In the fourteenth episode of the second season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, I was wrong. Now everything is destroyed. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
I wrote about five hundred words for this post, and I’ve scrapped them. I tried to talk about this chronologically, but I find that I’m just superficially discussing smaller plot points and avoiding what I really want to talk about:
Sex is a terrifying thing.
At the heart of “Innocence” is a fear that I know well, one that I am familiar with despite that I am not straight. More than ever before, I was able to apply the narrative of Buffy’s experience to my own life, and it broke my heart. Frankly, though, I’m flabbergasted that a show was dealing with the horrors and the pain of teenage sexuality in 1998. Do you know how much I could have used this back then?
I’ve mentioned it before, but sometimes I have difficulty with narratives about the experience of losing one’s virginity, especially in the context of high school, because I did not get to have that life. It’s an interesting aspect of homophobia and heterosexism that I think goes unaddressed: sometimes, those of us who are queer don’t get to have lives that resemble the ones that are unfolding around us. When we inevitably dealt with human sexuality in health class, I knew that not one second of what they were telling me applied to my life. All of it was strictly homosexual. I actually went to a school where our school district forcibly cut out pages with references and visuals of birth control. We weren’t allowed to see how to put on a condom, we could not learn how to use them, the benefits of birth control were not taught to us, and we were only told two things: Do not have sex until you’re married, and then when you do, here is how to raise a child in a marriage.
So you can imagine a few things just from this. I did not know how to have sex as a queer dude. I did not know what I was supposed to do. I did not know how to protect myself. I did not know anything about consent issues in the context of gay sex. I did not know anything at all. Which is not to say that all of the straight people around me suddenly knew everything there was to know about sex, either; they were pretty damn ignorant about it as well. Oh, the joy of abstinence-only education! You were the best thing ever.
Because of this, though, sex became a frightening thing for me, and one of those fears manifests itself in such a terrifying way here in “Innocence.” It’s important to also remember that on top of not getting any sort of education on sex as a gay man, I was raised to believe that any sort of sexual impulse or desire was deeply sinful, a detriment to my character, and a guarantee that I’d go to hell. Even though I was on my way out of Christianity by the time I finally did lose my virginity, it took years to eliminate the shame that came along with it. Like Buffy, I was glad the moment happened, but the ramifications of it scared me almost more than the act itself. What would other people think of me? Should I tell the friends I still have left what happened?
I used to have a personal blog many years ago when I was in college, and I wrote there about my first few sexual experiences as a freshman. To me, I was excited to finally come into my own and do what I wanted with my own body. Was the sex great those first few times? Not particularly, if I can be honest. Actually, some day I’ll share the story of the first time I had sex. In hindsight, it’s pretty hilarious, but that’s not the point. People I knew from high school found that blog I wrote, and, much like the conversation Buffy has with Angel in his apartment, the reaffirmed their hatred and disgust with me being sexual at all. There was a lot of slut-shaming, a lot of violent, vicious homophobia, and a pervasive sense that these people knew more about my own body than I did.
What made me cry (AND OH, HOW I CRIED DURING THAT SCENE) the most was this idea that Angel made Buffy feel like she’d fucked up. That is what happened to me. I felt like I’d given up a part of myself to the guys I had slept with. That’s what was so harmful about the slut-shaming that I got: I believed them. I believed they were right, that I’d done something so horrible that I was less of a person for having sex. That’s why this hurts Buffy so much. She believed that Angel loved her, that this moment was special, and he confirms the absolute worst of her fears: it meant nothing at all.
Seriously, Joss Whedon, where do you come up with these ideas?
It’s so distressing to watch both because of how of harsh and vicious it is, and because at this point, I’m starting to truly enjoy Buffy as a character. I’m at that moment in a fictional universe where I start wanting only good things for people, and now I know what a horrible thing that is to want on this show. It’s clear that Angel and Buffy were written so romantically over the course of this season specifically because they were going to be torn apart. Seriously, think about that: Angel is not “cured” by the episode’s end. He’s still Angelus. HE IS NOW A VILLAIN FOR AT LEAST A FEW MORE EPISODES SWEET SUMMER CHILD.
Before I talk about some of the other characters, though, I do want to discuss one thing this episode does that saves it from being gross. I was concerned that the story might make it seem like it’s Buffy’s fault that she inadvertently “created” her main antagonist, and I really didn’t want to have to watch a show that posits sex as something that makes evil dudes. Like, there are enough of those stories out in the world, and I’m sick of it. I enjoy that the final two scenes of “Innocence,” then, are with Giles and Joyce. It is such a beautiful thing to me that Whedon goes out of his way to have a male figure in Buffy’s life tell her that Angel is not her fault, that she is not irrational for choosing to have sex, and that he supports her. I just started sobbing into my tissue when Buffy teared up. THIS IS A GOOD MESSAGE AND IT MAKES ME FEEL SO MANY GOOD THINGS.
But the one thing that truly comforts Buffy, even for a moment, is her mother. It’s the best possible way for this episode to end, given the circumstances, because Buffy feels safe with her. Look, I just love Joyce Summers a lot, okay? I eagerly await the episode when Buffy can just tell her mom what’s going on. I NEED IT.
Here are other things that are fantastic in “Innocence”:
- Oh, I totally noticed it: When Buffy returns to the library in the beginning of the episode, pay attention to both Xander and Cordelia. Both of them insult one another, and each time, the other person doesn’t smile or joke back. Oh my god, they totally have feelings for each other and this is beautiful.
- OH MY GOD ANGEL KILLS A WOMAN AND SUCKS THE SMOKE OUT OF HER THROAT JOSS WHEDON WHAT IS YOUR BRAIN.
- I know they’re all bad guys, but the dynamic between Angel, Drusilla, and Spike when Angel returns to them the first time is just fascinating. I can’t say I ever expected this in a million years.
- Angel kisses Spike on the head. WHERE ARE THE FICS. WHERE ARE THEY.
- OH MY GOD WILLOW CAUGHT XANDER AND CORDELIA. oh my god my heart.
- oh my god Willow is yelling at Xander about her feelings PLEASE HELP ME.
- oh my god Buffy is having a breakdown on her bed I CAN’T STOP MY EYES FROM WATERING. Seriously, Joss Whedon, I don’t know how you do this. I don’t.
- Okay, I do like that Jenny continues to fight her uncle about what to do with Angel. I think that the show never really goes deep into the issue of the Romani culture; that’s probably problematic in and of itself, but at least we aren’t bombarded with a ton of gross cultural stereotypes. Instead, it becomes an issue of morality and vengeance, albeit justified vengeance. Yes, Angel deserves to lose his soul, but in the process, Jenny recognizes that they’ve created an even bigger problem by setting Angel free from his humanity right when The Judge is about to annihilate Sunnydale.
- Oz’s entire make-out scene/speech. Oh my god, I don’t care, I ship Willow/Oz so fucking hard now. I love the way he talks. I love the way she looks at him. JUST BE MY EVERYTHING ALREADY.
- Buffy’s birthday present.
- Her birthday present is a rocket launcher.
- You’re not excited enough.
- THERE IS A ROCKET LAUNCHER IN THIS EPISODE AND BUFFY BLOWS THE JUDGE INTO HUNDREDS OF TINY PIECES I LOVE THIS SO MUCH
- Okay, I must admit that it’s a tiny bit hot to see Angel and Buffy fight under those sprinklers. Just a little bit.
- Joyce Summers made her daughter a birthday cupcake. JUST LET ME DIE.
oh god my heart still hurts SEND HELP.