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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Becoming 1 & 2

[Updated April 29, 2013]

If you held a gun to my head and forced me to choose just one of the top 4-5 episodes on my personal list of best episodes, I might choose Becoming 1 & 2. Certainly they contain many of my favorite moments from the entire series: “It’s a big rock…”; “someone wasn’t worthy”; Whistler’s voiceover as Buffy races down the corridor; the whole extended dialogue between Spike, Buffy and Joyce; “the police of Sunnydale are deeply stupid”; every single thing from the moment the sword fight begins through the end of the episode, including the best single word of dialogue in the series (“Me.”).


As I said in my post on Surprise/Innocence, S2 is an in-depth exploration of the issues raised in S1 regarding Angel and the impact of Buffy’s relationship on her destiny/route to adulthood. In Angel she had the strength of character to walk away from her beloved, recognizing that “this can’t ever work”. In Surprise she succumbed to a moment of weakness, no not a moment, more like three months of weakness. (Those were the lyrics of the song which played in the Bronze when Spike first observed Buffy in School Hard: “I did a stupid thing last night / I called you / A moment of weakness / No, not a moment / More like three months of weakness.”) The remainder of S2 has shown us the consequences.

What makes the season brilliant is that the entire issue is never portrayed as one-sided. Buffy does love Angel and he does love her. Buffy, of all people, deserves love. Many viewers see it as a fairytale romance, and it certainly has those elements. And yet the relationship was wrong in many ways, as I detailed in the Innocence post. Buffy wasn’t and isn’t ready for this relationship; it threatens to divert her from her destiny.

Though neither Buffy nor Angel could have foreseen the consequences of letting their ids take control, Buffy, correctly in my view, takes responsibility for the consequences. Innocence gives no protection against tragedy: the death of the unfortunate prostitute and those of Enyos (Innocence), Theresa (Phases), a “quaint little shop girl” (BB&B), the Magic Shop owner (Passion), Jenny Calendar, and Kendra; Xander and Buffy nearly were killed, as was Gage; Giles was tortured and Willow put into a coma; and the world very nearly sucked into Hell. And in the end, Buffy herself had to destroy the man she loved. Walking away seems like it might have been a good choice.

Now let’s back up just a bit and consider how she was forced into having to kill Angel. Willow decided to do the spell all on her own. We could question this from Buffy’s standpoint, but Buffy had previously asked her to do it and her reasoning at that time still made sense. If Buffy failed, this would be the only hope.

Willow acted at some not-insignificant risk to herself in casting the spell: “Giles:  (very concerned) W-Willow... channeling... such potent magicks through yourself, it could open a door that you may not be able to close.” Giles knows this all too well from his experience with Eyghon. Note his phrasing, too. It’s not that Willow would generate the magic, it’s that she would channel it. That seemed to have happened from what we saw – it’s as if something took over Willow part way through the spell and completed it for her. As we’ve seen with Buffy and Giles, losing yourself in something may have consequences.
The other contributing factor to Buffy’s horrifying moment was Xander’s lie to her. In fandom this is The Lie. It was, and maybe remains, an extremely contentious issue, so I’ll explain how I see it.
I think everyone agrees that Xander’s Lie probably stemmed from mixed motives. He no doubt thought he was doing the right thing, but his thoughts on that score were inevitably colored by his jealousy of Angel and desire to be vindicated about Angelus. While some of his motivation doesn’t do him much credit, I’ll leave that aside and just consider whether he was morally right.
The argument in Xander’s favor is what I’ll call “military necessity”. That’s probably the wrong term (see the link), but that’s the term everybody uses and it’s the answer Joss gave when asked about The Lie. In essence, the argument says that Xander was saying what needed to be said in order to get Buffy to do what she had to do: kill Angelus. Buffy had been unable to face up to that duty for months now, and too many people had died as a result. If she had known that Willow was going to try the restoration spell again, Buffy might have wavered just when she needed to be determined.
I don’t buy this defense. The biggest problem is that even if the “military necessity” argument were true – I don’t think it is, as I’ll explain below – Xander doesn’t get to make it. Commanding officers sometimes do lie to their subordinates in order to get them to do difficult or dangerous things. But this is a one-way street: subordinates don’t get to lie to their commanders. Ever. It’s the job of the commander to hear and consider all information, not the job of the subordinate to withhold it because he thinks the commander might flinch.
Xander is a subordinate in this situation. It wasn’t his call to make; it never is his call to make. As Jane Espenson phrased it in the DVD commentary to the S3 episode Earshot, “Being the Slayer also makes you General. She has to be the one to figure out how they are going to approach all their crises….” Sometimes Giles might make the call, the rest of the time Buffy does. That’s inherent in the role of the Slayer. Because she’s the one to carry out the decision to slay, it’s always going to be her final discretion. Xander took that away from Buffy.
By taking the decision on to himself, Xander also subverted Giles’ role as Watcher. Xander made his argument to both Buffy and Giles in the library. Giles came down on Buffy’s side and Xander had no right to sabotage that.
I assumed above that Xander was correct about the “military necessity”. In fact, he was wrong about it. Forget for the moment the actual course of the fight (hardly an argument in Xander's favor, since it led to the worst possible outcome for Buffy) because we have to judge his decision at the time he made it. The most important factor is that the goal was not to kill Angelus per se, it was to stop Acathla. Killing Angelus was just one of several options. What Xander did was limit Buffy’s options going in. He left her solely with the option of killing Angelus. The option of delay, a distraction perhaps, might have involved less danger to Buffy. Xander eliminated her tactical flexibility.
He did this because he was worried she might not actually kill Angelus if she had to. While we can understand this concern, the fact is that Xander could not have had and did not have any moral certainty about Buffy's resolution. Only Buffy could know that, and she proved at the end that his doubts were unfounded: she was not only willing to kill Angelus, she was willing to and actually did run a sword through Angel himself.
The other problem is that he brought Willow into his Lie without her permission and against her own strongly held view. We know from the previous argument in the library that Willow favored the attempt to restore Angel’s soul – note particularly the look on her face when Xander made his arguments – and her determination to try again reinforced that. In fact, the only reason Xander even went to the mansion was because Willow told him to tell Buffy that she was going to try again: “Maybe she can stall.”
Xander’s Lie didn’t just conceal the renewed attempt at restoration at a time when that knowledge might do some good, it seriously compromised Willow’s relationship with Buffy. Consider how Willow must have appeared to Buffy after the fact: Willow performed the spell to resoul Angel, but “told” Buffy to “kick his ass”. That looks like Willow deliberately wanted Buffy to kill Angel rather than Angelus. While that’s not the only possibility, Buffy may wonder about it.
Worse yet, Xander put Willow to the risk of performing a very dangerous spell to no purpose. Thus, by my analysis he betrayed Buffy, Giles and Willow in order to achieve his own goal, not theirs.
For a strong argument in Xander’s favor, see the comments by farmgirl62 below (labeled spoilers).
Was Buffy right to run the sword through Angel? It would have been such an easy call if they’d never discovered the disk with the restoration spell. In that case, Angelus was a vampire, they had no hope of restoring his soul, and he posed a clear and present danger to the whole world.

But Angel was at least quasi-human once the spell took effect. That makes it tougher. Sure, the whole world was at stake, but would you kill the person you loved most even to save the world? Other writers have asked similar questions. In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky has one character put the case to another: "Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature - that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance - and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears: would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell me the truth!" It’s pretty clear Dostoevsky’s answer was “no”.

Maybe it matters what kind of person Angel was. Unlike Dostoevsky’s baby, Angel wasn’t innocent in any meaningful sense, even putting aside what responsibility he may bear for the actions of Angelus in Xander’s view. Angel had asked Darla to sire him: “Show me your world.” He may not have known exactly what being a vampire entailed, but he didn’t ask and he did agree to see Darla’s world. Then he fell in love with the 15 year old Buffy on first sight (a very Lolita-ish scene, lollypop and all) and followed her to Sunnydale with the obvious intent of wooing her, during which he withheld some pretty important facts. Notwithstanding the problematic nature of the relationship, which I’ve detailed in previous posts, Angel allowed himself to lose self-control in Surprise. Note that he had some warning of the possible consequences, too – in Angel he turned to vamp face when he first kissed Buffy.

We can also look at her decision from the viewpoint of an existentialist. Whistler’s voiceover expresses a very existentialist view of life, reminding us of Joss’s worldview. The events of the world happen to us, and the world itself doesn’t care. We can only control the choices we make thereafter: “Bottom line is, even if you see 'em coming, you're not ready for the big moments…. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does…. So what are we, helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come. You can't help that. It's what you do afterwards that counts. That's when you find out who you are.”
In existentialist philosophy, one of the consequences of the freedom to choose is that you must accept full responsibility for the consequences of your choices regardless of what they are. In Whedon’s show Dollhouse, the phrase “actions have consequences” is repeated twice in the very first scene of the very first episode.

This means, in practice, that life is a series of cascading choices, each one affected by the one before (as well as by events in the world). Buffy’s options in Becoming were constrained by her own decision to have sex with Angel in Surprise; her choice now depended in part on her choice then. Difficult as her decision was, it did mean that she and Angel, the two people most responsible for the current situation, would bear the consequences. Perhaps that’s only fair. Or karmic.

An existentialist would, I think, approve of Buffy’s choice. Her options may not have been good ones – and let’s face it, Buffy’s situation sucked (very bad pun) – but it was her human responsibility to make a choice among them. In Buffy’s case, the choices she makes affect the entire world. That’s a metaphorical enactment of a key tenet of existentialism. To Jean Paul Sartre, every time you choose, you should “act for the world”. What this means is that you should act in such a way that anyone else in your situation would agree that you made a good choice under the circumstances. In essence, each moral choice you make is a form of teaching by example for the world at large. Buffy stands for the world.
What her actions tell is this: Even when we’ve been deprived of everything else – “No friends, no hope…. Take all that away... and what's left?” – we retain our fundamental integrity. Buffy’s “Me” expressed the ultimate existentialist authenticity:
“Authenticity thus indicates a certain kind of integrity—…that of a project to which I can either commit myself (and thus “become” what it entails) or else simply occupy for a time, inauthentically drifting in and out of various affairs….
Authenticity defines a condition on self-making: do I succeed in making myself, or will who I am merely be a function of the roles I find myself in? Thus to be authentic can also be thought as a way of being autonomous. In choosing “resolutely”—that is, in committing myself to a certain course of action, a certain way of being in the world—I have given myself the rule that belongs to the role I come to adopt.” Cite. My bold, italics in original.

In the end, it’s Buffy who is Becoming. She’s committed herself to a particular project, namely being the Slayer (growing up in my reading). In order to be authentic in pursuit of that role, she must act consistent with her goal. If I’m right that Angel was a diversion from her destiny, then putting him aside was essential.

Now let’s run through some additional points:
The image we get of Angel before his meeting with Whistler is one of an alcoholic homeless person. Remember that the alcoholism metaphor was emphasized in Angel, and is reinforced here by the portrayal of Angel (we’ll later learn that his original name was Liam) as a drunken lout before his meeting with Darla.
Before these episodes, Angelus didn’t seem to have much interest in destroying the world. He was uninterested about the prospect in Innocence and never tried till now. What changed, I think, was his brief ensoulment in IOHEFY. That defeated his attempt to do to Buffy what he’d done to Drusilla. His frustration at that defeat, IMO, explains his sudden eagerness to awaken Acathla.
When Angel lured Buffy into fighting him in Becoming 1, he taunted her that “you fall for it every time” (referring to WSWB). I’ve seen people criticize Buffy for this. The trap this time is much more subtle and clever, though, and I want to walk through it because some viewers obviously overlooked what Joss did.
Buffy went to fight Angelus, leaving her friends to be attacked by the vamps. Seems the same as WSWB, but there are two important differences. The first is that this time she left Kendra to guard them; leaving them in the protection of a Slayer hardly seems negligent. The more important difference, though, is this: that as long as Buffy was fighting Angelus, Acathla couldn’t be awakened. The world was safe as long as she kept him occupied; better yet if she staked him. Her mistake here was not to confront Angelus, but to end the confrontation and return to her friends. And the reason she made that mistake was precisely because Angelus goaded her into it by taunting her about making the opposite mistake in WSWB. Angelus pulled off a double deception, using himself as bait and then using Buffy’s previous mistake against her. Now that’s clever.
Dru killed Kendra, the id destroying the last vestige of Buffy’s virginal innocence. “Be in me”, Dru says. The id absorbed the innocence. That part of Buffy is now gone.
Spike is in much the same position as Buffy: “I want it like it was before.” He doesn’t have Dru, Buffy no longer has Angel. Spike bargains for his second chance by offering to deprive her of her own. That’s maybe why she hit him.
Xander finally tells Willow what she always wanted to hear. In typical Joss fashion, Willow isn’t consciously aware of it. In my view, though, it’s what wakes her up from her coma.
Buffy “comes out” to Joyce in dialogue which evokes a child telling her mother she’s gay.
The sword fight, besides being very cool, recalls this dialogue from WSWB:

“Angel:  You're not as strong as you think.
Buffy:  (gives him a challenging look) You think you can take me?
Angel:  What?
Buffy:  Oh, c'mon! I mean, you must've thought about it. What would happen if it ever came down to a fight, you vampire, me the Slayer, I mean, you must've wondered! Well, why don't we find out?”

I see the fight between Spike and Dru as the ego reasserting control over the id.
In my view, Acathla was metaphorically sucking Buffy back into childhood. She avoided that, and stayed on the path of her destiny, by putting Angel away. In Joss’ world, as probably in our own, the path to adulthood requires painful sacrifices.
Trivia notes: (1) Every season from 2-7 has an episode, or sometimes two, which prefigure the season finale. In S2 that episode is Lie to Me: in outline form, Buffy’s boyfriend turns into a vampire and she has to kill him. Following up on my post on Lie to Me about the seasonal structure, I’ll note that WSWB set up the events of Becoming. In SAR we saw the id, ego, and superego metaphor introduced, while School Hard gave us Dru and Spike as the metaphorical id and ego. (2) Compare Darla’s dress in the teaser with the picture of the anonymous noblewoman in the Watcher’s Diaries we saw in Halloween. (3) Angel told Darla that her life “sounds exciting”. From Halloween: “They [noble women] were just incredibly dull. Simpering morons, the lot of them. I always wished I could meet someone... exciting.” (4) Further evidence that Joss sucks at dates: Acathla appears to be made of stone and therefore can’t be carbon dated. That only works on things that were once alive. (5) Alfalfa (Buffy’s mangling of the name Acathla) was the name of a character on the very popular series Our Gang. (6) Giles was using the Orb of Thesulah as a paperweight. From Passion: “One Thesulan Orb. Spirit vault for the rituals of the undead. I don't get many calls for those lately. Sold a couple as new age paperweights last year.” (7) Bullock’s (Buffy meant to pay for that lipstick) used to be an upscale department store. (8) We last saw Det. Stein in Ted, so it’s no wonder he thinks Buffy has a history of violence. (9) When Spike told Buffy “Goodbye Piccadilly, hello Leicester bloody square”, that’s from the World War I-era song "It’s A Long Way to Tipperary". (10) “Well, I sing.” James Marsters was and is the singer for a band called “Ghost of the Robot”. (11) Buffy’s expulsion was subtly hinted in WSWB by both Joyce and Snyder: “I'll just be happy if she makes it through the school year.”; “That Summers girl. I smell trouble. I smell expulsion, and just the faintest aroma of jail.” (12) Buffy’s “hello lover” in the mansion mimicked Angelus’s greeting to her in the graveyard after he lured her away from the library. (13) The re-souling spell did work, though tragically. The potential for such a spell was hinted in BB&B (Giles reversed the love spell by going back to the source and using Amy’s magic, just as Willow did here using Jenny’s) and, of course, in Passion, where we saw Jenny save the spell to the disk. (14) Just before Buffy stabbed Angel, she told him “Close your eyes.” These were Darla’s words to him just before she sired him in the teaser to Becoming 1. He’s damned both times, just as he said in The Harvest. (15) Sarah MacLachlan’s “Full of Grace” plays over the ending. Remember that in IOHEFY Angel was possessed by – that is, filled with – Grace.

25 comments:

  1. The Lie.

    Ugh,I hate that moment. Xander is totally depriving Buffy of her agency. Its just such an asshole moment, and I hate that it takes so long to bring it to any resolution, but at least that resolution settles that it was his feelings about Angel in particular that motivated The Lie, not him attempting to be noble, considering the context where that resolution happens.

    Brilliant analysis as always!

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    1. Thanks. I completely agree about Xander's motivation.

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  2. Excellent analysis. This probably isn't my favorite episode (it's up there), but it's one I can watch over and over, for many of the reasons you point out (although I'd never be able to articulate it so clearly).

    One question (potentially SPOILER-ish): In your great write-ups on S07 at the AVClub, you were quite critical (rightly so, I think) of Buffy's struggle, or even desire, to take on the role of "general." I know it's only a minor portion of your write-up here, but in this case (in your analysis of the LIE), you seem a bit more blase about the Slayer-as-general role. Is that because you see Buffy as still having a long way to go before she can even confront the Slayer/General dichotomy? I agree completely that Xander's motivation for the lie cannot be chalked up to any sort of military strategizing, but if Buffy ISN'T meant to be a general, does such a question even come into it? Like I said, small question, but I do think it feeds into later questions about the role of the general and the conflicts about leadership that Buffy will face.

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    1. SPOILERS THROUGH S7

      Your question is a good one and a fair one. My basic view is that Buffy does operate as General in S1-6. There are weaknesses created by that role as we'll increasingly see throughout the series. In the early seasons her friends defer to her, in part because they recognize that she's special, in part because the role of Giles softens the harsher aspects of her Generalship by dividing it (at least in concept). Later on her friends come to resent it (e.g., Willow in Fear, Itself: "I'm not your sidekick!" or pretty much all of The Yoko Factor).

      I see the problem as a dynamic tension. As long as there's only one Slayer, the role of General is inevitable. The Slayer gets to decide precisely because the Slayer is the one who actually carries out the decisions (The Gift). At the same time, that's going to create the tension I noted above. The resolution is what we see in S7: everybody's a Slayer.

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    2. Season 7&8 spoilers

      And that fault is what leads to the problems in season 8. Instead of learning that empowering everyone meant she didn't have to be a general, she instead created an army to be a general of. Which led to the backlash. It would have been smarter, if after the defeat of the First, the Slayers had dispersed. Maintained a network of support and assistance, but worked individually in towns to curb the demon threat.

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  3. MILD SPOILERS for the series

    Hey Mark,

    thanks for the answer. I asked mainly because your takes on S07 really got me rethinking the show in a lot of ways. I actually think that Buffy's conflict with the rigidity of the military/general concept starts much earlier than S07, although she probably doesn't know it.

    I'm not sure if it starts as early as S02, but I'd say for sure in S03. Part of the problem stems, I think, from Buffy's unique status in slayer history (well, unique as far as we know). The whole idea, as Spike comments earlier this season, that a Slayer would have friends and family who help her is out of whack with the way the system was set up. It's meant to be Slayer-Watcher-Council, and that's it. Buffy upends that paradigm from the first fights of S01 and continues to do so throughout the show's run. She's not a lone wolf, as slayers are meant to be. Because it hasn't happened before (as far as we know) nobody (watchers, et al.) know what to look out for, so it doesn't become an issue front and center for some time.

    I think the conflict really starts to arise, though, with Faith and who gets to be "in charge" in that situation (which also seems to be unprecedented). And it's revisited in various permutations throughout 4-6. So in one sense (for me anyway), it becomes one of the grand, overarching themes of the show's run. Or so I've been thinking for a while now . . .

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    1. SPOILERS FOR S3

      I never quite set it out in such a comprehensive fashion, but I think your take is right. Part of Faith's resentment is based on the fact that she never really gets to be "the" Slayer, only Buffy does. As I said above, this issue gets blurred a bit because of the role of Giles (and Wesley, I guess), but it becomes an increasingly important theme as we go along.

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  4. I love your entire analysis of The Lie. I've not seen it laid out quite so comprehensively before.

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    1. Thanks. I was trying to cover all sides and got worried it would end up sounding like a legal brief.

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  5. As a retired military officer let me make the following comment about your analysis of "The Lie":

    Please do not presume to speak about military necessity. Your analysis AT BEST appears based on Hollywood's understanding of the military.

    Xander made the right call -- every day of the week and twice on Sunday. This was the author's intent.

    Further, Giles draws the EXACT same conclusion (that Buffy would hesitate to kill Angel) and thus he takes the decision away from her and takes an action she would not take. He is no longer her Watcher at this point.

    My point is this -- you can disagree with the author's decision. You can have a personal dislike of a character's actions. But to argue your case as if you have some expertise you do not (that of a military thinker) is a little offensive to those who are.

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    1. Note: I'm speaking of Gile's actions in S8

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    2. Could you elaborate on this? I'd be interested in how you'd analyze it.

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    3. Sure. First let me start with an apology for being snippy. I'm a little fed up with non-military posters who try to invoke military logic when they are arguing a particular perspective. I imagine you've experienced something similar when someone tries to argue a point from a legal point of view and they have no legal expertise. (Broken into 3 parts – sorry for the length)

      My military read on this situation:
      The objective was to stop Angel from ending the world with Acathla. Angel was the one trying to open up the hell dimension, only his blood would suffice, and Buffy was going there to stop that from happening.
      Now the context:
      - Giles is missing, maybe dead. Buffy verbally says she wishes he was here to tell her what to do.
      - Willow has a significant head injury and wants to try what Buffy herself called a backup plan (Becoming Pt 1).
      - Buffy is a 17 year old who's gone through the emotional wringer. At the start of Becoming Pt 1 she said she just wanted it all over.

      The "moment"
      - I believe personally believe it was tactically the right call to not give Buffy any distraction at that moment (like stall). Buffy had failed to kill Angel multiple times when hesitating already. More importantly, the likelihood of success with the spell was extremely low. This was a spell well beyond something Willow had previously done. She was doing the spell in the hospital after just waking up from a serious head injury. Prior to this spell Willow had never shown herself to be extraordinarily adept. She’s a quick learner but not "superpowered". Conversely Angel is a master vampire with enormous advantages over Buffy in terms of experience and ruthlessness. Put it all together and having Buffy anything less than fully focused made no sense. The first time she went to meet him it was to stop some vague threat about killing more people. Hesitation, so long as she didn't get killed, was not an earth-ending event. But now time was of the essence. Even Whistler said kill him quick.

      Bottom line:
      -Buffy was facing long odds to start with given a room full of minions and a Master Vampire. She could (theoretically) count on Spike to take out Dru but that's about it. The world was at stake and Buffy needed to be 100% with no distractions. From a military perspective, the tactical choice has to be minimal loss of civilian life. Angelus/Angel is not a civilian in this case. He's the hostile. Further, this wasn't just Buffy's life -- it was the world's existence. This is an easy military call.

      But here's the deal: I think "tactical" is an okay concept but "military" does not really apply to BtVS. Even when they unambiguously applied it in S7 & S8 -- Buffy is a LOUSY General. To say she made rookie mistakes is an understatement. The use of this concept in S7 showed a very Hollywood vision. Speechifying and speaking with authority does not make you a good leader. And this is NOT Buffy's fault. Buffy was trained as a Slayer and leader of a small special support team. She is phenomenal at that.

      As for Xander's tactical decision – that’s in Pt 2:

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    4. Xander’s tactical decision:
      - I don't think Xander remotely pre-planned to lie to Buffy. If he had he wouldn't have brought up the topic in the first place. He would have simply been silent. It would have been a lie of omission but that's different than encouragement. Further, Xander had been sitting there prepared to provide backup with a rock. It wasn't until Buffy mentioned Willow that he even remembered to pass on the message. To me, this says that what Xander had been thinking about was the load of trouble they were in - not how to trick Buffy into killing Angel.

      - So what causes him to redirect? First, Buffy had showed up that morning back in "resolve face". She was ready to put her all into succeeding. And she needed that -- that was evident from the fight. I think Xander realized this as he was starting to say something and so he lamely finishes with a vote of encouragement from Willow. Was "kick his ass" petty? Yes. Xander 101 when it comes to how he thinks about encouraging Buffy. But the purpose of his redirect was to show encouragement to Buffy to do what she had to do. To me it was clear Xander changed mid-sentence because he thought providing Buffy hope might get her killed.

      - Why does Xander get to make that call? Well as of the four main Scoobies he's actually the only one there to help Buffy in this last moment before battle. Giles is being tortured and Willow is in the hospital. And it's not like there's only Angel's life is at stake. We're at another world-ending moment. So Xander does what he's done all along. He makes a decision that affects what happens. It wasn't the first and it wouldn't be the last. ALL the Scoobies have done this. Showing up at the mansion is an example. He didn't love the "Buffy goes to the mansion alone" plan so he didn't follow that direction from Buffy. Willow told him to go and tell Buffy about the spell but he clearly forgot that as Willow came up as an afterthought in his conversation with Buffy. He was there as "the cavalry with a rock". Once there (having "disobeyed" the stay out of it order) he followed what Buffy told him to do (get Giles out). So Xander made a GOOD CALL about showing up despite the fact that Buffy told him not to. No one complains about him making that decision do they? No, the complaint is about not telling Buffy about Willow's long shot attempt. To me the logic is clear: either Willow succeeds or she doesn't. If she did, Buffy would find out right away and not kill him. OR, as it turns out, Buffy would have to kill him anyway because he had already started to end the world. Yes, Xander was taking a risk that Buffy would kill Angelus too early (before the ceremony started). But picking between the probability of Angelus turning back into Angel or Angelus killing a distracted Buffy -- I completely understand the decision. And honestly I think this is the basis of Xander's mid-sentence redirect.

      - Xander's primary motivation. Xander JUST confessed love towards Willow. He's currently dating Cordelia. This is not the S1 or early S2 Xander. I'm not saying he's over Buffy completely, but his love for her now is closer to hero worship than "kill my rival" with my fiendish tactic. Would he love Buffy if she suddenly loved him? Probably. But he's not trying to make that happen anymore. I find the interpretation that his primary motivation is romantic jealousy to be bewildering.

      Bottom line: I don't think Xander was actually thinking without emotion or purely from a tactical/military perspective. I think he didn't want Buffy to hesitate because he didn't want her to die. I think it's that simple.
      S8 Spoilers ahead -- REALLY BIG SPOILERS BTW in Pt 3

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    5. Giles S8 SPOILERS:
      - Xander goes down to destroy the seed. Giles goes down to destroy the seed but also has the scythe. Xander is waiting for Buffy to kill Twangle (Angel/Twilight) but Giles says Buffy has already proven she will hesitate when it comes to killing Angel so Giles storms in to do the job himself. But Giles also knows that if Twangel kills him that will be enough to get Buffy to kill Angel (as Twangel) and then destroy the seed. And of course that's JUST what happens. So Giles, while no longer her watcher, acknowledges this as a KNOWN Buffy weakness. The parallel to Becoming is very obvious. And this weakness is what costs Giles his life -- because he felt forced to take action.

      Bottom line: Giles was not wrong that it's an issue and Xander IMO saved Buffy's life in Becoming Pt 2 by NOT providing her an excuse to hesitate.

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    6. Hey, no problem about the last comment. Believe me, people say much worse things to me every day in my profession. I appreciate the lengthy response, and I'm adding a note in the post to read your discussion of the issue.

      I'll get the easy points out of the way first. I agree that Xander wasn't motivated by the idea of a romantic attachment to Buffy. I think it's more that he just hated Angel. However, I left that aside in my post because ultimately what counts is whether he was right, not what motivated him.

      I also agree that Xander's lie was a spur of the moment thing.

      I also will be very critical of Buffy as "General" in S7, as you'll see from my upcoming posts. However, I do need to take that issue within the storyline, and the writers wrote her that way (Hollywood as it may be). In my view, we'll need to break it down into pre-S7 and S7, but I'll explain that in more detail as we get through S7.

      I also agree that everyone had plenty of evidence from which to conclude that Buffy would hesitate to kill Angelus. Now, it turns out they were all wrong about that -- not only was she willing to kill Angelus, she was even willing to go so far as to kill Angel. I understand Xander's concerns on that score, but I don't think he gets much credit when he was wrong. The best we can say on his behalf, I think, is that his response should be judged from the information he had at the time. The flaw in that defense, to me, is that he had no way to actually know the extent of Buffy's determination.

      Now to my differences. First, Xander does get credit for helping get Giles out of there, so disobeying the order to stay away was beneficial. I don't think, though, that this can justify disobeying another order. Each instance of disobedience has to be considered on its own merits.

      My other issue is that I still think Buffy should be the one to make the call about how to handle Angelus. But putting that aside, he put Willow in the middle of it, and that's hard to justify from my perspective. As you'll see (or may have seen already), I discuss how his Lie affected her relationship with Willow in my posts in S3 and for Selfless.

      MAJOR SPOILERS FOR S3 and S8. I MEAN HUGE SPOILERS FOR S8

      Yes, Giles did say all that. Given the trauma of what happened with Jenny, it's not surprising that that would be his memory (particularly since he was being tortured when Buffy finally got her resolve together). In fact, even when Buffy did confess to him what had happened in FH&T, he wouldn't have realized her resolution. But like Xander in Becoming 2, Giles was wrong.

      We'll never know (or at least we don't know yet) whether Giles was right or wrong about the need to sacrifice himself because of Twangel. It's very plausible to say that even if Buffy didn't hesitate last time, she would have hesitated to do it again. But I'm not convinced he was right about Buffy's mindset in Becoming.

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  6. Thanks for the feedback. To me the big problem with Xander not telling Buffy about Willow's attempt was him not confessing to that after Buffy left. Even worse, he didn't admit it after he found out that Buffy had to send Angel vice Angelus to hell.

    So, I think he did the right thing by not telling Buffy (and we'll just have to agree to disagree), and dislike his poor choice of impromptu words of encouragement, I believe what he really deserves criticism for is his silence after the fact.

    So when it was brought up again in Selfish, I'm glad that the emphasis was on Willow and Buffy's relationship because that was the real issue IMO. That is where Buffy felt isolated. Sadly, there is no Xander/Willow on-screen follow-up where she takes him to task for misrepresenting her.

    Of course by the time we've gotten to S7, these three have been run thru the emotional meat grinder multiple times. I imagine they would have worked it out if they actually talked about it.

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    1. Fair enough. I was hoping for a follow up scene too.

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  7. Spoiler

    Mark,
    I know that it has been a long time since this entry has been commented on, but I thought I'd bring up a point in Xander's favor that hasn't been discussed yet. You often refer to Xander as Buffy's "metaphorical heart." To me, his "lie" to her makes perfect sense with this. For some reason, when I watch this scene, Xander seems to be outside of himself to me and speaking honestly with Buffy, as he does in some future scenes when he and she are alone and tries to advise her (the scene when Riley is leaving comes to mind). In my opinion. his statement of "kick his ass" translates in my head not as a lie (even though it is), but as a kind of sign that Buffy's heart is finally at peace with what she has to do. Up until now, she has been stalling -- her id (Dru) has remained in control because, even though Buffy knows she made a mistake and she takes responsibility for it, she hasn't been able to fully deal with the consequences. In this episode, Dru is taken out by Spike (her desires are removed fromt he picture by her restored confidence?) and Buffy can fully commit herself to the job at hand -- with her heart's encouragement and reassurance.
    Then you have Willow behind the scenes -- her spirt -- which is dedicated and never gives up hope.
    So even though I see both arguments for and against Xander from the character/plot standpoint, I think that looking at the metaphorical interpretations kind of resolve the question for me.
    Not trying to cause any kind of dispute, just thought I'd bring up something that I hadn't seen mentioned yet. I'm not sure it makes sense, honestly, because this idea of Xander as her heart and Dru as her id is kind of new to me. Hope I wasn't too wordy!
    - Olivia
    PS: Thoroughly enjoying this blog. I realize it's old now, but I am a big Buffy fan and this is... like watching the show again for the first time, only better? I don't know. It's magical.

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    1. That's not only an excellent point, but I've never seen anyone else make it before. Nicely done.

      Don't let the time lapse bother you. Lots of people come to the show late and I want them to feel free to comment. Also, we all think of things on re-watch. That's the whole idea of leaving the blog up.

      And thanks for the PS.

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    2. Ok, I've thought about this some more and here's how I'd phrase it. The argument from metaphor means that we need to consider whether that metaphor applies in these circumstances. I don’t think it can. Xander has disliked and distrusted Angel since the episode Angel. That was never Buffy’s attitude, so we can’t attribute Xander’s view to any metaphorical representation of Buffy’s heart. It was the attitude of Xander the character, not Xander the metaphor.

      If we’re willing to limit ourselves solely to the immediate context of the Lie – Buffy on her way to kill Angelus – then the metaphor suggestion works. But in the overall context of Buffy’s relationship with Angel, it doesn’t. Thus, I don’t think this can serve as a defense for Xander, even if we could put aside the validity of his Lie on character grounds (which we can’t).

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  8. Why doesn't Drusilla drink any of Kendra's blood? Wouldn't slayer blood be extra tasty or potent, something special?

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    1. There's no good answer to your first question. By all rights, she should. We saw the Master exclaim about the power of Buffy's blood when he drank from her in Prophecy Girl (and see spoiler points below). It's either a mistake or we can chalk it up to Dru being crazy.

      SPOILERS THROUGH S5

      In S3, slayer blood is shown to cure the poison Faith used on Angel, and in the flashback scenes in Fool For Love, Spike will comment on slayer blood and feed some to Dru. And of course The Gift may also depend on some special quality of Buffy's blood.

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  9. SPOILERS

    Hi, Mark.

    I was digging through some old posts on the Existential Scoobies board and found a reading of "Becoming" by shadowkat (http://www.atpobtvs.com/existentialscoobies/archives/mar04_p11.html) that stirred me and prompted me to solicit your take.

    You note, "In the end, it’s Buffy who is Becoming. She’s committed herself to a particular project, namely being the Slayer (growing up in my reading)."

    Shadowkat's view (and I am inclined to agree with her) is that the manner in which she commits here in "Becoming" is sequestration, of isolating herself from her friends and the human world.

    "Take all that away...and what's left?"
    "Me."

    Where many of us feel the above exchange to be an affriming triumph of inner will, she sees tragedy.

    Buffy here discovers that, sans everything else, she is still the Slayer, supernatural, superior. This high vantage point and its ensuing disconnection causes her profound suffering and near-irreversible damage throughout the rest of the series; she rightly relinquishes it in her intuition in "Chosen".

    In a practical sense, her inner Slayer allows her to survive Angelus and to stop Acathla. It also strips her of her humanity.

    Shadowkat elucidates it with greater insight than I --
    Angelus tells her she has no one left, no friends, no family - and she makes the mistake of believing him. Like many teens she believes Mom won't let her back in after the knock-out fight (how many have they had? Several) And being in Buffy's pov we believe she has no one too. But Whedon does shows us how wrong she is - if you watched the ending closely. IT's what she does wrong at the end. It's her big mistake and it's why she goes to hell in Anne. Instead of facing her friends and family - she runs away. That was the tragedy of Becoming Part II, not Angelus going to hell with a soul. Buffy leaving town because in her head she believed no one loved her, she felt disaffected. It's the perfect metaphor for the disaffected teen who believes the world is against them and no one understands. Remember BTVS is about growing up - which means seeing things beyond just "you", seeing other's perspectives.

    Buffy's fight with the First Slayer in "Restless", I think, functions as the antipode of the resolution here in "Becoming" and as a subconscious glimpse towards "Chosen":
    BUFFY: Where are my friends?
    TARA: You're asking the wrong questions.
    BUFFY: Make her speak.
    TARA: I have no speech. No name. I live in the action of death,
    the blood cry, the penetrating wound.
    TARA: I am destruction. Absolute ... alone.
    BUFFY: The Slayer.
    Tara: (offscreen) The first.
    BUFFY: I am not alone.
    TARA: The Slayer does not walk in this world.
    BUFFY: I walk.
    ...
    BUFFY: (firmly) Now give me back my friends.
    FIRST SLAYER: No ... friends! Just the kill.
    FIRST SLAYER: We ... are ... alone!
    ...
    -cut to Buffy and the FS, surrounded by the Scoobies-
    BUFFY: You're *not* the source of me.

    Don't have a specific series of questions; just curious as to your take on this tangle of text.

    Amo

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    1. I actually think there's a good deal of overlap between my view and shadowkat's. I see Buffy's "me" as an expression of existential authenticity. However, that claim is exactly the kind of thing which does isolate someone from other people. She's dealt with that, at least to some extent, since the beginning: "Prepares me for what? ... For losing all my friends?...." So yeah, that sense of isolation is definitely part of her journey.

      But shadowkat's also right that Primeval/Restless and Chosen are the eventual solutions to that problem. I completely agree on that and it's a key (heh) part of my analysis of S7 in general and Chosen in particular.

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