Category Archives: The Buffy Rewatch

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FEATURE: A Very Buffy Birthday

Trying to articulate exactly how much Buffy the Vampire Slayer means to me on this, the twentieth anniversary of its arrival into the world, is a bit like trying to tell you why my oldest friend is my oldest friend. It’s a spark, a bond forged in a heady mix of circumstance, affinity, and personality. And like my oldest friend, Buffy has always been there for me when I’ve needed it (though perhaps without the same amount of visits to Frankie & Benny’s).

Many people have spent this week discussing Buffy’s cultural impact, its feminism, the cross-generational appeal etc. and so on. There are some great articles out there and I encourage you to sally forth and peruse at your leisure! But I’m going to focus a little more on the personal for this piece. When I realised I wanted to write something about a show that has been around for the majority of my life, I was hit by all the little moments that Buffy has impacted me in various ways over the years. Slowly, this turned into a wandering road map, full of quotes, laughter, and tears.

The first is obviously discovering it for the first time. As I’ve detailed during The Buffy Rewatch, I didn’t begin at the beginning with Buffy. I wasn’t allowed. My parents decided that despite my macabre tastes as a child (Tim Burton fangirl from aged 5), Buffy was probably a bit too much for me. So, the first few episodes passed me by. Unfortunately for my parents, they’d forgotten that I was the only person who knew how to operate the VCR record timer. I recorded the episode Angel, watched it furtively before anyone got up one Saturday morning and the rest, as they say, is history and an entire shelf full of tie-in novels, Watcher’s Guides, and a Sunnydale High Yearbook (if you can get your hands on one, it’s bloody hilarious).

Quite simply, I’d never seen anything like it. I’d always leant towards genre fare. Star Wars of course, Star Trek was a permanent feature of our dinner times in its various iterations. But when Buffy came along, I was still very much ruled by what CBBC had to offer in (Ghost Hunter and The Demon Headmaster to be precise). But then, here was a show with the quippiest quips, the weirdest fashion, action sequences, scary bits, heroic triumphs, and most of all, it was about a girl. A girl with powers. A girl who could kick ass, take names, and still definitely be a girl. For a child needing a little more than Princess Leia, it was catnip.

Especially one who was, let’s face it, too gawky to ever be considered cool. That leads me to the next moment… I was the bookish one at school, the one who was the butt of the jokes, didn’t have particularly cool clothes, and suffered from a chronic lack of self esteem. Enter Willow. Buffy might have all the physical strength, but arguably, Willow had the greatest mental toughness (which was why it was so galling when she finally broke). She was, mostly, there for Buffy when she needed her, far more than a sidekick, and with a keen intelligence that made her invaluable. She inspired me and continues to do so, perhaps even more than the Slayer herself.

One which is less specific to pinpoint in my life is the way in which Buffy influenced my developing interest in feminism. My actual feminist awakening came a few years later when, sat cross-legged on my bed, I finished reading The Bell Jar for the first time and said “fuck this shit” out loud to a pile of dirty washing and some stuffed animals I hadn’t had the heart to get rid of yet. But I credit Buffy with laying those foundations. Men constantly underestimate Buffy and the other women of the show, but they consistently prove them wrong. I mean, just Buffy kicking the shit out of misogynists would be enough, but the show empowered women across the world (literally, in the seventh season). I will always have this show to thank for making me believe that, however bad the day got, if Buffy could deal with being a teenager and save the world, I could get through a rough patch. I didn’t know it at the time, but this would be hugely important several years later.

It’s one of the reasons I’ll defend the later seasons because they dealt with emotional pain in some extraordinary ways, with varying degrees of success. Buffy’s depression was never named as such as I recall, but it arose from the constant weight of having the fate of the world (literally) on her shoulders and trying to be everything to everyone; something which rang so true with me. It wasn’t something many shows were doing and mental health issues carried an even greater stigma than they do now. Obviously, I wasn’t fighting the physical demons, but the mental ones. I could probably take out a guy with a little exacto knife if I really needed to, but admitting I need help is something I’ve never been good at. Seeing Buffy struggle with a similar thing didn’t hit me quite as hard on the first watch. It wasn’t until I was a bit older that I connected the dots.

I watched Once More With Feeling in a moment where I was feeling particularly low, fully expecting it to cheer me up with all the singing and the dancing. It worked for a bit. Then, I got to the bit where Buffy sings her confession about everyone bringing her back from heaven, rather than a hell dimension as they had assumed. Then Dawn repeats the line that Buffy says to her in The Gift: “The hardest thing in this world is to live in it.” Reader, I bawled. Full on, ugly crying. Shortly after, I booked an appointment to see a counsellor, finally admitting to myself that I wasn’t doing so well on my own at that particular point in time. It’s one of the best decisions I ever made.

There are plenty of happy moments too. Buffy has helped me make other friends, most memorably at university when, in halls, we sat discussing the prospect of a flat party and I deadpanned that we needed to decide between a gathering, a shindig, and a hootenanny. I didn’t expect anyone to get the reference. The face of the girl sat next to me lit up and she responded, “whole lot of hoote, liiiiittle bit of nanny.” We’ve been darn good friends ever since. Another set of friends embarked on a marathon of our favourite episodes with me and mentioning Buffy on Twitter will always bring more fellow fans out of the woodwork.

I know I’m not the only one with these stories and one of the best bits about being a Buffy fan is getting to share them with everyone. Today on social media, watching everyone post favourite moments and quotations, ridicule the fashion and Riley, and generally basking in the show’s legacy has been wonderful to watch. I’ve no doubt that Buffy will only grow in popularity and affect our lives in untold ways for many years to come. After all, into each generation…

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FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Family

Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: After meeting at a Wicca group, Willow and Tara are now in a relationship, but both are still uneasy about how the Scoobies see them. What Willow doesn’t know is that Tara has been hiding something. Spike’s fallen in love with Buffy and doesn’t really know what to do about it. Riley is still dealing with not being Commando Boy anymore.

We’ve known something has been slightly off with Tara since she first sabotaged a spell with Willow back in Goodbye Iowa. It’s an ominous moment, but the show has been more pre-occupied with setting up the new Big Bad. Now, however, it’s Tara’s turn in the spotlight and it turns out that her deep, dark secret is more a story of familial manipulation and sexism than it is of evil or horror. 

When Tara’s big brother arrives in Sunnydale, he brings along their father and her cousin to try and convince her to return home with them. It all has to do with where they tell her the magical talent comes from; there’s a family legend that, without the proper measures, the women turn into demons once they reach 20, an age that Tara is approaching. As everyone prepares for her birthday, Tara casts a spell to prevent them from seeing her demon side, but it instead prevents them from seeing the Lei-Ach demons sent by Glory to attack the Slayer. Meanwhile, Buffy lets Giles know that Dawn is the key.

Family has always been a big deal in Buffy, whether it’s blood relatives or the ones you gather along the way. Buffy and Joyce’s relationship is the big one for the former and the way in which Giles functions as a surrogate father for the latter. The Scoobies are the kind of family that assembles out of a bunch of misfits who need a place to go. The episode emphasises their dynamic during the scene in which everyone helps Buffy pack up her room; Giles is there in a ‘patriarchal role’ to scowl and point, Xander and Riley get to do the fraternal fisticuffs, as Buffy big sisters her way about. Tara feels like she’s on the outside looking in.

Tara’s own family are the kind you run away from, the kind that object to any kind alternative lifestyles. Here, it’s witchcraft functioning as a thin metaphor for Tara’s sexuality. Her father and her brother don’t want her back because they love her either. Nope, they want her back because they think a woman’s place is in the home looking after them. The bastards. Of course, Tara not feeling at home with the Scoobies either means she feels stuck; that scene when her very specific joke falls flat rings so true.

Benson gets across her character’s vulnerability so well that it completely sells her struggle and means that when her spell does go awry, it keeps her sympathetic. It also means that the moment in which Buffy places herself between Tara and Mr Maclay is one of the most moving scenes of the series. It’s beautifully constructed so that it is not just Willow or Buffy that places themselves in a position to protect Tara, but each one of the Scoobies, from Xander swearing by Donny’s “full and manly beard” that he’ll break something trying to take Tara to Anya pushing the Maclays on what kind of demon Tara is to narrow it down. Even Spike helps out.

It’s nice viewing this episode with the foreknowledge of how essential Tara will become to the group, particularly as a friend to Buffy, who only manages to sum up Tara as “nice” in this episode (that scene with Xander is a great little moment of two friends coming to terms with their best friend having a whole new path in life). I’m trying not to think too much beyond that though because, well, we all know how it turns out. It’s easy to see why Tara became such a fan favourite as the series progressed and Family is the perfect way of cementing her as the latest member of the Scooby Gang.

Though the later seasons have their big ups and even further downs, an episode like Family sits towards the upper end of the scale and remains one of the more underrated between-arc instalments. It’s one I return to when I need a pick me up. Amusing in places, but full of the kind of heartwarming misfit family stuff that you need sometimes.

Quote of the Week:

Mr. Maclay: This is insane. You people have no right to interfere with Tara’s affairs. We are her blood kin! Who the hell are you?
Buffy: We’re family.

Inventive Kill: Buffy uses the steps in the Magic Box to break the neck of the last Lai-Ach demon. Crunchy.

Let’s Get Trivial: This is the last episode in which we see Miss Kitty Fantastico. Though it’s never confirmed what happened to the cute little feline, something accidental reportedly occurred with Dawn and a crossbow. Bloody Dawn.

Sunnydale Who’s Who: It’s one of the biggies this week. Tara’s cousin Beth is played by none other than the amazing, wonderful, all-singing, all-dancing Amy Adams. Who I love. If you hadn’t guessed. In another connection, Adams played the role of Kathryn in Cruel Intentions 2, the role played in the first film famously by SMG herself.

– Becky

You can read Becky’s look at previous episode, No Place Like Home, here.

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FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer – No Place Like Home

Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy has a sister now, though she doesn’t realise that she isn’t supposed to have one. Riley’s going full douchebag and Spike has fallen in love with Buffy.

It’s the new and improved Magic Box’s grand opening for Giles, but Buffy’s a little distracted. Joyce is still suffering from her headaches and Dawn is intensely, intensely irritating, while Riley isn’t coping so well with being GI-less Joe. Whilst out on a routine patrol, Buffy meets a security guard near a warehouse; he thinks she’s a raver and gives her a mysterious glowing orb that’s obviously something magical. Later, the same security guard has been driven mad and rants to Buffy that something is coming for her family. She uses a magical trancey thing to see if it is what is making Joyce ill, but instead, it reveals that her little sister is not of this world. And that’s all before she meets Glory, a powerful woman intent on finding the Key, known as Dawn to us.

There’s plenty to talk about for this episode, but there’s just one thing I really need to get off my chest first… God, Dawn is awful here, isn’t she? Flat out rude, self-involved, immature brat awful. No wonder Buffy throws her against a wall as soon as she thinks the little cow might be a bad guy. Phew. Feel better now.

Of course, she isn’t the evil one, but the episode does a nice little feint when Joyce returns home and Dawn makes perhaps one of the most sinister cups of tea in the history of Buffy, a traditionally tea-positive place. Trachtenberg really sells the sugar-coated terror for a second before we find out that it isn’t Dawn, but Glory who will be the season’s Big Bad. And what an entrance. Glory’s always been one of my favourite Buffy villains because she functions as a sort of Bizarro Buffy, one who not only went full Cordelia, but full Angelus too, with a dash of godly powers mixed in. It helps that you’ve got the perfect person to embody her in Clare Kramer, who is a riot whenever she’s onscreen.

Doing a lot of emotional work in this episode though is Buffy herself. Gellar is brilliant here, selling Buffy’s determination to find something to fight in lieu of being able to do anything about Joyce’s as yet mystery illness. Those scenes where she is trying desperately to make sense of it all are heartbreaking, particularly with the knowledge of what is going to occur in future. She also excels in the scene where she discovers that her memories have been tampered with as well as her life entire. She doesn’t do much, but the pain of realising the lie is written across her face, echoed again in the scene where she tries to apologise to Dawn.

With the A narrative handling some fairly hefty plot and character development, it’s left to Giles in the Magic Shop to provide some light relief. It’s a dangerous practice, selling magical wares in Sunnydale, but I think even Giles is surprised to find out just how popular the shop can be. I also enjoy Anya trying to get to grips with working in retail. As a former checkout girl myself, nothing makes me laugh more in this episode (aside from Spike) than Anya saying “please go” to a paying customer. And speaking of Spike, James Marsters manages to appear in one scene and practically steal the whole episode by creating an iconic character moment. 

It’s a big one in terms of the season, this fifth episode and though it races by, No Place Like Home packs a lot in for its runtime without ever feeling like it’s flinging too much at you. Apart from Spike’s little moment and the arrival of Glory, most scenes are fairly subtle, building up to that trippy reveal and Buffy’s first clash with a god (though she doesn’t know it yet). 

Quote of the Week:

Buffy: What are you doing here?
Spike: Look!
Buffy: Five words or less.
Spike: Out. For. A. Walk… Bitch.

Let’s Get Trivial: During her torture session, Glory says ‘someone sits on a tuffet’ – Dawn has been referred to as Little Miss Muffet in various episodes, particularly by Faith in her shared dream with Buffy, and earlier this season, when the homeless man calls her ‘curds and whey’.

Sunnydale Who’s Who: Clare Kramer marks the third Bring It On star to appear in Buffy following on from Nicole Bilderback and, of course, Faith herself, Eliza Dushku.

– Becky

You can read Becky’s look at previous episode, Out of My Mind, here.

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