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Buffy, Angel, and a whole bucketload of spoilers

5 Jan

At least a year after we started, Patty and I finally finished watching Buffy and Angel. For her, it was a rewatch; for me it was a first time thing brought on both by the scholarly work I’ve been doing on mourning for fictional characters and a desire to understand more about the stuff she loves.

What a ride. As she predicted embarking on this thing, I’m more of an Angel person (even if I really hate the season of demon pregnancy incest whining) and she’s more of a Buffy person. It’s easy to say that’s about me liking the darkness of Angel or her being a teen girl when she first saw Buffy, and those things aren’t untrue, but on my side of the aisle it also has something to do with a sense of intimidation I feel in the face of the women — good looking, feminine and more popular than they think they are — of Buffy, which is something I write a bit about in the forthcoming Whedonistas: A Celebration of the Worlds of Joss Whedon by the Women Who Love Them. Aside from being glad to be include because, Hey, writing about stuff! for money! Yay!, it means a lot to me to have my perspective included there both as a queer woman and a genderqueer person.

Early on in our watch, the Internet warned me: You’re going to love Wesley. You’re going to identify with Wesley. And it’s going to break your heart. I entered the shows with my teeth grit for that reason alone. I didn’t necessarily want the burden of anyone else’s stories right then; the journeys I’d been on as a fan and at least tangentally-related pro with Harry Potter and Torchwood had been exhausting and personal enough. There are only so many broken boys with strange codes of personal honor this heart can house.

Luckily, Buffy-era Wesley turned out to be a buffoon, and I was more worried that I was Spike and his obsession with the word effulgent (which you have to admit is great fun to say). Last night I cried when Spike got the reception he always deserved if not in talent, then in desire and ambition, for his poetry. And when Wesley just did the work — not because he maybe had nothing left to live for, but because the work is what he knows how to do well and with passion better than anything (he’s not a man with hobbies) — I just nodded.

Yup, that’s right, I don’t believe Wesley went into Angel’s grand plan at the end because he had nothing to live for. And it’s not just that he sort of liked Illyria in her own right (actually, can we talk about the her for a minute? Ilyria is describes itself as “godking of the universe” and inhabits a female body. It was, for me, daring and compelling stuff about gender, that I wish the show had had time and inclination to go farther with; Ilyria isn’t female. It’s not male. And it’s not sexless.); it’s that when Angel asks everyone if they are in on his suicidal mission the camera lingers on Wesley and his face seems to say I can survive this; I’ve survived so much else. It’s remarkable to me. Where I expected the smile of someone ready to die in the way that we so often see in these hero narratives, there was the smile of someone who was somehow, in spite of everything, ready to live. And then he volunteers anyway.

It was an absolute punch in my gut.

The last episode of Angel is sort of a mess because the season had to be wrapped up so quickly. It’s not, strictly speaking, emotionally satisfying, but it has a glorious symmetry. In the last shot and line we are told that this whole grand story — of heroes and watchers and vampires and desperation and of small people trying to do great things in an uncaring-if-you’re-lucky universe — is about to start all over again. As it always does and always will.

I won’t tell you the last lines of my piece for Whedonistas, but I will tell you that I am, having finally seen the end of Angel, remarkably satisfied and a just little bit startled by my essay’s conclusion. I managed to nail the thing I hadn’t seen yet; time is, it seems, always out of order.

And Wesley? I didn’t cry for him. But I sure felt like his brother there for a while.

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12 Responses to “Buffy, Angel, and a whole bucketload of spoilers”

  1. firefly124 January 5, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    It’s been a treat watching you on this adventure of Buffy and Angel for the first time.

    Your comment regarding Illyria intrigues me, as that’s a completely different take than I had. My initial reaction was similar to Glory being a “God” in a female body (that was disguised most of the time as male). Especially as Glory was nigh on impossible for Buffy to stop most of the time, it really seemed like a statement along the lines of, “No matter what it looks like, real power is always male, and will always win.” Which ultimately is not what happened, but that came back to bug me again when it turned out it was men who’d created the First Slayer by imbuing her with demonic powers. Again, it seemed to me like the men were being shown to be the ones with the real power, just unwilling to take the risks that went with it. Which is why I cringed yet again when shy Fred, who’d shown a core of steel when she needed it, was taken over by this being claiming to be a “God,” which one can call gender-neutral until the cows come home but still scans as masculine in our culture. It just seemed to undermine the theme of women’s strength that had been the initial impetus to the whole Slayer mythos that gave birth to both series.

    So I guess what I’m asking is to hear more of your thoughts on this, because I’d love to find a much more positive way to squint at it all. If that means waiting for the book to come out, then I shall do so, if a tad impatiently.

    That said, I also diverged from a huge swath of fandom in how I interpreted the activation of all the Potential Slayers. They had this power that was being kept from them, and then it was unlocked. Granted, for far more of them than Buffy, Giles, or any of them had the slightest idea, thinking they’d rounded most of the survivors up. But I couldn’t see how so much of fandom took that as a massive rape. Forcing the First Slayer to accept those demonic powers, yes. Making it pass down along some mystical linneage, arguably. Letting those women have access to that power? How is that a violation? (How is it a potentially bad idea leads to the comics, but that’s a separate question.)

    Sorry. Babbling now.

    • RM January 5, 2011 at 6:57 pm #

      Haven’t read the comics yet, so can’t speak to that at all. I’m aware of the issue about rape and the Potentials, but I hesitate to weigh in on it. Like you, I totally see what happened to create the first Slayer as abusive, as rape, as really about the creepiest most fascinating thing I’ve ever seen on TV, and from there, the argument about the Slayer line and the Potentials dwindles for me as it does for you. That said, I do get where people are coming from about it intellectually and a lot of people I really like and care about do feel that what happened to the Potentials was rape, and it’s important to me to respect their feelings about it, even if mine are different and my critical eye isn’t focused there (it’s also, as far as I can tell, the subject of many painful fights on the Internet, and while it’s a discussion I’m happy to have, even on-line, the ugly parts of that debate are not something I would want to reignite).

      Illyria is never referred to with male pronouns. It’s called it, often. And it uses masculine (which in English are also arguably default/neuter) works when talking about itself. It is, as far as I can tell, only called she because of its use of Fred’s body. It is reflexive for the characters and the audience to see female. But Illyria’s misery with Fred’s body isn’t gendered. Its inadequacy is a human inadequacy. Illyria tells us it chooses to look how it does — it likes, to some extent, a particular type of display of Fred’s body if it must be in such a form at all. But it insists on calling itself “godking of the universe” and Wesley, who knows the most about it and is the most fastidious, is the one that manages to call it, it the most often.

      Of course, I am watching through my own lens. My personal lens demands I go “OMG, genderqueer character!” and “Female body, comfortable in female body, self-describing its nature as male!”

      While I often think Buffy and Angel are vastly less feminist shows than many fans claim, in part for the reasons you cite; Illyria felt to me like a stab at otherness that there was neither time nor freedom to execute on (echoing, in some ways, how the matter of Willow’s queerness had to be all metaphor early on and arguably erased her bisexuality because of a lack of narrative room). But what would have happened if the show continued and Wesley and Illyria had gotten involved (and they were going to)? He wouldn’t have been shagging a woman, Fred’s body besides the point. And Wesley — Wesley who does not lie to himself, Wesley who fears illusion — would have known it. Would the writers have been able to play in that sandbox or wanted to? No idea. But I do feel it was there to be played in.

      • firefly124 January 5, 2011 at 8:49 pm #

        Illyria is never referred to with male pronouns. It’s called it, often.

        Not something I had picked up on at all, but I can see how that makes a difference.

        Illyria’s misery with Fred’s body isn’t gendered. Its inadequacy is a human inadequacy.

        That much I did get, yes.

        Illyria tells us it chooses to look how it does — it likes, to some extent, a particular type of display of Fred’s body if it must be in such a form at all.

        Another key point I had missed.

        But it insists on calling itself “godking of the universe” and Wesley, who knows the most about it and is the most fastidious, is the one that manages to call it, it the most often.

        That, I think, may be the most important bit of all, now that you put it that way. At the time, I think my take on his references to Illyria came down to his emotional response to this being having killed Fred. The way you’re putting it, though, makes much more sense.

        Of course, I am watching through my own lens. My personal lens demands I go “OMG, genderqueer character!” and “Female body, comfortable in female body, self-describing its nature as male!”

        Which makes quite a difference, I’m sure. Having had a brief glimpse sort of through that lens, I think I want to re-watch that arc and see if my reaction changes or not.

        But what would have happened if the show continued and Wesley and Illyria had gotten involved (and they were going to)? He wouldn’t have been shagging a woman, Fred’d body besides the point. And Wesley — Wesley who does not lie to himself, Wesley who fears illusion — would have known it.

        Wow. That’s … very powerful stuff there. You’re right, that would have been quite the sandbox indeed.

        Thanks for the thought-food. Off to ponder some more.

      • Gwydion January 6, 2011 at 5:51 am #

        But it insists on calling itself “godking of the universe” and Wesley, who knows the most about it and is the most fastidious, is the one that manages to call it, it the most often.

        That, I think, may be the most important bit of all, now that you put it that way. At the time, I think my take on his references to Illyria came down to his emotional response to this being having killed Fred. The way you’re putting it, though, makes much more sense.

        Does this have to be either/or? Can’t both things be going on in his head? That’s rather how I read it, but then I read Illyria as not male or female, possibly because i was also looking through my own non-binary lens.

        • RM January 6, 2011 at 8:42 am #

          I think you’re right. I think one of the reasons that Illyria gets called she more and more as its around is in part because of Fred’s flesh, in part becauseit shows an acclimation to the human world, and in part because it’s just really hard for most people to refer to a person with it. I imagine it was a struggle both for writers (who seek to find natural sounding dialogue) and for the actors. Certainly, even if all the characters know Illyria is neither male nor female; in that flesh, it’s going to be very hard for them, even in their demon-related work to maintain that verbal structure. To get to your point, I think Wesley succeeds the longest because Wesley has to expend the most energy viewing Illyria as not-Fred and definitely seems to take some recourse in the (at least implied) nastiness that comes with using it for a person in our culture.

  2. laughingacademy January 5, 2011 at 10:24 am #

    “Thank you! That was for Cecily! This next one’s called, ‘The Wanton Folly of Me Mum’!”

    I was laughing and crying so hard the first time I heard those lines.

  3. Michelle January 5, 2011 at 10:43 am #

    I was a late comer to both Buffy and Angel and started watching both only a couple of years before you did.

    What I’ve found odd for myself is that whilst I like the supporting characters better on Angel (I could see hanging with Fred and Lorne and thinking about trying to get involved with Wesley.) I like the stories that Buffy tells better. Maybe it’s because I like my stories to be escapist; I want them to take me away from the same old same old that my daily life is.

    Angel’s stories are too real, even with all monsters, gods, and other dimensions. Angel focuses on grown-up problems that if I’m not currently dealing with, I could, or friends are. Because, when you get past the supernatural stuff, a lot of Angel is about navigating interpersonal relationships, with your friends, lovers, family, and co-workers and figuring out how to put up with yourself and grow into who you really want to be.

    Buffy deals with the issues of surviving to adulthood; I’ve done that. It was hard, there were bumps, but it’s in the past. Far enough in the past, in fact, that the wounds from it are mostly healed. I can look at teen-aged Willow, recognize our similarities, and not cringe because I’d think it was some sort of personal indictment.

    So as much as I enjoyed both, I’m way more likely to plop down with an ep or 2 of Buffy to pass the time than Angel. Angel touches on things that are just too close to me, right now.

  4. Meredith January 5, 2011 at 11:44 am #

    I’m Spike. I’ve been Spike since I first saw “Fool For Love” and found out what a consummate dork was hiding under all that leather and attitude and hair gel. I don’t hide mine, but that’s just because when I tried to learn how, I failed. Thank goodness I had no Angelus in junior high.

    I’ve always been a Buffy girl (the show, not the character), though that’s not to say there aren’t seasons of Angel (4 and parts of 5) that I love better than seasons of Buffy (6 and 7, we’re looking at you). There’s some gender stuff playing in here, and some genre stuff too, but mostly I think it’s a matter of thematic preoccupations and which resonates more with my own.

  5. therealycats January 5, 2011 at 11:05 pm #

    You always sum everything up so perfectly. Out of curiosity, do you have any opinions on Lorne?

    • RM January 5, 2011 at 11:11 pm #

      Thanks.

      I love Lorne, and regret the show never did more to explore his loneliness — either as someone alone of his kind in this dimension or as someone who didn’t fit in back home where he was supposed to. There are also a lot of things about the writing of Lorne — mainly regarding overt queerness as opposed to subtext through unacknowledged stereotype — that I imagine might be different if the show were airing now as opposed to when it did.

      I also confess that because of Patty’s relationship to these show’s I was well aware of the actor’s passing long before I saw the program, so I felt like I always watched Lorne’s story with this shadow over it. I was often gutted because of what I knew about the non-fiction world out of order.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Tweets that mention Buffy, Angel, and a whole bucketload of spoilers « Letters from Titan -- Topsy.com - January 5, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by racheline maltese. racheline maltese said: I finally finished watching Angel: https://lettersfromtitan.com/2011/01/05/buffy-angel-and-a-whole-bucketload-of-spoilers/ #whedonistas […]

  2. The stars on Break Stars » Blog Archive » Debbie Reynolds - January 9, 2011

    […] Buffy, Angel, and a whole bucketload of spoilers « Letters from Titan […]

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