of Joyce. She is also suffering (anger?) a broken heart; her marriage to the father of her child is quite the personal betrayal, and an “unmooring” of one’s own judgment, sense of security, and life choices/style, as well. I do think that “fanciful” is not a foreign concept to Joyce, in that she appreciates the spirit and even deep drive to produce art, let alone the powerful expressions of it, that include life and death itself.

          Second. ‘Band Candy’ reveals that Joyce was “actually” young once, and not exactly a round peg in a round hole—nor is “tweedy” Giles, for that matter. They show they also have ‘separate lives’ that children often do not comprehend isn’t centered on them.
          Joyce understands “liking to party” and that a moment can have consequences one is not ready to endure or can’t again avoid, or may not even survive (drug experimentation, for example).

          Parenting is a “learn as you go,” as well. A teenager won’t stand for ‘hovering;’ and the “best care” often is having to rely on the child’s own judgment, whether based on “rules” given that child, which means, those rules will be tested and even broken, and to ensure a child can also learn to “do,” and to trust one’s own assessment/judgment in action, and gain some self confidence. Not to mention, ‘the first time’ for anything * is * the unknown for both parent and child. One’s own experience is not exactly the same, in “assessment” or in “processing” by another human being (aka “I am my circumstances”) at the exact moment of that experience.

          I do see that fatigue and “getting into a rut” is indeed Joyce’s weakness. She either didn’t know her husband was cheating "because she was in a rut" of living out the life she thought she was in; or she chose to “ignore” it in order to have the “rut” of “status quo” to avoid pain and loss or to also lose her basic comfort and status and that also available to her daughter. Granted, she must have had some sort of “settlement” to make a move, start a very risky kind of business—despite the fact a “village” has so many educated people and a tax base to support all these public facilities, including a university.

          Her having a “glass” is more the “ritual” of “self care” at the end of the workday. She is “altering her state of being” for “relief” and “escape” as a “ritual” in itself; and not for the reasons of focusing on the magical properties of the brew to mark a special moment of meaning.

          “Loss” (and that resulting pain, with resilience or not) is a huge subject in this verse, from benign neglect to some Dicken’s view of ‘lost children’ to actual lives lost, let alone the social and emotional ‘ups and downs’ of interaction between persons and groups of persons that cause “damage” or “baggage” that will not only alter a person’s POV, but will continue to shape further choices. This can be limiting or “freeing” but neither is without cost.

          I am glad that Buffy and her mother were understanding of each other. "Sparing" someone pain often feels like betrayal. I am glad Joyce went out 'dancing,' literally.



          • #6
            Buffy, the character, told me that Joyce was a good mom.

            My best moment for Joyce was the end of "Listening to Fear" when she accepts Dawn and instinctively wants to protect Dawn.

            And I love the little things within Buffy's relationship with Joyce.

            For example, the random movie nights in the episodes like.


            "Buffy: I guess we're 'Thelma and Louise'ing it again"
            and in Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered

            "Buffy: I'll be fine. Mom and I are gonna have a pig-out and vid fest. It's a time-honoured tradition among the loveless."
            On Graduation Day

            "Joyce: I'm not leaving you to face an awful monster. If I go anywhere, you're going with me.
            Buffy: You know that I can't.
            Joyce: Well then I can't either.
            Buffy: Mom, I know that sometimes you wish I were different.
            Joyce: Buffy, no."
            They probably more these were just top of my head.

            And when Buffy expresses that she wishes her mom was here in The Gift. I also thought that was powerful.


            • #7
              Thanks for starting this thread Stoney

              Not only is it a genuinely good topic but the timing was great. I was just rewatching “Ted” and Joyce’s behavior in that ep gets me fired up every time I watch it. I need to vent and this is the perfect thread to do it in. :-)

              You could say that the distance between Buffy and Joyce was primarily because of Buffy being the Slayer and constantly hiding that from her. That is true without a doubt and I do have some sympathy for Joyce for essentially being locked out of her daughter’s life in that regard but it seemed like Joyce was always kind of negligent in many ways. I always got the feeling that Buffy was very emotionally neglected as a child, even before she became the Slayer. At least, that’s the vibe I picked up on in the “Becoming” flashback scenes.

              I think Joyce was the victim of some very confused writing in S1-S2. It’s been yeeeaarrrs since I’ve seen the BTVS movie but I vaguely remember Buffy’s parents being portrayed as daft socialites who would leave her at home alone for long periods of time. Now obviously, the movie’s events and characterizations are irrelevant to the TV series as they have two different continuities but I feel like that original vision of movie!Buffy’s mother was still somewhat present in the way Joyce was written at the beginning of the series, which is why there were so many frustrating moments with her character in S1-S2. Joyce frequently ignored Buffy and left her to her own devices (there are so many episodes in S2 where Buffy is alone at night in an empty house) but would always come down super hard on her when she inevitably screwed up.

              For instance, Joyce was absolutely furious in “Passion” when she found out Buffy lost her virginity to an older guy. But in “Angel,” when Joyce came home one night and saw Buffy with said older guy, she didn’t really say and do anything about it. For all Joyce knew, Buffy and Angel could have very well had sex that very night. But Joyce just gives him the side-eye and tells him to go home, no follow-up conversation with Buffy or anything. Nor did she ever raise her eyebrows in suspicion about all of the after-hours time Buffy was spending with her school librarian. So when Joyce finds out Buffy has lost her virginity in “Passion”, it’s like, what did you expect?

              Off the top of my head, it seems like the only time she showed any genuine motherly love towards Buffy in those first two seasons was when she hit Spike with the axe. I think S3-S5 did a much better job painting Joyce’s character in a more nuanced and sympathetic light. She’s still flawed in those seasons but I am able to sympathize with and understand her flaws a lot more whereas in S1-S2, I’m just shaking my head most of the time.

              In regards to the Angel conversation in “The Prom,” I actually give Joyce her props there and have a hard time understanding why fandom has a problem with it. Considering Angel had been lowkey preying on her teenaged daughter, I actually think Joyce was much nicer to Angel than he deserved. Hell, Giles too.

              Originally posted by vampmogs
              I do disregard the Normal Again retcon because I think it's careless character assassination and I don't believe in a million years Joyce would ever do that.

              See, I disagree strongly. Because rewatching S1-S2, that is exactly the kind of thing that Joyce would do. I’m actually surprised so much of fandom has a hard time believing it. Joyce’s behavior in “Ted” alone is completely consistent with what we find out in “Normal Again”.

              In that very episode, Buffy tells Joyce that Ted threatened to hit her and Joyce responded by essentially calling Buffy a liar. Ted attacks Buffy later in the episode (leading to his “death”), and instead of consoling her daughter, Joyce spent the second half of the episode treating Buffy like a pariah and giving her the silent treatment. Even when Buffy was tearfully begging her mother to listen to her side of the story, Joyce still showed no compassion. Yet when Ted resurfaces and is apparently alive again, Joyce embraces him with open arms and tries to get back with him, knowing the pain that he inflicted on her daughter. "Buffy, I really want you to be okay with this" - regardless of the fact of whether it's actually okay or not. It’s textbook emotional abuse, as far as I’m concerned.

              Even the ending scene between Buffy and Joyce on the front porch was all kinds of messed up. It saddens me to see Buffy trying her hardest to comfort her mother over the Ted situation when it should have been the other way around.

              With all of that in mind as well as the points that you made earlier about how Buffy’s confusing behavior would have been genuinely stressful for Joyce, is it really that hard to believe that Joyce would have her involuntarily committed?

              Originally posted by vampmogs
              I always felt after she left that the Summers home/set never felt warm, cozy or inviting really ever again. She brought so much heart to that house and afterwards it felt quite cold and empty to me.

              You’ve pointed out something I’ve always felt but was never able to consciously articulate for some reason. But I agree 100% on this and that's one thing I will always give Joyce credit for. She always welcomed every character into her home and made them feel like a part of the Summers family.

              Originally posted by HardlyThere
              She blames Giles, she blames Buffy, everyone but herself.
              Basically. This is another problem I have with Joyce, even post-S2. Like in “Becoming,” if I squint my eyes hard enough, I can sort of see her point of view and understand why she tells Buffy to leave and “don’t even think about coming back” but I hate how she never takes accountability for this. Instead, it’s just “Mom’s not perfect” and “You made some bad choices, Buffy, you’re gonna have to live with them” which really rubs me the wrong way.
              Last edited by Andrew S.; 02-10-21, 10:49 PM.