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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Seeing Red

[Updated May 2, 2013]

The episode Seeing Red was a flash point in the popular culture of BtVS, so I need to provide some background before I get to the episode itself. One notable feature of the series, which I mentioned briefly in my Introduction, is how it became embedded in culture. The show debuted in March 1997, just as the internet was beginning to come into widespread use. By Season 6 there were so many Buffy sites I’m sure nobody could keep track of them all. They had become the water cooler around which the fans met to debate each episode. The writers were aware of fan reaction to each episode because they read some of the sites as well and occasionally even posted at The Bronze.

As I said in my post on Bargaining, Season 6 was easily the most controversial season of the show. It wasn’t just that some (many?) viewers didn’t like it; that was true for S4 and S7 as well. No, it was the issues raised and the way they were handled which generated the passionate internet debates at the time. In rough order, my personal impression was that the controversial aspects ranked as follows: T1. Spike (was he evil, good, or in-between?) and the magic/drugs metaphor; 3. Buffy’s season-long depression and relationship with Spike; BIG GAP 4. The overall quality of the season and whether the characters had developed organically; and 5. The endings of Hell’s Bells and Normal Again.
All of that controversy pales in comparison with Seeing Red. SR was by far, indisputably, without any shadow of a doubt the most controversial episode in the show’s history. It possibly was more controversial than ALL the show’s history. It was perhaps the most controversial episode of any TV show ever. If you weren’t on line at the time, it’s hard to convey the depth and passion of the arguments. When SR aired, it was as if the internet had exploded. Buffy boards were getting maybe 10 times the usual traffic and the arguments were screaming. You’d have to compare political controversies like race or abortion in order to get a similar reaction.
So what was the fuss all about? Bathroom and bedroom, of course. Let’s take Spike first, because SR threw oil on the fire of the Spike debates which were already intense. Spuffies were infuriated that Spike would attempt to rape Buffy. They said this was Out of Character, an issue I’m not going to address, but I think there was a more fundamental concern. Many Spuffies knew that rape – even attempted rape – occupies a special place in crimes where women are concerned. It’s one of the few unforgivable offenses, like child molestation. As one commenter put it at AtPO, “They have given us an extremely interesting and likeable character and had him do not an unlikable thing, but an unforgivable thing.”
Most viewers understood that Spike’s actions would change the character and his relationship with Buffy irrevocably. Indeed, I know some viewers who had been Spuffies (or sympathetic) who switched on a dime to seething hatred of Spike, a hatred they never lost. Spike was in human face during the attack and that seemed to encourage this reaction. Joss very intentionally put Angelus in vamp face when Angelus murdered Jenny Calendar for exactly this reason, and it served as an important visual clue about whether it was the demon or the man who was committing the crime. While I personally was able to put this aside for the later story, a lot of viewers weren’t, and I think this had a big impact on later episodes.
Many of those who remained Spike fans blamed Marti Noxon for this scene – she didn’t write the episode, but the scene was her idea – and accused her of misanthropy and numerous other faults. I think this is very unfair, even though I do have criticisms of the scene. The fact is, all the writers went along with her idea, including Joss. Blaming her alone, even assuming blame is justified, makes no sense.
Then there was Tara. When she first appeared on the show, some viewers were very critical of her. They didn’t like the fact that Willow was gay, they wanted Oz back. They even criticized Amber Benson as “fat”.
Over time, I think most viewers came to like Tara a lot. In particular, segments of the gay community were absolutely thrilled that a gay relationship was being portrayed so sympathetically over such a long period of time. Indeed, it was the only gay relationship on network TV for many years, and the show was the cutting edge for the acceptance of gays on television. The writers were creative in using metaphor to show gay sex (Who Are You) at a time when the WB wouldn’t even allow a kiss. They pushed the envelope in S6 with scenes such as that in OMWF.
In order to describe the uproar which followed Tara’s murder, I need to explain some details about Buffy fandom at the time. There was, and for that matter still is, a posting board called The Kitten, The Witches and the Bad Wardrobe dedicated to Willow and Tara. Popularly known as the Kitten Board, the name was a play on Willow’s book report in Restless on The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (see the essay on Restless). The posters there were enthusiastic fans of the show and thrilled that a gay couple was, for the first time ever on American TV, shown having a long-term, successful relationship.
Despite its limited focus, the Kitten Board was widely read. That’s not just because fans of the relationship hung out there, but also because one of the posters there, Robert Black (like Riley in Something Blue, not a lesbian), had the best spoiler sources on the net. Those who wanted to be spoiled (not me) and to debate the show before episodes even aired read the Kitten Board. Black knew what was coming in Seeing Red, of course, and he made sure that the whole Kitten Board knew too. The spoilers on this event were so widespread (not all of them coming from Black) that they even became known to people like me who were spoiler-phobic, with the personally annoying result that the episode didn’t have its intended impact on me.
Anyway, Black and the other Kitten Board posters were absolutely infuriated that Joss would kill Tara. They were angry because her death destroyed the one gay couple on TV, but also because they felt that having her killed in the bedroom after a day of sexual romping reinforced a cliché that gay couples would be punished for being gay and having gay sex. (There’s a book called The Celluloid Closet which details this practice of movies and TV and the Kitten Board has a FAQ explaining their position here.) For an example of the reaction, see the essay by Todd Ramlow at PopMatters: I should add that I have very strong disagreements with many of his points, but I’m linking to it as an example of the depth of reaction Seeing Red generated. For important counterpoints see Andrew Gilstrap at [Major Spoilers for the rest of S6 at this link]
Thus, while many internet posters were screaming at each other about Spike and Marti, the Kitten Board was screaming at the other writers and at Joss, with everyone else eventually dragged in. You can read more about it here (warning: Major Spoilers for the rest of S6 at the link): and in the Alissa Wilts essay in Buffy Goes Dark.
I can’t say much more because that would involve really significant spoilers, but suffice to say that the ramifications of both of these controversies would remain for the rest of S6 and all of S7.
With all this as background, let me get to the details of Seeing Red. The fact that I was spoiled for Tara’s death meant that Seeing Red never had the dramatic emotional impact on me that was intended. Perhaps for that reason, or maybe the furious debates afterward, I’ve never been able to consider it a top quality episode, though it’s the turning point of the season. I want to emphasize that I don’t think it’s a bad episode, it’s just not the great one it perhaps could have been. I’ll try to cover at least the basics of the two major scenes plus some of the others.
Seeing Red reveals the ultimate goal of the Trio (“everything we ever wanted”, as Warren promised Jonathan in Entropy): manliness. Theirs was a false, immature form of manliness, of course, emphasized by the phallic stakes on their ATVs in the teaser to Entropy and by the rather anvilicious “orbs” and their effect on Warren here in Seeing Red: “WARREN: What's the matter baby? You never fight a real man before?” All season long they’ve been trying to prove their own self-worth by attacking Buffy, tearing her down. Now their efforts are shown for what they really are: brutal and creepily sexist. Buffy emasculated Warren, figuratively and emotionally, when she smashed his “orbs”, and that’s his most sensitive issue (see Katrina).
Seeing Red also reveals the reason why Andrew ended up siding with Warren, rather than his putative best friend, Jonathan. This was developed subtly, starting with this dialogue in Life Serial:
Warren holds out his hand to Andrew, who recoils.
ANDREW: With each other?
WARREN: Well, you know what homophobia really means about you, don't you?

Then, in Entropy, Andrew let slip his true feelings while they were watching Spike have sex with Anya:
ANDREW: (riveted) He is so cool. (glances at the others, self-consciously) And, I mean, the girl is hot too.

And here in SR we find out that Warren, unsurprisingly, exploited Andrew’s nascent feelings:
ANDREW: (crying) How could he do this to me? He promised we'd be together, but ... he was just using me. He never really loved- (catching himself) ...hanging out with us.

All along there’s been a ménage a Trio.
The Trio weren’t the only ones attacking Buffy in Seeing Red. Even today when I re-watch the episode, I still get annoyed with Xander’s statements in his first conversation with Buffy. As so often, he’s judgmental that Buffy failed to live up to his expectations: “All those times I told Spike to get lost ... that he didn't have a chance with a girl like you.” And now, even now, he doesn’t want to know how hard it was for her to be pulled out of heaven.
His criticisms of Buffy are not even remotely plausible. It simply was false for him to say that Buffy “used to” keep him involved in her personal life. In fact, the opposite was true – Buffy excluded him precisely because his reaction to Angel was so harsh (e.g., Passion, Becoming 1, Dead Man’s Party, Revelations), because he violated her confidence by telling Riley about Angel in The Yoko Factor (h/t State of Siege), and because Xander’s Lie in Becoming 2 meant that she could never trust him on that score again. We see her lack of trust vindicated when he berates her with the same holier than thou attitude towards Spike that he always showed with Angel. Xander had no involvement whatsoever in her brief relationship with Parker, at least not until afterwards. She never once talked to him about Riley before Into the Woods.
What was really at issue here was not that Buffy had closed him off regarding Spike, though that was true in part, but that Xander felt like Willow did in Innocence: “It just means that you'd rather be with someone you hate than be with me.” That’s the theme which would have made a better scene – it would have been true to both characters and would have then allowed him to follow that up with the “you shut me out” accusation.
Spike’s attack on Buffy was the hardest in many ways, though one could argue that she took more of a physical beating from Warren and more of an emotional one from Xander. Hardest on her and hardest to watch. There’s a lot to consider with that scene, so I’m going to break it down in several different ways.
Having Buffy be “injured” in the fight with the vampire immediately before the scene was IMO not well-considered. For one thing, the injury wasn’t all that plausible – a nearly identical scene occurred in Doomed and Buffy was fine afterwards.
The reason for the “injury” was that the standard fact in real life rape cases is that the man is stronger. The problem in the narrative within the show is that Buffy is stronger than Spike; in fact, the resolution of the scene depends on that very fact. Her “injury” beforehand obscures this point in an effort to make the scene work with the strength issue reversed from what we see in real life. I think this comes across as a contrivance and that it confused the viewers about a very serious social issue. Actor James Marsters had very perceptive comments on this aspect (very slight edit):
Al Norton: I ran a whole bunch of Buffy polls on our website and Facebook page and the one things the readers wanted me to ask you about, other than your favorite episode, was Seeing Red, the episode where Spike tries to force himself on Buffy. There's been some distance now between you and the episode; do you think it worked and did you understand the story they were trying to tell?
James Marsters: I do understand why they did it but I still think it was a mistake. The truth is the writers on Buffy were being incredibly brave. Joss was asking each of them to come up with their most painful day, their most humiliating day, the day that they made the biggest fools of themselves or the day they hurt someone else the most, and then put a patina of fangs and blood over that. Basically that's why I think the series is so delightful, because of the bravery of the writers on that score.

One of the writers, a female writer [Marti Noxon], had a situation in her life where she and her boyfriend were breaking up and she decided if she just made love to him one more time, that they wouldn't break up. She ended up trying to force herself on him and decided to write about that. The thing is, if you flip it and make it a man forcing himself on a woman, I believe it becomes a whole different thing.

Even though Buffy is super strong, even though she kicks him through a wall at the end of it, how it plays to the audience changes when you change the sex that way. It worked out and everything but I'm not really sure it expressed what the author was intending and on that score it was not successful. I think it was a big risk for everybody but I think if she could have found a female character to express that with it would have gotten closer to what she was trying to say, and I'm not really sure that we got there with that episode.,-Angel).htm

IMO, it would have been much more plausible to place Buffy’s first conversation with Xander immediately before her confrontation with Spike. That would have transitioned nicely from a discussion about Spike in which Buffy was emotionally distraught. While there’s little previous evidence in the show that being physically battered affects her fighting, there’s a great deal which shows that her emotional state does.
Now I need to discuss Spike’s mindset in the bathroom. There’s a lot of room for interpretation about that, and the writers clearly intended the ambiguity. Again, I’m not sure this was a good dramatic choice. Let’s walk through it.
He began by trying to apologize for having sex with Anya. No problem there, of course. But he was clearly tormented by Dawn’s accusation that he broke his own code – “I don’t hurt you” – and that led him to try to recover what he thought he had. In doing so, he didn’t account for Tara’s words at the end of Entropy – things can’t go back to the way they were, and trust needs time to develop.
This is how writer Steven DeKnight explained Spike’s mental state in what followed:
“C: Why did you choose to use attempted rape as a means of bringing Spike and Buffy to this point in the relationship?

SDK: Ah. We had talked a lot about Spike trying to do good but ultimately he doesn't have a soul and it's a constant struggle. His love for Buffy and what she was giving him back, even though it was often abusive, really kind of kept him on that path. But once she absolutely cut him off... In the previous week's episode you really see him start to turn there, when he tells her to get out.

C: Right, he has a little bit more self respect at that point.

SDK: Yeah, and you know, there's a lot of self-loathing too. I mean, on the one hand, he hates himself for what he did to Buffy by sleeping with Anya, and on the other hand he hates himself for feeling anything for her.

C: Well that's the thing that's gone through all of this, that he doesn't understand why he's feeling this way and he hates that he feels this way.

SDK: Right. So we were talking about how to really show this and push it in that direction, and it was Marti in the room who said, because we were talking about Spike going to Buffy to talk to her about this, and she said--

C: Right, cause it starts very tenderly. It starts as a very nice scene.

SDK: --and she said "you know he should go to talk to her, and it just gets out of hand. He starts to try, to start up the relationship, to say 'I know you felt it; I know you could feel it again' and he just won't stop."

C: Okay, so did this seem like a natural progression for Spike to you guys?

SDK: Yes.

C; To try and hurt her physically, to attempt...

SDK: Well you know to Spike, and this is not to lessen what he tried to do, which was wrong. In the moment, all he was thinking about is 'she loves me, and if she just lets herself feel this again, she'll feel it again.'”

As I interpret this, Spike’s attempt to force things stemmed from the message he got up through and including Dead Things: “But you like what I do to you?” He believed that if Buffy would just let herself experience “what I do to you” one more time, their “relationship” would be restored. Joss put it this way: “Although Spike could feel love, it was the possessive and selfish kind of love that most people feel. The concept of real altruism didn’t exist for him. And although he did love Buffy and was moved by her emotionally, ultimately his desire to possess her led him to try and rape her because he couldn’t make the connection —- the difference between their dominance games and actual rape.” [Spoilers at link: ]
Compounding the problem was that Spike interpreted Buffy’s reluctance about the relationship as implicitly telling him that “no means yes”, an interpretation for which there’s support in previous episodes:
“BUFFY: (sighs) Spike, I mean it. Come on.
SPIKE: I hear you're serious. So am I. I want you ... you want me...
Cut to a closer shot as Buffy has her back up against the tree and Spike is right in her face.
SPIKE: ...I can't go inside, so ... maybe the time is right ... for you to come outside.” (AYW)

The problem with the nuance – however true to life it may be in some cases – is that the uncertainty leaves room for doubt about what he did and who was to blame. That contrasts very strongly with the gritty, hyper-realism of the filming of the scene. The contrast caused some viewers, who focused on the filming, to hate Spike, while others sympathized with Spike and even blamed Buffy, because they found his conflicted state “understandable”.
Adding to the latter view is the fact that Buffy stopped Xander from going after Spike. I’m not sure I have a good explanation for why Buffy stopped Xander. Here’s one from Yoda at AtPO:
So in this bathroom scene I see Buffy as a sad & confused woman who cares for someone she feels she shouldn’t mostly because she feels that she can’t trust him.
Her defenses are down both emotionally & physically. Spike is someone she has come to care about and to some degree trust.

So when he betrays that trust by forcing himself on her she reacts as a woman not a Slayer. Her actions are emotional not logical. The tears and pleas are not so much that she is afraid of him physically but rather she is begging & pleading because she so desperately wants to be able to trust him.

I think she wants to believe that he has changed and can love her the way she wants to be loved, but also knows that as long as he doesn't have a reliable moral compass, he's a bad risk. And I think that is what's killing her. And that is why she pushes him away, in part.

I also think she is afraid that if she does fall in love with Spike, that she will lose herself to her darkness. That the darkness will be all that is left of her, because it is such a significant part of her. And I think this scares her to death.

A long time ago Angelus told Spike that the only way to kill Buffy is to love her. He recognized that Buffy’s Achilles heel is her love. If she loves you she will let you close enough to hurt her. And as Spike said in Dead Things "You only hurt the ones you love".

I think by Buffy allowing that scene to play out as far as it did it shows that Buffy has let Spike into her heart whether she admits it to herself or not. He couldn't have hurt her so badly otherwise.”

After the episode aired, there was a lot of screaming discussion about whether Spike’s actions “really” amounted to attempted rape. From a strictly legal point of view, there is room for doubt. I’m not going to repeat the arguments because they’re tedious and not terribly enlightening for non-lawyers. More important for me now is a point I’ve made before, namely that it doesn’t matter how an action would be treated in real life, what matters is how it’s treated within the show. Within the show it was attempted rape, even if that seems to contradict the intended nuance. That may affect our judgment of the writing, but it doesn’t change the nature of the scene within the plot.
I’ll let shadowkat criticize the writing:
Buffy and Spike engaged in a violent sexual relationship, often starting with Buffy saying no - only to eventually give in and attack him sexually as she does in Smashed,
Tabula Rasa (kissing scene), Gone. The pushme -pullme relationship was what was painful to watch. She says no but means yes…. Characterwise? It made sense. Buffy appeared to be doing what I’ve seen many people do, excusing her actions by making them someone else's fault.
"Why do I let Spike do these things to me? Why do I let Spike hurt me?" The audience, or at least a portion of it, was beginning to root for Spike to slap the living hell out of Buffy. "Tell me you love me. Tell me you want me." Bam!
This was a risky move on the part of the writers - which they probably hoped worked because Spike was an amoral vampire, the villain…. Unfortunately watching Buffy beat up Spike, push Spike, pull Spike, manipulate Spike while Spike obviously loved her beyond reason was not making Spike inherently evil to the viewer - it was making Buffy seem that way to some, not all the viewers. I've rewatched the episodes - you can literally watch them three ways. I can see it from the view that Spike is seducing her and is obsessive and ruthless and in love all at the same time. And yes I like the fact you can see it both ways - very intriguing. But and this is a huge But, if you are going to end this with an attempted rape - you better damn well make the character who’s the intended victim a little more sympathetic, otherwise half your audience is going to be rooting for the wrong character. And that is what happened and that is what continues to disturb me on a weird horrible level.”

For me, the most interesting issue within the accepted mythology of the show was Spike’s own reaction to the attempted rape. There were two components of that. First was the look of horror on his face after Buffy kicked him off. He was so shocked that he left his treasured duster, the very symbol of his identity as a Big Bad, on the stairs for Xander to find. Think about that for a minute -- a vampire understands that he has done wrong and is upset by it.
The second was this dialogue with Clem:
SPIKE: (shakily) What have I done?
Beat. Spike frowns, looks bemused.
SPIKE: Why *didn't* I do it?

Think about this in the context of vampires. They are, by definition, without conscience: “ANGEL: When you become a vampire the demon takes your body, but it doesn't get your soul. That's gone! No conscience, no remorse... It's an easy way to live.” (Angel) And yet Spike seems to express remorse, or at least puzzlement, about his attack. That shouldn’t happen with a vampire. It didn’t even happen with Faith after she tried to rape/kill Xander in Consequences. Something has made Spike different, whether it’s the chip or the human nature which informs the vampire he became. 

Keep this in mind, because we’re nearing the denouement of Spike’s “Clockwork Orange” journey. As shadowkat put it, “I think the chip is irrelevant now. Spike has changed. He just doesn't know it yet. This episode and that scene had to happen in order for him to find out. In Btvs - a character has to hit rock bottom before he can learn what he's made of and truly change. Spike just did.”
I’ve deliberately saved the saddest event for last, just as it occurred in the episode. In my view -- elaborated at greater length in a discussion with Andrea in comments to Grave -- we’re supposed to see Tara as the price of Buffy’s resurrection. Two factors lead me to conclude that Tara’s death was Willow’s price. What I’m about to say about the first one requires mild thematic spoilers for the AtS episode, The Price. This aired the week before Seeing Red. The entire episode revolves around thaumogenesis and the “cosmic price” (Cordy’s phrase) for dark magic. For me, that was a signal of what was to come, and the obvious price for Willow to pay was Tara. (As a side note, I really strongly didn’t appreciate the use of an AtS episode to spoil me for Buffy.)
The other factor comes from the events of S6 themselves. In After Life Spike said that there was “always” a price for magic. As I’ve pointed out, the first three episodes of every season set the themes, and After Life was the third episode of S6. Now, as I suggested in my post on that episode, Spike’s statement wasn’t true in general, but it still could be the case that something as serious as a resurrection spell might demand a price:
XANDER: We made a demon? Bad us.
WILLOW: Thaumogenesis is when doing a spell actually creates a being. In this case it was like, a, a side-effect, I guess. Like a price.
DAWN: What?
WILLOW: Think of it like, the world doesn't like you getting something for free, and we asked for this huge gift. Buffy. A-and so the world said, 'fine, but if you have that, you have to take this too.' And it made the demon.

The kicker is that the demon in After Life was not the price after all. As Anya warned them, “Well, technically, that's not a price. That's a gift with purchase.” Tara’s fate was sealed when Willow killed the fawn, and the price remained to be paid. Vino de madre.
Finally, there’s the “lesbian cliché” debate surrounding Tara’s death. I wasn’t aware of the stereotype when the show aired, so this didn’t bother me at first watching. Once I understood the point, I thought then and still do that the writers should have been more careful about the way they set up Tara’s death; they could have done more to avoid the stereotype. That said, I don’t think the writers intended to convey that Tara was punished for being gay. There was moral significance in Tara’s life; her death was simply tragedy.
Trivia notes: (1) The title is a pun. In English idiom, “to see red” means to get furiously angry, which is true of Xander, of Warren, and of Willow. Tara “sees Red” in the sense of Willow’s nickname, the, uh, orbs are red, and at the very end Willow’s eyes turn red to connect the color to the idiom. (2) Tara told Willow that Buffy told her that she was sleeping with Spike. Buffy didn’t actually use those words in their conversation at the end of Dead Things, but it was pretty clear that she was. (3) Willow offered to “Sherlock around”, referring to Sherlock Holmes. (4) The figurine Buffy poked while searching the Trio’s lair was that of Vampirella. (5) Anya mentioned “lies flying around like little monkeys”, referring to the winged monkeys from The Wizard of Oz. (5) Andrew called the demon ‘Puf’N’Stuff’, for which see the link. (6) Andrew mentioned Siegfried & Roy, the magicians and entertainers. (7) Andrew called Jonathan “skin job”, which is a reference to the movie Blade Runner. (8) Xander referred to himself as “Chicken of the Sea”, which is the brand name for canned tuna, but also has a pun on the word “chicken” as meaning a coward. (9) Spike’s attitude towards love in his conversation with Buffy was the same as he’s had since Lover’s Walk. (10) I think it’s plausible to see the scene between Warren and Katrina in the bar in Dead Things as prefiguring Buffy’s conversation with Spike here.  (11) Jonathan referred to Warren as “Charles Atlas”, who was famous for advertising a bodybuilding regimen to turn weak men into strong. (12) This sentence from Andrew contains a string of Star Trek references: “He's Picard, you're Deanna Troi. Get used to the feeling, Betazoid.” (13) Warren called Xander “Shemp”, referring to Shemp Howard, an occasional member of The Three Stooges. (14) Xander called Warren “Mighty Mouse”, referring to the cartoon character. (15) Clem wanted to watch Knight Rider on TV, which was a 1980s show. (16) Clem’s line “love’s a funny thing” is what Spike said when he left Buffy and Angel in Lover’s Walk. (17) The park which the Trio robbed was called “Wild River Adventure”, after the Wild Rivers franchise in the US. (18) James Marsters said later that the attempted rape scene was very difficult for him and that he’d never do another.


  1. Many thanks for the truly excellent post—

    What you write makes me glad that I was not on the Buffy boards then (aside from the fact that I never would have finished my dissertation... )

    I'll have more to write in a day or two, when I am less swamped, but two quick points for now:

    First, a query:

    In the line

    Adding to the latter view is the fact that Buffy stopped Xander from going after Spike. I’m not sure I have a good explanation for why Buffy stopped Xander.

    Do you mean "Spike" for the second "Xander"?

    Second, yet another reason for Buffy to not trust Xander with matters personal: he was the one who spilled all the details of her relationship with Angel to Riley...

  2. Good point about Xander telling Riley about Angel.

    No, I meant Buffy stopped Xander. Here's the dialogue:

    XANDER: Did he hurt you?
    BUFFY: (sighing, shaking her head) He tried. He didn't...
    XANDER: Son of a bitch. (turns to storm out)
    BUFFY: (softly) Don't.
    Xander stops in the doorway.
    BUFFY: (tearfully) Please, just ... don't.

    By quoting Yoda's post I meant to convey that the only reason I can think of to explain why Buffy stopped Xander from going after Spike was that, as Yoda put it, "Buffy has let Spike into her heart whether she admits it to herself or not". Sorry if that wasn't clear.

  3. No, you were clear—I just fell into a moment of dopey misreading. Sorry... I'm having a hectic day... They should take my English Professor card away...

  4. That said, the other reason Buffy would stop Xander is that even if she were to want Spike dead in retribution (a very un-Buffy response generally), she would never let Xander do it given his history with Spike and his history with her: she would never want to give him the satisfaction of avenging her honor, knowing what it might mean for him. She would do it herself.

    1. Yes, absolutely. Plus, of course, there remains the risk that even with the chip Spike might kill Xander.

  5. I personally never bought into that trope. Just because someone made an entry for it at TVTropes doesn't make it so. Until gay characters became more common in the 2000's I bet most people couldn't name 2 films in the previous 40 years that displayed that trope. The TV Tropes list of examples is full of films that no one ever watched.

    That said, even if you do believe in the trope, I don't think that anyone writing a series where anyone not in the opening credits can die can handcuff themselves by putting a character off limits for killing.

    Bruce From Missouri

    1. I'm hardly an expert; as I said, I wasn't aware of it until after SR aired, and I haven't gone back to check it out. It sounds plausible, but that's all I can say from personal knowledge.

      I agree with your second point. I really liked Tara, but I really liked Jenny Calendar too.


      And Anya. I liked Anya too.


      Your Chosen Spoiler literally made me pause for a second in sad silence.

  6. This is quite possibly the best thing I've read on the difficult subject of "Seeing Red." You're very fair, and dispassionate on an episode that almost everyone has a passionate response to. My personal stance as a feminist who's thought long and hard about this episode is that the attempted rape was clumsy to the point where it would be better if it didn't happen. I believe the writers were trying to nail down a point about the soul - Spike was soulless, therefore they needed to prove he was ultimately 'bad.' I believe that this group of writers, as good as they are, could have come up with a crisis point for Spike ten times better than the one we got if they had tried just a little harder and perhaps were under the direct guidance of Joss instead of Marti Noxon, not that I personally want to slam her.

    Spoilers for rest of season 6

    Next to Joyce, Tara's death is the most senseless in the series. There's a trope in comics about "fridging" a woman (killing a woman) to further a man's plot. That's how I've seen Tara's death since I first saw the series on syndication in 2005-2006. Tara was killed so that we could get the Dark Willow arc. It's another part of the series that feels clumsy to me.

    That being said, I've always referred to season 6 as the bravest season for what they explored, and I will always love it for presenting an accurate portrayal of mental illness, but I do believe it lacked something because Joss was doing Firefly at the time.

    1. That's quite a compliment -- thank you.


      I agree with you that the writers wanted to emphasize Spike's lack of a soul as the critical feature. I was very disappointed in this at the time. I thought that they were going to redeem Spike without a soul, and I was fascinated by how they would do that. I've reconciled myself to this now.

      I was one of those who argued pretty strongly at the time that Spike's actions were out of character. Some of the other posters at AtPO convinced me that his mindset could be interpreted in such a way as to avoid that -- the nuance I mentioned in the post -- but this causes serious problems with the "realism" of calling it attempted rape. I finally got to the point of letting that go as well for the reasons I gave above. I basically agree with shadowkat's criticism of the writing.

      On Tara, I absolutely agree that the point was to trigger Dark Willow. I love Tara, but I do see a metaphorical point to Dark Willow as part of Buffy's journey, which I'll explain in detail in the post on Grave. So while I'm not happy with Tara's death, I can see a reason for it. Whether that reason is enough, I'll let everyone judge for him/herself.

  7. But, if you are going to end this with an attempted rape - you better damn well make the character who’s the intended victim a little more sympathetic, otherwise half your audience is going to be rooting for the wrong character.

    I think this remark says more about the audience than the writing. Spike is my favorite character, and I hate the AR, but during that scene, all my sympathies are with Buffy. There is absolutely nothing she could have done to "deserve" it, and arguing that her character isn't "sympathetic" enough skates dangerously close to the argument that rape victims have it coming.

    I agree wholeheartedly that the writers could have found a better impetus for Spike to run off and get a soul. And I have other issues with the way the Buffy/Spike relationship is written in S6. Insisting that a rape victim be likeable isn't one of them.

    1. Shadowkat would agree with you. Her point was that a significant portion of the audience defended Spike in various ways after the episode, including some who said that Buffy had behaved so badly to Spike all season that Spike was understandably confused about when no meant no. Shadowkat was reacting to that audience reaction and suggesting that the writers could have avoided it had they not tried to add "nuance" to the scene.

      I certainly didn't mean that passage to suggest that Shadowkat was in any way defending attempted rape. She wasn't.

  8. Just jumping in to comment-

    "It was perhaps the most controversial episode of any TV show ever."

    - the LOST series finale would like to have a word with you.

    The internet shitstorm over that series ending is something I've never witnessed before, and hope never to again. It erupts every single time Damon Lindelof surfaces in the press. And it's always directed at Damon. Co-Showrunner Carlton Cuse hasn't received a fraction of the same vitriol from the fanbase.
    From where I sit, the negative backlash hasn't mellowed with age even a tiny bit.

    1. Fair point. I was more personally involved in the SR controversies, so those seemed more intense, but obviously Lost had a bigger audience and thus more potential for fireworks.

  9. Another interpretation of the title Seeing Red: the last thing Tara sees is red - her own blood, on Willow's shirt.

  10. "because Xander’s Lie in Becoming 2 meant that she could never trust him on that score again."

    SPOILERS (also some alluded Breaking Bad ones)

    The phrasing of this line implies that Buffy eventually figured out that Xander lied to her in Becoming II. However as shown with Selfless that can't really be the case since she still seems to believe that both Xander and Willow wanted her to ""kick [Angel's] ass.

    While I appreciated some recognition of the Lie and Xander's dickery it seems kind of silly in retrospect that Buff never put two and two together and realized the truth of the matter, particularly because of all the strife it would cause with her relationships as you also mention in your review of Selfless. Even a not particularly smart character in Breaking Bad was able to figure out he was duped EVENTUALLY so what does that say about Buffy? Sure it was a traumatic time and experience but given she was forced to relay details to Giles in Faith Hope and Trick and had several years in-between the fact she didn't seems really doubtful. At least before this we could assume that Buffy figured it out but this episode put an end to that so while I really appreciated the reference at the time I watched it, it leaves me a bit flustered now.

    1. Your first paragraph is right, and I should re-phrase it to make that clearer. What I meant was that Xander told her to kill Angel, which meant she couldn't trust him.

      As for why Buffy didn't figure it out, I suspect she didn't want to. She does repress, especially where her friends are concerned -- just look how hard it was for Giles to get even a small bit of information out of her in FH&T. But she may just have assumed that Xander didn't know that Willow decided to re-try the spell.

  11. One more thought on the "Buffy stopping Xander from going after Spike"-thing: for me at least that felt like a totally relatable reaction. Buffy was nearly raped not ten seconds ago - she's in shock, overwhelmed, afraid and scared. In a way I believe she wants this to be over *and* to not have happended at the same time.
    That, I think, is why she stops Xander; to me its a "no please stop; no more". I admit its not neccesarilly logical, but who would be in that situation?
    Additionally -while I unterstand where he's coming from- I was furious with Xander for not immediatly going to and attending to *Buffy* and instead nearly leaving in an instant! He wouldn't really save anything by going after Spike - the (attempted) rape has already happened. What rape does to people is more complex, than getting your handbag stolen on the streat. And while yes, rapists absolutely need to be prosecuted and I believe that is also very important for their victim's healing process, it isn't qite as easy to solve as that (fitting I feel with the "life is complicated"-theme of this season I believe...). What would have really helped in this situation though would have been beeing there for his extremely vulnerable friend! (but then again Xander hasn't been very good about that for a long time and especially these past episodes...)
    So yeah I didn't really thing it was illogical that Buffy stopped Xander from going after Spike, I rahter thought his wanting to was a poor reaction on his part.

    But those are just my two cents.... Thank you for your always wonderful and thorough posts! I'm really enjoying reading them after each episode (in that vein thank you so much for keeping them spoiler free!!) even though I'm bazillions of years late to the Buffy-party.... thank you so much :)

    1. Thank you for reading! Having someone new to the show makes it even more worthwhile.

      Your point about Xander failing to attend to Buffy is excellent. I missed it, and I haven't seen anyone else make it either. And it seems like such an obvious thing.

      Your explanation for Buffy stopping Xander is perfectly plausible. I just wish that had been spelled out -- given the circumstances, her action could easily be misinterpreted.

    2. I agree, mostly. But also, I think that Buffy not wanting Xander to kill spike is totally logical. First of all, as you said, she's in shock, and she probably hasn't yet completely processed, emotionally, what just happened. So while she probably feels betrayed and angry, that doesn't mean she wants Spike dead. On top of wanting it to be over and move on, I think the events of the season and what she says in this episode makes it clear that she does have some feelings for Spike, that she cares about him somewhat. So of course she wouldn't want him dead before she even had a chance at confronting him. Also, her willingness to go to Spike to ask him to protect Dawn in the next episodes, indicates that what he did hasn't completely destroyed her trust in him(despite what he did, she's right, of course, that he wouldn't hurt Dawn even if he could). About Xander, of course his reaction is to be angry. It's just another straw in the sea of reasons for him to want Spike dead. And he just came back from getting beaten up by a superpowered psychopath, and he recently broke up with Anya. I understand him not having the perfect caring reaction in his emotional state. Also, I think getting angry and seeking vengeance is somewhat of a standard, even instinctual reaction for lots of people in these kinds of situations. Also consider that Xander doesn't really know just what happened, and doesn't know much about Buffy's relationship with Spike. His ability to help her deal is limited. Maybe having some other issue to deal with was the best she could ask for.

  12. Hello! I’m still reading along but have had literally nothing to add to all your great analysis and all the great comments. But I really loved your analysis of season 5 and am really appreciating everything you write about season 6. I appreciate the parts you write about what the fan community was like when the series aired...I never even knew it was there to find at the time, so I watched Buffy completely on my own-my friends didn’t even watch it. It was a very different experience for me, so I’m really enjoying hearing about what people liked and didn’t like, and what caused controversy.

    I have two half-formed thoughts to add here...

    One, I think we see Xander’s Lie working here in the context of Buffy not telling Willow about Spike?

    And two, I find it so fascinating that this concept of no love without trust is so important to Buffy now, when she told Angel that she loved him but didn’t trust him.

    1. Yes, I think the Lie has made Buffy not trust her friends when it comes to her relationships (at least her relationships with vampires). Of course, Willow did enough herself this season to make it hard for Buffy to open up to her.

      As for love and trust, that's a good point. Maybe Buffy just learned a lesson there.

      For me, watching Buffy became such an interactive experience. I couldn't wait to discuss the episodes on line and see what everyone else had to say. It really shaped my view of the show in a way that I've never experienced with any other.