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Monday, December 19, 2011

Inca Mummy Girl

[Updated April 29, 2013]

Inca Mummy Girl doesn’t require very much of us in order to spot the metaphor. Ampata is a “Chosen One” like Buffy. If we needed more, other details reinforce the comparison: Xander’s instant attraction to her, just as he was attracted to Buffy; Ampata’s desire, which she tells Buffy, to lead “a normal life”, which has been Buffy’s desire from the very beginning; and, perhaps beating us over the head with the point, Ampata telling Buffy “You remind me of someone from very long ago: the Inca Princess…. They told her that she was the only one. That only she could defend her people from the nether world…. Out of all the girls in her generation... she was the only one... chosen.”
Ampata’s death at a young age may have been more certain, but Buffy’s own life expectancy as the Slayer isn’t all that much to brag about. It’s natural, therefore, that we’d be sympathetic to Ampata, seeing her both as a victim and as a stand-in for Buffy’s situation. Note the way the Guardian describes her situation: “You are the Chosen One. You have no choice.”
We’ve forgotten all about poor Rodney Munson and the real Ampata Gutierrez.

Ah, but then events bring them back to mind. Ampata tries very hard to escape her Guardian, and we’re on her side because he seems pretty brutal and her situation so unfair. Then she kills him, and the truth becomes more complicated. She describes her plight in affecting terms: “Who knows what she had to give up to fulfill her duty to others? What chance at love?” But Ampata doesn’t just seek love, she continues to suck the life out of other people, ending with her attempt to kill Xander, the supposed object of her affection.
That’s one level. On another level, we can see Ampata as representing Buffy’s view of her own situation. She’s trapped by a destiny which will kill her and hemmed in by a Guardian – perhaps seen as Giles, but maybe better seen as her conscience – who is forcing her to fulfill her destiny. The dialogue just after the teaser tells us that this is how Buffy sees her situation:
“Buffy:  So, can I go?
Giles:  I think not….
Buffy:  (pouts) How come?
Giles:  Because you are the Chosen One.
Buffy:  Mm. Just this once I'd like to be the Overlooked One.
Giles:  Well, I'm... afraid that is not...
Buffy kicks the pad hard, making Giles stagger back a few steps.
Giles:  You have responsibilities that other girls do not.
Buffy:  Oh! I know this one! Slaying entails certain sacrifices, blah, blah, bity blah, I'm so stuffy, gimme a scone.” 

Other comments and facial expressions throughout the episode reinforce Buffy’s sense of being trapped, and it’s clear she’s resenting the restraint. But eliminating the Guardian leads to yet worse consequences. Without her Guardian, Ampata is just a super-powered danger to everyone, sucking the life out of even those she loves. Buffy may chafe under the constraints of her situation, distraught at what she has to give up to fulfill her destiny and concerned that her situation leaves her no chance at love, but escaping those constraints would be deadly.
The parallel between Guardian and Watcher/conscience also expresses a fundamental point. The Watcher/conscience may seem cruel, forcing Buffy to adhere to her path without diversion, and leading eventually to her death. At the same time, though, the alternate scenario of Ampata and her Guardian suggests that Giles/her own conscience serves an essential function, one which certainly protects the world and in some sense protects Buffy from herself.
Buffy has committed to following the path to adulthood, but there are going to be diversions and distractions along the way. She’s risking her own destiny, as well as the lives of others, if she ignores what her conscience is telling her.
Uh, could you please pass me one of those scones?
Trivia notes: (1) The name Ampata comes from the Spanish word “amparar”, which means “to defend”. Thus, her name means “Defender”, a very clever additional connection to Buffy. (2) The storyline here was taken from a National Geographic article about the discovery of an adolescent girl mummy at the summit of Nevado Ampato (!) in Peru. (3) The plot is somewhat loosely based on the 1932 film The Mummy. (4) Xander, dressed like Clint Eastwood in the Dollars Trilogy, says he’s from the country of “Leone”, a joking reference to the Italian director of those films, Sergio Leone. (5) The band at the Bronze, which we see here for the first time but not the last, is known on screen as “Dingoes Ate My Baby”. This is a reference to the movie A Cry in the Dark. In real life, the band is Four Star Mary. (6) Danny Strong, the actor who plays Jonathan, read for the part of Xander. (7) Seth Green (Oz) appeared with Alyson Hannigan in My Stepmother Was An Alien and actually had an uncredited role in the Buffy movie.


  1. This episode to me feels like it doesn't fit so well with the season 2 arc as it would with the season 1 or season 3 arc.

    Season 1 seems to deal more with her struggle to accept her role as the Slayer.

    SPOILERS for the rest of the post

    And then Season 3 deals more with the idea of a slayer without conscience. It also better handles the role of a watcher in Buffy's life.

    The foreshadowed destruction of the one she loves if she doesn't listen to her conscience does hint heavily at the upcoming plot twist. Still, it seems like the main themes don't fit with Buffy's struggle this season.

  2. I agree that there's an element of Buffy struggling to accept her role as the Slayer. I wouldn't say that's unique to S1, though it certainly was emphasized there. The way I'd say it, putting it in Hero's Journey terms, is that in S1 she struggled with whether or not to undertake her journey, while in later seasons she struggled with the demands of the journey.

    When we get to Innocence I'll explain how I think IMG builds to that episode, and I'll add some thoughts when we get to IOHEFY.