We’ll start at the very beginning. I understand it’s a very good place to start. (Cue eye roll) As I mentioned before, I was reading Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen’s seminal (ovarial?) book called Goddesses In Everywoman. Dr. Bolen is a Jungian analyst and was beginning her practice in the late ’70s-early ’80s when she realized that she could perceive her female patients as representations of the Greek goddess archetypes. This helped her to heal her patients by helping them to imagine themselves as heroines on a journey; a quest. Much as Ayla in Jean M. Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear stories or, more recently, post-Buffy, Arya Stark in Game of Thrones (or even Daenerys, for that matter) or Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games stories, are today’s heroines, she helped her patients understand the challenges that they were facing in terms of a mythical journey. Once they were able to see themselves as heroines and each problem a challenge along a heroine’s quest, there were able to overcome their challenges.
I was reading this as I, myself was experiencing a health crisis. Buffy, the television show had just ended and I was watching the reruns on VCR (Yes, I said it. There.) The very last episode’s message was, “Now you’ve gone on this journey with us. Go be your own hero.”
So, the female characters, and later the male characters as well, kind of fell into the Greek goddess and god archetypes. Buffy was the archetype of Athena, the warrior goddess, her father’s daughter. Her father, of course, not being her real father, but Giles, whose relationship with her actually became more and more familial until the the third season when he was fired by the Watcher’s Council because they considered his relationship with her detrimental to her progress as a Slayer. Of course, he was reinstated two years later in a fan favorite episode (“Checkpoint”, 5.12)
Joss’ intent when he first created the film, was to as he often said himself, subvert the paradigm. The horror film cliche of the little blond girl who gets killed in the dark alley was to Joss, tiresome. His mother was an incredibly strong, beautiful, funny woman and both his father and stepfather, in his words, “… prized wit and resolve in the women they were with, above all things, and they were among the rare men who understood that recognizing somebody else’s power does not diminish your own. When I created Buffy, I wanted to create a female icon but I also wanted to be very careful to surround her with men who not only had no problem with the idea of a female leader, but were in fact, engaged and even attracted to the idea. That came from my father and step-father, the men who created this man, who created those men, if you can follow that.” So he created a heroine who completely turned that idea on its head. A blond girl who was chosen to fight vampires, demons and the forces of evil. “The mission statement of the show is–nothing is as it seems.” (Joss Whedon, commentary for “Welcome To The Hellmouth”) But the biggest battle that Buffy had was with her calling and trying to balance her vocation with the struggles of being first a teenage girl and then a young woman, with all the responsibilities and challenges (and then some) that being a young woman this day and age encounters. This was the constant theme for Buffy’s character arc throughout the entire series. Even the show’s theme, composed and performed by the band Nerf Herder, showed that this was to be no ordinary horror TV show. The first few notes represent a typical theme for a horror film, but suddenly it turns into a hard-driving rock melody. This was no accident. “Here’s a girl who has no patience for a horror movie…is not willing to be the victim. She’s gonna bring her own rocking attitude to [the show].” (Joss Whedon, commentary for “Welcome To The Hellmouth”) But it was this struggle, this determination to try to have a normal life that actually kept her in this world, alive and able to live much longer than any of her Slayer predecessors. But the journey to this acceptance was a very long and difficult one for this, at first, reluctant hero.
(Giles) “A Slayer slays; a Watcher…”
(Giles) “Yes…No! He trains her. He prepares her…”
(Buffy) ”Prepares me for what? For getting kicked out of school? For losing all of my friends? For having to spend all of my time fighting for my life and never getting to tell anyone because I might endanger them? Go ahead prepare me.”
Xander is the first one that Buffy meets as she drops her purse and everything in it and he helps her gather her things and asks, as only Xander can, “Can I have you?” Xander’s character, along with Giles, was the first of those supportive men surrounding Buffy and helping her to fight the forces of evil.
“The idea of this band of, kind of outcasts being the heart of the show and sort of creating their own little family is very much the mission statement.” (Joss Whedon, episode commentary)
We meet Willow first as a friend of Xander. I always thought their relationship at the beginning of the show was much like the relationship between Artemis and her twin Apollo.
“He was her male counterpart…as a second-generation Olympian, Apollo was in the generation of sons, rather than the fathers…Like his sister, Apollo is androgynous: each had some qualities or interests that are usually linked to the opposite sex.” (Bolen, Goddesses In Everywoman, p. 61) As Xander and Willow grew into their own person through the help of Buffy, they each lost those qualities of androgyny, although Joss did admit that during the fourth season the writers had toyed with the idea of making Xander gay instead of Willow. And there’s that wonderful scene in “First Date” (7.14) where Xander asks Willow to “gay him up”.
Xander had always, obviously, thought of her as a sister, even though by the time we meet her she was interested in taking their relationship further. The dance that those two do throughout the series was incredibly intricate, delicate and always interesting.
Cordelia appears first as very friendly and cool, but we’re not even halfway into the episode when the dark part of Cordelia emerges:
(Cordelia) “Willow. Nice dress. Good to know you’ve seen the softer side of Sears.”
(Willow) “Uh, well—well, my mom picked it out.’
(Cordelia) “No wonder you’re such a guy magnet. Are you done?”
“Charisma Carpenter, here as Cordelia, is sort of the classic, evil high school bitch. Obviously there’s a lot more going on there, she’s not the total cartoon, although she does often act like one…but the idea here was to set up that she would see Buffy as someone she would identify with…the idea that Cordelia, the popular, mean, kind of superficial one would latch on to her makes perfect sense and we wanted to introduce Cordelia as someone you thought might be nice, a little scatty, maybe, but kind of endearing, and then turn it around and have her just lay into someone-into Willow, so that you realized, oh she’s not exactly what I thought she was, either and to set our sympathy for Willow and also when Buffy gravitates toward Willow, clearly because she’s upset that Willow has been attacked..Allyson, King of Pain. Whenever anybody attacks her, we learned early on, it just opens up your heart, it’s a terrible thing. She’s just so good at playing that vulnerability.” (Joss Whedon, episode commentary )
Buffy sees this and immediately makes a decision that will affect the rest of her life. She automatically gravitates toward Willow, first out of sympathy and then out of genuine friendship. She also seals her fate as being in the band of misfits rather than the “cool” people: as Cordelia points out.
(Cordelia) “Are these guys bothering you?”
(Buffy) “Uh, no.”
(Willow) “She’s not hanging out with us.”
(Jesse) “Hey, Cordelia.”
(Cordelia) “Oh, please. I don’t mean to interrupt your downward mobility, but I just wanted to tell you that you won’t be meeting Coach Foster—the woman with the chest hair—because gym was canceled due to the extreme dead guy in the locker.”
Buffy’s first encounter with Giles was full of the great writing and character revelation that we came to not only love but actually expect from the writers of this show.
(Giles) “What do you know about this town?”
(Buffy) “It’s two hours on the freeway from Nieman Marcus?”
(Giles) “Dig a bit deeper in the history of this place, and you’ll find a steady stream of fairly odd occurrences. I believe this whole area is a center of mystical energy, that things gravitate toward it that you might not find elsewhere.”
(Buffy) “Like vampires.”
(Giles) “Like zombies, werewolves, incubi, succubi; everything you’ve ever dreaded was under your bed but told yourself it couldn’t be by the light of day. They’re all real.”
(Buffy) “What, you like sent away for the Time/Life Series?”
(Giles) “Oh, w-well, yes.”
(Buffy) “Did you get the free phone?”
(Giles) “The calendar.”
(Buffy) “Cool. Wait. First of all, I’m a vampire slayer. And, secondly I’m retired. Hey, I know, why don’t you kill them?”
(Giles) “ I’m a Watcher, I haven’t the skill.”
” Tony Head was one of the few people that we saw and instantly knew right away that nobody else was gonna play that part—He embodied it perfectly. Tony brought this undercurrent of—kind of youth and sexiness and great acting chops to the role, so it was clear this was the guy who still trying to figure out his own life while the kids are as well and that really works for us because it gives us places to go with Giles.” (Joss Whedon, episode commentary)
Also , the idea that Sunnydale was on the center of a mystical convergence (a Hellmouth) was not only a convenient plot device that explained things in the series that was otherwise inexplicable, but it was actually what, at least partially sold the network on the show. “The network was obsessed by the idea,” according to Whedon.
Another thing unique to the world of Whedon-vision was the blend of genres. “The idea that the show might be as schizophrenic; that it could be bouncing from horror to comedy to action to drama all the time is something that some people had trouble getting used to. Luckily, my performers all turned out to be people who could do all of those things and turn on a dime between one and the other, and to their great credit the network completely understood that mix and was behind it.” (Joss Whedon, episode commentary).
And then, of course, there’s Angel. “…young Angel, who was possibly the most difficult for us to cast. We saw dozens and dozens of guys, never anyone. David came in, gave a pretty good reading. I liked him. Wasn’t exactly, you know, my type. I wasn’t sure we necessarily had the guy here, and then I asked the women who were in there, (producer) Gail Berman, and (casting director) Marcia Schulman, who had both turned into puddles the moment he walked into the room.” Joss Whedon, episode commentary)
(Angel) “Is there a problem, ma’am?”
(Buffy) “Yeah, there’s a problem. Why are you following me?”
(Angel) “I know what you’re thinking. But don’t worry. I don’t bite. The truth is, I thought you’d be taller, or bigger muscles and all that. Oh. You’re pretty spry, though.”
(Buffy) “What do you want?”
(Angel) “The same thing you do.”
(Buffy) “Okay. What do I want?”
(Angel) “To kill them. To kill them all.”
(Buffy) “I’m sorry, that’s incorrect. But you do get this lovely watch and a year’s supply of Turtle Wax. What I want is to be left alone!”
(Angel) “Do you really think that’s an option anymore? You’re standing at the mouth of Hell and it’s about to open. Don’t turn your back on this. You’ve got to be ready. “
(Buffy) “What for?”
(Angel) “For the Harvest.”
(Buffy) “Who are you?”
(Angel) “Let’s just say I’m a friend.”
(Buffy) “Yeah, well maybe I don’t want a friend.”
(Angel) “I didn’t say I was yours.”
One character that hasn’t been mentioned yet and yet was the very first long term character to be introduced, even before Buffy herself was Darla. Darla was meant to be killed in the first episode but when they were exploring Angel’s past in episode 7, they thought a triangle between Buffy, Angel and Darla would be much more interesting.
Darla represents the Aphrodite aspect. In her life as a human, she was a prostitute, which Bolen explains is one manifestation of the Aphrodite persona. She also, because she was very beautiful, could have her choice of mates and she, like Darla, took her time making her choice. Darla waited a long time before she found the Irish Liam and turned him into Angelus.
It’s in “The Harvest” that we see Willow’s character first beginning to blossom from her Persephone persona to Artemis.
(Harmony) “Are we going to the Bronze tonight?”
(Cordelia) “No. we’re going to the other cool place in Sunnydale. (Harmony looks puzzled) Of course we’re going to the Bronze. Friday night? No cover? But you should have been there last night. ‘Cause I ran into Buffy and could she be any weirder? She attacked me? Do you believe it?”
(Harmony) “I think we did this part wrong.”
(Cordelia) “Why do we have to develop these programs? Isn’t that what nerds are for?
(Harmony nods, and Cordelia nods in Willow’s direction) What’d she do?”
(Harmony) “Uh, she’s doing something else.”
(Cordelia) “OK, and then ‘pattern run’, right? Or, ‘go to end’. That’s it.
(Cordelia) “Anyway, I come out of the bathroom, and she comes running at me, screaming, with a stick. “I’m gonna kill you! I’m gonna kill you!’ I swear!”
(Stoner dude) “Ha! Who?”
(Harmony) “The new girl.
(Stoner dude) “What’s her deal?”
(Cordelia) “Well, she’s crazed.”
(Harmony) “Did you hear about her old school? (Stoner and Cordelia shake their heads) Booted.”
(Cordelia) “Well, I exhibit no surprise.”
(Stoner dude) “Why was she kicked out?”
(Cordelia) “Uh, because she’s a psycho loony.”
(Willow) “No, she’s not.”
(Willow) “She’s not a psycho. You don’t even know her.”
(Cordelia) “Excuse me? Who gave you permission to exist? Do I horn in on your private discussions? No. Why? Because you’re boring.”
(Harmony) “OK. I think this program’s done.”
(Cordelia) Finally the nightmare ends! OK, so how do we save it?”
(Cordelia) “’Deliver’? Where’s that?”
“This is one of those little scenes that doesn’t register much, but to me is very important just because it’s the beginning of Willow’s real empowerment. The experience she’s gone through, almost being killed by a vampire, gives her just a little bit of an edge, and she actually speaks out against Cordelia. Over the years, Willow’s character has blossomed considerably and she’s much more self-assured than she was. At this point, to see the beginnings of that, to see already the effect that her friendship with Buffy was having on her is very sweet.” (Joss Whedon, episode commentary)
Joyce’s scene with Buffy when she forbids her to go out is also an important scene.
(Joyce) “You’re going out?”
(Buffy) “I have to.”
(Joyce) “I didn’t hear you come in last night.”
(Buffy) “I was really quiet.”
(Joyce) “It’s happening again, isn’t it? I got a call from your new principal. Says you missed some classes today.”
(Buffy, sighs) “I was running an errand.”
(Joyce) “We haven’t finished unpacking, and I’m getting calls from the principal.”
(Buffy) “Mom, I promise it is not going to be like before. But I have to go.”
(Joyce) “The tapes all say I should get used to saying it. No.”
(Buffy) “This is really, really important.”
(Joyce) “I know. If you don’t go out it’ll be the end of the world. Everything is life or death when you’re a 16 year-old girl.”
(Buffy) “Look, I don’t have time to talk about it—“
(Joyce) “Buffy, you have all the time in the world, you’re not going anywhere. Now, if you want to stay up here and sulk, I won’t hold it against you. But if you want to come down, I’ll make us some dinner.”
“This scene just embodies primarily the message of the show, which is the difficulty of being a teenager and the fact that parents can’t understand or can’t remember how difficult it is, and we played it a kind of broad, on-the-nose joke, but one that registers in terms of mom saying, “That’s right. If you don’t get go out, the world will end”, when in fact, it will, because when you’re a teenager that’s how it feels-it feels like it will.” (Joss Whedon, episode commentary)
And at the very end of the scene is what Whedon calls one of the primal images of the show.
Buffy gets out her trunk to get her weapons. “In this trunk we see a very normal girl’s life. You see all the things in there girl might have and then we see what lies beneath. And that’s a literal, visual metaphor for the way we feel when we’re young.Not that we ever stop feeling like that, but this is adolescence when it hits us the hardest.” (Joss Whedon, episode commentary)
Buffy’s mission statement changed over the course of the series, but the original idea of how difficult life always is and how you never somehow feel like you lose the awkwardness of your high school years never really went away.
It was a great introduction to an amazing, peerless television show.