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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Gone

[Updated May 2, 2013]

Notwithstanding the nearly disastrous consequences of Willow’s escapism in Wrecked, and notwithstanding her conversation with Willow at the end of Wrecked, Buffy finds herself drawn back into an even more extreme form of escapism in Gone. Some viewers were frustrated with Buffy’s plunge back into the depths, and Gone is generally a low-rated episode. But as I said before, the Magic Box sequence in Life Serial was important in foreshadowing a theme of S6 and we’re beginning to see that Buffy hasn’t yet figured out how to “satisfy a customer [in this case herself] with a task that resists solving.” This strikes me as very true to life for those suffering from depression.
If one is really depressed, I guess it can seem like a good idea to take a free pass from adulthood. Like the Trio (and Warren emphasizes it by telling Jonathan and Andrew “You guys are so immature!”), Buffy’s entire goal in Gone is to do juvenile things while avoiding responsibility. Her conversation with Willow at the end may be a small step up from where she was at the end of OMWF, in the sense that she’s now accepting life itself, but she hasn’t reached the stage of accepting adult responsibilities. Spike drives home the message: “Free of life? Got another name for that. Dead.”


We’re obviously supposed to dislike Doris (the social worker), but Buffy’s behavior towards her is pretty hard to justify. It’s not that much different from the way Willow and Amy treated the people at the Bronze in Smashed. The big difference is that the patrons in the Bronze were entirely innocent, while Doris certainly was not. She was officious, meddling, unsympathetic and, despite her protestations, not all that interested in Dawn’s well-being – note that she never even spoke to Dawn, who is 15 and capable of having an informed opinion.
There was plenty in Gone to excite both sides of the Spike Wars. On the one hand, Spike continues to insist that Buffy “belongs in the dark with him”: “… he's always going on and on about being the only one that understands me. 'We're alike, you and me. Birds of a bloody feather.'” That can easily be interpreted as seducing Buffy to the dark side.
At the same time, though, Spike gave her the tough love advice I quoted above. He also kicked her out because her self-destructive behavior was too nihilistic even for him.
Then there’s Willow. If I’m right that S6 gives us a strong parallel between Buffy and her metaphorical spirit, then we should interpret Willow’s behavior in Gone in some way consistent with Buffy’s own actions. Virtually all we see of Willow in this episode is her determined effort to go “cold turkey” by avoiding magic altogether. We get a number of scenes with the stereotypical behavior of an addict in that situation: cleaning out all the magic supplies (don’t forget the candles!); drinking all the water; shaking; temptation; etc.
This can’t be right. Buffy is escaping from herself – escaping from life – in Gone. If Willow’s story is parallel, then we need to interpret her behavior as escapist also. The natural consequence is that Willow’s problem is not addiction, not to magic and not to anything else. Rather, Willow’s reaction to her binge in Wrecked is itself a form of escapism from her real problem(s).
This, I think, highlights one of my issues with the magic/drugs metaphor. Because Wrecked and Gone rubbed the addiction “metaphor” in our faces, most viewers took that as the actual message. And they didn’t like it. Going forward, any viewer is likely to find S6 pretty frustrating if the addiction metaphor is taken at face value. Much of the criticism of S6 stems from the fact that Willow’s story plays as addiction despite the fact that this simply can’t and doesn’t work.
Many viewers also disparaged Gone because they criticized Xander’s behavior, or criticized the writers for making Xander seem like an oblivious fool, for not recognizing what was happening in Spike’s crypt. I think this criticism misses the point. Xander is so caught up in his own concerns about his upcoming wedding (inviting D’Hoffryn?!) that he’s ignoring Buffy’s problems and she, in turn, is ignoring his. Metaphorically, Xander’s inability to “see” Buffy is just a way to say that he’s not recognizing her coping problems, just as he has failed to see other things all season. Think of Marcie in Out of Sight, Out of Mind, where she became invisible precisely because people weren’t noticing her; it’s a similar dynamic from a different perspective and Xander even references that episode here.
Nor should we be surprised by Xander’s behavior even without the metaphor. He comes from an abusive family, as has been clear for quite some time. Kids in such families often become adept at “not seeing” the things happening right in front of them, just as Xander misses the dynamic between Spike and Buffy in the kitchen and in the crypt. That would be too painful for Xander, so he doesn’t “see” it.
What’s true of Xander is also true of the episode as a whole. None of Buffy’s friends actually see her even before she becomes invisible. They aren’t recognizing her issues any more than Xander is. The episode therefore works on 2 levels: as Buffy’s own desire to escape from her life; and as the failure of her friends to see what’s really wrong with her. Buffy’s words to Willow sum it up for both, even though Buffy, as usual, takes the blame on herself:
WILLOW: Okay, I deserve the wrath of Dawn, but ... why is she taking it out on you?
BUFFY: Because I let it happen.
WILLOW: Buffy, I was the one who-
BUFFY: Who was drowning. My best friend. And I was too wrapped up in my own dumb life to even notice.

Trivia notes: (1) SMG was absent during most of the shooting of this episode, I believe because she was shooting the first Scooby Doo movie, so they needed to have her on screen a minimal amount of time. She also wanted to get her hair cut so they worked that into the story line. (2) Dawn mentioned Kokopelli, a fertility god and a trickster worshiped by Native Americans of the Southwest. (3) Andrew wanted their invisibility ray to be “more ILM, less Ed Wood.” Industrial Light and Magic is the visual effects company founded by George Lucas. Ed Wood made very low budget genre films. (4) Willow said she deserved the “wrath of Dawn”, which is probably a pun on the Star Trek movie The Wrath of Khan. (5) Xander’s “Good Godfrey Cambridge” refers to an American comedian of the ‘60s and ‘70s. (6) Xander accused Spike of trying to “mack” on Buffy, which is American slang meaning Spike was trying to seduce her. (7) Buffy tried to divert Ms. Kroger by pretending that Spike used the word “crib” rather than “crypt”, the former being American slang for a house. (8) D’Hoffryn last appeared in Something Blue. (9) Buffy’s line “S’awright” refers to a by-now fairly obscure comic and ventriloquist from the 50s and 60s who used the stage name SeƱor Wences. (10) Willow’s expression “jump off the wagon” is American slang meaning that someone who stopped using alcohol or drugs will start again. (11) When Buffy torments the woman in the park as “the ghost of fashion victims past”, the reference is to the Ghost of Christmas Past from the Charles Dickens story A Christmas Carol. (12) Buffy’s exclamation “Yahtzee” when she finds Dawn’s file on Doris’s desk refers to a dice game of that name. (13) The scene in which Buffy causes Doris’s computer to print the phrase “all work and no play make Doris a dull girl” is a reference to the movie The Shining. (14) The tune Buffy whistles as she leaves Doris’s office is “Going Through the Motions” from OMWF. (15) Willow’s “betcha by golly wow” comes from a song of that title by the Stylistics. (16) Buffy’s reference to “Bizarro World” is to the Superman comics. (17) Buffy’s “birds of a bloody feather” modifies an English idiom which means that two things are alike. (18) Buffy’s “hey, I’m walking here” comes from the movie Midnight Cowboy. (19) Buffy’s “unidentified flying pizza” refers to the expression “unidentified flying object”. (20) Buffy described Xander and Anya as “Muldering out what happened”, referring to one of the heroes of the TV series The X-Files. (21) SMG’s delivery of the single word “Wow” in response to Xander telling her she could die has always struck me as exceptional acting; she delivered it in exactly the right tone. (22) Warren describes Andrew as “Tucker’s brother”, referring to the episode The Prom.

4 comments:

  1. SPOILERS

    I love your observation about Willow's treating magic as an addiction is actually escaping from her real problem, because it jives with what I feel the writers were actually going for, and explains why she goes dark at the end of the season.

    She wants the problem to be the magic, because that's easy to solve, stop using the magic.

    But that's not the problem, the problem is HOW she uses magic. And that's not an easy thing to solve. It requires introspection and self honesty, which are things neither Buffy nor Willow are capable of at the moment.

    It's almost as if the writers are now using metaphor as a misdirection, the obvious metaphor is magic=crack, but what's really going on is more subtle than that. Almost TOO subtle. Of course, DMP will put a dent in this view again, as Amy will "dose" Willow, and the problem goes back to being an addiction one.

    END SPOILER

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  2. While it's surprising (at least at face value) that Xander doesn't realize Buffy is in Spike's crypt, it's at least internally consistent in that Buffy doesn't think he will figure it out. Buffy's friends aren't perceptive to her, and she doesn't even expect them to be.

    Of course Spike thinks the whole farce is ridiculous, as he's always been pretty perceptive and continually complains when others are not.


    Unrelated: I don't know if any of the people in this corner of the internet are following Game of Thrones (TV show), but a common complaint in the fandom has been the unequal amounts of female and male nudity on the show. For instance, sex scenes will feature a fully-clothed man with a completely naked woman (see Robb and Talisa, or any brothel scene). Rewatching Buffy is evening things out for me, as Spike is about as naked as he can get and SMG isn't even on camera.

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    1. Heh, I do follow GoT, though the Y side of me isn't complaining about it. :) You're very right about Spike in S6. JM even commented a few times that he was spending an awful lot of time just wearing a sock.

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  3. Four quick thoughts—

    1) I've always liked this episode, but that may be because I have no trouble with Buffy's depression arc...

    2) Buffy's treatment of Doris is cruel (if funny), but I have always seen it as a kind of bodily echo of Willow's excesses: When Willow feels helpless, she turns to magic; here, Buffy (rightly or wrongly) feels helpless, so she makes use of the magic she's been given.

    3) Yes, in times of deep depression one dreams of complete escape from one's life—invisibility gave Buffy the illusion (oops) of that, and she, well, ran with it... to Spike, among other things...

    4) On one hand, it is hard to imagine anything too nihilistic for Spike, but that is only on the surface: down deep, I really think he is a romantic—he may be love's bitch, but he is once again man enough to admit it, and that means kicking Buffy out.

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