In the fifteenth episode of the seventh season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy gets really mad, then she time travels, then Willow gets mad, and then she doesn’t time travel. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
[Trigger warning: I have to talk about issues regarding race and suicide, so if you’re not up to reading or discussing such things, you are welcome to save this post for another day. I will understand, and I am offering plenty of e-hugs if you like! – Mark]
I’m going to split this up (and not actually make a list HOLY SHIT, CALL THE COPS, MARK IS NOT MAKING A LIST even though I really want to because y’all, I just feel so pleased making lists, and one day, I’ll start a site with nothing but them) based on the two contradictory conclusions that “Get It Done” made me come to.
I Did Not Like This At All
It’s always a precarious thing for a person of color like myself to bring up issues of race. It does not matter if this happens here on my site, as the day the Tolkien fandom tore me apart for expressing distaste for one of the man’s letters is evidence that even when I try to make a safe space for people of color, people are hardwired online to ignore those attempts. Truthfully, I know it’s uncomfortable. It’s always difficult to approach a topic like this when I also know that the majority of my readers and the (vocal) majority of fandom are both white. Someone will always take what I say personally, despite all of my clear qualifications that this has nothing to do with an individual person. There will be derailments, people will say that I don’t enjoy the show, people will say I take everything to seriously, people will claim I am just looking to be offended… honestly, it’s a very familiar script that I’ve heard hundreds upon thousands of times since I was very young.
It’s hard writing this because I know it’s going to happen again. It’s going to be tiring, I’m going to have to repeat myself, and people will swear off reading this site forever because I have no sense of humor. But after the terrible, horrific inclusion of Chao-Ahn, I can’t ignore something that’s really starting to bug me about Buffy.
Sunnydale is really white for a city in Southern California.
I lived in Southern California from 1992 until 2010. That’s eighteen years, and I traveled from Santa Barbara (just around where Sunnydale theoretically should be) down to San Diego, and aside from pocket neighborhoods (THAT WERE GENERALLY VERY UPSCALE IMMENSE SIDE-EYE), it’s an incredibly diverse part of the United States. Angel often does better than Buffy does in this regard, especially by including Gunn. Because of this, it’s much more glaring when Buffy does use actors who are non-white, and that means any tropes that these characterizations fall into are all the more obvious. This has occurred over the course of the entire series. Kendra shows up, and despite that she’s trained harder and longer than Buffy, she’s killed off in three episodes, and with her she takes a terrible attempt at patois that I blame solely on the producers and not flawless Bianca Lawson. Giles’s partner (I don’t know that she’s a girlfriend, really) Olivia just up and disappears after her experience with the Gentlemen. Forrest is made into a mechanized demonoid after death. Then there’s the First Slayer, who evokes some terrifying colonial images of the “savage” black woman that many black people have spent centuries trying to escape.
I’m sure all of these portrayals were unintentional. I don’t think there are any people with white hoods on the writing or production staff. And clearly someone totally nailed it by hiring D.B. Woodside to play Principal Wood. But with the diverse group of Potential Slayers being relegated to background props, and with the introduction of the Shadow Men, I just throw my hands up and sigh. It is rather upsetting to see that the Watchers Council likely got their idea for the Cruciamentum from African men. Who speak Swahili. In a time when Swahili wasn’t even a goddamn language. So we have a rather unfortunate scene where Buffy, a very white woman, confronts a group of African men, insults their cultural practices, and acts as if she knows better than they do. There is obviously a different context for this scene, but there’s also an unfortunate implication that is undeniable for me. The source of that heinous rite of passage that the Watchers Council makes a Slayer go through has nothing to do with stuffy white men sitting around the table. Africans invented it.
And really, the detail of these Shadow Men speaking Swahili really shows me that the writers had no idea what they were doing. They knew that anyone who either wasn’t black, wasn’t from Africa, wasn’t able to recognize Swahili, or wasn’t aware of such things would never once question the misuse of the language. Though I suppose it would be even worse if the writers never once thought about this and just chose Swahili randomly. Actually, that probably happened, and goddamn, that is so much worse.
It shows a willful attempt to not even try to be decent to people who aren’t white. If you can’t even figure out a proper language for people who probably lived in the Mozambique Channel, why even include them? Diversity in entertainment is not about throwing in a minority and then giving up. And it’s not about looking for or relying on the simplest, most basic trope imaginable. It’s about giving characters and situation a careful consideration and understand the responsibility one has as a writer. And that’s important because I will tell what the terrible use of the Shadow Men did for me: it immediately pulled me right out of the narrative, and I wasn’t watching Buffy anymore. I wasn’t immersed in a fictional world. I knew I was watching an American television show stumble poorly through a pretty gross representation of a group of people they didn’t understand.
I guess I just want better from a show I enjoy so much.
On that same token, I am extremely upset at Buffy’s attempt at a frightening motivational speech. Let me just say this: it absolutely abysmal that the writers would use Buffy (WHO IS A SCHOOL COUNSELOR AND OFTEN ONE OF THE MOST EMPATHETIC PEOPLE ON THE SHOW) to make the statement that someone committing suicide was weakness, calling Chloe a ton of names in the process. While I’m glad that Kennedy immediately calls her out on this (AND INSTANTLY GAINS MY FICTIONAL CHARACTER RESPECT), the show barely tells us that this speech she gave is a bad idea. She insults Anya, Xander, Willow, and Spike in increasingly brutal ways, and then Willow just brushes it off at the end by claiming that Buffy “had to” do it.
Yeah, okay, I can understand Buffy freaking out because she feels like she’s losing control. I’ll even admit that there might be more to this subplot that I haven’t seen. But the second you make some normative, bullshit comment about how anyone who commits suicide is “weak” or “stupid,” I am done. Just done. Look, I tried to commit suicide twice when I lived at home. I had an abusive situation in my house, I was bullied by students and staff at school, I was a closeted gay Latino in a home with an extremely racist mother and homophobic parents, and I had absolutely no support system. I do not view my suicide attempts as weakness or stupidity. Sometimes, you just are done. Am I glad I’m alive now? Absolutely, and it is something I am thankful for every day. But I cannot imagine a worse thing to tell a person, even in the context of how this episode uses it, that they are weak or stupid for feeling suicidal. It’s baseless, reductive, disrespectful, and I am extremely disappointed to see it on this show.
Beyond that, what the fuck is Buffy saying? I don’t often make claims that writing is out of character, but what the fuck is Buffy saying? It’s as if out of an apropos of nothing, Buffy suddenly despises everyone around her. She is quite happy in all of her scenes with Principal Wood, even after the awkward encounter with Spike. And then, just minutes later, she hates everyone. Everyone is useless. Everyone is not her. Seriously? Seriously? This would make sense with any sort of development at all, but it’s entirely out of the blue. Plus, didn’t she spend an entire season in an existential crisis about her role as the Slayer, and then decide to sacrifice her own life in order to end the constant pain and sadness and stress? So shouldn’t Buffy of all people understand why Chloe committed suicide?
Just no. NOPE.
I Rather Liked This A Lot
First of all, despite that it is painful and awkward to watch, my god the Spike/Principal Wood plot is giving me AIR TO BREATHE. It is LIFE-SUSTAINING. Here is an intricately-woven story about revenge and redemption, and even if all we see in “Get It Done” is the further set-up of THE GREATEST POSSIBLE FIGHT IN BUFFY HISTORY, I am so happy right now. Everything that happens in the future is going to rely on Spike’s behavior. Will he be genuinely apologetic of his past and work towards redemption with Principal Wood? Will he rely on his sarcasm and strength instead? Will he be defensive? And when it comes down to it, is it fair that Wood should have to ignore the fact HE IS STANDING NEXT TO THE MURDERER OF HIS MOTHER? I am hoping this show deals with this well because the potential awesomeness of this is TOO MUCH TO DEAL WITH.
While I certainly have one huge complaint about the Shadow Men, I cannot deny what is spectacular about Buffy’s confrontation with them: she excoriates them for the violation of women’s bodies over centuries upon centuries. It’s such an incredible criticism offered by the show. These men forced the Slayer power on a woman, and then forced it down the line on thousands of women who never wanted it themselves. This show (and Angel) don’t often get issues of consent right (HELLO, NON-CRITICISM OF WILLOW’S RAPE OF TARA), so I was pretty stoked to see this being spelled out in the script. I think that this is more than just a singular moment, too. Buffy’s experience with the Shadow Men infuriates her, especially since they were going to do the same thing to her again. I sense that she’ll bring this up in the future. How? I’m not sure of that.
Who else loved Spike getting his leather coat out so he could act “bad”? It reminded me how much I enjoyed season three Spike.
“Get It Done” cleverly includes a pretty blatant call back to the opening of season six. Here, Willow must use magic to pull Buffy back from another dimension. This time, however, she actually has Buffy’s permission. That’s an important distinction because Willow’s journey throughout season seven concerns the balance of power and responsibility when it comes to magic. Gone are the days when she recklessly uses magic for anything. But this is also a change from the very beginning of this season when she was ordered to take a hardline anti-magic stance. For Willow, she’ll always have the magic within her, so it’s got to be more about equilibrium.
At the same time, Willow’s use of magic also shows Kennedy that Willow is very serious about what she does. As Kennedy vocalizes at the end of the episode, she thought Willow’s magic was cool, almost as if it was nothing more than a parlor trick. This magical power is scary, and I’m hoping that this leads to Kennedy understanding what a delicate situation this is for Willow. Though I imagine this might also put a strain on their… friendship? I’m uncomfortable saying “relationship” because I don’t know what they consider one another.
Anyway, the final reveal of “Get It Done” is a chance for the show to tell us very explicitly that the Scoobies’ battle against the First Evil is not only far from over, it’s a million times more fucked up than they could ever imagine. Like, okay, I assumed the seal beneath the school was a portal and that the First was merely pulling the Turok-Han through. BUT THERE IS LITERALLY A DIMENSION OF VAMPIRES IN THE FUCKING HELLMOUTH WAITING TO ESCAPE. Oh my god, HOW THE FUCK ARE THEY GOING TO FIGHT THEM? They’re going to be annihilated.
MORE PLEASE. Thank you!
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