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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Primeval

[Updated May 1, 2013]


Unlike every other season, S4 has its climactic events in the penultimate episode. Primeval “concludes” the season, but the brilliant coda of Restless gives us closure. Because it comes right before Restless, Primeval is often overlooked or criticized, but I really enjoy the episode and can re-watch it repeatedly.


The teaser brings us to the conclusion of the theme we’ve been following since the reference to Of Human Bondage in The Freshman. Adam, who now stands in for Prof. Walsh as well as for the consequences of Prof. Walsh’s Initiative, promises Riley the lure which society, including particularly college, offers all of us in return for our compliance:
Adam: You have no power.  Not yet.  Once you forget your old life and embrace your destiny as I have, you will know power you've never dreamed of.  I think you're going to like it.

The final phase of the Initiative is to make this process an assembly line – the specific humans and demons in the Initiative itself are a synecdoche for all of us. Buffy’s challenge at this point of her journey to adulthood is to defeat Adam, thereby metaphorically rejecting college’s/society’s attempt to mold her into something monstrous. We therefore need to look at how Buffy defeats Adam in order to understand the remainder of the episode and the conclusion of the season.
As I’ve suggested throughout S4, and as Joss Himself says, a key theme of the season is identity. In order to understand the point of this theme to Buffy’s journey, I think it helps to start with the critical event(s) of the climax. As I’ve argued in several previous posts (The Freshman, The Initiative, and Goodbye Iowa), the challenge facing Buffy on this part of her journey is how to create her own identity. The price for Riley’s “reward” is the sacrifice of his own identity; as Adam tells him, and as we see clearly demonstrated by Riley’s inability to act on his own, he has no power. Buffy, it turns out, does – she’s “never been one to toe the line”. Here’s how it worked:
Willow (taking cards from a tarot deck): Spiritus...Spirit. (lays it down in front of her)
She hands a card to Xander.
Xander: Animus...Heart.
She hands a card to Giles.
Giles: Sophus...Mind.
Willow: And Manus...
Cut to Buffy punching Forrest.
Willow: (o.s.) The hand.

Buffy had to unify her mind, heart, and spirit. This is accomplished via metaphor, with each member of the SG serving as a representation of a particular aspect of Buffy. I first suggested this equation of these characters with these aspects of Buffy in the Introduction and this scene is obviously one source for that suggestion (we’ll see more in Restless and later episodes). I hasten to add that this reading is not original to me; many others at AtPO noted it and relied on it.
That this unification spell was an essential step for Buffy can hardly be doubted. It involves integrating essential features of her authentic self. I’ve mentioned before that themes which we see in S4 also appear in Joss’s series Dollhouse. In the episode which closes the first season of that show, Epitaph 1 (mild spoiler follows), one of the main characters tells others that she can show them the way to Safe Haven, a place where they’ll be protected from those trying to steal their identities: “Where no one can be changed. You die as you were born. Heart in concert with mind. I know the way to Safe Haven.” My emphasis. The idea in Primeval is much the same, only more elaborate in some ways.
That’s metaphor. On the storyline, it would be easy to criticize the reconciliation as rushed or incomplete, especially given the long-standing nature of the feelings which I discussed in the post on The Yoko Factor.  I think the fact that Spike played such a key role allowed the SG to put aside their differences. Those differences didn’t really vanish, but they could be pushed away and the blame cast on Spike – “Buffy: That’s where it came from, the stuff we said the other night.” – for the sake of the emergency.
I suggested in my post on The I in Team that Buffy adopted the wrong solution by attempting to join the Initiative. That was the cause of the problem, not a solution. The flaw was not that she went off on her own, per se, it was that she didn’t understand what her true identity consisted of, that is, she didn’t understand the “I” in the title. Buffy’s identity – her “I” – includes her friends, her metaphorical heart, mind and spirit. Her team and her identity are the same. The joining spell represents a commitment to that identity, just as Willow committed to hers in New Moon Rising.
After unifying her heart, mind, and spirit, Buffy then calls upon the essence of the First Slayer:
Willow: We enjoin that we may inhabit the vessel--the hand...daughter of Sineya...first of the ones...

What does it mean to call upon the essence of the Slayer? In my reading, becoming the Slayer is a metaphor for becoming a true adult. Thus, in order to defeat Adam, a metaphor for the false adulthood college and society try to force upon us, Buffy calls upon the powers of true adulthood: The power of the Slayer and all who wield it. Last to ancient first, we invoke thee.  Grant us thy domain and primal strength.  Accept us in the power we possess.  Make us mind and heart and spirit join.  Let the hand encompass us.  Do thy will. …” Those powers include the mystical because that’s an essential part of life. Using that power to pull out Adam’s power center and float it away is a metaphorical way of rejecting both the power of a college and society which try to force us to conform and the monstrous results from that.
The actual execution of Buffy’s exercise of adult power was inspired by the comic series Promethea (feminine form of Prometheus). In essence (pun intended), Promethea is the essence of a being which manifests in our world through a series of different human bodies – vessels – down through the ages. That’s why Willow twice uses the word “vessel”, by whom she means Buffy: “We enjoin that we may inhabit the vessel”; We implore thee, admit us, bring us to the vessel….” In the comics there’s a mystical connection between the vessels, so in Primeval we learn something hinted before with Faith, namely that there’s a mystical connection between Buffy and other Slayers.
There’s also a general anti-materialist and anti-science theme in the Promethea comics. This obviously ties in rather well with the science v. magic theme for S4. As I’ve mentioned before, the struggle against Adam highlights the masculine/feminine dichotomy for which science and magic, respectively, stand. Primeval emphasizes the masculine nature of Buffy’s opposition through the association of Adam as a botched science experiment, the military use intended for him, the rigid attitudes of Forrest and Col. McNamara, and the twisted nature of the “family” Adam has gathered together (ZombieWalsh, ZombieAngleman, DemonForrest, Adam himself, and Riley). Please do remember that the “masculinity” which is criticized here has nothing to do with any specific person’s gender; it’s the ideology, not the sex, against which Buffy fought.
Buffy’s situation contrasts that of Adam at all points. Her “family” is an organic one, developed out of friendship and love over the years. She isn’t giving orders to her “troops”, they’re helping her out of love and adding to her power. She doesn’t rely on science, but on magic and mystery. The spell that the SG used to overcome Adam was not knowledge that College or the Initiative could ever either acquire or disseminate: "You can never hope to know the source of our power. Yours is right here." In Doug Petrie’s phrase, “science gets its ass roundly kicked”. William B suggested in comments that the anti-science theme is more nuanced than Petrie’s comment seems, and I think he’s right: “I do think that rather than anti-science, the season more argues that the human (psychological/ethical) condition can't be reduced to science. … it's the use of the tools of science to exert control that is Walsh's (and Adam's, and the Initiative's generally) downfall.”
The phrase “the source of our power” is nicely ambiguous. I’m inclined to see it as meaning (a) the united force of her friends; (2) the metaphorical joinder of heart, mind, and spirit; and (3) the power of the Slayer/adulthood. Any of the three probably works individually as well.
By defeating not just Adam but the government and (by inference, since the message got muddled) university attempts to create monsters out of disparate parts, Buffy rejected the effort to force her into “normality”. Instead she reaffirmed her own identity, consisting of heart, mind, and spirit.
Now let’s talk about the demons. William B. suggested in a comment that WTWTA provides a reminder that repression merely leads to a break out later on. That showed us in metaphor what actually happens with the caged demons in Primeval. As the voiceover at the end explains,
“Man: It was an experiment.  The Initiative represented the Government's interests in not only controlling the otherworldly menace, but harnessing its power for our own military purposes.  The considered opinion of this council is that this experiment has failed. …
Man (v.o): … I trust the irony of that is not lost on any of us.  Maggie Walsh's vision…was brilliant, but ultimately unsupportable.
Man (v.o): The demons cannot be harnessed, cannot be controlled.”

We’ve known this since S3. The vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness are intrinsic to the world. Society can no more control them than Joyce could in Gingerbread. Nothing external can change them.
This has important consequences for the other themes of S4. If demons can’t be controlled from the outside, then Bentham was wrong about the reformation of character via the panopticon. Spike’s essential nature can’t be changed with a chip.
Nor, ultimately, could Riley’s. Maggie Walsh did to Riley what she’d done to Spike and what Kathy tried to do with Buffy in Living Conditions – steal his identity. Riley thought he had a secret identity; turns out it was a different secret identity than the one he thought he had. As with Spike, Riley’s chip takes away his ability to act on his own volition, to choose his own path. Where Spike’s case might have been arguable, and where we might even have justified it because of Spike’s vampiric nature, Riley’s is not. He’s a person and what Maggie did to him is an abomination. This is where the shift in focus to Adam really changed the way we might view the season. The emotional resonance of what happened to Riley was lost because Maggie’s been dead for months, and Adam wasn’t the guilty party in his case.
Yes, Riley seems "better" than the SG (and Xander always sees him that way), but I think the end of TYF tells us that may not be the case. After Buffy storms out and says she's going to find someone she can count on, the scene cuts to the high school and good old dependable Riley isn't there. His programmer has summoned him. And for all his good qualities, that's Riley too.
Riley’s a fundamentally decent person whose love for Buffy leads him to reject his programming, just as Angel’s love for Buffy led him to the road to recovery from his metaphorical addiction. He’s been moving in that direction since the fog was lifted from his eyes in Goodbye Iowa, but his journey was longer than he could have realized. Staying with the Initiative, even with his eyes open, as he tried to do from Goodbye Iowa through New Moon Rising, couldn’t work. He not only had to leave permanently, he had to consciously remove the programming Prof. Walsh had installed in him. Riley’s removal of the chip is pretty unrealistic, as are other features of the chip if you think about it. However, the chip is a metaphor for the way he’s been forced onto the “normal” track (like Philip in Of Human Bondage). The removal of the chip signifies his rejection of that path, similar to Buffy’s removal of Adam’s power core.
One interesting point to contemplate as we move forward: Did Riley only come to like Buffy because Walsh told him to? In The Initiative, Prof. Walsh told Riley that she liked Buffy. This was important to Riley (mother’s approval). He even mentioned it to Buffy in The I in Team:
Riley: It's . . . a little unusual.  She's just not used to it.  Maybe because you barely ever opened your mouth in her classroom.  But I know she likes you.  In fact, she liked you before I did.
Buffy: (hopeful) Really?
Riley: Told me so herself.

Consider this dialogue in light of what we now know about his chip. How much of his identity was really him and how much was created by Maggie Walsh and social expectations (regardless of the chip)?
Trivia notes: (1) Spike’s reference to getting Buffy into the Initiative as going “down the rabbit hole” is a reference to Alice in Wonderland. (2) When Spike referred to Buffy as “Nancy Drew”, he meant the eponymous heroine of young adult detective novels. (3) If you really want to know about asymmetric key algorithms for encryption, see here. (4) When Xander said Spike had to “get his ya-yas”, he was referencing the Rolling Stones song “Get Yer Ya-Yas Out”. (5) Buffy’s “give the demon his due” plays off the phrase “give the devil his due”. (6) We didn’t see Riley tell Buffy about Adam’s uranium power core, but Riley learned it from Jonathan in Superstar. (7) David Fury wrote most of the episode, but Marti Noxon wrote the scenes in the elevator shaft. (8) “Must See TV” was NBC’s advertising slogan during the 1990s. (9) Spike’s “Dr. Owe Me One” puns off of Obi-Wan from Star Wars. (10) When Willow says “there’s no there there” regarding the space behind Room 314, she’s referencing a quote by Gertrude Stein (who said it about the city of Oakland, CA). (11) Note that the escape from the Initiative during the battle was a scaled-up version of Spike’s escape in The Initiative. Joss wanted Spike’s escape to be “epic”; now we see why. (12) In comments, State of Siege offered a post-modernist interpretation of the series which is too long to quote here but is definitely worth reading. There are spoilers, but they’re labeled.

28 comments:

  1. I agree that this episode is often overlooked because of the excellence of Restless. For me, Primeval contains what might be the most exciting climactic battle of the series. I know a lot of fans are partial to the battles with Angel and the Mayor, and I enjoy the finale of S05 as an overall climactic episode much better. But Buffy's fight with Adam in her enjoined state works for me on so many levels, most of which you do a fine job of outlining.

    I do think it's the series' best example, at least metaphorically speaking, of the show's emphasis on group power and Buffy's ongoing need to learn that she's not alone.

    And to the feminine/masculine and magic/science dichotomies, I particularly love the moment when Buffy turns Adam's missile into a dove - it's one of my favorite moments in the entire series. It's also, I'd guess, one of the most convincing (for me, anyway) feminist metaphors of the entire series. I can't help but get goosebumps every time I see it.

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    1. Agreed on all counts. Regardless of how one thinks of the seasonal arc in S4, I think the individual episodes work very well.

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    2. That's true on a lot of counts. S04 is tough to get excited about after some time spent away from it. One thinks of Hush and Restless and then . . . But there are so many really great episodes. I haven't posted much lately (big project due soon), but I've been reading along, and I think you've done a really fine - excellent - job of teasing out the strengths of S04's arc. It doesn't have the emotional depth of S02 or the episodic brilliance of S03, but with some dedication on the part of the viewer, this season really does pay off as a finely wrought investigation into what it is - a transition - so an nice example of a marriage of form and narrative. I applaud your efforts and ability to elucidate this.

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    3. That's very nice. Thanks.

      I hope your project comes out well.

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  2. Avengers Assemble!

    When the guy with the glowy thing in his chest is the bad guy, Buffy and her Other Aspects can take care of him all by themselves, and we will soon find out that Buffy can handle Evil Gods just fine. (So can Angel, with *his* Other Aspects.)

    It all gets more complicated and takes a lot more resources when the guy with the glowy thing in his chest is a good guy.

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    1. "I like my evil like I like my men-- evil. You know, "straight up, black hat, "Tied to the train tracks, soon my electro-ray will destroy Metropolis" bad. Not all mixed up with guilt and the destruction of an indigenous culture."

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    2. MILD SPOILERS

      it's certainly a LONG process that Buffy goes through learning that the Avengers . . . ahem . . . Scoobies work better together as a group, but it certainly seems to be one of the overriding themes of Whedon's work, including in Angel, Firefly, and Avengers (I've yet to see Dollhouse . . . coming this fall). Watching the Avengers fall apart and then come together again, stronger, has to strike a chord with any Buffy fan.

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    3. Yeah, that's very Joss. Dollhouse doesn't emphasize that much, but it's definitely present in all the rest.

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  3. My argument would be that Dollhouse emphasizes it more than any other Jossverse project, because Buffy at least has the option of making close human friends outside the Scooby group, Angel *has* made friends (even if there's the occasional throat-cutting and other intramural attempted murders), but in Dollhouse those poor bastards have nobody except each other. And their halting realization that humanity and affiliation are intimately tied...Saves the World!

    Aaron: give Dollhouse some time. The unaired pilot is better than the aired pilot, and the first handful of episodes are kind of marking time, but it really takes off about halfway through S1. And, of course, watch both the unaired "Epitaph" episodes.

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    1. I actually agree when it comes to S2. I have a bad habit of thinking about just S1 when I think of Dollhouse. That said, I see S1 as more individualistic, but there is some building of a friendship circle.

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  4. Great write-up, and I think you've written very convincingly about the season and helped in my understanding of it. What you pointed out about the gang in The Yoko Factor is important here: the gang cannot accomplish anything (as effectively, at least) if their ties to each other remain socially mandated/required ties. In season three, they were all clearly in this together: the friends you have in high school are important, but HS is still a bit of a closed community with a small pool, and the bigger ending, of all the students rising in unison, is still very much about people who had been thrown together agreeing to work together, as opposed to what Primeval gives us, which is four people who COULD choose to go separate ways bonding together. Somehow the fact that the Big Bad is less threatening in some respects enhances the message. The Sunnydale High graduating class need each other or they'll get eaten. Buffy and her friends can defeat Adam together, but there's also less reason for Willow and Xander and Giles to bother participating except because they want to fight the good fight with Buffy.

    The social constraints that used to hold them together were referenced a lot in TYF: Giles' limp answer that he's Buffy's watcher and that's why she wants him around, and Willow's concern that she and Buffy have coasted on their living together as roommates. I do think that Primeval doesn't do quite enough to show the necessary steps toward rebuilding the friendship that these guys will have to do. But mostly I think they really needed to shake out all the external constraints ("we are friends because we went to high school together," "we have a connection because I'm her Watcher") in order to get to the truth of the matter ("we are friends because we care about each other and have a shared goal: the fighting of evil, and a similar method").

    I do think that rather than anti-science, the season more argues that the human (psychological/ethical) condition can't be reduced to science. Fred Burkle -- whose interest in physics is about her curiosity and hunger for knowledge, not, primarily, an attempt to control other people -- is not meant to be a negative figure, nor is Willow's interest in chemistry (I think); it's the use of the tools of science to exert control that is Walsh's (and Adam's, and the Initiative's generally) downfall.

    I'm glad again my WTWTA thoughts became of use! :)

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    1. Good thoughts, as usual. Part of the friendship issue is that Buffy needs to remember that she needs these friends. She mostly does, but they all have their own faults and the separations generally come when Xander's being judgmental, Willow insecure, Giles aloof, etc.

      On the science, yeah I don't think it's science per se, though Doug Petrie certainly gives that impression in his commentary. I'm still inclined to see it as part of the masculine/feminine divide. Science in Joss-world can be good, but only if it drops the patriarchal aspects which have disfigured it in the past. At least, I think that's how he'd say it.

      Speaking of Willow, and off topic here, did you see my question to norwie at shadowkat's lj? It's in response to his (and your) comments about Willow as a Nietzschean figure. My question was whether she can be, given that she's so insecure she doesn't see herself as one. norwie promised a response, but I figured you might want to add something.

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    2. Definitely. If anything, this season was the closest to Buffy dropping her friends, I think (not counting things like running away entirely or SPOILERS "Normal Again," which are pretty extreme cases). I would have liked to see The I in Team play out over more episodes, though there was a big element of Buffy letting her relationship with Riley, and Riley's positive qualities, blot out her friendships. That is maybe what makes the idea that Riley was interested in her because of Walsh's words in The Initiative especially interesting: Riley is, as well as a fully programmed soldier boy, also a well programmed boyfriend and partner for Buffy, as opposed to the ragtag band of misfits she has instead. Until you get a sense of Riley's flaws, why wouldn't you rather have him on your side than Willow and Xander and Giles? But once you know Riley's flaws, it's no contest (not that Buffy has to "choose between" them or anything).

      I agree about science - patriarchy. I suppose even within AtS -- well, I saw your comments about hating s4, but I am reminded that while Fred was sympathetic, her professor was pure evil -- again, science okay, but scientists frequently associated with the evils of the patriarchal educational administration.

      Though, of course Doug Petrie would be anti-science: he can't even do math. He somehow wrote both that Spike was "only 126" in The Initiative and that he was sired in 1880 in FFL. :)


      Re, the last paragraph: SPOILERS

      I was considering replying there but I thought I might have spammed shadowkat's journal too much. :) Norwie and I have talked about the Willow-Nietzsche thing elsewhere, so I feel like I have a bit of an understanding of where he's coming from -- but my background in philosophy is weak, so I am not positive how much I know about the Nietzschean-ness itself. What *I* would say is that Willow, by Chosen, is getting to a point of being able to apply her power at "Goddess" level, and from operating independent of any, hm, adult supervision. This is true of all the characters, but Willow is the only one who ends up with power actually greater than Buffy's, and who ends up with power that was not a sacred birthright finally given to her, not power she was told by prophecy she deserved or had to bear, but power she sought out. Her reasons for seeking it are many, and she certainly didn't see herself as seeking power for power's sake, and she also wouldn't have framed herself as creating her own ethics. But on some level, with all her insecurities, that Willow has always been there, and while it's easy to dismiss that Willow as purely wrong (bad Willow! no hacking!), there is also something admirable about her. It isn't until Chosen that she is at a level of security to accept Kennedy calling her a Goddess and be content at having changed the world, but it's been there in germ ever since she started hacking surreptitiously. In this framework, Willow's arc is about getting her to the point where she can own her power, recognize the dangers of it, and be confident that it can be used for good. Her insecurities, while part of the thing that drove her to power, ultimately do hold her back. And they are part of what contributes to the big problem in season six, because I think that Willow doesn't really believe that her power can cause harm until she finds out that it does -- because she doesn't really, deep down, believe that she has power at all (still denying her "big gun" status in The Gift). So really -- I think Willow thinks like a Nietzschean (one who has goodwill toward people, especially those she loves), but she is too insecure in herself to recognize that she has power, and too invested in being a traditional good girl (and having parental/friend/lover/mentor approval) to think of herself in ruthless terms. That is, until she's exposed to the extremes of her power and also the dangers of it.

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    3. For clarity: when I said

      "I think Willow thinks like a Nietzschean (one who has goodwill toward people, especially those she loves),"

      I meant, Willow thinks like a Nietzschean in the sense of seeking out power/believing herself beyond moral systems. I mention the goodwill to specify that, while not all Nietzscheans have goodwill toward others, Willow does, generally speaking, though she can also become nihilistic and vengeful and cruel. This is part of what makes Norwie's Willow both frightening (because dismantling moral systems is always a bit scary -- and we see why in s6 with the mindwipe and apocalypse) but also hopeful (because as long as Willow maintains her goodwill toward people, she might be able to come up with a better system and dispense with some rules that really are meaningless for her).

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    4. I'll have to think some more about Willow. Your (norwie's?) theory makes more sense to me post-Chosen, so that's helpful.

      As for this -- "I would have liked to see The I in Team play out over more episodes" -- I say YES, absolutely. It's there, but it could have been reinforced more.

      Yes, Riley seems "better" than the SG (and Xander always sees him that way), but I think the end of TYF tells us that may not be the case. After Buffy storms out and says she's going to find someone she can count on, the scene cuts to the high school and good old dependable Riley isn't there. His programmer has summoned him. And for all his good qualities, that's Riley too.

      Petrie and Joss both need remedial arithmetic. They probably should have given the ages for Spike and Angel like Midieval histories do: "born circa X".

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    5. SPOILER

      I do think that Chosen ultimately says that Willow seeking out power has to be more good than bad. In s6, it seems all bad, but that's because the bad has to be vetted (and the *wrong* way to use power) in order to get to the good. I think it runs in parallel with the Buffy/Spike arc -- Spike is ultimately worth saving and it does Buffy good to love him, but it goes badly in s6 because they're not ready for it, and it is only because they pass through SR that they are able to get to a better place in s7. Which is not to say that IRL that people should be trying to try to end the world or have abusive relationships in order to get to a better place the next year, but on a more abstract level it makes sense.

      Exactly, re: Riley. And indeed his best quality is also his worst. He's "reliable", he can be "counted on" -- he does exactly what he's expected to. But expected to by whom?

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  5. So here is the promised post on relational identity in BtVS. I am posting it here, buried though it be, because this is the episode—and the season—in which the show begins to body forth such a concept of identity. (There are reasons for this, upon which I’ll elaborate below.) But this is only the first stage in the development of relational identity: the remaining seasons each add a piece to its full articulation, so my plan is to complete a write-up of S5 soon, in time to be ready for Mark’s commentary on the finale of S6.

    Three other notes before I start: I know that Joss is an existentialist, and that by reading the show in existentialist terms, Mark is following his intent. But I have never seen authorial intent as anything more than another text to read—an important text, but still secondary to the work itself. A great work of art—and BtVS is a great work—exists, means outside of and beyond its creator; it ultimately knows more than she does. And it is that knowledge that I seek to read here.

    Second, that the show articulates a postmodern, rather than (only) a modernist (existentialist), sense of identity does not mean that the show itself is postmodern in style—although it strikes me that the more pomo episodes begin to proliferate in S4 (Hush, Superstar, and especially Restless); this does not strike me as a coincidence.

    Third, there is a much deeper ethical dimension to relational identity than I am able to articulate here—trust me, it will come. And, yes, with ethics comes the matter of power. Or, should I write, Power…


    Primeval as reveals the relational structure of identity in BtVS: it is not simply that Buffy needs her friends to function as the Slayer (that their help keeps her alive), and not so much that they function as parts of her on a metaphorical level (although my reading does not bar that one), but that she comes into being, into herself, in her singularity (what Mark calls adulthood above), only in relation to others, in relation to her friends in their singularities. She has no identity save in relation to them—as the Slayer or not.

    What Buffy learns from Spike in the cave (and figures out while sitting lost in her room) is not simply that he played them, but that she is not fully herself—and has not fully been herself for quite some time. This means that she cannot fight Adam not because she lacks the power to do so alone but because she is not fully herself. And she is not fully herself because she is alone.

    What she learns from Spike in the cave—and figures out while sitting lost in her room—is not simply that he played them but that they were playable. That, as she will say during the reconciliation to come, that “trouble was stir-upable” because she has been alone for quite a while, has not been herself for quite a while, that they have each been alone and not quite themselves for a while…



    One can say it was freshman-drift, but what that means is that they began to abandon or misuse each other, sometimes passively, by simply not paying attention or engaging in other things, but also actively—and that even the passive could be hurtful, border-line abusive. The passive are too numerous to list, but among them I would put Buffy not telling Giles about Riley, her spending so much time with Riley that her other relationships suffered, Willow’s keeping Tara secret, her spell in SB, etc. Among the active, I would put the season’s serious ethical lapses, primarily, but not only, on Buffy’s part: first, Buffy’s flirtation with the Initiative. No, she did not leave the SG for the Initiative, but she was not thoughtful in her entry into it; moreover, her departure from it was forced, was not made out of loyalty—and while I do not think she was acting in bad faith, she should have been sensitive enough to understand that her friends would feel betrayed. The second was more serious—and was also communal: the abandonment of Willow in her time of greatest need.


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    1. More generally, as the season progresses, we seem to see them gather only “around the slaying,” as Willow describes it to Tara. When they do get together otherwise, it seems rather forced—and not as much fun as it used to be (playing poker with Anya), at least after Thanksgiving or so (from about the time of SB and Buffy and Riley finally getting together—or, perhaps, interestingly, just after Hush…). In short, they begin to instrumentalize each other, whether in the fight against evil or in the motions of friendship—they are not seeing each other as singular beings, of value in themselves, but in terms of their use-value for each other.


      Yet in the process of instrumentalizing each other, they each begin to lose parts of themselves: Buffy neglects Giles and training, and even if she does not cease to be serious about the basics of slaying itself, she ceases to develop as a Slayer; moreover, although she does not talk about it (to whom could she, given the group dynamic?), I think she remains shaken by the Initiative experience, for she really looked up to Maggie, and she loses some confidence in her own judgment as well. Giles watches Passions with Spike and yells at the television about Jeopardy! (need I say more?); Xander feels more and more lost in the world and is bothered by it (we will soon learn that he fears he is falling into family patterns), and he feels alienated from his college-going friends—and he also knows that Willow does not approve of Anya; Willow ceases to be open with her friends.

      Of course, such loss of self, such uncertainty, is part of the journey to adulthood—and while Giles is of course already an adult, I would argue that the loss of his livelihoods—first as a librarian, second as a Watcher, due to his decision to let Buffy go her own way this year—has put him in the position of a young adult, needing to find his way, his desire, again. In a sense, one must lose one’s self in order to find it again, find one’s proper direction: but in losing themselves they lose each other because they are each part of the others’ selves. That is one aspect of the process. And the process also involves desire: for part of what each of them has lost or, at the very least, come to doubt, is his or her desire for the others as friends—and that leads, in the fight, to a realization that they doubt their passion for slaying as well (save, perhaps, on Buffy’s part). And without desire, there is no subjectivity, no self.


      One might quibble about Willow, here, arguing both that she continues to develop her powers, unlike Buffy, and that she has reasons for concealment, given her friends’ behavior after the break-up and the nature of her secret, but I still doubt that she would have acted this way in S2 or 3. A more significant argument might be that Willow does experience truly positive growth through this drift, and I would agree with this, but I actually think that this is because Willow, more than anyone else, has, up to this point, allowed herself to be defined by others, has lacked any sense of self independent of the members of the SG, to the point of being smothered. She is the one character who may need to gain some distance from the group in order to be herself fully in relation, for she has not known what she has wanted—save that she wanted approval from the others, relation with them. And in this sense, a negative relation to the group, a relation of distance, is still a relational identity.

      (I would be willing to discuss whether this were true of all the characters, and I can see a faint negative argument for it—Giles needs to wander in the land of daytime television, feeling utterly useless, and be on the verge of leaving, to be ready to recommit to being Buffy’s Watcher in S5, for example, but I do not think that to be the case: I think he was always ready to recommit.)

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    2. The distance and self-loss render the conversation in the elevator hatch between Buffy and Willow crucial: it, combined with the group hug, stands in for a series of re-cognitions on each of their parts of their differences from each other as well as their essential connections to each other, for Buffy sees Willow as her friend with her own desires (“you were going through something huge”), not merely as someone who helps in the slaying with her “witch stuff”—and as someone of essential importance to her, and Willow receives her recognition and reciprocates. The same thing happens, telegraphed, in the group hug. This returns them to each other after the instrumentalization of the year, and thus returned to each other, they are ready to become each completely him or her self.

      At the same time, there, before the spell, Buffy’s relation to the each of the members of the SG thus becomes ethical in a way it has not been: it is now first grounded in their singularities, their adulthoods (well, Xander’s is a work in progress, but… )—and in putting them before her self, only second in their commitment to the fight. For while I do not think that Buffy ever loved them solely in their being-for-the-group alone, I would argue that the first three seasons make no distinctions between those aspects of any of their identities; they in a sense work seamlessly together, in the way that young people tend to have relatively undifferentiated identities, do not need to make difficult choices, are not pulled in different directions by their desires. (In this sense, Choices prefigures S4 as a whole, but it resolves the conflicting desires rather quickly and easily.)


      In the terms that I have been using, the spell, on a surface level, would appear to be a sheer instrumentalization, with Buffy merely making use of the powers of each of her friends—but it is the exact opposite. The spell actualizes the re-cognitions and self-becomings of the elevator: each of the four comes into his or her own power—that is, his or her own self in its irreducible singularity—in its fullest, with the choice to join—freely—with Buffy in the fight. In thus becoming themselves, they are able to fully fight through her.*


      And they fight to defeat Adam, who is a monstrous perversion of human singularity—

      For in all this, the Initiative again serves as a foil, for there, too, the members come into being in relation to each other, but only by relinquishing their singularity, giving up their desires, becoming one-dimensional beings, as symbolized by Riley’s chip, which crushes individual difference into an iteration of the same. Riley’s seeming reliability, comforting as it was to Buffy, ultimately worked as a version of this, and perhaps he had to become unreliable, different, to Buffy—by virtue of his reduction to Adam’s the same—before he could fight for his own singularity out of love for her. (That said, I am intrigued by your comment about the source of Riley’s interest—it bears thought… mimetic desire on his part would make sense, and I don’t think it necessarily goes against my argument.)

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    3. Trivia note: The government voiceover man’s final comment on the Initiative, “Burn it down, and salt the earth,” comes from ancient North African war practice of burning down a defeating enemy’s city and salting the land to symbolically prevent re-growth. Apocryphal use of the term refers Hadrian of Rome performing the rite on Carthage, but there is record of him doing so.




      SPOILERS
      *Restless thus functions as a necessary elaboration of the singular journeys of each of the characters up to this point and an adumbration of their futures. It is particularly important as it shows the diachronic dimension of Buffy’s relational identity: she may tell the First Slayer “you are not the source of me,” but her denial only underlines their connection—the relational difference and identity between them—and points to Buffy’s further becoming into her identity, the fact that identity is always differing from itself, in the process of becoming in relation—a becoming in relation to the other. Singularity never becomes singularly…

      As I will try to demonstrate later, what is established here is but a partial accomplishment: the relations established are precariously balanced, and later seasons, particularly 6 & 7, will show again points at which the derangement of the personal relation will set all things awry.

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    4. This is really outstanding and I'm very glad you posted it. I find that I don't have much to say in response because I'm nodding in agreement as I read.

      Obviously I think this fits in with my argument that the point of S4 is for Buffy to unify her heart, mind, and spirit. I like the extension of this point to cover all the members of the SG: I can see it as a self-reinforcing process, just as you describe in the elevator shaft scene.

      Thanks.

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    5. Many thanks—

      I agree that this fits in with your reading—

      As I see it, the brilliance of Joss' work is that it functions on (at least) 3 levels:

      On the level of plot, it is a great story, with great characters—

      On a metaphorical level, the one on which you are working, it is a modernist, existentialist story—

      On a yet more abstract level, it is a post-modernist fable—

      I promise to have the next installment done in a more timely fashion...

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    6. StateofSiege: wow, this is really extraordinary, and I think I agree with most of it. I think that in addition to the gang's failure to help Willow in their time of need is their utter failure to help Xander in his year in the wilderness, without a job, depressed, and in a relationship not particularly of his choosing. They -- Willow especially! -- tend to blame Xander for Anya's annoyances, rather than actually asking him, outright, if he wants the ex-demon (and murderer of men) in his life. Note: I love Anya, and I actually think Xander/Anya has a lot of healthy aspects; but I also think that the reason Xander finds himself with Anya is because he was frankly drowning and no one pays attention to him (an image, as a episode analyst named SpringSummers pointed out, is shown to us in Where the Wild Things Are, with Anya saving Xander from drowning, in the same position as the children had been drowned in the school's past). I think the same could be said for Giles, but I tend not to put too much blame on the 19-year-olds for recognizing the loneliness of their grown-up friend.

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    7. To extend this to the rest of the cast, Oz is someone whose (nearly) sole tie to the Scooby gang OR to UC Sunnydale is through Willow; because his attachment is through Willow, rather than to the cause, when he can no longer be around Willow, he has to discard his entire life. And if Adam is a "monstrous perversion of human singularity" (he is also, of course, like Buffy in the end, constructed out of parts of different people, but unorganically; "parts of him" were boy scout, but that doesn't make him one, and doesn't mean that he respects the boy scout parts), Riley, who parallels Adam in other ways, is more complicated. As a soldier, but an EXCEPTIONAL soldier, he is (like Buffy, in some ways!) both a type (soldier/slayer) and of interest because he is MOST typical (Maggie's pet/slayer who made it the furthest). By joining the Initiative, however briefly, Buffy seeks to subsume herself into an organization which denies her individual experience, as Riley does; and I think that this is also part of the problem of their relationship, because Riley is both attracted to and repelled by Buffy's singularity ("she's the truest soul I've ever known") and Buffy is both attracted to and bored by Riley's being one of a fairly interchangeable set of people (college boys, soldiers, TA's) which ping for her as "normal". (I think. I'm never convinced that Buffy's feelings for him run much deeper, but others differ and I might be wrong there.) Riley DOES become, to some extent, and authentic individual, inspired by Buffy (yay!) and his ability to view Buffy (first) and eventually Oz as individuals rather than types (student/woman and monster, respectively) is the key to his "redemption" within the season. But this also puts Riley in the same position Oz was at the beginning of the season, which is that now his whole identity is based on his relationship to one sole person (Buffy in this case). (SPOILERS FOR S5) He does become friends, sort of, with Xander in early season five, but it's not a close enough relationship to be able to give him the communal identity he needs, and (skipping ahead a bit) his need to feed off vampires to find a new identity is the result.

      Anya and Tara are not as well developed this year (arguably) but obviously Anya's complete dependence on Xander for her identity is flagged as a problem, and Tara identifies herself as being Buffy's. We get the impression in This Year's Girl/Who Are You that Joyce's life is empty without Buffy, though she says differently in Fear, Itself.

      Spike, similarly, forms a somewhat unidirectional relationship with the protagonists of both shows this season -- in "The Harsh Light of Day," "Wild at Heart" and "The Initiative" he either makes plans based on, or, hilariously, monologues to or about an either absent or unaware Buffy, and in "In the Dark" on AtS he does the same thing to Angel. He needs Harmony to validate him and the Scooby gang to keep him alive. Arguably his ability to manipulate the gang in The Yoko Factor comes directly from his understanding (albeit perhaps not entirely conscious) of how little one's identity matters without others. Similarly, with the Mayor dead, Faith has no identity left except in opposition to, and finally taken from, Buffy.

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    8. More than many thanks—

      For both the kind words and the comments—

      The latter will be helpful as I begin to put part ii together…

      I apologize for getting back to this so late… It has been, well, rather a week…

      I absolutely agree with your first point about the neglect of Xander (and, in a different way, Giles, although, like you, I am willing to give the SG more of a pass there)—I should have added that. I also agree that there are positive elements to the Xander/Anya relationship: I think that one of the reasons that he is even able to get out of bed on that last day and rejoin the group for the reconciliation, given how utterly obliterated his sense has been by the events of the year and the final fight, is because of Anya’s belief in him (“You are a good person and a good boyfriend—and I think I am in love with you”—or something close to that). His relation to his friends has become so tenuous that he needs the connection to Anya to resuscitate him.

      I very much appreciate your extension of the argument to the entire cast: your readings of Riley and Spike are particularly fine, given their complexity. And of course Spike becomes ever more complex, as he changes and his relation to the group changes, in tandem… But that is for the future—

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  6. I like the way that this episode builds on some things Buffy has learned in previous season finale.

    In "Prophecy Girl" Buffy was tricked by the prophecy into descending into the Hellmouth and setting the Master Free. Here, she avoids that same trap.

    In "Becoming Part 1" Buffy was tricked into being separated from her friends. Here, she likewise avoids that trap.

    In "Graduation Day Part 2" Buffy learns to unite against a common evil. Though this may be a stretch, the military guys were necessary to hold off demons while Buffy fought Adam.

    I'm trying to think of a way to tie the Riley/Buffy vs Adam fight to the Buffy vs Angel fight, as they both took place while Willow worked on a spell to restore/summon an essence, but I'm still scratching my head. In both, also, Spike plays a similar role.

    Interesting to think the way the season would have unfolded had Professor Walsh stayed. Though the themes play out, Adam falls short as a villain.

    Anyways, so excited to watch "Restless" next. I wasn't sure "Hush" would live up to the hype, but it sure did.

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  7. Hey, Mark.
    I don't know if you'll see this, I'm rather late to the party (you last updated this 4 years ago!), but I wanted to let you know how much I love your writings. I found your site a few weeks (or maybe months?) ago and I decided to rewatch the whole show while reading your essays, and it's been an amazing experience. You opened my eyes to so many things! I was so certain I couldn't love this show more, but you made it possible :)
    Foucault's Panopticism, for example, is a subject I've studied and I love it, so I was obviously delighted to see you mentioning it.
    Once again, thank you for taking your time to write these great texts and posting them.
    I can't wait to go continue my journey. Season 5 is my favourite, so I'm obviously excited.

    Best regards.

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    1. Thank you! I leave these posts here just so people can comment whenever they come by. Feel free to add your thoughts to any episode.

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