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Monday, February 27, 2012

Homecoming

[Updated April 29, 2013]

“Welcome to Slayerfest!” is one of those lines that makes me laugh every single time. The Mayor, whom we meet for the first time and who is one of my favorite characters in the whole series. Lyle Gorch, whom we see for the first time since Bad Eggs. Homecoming has all these things, but it’s not a particular favorite of mine. This is basically my own issue: I dislike scenes in which people are humiliated even if it is really good for Buffy’s color. For example, I hated what the frat boys did to Xander in Reptile Boy. Buffy’s painful attempt to become Homecoming Queen makes me very uncomfortable and those portions of the episode therefore hard to watch. This doesn’t make it a bad episode; I think that my sense of discomfort was intended by the writers in order to remind us of something about Buffy.


Buffy tells Cordelia that what she wants is to be recognized: “I just thought... Homecoming Queen. I could pick up a yearbook someday and say, I was there. I went to high school, I had friends, and... for one moment, I got to live in the world. And there'd be proof. Proof that I was chosen for something other than this.” Buffy had all those things at Hemery: “At Hemery, I was Prom Princess, I was Fiesta Queen, I was on the cheerleading squad. And the yearbook was, like, a story of me.” But of course, as we saw in Becoming, Buffy was vapid and childish at Hemery (lollypop and all). Here at Sunnydale she’s on the path to adulthood.
That doesn’t make it wrong for her to want recognition. We all want recognition, of course. The problem is that Buffy not only wants recognition for something relatively shallow, she goes about it entirely the wrong way: she orders her friends around instead of asking; she guilt-trips Willow; she actually includes Xander’s name on her list of Cordy’s weaknesses; she manipulates some voters and bribes others; she engages in dirty tricks. That’s not the way to get people to work with you or to recognize you, and it’s not Buffy. It is, in fact, very like Cordelia, and that’s the point – to remind us that Buffy has a side to her which Cordelia represents in metaphor.
Cordy has functioned as Buffy’s shadow self from the beginning. The competition for Homecoming Queen, and the conflict this generates between them, re-emphasizes that role: “This whole trying to be like me really isn't funny anymore.” Buffy denies this, but we can all see that it’s true. The level of bitchiness between them reaches new and disturbing levels. Buffy gives in to her shadow, adopting the behaviors and attitudes she ordinarily controls, though she never goes as far as Pete did last episode. Not until her friends force the two together and Cordy gets to experience Buffy’s life does Buffy regain control. Her metaphorical “grownup” side rescues her from the shallowness and distraction from her destiny which becoming Homecoming Queen represents. Willow was right when she said that Cordy needed that more than Buffy.
Their reconciliation – facilitated by the cooperation which is essential if they’re to evade their hunters – I see as another case of Jungian individuation. Individuation is the reconciliation of the conscious mind and the shadow as part of creating an adult self. I discussed this in Out of Mind, Out of Sight, an episode Buffy not so coincidentally references here when she asks Oz if she’s invisible. As was true in OoM,OoS, the individuation we see here sets up a subsequent episode. Individuation is an iterative process, meaning that it’s necessary to do it repeatedly over one’s life. However, this is the last instance we’ll see in which Cordy plays the role of shadow self; her metaphorical role is done. Hence the “homecoming”, the first of 3 important “homecomings” we see in the episode.
Though the main plot involves the Homecoming Dance and the election for Homecoming Queen, it’s also clear that Buffy has welcomed Angel back home. It’s not so clear that this is any more successful than her attempt to be Queen. If nothing else, her time spent with Angel seems to be part of what cost her what little relationship she had with Scott Hope (but a big cheer to Faith for taking Buffy’s side!).
Angel’s return also continues to isolate her from her friends. She can’t trust them to understand: “I haven't... told Giles and the others that... you're back. … And I'm not going to. They wouldn't understand that you're... better.” Xander’s Lie and the events of Dead Man’s Party are still poisoning the well. We can see the distance between them in their choice to help Cordelia rather than Buffy, which of course only serves to reinforce the separation. Buffy’s decision to hide Angel’s return seems logical from her perspective, but it’s worth thinking about how her friends might feel about it, particularly since they have no way to know that he’s Angel again.
Speaking of friends, there’s a third level of “homecoming” on display in Homecoming. I can’t say that Xander’s sudden (?) attraction to Willow came as a complete surprise to me. After all, I never thought he loved Cordelia; that’s the way I interpreted the results of Amy’s spell in BB&B. He’s always looking around at others, including Faith this season, never content with what he has. Having Cordy tell Buffy that she truly does love Xander just raises the stakes that much higher. Willow has always loved Xander, so her giving in to temptation comes as no great shock either.
Willow and Xander, like Buffy, are now hiding a secret that their friends won’t really understand or accept. It’s not a completely symmetrical situation because Buffy isn’t the victim of their fluking, whereas Xander and Willow are directly affected by Buffy’s concealment of Angel. That said, there’s a metaphorical connection to Buffy: when one’s heart and one’s spirit turn inward towards each other, that suggests a dangerous level of self-involvement and disregard of others.
I haven’t said anything about the Mayor until now. He was mentioned four times previously (in IOHEFY, Becoming 2, DMP, and FH&T), but this is the first time we actually see him. He’s obviously a bad guy, given his association with Mr. Trick, but that’s all we know so far. While you’re thinking about what metaphorical role the Mayor might play – because by now you know I think he has one – I’ll leave you with a suggestion. The Mayor has only 2 scenes, both fairly short. In my view, one very obvious theme appears from his statements.
Trivia note: (1) The Slayerfest plot is based on the short story The Most Dangerous Game.

5 comments:

  1. Ooh, this is very good -- ITA about everything you say here. I find this episode rather unenjoyable, but I think it's nicely complicated, showing both the reasons for Buffy's (unfair) isolation from her friends -- Willow & Xander's affair further isolates them from Buffy, because Xander is still making effort to separate himself from Buffy and his feelings for her (and is still in judgment mode), and Willow is afraid of talking to Buffy. And so they help Cordelia rather than Buffy out of their guilt. And Buffy responds by behaving in a more Cordeliaesque/unfair way. It's a deeply mutually reinforcing dynamic, and it's well done.

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  2. Two Freud citations that I think are relevant: "Where the Id was, there shall the Ego be" and the purpose of analysis as turning neurotic misery into ordinary unhappiness.

    Every time I re-watch I keep hoping that THIS time Willow, Cordelia, Oz, and Xander will have the intelligence and maturity to realize that having genuine romantic and erotic feelings for one person does not make it impossible or invalid to have romantic and erotic feelings for someone else too...but, nope, they never do.

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    1. I definitely should have used that quote in one of my Spike and Dru posts.

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  3. In reading Noel Murray's reviews/comments on watching BtVS and AtS for the first time (as I went along for my first ride as well), I was struck by the narrative destinies that these shows chart for (most) of the characters. Your comments had a lot to do with that revelation, and leading me to seek deeper meaning in characters' actions and purposes. They frequently have two purposes: to reveal their own journeys in identifying a personal purpose, whatever that might be; and to reflect upon the hero's journey/maturation. You have shown that this reflection resonates among all characters in the BtVS world.

    However, Noel and many other commenters noted that perhaps the most dramatic and perhaps feminist maturation is seen in Cordelia. I feel that this episode not only serves as the end of Cordelia's metaphorical journey as Buffy's shadow, but also the beginning of her agency as a self-defined woman at the end of the 20th century. All of which is to say, are you going to address Cordelia's journey and its commentary on 3rd-wave feminism? Not that you don't already have your hands full, but I would be very interested in your take(s). I also totally recognize that the most fruitful discussions about Cordelia require a full watching of AtS. Still, her S3 journey is fascinating, especially in how it employs sympathy from an audience that had grown used to her as a two-dimensional, often-comic foil. It's effectiveness shocked me when I made my way through the season the first time.
    [Note: I have not read anything further than this to date, so if you get into this down the road, forgive me.]

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    1. Cordelia's own journey is very interesting, but because so much of it takes place on AtS I didn't try to track it in these posts.

      At one point in time I planned to do character essays on at least the major characters. The problem is, I've collected so much material that I can't organize it very well. Just for example, I have over 160 pages on Willow alone. That's a book, not a blog post. So I'll see when I get to the end whether I can figure out a way to do something along those lines.

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