Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Totally Television": Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Here at All Saints' in Littleton, we explored the intersection of popular culture, religion, and ethics in four television shows.

When I talk about intersection, I'm not looking necessarily for direct correlation between the Christian scriptures and the script: i.e. trying to claim that the show is written to mirror the Bible or directly uphold the teaching of the church. Instead, I am interested in what the television shows say about ethical choices, living in community, relating with one another, and finding ways to live with the consequences. The worthwhile television shows not only speak to our current culture, but also raise up life's questions: both as individuals and as community.

So I'm writing MY reflections on the episodes, with the hope that not only those who attended will add their reflections, but others who know the show and episodes will do so as well.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BtVS)
Once More, With Feeling
Season 6, Episode 7

The famous musical episode is both an incredible tribute to the musical genre, as well an incredible accomplishment for a fifty-minute show. I chose it in this case, however, not for its style, but its substance.

The sixth season of BtVS is sometimes talked about as a disappointment. Some fans even swore off the show at this point. I think the truth is that BtVS was hard to watch in the 6th season because the show was really dark. It was difficult to watch characters that we have grown to love hit such lows.

That, however, mirrors real life.

The musical episode crystallizes this, centering on Buffy's inability to tell her friends that, when they resurrected her, they pulled her not out of hell and torment, but out of heaven.

(The base assumption: she sacrificed her life at the end of Season 5 to close a hell dimension. In order to justify using magic to bring Buffy back to life, her friends convince themselves that she must be stuck in hell.)

Being pulled out of heaven, (full of joy, at rest and in peace), Buffy is now back to the endless fighting of evil. That seems like hell, and she feels none of the passion that she felt while she was alive before.

Buffy can only confide in Spike: soulless, undead, and in love with Buffy.

That's not the only thing going on. Willow is treading water in her growing addiction to magic: which started with Buffy's death, realized with the spell to bring her back to life, and has continually worsened. She has committed a terrible act against her lover Tara, a memory-altering spell to "forget" the fight they had about Willow's magic use.

Dawn, meanwhile, is shoplifting, moping, and getting herself into deeper trouble, craving the attention lost from the death of her mother and the "sleepwalking" Buffy.

Xander and Anya continue towards their wedding date, hiding the fears that they have from each other (Anya's fear that Xander will hurt her and stop loving her, and Xander's fear that he will hurt her.) Ironically, they both have different aspects of the same fear, and instead of dealing with it, they push on to the wedding.

Finally, steady Giles is convinced that he's in the way of Buffy's growth. Buffy's inability to take adult responsibility (for Dawn, and for herself), always leaving the "adult decisions" to Giles, seems to be growing worse.

The brilliant plot device, as in the case of musicals, is that the truth comes out in song. Hurts and fears are sung (to each other, and the audience) thanks to the spell of a demon. Beating the demon doesn't change the fact that everyone has been hiding the truth from each other (and themselves.)

The characters have yet to hit rock-bottom, but the plot and dialogue expose how difficult it is to live in this world. "Where do we go from here" is the final question: and the answer (as in real life) is, at this point, unknown.

One of the finest hours of BtVS: perfectly setting up the rest of the season towards the faceoff with the season's "big bad", life itself.

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