In the seventeenth episode of the fifth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy struggles with her own ability to cope while Dawn chooses a dangerous magical path to get rid of her grief. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
I can’t deny that as frustrated and terrified as I was watching Dawn make the decisions she made in “Forever,” what she pursued was attractive to me. It made sense. The longest moment after the death of my father was the twenty-four hours after his funeral ended. There were no more tasks left for our family to do. We had no more obligations to fulfill. We were done with the entire affair, and that senseless, purposeless void left behind was so immense that I recall my brother, my mother, and I not talking for hours at a time. How do you move beyond that moment? What would Maurice want from us? Did that even matter? I didn’t believe in an afterlife for me, but did my father? Was it real? Was he looking down on us, wishing for certain things we weren’t fulfilling?
Even worse, I felt so similar to how Dawn feels during the cold open: I had to accept that this was forever. Well, okay, yes, she did not accept that initially, but that’s not my point. Yet. I was able to put off that acceptance because I was in Hawaii, and I purposely allowed myself to be distracted by the locale. I didn’t cry once after the funeral ended, even though I really, truly needed to. I turned into Buffy, essentially, keeping myself busy and moving, refusing to just stop. I actually didn’t have a cathartic, emotional breakdown for two months. The trigger? I went and saw Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain on it’s opening day. That gorgeous, uncomfortable film helped me realize that I was refusing to accept that my father had died. I just imagined that he was away on business. I kept thinking that one day, I’d go home to visit my parents, and he’d be sitting at the kitchen table, cracking open pistachios and drinking too much Pepsi. He wasn’t gone, and despite that I helped inurn his ashes into the Oahu soil, I kept believing that. He wasn’t really gone.
It was especially hard for me because my father so readily accepted his death, and I did not. I felt both jealous and guilty that my mother and brother spent time with him that last week. All of these emotions were things I simply refused to deal with. Watching “Forever” was difficult for me because I could see the pain and terror rippling beneath the surface as Buffy and Dawn tried so desperately to cope with the loss of Joyce. You can see Dawn’s pain about choosing a coffin; you can see her jealous when Buffy mentions that she got to speak privately with Joyce before her surgery. God, I get that. You almost feel like someone got more of the one you love, and that’s deeply, cosmically unfair. But that’s the price to be paid with human mortality. You want more, and you don’t get it. All that’s left is the place you make in your heart for them, as Tara puts it. I was actually kind of surprised that Tara didn’t bring up the death of her own mother when Dawn claimed that Tara had no idea how she was feeling. Still, I think that might have been because Tara isn’t too into confrontational sentiments, so she choose to just let Dawn vent instead.
There was a lot of cringing on my part during this episode. The fight between Xander and Spike was downright uncomfortable. It’s so bizarre to see Spike do what he does. He tries so hard to be human, and he’s getting so close to it. In fact, his actions throughout “Forever” genuinely shocked me because I couldn’t see what angle he was playing. He came to drop off flowers for Joyce and didn’t leave a card, as Willow points out. It’s really true that Spike and Joyce did have a friendship. Which makes me all the more confused about Spike! The guy so categorically doesn’t get how to woo Buffy, yet his friendship with Joyce was remarkably human. What sort of capacity does he have as a vampire to be good? Can he actually resist his soulless demon tendencies fully? Or is he always going to be plagued by them like he is with Buffy?
I like that he’s close with Dawn, but it seems he fought the Ghora demon. There was nothing in this for him, and I’m so used to him being selfish that I kept waiting for the twist. Soâ€¦ what was it? Was it even there? The only thing I can think of is a stretch. At one point, we see that Doc has a reptile tile of sorts, and when he shakes Dawn’s hand, his eyes turn jet black. Um, can’t reptiles or snakes or whatever see the identity of the Key? Was this Spike’s way of setting up Dawn? I don’t know that I can believe that, personally, so I think that moment was just to give us a hint that Doc will play into a later storyline. Plus, now Glory fucking knows that the Key is a person. DAMN IT, BEN. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE.
But Spike’s not the only person to act different than usual in “Forever.” Willow seems more willing than ever to bend the rules a bit. She’s responsible for setting Dawn off on her little mission to resurrect Joyce after she uses magic to draw Dawn’s attention to A History of Witchcraft. Okay, Willow, I know you’re a very sympathetic person. I get it! And I know that you want Dawn to feel better, but what the fuck are you doing? I’m kind of interested to see if this will happen more in the future or if being with Tara will be a filter for this more adventurous side of Willow. Because let’s be real, here: Tara is very serious about upholding the ethics of being a witch. That’s what I like about her! She understands the power she can wield, and she respects that.
Dawn, on the other hand, makes a TON OF POOR DECISIONS. To be fair, I don’t really judge her in the sense that I completely get that she’s grieving in this way. Stealing from Giles, though? The man is trying very hard to be good to you, and you’re taking advantage of that. Plus, there are so many warnings she refuses to heed along the way. I mean, there was no way that the spell would resurrect Joyce exactly as she was before she died. It’s that very fear that the show exploits in such a terrifying way, though.
But before we get to that, I must say that I shrieked when Angel appeared on the screen. I do adore that he came to Sunnydale to comfort Buffy, but can we also talk about the brilliant emotional continuity this episode gives us? We are just coming off of “Epiphany,” so that means Angel just realized he was being the worst person ever. He must have also worked things out with his old employees, too, and that means if he had not, he might have never come to Sunnydale at all. Could you even fucking imagine? Buffy is having this horrific moment where she’s giving in to the numbness inside of her. What if Angel had never shown up at all? MY GOD. I think Buffy really just needed to be reminded of what it felt like to be comforted. I’m glad that this wasn’t meant to resurrect their relationship. (SORRY FOR THE PUN, I CAN’T HELP IT.) It’s simply a moment of feeling good, and feeling safe, especially since Buffy has so many doubts about her usefulness post-Joyce.
But it’s not Angel that leads her to a breakthrough. It’s Dawn. I didn’t know if the episode would actually commit to Dawn performing the spell. I figured that at some point during it, she’d be interrupted, and then she wouldn’t get to complete it. I assumed that would happen once Willow notified Buffy. But once Buffy was too late, and the camera cut to the graveyard, this episode became HORRIFYING. I didn’t want Joyce back. Well, I did, because who wouldn’t? But this isn’t what I wanted. The brilliance here is the fact that the camera never gives a full view of Joyce. What does she look like? In what form is she returning? How wrong is she? And that unknown image of her is what terrified me. I didn’t want this AT ALL.
Even worse, it’s paired with a beautifully acted but gut-wrenching scene between Buffy and Dawn in which the two ultimately switch the roles we expect them to play. Dawn finally vocalizes her frustration with being left out and with witnessing Buffy treat their mother’s death like it was a chore or an obligation. I don’t think Dawn is all that off the mark, and Buffy comes to admit that: she is keeping herself busy to keep away the inevitable truth that their mother is gone. Is it weird to bring up the fact that I don’t understand how actors cry like this? Sarah Michelle Gellar, how do you face like that? I don’t get it! IT’S SO REAL. I absolutely started crying, too, and not just because of the performances. I just know personally how awful this experience is, and I remember the moment I broke in that theater watching The Fountain. But what really got to me was watching Buffy shrink before Dawn, almost as if she’s suddenly the younger sister, seeking guidance and love from the older one. I expected Dawn to have a breakdown, but Buffy does instead, giving in to the inescapable reality that Joyce is gone forever.
And then that goddamn knock on the door. Oh my god, the way Buffy says, “Momâ€¦..” just DESTROYS ME. I was so happy this episode did not give us an image of Joyce after resurrection. I don’t know that I could have dealt with it, especially after “The Body.” Instead, what we’re given is the two Summers daughters collapsing in front of an open door and an empty porch, turning to one another to finally grieve fully and completely.
Goddamn it, this season is breaking my heart. 🙁
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