Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Living on the Hellmouth

To those who have seen my Netflix queue, it is no secret that I have been immersing myself in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I realize that I am about 10 years too late for this show, but how was I to know that when I was 11, Buffy the Vampire Slayer would become such an important part of my life?

I can't say that it will replace The X-Files at the top of my Television Shows I'm Obsessed With list (because even though David Boreanez is playing a Fox Mulder-esque character now on Bones, Angel and Mulder are in two completely different worlds, and I like Mulder's world better), but I feel like now that I have ventured into season 4 and the absolutely worst actress in the world seems to not be sucking so much in her strange plot on the UC Sunnydale campus (yes, I mean you Lindsay Crouse, the ex Mrs. David Mamet), I can readily admit this:

I am a Buffy fan.

And to all those who have attempted to reference the show to me over the years, I'm sorry I was missing out. You all had every right to think I would like this show. I'm pretty certain that a decent amount of people in high school thought that my best friend and I were vampires. I own a bust of David Duchovny. I read tarot. I knew far more about mythology and the occult than most people ages 11-14 reasonably should. Why the hell wouldn't you have thought I'd like Buffy?

I recall once asking someone what they were for Halloween because I didn't recognize the costume. When the reply was "I'm Drusilla," I blinked in the universal signal for "please continue to supply me with more information." "From Buffy," was the statement of complete disbelief I received. "Oh," I said. In actuality, I think this exchange happened twice on two different Halloweens with two different incarnations of Drusilla: Once in 7th grade with a girl dressed as the weak, insane and childlike Drusilla who doesn't understand that dead birds don't sing (this girl went as a member of The Craft the year before, so I think she has a sort of pop-culture occult costume fetish), and once my freshman year of high school with (I believe) my friend Veronica, dressed as the truly batshit insane, hyper-sexual "I like to cut you with my fingernails and lick off your blood" version of Drusilla. In retrospect, these costumes are not perhaps the most easily recognizable, but anyone keen on the Buffy universe would have known immediately.

And that's one of the things I like so much about Buffy. I'm attracted not to the shows that everyone's watching, but often to cult shows. (And healthy doses of truly ridiculous reality television.) And I started getting into Buffy through Firefly fans, chiefly through Jenn. Jenn and I spent New Years' Eve watching Buffy season one and eating tasty cheeses and spilling beer on my couch. I went 5 months without watching Buffy after marathoning the entire first season in a night. And after I'd exhausted the other television shows I was Netflixing, I needed to find something to become invested in. So I chose Buffy.

And I'm hooked.

Season 1 was a little difficult to get through, but Season 2 was truly great. Dru and Spike are wonderful characters, and the story arc with Angel's turn hurt me so deeply inside because I am inexplicably invested in Buffy and Angel. (And now I get why everyone thinks he's so hot and why girls will watch Bones just for him.) The Season 2 finale was one of the best hours of television I have ever seen in my life, and everyone is right when they say that Buffy really hits its stride in Season 3--that's entirely correct.

I also find great joy in the fact that Sunnydale, CA is basically Santa Barbara, and that the kind of vehicular problems I experience in Carpinteria, Xander seems to always have in Oxnard.

But the two best Buffy episodes I have ever seen both involve an Oz storyline and that age-old man vs. nature motif explored in a number of ways. Season 3's "Beauty and the Beasts" features some class A writing from Joss Whedon's team, creating a 3-plot narrative rotating around the same theme: men as beasts and the women who love them. The weakest of these three stories is about a boy at Sunnydale High who turns a kind of Jekyll-and-Hyde trying to "man-up" for his girlfriend. This is subordinated to the greater plot about Oz discovering his werewolfness, and finished with a note of Angel returning from Hell, soul intact, but stripped of humanity. While the first plot I mentioned is somewhat cartoonish, it works its way into the other two quite well, but it is heartbreaking to see Angel come back to us, the viewers who love him, as something even less humane than Angelus and absolutely soul-crushing when the only English word he can muster is the name "Buffy." It is also painfully sad to see Willow realize that the love of her life will always be torn between loving her and fighting his beastly nature. What really makes this episode stand out for me is that it is the only one that uses a frame narrative from an outside source. Naturally, the episode is framed by passages from Jack London's The Call of the Wild that re-emphasizes the internal struggle of all three man-beasts in the story.

My second favorite episode so far is Season 4's "Wild at Heart," in which the internal struggle between the wolf within and the taciturn man we call Oz comes to full hilt. I'm fond of the title because it immediately made me think of David Lynch's film of the same name and Nick Cage as Sailor, but other than the inherent wildness of both Oz and Sailor, the two Wild at Hearts have little to do with one another. Oz discovers another female werewolf who also leads a very similar life to his (musicians by day, wolves by night), yet she seems to have embraced her inner wolf, balking at the human mask she has to wear by day, finding freedom in her wolf form on the nights of the full moon. She asks Oz, after the two have done some regrettable things "when the wolf takes over" if he isn't the wolf most of the time, imprisoned in his human mask, rather than Oz's attempt to maintain his humanity. Seeing the look on Willow's face when she discovers Oz locked in his cage with Veruca hurt me so deeply and I wasn't prepared for the fact that it would do so. But seeing Alyson Hannigan cry breaks my motherfucking heart. It's something about Alyson Hannigan that makes me hurt so much when she's sad. Maybe its because I identify with her current role on How I Met Your Mother, or that its so easy for a kind of geeky redhead to find herself identifying with other kind of geeky redheads.

It's these kind of story arcs that Buffy is great at, and they seem to happen over and over again. It may not always be a literal beast within (sometimes, it's an evil vampiric demon), but the show's best story arcs seem to hinge on the human struggle between the good parts of our nature and whatever form the bad parts might take.

I look forward to the remainder of Season 4, and the three seasons I have left after that. And maybe, when I am deeply saddened that my Buffy journey will have come to an end, I'll move on to Angel.


Marcus Gorman said...

Okay, I'll be honest. You know I have been mostly unimpressed, though mildly interested, in the second season of "Buffy" I'm currently watching. I will say, however, that I absolutely care now that Angel has become Angelus and is actually forcing Buffy herself to confront the one thing in the series she hasn't been able to defeat immediately (and this includes John Ritter Murder Death Kill Robot).

As long as they can stay away from the MOW bullshit, I'm startin' to feel it.


P.S. Xander rocks. Fuck you.

RC said...

How fun. I never got into the tv show, but I remember the Buffy movie that came out earlier.

I loved that movie.

Bri said...

Where on Ganesha's green earth did you get a bust of David Duchovny?!

Drew said...

Stevi, are you still local? If so, you can just borrow my Buffy box set. Much faster than Netflix.