Jul. 4th, 2014 11:32 am
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
[personal profile] liv
OK, 15 year out of date Buffyfeels, so maybe everybody else has already had this conversation in comprehensive detail. Anyway, [personal profile] jack and I have been watching Buffy the vampire slayer very, very slowly, at the rate of one episode every time we have an hour or so free, which works out at as every couple of months. We're about midway through S2, and recently reached the infamous double episode at 13-14, which Wiki says is titled Surprise / Innocence.

The whole point of this post is to discuss the big reveal in that double episode so if there's anyone left on earth who cares enough about Buffy to want to see S2 but hasn't already seen it, then this is going to be spoilery. I have been uncomfortable with the Buffy–Angel relationship from the beginning. It just seemed like so obviously a bad idea for the Slayer to be involved with a vampire. The fact that this vampire is somehow speshul didn't really mitigate the badness of this idea, for me. Buffy is Chosen precisely so that she can kill vampires, it's right there in the title of the series, literally the point of her existence is to kill as many vampires as possible, and yet she's crushing on / dating / kissing a vampire. Secondary to this, but still important, is the reason why Buffy is supposed to put her effort into Slaying: vampires are innately evil and extremely powerful and physically strong and are driven to feed on humans. And yes, Twilight and successors took this trope and ran halfway to Pluto (which isn't even a planet anymore ffs) with it, but it's already there in Buffy: the idea that it's somehow "romantic" for a teenaged girl to have a relationship with a monster who is racially programmed to devour humans, but because of Twu Wuv he heroically refrains from killing and eating her. That's not romantic, that's horrifying.

So when Angel flips and becomes evil Angelus, I had a few minutes of optimism thinking, this is a really clever spear-point. Whedon has built this up over most of one and a half seasons, it's not just a one or two episode level story where there's a monster threatening to destroy the world but Buffy and the Scoobies defeat it in the most dramatic way possible. It's a much bigger plot arc where the horror builds and builds as our heroine becomes more and more entangled with this monster. But no, it turns out we weren't supposed to find the whole relationship retrospectively horrifying, there's some stupid bullshit about Angel having or not having a soul, so that it actually was a sudden switch between a happy sparkly romantic relationship, and oh noes a monster is trying to kill Buffy.

The thing is, I think romantic!Angel behaved really ethically dubiously while he was still cursed with his soul. Yes, to some extent the power imbalance between Angel and Buffy is countered by Buffy's amazing Slayer powers. But still, I was distinctly unimpressed at Angel encouraging the romantic feelings of a very messed up 16-year-old girl. I'm not too worried by the Watsonian perspective that he's several hundred years old, that's just a source of one-liners. From a Doylist perspective, though, the way everything is framed it's a romance between a very powerful, if mopey and somewhat immature, adult in his late 20s, and a 16-year-old girl who may be speshul but the whole point of Buffy is that she's also emotionally speaking a completely normal teenager.

They really shouldn't have had sex. Never mind the convoluted ridiculous curse sub-plot, it was a seriously bad idea in non-metaphysical terms too. Consider: they've gone off to try to prevent Spike from reanimating a world-killing monster, their friends have no idea where they are, they discover that it's too late and the Judge is already active. So they escape by the skin of their teeth, and do they inform their friends that they are alive but there is an imminent threat to all of humanity? No, they go back to Angel's place and fuck. There's a big plot-point about how Buffy is over the age of consent, I mean, what a coincidence that this takes place on her 17th birthday. But she's in no possible emotional state to make decisions about sex, she's terrified and extremely upset. I find it hard to accept that this was the action of an ensouled, supposedly good vampire. If they had an ongoing sexual relationship then maaaaybe it would be ok to make love to express care and comfort and warm her up and help her to deal with her intense emotional reaction. But even then it's a situation of pretty dubious consent, and considering that Buffy is a virgin and hasn't yet made a considered decision about whether she wants to be having sex at all, I was pretty convinced that Angel was already evil quite a bit before he escaped his curse and turned into Angelus. Except that the continuation of the plot completely excludes that interpretation.

The whole virginity thing annoys me anyway. The idea that the most perfect ideal sex, so perfect that it breaks Angel's curse by giving him a moment of perfect happiness, is first time sex with a drenched, shivering, terrified barely-adult girl. Hanne Blank in her excellent Virgin describes the tropes involved:
Buffy's seventeenth birthday arrives and she gives in to the passion that has been building in her relationship with Angel. Buffy loses her virginity in a steamingly erotic, yet nongraphic, visual vignette that conveys, in its glowing skin tones and rich, draped fabrics, a mixture of intense romance and profound sensuality.
And how ~fascinating~ that pretty much the first indication that evil!Angelus is evil is, guess what, that he slut-shames Buffy, he mocks her for being easy and too willing to "give it up" to him. So virginity is this ultimately precious gift and expression of romance, yet once given the giver becomes contaminated and worthless. OK, the slut-shaming is expressed by an evil character, but it is effective because Buffy's social group, and the presumed audience, actually think there's something wrong with willingly deciding to have first-time sex, intentionally "giving" your virginity rather than "losing" it or having it taken from you. (Though I'm arguing that Angel's behaviour was very close to being coercive anyway.)

In the second half of the two-parter, I could again see glimpses of a much more sophisticated and effective horror story, not just yet another iteration of "extremely powerful monster tries to kill Buffy". The thing is, if Angelus were really evil, he could very easily have pretended he was still Angel, if he had acted even a tiny bit sweet and romantic towards Buffy, she would have pretty much followed him anywhere and trusted him right up to the point where he delivered her over to Spike and the Judge or drank her blood or whatever. Instead he insults her and breaks her heart and runs off cackling maniacally. Which is why that until the episode pretty much beat me over the head with the stuff about the sudden switch due to the curse lifting and Angel losing his soul, I thought his behaviour all the way up to this point might have been a scary manipulative long game to make Buffy vulnerable. But you know, actual abusive partners being abusive would be way scarier than demons in rubber suits, so perhaps it's good that Whedon didn't go there.

The other thing that is making me rageous is the whole "Gypsy" curse thing. Why, why, why did Whedon have to make Ms Calendar a "Gypsy"? That added nothing at all to the plot, it was just gratuitously racist. You could cut one or two words from the script and just have an "ancient" curse, you could leave Calendar's ethnic origin unspecified, and it would have been perfectly fine and not made me cringe at all (well, apart from the horrible contrivedness of this soul-curse being broken by the moment of perfect happiness, I suppose). I am very very close to giving up on Buffy because of the sheer levels of completely gratuitous racism. I strongly disliked the whole thing with Kendra and jokes set up by her speaking broken English and not owning many clothes. But this Gypsy stuff is just too much.

The gender politics, well, it's interestingly problematic, I am intrigued, if sometimes exasperated, by the ways that Whedon is obviously trying to make a feminist point and missing it because he is just swimming in a completely phallocentric and male-gazey understanding of the world. But the racism! (NB I'm not saying that anyone who enjoys Buffy is a horrible racist, just that I'm personally finding it so uncomfortable that I'm not sure I can bear watching much more.)

But then there are moments like the conversation between Buffy and Giles right at the end of this extremely problematic episode, the bit where Giles refuses to condemn or guilt-trip Buffy for making a decision about sex that was unwise and turned out to be disastrous. Moments like that make me see why Buffy has such a passionate fandom, no question, and I'm sorry for writing such a squee-harshing post. (I am also really interested in the developing relationship between Oz and Willow, and the hints of threesome subtext between Spike, Drusilla and Angelus, but that's a whole different post.)

So, in conclusion, if you are in love with someone who has mostly benign intentions, but is suffering under a curse which means he's fated to hurt you badly sooner or later, it's not going to end well. And the cursed person is culpable for pursuing the relationship and not being completely honest about the nature of the curse, not you for falling in love with him. You might think this is only relevant to fantasy TV shows, but it's true in real life too.
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Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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