Follow by Email

Monday, February 18, 2013

Touched

[Updated May 3, 2013]

Continuing the point from Empty Places, the chaos of the teaser in Touched drives home the logical necessity that someone has to be in charge. The group was incapable of even having a discussion, and both Xander and Kennedy suggested that not everyone should participate (without, of course, including themselves out, to quote Samuel Goldwyn):
XANDER
You know, I'm thinking that everyone here shouldn't have a say.
KENNEDY
I just wonder if those of us who have been here longer should have more of a say.



The follow-up group discussion in the basement emphasizes this conclusion. As was apparent in Empty Places, Buffy had succeeded in isolating herself from everyone else over the course of the year. That’s what the role of General entails. The Potentials thought that switching to Faith would change things. Kennedy states this expressly: “I thought things would be different now, but you keep shutting me out”.  What Kennedy’s missing is that she can't function as an equal because Faith has power that she lacks. Given that ineluctable fact, Faith will always be the one who decides who to slay and who not, just as Buffy was. The logic of the situation demands a General.
Faith’s reaction to Kennedy in the basement builds on this premise, and states expressly the logic of the situation which demands Kennedy’s obedience to Faith’s orders: “Look, you guys, I'm not Buffy. I'm not the one who's been on your asses all this time, but I'm not one of you any more, either. I'm your leader, which means I go first, and I make the rules, and the rest of you follow after me. Is that clear?” My emphasis.  Nor does Faith treat others any better, as witness her curt dismissal of Wood. Thus, one point of Touched is to make it clear that the problem is not individual to Buffy, nor to Faith, but to the existing system.
Turning now to Buffy, we see that events all season have been preparing us for her admission that she is responsible for cutting herself off. Indeed, as Buffy herself says, she’s done so from the beginning. As an example, go back 130 episodes to When She Was Bad:
JOYCE:  Did she manage to stay out of trouble in L.A.?
HANK:  She did, yeah. She was, um... you know, great.
JOYCE:  But?
HANK:  She was just, I don't know, um... distant. Not brooding or sulking, just... there was no connection. The more time we spent together, the more I felt like she was nowhere to be seen.”

Not so much connected, as she says in CWDP.
In Lessons, the manifest spirits told Buffy that she had failed to protect them. In Help, Buffy was faced with what she should do when she couldn’t help, and in subsequent episodes she felt that she failed in her duty to protect the Potentials. Her very understandable reaction was to cut herself off in order to avoid the pain, as she tells Spike: “That's my problem. I say the word, some girl dies...every time. … These are girls that I got killed. I cut myself off from them...all of them. I knew I was gonna lose some of them and I didn't….”
This reaction became more pronounced after she had to face down Xander over Anya in Selfless, and after she kept losing Potentials (Annabelle, Eve, Chloe, Molly) and saw Xander horribly wounded. We could see how distant she forced herself to become in the hospital scene in Empty Places. In turn, the loss of lives meant that the Potentials would no longer accept her harsh commands in a trade-off for safety.
All of this background we now understand as essential to explain why Buffy seemed so distant to the Potentials and to her friends. Now that Buffy herself has recognized it, she has the ability to take the next step and find another answer to the question she posed at the end of Help:
BUFFY
… I failed her.
DAWN
… I guess sometimes you can't help.
BUFFY
So what then? What do you do when you know that? When you know that maybe you can't help?

Never did I like Spike more than in this episode, first calling out the SG over their betrayal, then with his inspirational talk to Buffy. Without spoiling, I can also say that his dialogue with Buffy, like that between Faith and Wood, provides a major clue to Buffy’s intuitive solution in Chosen.
Two quick points about the paralleled love scenes with Heather Nova’s “Only Love” playing in the background. Not surprisingly, Joss had to fight to get Standards & Practices to permit the Willow/Kennedy sex scene. It was, AFAIK, the first lesbian sex scene ever shown on network TV. Since you all know that I don’t mind Kennedy but that mine is a distinct minority view, I’ll let Masq give her verdict on that scene:
“I think we all wish that when a network television program finally decided to show two women making love the way they always show a man and a woman making love, that it would Willow and Tara. Because we all felt the love of Willow and Tara.
But when Joss and co. decided to push that envelope, and when UPN had the cajones to show it, it was Willow and Kennedy.

And I, for one, thought it was HOT, and I want to applaud Joss, ME, and UPN for doing it.”

Willow didn’t need anything more than sex to reassure her that her sexuality was not the source of darkness in her, nor was it the cause of Tara’s death. Local-max added in comments: “She's always associated her sexuality with evil, at least subconsciously … IMHO, rather than being a mistake, the shifting of the metaphor of magic from lesbian sex to power generally [not getting into the drug stuff here] actually emphasizes something real about Willow, which is her deep-rooted fear that being joyful, acknowledging her desires and love, being empowered (which are all related), make her a bad person. For Willow, magic represents power first, and secondly I think it represents the...transgression of social boundaries -- which is why it's appropriate that it is a gateway to *both* her non-normative sexuality and her darkness.”
While the sex has meaning for Willow in this sense, the scene where Spike just holds Buffy pretty clearly establishes an important distinction between love and sex – only love makes a true connection to others. I see the scenes as running a spectrum from B/S to W/K to X/A to F/W to Caleb/First. The three human couples were (mostly) just having sex, Buffy was trusting Spike. It turns out Buffy was right when she told Giles in Empty Places that Spike is the one who has her back. She’s connected to at least one person.
And that’s the double meaning of the title. Someone “touched” Buffy. That enabled her to defeat Caleb by the simple expedient of not letting him touch her, just as the First can’t be touched. She circumvented it using its own strength.
Since the consequences of Faith’s turn as General and of Buffy’s discovery of the cool axe-thingey spill over into the next episode, I’ll discuss those topics in my next post.
Trivia notes: (1) Giles thought the phrase “power to the people” sounded like something from the ‘70s. It was actually from the ‘60s. (2) Anya’s metaphor (?) of Girl Scouts trying to make quota refers to the fact that Girl Scouts sell cookies door-to-door to raise money. (3) For the Model UN see the link. (4) Faith said the people from the power company “got the hell out of Sunnydale”, playing off the expression “got the Hell out of Dodge”. It’s American slang meaning to get away from a situation. (5) Spike recited the “I spy with my little eye” line when he first saw Giles as the Fyarl demon in A New Man. (6) After Giles congratulated Kennedy for her “performance as a disgruntled minion”, Kennedy said that she was “method”. That refers to a school of acting, but it’s also a joke. Method actors try to put themselves into the actual thoughts and emotions of their characters. Kennedy’s response said, in effect, that she was a disgruntled minion. (7) Anya didn’t think the Bringers were Rhodes Scholars, for which see the link. (8) Andrew was thrilled to ride on Spike’s “hog”. That’s a slang term for a large motorcycle, but not the one Spike has. (9) Faith told Spike that Buffy had him “whipped”. The full phrase is “pussy-whipped” and it’s American slang for a man dominated by a woman. (10) Spike’s reference to the comfy chair as a diabolical torture device is a reference to Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition. (11) I’ve seen it suggested that there are echoes of Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King in the Buffy/Spike scenes. I can’t confirm that, but it seems reasonable. (12) Faith asked the Mayor if he was a shrink now. That’s an in joke. Harry Groener played a psychiatrist in the Roswell episode Who Died And Made You King?,which aired in April 2002, i.e., about a year before Touched. (13) The Mayor previously called Faith “firecracker” in Graduation Day 1. (14) Faith said a “whole lot of Jack D” killed the pain. She’s referring to Jack Daniels Whiskey. (15) Heather Nova’s “Only Love” was the last vocal music on the show. It’s pretty obviously Joss’s taste in music, and I hear it as a valedictory. (16) Iyari Limon (Kennedy) didn’t really have a pierced tongue; that was a prop. (17) Given my previous comments about Wood’s Oedipal issues, the fact that he and Faith have sex in Buffy’s bed is, well, kind of icky. (18) The First’s desire to be corporeal in order to feel a neck crack is the same explanation Moloch gave in I Robot, You Jane. (19) It’s unclear what Caleb means when he refers to Buffy as the “prodigal Slayer” when she enters the vineyard. The word “prodigal” is often misunderstood to mean “wandering”, and he could mean it in that sense because Buffy has left her friends. However, the word actually means “spendthrift”, so he might be taunting her about her supposed willingness to risk the lives of her friends in Dirty Girls. (20) Buffy’s reference to Caleb as a “woman hating jerk” was apparently originally written as “woman hating prick”. For some reason, Standards & Practices objected to the latter phrase.

14 comments:

  1. I love the point that Willow having sex is a resolution to the question of whether sex is the root of her darkness. This closes the book on the question of whether lesbian sex is evil or a drug, I think. But most interesting is the suggestion that Willow subconsciously thought it was. I had never thought of this exactly this way before.

    I think that really emphasizes a lot of where Willow's trauma comes from. She's always associated her sexuality with evil, at least subconsciously -- vamp!Willow is a metaphor for what Willow represses, after all, and in DGL she associates "flossing" with "dying a virgin." IMHO, rather than being a mistake, the shifting of the metaphor of magic from lesbian sex to power generally [not getting into the drug stuff here] actually emphasizes something real about Willow, which is her deep-rooted fear that being joyful, acknowledging her desires and love, being empowered (which are all related), make her a bad person:

    "Oddly I feel like staying in. And doing my homework. And dying a virgin." -- DGL

    For Willow, magic represents power first, and secondly I think it represents the...transgression of social boundaries -- which is why it's appropriate that it is a gateway to *both* her non-normative sexuality and her darkness. I wonder if it will lead her to the light and to changing the world for the better (rather than, as at the end of season six, leading her to destroy it).

    Since Willow is Buffy's spirit, I think this hints at Buffy's problems as well, the belief that following one's own desires is necessarily evil, *including* the desires associated with sex and love. But s7 is arguing that that was never the case and the opposite may be true.

    Despite being broken up, I think Xander and Anya love each other more than Willow and Kennedy (and are a parallel to Buffy/Spike besides). So I might order them differently. But I agree that there is a spectrum from love to sex to desire with no positive components at all.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "For Willow, magic represents power first, and secondly I think it represents the...transgression of social boundaries"

      That's a really great way to put it. Very nice.

      Delete
    2. But most interesting is the suggestion that Willow subconsciously thought it was. I had never thought of this exactly this way before.

      I think that really emphasizes a lot of where Willow's trauma comes from. She's always associated her sexuality with evil, at least subconsciously -- vamp!Willow is a metaphor for what Willow represses, after all, and in DGL she associates "flossing" with "dying a virgin." IMHO, rather than being a mistake, the shifting of the metaphor of magic from lesbian sex to power generally [not getting into the drug stuff here] actually emphasizes something real about Willow, which is her deep-rooted fear that being joyful, acknowledging her desires and love, being empowered (which are all related), make her a bad person


      I had never thought of it this way either. Execution issues aside, it makes a great deal of sense; but then I'm slowly coming around to appreciating the idea that "magic is an addiction" is actually Willow's misread of it. It had never occured to me that she still linked sexuality with darkness and evil in some fashion; I can see that fitting in with the tendency to "sanctify" Tara as the representative of "goodness" (or "earth magic"). Which of course, as with Buffy's Slayerhood, is a role Tara can't possibly fulfill; as with all the labels the characters take on or are given, it necessarily inhibits growth. (Part of why I love the scene between Tara and Buffy in DT is the recognition in that scene of the moral complexities in their situations.)

      red_satin_doll
      http://red-satin-doll.livejournal.com/

      Delete
  2. There are so many moments in the series when I want to reach through the screen and give Spike a high five. This episode might have the most of them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know it. That fight with him and Faith(while unjust) is so awesome, and his snark to Willow. His "ungrateful" speech. And finally finding the right words to say to Buffy(that didn't include effulgent). Awesome.

      Delete
    2. THIS. Actually, less of a high five and more of a giant hug*. Because Spike's misread her so many times, pined after her obsessively and selfishly for so long, and to finally see Buffy receiving some selfless unconditional love when she really needs it is wonderful and 1000% earned. I'm not even a shipper and I could've spent the entire episode having them stare into each other's eyes and fall asleep in each other's arms. Well, that sounds creepy, but you get what I'm saying!

      *Actually, there are WAY too many moments in this series when I have an irrational desire to reach through the screen and hug/high-five these characters.

      Delete
  3. I actually thought the essay for this one would be longer. I'm fascinated by the Giles-Faith dynamic here. I suspect local_max will disagree with me on this, but I think Spike is onto something when he criticizes Rupert "You used to be the big man...she surpassed you". It's very similar to what DarkWillow said to him in S6 "When you used to be revelant", and that had more than a grain of truth as well. And his behavior around Faith (one of Buffy's dark mirrors, her "grandchilde") when discussing the plan for the next day reflects that, as he praises her "You're doing a good job". Of course it's decent of him to say so, but IMO it also reflects the fact that Faith, suddenly in a position of power (she's never been THE Slayer the way Buffy has), and with "daddy/abandonment issues" of her own, as intense as Buffy's, is now turning to Giles and dependent on his support and approval in a way that Buffy hasn't been in a long time. Some of this of course is because of Giles' actions in S6; he left Buffy to encourage her to be independent, but like any parent, he may not like the results when their child becomes an adult.

    It's no surprise then that immediately afterwards, Faith is confronted with the First in the form of the Mayor, the one true father-figure she's known.

    At the same time, the scene where Spike just holds Buffy pretty clearly establishes an important distinction between love and sex – only love makes a true connection to others. I see the scenes as running a spectrum from B/S to W/K to X/A to F/W to Caleb/First. The three human couples were (mostly) just having sex, Buffy was trusting Spike.

    Obviously you say "mostly" here but I still am a tad uncomfortable with this presented as an either/or. (Despite the "badness" of S6, Buffy in fact demonstrated her (unconscious) trust in Spike whenever they had sex, IMO.) There's still an element of trust involved in lovemaking, and I'm loathe to say that for F/R & X/A it was "just" having sex. Xander had left Anya at the altar, after all; they have a long history, whereas F/R don't, but their lovemaking is proceeded by a conversation more intimate than we've seen from Faith (at least on BtVS.) And as much as I adore the Buffy/Spike scene, and the tenderness of it (compared to S6 post-Smashed), there was still something that made me slightly uncomfortable the first time I watched it. Buffy's "bad sex life" (as gabrielleabelle put it on her LJ) is such a huge theme, starting with the soul-bomb in Surprise/Innocence; so the implication that the protagonist, Buffy, can only find intimacy and trust by holding Spike in a "chaste" manner, avoiding sex, leaves a somewhat sour and anti-feminist note. The dichotomy of "Buffy as good girl (virgin) to Faith's bad girl (whore)" is still in place, albeit in modified form.

    red_satin_doll
    http://red-satin-doll.livejournal.com/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "the implication that the protagonist, Buffy, can only find intimacy and trust by holding Spike in a "chaste" manner, avoiding sex, leaves a somewhat sour and anti-feminist note. The dichotomy of "Buffy as good girl (virgin) to Faith's bad girl (whore)" is still in place, albeit in modified form."

      I agree with this, up to a point. As I see it, her trust issues with Spike came to the forefront in SR: "I could never trust you enough for it to be love". She's had to re-build since. So if I don't see trust as an end, but merely a beginning, I think it avoids some of the implications which you suggest (and which I agree would be "sour").

      This post could have been longer, but I had to hold off to discuss certain issues because of spoilers. Hopefully I pick them up later. Whether local-max agrees with you or not about Giles and Faith, I do.

      Delete
    2. I too agree with you about Giles and Faith as well.

      COMIC SPOILERS

      I still haven't forgiven Giles for practically abandoning Buffy financially after his death, and I feel that a lot of that traces back to this. After Chosen, Buffy is no longer his sole daughter, instead she has given him hundreds he never wanted. So he retreats from being very active in training the new Slayers, deciding instead to research mystical convergences and look out ways to take out a Slayer(Buffy). He turns to Faith to help him take out another rogue Slayer, and they bond, replacing the lost relationship he had with Buffy.

      Delete
    3. As I see it, her trust issues with Spike came to the forefront in SR: "I could never trust you enough for it to be love". She's had to re-build since. So if I don't see trust as an end, but merely a beginning

      100% agreement on that point, and I have zero discomfort with Buffy being still traumatized when he returns in S7, or needing time to process everything. Which, she really can't on her own but tries to do anyway with no professional help - and that's on top of everything else falling down around her ears in S7. So intellectually yes, I totally agree, but on an emotional/visceral level when I first watched, the contrast of other couples having sex vs Buffy/Spike "just" holding each other (and I know that two people "just holding" each other can be a tremendously intimate communication) still felt like it upheld rather than subverted certain old cultural patterns. I've gotten more comfortable with it since I first watched, as I can see how it fits their overall arc and the theme of trust, so I guess for me it's still "a little of both" if that makes sense.


      This post could have been longer, but I had to hold off to discuss certain issues because of spoilers.

      I'm having to remind myself of that - thank goodness you're almost through. I find it hard not to talk about and see the show on a series-wide basis and look at each episode in context of what came before or after, so kudos to you for being able to parse it out.

      I still haven't forgiven Giles for practically abandoning Buffy financially after his death, and I feel that a lot of that traces back to this.

      I haven't either, Aeryl. Oddly enough I can forgive most (not all) characters for just about anything at this point, or at least understand why they do most of the things they do. This one is a sticking point for me; unfortunately it's not out of character for him. He did the same with all the Scoobies but Willow is a special case-in-point, failing to provide her guidance in magics despite - or perhaps because of - his past as "Ripper". Am I the only fan who didn't cheer when he walked in the door in Two To Go "I'd like to test that theory" but did cheer a little when DW mocked him in Grave?

      COMIC SPOILERS

      After Chosen, Buffy is no longer his sole daughter, instead she has given him hundreds he never wanted. So he retreats from being very active in training the new Slayers


      Hmm...I don't consider comics canon and pretty much ignore them (when I'm not ranting about them) but that explanation makes more sense to me than anything I've read on that account!

      red_satin_doll
      http://red-satin-doll.livejournal.com/

      Delete
    4. "on an emotional/visceral level when I first watched, the contrast of other couples having sex vs Buffy/Spike "just" holding each other (and I know that two people "just holding" each other can be a tremendously intimate communication) still felt like it upheld rather than subverted certain old cultural patterns."

      I'll mention this issue in the post on Chosen. I agree, though I do appreciate the point being made in Touched.

      Delete
    5. It was nice to read your post Anonymous because it's so far from how I've usually read Buff's approach to sex/men as the end approaches.

      BIG SPOILERS FOR REST OF S7

      Buffy's decision not to have sex with Spike (if we can even call it a decision - we don't really even know if it crossed her mind, and that sort of only seems likely because of the juxtaposition with the other sex), so that decision, plus her treatment of Angel in the upcoming episode (can't remember her exact speech, but I'm watching it again now . . .), that these were her way of establishing herself as independent. For the first season in the show's entire run, Buffy goes without a boyfriend or lover of any sort.

      We could say, I guess, that that's part of her cutting herself off from everybody, but I've always read it more as part of her self-actualization that comes with sloughing off the patriarchal expectations (one of which might say she's not complete without a man), so in hand with the activation of the others . . . So not necessarily a rejection of the joy of sex (pre-battle sex!), but of the compulsion to be defined (in part) by a relationship.

      Delete
    6. So not necessarily a rejection of the joy of sex (pre-battle sex!), but of the compulsion to be defined (in part) by a relationship.

      That's actually an excellent point, aaron; so I'm probably being a bit of hypocrite here, in that I loved the scene with Buffy and Angel in Chosen for that very reason. "What are you, twelve?" "He's not my boyfriend, but he is in my heart" etc. She's not letting anyone else define her sexuality or push into that notion of her worth being defined by having a man; and she rejects easy labels "Boyfriend" for something thats much bigger than that and perhaps can't be defined.

      red_satin_doll
      http://red-satin-doll.livejournal.com/

      Delete
    7. In reply to aaron:

      "For the first season in the show's entire run, Buffy goes without a boyfriend or lover of any sort."

      I don't think that is quite true. In season 5 at the end "I Was Made to Love You" she decides to forgo hunting for a new relationship, breaks off the date with Ben and spends the rest of season 5 without a boyfriend or lover.

      JEL

      Delete