In the thirteenth episode of the fifth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dawn begins to uncover the mystery around her identity just as Glory begins to get more desperate. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
I don’t know that I’ve made this clear enough, even if I’ve said it in passing before, so I’d like to devote this entire review to communicating one thing:
I fucking love Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
I mean this as that intense, emotional, sloppy, and all-encompassing love you get for a fictional universe, for the stories that are told, for the ridiculous feels you experience when your favorite character (or characters) make an appearance, for the way something can make the world seem a little more whole, and for the messages a story can impart on you. I am not just enjoying myself as I watch this show; I feel an incredible potent, powerful, and meaningful connection to what Joss Whedon, the writers, and these actors and actresses have done in the name of good television. And make no mistake about it: this is absolutely one of the best American television shows to ever air, and I do not feel strange about proclaiming that.
It is unmistakably American, but that’s part of this show’s appeal. At times, though, it’s very difficult to categorize Buffy at all, and I’m finding that this is another reason I’ve grown to adore it so much. Season five feels like a tale of old gods and mythic powers wrapped inside of a teen drama. (Yes, most of these characters aren’t teenagers anymore, but it feels like it would appeal and resonate with them the most.) But then it feels like the reverse. And then it feels like a live-action comic book. (I refuse to believe that Joss and company didn’t infuse this show with a heavy influence from the comic book world. I mean, come on, the show is like a constant deconstruction of the superhero genre, isn’t it?) Then it’s a romance? But even the romance doesn’t proceed as it’s supposed to, and then it’s a deep rumination on death and mortality. And then I remember that Joyce is alive and well and oh my god, that was so close there for a second. This season feels like it’s fifty episodes long already because so much has happened.
It’s the epic and ambitious scope of Buffy that I love, make no mistake about that. We’re dealing with horrifically huge powers in Glory and Ben, powers that are older than we can conceive of, and this is all happening on a show that aired on the WB. It’s a veritable hodgepodge of genres, and I adore that, too. But when it comes right down to it, there are precisely two things that Buffy the Vampire Slayer does, both of which are in “Blood Ties,” that seal the deal for me. It’s time for me to declare my love for this show, and here’s why.
1) Buffy takes the huge and ridiculous and makes it emotional.
I think Fringe also succeeds on some level for the same reason, but week after week, this show reminds the audience that there are people on the receiving end of all this fucked up trauma. The previous episode is about Buffy realizing her own agency, and the writers purposely dismantle the idea that people should be “tools” in fighting evil. I’m reminded of the season one finale, when Buffy begged Giles to remember that she’s only sixteen years old, that she doesn’t want to die. I’m reminded of every time she’s had to tell people that no matter what duties she has, she still deserves a life outside of that. There really is something powerful about that kind of message. It gives us a way to navigate our own lives and our own responsibilities. Yes, I do believe it’s a way to address the stoic and emotionless superheroes we’ve been exposed to before, but it’s also a downright brilliant way to build characterization in a fictional world. I know that Buffy has superb powers, but I never feel like she’s not like me.
But where Buffy has succeeded at doing this more than ever before is with Dawn. I really enjoyed that the show found a way to keep the dynamic of Buffy having a little sister after Buffy discovered who Dawn really was. But I admit that I was worried for the eventual reveal to Dawn herself. Some day, she’d have to find out that she was an invention of monks. How was the show going to deal with this? Would they strip her of her humanity in the process? Even if she was a disguised human, Dawn felt so real to me, and I worried that this would go away.
But “Blood Ties” remained focused on the horrific identity crisis that Dawn went through, and I found it to be both depressing and realistic. In the Magic Box, Dawn discovers she was created. She begins to question so many mundane and absurd details of her “life” immediately after that. Who could blame her? I mean, which memories are real, and which aren’t? Where did she come from? What is she like? What’s her true nature? While lots of us struggle with our own identities, I can’t imagine going through an experience where you find out your entire existence (minus six months) is a total fabrication. If that’s the case, why does she deserve to have a mother and a sister?
In a way, I think that’s part of what she struggles with. She can see how dedicated Joyce and Buffy are to her, but what ties them to her? Why should these people be in her life if their memories of her were simply planted there? So she violently rebels against all of this, rejecting the emotional pleas of her family, literally burning her past, and seeking out answers on her own. Here, we are brutally grounded by the reality of this supernatural plot twist. And that’s why I love Buffy so much: as many plot twists as there are in this show, the vast majority of the characters do not exist just to push them along. We get to explore how this larger-than-life scenarios affect people who are, frankly, a lot like you and I.
This is not the first time Buffy has dealt with a character feeling out of place, and of course, my mind wanders to “Family.” But it’s not just that story that resonates with a larger theme of the show, and that brings me to my second point.
2) Buffy is about forming your own family.
I think this is the case with every season so far, as all of the major and secondary characters on this show have struggle with their place in the world, and in the end, they remain with the Scoobies. Here are a group of people who are marginalized, hated, scorned, bullied, tormented, and forgotten by the society around them, and in response, they’ve built their own unit of protection and comfort. And isn’t that a big part of being in a family? Feeling like you have a group to come back to who understands and respects you? Knowing that there are people in the world who care about you unconditionally? Knowing that there are people who will always have your back?
Sure, the Scoobies are a dysfunctional family, but who doesn’t have problems? They fight, they bicker, they spend time apart. That sounds fairly normal to me. What’s so fantastic to me, then, is that these people chose each other, and they continue to do so over the years. The Scoobies found their own family in each other, and the resolution of “Blood Ties” is about Buffy showing Dawn that she’ll do the same for her. Buffy doesn’t care that Dawn was inserted into her life artificially. The love that she has for her is real, and that can’t ever be faked. This gives Dawn something she didn’t have before: a choice in making her own future. Dawn knows what she is (sort of???), and now she has the chance to move forward with her family. As part of their family, not some fabrication, that is.
HELP I LOVE THIS.
Also, this doesn’t fit anywhere in this, but Ben and Glory share a body, or at least that’s what this episode implied. Yeah, what the fuck is going on what the fuck. What sort of dimension does Glory want to open???? HELP.
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