It took me six years to finish Buffy the Vampire Slayer, nearly a decade after it has been on the air, and now that I’m finally through it all I can’t shut up about it. Friends, acquaintances, and strangers have all fallen victim to my renditions of “Once More With Feeling” (among other related topics). Slowly, I am publishing my thoughts on the series. Other topics covered so far include: The Beginning, Fun vs. Serious, ‘Ships, and Character Growth.
As previously mentioned, Buffy is a show that can easily fit in among the list of high school/teen dramas. A girl who kicks ass, a handsome love interest, best friends. All aspects of your typical teen television. And it is teen television. It’s just not your typical teen show. Far from it.
Buffy is a show that is surprisingly aware of itself. Story arcs span entire seasons, and sometimes beyond. Characters appear, are gone and then show up again after you forget they exist, just to make you fall in love with them again (and usually to be killed). Characters reference things that happen on the show. Sometimes backward reminding you of past stories, sometimes forward, foreshadowing a future occurrence.
These references are sometimes small. Riley helps to hang a banner for the Lesbian Alliance group on campus a few episodes before Willow begins her relationship with Tara (“New Moon Rising”). Anya sings about Xander having and STD in “Once More, With Feeling”, mentioning an incident in “Pangs”. Buffy sits in an outline of a dead body (“Crush”) at the beginning of the season and later dies in the season’s cumulative episode (“The Gift”). Xander spends one Halloween dressed as a pirate (“All the Way”), and seasons later he looses his eye while battling Caleb (“Dirty Girls”).
The greatest span of foreshadowing is in Spike and Buffy’s relationship. After his introduction (“School Hard”), Spike is Buffy’s rival through the majority of season two. But by the end of the season Spike approaches Buffy to form an alliance in “Becoming Part 2”, and her letting he and Drucilla skip town is the first instance of (albeit uneasy) agreement between the pair.
This transition from hatred to alliance is mirrored again and again with their relationship throughout the show. When Spike returns in season four (“The Harsh Light of Day”), they are rivals, then partners when Spike gets a chip installed in his head that stops him from hurting humans (“The Initiative”). In season five there is again disgust (“Crush”) but alliance as Spike fights by her side against Glory (“The Gift”).
In season six and seven the pattern repeats again, but differently. Spike and Buffy begin a physical relationship which ends in resentment on both sides. An ensouled and recently crazy Spike takes residence in the high school’s basement. When it is clear that the First is behind this, Buffy helps him to recover. Following Spike’s attempted rape (“Seeing Red”), he has to rebuild any trust he may have gained in the years before. While they do not reconvene their physical relationship, by “Touched” it is clear that they are very much dependent on each other.
The most obvious and my personal favorite bit of foreshadowing for Buffy and Spike happens in the season four episode “Something Blue”. While under a spell, Buffy and Spike become engaged. Their happiness and openness about their relationship is opposite to the way they treat each other when they eventually do enter a relationship (“Smashed”). Their relationship in season six is shameful and hidden from the group.
Another striking similarity is within two versions of the same character. In an alternate reality created in season three (“The Wish”), In this reality, Willow and Xander are vampires. The Master’s most loyal minions. Instead of shy, brainy Willow, vampire!Willow is cunning and cruel. She enjoys torturing Angel, who the Master has locked up as a pet. Vampire Willow appears again when she is transported to our reality accidentally by Anya and Willow while performing a spell.
Three years later, Willow seeks revenge for Tara’s death, becoming inconsolable and turning into a darker version of herself, full of anger and magic. Dark Willow shares many characteristics with vampire!Willow, most obviously the phrase “Bored now,” that they both use before acting out, torturing the “puppy” (Angel) and skinning Warren, respectively.
There are some instances of foreshadowing where I wonder if they are actually planned. In season three, after Angel has come back from the dead he is taunted by a vision of Jenny Calendar who he killed. Jenny tells her to kill Buffy and then to kill himself. In trying to help him, Buffy discovers that Jenny is acting on behalf of the first evil. In the final season, The First becomes the big bad, using powers of persuasion to get people to do whatever it wants them to.
Villains and plots evolve just as characters do. In “Amends” Jenny strokes Angel’s hair to get him to sleep. Later, in season seven the First cannot touch anything. Like a hologram, anything solid will go through it. The first evolved, just as Spike did, just as Dawn grew. The gang uses this to it’s advantage, being able to test that people are actually who they say they are, and not the First masquerading as someone they used to trust.
The use of foreshadowing and self references is something that can be used in any show, but often isn’t. Not only are references fun for viewers, they are also realistic. Friends remember old times in real life, why not in TV? Buffy is a shinning example of why remembering and foreshadowing should be used in television.
What is your favorite Buffy self-reference?
This week in Whedon Wednesday: Eulogy for Tara Maclay.
Next in my Buffy rants: The End.