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Monday, September 24, 2012

The Weight of the World

[Updated May 2, 2013]

It may seem, to steal a line from Willow, as if The Weight of the World is mostly filler, but in my view it serves a very important purpose: it shows us that Buffy rejects – or maybe overcomes – Spike’s claim in Fool For Love that Slayers have a death wish. In order to show this I need to go through the dialogue very carefully, so bear with me.


I’ll start with a reminder of what Spike said in FFL:
SPIKE Death is on your heels, baby, and sooner or later it's gonna catch you. And part of you wants it... not only to stop the fear and uncertainty, but because you're just a little bit in love with it. Death is your art. You make it with your hands, day after day. That final gasp. That look of peace. Part of you is desperate to know: What's it like? Where does it lead you? And now you see, that's the secret. Not the punch you didn't throw or the kicks you didn't land. Every Slayer... has a death wish.

Spike’s claim is a very particular instance of a more general issue, namely that the Slayer wants an end to the responsibility. A Slayer can avoid her responsibility in lots of different ways. Dying is one way, of course, but the example of Faith gives us a different way and Buffy will give us yet another here in TWOTW (see below).
In my post on FFL I agreed that Slayers will want, sometimes, to lay their burdens down, but suggested that there were good reasons to be skeptical of Spike’s specific claim that they all want to accomplish this by giving in to a death wish. In order to understand how and why I think TWOTW undermines Spike’s “death wish” theory, we need to follow the entire dialogue in which Willow forces Buffy to confront her sense of guilt over Glory taking Dawn. I’ve edited it slightly for clarity, added the italics, and combined the various scenes (which are otherwise separated by cuts to different characters):
“WILLOW: What happened here?
Shot of Buffy #2 watching.
BUFFY #1: (not turning) This was when I quit, Will.
Shot of Willow standing beside Buffy #2, both staring at Buffy #1.
WILLOW: You did?
BUFFY #2: Just for a second.
Shot of Willow and Buffy sitting in the darkened bedroom.
BUFFY VOICEOVER: I remember.
Cut back to the magic shop.
BUFFY #1: (facing Willow) I was in the magic shop.
BUFFY #2: I put a book back for Giles.
BUFFY #1: Nothing special about it. And then it hit me.
WILLOW: What hit you?
BUFFY #2: I can't beat Glory.
BUFFY #1: Glory's going to win.
WILLOW: (turns to Buffy #2) You can't know that.
BUFFY #2: (turns to Willow) I didn't just know it.
BUFFY #1: (staring at nothing) I felt it. Glory will beat me.
BUFFY #2: (looks away) And in that second of knowing it, Will...
BUFFY #1: I wanted it to happen.
WILLOW: Why?
BUFFY #1: I wanted it over. This is ... all of this ... it's too much for me.
BUFFY #2: (staring at nothing) I just wanted it over.
BUFFY #1: If Glory wins ... then Dawn dies.
BUFFY #2: And I would grieve. People would feel sorry for me. (looks at Willow) But it would be over. (looks away) And I imagined what a relief it would be.
Willow looks over at the bookcase. Buffy #1 yet again puts the book on the shelf.
BUFFY #2: I killed Dawn.
Willow frowns, looks at Buffy #2.
WILLOW: Is that what you think?
BUFFY VOICEOVER: My thinking it made it happen.
Cut back to the magic shop.
BUFFY #1: Some part of me wanted it. And in the moment Glory took Dawn...
BUFFY #2: I know I could have done something better. But I didn't. I was off by some fraction of a second.
BUFFY #1: And this is why...
BUFFY #2: ...I killed my sister.
Willow frowns, looks from one Buffy to the other. Buffy #1 puts the book on the shelf again.
WILLOW: I think Spike was right back at the gas station. (loudly) Snap out of it!
Buffy #2 looks at Willow in surprise. Buffy #1 whirls away from the bookcase.
BUFFY #1: What?
BUFFY #2: What?
WILLOW: All this ... it has a name. It's called guilt. (the two Buffys exchange a look) It's a feeling, and it's important. (to Buffy #2) But it's not more than that, Buffy.
The Buffys both look pensive.
WILLOW: You've carried the weight of the world on your shoulders since high school. And I, I know you didn't ask for this, but ... you do it every day. And so, you wanted out for one second. So what?
BUFFY #2: (pensive) I got Dawn killed.
WILLOW: Hello! Your sister, not dead yet! But she will be if you stay locked inside here and never come back to us.
BUFFY #2: (looking at Buffy #1) But what if I can't?
WILLOW: Then I guess you're right. And you did kill your sister.
Willow turns and starts walking toward the magic shop entrance. Buffy #2 turns to her in alarm.
BUFFY #2: Wait!
Shot of Willow and Buffy sitting in the bedroom.
BUFFY VOICEOVER: Where are you going?
Cut back to magic shop. Willow turns back.
WILLOW: Where you're needed. Are you coming?
Shot of Buffy #2 staring at Willow. Behind Buffy #2, Buffy #1 walks up to the bookcase and puts the book on the shelf. Pauses.
Closer shot of Buffy #1 as she turns toward the others.
Cut to the real Buffy in the chair in the bedroom. Suddenly with a start she comes to, sits up straighter, looks around, breathing heavily. Longer shot of her and Willow sitting there. Willow stares at Buffy.
Buffy turns to face Willow again. Suddenly she bursts into tears.
Willow gets up off the bed and kneels beside Buffy's chair, puts her arms around Buffy and holds her as she cries.”

Let’s look at the specific words Buffy used, the ones I put in italics: “I quit”; “I wanted it [Glory to beat me] to happen.”; “I just wanted it over.”; “If Glory wins ... then Dawn dies. And I would grieve. People would feel sorry for me. But it would be over. And I imagined what a relief it would be.”
At no point in this long dialogue does Buffy ever say she wanted to die. What she says is that she wants an end to the responsibility of taking care of Dawn. Death is one way for this to happen, but Buffy never suggested that. In fact, her words suggest the contrary, namely, that after Dawn died she (Buffy) would still be alive to grieve and to know that people felt sorry for her.
The essence of Spike’s claim is that the slayers he killed “gave up”. As I said in my Introduction, Buffy stands for the whole world. As the Slayer, she bears the responsibility for the world. The pressure Buffy faces is the pressure of being the Slayer while preserving Dawn. This is absolutely critical to Dawn’s metaphorical role in the season, but it doesn’t mean Buffy has a death wish. There was a moment when Buffy wanted out of that responsibility, and her guilt feelings over that very understandable desire sent her into catatonia when Glory took Dawn. Buffy interpreted her desire to end her responsibility as failing Dawn (who is certainly part of her responsibility). When Willow tells her to get over her guilt, Buffy does. She’s not going to give up, she’s going to keep fighting. Whether Spike was right or wrong about the Slayers he killed, he’s wrong about Buffy.
Metaphorically, it had to be Willow who brought Buffy back. Buffy suffered a temporary failure of the spirit, so her metaphorical spirit was the one to reach her.
The fact that Ben and Glory are beginning to merge tells us that we’re at the cusp of a very significant change of some kind. The barriers are breaking down, just as Gregor told Buffy in Spiral: “Once the key is activated, it won't just open the gates to the beast's dimension. It's going to open all the gates. The walls separating realities will crumble. Dimensions will bleed into each other. Order will be overthrown and the universe will tumble into chaos….” To drive the point home, Giles repeats this in nearly identical words at the end of TWOTW. It’s storyline, but it’s metaphor too.
The dialogue between Ben and Glory mirrors the one between Willow and Buffy. Follow the scene with Glory and Dawn when they first get to the room under the tower the crazy folk are building. After Dawn names Buffy as one person “who can take it here”, the scene cuts to Willow talking to Buffy. It then shifts back to Dawn and Glory, at which point Glory morphs into Ben. In their dialogue, Ben represents the typical adult. He struggles against what Glory represents (see my next post), but can’t see a way to preserve both Dawn and himself so he eventually gives in to Glory.
We shouldn’t be surprised that Ben was willing to hand Dawn over to Glory to serve his own convenience. He seemed like a nice enough guy, but his basic attitude was revealed in Listening to Fear when he summoned the Queller to “clean up Glory’s mess”, by which he meant “kill Glory’s innocent victims”. His conversation with the minion in Spiral also seemed to suggest that he’d put his own interests first.
In my view, it’s too harsh to say that Ben had an obligation to kill himself. There are many times when individuals sacrifice themselves for the sake of others. We call them heroes, but we don’t say that anyone has an “obligation” to be a hero. We just recognize them for it after the fact. When Ben gave up the fight against Glory and gave Dawn back to her, we know that he’s no hero.
Trivia notes: (1) SMG was in Australia filming the first Scooby Doo movie at the time TWOTW was shooting. She had only limited time available for this episode. (2) A Kewpie Doll is a child’s toy from the early 20th Century. (3) Spike’s gesture in putting his finger on his nose when Anya seems to understand that Ben is Glory comes from the party game Charades. (4) The man working with the blowtorch when Glory brings Dawn to the tower is the crazy man who approached Dawn in Real Me. (5) Glory’s mention of unleashing Armageddon refers to the Christian belief that a battle at the site of Megiddo (Armageddon) will signal the end of the world. (6) Glory’s words to Dawn hang a lantern on the fact that the two of them have metaphorical roles: “Being human? It's like a costume for girls like you and me. Being something else, *that's* what we are.” (7) When Willow is inside Buffy’s mind, there’s an image of Willow standing by the fire Buffy saw in Intervention. (8) Willow remembers that the First Slayer tried to kill them all in their dreams in Restless. (9) Glory’s description of herself as the “one-eyed chicklet in the kingdom of the blind” plays on the aphorism of Desiderius Erasmus that “In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” (10) Spike refers to Xander as “Special Ed” which is short for “Special Education”, i.e., what Americans call (or used to call) the classes for the mentally disabled.

4 comments:

  1. Mark,
    Thanks so much for this analysis. I love your take on the Buffy death wish issue, and the Ben/Buffy comparison really brings Buffy's heroism to the forefront.

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  2. Ooh. Very good - I knew that Buffy's catatonia was about her willingness to give up Dawn's life rather than her own. But I had never followed that through to the conclusion that even here Buffy doesn't want to die.

    SPOILERS.

    This episode is imho also very important for Willow's s6 arc. When a crisis hits, Willow takes charge and does some magic that is presumably dangerous, invading her friend's mind for her own good. The fact that Willow basically not just succeeds but was needed to do what she did helps set her up for her confidence and conviction that she knows what she's doing next year which lasts somewhat shakily until the end of OMWF. The Gift, with the Big Gun dialogue and her successfully saving Tara by again reaching into her brain for good, continues this.

    Do you think the spell to prevent people from recognizing that Ben is Glory has a metaphorical purpose?

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    Replies
    1. I agree with your spoiler points.

      Your question is an excellent one, one I hadn't considered before. Now that you raise it, I do think the spell which prevents them from recognizing that Ben is Glory can serve as part of the metaphor.

      SPOILERS FOR THE GIFT

      As I'll explain in about an hour, I see Glory as the dark side of adulthood (at least for Buffy). That dark side is disguised in a seemingly normal adult, which would cause us not to recognize the problematic features of adult life.

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