In the thirteenth episode of the sixth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, well, this is all a huge mess, isn’t it? Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
Seriously, the theme of season six is CONSENT IS RIDICULOUS and then NOTHING GOOD HAPPENS TO ANYBODY. Man, this shit is an emotional nightmare. Has the story been building to this point? Oh, certainly! For the most part, it actually feels like things finally make sense in some regard, like the writers actually stood in the same room for once and agreed on what was going on in the show. That being said, “Dead Things” sure knows how to suck the joy out of my goddamn day. Holy shit.
There are two important stories intertwined in this episode: Buffy’s struggle with her identity and goodness, and the Trio’s increasing growth towards something truly horrific. I think it’s telling that the beginning of this episode plays out almost as if it’s all meant to be a joke. We see Buffy and Spike, post-sex, actually enjoying one another’s company. As you’ll see in the video at the end of this review, it’s really adorable! Why can’t their relationship be this all of the time? Well, not hanging out underneath rugs, I mean. Seriously, isn’t that wickedly uncomfortable? They don’t even bend normally. How did they get underneath them in the first place? Why am I wasting a second of my brain’s activity to even think about this sort of thing?
Anyway, even if things end awkwardly for Buffy and Spike, at least they seem to be getting along and… well, smiling. They smiled! In each other’s presence! This is a step in the right direction, yes? Buffy admits that she sometimes likes Spike, and I certainly feel like that’s an improvement from punching him in the face. (Oh, the horrific irony.) So the scene isn’t played terribly serious, and neither is the one that follows it. We see the Trio again, who had to find a new lair to avoid Buffy. And they’re up to their latest shenanigans! Which usually involves them fighting with one another. HOW AM I NOT SURPRISED BY THIS? They’re like children on the playground sometimes. However, then I made a big frowny face once Warren reveals their next plot: to make sex slaves. AWESOME. THAT’S NOT TOTALLY DISTURBING AT ALL. My god, they are such stereotypical male nerds. I get that this is the point, but come on. Not one of you stops to think that this is severely disgusting? Well, that comes up again later, so I’ll get back to that.
Meanwhile, Buffy invites Tara to her work AND I SQUEAL WITH DELIGHT BECAUSE I MISS TARA A GREAT DEAL. Oh god, I miss Giles as well. The Scoobies just aren’t the same anymore. They aren’t! I suppose that’s what this season is exploring, though. What happens when these people have no support system? How will they cope if their self-formed family falls apart? I still think that isolation plays a large part in why these people act like they do. So that’s why I was so ecstatic that Buffy sought Tara out so that she could find a confidante. I don’t know that this was her original, expressed intention, but that’s what it became by the end of “Dead Things.” Buffy can’t deal with her attraction to Spike because it goes against everything she believes about herself. On top of that, if Spike’s chip really doesn’t work against her, does that indeed mean she’s broken? She reaches so hard for an explanation of this sort because then it can give her closure in the form of an easy answer. If she’s broken, then clearly her attraction and sexual satisfaction with Spike is wrong!
But the problem with this (and with the Trio and Spike, too) is that the world is not always split into easily-categorized dichotomies. Buffy wants to process her own struggle in terms of “good” and “bad.” The Trio simply operate in a way that splits the world into “good” and “caught.” Their immorality only matters if they’re caught. (To a point. I think Jonathan’s expression at the end of “Dead Things” is significant, as is his very vocal opposition to Warren. More on that in a second.) And for Spike, he thinks morality is a scale, a way to measure how “good” a person is. He doesn’t understand the overwhelming complexity of human morality because he lacks a soul, and Buffy finally understands why he acts the way he does.
But it is not an easy journey to that point. The Trio decide to test out their Brain Dampener, which is still just a joke to them, and Warren goes after his ex-girlfriend, Katrina. Ugh, HE IS SO DISGUSTING! Again, totally the point, and the episode makes it very explicit that all of the Trio are revolting, but man, this wasn’t fun to watch. WHY IS SEXUAL ASSAULT SO COMMON ON THIS SHOW???
To be fair, though, this episode actually addresses how terrible this is within the story itself. When Katrina finally wakes from the influence of the Dampener, she begins to call things as they are, furious at what’s been done to her. There’s a really important moment here, too. If you watch, the second she tells the trio that they were about to rape her, Jonathan and Andrew visibly change. Like, this is how awash they were in their own misogyny. This idea had never once crossed their minds. They hadn’t even considered that putting a woman under a spell and having sex with her is rape. And while they’re both quick to be frightened about this claim, notice that they seem to be more interested in not being called rapists than not raping someone.
AND THEN WARREN KILLS KATRINA. Like, my god, in that moment, it was clear to me that this season had been building towards this event. He took being an arch nemesis way more seriously, but he also had the capacity to be way more fucked up than Jonathan and Andrew ever did. (Which doesn’t exonerate them of their complicity in this horrific act, by the way.) And now, HE JUST FUCKING KILLED HIS EX-GIRLFRIEND. So what’s his first reaction? To immediately find some way to absolve himself of any responsibility. WARREN, I HATE YOU. Like, the worst part about this is that he is so dense and self-centered that he doesn’t even care about what Buffy has to deal with in her own life. All he sees is a solution to his death-penalty-worthy problem. Just shift the blame to Buffy! That’s totally a good idea!
Oh god, everything going on with Buffy is a hot fucking mess. Dawn is still upset with Buffy’s constant absence, especially now that Buffy is working full time. Part of me initially thought that Dawn was being kind of bratty, but you know what? She’s fifteen. She already lost her mother and Buffy, and now that Buffy is back, she’s not there for Dawn. And I don’t think we should be above criticism Buffy, either. Is it fair that she has to be a mother figure for Dawn? No, of course not, but that doesn’t mean she gets to shirk her responsibility so she can have sex with Spike. (I don’t count her being at work because she really has to do that.) If we look at this beyond the concept of responsibility, though, I think it’s also easy to see why Dawn is frustrated. Buffy just isn’t around! Dawn never gets to hang with her, they don’t go on adventures together, and she’s largely absent. Why wouldn’t she resent Buffy, then?
And then there is that scene. You know, I am at a bit of a loss as to why that sex scene at the Bronze even happens. I don’t often criticize the writing of the show because… well, I like it! But while I get the idea behind the sex scene, it came off so horrifically creepy that it made me wonder why the writers would think that Buffy would do this. She certainly is attracted to Spike on an immensely physical level; the complexity of the morality surrounding it both confuses and excites her; and she really does like keeping Spike a secret. We’ve seen that multiple times. (The invisible sex scene in “Gone” comes to mind.) But the whole “WATCH YOUR FRIENDS HAVING A GOOD TIME” thing is just… what the fuck? Dude, Spike, how is this going to make Buffy feel any better about what she’s going through? Also, why is his character written as if he’s Emperor Palpatine or something? She’s not a Jedi warrior. And don’t you want her to go public with your sexual relationship? Why would she remain in the shadows with you?
Okay, that’s a literal interpretation. I get the sense that the writers perhaps were trying to comment on Buffy’s struggle with her moral purpose, and the “darkness” was her giving into her attraction to Spike. It’s like Spike is admitting that he’s the “bad” one here, as if this will simplify the situation for her. Which… okay, but go with that angle? LOOK I DON’T EVEN KNOW HOW TO COMMENT ON THIS! It’s like the first legitimate moment where I feel like the writers wrote an out-of-character scene, so like… I don’t know what to do with this!
So let’s move on to things I do understand. I was just completely mystified and confused by the Trio’s method to get Buffy to accept blame for Katrina’s death. Once I thought about it, though, it’s rather brilliant. “Dead Things” is about disorientation of morality, and Buffy’s confusion with her humanity is only exacerbated by the hallucination of killing Katrina. (Again, fuck the Trio! Buffy’s life is already a mess!) It’s after this moment that Buffy accepts a reductive, damaging dichotomous view of the world: things are good, or things are bad. Her killing Katrina? Absolutely bad. And she compounds her mistakes and insecurities on top of that, and makes it out to be the worst thing that she has ever done. It’s why she even entertains the notion of turning herself in to the cops, or leaving Dawn behind, or ignoring Spike’s attempts to talk her out of it. For Buffy, it seems like it’s her way of simplifying a terribly complicated situation. Hell, look at that dream she had! She doesn’t know whether to trust Spike, she doesn’t know how to deal with her attraction to him, she can’t figure out if her friends will despise her, and nothing makes sense.
So she focuses on Katrina to make sense of it all.
Well, that’s how it starts out. It’s not until Spike confronts her that I came to understand what this episode was telling me about Buffy. He makes a very specific plea to her: he says that she has saved thousands of lives, so what’s the point if only one woman died? Who said that before? FAITH. And suddenly, it’s a very similar situation that we’re dealing with. Spike’s dichotomous view of reality involves a scale of morality. You do good things to outweigh the bad things, and as long as the scale tips in the right direction, there’s no sense worrying about the bad. For Buffy, that’s a revolting idea. Deep down, she knows this is far more complicated than that. But she also knows that she’s got to face the fact that her own view of right and wrong isn’t working for her anymore.
And she starts to beat Spike.
It reminded me of the climactic battle in “Who Are You.” As Buffy beats Spike, who doesn’t even bother to fight back, the things she is yelling at him aren’t her justification for violence. She’s talking about herself. The only way she can deal with being attracted to Spike is if she is wrong, if she is a dead thing, if she is broken, if she is dirty, if there is nothing good within her. It’s difficult to watch not only because it’s abusive, but because this is Buffy Summers. This is a hero who is supposed to know right from wrong, and now we’re watching her beat someone else until their face is swollen and marred by her punches. Buffy’s slowly been becoming my favorite character in this show, especially because of season five. Plus, Willow’s story in this season is not my favorite. But watching this… it’s hard. It’s hard to watch a character you enjoy and relate to do something so horrific. You don’t want to have to deal with these things! But it’s there, and Buffy’s hatred has caused her to do something fucking awful.
So I think my favorite character is Tara. I can see a lot of parallels between her and Remus Lupin, and this episode shows how good of a friend she is. She’s this beacon of reason amongst the Scoobies, and her support of Buffy is touching and incredible to me. She immediately does not judge Buffy for having sex with Spike, telling her she can love Spike or not, either one is perfectly acceptable. She even believes that Spike’s love is true, which is the first time any other character has ever vocalized that to Buffy.
And then Buffy breaks down, horribly so, and the realization that she’s been using Spike to make herself feel alive hits her hard, and she starts to beg Tara to call her bad, to guarantee that she’s wrong, and it became clear to me that Buffy might not have learned anything from this experience. She still wants a simple dichotomy instead of facing the reality that she not only treats Spike terribly, but that she lets him into her life to treat her badly, too.
It’s one of the most agonizing things I’ve seen on this show. (For real, Sarah Michelle Gellar, don’t cry again. You are the most emotive cryer in the history of television cries. I qualified that as a television cry because Naomi Watts is SO GOOD at crying. My god.) I hate how much pain Buffy is in, but my only hope at this point is that through Tara, Buffy can work out this complicated mess. It’s such a mess! HOW DO PEOPLE THINK OF THESE THINGS TO WRITE? My god.
Sorry this is late! I forgot to upload today’s Mark Watches video. This is for Anca. Thank you!
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