Mark Watches ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’: S06E19 – Seeing Red

In the nineteenth episode of the sixth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, well. That just happened. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.

This is probably going to be the hardest review I have to write that’s not strictly a personal story. I want to treat “Seeing Red” with respect and care, to cover all of the various issues that have been brought up over the course of this episode. And I am going to do my best to do that! I think there is so much to be discussed about where these characters are, how they’ve come together, and how others have been ripped apart. And I promise I’ll get there.

I’m just really, really upset. Surprisingly, the spoiler I already knew because of recent events wasn’t what upset me the most, though it was SO MUCH MORE AWFUL than I could have anticipated. No, I am furious with the writers for killing off Tara. No, like, I get that this show does this, and I get that the stakes always have to be real. For christ’s sake, Whedon killed off the main character twice already! But I am just rubbed the wrong way by this. We get forty-odd minutes of a lesbian couple being happy. We get joy. We get them being physical. We get the only bit of joy in an otherwise awful world, and then one of them is senselessly killed, sending the surviving one into a bout of rage. Like, okay, are the writers just that oblivious to the trope that’s being used here? Are they seriously completely unaware of how often gay/queer couples are not allowed happiness in fictional narratives, or how often gay characters have to die so that other people can experience character growth? And lord, you’re not telling me that Willow’s eyes turning black isn’t a sign that she’s going to revert to using magic again. It totally is! So is this seriously going to be a story where a gay person loses their lover and then loses their sanity? LIKE WHAT IS THIS SHOW DOING.

And I know that this probably wasn’t intentional. I know that there wasn’t a single writer who thought, “God, I hate gay people. Let me kill off one of them in my show so I can make them miserable!” No one tented their fingers and laughed maliciously as they wrote about Tara’s blood spraying onto Willow’s shirt. (On second thought, Joss is a demon, so he probably laughed. He feasts on our sorrow! This is canon!) But it’s this sort of oblivious behavior that irritates me. Some of the worst shit is done with the best of intentions or out of ignorance. And that could be the case, too! Perhaps the people who penned the end of this episode honestly didn’t know that in fiction, especially fiction in the last fifty years, gay characters are killed off with a higher regularity than straight ones, at least in terms of how often they appear and how often they are written off with a character death.

Am I taking this personally? Probably. Y’all know I loved Tara deeply, and she was the one character left in this season who hadn’t done anything atrociously to the people around her. Her relationship with Willow means a lot to me as someone who is queer, and I think that’s what I ultimately hate about this. It’s senseless. It almost feels like a joke, too, especially since this is the ONLY episode where Amber Benson’s name is in the opening credits. Like, that is seriously done to be cruel, right? And there is no meaning to Tara’s death. Death doesn’t inherently need meaning, but from what little I know about where this is headed based on the small flash of Willow’s anger at the end of “Seeing Red,” I already hate it. And I don’t want to hate it. I don’t want my identity as a queer dude to become this thing that gets in the way of joy, but I can’t help that I feel this way. I can’t help it because it has happened so many times. Oh my god, I can’t even begin to list how many movies, TV shows, books, and comics have killed off their gay characters, many times specifically because they were gay. Well, I don’t want to list many of them because even saying this trope appears in certain titles would be a huge spoiler, so seriously, I’d read the Bury Your Gays page on TVTropes, and click all those beautiful links for related tropes. Myself and other queer/gay folks are not imagining this treatment. This has been happening for a long, long, long, long time.

Oh god, I haven’t even really addressed this episode yet. BUCKLE UP, THIS IS GOING TO BE A LONG REVIEW. And for the sake of organizing my thoughts, I’ll split this up based on what characters and themes I want to discuss.

The Trio are the worst

No, they really are! I’ve found that with Buffy, I have never truly despised any of the Big Bads. The Master was ridiculous and absurd, a great send-up of vampire tropes. Angelus was entertaining on some level, as was Spike and Drusilla. The Mayor/Faith were THE VERY FUCKING BEST OH MY GOD. I was fascinated by Adam’s detached sense of morality. AND GLORY. GLORY! I found something to appreciate in every major villain that has appeared on this show. But at this point? Yeah, I hate the Trio. And I’m probably supposed to! It’s not that I haven’t been entertained by them, and they were funny early in the season. But holy crap, they’re so awful! Obviously, Warren is the worst of them, but I’m not going to be quick to feel sympathy for Jonathan or Andrew. They enabled him to become what he is now, and I’m not worried about them spending time in jail for their crimes.

But truthfully, I hate Warren the most. It’s actually kind of interesting to me that in that sense, Warren is the first completely unambiguous villain. I hate him for what he’s done, and I don’t feel a need to appreciate his depth of character. For a season that’s all about moral ambiguity, he is the most black-and-white aspect of season six’s story arc. He’s obsessed with power, so much so that he doesn’t care who he hurts in order to get what he wants. Oh god, can he just be destroyed soon? Like dropped off a cliff into the earth, which has opened up to eat him due to Willow’s magic? I’d be totally cool with that.

Actually, you know, I’m okay with having a villain to straight-up hate. It’s kind of relaxing in a way. I can just hate Warren and feel perfectly fine with it.

Anya and Xander

While “Seeing Red” certainly addresses the ramifications of “Entropy,” it’s not the real focus of the story. That’s okay, as everything with Spike, Buffy, and the Trio take center stage for the most part. But this episode does give us more information, context, and emotional sloppiness from both parties. I didn’t expect either Anya or Xander to be feeling wonderful after “Hell’s Bells,” so I do like that the writers are willing to explore the awkward complexity of what’s happened to them. I’m still frustrated by the fact that Xander left Anya at the alter, but that doesn’t mean I can’t find things to discuss and dissect from the aftermath of the act. We see two scenes in “Seeing Red” that show us just how messed up both characters are after the botched wedding. Anya can’t fulfill her duties as a vengeance demon, and Xander is so hopelessly distracted that he can’t even deal with a woman hitting on him. There’s still a part of me that genuinely believes that these two make a great couple, but lord, they have a lot to work through here.

Fortunately, most of this episode deals with Xander’s feelings about Spike. I have no problem saying that Xander has an extremely warped view of who Spike is and what he’s capable of. I get that he wants Dawn and Buffy safe. I understand that it’s hard to ignore that Spike not only has no soul, but he’s done some truly horrific shit to all of the Scoobies. I get it! If Xander doesn’t want to trust or respect Spike, that’s absolutely his prerogative. But he can’t project that on to Buffy. It’s not fair! She has to decide how much she can trust him. She has to decide how much she wants Spike in her life. How can Buffy possibly trust Xander if he can’t even respect these basic tenets? He doesn’t have to like Buffy having sex with Spike, but his attitude is precisely why she never told him about what she did with Spike in the first place.

I sympathize with Buffy here because I lost a friend over a very similar issue. We were close in high school, but after a friend of mine came out, she made a lot of horrifically disparaging comments about how he should have stayed in the closet. It was gross, crass, and made me terrified of what she might think of me. When I was eventually outed months later and the news got to her, she was furious that I didn’t tell her. She tried to say that I was a bad friend! UM HELLO YOU ARE DISGUSTINGLY HOMOPHOBIC, WHY WOULD I TELL YOU THAT I WAS GAY? I know that this very gay reading is super personal, but I don’t think it’s that hard to see how this fits. Buffy was afraid of being judged for her sexual choices, and that’s something that I, as a queer dude, relate to quite a bit.

Dawn

Okay, yeah, I LOVE THAT SCENE WITH HER IN SPIKE’S CRYPT. As you’ll see in the video attached to this review, I totally forgot that at one time, Dawn and Spike were kind of close. I was struck by how honest and mature she was about her confrontation. She isn’t there to be mad at him. She is there to make a point: the way he shows his love for Buffy is pretty damn fucked up. Dawn cares so much about Buffy that she’s willing to go to Spike just to make a rhetorical point. God, I suddenly love Dawn even more than I did before. Plus, she’s the first person after Tara who openly accepts Buffy and what she’s done. Bless, Dawn. Bless!

So, that one scene… 

What the hell can I say that hasn’t already been said? I’m sure about 0% of what I could type here would be original, especially to those of you who have been in this fandom since this episode aired in real time. It’s awful. It’s horrific. I hate it. I think that the writers (intentionally or not) have hinted towards this moment happening, especially since it became clear in recent episodes that Spike couldn’t accept that Buffy didn’t truly love him, at least not in the way that he understood what love was. Love was a scale for him. Love was this dangerously passionate, violent entity, and that’s the only way he could understand it. His entire little monologue before the attempted rape is evidence of this. If you think about how he treated Drusilla and Harmony, I think it’s easy to see that Spike doesn’t approach love like other people do. I mean, that could be because he lacks a soul. It could be due to his history with love. I don’t really know.

But on that note, the one thing I don’t like about the inclusion of the attempted rape of Buffy is that there is far more time spent on Spike’s moral brooding than on Buffy’s reaction to what happened to her. It feels crass at times, especially since it’s such a horrific scene. We get Xander and Willow discovering Buffy in the bathroom, and only Xander actually learns what happened. It’s glossed over so quickly, and then we spend like five minutes with Clem and Spike. And it’s not that I don’t eventually want an exploration of what Spike did. That sort of reflection that he has is necessary, especially if he’s going to try and redeem himself. I don’t know if he can, but that topic will have to be addressed once it’s brought up on the show. It just feels so strange and unfortunate to me that a character had to be the victim of an attempted rape so that another character could get development. It reminds me of the way that Stephenie Meyer treated Rosalie’s story for Eclipse. It makes me think about that awful Reddit thread centering the experience of men who rape. Why are we focusing on the perpetrator so much instead of the victim? It’s not that Buffy can’t handle herself. Clearly she can! The dynamic of this episode, however, is just too strange for me. Spike leaves Sunnydale with a sense of purpose and fury, and I worry what it is that he’s going to change about himself. But it all comes down to the fact that this pivotal, terrifying scene feels thrown into this episode purely for development. Traumatic and terrible things have happened plenty of times before on Buffy, but for some reason, the writers just can’t deal with sexual assault/rape well at all. Willow’s rape of Tara was pretty much glossed over. And the attempted rape of Buffy is almost a non-issue by the end of “Seeing Red,” with only a passing, fleeting reference to it when Buffy tells Xander that Spike is definitely not coming around anymore.

Giles

I miss him. A lot.

THERE WENT ALL THE JOY

I sill think that a lot of season six deals with emotional isolation, so it’s so frustrating that just as Willow and Tara make up, just as Xander and Buffy swear to one another that they’re not going to be shitty friends anymore, and just as Dawn demonstrates to Buffy what a fantastic sister she is, EVERYTHING IS RUINED. Tara’s dead, Buffy’s shot, and Willow is clearly going to start doing dark magic again. And how is Anya going to play a part in any of this? I always liked that Buffy was about this family at the core of all the stories. I don’t think it’s wrong that this very concept is deconstructed and torn apart, but damn, I’m so tired watching this show! I’m not tired of it, as I enjoy it a great deal, but it’s just so frustrating and stressful! CAN ONE GOOD THING HAPPEN, PLEASE?

Anyway, I know there’s a lot to discuss about this episode. Please consult the Site Rules and the Spoiler Policy if you’re commenting for the first time, and please exercise some restraint and tact regarding this episode and the potentially triggering nature of what it is about. If you’re really unsure about a comment, I would probably save it for another day just for the sake of others. Let’s be good to one another, okay?

Please also note that your comments about a fictional universe have real world implications. We do not exist in a vacuum. Any rape apologist nonsense or queer hating is not going to be allowed.

There is a video for “Seeing Red,” and it is for writingfreak88! I honestly didn’t debate much about posting it after I saw the episode. I mean, the whole process of watching someone watch something is strange enough, so fuck it! Might as well. I understand not wanting to re-watch this through the eyes of another, though.

The video commission for this episode is now archived on MarkDoesStuff.com for $0.99!

Mark Links Stuff

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– You can purchase your very own Mark Reads OR Mark Watches video for just $25, and I will read ANYTHING you want, OR I will record myself watching any upcoming episode for Mark Watches. There is a complete list of all claimed episodes/chapters at the link!
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– I am now putting Mark Watches videos on Vimeo as well (they’re all located here) to avoid copyright issues I’m having on YouTube. This also means that all videos CANNOT have audio from the show in them, or I risk losing my YouTube AND Vimeo account and then no one gets videos. So for now, this is the solution to this problem.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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1 Response to Mark Watches ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’: S06E19 – Seeing Red

  1. ScarlettMi says:

    As far as I’m concerned the “big bad” of season six is the pervasive misogyny & violence against women that permeates society, as evidenced in the Trio & Spike. With a soul and without a soul, men’s cruelty towards women keeps rearing its ugly head and isn’t as easy to slay as giant snake monster. Or, if not the “big bad”, it’s at least a major theme of the season for me.

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