Follow by Email

Monday, December 10, 2012


[Updated May 2, 2013]

Grave is the only finale which was not written by Joss and the only one to end on a cliffhanger. For these reasons and others, as I mentioned in my post on Bargaining, I’ve come to think of seasons 6 and 7 as an extended two-year arc which comes to completion only with Chosen. That makes Grave less a conclusion than a transition. If you look at the seasons this way – roughly, IMO, as the two seasons which deal with Buffy as an adult subsequent to the five seasons she spent becoming an adult – then it makes sense both that Grave ended with issues unresolved  and that it would seem less like the other finales. Joss: “I've said this before, that I think when people look at the seventh season, as a story, they'll understand season six better.”

I’ll talk first about the major unresolved issue. The short version is that the last three episodes were deliberately ambiguous about whether Spike wanted his soul back or the chip out, to the point that James Marsters was instructed to play it as wanting the chip out. So many viewers were confused – *raises hand* – that Joss issued a statement afterward confirming that Spike did, in fact, go to the demon with the intent of having his soul restored. In an interview, Jane Espenson said, “But it was that moment, in the bathroom, when Spike looked at the demon in him, that's what made him want to go get a soul…. We did mislead on you all, led you to believe it was the chip. We knew all the time. If all he wanted to do was hurt Buffy, he could have hurt Buffy [so he didn’t need the chip out]."
In general, the fans were not amused by this trickery. While I won’t go into the issue in detail, the phrases "Make me what I was" and "former self" present major problems if he intended to become a souled vampire. Most thought it unfair, and I know many who absolutely refused to believe that Spike wanted his soul until Joss said it.
There’s a difficult issue raised by the decision to stick with the soul canon rather than to reform Spike as a vampire. The problem is that they implicitly reformed him in order to insist that they were following the soul canon. It’s hard to explain why a vampire would come to want his soul back. That should be, to coin a word, inconceivable. When we first met Spike in School Hard, he told Angel that demons don’t change: “Angel:  Things change. Spike:  Not us! Not demons!” By the end of Seeing Red, he had an epiphany: “CLEM: Hey. Come on now, Mr. Negative. You never know what's just around the corner. Things change. SPIKE: Yeah, they do. … If you make them.” The whole series is predicated on the idea that vampires don’t change. Spike did.
One possibility is that Spike changed in some fundamental way since he acquired the chip in The Initiative. Maybe the behavior modification changed him. Or maybe it post-dated the chip: he fell in love with Buffy 3 episodes earlier, (h/t Aeryl) in Out Of My Mind. I don’t think there’s a right answer here, but my own view is that it was contact with Buffy which did it (see below on the religious imagery in this episode).
In my post on Crush, I pointed out that writer David Fury got the message of The Hunchback of Notre Dame all wrong. He had Tara say that Quasimodo’s love for Esmerelda was selfish, such that he could never end up with her. He meant her statement as a prefiguring of Spike and Buffy. In fact, the whole point of Hunchback was that Quasimodo’s love redeemed him. Here in Grave, David Fury wrote the scene in which Spike’s love for Buffy has put him on the road to redemption. The trials constituted Spike’s rite of passage and the soul signifies Spike’s willingness to change himself.
I’ll discuss Spike’s journey, including its relationship to A Clockwork Orange, in my posts on S7. For now, consider the purpose of Spike’s chip in that novel. Consider, too, my post Amends, where I discussed Angel’s culpability for the deeds of Angelus. Spike’s dark night of the soul raises the same issues. And it’s not by accident that the relevant episode is Amends.
Grave does share one characteristic of the other finales: Buffy has the epiphany – quite literally – which solves her season-long challenge. As prefigured in Life Serial, it was a puzzle that resisted solving, but she eventually got there. Buffy told Giles here in Grave that “It was like ... when I clawed my way out of that grave, I left something behind. Part of me.” That part of her was Dawn. In my post on Bargaining I said this:
“As applied in its original form -- to impending death -- bargaining ‘involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay death. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Psychologically, the individual is saying, “I understand I will die, but if I could just have more time...”’
It’s worth asking whether someone in these episodes promised to be better – to reform her life – as part of a bargain, and what that might mean metaphorically:
DAWN: You told me I had to be strong ... and I've tried. (tearful) But it's been so hard without you.
Buffy still has eyes closed, frowning.
DAWN: I'm sorry. I promise I'll do better, I will! (still tearful) If you're with me. Stay with me ... please. I need you to live. 

In my view, we need to interpret this via the metaphor. Dawn isn’t the Key anymore, but she still has a metaphorical role as Buffy’s inner child. Buffy’s inner child wants her slayer half – the adult half – to pay more attention to her, and promises to be better in return. Keep that metaphor in mind as we go through S6.”

Buffy thought she needed to repress her humanity, her inner child, in order to be an adult. All season long Buffy ignored Dawn, pushed her aside, insisted on protecting her – “sheltering” would be more accurate – in her effort to adopt adult behavior. We also see this reflected in Willow’s attacks on Dawn in TTG – Buffy’s metaphorical spirit lashing out. Dawn’s whiny reaction to being ignored led most viewers to take Buffy’s side, but metaphorically Buffy was wrong: “BUFFY: No. Giles, you were right about everything. It is time I was an adult. … I guess ... I wasn't ready before.”
Here in Grave, Buffy realizes that she doesn’t need to suppress her human, younger self (Dawn, in the metaphor) in order to be an adult, but to accept that aspect of her as an essential part of her adult life. When Willow took the power from Giles, she exulted in feeling “connected to everything”. But that connection was false, and it led Willow to try to destroy the world. Buffy found the true connection in her inner humanity: “I don’t want to protect you from the world, I want to show it to you.”
Buffy climbs out of the tomb, just as she had to do in Bargaining 2, metaphorically ending her depression by bringing her seasonal journey full circle. She wants to show Dawn the world, the exact opposite of her inadequate solution in Older And Far Away, where she stayed inside at the end. Staying inside with Dawn represented one step forward (willingness to recognize and include Dawn) and one step back/sideways because "staying in" continued to shelter her.
One reason S6 got so much criticism, I think, was that viewers didn’t expect Buffy’s depression to last all season. Joss: “We really went to a dark, dark place. … I also understand that it got too depressing for too long, but I don't think all of my instincts are perfect.” In fairness, Joss had promised that her return from the dead would be hard, but most of us didn’t expect it to be that hard. And we can’t say we weren’t warned: the season theme was, as always, given in the opening episodes. Depression and acceptance are, of course, the two stages of grief after bargaining.
Metaphorically, Buffy reaches acceptance after Andrew and Jonathan, who represent the lure of immaturity, flee the scene and immediately after her metaphorical heart and spirit achieve catharsis and reconciliation. In my reading, it’s Willow’s rage at Tara’s murder which leads to the catharsis. I mentioned in my essay on After Life that Buffy didn’t get catharsis there; she had to wait until now.
The catharsis isn’t just Willow’s, though it’s obviously that too. Willow’s rage is also Buffy’s rage – rage against the petty sexism represented by the Trio, rage at herself for what she thinks she is and what she thinks she’s done, demonstrated in her confrontation with her metaphorical spirit in TTG: “WILLOW: The [world] where you lie to your friends when you're not trying to kill them? And you screw a vampire just to feel? And insane asylums are the comfy alternative?” Similarly, Willow’s confrontation with Giles in Grave is an extended attack on the rational part of Buffy, the part that for years now has insisted that she grow up.
That explosion of emotion metaphorically breaks the blunted affect characteristic of Buffy’s depression. Her heart accepts her spirit with all its flaws and puts aside its own self-hatred – in the story, Xander’s, but in metaphor Buffy’s: “Well, last season [S6] was very much about Buffy doubting herself and the concept of power, sort of hating herself….” (Joss) We saw that self-hatred, a common symptom of depression, repeatedly emphasized in Two to Go as well as here in Grave:
XANDER: (calls after her) Okay, then, I'll just ... catch up. She's only my best friend, you know. No big deal, just...
He trails off in frustration. He has walked up to the car and now he slams his fist down on its lid angrily. Then winces in pain.
XANDER: ...glad I could help. (TTG) 

ANYA: You know, none of this would be happening if it weren't for you.
XANDER: You think I don't know that? You think I'm the hero of this piece? (upset) I saw the gun. Before Warren raised it, I ... I saw it, and I couldn't move. He shot two of my friends ... before I could even.... You want me to know how useless I am? That it's my fault? Thanks. Already got the memo. (TTG)
DAWN: Where are we going?
XANDER: I have no idea.
DAWN: What?
XANDER: I don't know, okay? I can't even run away well. And that's something I'm usually good at.
DAWN: Maybe we should we go back and help.
XANDER: Yeah, 'cause I've been such a big help already. Standing around like a monkey while Buffy gets shot. Tara's dead ... and Willow ... losing...
DAWN: (annoyed) Well, feeling sorry for yourself isn't helping either, Xander, okay? (Grave)

The ending scenes complete the parallel between Buffy and Willow which I’ve mentioned in previous posts: both need to access their humanity in order to solve their problem. Buffy does this by accepting Dawn in Dawn’s metaphorical role, Willow through the agency of the magic Giles “dosed” her with and through Xander as Buffy’s metaphorical heart:
ANYA: Oh. (getting it) You dosed her.
ANYA: You knew she'd going to take your powers all along.
GILES: The gift I was given by the coven was the true essence of magic. Willow's magic came from a ... place of rage and power.
ANYA: And vengeance. Don't forget vengeance.
GILES: Oh. How could I? In any case, the magic she took from me tapped into ... the spark of humanity she had left.
Helped her to feel again. Gave Xander the opportunity to ... reach her.

I’m not a particularly big fan of the hilltop scene with Xander and Willow. I see the show through a very Buffy-centric lens, so I don’t get as much emotional resonance from Xander’s actions. It didn’t help that I was angry with Xander already in the episode for telling Dawn about the attempted rape. Xander had no right to tell Dawn about it. That works in metaphor – the heart breaking a hard truth to the human, child part of Buffy’s self. But it can’t work at all in real life even if, as farmgirl62 pointed out in comments, “she was throwing Spike in Xander's face in an attempt to get him to go back into the fight. Xander bites back by throwing Spike under the bus as a bad individual for Dawn to idolize.” It would be unforgivable (h/t farmgirl62) incredibly obnoxious for someone to tell anyone such a personal fact. To disclose it to family is a flat out betrayal of friendship, especially after Buffy stopped him from telling Dawn in Villains.
In fairness, here’s a counterpoint to my view of the hilltop scene from Solitude1056:
The first time I watched the episode, I thought: geezuz, doesn't Giles realize where Willow is heading, with all her protestations that she can't take it, must end it, must stop all the pain? Why is he encouraging her with the phrase "you can stop it," spoken yet again, and even included (I think) the nail-in-the-coffin phrase of you can end this. It seemed logical that she'd think in global terms, seeing as how she was feeling in global terms. How the hell could he push her like that? But on second watching, I realized, Giles was playing a dangerous game, betting on the fact that he knew the players well. Hence his pushing - because sometimes, you've got to really hit bottom in grieving before you can claw yourself up again - and hence him sending the message with Anya, betting on Xander being there to hear it as well. Dawn's pleading did nothing, Buffy's fighting got nowhere, Anya's separateness backfired, and it was down to Giles as the deliverer of humanity-magic, and Xander's love. Giles couldn't save the day, and didn't - he just created the door and could only hope Xander would step through it. In second viewing, I can see how touch-and- go it was, and strangely, as a result the whole thing affected me much more than it had the first time around.”
Putting aside my personal views, my critical evaluation is that (1) Buffy’s speech to Dawn – “I want to show you the world” – fits the theme, but, along with too much other dialogue in the episode, particularly the magic/drugs methaphor (heh), is clunky; (2) Buffy’s joie de vivre seems a bit out of place. Tara is dead. Anya is a vengeance demon again. Willow killed a human being, tried to kill others, threatened Dawn, beat Buffy senseless, and tried to end the world; and (3) there’s an awful lot of forgiveness necessary in the story line for what Willow did.
Still, the hilltop scene is affecting and Willow’s breakdown very classically cathartic:
“Priam wept freely…as Achilles wept himself
now for his father, now for Patroclus once again,
and their sobbing rose and fell throughout the house.
Then, when brilliant Achilles had had his fill of tears…
he spoke out winging words, flying straight to the heart…
Enough of endless tears,
the pain that breaks the spirit.
Grief for your son will do no good at all.
You will never bring him back to life….”

When Buffy climbs out of the tomb after being dead, first literally in Bargaining and then emotionally and spiritually here, she is truly born again. The music – Sarah McLachlan’s “Prayer of St. Francis” – emphasizes this theme:
Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon...
Where there is doubt, faith...
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy...
O divine master grant that I may...
...not so much seek to be consoled as to console... be understood as to understand... be loved as to love...
For it is in giving that we receive
And it's in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it's in dying that we are born... eternal life...

Recall also that at the end of Entropy Tara quoted a line from Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming”, consistent with Buffy being born again. I think this resurrection imagery is quite deliberate and that the consequences will be important in S7. The flash cuts to Spike receiving his soul as the song plays make it apparent that we’re to see this journey as implicating Spike also.
In the scene just after the teaser, Buffy tells Giles that she doesn’t know why she was brought back, and Giles has no answer for her:
BUFFY: (quietly) I guess ... I wasn't ready before. It took a long time for that feeling to go away ... the feeling that I wasn't really here. It was like ... when I clawed my way out of that grave, I left something behind. Part of me. I just... (pauses, looks Giles in the eye) I don't understand ... why I'm back.
GILES: You have a calling.
BUFFY: But it was my time, Giles. Someone would have taken my place. (Giles grimacing) So why?
Giles looks away, pensive, not answering.

Note that this is the question Angel asked Giles in Amends. Giles had no answer for him either. As with Spike, the reference to Amends is no accident.
As I see this, it means that Buffy doesn’t yet recognize the Ultimate Boon of the Hero’s Journey: “The ultimate boon is the achievement of the goal of the quest. It is what the person went on the journey to get. All the previous steps serve to prepare and purify the person for this step, since in many myths the boon is something transcendent like the elixir of life itself, or a plant that supplies immortality, or the holy grail.” That Boon is the subject of S7.
Trivia notes: (1) I rather doubt Buffy told Giles about Spike’s attempted rape when she was bringing him up to date in the teaser. That might have put a serious damper on their laughter. (2) Willow reminds Giles that he called her a “rank, arrogant amateur” in Flooded. (3) Giles said that Willow killed “a human being” (singular). The DVD commentary strongly implies that Rack was not human. (4) Willow uses flying knives against Giles just as she did against Glory in Tough Love. (5) Willow refers to Giles as Jeeves, the character from P.G. Wodehouse novels. (6) Willow describes Andrew and Jonathan as “dead men walking” after the movie of that title. (7) Willow sent off the fireball with the words “fly, my pretty, fly”, from the movie The Wizard of Oz. (8) When Xander called Willow “black-eyed girl”, that was probably a play on the Van Morrison song “Brown-Eyed Girl”. (9) The hilltop scene reminds me of the climax of A Wrinkle in Time, in which Meg’s love saves Charles Wallace, though I don’t know if that was used as the exemplar or not. (10) Joss wrote Xander’s “yellow crayon” dialogue. (11) During the summer, Joss announced that the theme for S7 would be “back to the beginning”.


  1. Small correction, Out Of My Mind is a season five episode, which means it has to take place after The Initiative, not before.

    I don't think it really effects your point much, because the evidence of the attraction of Spike to Buffy was there before he was ever chipped.

    I was very moved by the hilltop scene. After six seasons as The Zeppo, Xander got to save the day. And Alyson Hannigan can move me reading a phone book.

    Of course I leaked tears through the last 2/3rds of Brave and MiB 3 this past weekend, so maybe I'm just getting soft in my old age(heh).

    1. And as far as Spike's plot, well if I didn't like a good misdirect, I'd have stopped watching Whedon years ago, so I roll with and enjoy the ride. And on this I was floored, didn't even suspect he could get his soul that way. I did wonder about the ambiguity of his words, and him getting his soul doesn't really fit with him terming her a bitch before leaving Sunnydale, so I can see how fans felt they played it too far the other way.

      I was convinced he wanted the chip out, because he didn't want to just hurt Buffy, which he could do easily enough, but because he wanted to be the Big Bad again, and that's where I thought the show was going. Because he wanted to die, and he wanted Buffy to do it, so a very long drawn out season long suicide-by-Slayer for Spike, because he could hurt her all he wanted, it wouldn't drive her to stake him so long as she felt he was harmless to everyone else.

      Which I thought would have been awesome, beautiful, and heartwrenching, right up Whedon's alley, IMO.

      But I like what he did better.

    2. Thanks for the correction -- fixed it. I very much agree on AH. She's amazing.

      I like your idea. That never occurred to me while watching and I've never seen it suggested before. But like you, I'm happy the way it played out.

  2. "I know many who absolutely refused to believe that Spike wanted his soul until Joss said it."

    Trolling the internet it appears that many still refuse to believe that Spike wanted his soul back. Even given what Joss & Jane said.

    As best as I can remember from that time, the ambiguity "worked" for me in the sense I was unsure, not convinced either way, up until the final reveal. But maybe I was in the minority. I also wasn't on the boards at all at that time, so wasn't influenced by any discussions.

    1. I was pretty convinced that we being shown a "be careful what you wish for" scenario. Spike's demand was ambiguously phrased, so I read it as the demon taking advantage of that ambiguity.

      There was lots of discussion about what Spike wanted from the moment he had the conversation with Clem in Seeing Red. I can't say if those influenced me, but they might have.

  3. Interesting analysis. I found your Buffy-centric viewpoint very interesting in terms of who plays what part of "her" in S6. I like layers and I see that as one additional layer (vice the only driver) for character action. Not that you see it as the only layer either, but I think each of the main characters arcs are fairly important and so they had to walk a fine line to get the needs of all the characters covered.

    "That works in metaphor – the heart breaking a hard truth to the human, child part of Buffy’s self. But it can’t work at all in real life. It would be unforgivable for someone to tell anyone such a personal fact. To disclose it to family is a flat out betrayal of friendship, especially after Buffy stopped him from telling Dawn in Villains."

    I'm going to have to disagree with you on this perspective: I think it works on several levels in "real life".

    Adding in the final dialog b/w Dawn & Xander:
    DAWN: You know, if Spike were here, he'd go back and fight.
    XANDER: Sure, if he wasn't too busy trying to rape your sister.

    My first response is that Xander is being childish -- stooping to Dawn's level. She CLEARLY was throwing Spike in Xander's face in an attempt to get him to go back into the fight. Xander bites back by throwing Spike under the bus as a bad individual for Dawn to idolize (which she does) but he also is putting her in her place for continuing to think she knows best in this situation. She really didn't know best. So in "real life", it frankly silenced Dawn from continuing to push. Was there a better way? Sure. But Joss doesn't like his good guys to be "good" all the time. Look at Angel & Spike --- these two have a "petty-off" almost every episode of S5 of Angel the Series. So, it's totally within Xander's ability to retreat to biting comments when he's hurt and Dawn is still kicking him while he's down. As far as the episode goes, we are still piling on the bad stuff before the final "redemption". So Xander continuing to self-flagellate and causing damage as he does so makes sense IMO for his character.

    Now is it forgivable? I guess I think that's a personal choice. Clearly Buffy forgave Xander. I say this because it appeared to be a well-covered topic when it came up at the start of S7. And Xander showed a much more mature restraint at the start of S7 when it came to Spike. So, I'm thinking they hashed it out.

    As you mentioned yourself S6 and S7 are two parts of a longer arc. One of these elements is that Buffy keeps giving Dawn over to Xander for safe keeping. It is evident that the notion of "family" is VERY strong between these three at the start of S7 (it's even written in Buffy's address book that way). I rationalize Buffy's evident forgiveness of Xander telling Dawn to Xander is a part of her family. And you keep them around, even if they screw up or say something you might not tolerate from a friend. You also accept being put out to pasture if they need you to go (or kicking them in the shins if you disagree with that decision).

    To me the Prayer to St Francis ending did a REALLY good job of summarizing what all the main characters NEEDED at the end of S6. Buffy, Willow, and Xander were all experiencing hate, injury, doubt, despair, darkness and sadness as part of this final episode. By the end, they all had some measure of hope in this horrible darkness that they could cling on to that could help them turn around. And for each one they had to make a choice to see and accept that hope. And each one did. Willow was arguably in the worst place at that moment but she experienced real love and it touched her. Made her realize it wasn't all darkness.

    Now I really could have used a little more closure in S7 for these issues but I can live with what I got.

    1. Very nicely said on all counts.

      Your point about Buffy forgiving Xander is well-taken. I still think he was an ass for saying it, but you're right about all the circumstances. Makes me wonder if Giles knows. I'm inclined to think he doesn't, but it's unclear.

  4. Hi Mark,

    in your post on SR you hint that Tara's death is the price of the spell which brought Buffy back. (At least I think that this is what you were hinting at.) You mentioned that you would elaborate on this point in your Grave write up and I don't see it mentioned. It is a very intriguing theory, would you mind going into it a bit more when you find the time?


    1. I just went back and read my post on SR, and I think I wrote there everything I had to say on Tara being Willow's price:

      "In my view, 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."

      In my response to Lexi's comment, I promised to explain the metaphorical reason for Dark Willow, which is that she's the explosion of emotion which allows Buffy's catharsis. That's here in the Grave post.

      I hope that's clear. Let me know if it's it not and I'll see what else I can add.

  5. Would you mind going into more detail why you think Tara is the price for the spell? While I don't see disagree, I don't see where exactly you are getting support for your theory. From the dialogues I would agree that the demon in AL is not the price, but what tells us that Tara is the price?

    Does Willow ever come to see Tara's death in this way?

    Thank you for taking the time to respond, and so quickly!

    1. Willow never says that she sees Tara's death as her price. My conclusion that she was is mostly inference.

      Spike said in After Life that "there's always consequences". I'm taking that as true for this spell even though I expressed some doubts about it in my essay there. With that starting point, in After Life Anya pointed out, correctly, that the demon there wasn't a "price", it was a gift with purchase. That means AL didn't answer the question and we need to look elsewhere in the season.

      Part of the issue is who pays the price. Certainly Buffy pays a price, but of course she was innocent. When people talk about magic having a "price", they usually mean for the spellcaster. So I'd expect Willow to suffer the consequences and the only question is what form those would take.

      If we look at it from this viewpoint, then Tara's death is the most plausible option. It's kind of classic, really: only life can pay for life (see Game of Thrones). Also, Tara's blood spattering on Willow reflects the blood of the faun. We didn't see that spatter, but it was suggested by Willow wearing white during the sacrifice and red after. The demon in AL tends to confirm this when it says "The blood dried on your hands, didn't it? ... You were stained. You still are. I know what you did! ... Did you think the blood wouldn't reach you?"

      In thinking about it now, I'd add that Tara was a mother figure and Willow used "wine of the mother" -- blood -- for the spell.

      Add these to the points I made in SR, and that's the reasoning.

    2. Thanks for elaborating on that!

  6. Hi: I held off on commenting on this at the time because there was a big enough gap in how we read the episode that I thought it would be difficult to get my view across. I still think that’s true, but apparently I’m in the mood to say my piece now! Part of the reason is that things are going badly in my family, and so I feel especially emotionally attuned to describe what V/TTG/G represents to me and why I think that they work very well, including TTG which I think you (understandably, given the assumptions you seem to be working with) underrate. Ultimately I'm -- irrationally sensitive about it, I suppose, which is why I hold back on it, but partly I find Willow's story here one of my personal artistic touchstones.

    As a bit of background, I was vaguely aware of the fact that people hated the magic addiction angle of season six. I did too, and while I have come to terms with “Wrecked” in many ways I’m still not entirely happy with it. However, I did not know until years after first watching them that people had a problem with the Dark Willow episodes, or thought that the magic addiction story actually extended into and caused problems here. And even then, I didn’t understand why for years, and am not entirely sure now. That sounds strange, given that there is drug terminology throughout the episode. But it always seemed so clearly not the central point, and/or drug terminology that enhanced, rather than detracted from, the main thrust of the episode.

    For me, this trilogy (V/TTG/G) is one of the highlights of the series, and I think I’d place the run from Normal Again to Grave as my favourite period of the show’s history, though not the best individual episodes. (The run from The Body through The Gift is very, very close and probably is “better” in an objective sense, but it doesn’t mean quite as much to me.) The central element of season six to me is that everything falls apart, and that eventually everyone is sucked in to the morass of depression, self-loathing, and self-destruction. Buffy’s crucial turning point was “Normal Again,” in which she had the option of choosing a different, easier but spiritually dead world over the current one. Since then she’s been working on improving herself. However, the rest of the gang are not there.


    1. A friend just linked me to this article a few days ago: Whether one believes, or not, that Buffy was committing suicide in “The Gift” to a degree, she certainly was close to suicidal in early season six, and just narrowly averted suicide in “OMWF.” The gang is often criticized, not unjustly, for not being there for Buffy during the intervening episodes, though I think this gets exaggerated, especially since Willow, not counting the resurrection spell itself, saves Buffy’s life no less than five times and works hard to do so on most of those occasions (“After Life,” “Gone,” “Doublemeat Palace,” “Normal Again,” “Villains”—in “Gone” and “DMP,” one could say that she was in the right place at the right time to warn Buffy about the Trio’s weapon/hack down the monster, but in “Gone” in particular she would not have been aware of the danger to Buffy’s life without her investigative work and she does similar investigative work in DMP). But regardless, Buffy is the emotional centre of the gang, and her depression and loss of will to live is part of what seeps down and leaves everyone in the gang feeling desperate and unhappy. It is not that Buffy creates their problems, but the lack of emotional centre to their lives eventually makes them collapse on themselves. There is at least one moment of quasi-suicide for almost every member of the gang this season: Dawn’s almost letting herself be bitten in “All the Way,” Spike’s seeming almost like he wouldn’t mind Xander killing him in “Entropy,” Xander’s “If you want to kill the world, then start with me,” and of course these episodes for Willow. I think we can actually add Anya’s rejection of her humanity, ending her human life (and, in “Selfless,” choosing death to make up for her crimes), to the list. Giles’ rather cold-blooded departure from the gang (not just in “Tabula Rasa,” but in “Bargaining” as well) speak to me as someone who has had it with life on the Hellmouth and keeps searching for any way to get out.

      In “Two to Go,” there are two major scenes in which Willow tears into someone else about the meaning of life (I’ll use the shooting script except where there is a difference between the script and the aired episode):


    2. WILLOW
      No - please, you're telling me you
      don't remember? You used to be
      ...what, some mystic ball of
      energy. Maybe that's why you're
      crying all the time, "Dawny." You
      don't belong here.
      Willow gets up in Dawn's face.
      WILLOW (cont'd)
      Wanna go back? End the pain?
      You'll be happier. I'd be
      happier. We'll all be a lot
      happier without having to listen
      to all your constant whining.
      Dawn starts to tear up, fighting her fear.
      Willow... stop...
      "Mom!" "Buffy!" "Tara!" Waah!
      Come on, someone's gotta stop the
      carnage. It's time you went back
      to being a little energy ball.
      Dawn stands trapped against a far wall as the room starts to crackle with Willow's energy and her voice begins to echo of its own accord.
      WILLOW (cont'd)
      No more tears, Dawny.

      Ack! Please! This is your pitch?
      You hate it here as much as I do.
      I'm just more honest about it.
      That's not true...
      As Willow speaks, the camera swirls around her in those Brian DePalma-y 360-degree arcs. But if we're really paying attention, we'd notice that the light and the background begin to change as she continues...
      You're trying to sell me on the
      world. The one where you lie to
      your friends when you're not
      trying to kill them and you screw
      a vampire just to feel and insane
      asylums are the comfy alternative.
      This world? Buffy, it's me! I
      know you were happier in the
      ground - hanging with the worms.
      The only time you were ever at
      peace in your whole life is when
      you were dead.
      Until Willow brought you back.
      Willow stops. Buffy and Dawn look around. They are no longer standing in Rack's at all.
      WILLOW (cont'd)
      You know - with Magick?
      It’s important to note that for all intents and purposes, with Tara gone, Buffy and Dawn are Willow’s primary family; the rest of her family, Giles and Xander, are the focus of “Grave.” There is a harshness and cruelty in Willow’s assaults on Dawn and Buffy here, especially Dawn. But Willow is also responding in a twisted form of empathy. With Buffy, especially, her rant ends with a self-criticism: “Until Willow brought you back.”

      To get into personal territory for a moment: I’m the only child of a single parent, who was depressed most of my childhood. I didn’t have that many friends. What happens in this is that in great periods of parental depression, in which there is seemingly nothing the child can do, and during which it’s not really even “allowed” for the child to talk to other people about it (in my case, my mother’s constant fear that if people knew the extent of her mental health problems, that I would be taken away and placed in someone else’s care—a situation which is VERY similar, actually, to Dawn’s), the fantasies of self-destruction and of world destruction start churning and then continue. It seems as if life is impossible to live, and that if other people only understood what you understand about the world, they would see it too, and are themselves blind to how terrible it is. There is no one to rely on and no external source of belief in meaning or value, and it seems impossible to imagine how the end of the world, even, could be any loss. The primary thing preventing you from acting on your self-destructive impulses—in addition to, most likely, a genuine desire to live and be happy, which is hard to access but is nevertheless present—is the recognition that one has a responsibility to provide emotional support for the parent. And that causes resentment toward the parent, for putting one in that position.


    3. Willow is in a similar position, in that she was relatively isolated (no siblings, very few friends), but she had even less than I had, in that her parents neglected her entirely. Xander was her sole family, emotionally, and then once Buffy arrived it became Buffy. Willow could just barely hold the gang together with Buffy absent, and part of bringing Buffy back was to provide some sort of emotional centre for the gang in addition to the fact that Buffy was necessary so they didn’t all, you know, die. What’s worth noting is that Willow took on responsibilities that are beyond her age: she tried to continue in school AND be in charge of the gang’s nightly fight without slayer strength AND raise Dawn AND be the sole person to repair the Buffybot. These responsibilities are not too different from the ones Buffy took on, but even Buffy left school when she had to take care of Dawn, and Buffy is equipped physically and emotionally in ways that Willow is not. Willow essentially was only barely holding herself together. The primary thing holding Willow together was the idea of bringing Buffy back.

      And so Buffy’s coming back, and not only being unhappy but being suicidal, and it being in a sense Willow’s fault, created a deep emotional devastation. Willow’s only mechanism to self-protect left was to use magic to make herself feel better—to feel competent and in control of an increasingly out-of-control situation—but this led to the argument in “All the Way,” her snapping at Tara, and then her attempt to use magic to backpedal on her snapping at Tara, itself a deeper violation. Then she crashed and burned in “Wrecked” after Tara’s departure, and then believed that the only way to ensure her continued goodness was to give up magic forever, thus leaving her a broken person and vulnerable, with no power to protect herself (she is kidnapped by the Trio in the very next episode after “Wrecked”). However, this was always a form of hiding, and a form of acting out a pantomime of what she imagines others want her to be, so that she can win back their favour. It works: Tara returns.


    4. Buffy’s depression, which includes suicidal ideation, has been present all season long, but Willow largely repressed dealing with it after her attempt to fix it in “Tabula Rasa”; it’s only with Tara’s re-entry into Willow’s life that Willow was emotionally prepared to start confronting those ugly truths (represented symbolically by the fact that Willow did not find out about Buffy/Spike until she was back together with Tara). Willow was something of a caretaker for Buffy, but was only able to be a caretaker in specific ways (scientific investigation) and failed in others. The weight of the guilt, which she has been avoiding all season long, crushes her here. But more to the point, having emotionally invested in Buffy for her identity, for Buffy to want to reject life makes Willow want to reject it too.

      Tara’s death is the last straw for Willow’s precarious sense of identity because all the other avenues Willow has had to define herself by are gone. Back in “Something Blue,” Willow tried to express to the gang the depths of her sadness, and, in ways both Willow’s fault and the gang’s (my sympathies are more deeply with Willow, but she did screw up), that failed. Willow went to first alcohol and then magic as a solution and it led to disaster, and the only real lesson she got out of it was that it was wrong and bad to try to show pain to the gang again. Tara’s entry the very next episode is the thing that saved Willow from emotional, internal collapse, but all her issues from the Oz breakup (and, for that matter, Xander’s rejection of her, and for that matter her issues with her parents etc.) are still essentially undealt with. Willow still copes primarily either by maintaining her devotion to Buffy’s cause (external), her hip identity which she attributes entirely to magic, and her relationship with Tara as a way of validating her goodness (internal). In season six, she has her reliance on Buffy stripped away, Giles leaves, Dawn is angry at her, Xander is off going to get married to Anya in a way that makes it more difficult for them to talk. She has magic stripped away. Tara, or the prospect of Tara, is all that is left for her, and then Tara dies, in a way that IMO Willow subconsciously registers as her fault. (In the season eight comics, which are, uh, uneven to say the least, one Whedon-penned issue has Willow explicitly link Tara’s death to Willow’s decision to resurrect Buffy, and to stay in Sunnydale, effectively saying that Willow chose Buffy over Tara, and that Buffy didn’t even want to be returned. I think season eight’s rockiness is clear, but this is one element I don’t want to strike from canon. I don’t think Willow came to this realization consciously during these episodes, but I think it’s there on some level.)


    5. The line between “rejecting life” and “rejecting oneself” is blurred throughout these episodes (and the season). Willow’s third-person dialogue, in which she calls “Willow” a loser, is a manifestation of Willow’s inability even to recognize herself as…herself. Willow spends so much of her life trying to maintain the illusion of an identity of competence and goodness that she has lost all ability to believe in herself in it. “Willow’s a loser” and “Willow’s a junkie” are two sides of the same coin—Willow’s a loser for being picked on, and Willow’s a junkie for being so weak and immoral as to become a dirty addict. Regardless of what one thinks of the addiction aspects of the story, I think it should be comprehensible that Willow views her reliance on magic as a form of weakness.

      What’s important is that Willow tried to give up magic, and failed. This is “Wrecked’s” primary narrative function, IMO, and I think in this respect it succeeds even if it fails in every other way (which I am not so sure about, but which I won’t argue here). Willow has to believe that magic, that BEING POWERFUL, that being anything other than a victim, is evil and wrong. Willow’s only way of determining whether she is good, or worthwhile, is to rely on other people’s expectations or what she believes them to be, and rightly or wrongly she has gotten the impression that she has to be essentially powerless to be good. However, being powerless also means that she has, yep, no power—no power to stop Tara from dying, or, for that matter, to stop *Buffy* from dying, in “Villains.” She hates herself absolutely at this stage, and is also extremely angry and resentful at her friends for, in her view (and not entirely wrongly, though I think this view is distorted) enforcing this belief of hers that she is unforgivable if she doesn’t follow these harsh external standards of behaviour. She knows that the exepctations for her behaviour are unreasonable AND she doesn’t at the same time, and this creates a cocktail of anger and self-loathing that is seemingly insurmountable.

      Willow only starts the third-person “Willow doesn’t live here anymore” stuff after she takes Rack’s magic, and she also seems noticeably looser and uses more drug references there. Do we take this to mean that she’s high? I think that there is a druggy element in Rack’s magic, partly because this episode does have to be consistent with “Wrecked’s” surface portrayal (even though I think the magic as drugs was always a mislead). But at core, I think all this does is give Willow just enough of an ability to disconnect from reality and/or to see reality through new eyes, with which to express her pain and anger and self-loathing more clearly. This has the same function as Willow’s drink in “Something Blue,” but it also even has the same function as Willow switching into vamp Willow’s clothes in “Doppelgangland” so that she can save the day, and also find a way to express her anger at herself more clearly. Actually, “Doppelgangland” is a VERY close model for Willow’s third-person usage here, in that the Willows there use third person and first person interchangeably to describe the parts of herselves that she/they admire, or don’t like, or whatever. “I just couldn’t let her live!” Willow-as-vamp-Willow declared. I think that the Dark Willow outfit, and the veins she gets from sucking Rack, are just another “costume” for her, which gives her the ability to manifest a different part of her personality that she normally keeps under wraps.


    6. It is probably true that there is some druggy element in the mix too. But I think that this is relatively unimportant. Again, personal experience: living with a recovering alcoholic parent, it is easy to eventually get used to the idea that the personality transformations that come from drinking vs. not drinking are basically THE SAME as the ones that come from being under extreme stress vs. not being under extreme stress, or sleep deprivation vs. not sleep deprivation, etc. And indeed, I basically extremely rarely drink, but have the same basic personality traits as my recovering-alcoholic mother does, and these traits are extremely similar to the ones Willow has always had. I think that the addiction language is ultimately misleading in some cases because it is not really about the drugs or alcohol. All I can say is that Willow’s behaviour here makes perfect sense to me either with her being “high” in a drug-like way or high on her power and the dark excitement of giving up on everything she had cared about.

      Notably, Willow wanted to include Buffy & Xander in her assault on Warren in “Villains.” She was not attacking them then. But when they fail to support her in what she views as the only way to get some measure of justice, she leaves them behind. She does not, in “Villains” midway through, seem to be planning on going after Jonathan & Andrew. She doesn’t even, when she encounters the Warrenbot on the bus, seem to be torturing him. What happens is an escalation, in which Willow believes that she will not be forgiven for an already-bad action (killing Warren), and so progressively moves to worse and worse actions (torturing Warren, and then after Warren says that she’ll lose her friends, going after J&A, a plan which she states out loud [“One down”] in her friends’ presence).

      Willow’s self-loathing, then, makes her absolutely unwilling to be “saved” by Buffy, and she has declared that she “isn’t coming back.” The question is why she chooses what she chooses to do. After Warren is killed, Willow’s desire for some sort of justice is unsated, and she turns her sights to Jonathan & Andrew as an attempt to continue pursuing that impossible goal of finding some way to make right what happened to Tara. But I think even Willow knows they are not strictly responsible, but they are part of the problem with the world and need to be corrected. But mostly, I think Willow is looking for a distraction—any distraction—from the gaping and permanent hole in her heart. And she is not quite at the stage of being able to kill herself yet.

      More than that, there is another thing in play, which is that Willow really doesn’t believe that anyone really wants to be alive. This is related to her conversations with Buffy and Dawn, and her own clear desire to see her own life, or at least her life as “Willow Rosenberg, loser nerd,” end. What Willow wants is to end the farce that life is worth living. She does not actually kill her friends in this episode because I don’t think killing them is her goal. I think she could well have re-Keyed Dawn, but, of course, becoming a Key is a way of revealing Dawn’s “true nature,” as Willow sees it, of disconnecting the divine from the human form permanently out of a recognition that the human form/mortal coil is essentially pointless and meaningless.


    7. Jonathan & Andrew’s presence in the world does make them continually dangerous to other people. They were partly responsible for Tara’s death. But they are also Warren’s friends, and Willow has a deep anger at her own friends here, which she cannot express directly. And her own friends, in the end, don’t even seem to want to live. I think that Willow going after J&A is partly, and not consciously, a mechanism to goad her friends into “picking a fight” with her, so that she can make herself the centre of attention for once, but, more to the point, to assault them with the facts of the meaninglessness of existence, which she has tried so hard to stave off over the entire year (and in some senses beyond), and which their behaviour and beliefs have just reinforced at length. It is very, very hard to believe in the essential dignity of the human condition, or that Jonathan & Andrew (or Rack) can be forgiven or “redeemed,” when one views oneself as unforgivable and being human essentially a perpetual pain and torment.

      There is a big element here of Willow deciding to cover all the bases that she has held back on all this time. Why does BUFFY get to have all the power and it’s so wrong for Willow to have it? Fight Buffy! Why does Giles get to enter and push her around? PUSH HIM AROUND! People, understandably, criticize Willow for effectively trying to kill Giles, though I am still not 100% convinced that is her aim. (She is certainly, CERTAINLY, risking it, though.) But I think that the context is important. Giles starts the fight with Willow, and Willow has reason to believe that Giles will kill her: he tells Buffy that he wants to find a way to remove her powers without killing her right before Willow enters; and in “Lessons” Willow makes clear that she had expected that going with Giles would entail him killing her, or putting her in a mystical dungeon for all eternity, with the torture. Granted, on the latter Willow might well have believed that the punishment would be because of her attempted apocalypse rather than the murders she had committed before Giles entered, but I think it’s fair to say Willow genuinely expected Giles would never forgive her, and had anger at him already because of that. And, well, she doesn’t believe life matters, so….

      This all leads to Willow’s sucking Giles’ energy and getting to the point of feeling the world’s pain. At this moment, Willow is connected to the “True Essence of Magic,” which allows her to reconnect spiritually in a way that Rack’s dime-store magic tricks were a parody of. She is able to experience, spiritually, the world as a holistic entity. But the only meaning that has rushed in for her is the fact that the pain that Willow herself feels is universal, and not just a matter of the immediate environs of her gang. What she had perhaps suspected was true is now absolutely true: the world is a horrible place for nearly everyone. And so she comes to the same conclusion with the world that she has (eventually) come to within the Scooby gang, that it is for both her and the world’s good that she destroys it. As with Dawn and Buffy in “Two to Go,” there is a mixture of rage and compassion in her assault that is difficult to pin down.


    8. The real Big Bad of season six is not Willow, and it’s not the Trio. It is “Life,” and the way Life itself seems cruel, capricious, and essentially not worth living. What Willow does in these episodes, first by trying to correct some of the people who make life as terrible as it is, then by trying to end life as she knows it by tearing apart the gang and the Magic Box, and finally by destroying life on Earth itself, is something akin to Giles’ role in “The Gift,” in which Giles kills Ben as the “wrong way” (IMO) to deal with the threat presented by the dimensions falling apart, by sacrificing someone ELSE rather than sacrificing ONESELF. Willow has correctly identified the problem, which is that Life is terrible; she has just found the wrong solution, which is to try to destroy life. Willow’s cruelty and inhumanity is still not as intense, IMO, as the inhumanity that the gang perceives life itself as throwing at them. The reason it’s Willow who tries to destroy life itself, and who nearly destroys the microcosm of life represented by the remaining members of the Scooby family unit (and the alternate-family unit Scooby negative image in the Trio and in Rack, who is something of a negative mirror image of Giles) is because Willow is the most powerful, because Willow, despite her huge gaps in ability to see others, is arguably the most deeply affected by the overall health of the group dynamic, and because Willow, as Buffy’s symbolic “spirit,” is the most deeply involved in the big philosophical questions this is asking: Is Life Worth Living? Every member of the opening-credits cast has asked this question in their own ways, but it manifests differently for each based on their role in the show—the question for Xander, for example, is closer to “is it worth loving?” Willow is the one who interprets the central problem most spiritually, as the confrontation with an apparently spiritless, empty void of a world (as a result of her own traumas, of Tara’s death, of Buffy’s experience of the world as meaningless, and of the revelation that magic itself is wrong and evil for Willow), and eventually the lack of spiritual meaning leads her to destroy it.

      Xander’s saving Willow is by reminding her of the value of love. Again, Xander’s question is, “Is it worth loving?” and after having decided “no” during “Hell’s Bells” he finds the strength to say “yes” to loving Willow. It takes the end of the world for Xander to be able to get his priorities straight. What I think is really important is how he is able to give Willow all the love in the world because he has stopped worrying about the future, and is able to believe in the present and the present only. (This ties in with “Hell’s Bells,” in which it’s Xander’s deep fear of the future and of the past that makes him leave Anya—Anya’s past came back to convince Xander that his future would be akin to Xander’s past, if you get my meaning.) In that moment, all that is important is love, and that love is enough for Willow to rediscover meaning in herself and in the world, the internal and external, enough to live another day. As with Xander, then, Willow makes a MISTAKE (failure of spirit, failing to believe in the spiritual meaning of the world and so seeking to stamp it out) followed by, at the 11th hour, a turnaround (stopping her assault on the world and thus reaffirming, in a way, the spiritual meaning of the world). Giles, as the “mind,” does something similar, intellectualizing his decision to abandon Buffy and the whole gang earlier in the season and coming with a form of knowledge—the knowledge, here, of the fact that the world still has a spiritual dimension, and that individual people still have internal live—that can potentially help save Willow.


    9. No story is complete without it being about Buffy in some way. Your point that Buffy arbitrarily redraws the line after Warren’s death to Jonathan & Andrew’s is well taken, but I interpret it differently. BUFFY IS WRONG. Morally, the line of killing Jonathan & Andrew is not significantly different from the line of killing Warren, and the fact that Buffy re-draws the line after killing Rack, too, suggests the fact that I don’t believe she’s meant to be correct. I think this is a matter of personal interpretation, but I think that Buffy’s attempt to save Willow here is hampered by Buffy’s inability to have processed some of the events earlier in the series, in particular with Faith. Buffy has never forgiven Faith for her actions, up to this point in the series (her last moment with Faith was a rather unforgiving one in “Sanctuary,” though with elements of possible forgiveness, such as saving Faith from the Council goons). That inability to forgive Faith leads to Buffy not being able to deal with her own actions. Buffy’s inability to deal with guilt over her affair with Spike, and her inability to deal with the possibility of having killed Katrina by accident, both resonate with the Faith story in crucial ways. IMO, Buffy’s attempt to go after Faith in GD represents Buffy’s own inability to forgive the possibility of making significant mistakes, including in herself.

      Buffy says, at one point, “Killing people changes you. BELIEVE ME, I KNOW.” How would Buffy know? I think Buffy’s “killing” Ted and Faith—both of whom “survived,” but Faith wound up in a coma, near death—has worn on Buffy in a significant way, but she has never been able to forgive herself for them because she has never been able to acknowledge the extent to which she had some guilt there. Now, I am very sympathetic to the argument that Buffy had no real responsibility for Ted’s death, and that it was an accident (even if he wasn’t a monster); and I am also sympathetic to the idea that Buffy had some justification in going after Faith in GD. However, Buffy’s going after Faith in GD and Willow’s going after Warren in “Villains” have some real parallels—both go after a shadow version of themselves after they attack their loved ones. Buffy’s attack on Faith is more justifiable arguably, but the parallels are there, and Buffy seems to have been damaged by the incident, as indicated by her line of dialogue to Xander. However, TO WILLOW, Buffy never brings up her own history with Faith (or Ted, or her assault on Spike in “Dead Things” for that matter) as a reason why Willow should stop, and I think this hampers Buffy badly. It’s not so much that I think Willow would listen, but I think Buffy is holding back some of her emotional arsenal because she is still unable to deal with her own past. In season seven, Buffy’s forgiveness of Willow and Spike precedes her forgiveness of Faith, which IMO represents one of the final stages in Buffy’s coming to a place of self-acceptance.

      In that sense, I don’t think Willow would be permanently unrecoverable if she killed Jonathan & Andrew. EMOTIONALLY, I think she possibly would be, because I think Willow is able to process her guilt over Warren and Rack a little more easily than she would be able to for Jonathan & Andrew, who were not murderers like Warren or a deliberately abusive adult clearly not in over his head, like Rack. But in season seven, Buffy brings Faith, killer of the volcanologist Prof. Worth, back into the gang. “Selfless” is another episode that IMO suggests that Buffy’s arbitrary lines really are somewhat arbitrary, and that in order to forgive herself for her own mistakes she needs to recognize that actions, even terrible ones, are forgivable.


    10. However, it is GOOD FOR BUFFY that she sets the line at Jonathan & Andrew. Because saving Jonathan & Andrew represents Buffy’s way of coping with Willow’s spiralling out of control, and indeed, that is what Buffy does. Buffy protects J&A, and this is what allows Buffy to have some kind of action to take as Willow spirals out. In fact, I think there’s even a parallel with Willow going AFTER J&A, because in both cases the mere fact of having some goal or task is necessary for the person in question not to lose their mind in an impossible situation. Buffy’s goal is good and Willow’s is evil, but both are fundamentally a displacement of their more significant goal, deep down, which is to find a way back to life (Buffy) or to death (Willow). Jonathan & Andrew are a displacement for the overall health of the gang and of flawed humanity in general, which is why their salvation ends up being important symbolically for Buffy and for Willow too, not so much because it is forgivable to kill Warren and not them, which I think is a comforting lie Buffy tells herself, but because of the specific role that they end up playing in the Buffy/Willow/Scooby gang drama that unfolds on the fundamental question of whether life is worth living.

      That Buffy saves J&A but does not save Willow directly—Xander is the one who does that, and Giles before him—strikes me as extremely important for Buffy’s arc, as well. Willow brought Buffy back partly for Buffy’s benefit, and partly out of the belief that it was impossible for the gang to function without Buffy as leader. Actually, I think this was even literally true—I am reasonably certain that without Buffy coming back the Hellmouth would have been overrun, and in spite of Tara’s suggestion that maybe the biker gang came to stop Willow’s spell I think it mostly was an inevitability, once the Buffybot eventually failed. However, AS A RESULT of each member of the gang failing and then finding a deeper truth about themselves they have been running from, it is possible for the world to be saved without Buffy as the active player. The fight against the Big Bad, which, again, is Life, is resolved by Xander & Willow explicitly before it’s resolved by Buffy in a more implicit way. The last step for Buffy to take a hold of life again is to realize that AN APOCALYPSE HAPPENED AND SHE DID NOT HAVE TO STOP IT. Buffy’s suicidal ideation and resentment about being alive is partly because she really thought that she HAD to stop all problems, and indeed the narrative, up to and including most of season six, mostly supported this. It’s not even the fault of the gang, really, that they believed this or put the pressure on Buffy; IMO the entire universe of the show was set up so that, until season six, no one else was capable of saving the world besides Buffy, though others were capable of helping. However, in adulthood one does not have to save the world alone, and indeed one cannot. What brings Buffy to her realization that she values the world is the fact that it is no longer necessary for her to bear it alone, and so it is possible for her to reconnect with Dawn and to recognize within herself the love for the world that she has been unable to access.

      This ability to forgive herself and accept that there are things beyond her power, and that that is okay because some of these problems will resolve themselves without her help, is similarly key to Willow's and Xander's ending -- Willow "lets go" and her black hair fades and she gives up on her apocalyptic plan, submitting herself to the judgment of others and allowing the world to keep turning; Xander's love here is genuinely unconditional.

      Apologies for the length; brevity is the soul of wit, but sadly my wit is soulless.

      Also there were minor spoilers for S7 ("Lessons," "Selfless") and season eight above which I should have warned for, but I don't think I can edit now. :(

    11. This is just .... beautiful. You really need to publish it more prominently. I'll make it a separate post here, or you can choose your own venue. I missed your comments, but this makes it worth the wait.

    12. Thank you! How about I post this on my livejournal and you can respond there. I'll add "by popular demand" in the header. *g*.

    13. Sounds good. Make sure it's linked in the Herald.

    14. I'm gonna go with not linked in the herald for right now, because I'd feel too exposed, but I appreciate the thought!

    15. Your call, of course. Let me know when it's up on lj.

  7. I have a few thoughts and questions for you, Mark.

    1) Excuse me if you made this point explicitly and I didn’t read carefully enough, but I thought it was significant to your interpretation of Buffy’s seasonlong arc that Xander was able to get through to Willow after he tells her how much he loved her as a child. (And personally, I understand it but it’s sad to me that Willow hates her high school self so much, because I loved that Willow so much. Her explanation to Buffy about why she wants to stay in Sunnydale at the end of “Choices” is one of my favorite moments of the series. I know that Giles’ and Willow’s relationship had changed very much by “Grave,” but I wish he would have been able to convey to her the sentiment he expressed back in “Doppelgangland,” that even without power she was the “finest of all of us.”)

    2) While I think Buffy’s seasonlong arc is pretty great overall, I was a little grumpy at times that she had to learn essentially the same lesson as Season 5 again. That’s a long time to spend to get to the same point (not that it wasn’t an interesting journey)! :)

    From your essay on “The Gift”: “The whole point of the season is that Buffy needs to learn to incorporate Dawn into her life. In metaphor, she needs to find a way to preserve her childlike innocence as part of her adult persona.”

    From this essay: “Buffy thought she needed to repress her humanity, her inner child, in order to be an adult. All season long Buffy ignored Dawn, pushed her aside, insisted on protecting her – ‘sheltering’ would be more accurate – in her effort to adopt adult behavior.”

    Why did Dawn have to be the key to both seasons?

    My take from what you’ve written is this: In Season 5, Buffy learned the lesson intellectually. That’s why the season starts with her telling Giles, her metaphorical mind, that she needs him to help her learn more about herself, and it ends with her saying to Dawn, “Tell Giles I figured it out.” She KNOWS what she has to do.

    But Season 6, of course, is when everything Buffy has learned about being an adult is supposed to be put into practice. So, as you say, Buffy is ignoring Dawn “in her effort to adopt adult BEHAVIOR.” Giles’ absence signals Buffy forgetting/repressing the major lesson she learned in Season 5, and when he returns, she’s able to put it all together again.

    Is that basically how you see it, or is there a better interpretation?

    3) Along those same lines, do you think Dawn broke the bargain that she made in “Bargaining”? She promised to be better if Buffy chose to live, but she wasn’t exactly a model citizen. Typical teenage stuff, of course, but did that play any role in the way the season played out metaphorically? Or, since these types of bargains are generally futile anyway, was her behavior irrelevant?

    4) I know I should not comment on Spike’s soul situation until I watch Season 7 (and I know there is absolutely nothing new that anyone could possibly ever say on the subject of Spike’s soul anyway), but boy do I hate this development. I like Spike’s character, but having a chipped Spike be reformed makes me very uncomfortable! Is Maggie Walsh a hero now? Is next season going to be a precrime-detection dystopia? ;)

    It also bothers me because, on the face of it, it seems so nasty to Angel. I know Angel is no longer much of a presence on Buffy, but allowing Spike to have his soul with presumably no perfect happiness clause after going through a few trials is just mean. Angel was tortured in hell for 100 years and he still has a catch! That’s life, I know, but poetic justice would seem to at least require that Spike have to become a human and give up his superpowers and immortality for his soul.

    Also, Spike deciding an ensouled vampire him is what Buffy “deserves” makes me pukey. I know that was part of the misdirect language but ew.

    I know, there’s so much I don’t know… All will be revealed… Ignore all this :) :) :)

    1. On #1, no I didn't make that connection. Good one.

      On #2, yes, that's how I see it.

      I think we can see Dawn as becoming better, but only after she gets caught stealing in OAFA. From that point on, she and Buffy begin to develop the relationship which culminates in Grave. So I'd say in the short term she didn't keep her bargain, but in the end she did. And I guess she got what she bargained for out of that.

      I had really major problems with Spike's arc at the end of S6, that is from Seeing Red on, when the season first aired. As you'll see very quickly in S7, I gave up those criticisms because of the way it played out.

      That said, yeah his arc raises real questions about Angel, and is pretty hard to explain for the established rules of vampires on the show. I think S6 deserves criticism for this (and for that awful "misdirect"). But if you put that aside, you can see what they were going for in S7.

    2. Good stuff! Thank you!