Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Thoughts on Season Four of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

As I have previously mentioned, for a project that I am working on, I have to watch all seven seasons of Buffy.  I have written a review for each season that I have watched thus far:  one, two and three respectively. In previous seasons, the teen angst has certainly been an issue for me.  I know that it is to be expected with a teenage protagonist; however, that does not mean that I have any real tolerance for it.  With Buffy and the Scooby gang in college, and Angel across the country, the angst level finally began to tone down, and I began enjoying it somewhat. 

From a social justice perspective, by far the most troubling episode that I have viewed to date was episode 8 of season four entitled Pangs.  It begins with Willow quite matter of factly stating why she and her mother have a problem with celebrating Thanksgiving.  All of the guilt however, is quickly overshadowed when the Chumash warrior Hus runs amok in Sunnydale -- after their grave site is disturbed, because of an attempt to build a Cultural Center at UC Sunnydale.  The Chumash warrior Hus rightfully want revenge for what was done to their people, but all Buffy can do is respond with White guilt and angst.  When she finally gets her slayer on, they sit down at a table to have Thanksgiving dinner, thus proving that they didn't learn a damn thing.  Whedon made a point of having Willow explain why Thanksgiving is a problematic holiday at the beginning, but dismissing that, after once again letting the White people defeat the supposedly bad Native people, and then eat a meal in celebration, was disgusting to say the least.

After being unable to control himself around a female werewolf, Oz leaves Sunnydale.  During his absence, we begin to see a budding romance between Willow and Tara.  Of course, it is all rather chaste and other than some hand holding, the audience is left to assume there is more going on.  If Whedon can film Buffy making out and having sex with both Angel and Riley, why is a kiss between Tara and Willow forbidden?  It hardly feels progressive when straight characters are highly visible and LGBT characters are not.  I know this was made in the 90's, but I am not going to give it a pass on that basis.  Whedon had a chance to be progressive and he blew it big time.

When Oz finally does return, his werewolf sense of smell alerts him to relationship between Tara and Willow.  Yep, that's right, he smelled his woman on Tara. Can we get anymore primitive and irritating? Oz even grabs and attempts to restrain Tara physically to get his questions answered, that is before he loses his damn mind and shifts into werewolf form. The issue gets even more complicated, when he again leaves Sunnydale, because if he is upset by Willow, he knows that he will change into a werewolf.  At least he recognized that it really is his issue, but that is not saying much, and it still played into the meme that little women need to watch themselves.

In Where the Wild Things Are (Episode 18) Riley decides to throw a party at Lowell house to boost morale.  He and Buffy end up in bed having sex (note: the kind of sex that Willow and Tara are not allowed to have)  This of course triggers poltergeists, who died due to the cruelty of director Genevive Holt.  It seems Ms.Holt would punish them for being sexual.  Giles spoke harshly to the woman about her cruelty and thoroughly condemned her actions. This of course is juxtaposed with the poltergeists who are acting out.  It seems to me that Whedon was confused about what message he wanted to send with the episode.  He could have had the poltergeist triggered by many things, but by choosing sex, it affirmed the idea that sex is indeed a filthy act, which is not a healthy message to send.

I suppose I should mention Adam and the initiative, because they were a huge focus of this season, but I truly found them boring.  That scene where Adam was talking to the little boy, and asking him how he worked, was lifted directly from Frankenstein.  Does Whedon think we have never read a book?  As for the initiative. all I can say is: A secret government base on a university campus -- really? There is camp silly and then there is downright asinine.  Guess which category this set up belongs in.

I know that I have mentioned a lot of social justice fails in this post, but uninformed viewing means internalizing ideas that are harmful.  Buffy worked best when Whedon injected humour, and let Spike do his thing.  Turning Giles into a demon that only Spike could understand was absolute genius.  I found myself laughing the whole time.  I have two more seasons to go, and I hope that they will be far more socially progressive, than what I have seen thus far.  I have been told by many how much they love Buffy, and I keep waiting for this great show to emerge from the quagmire that Whedon has created.  There has to be some reason beyond nostalgia that so many love this show.

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