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Buffy, Riley and Spike (2/2): And another not-entirely random thought...

First of all I'm aware that what I'm writing here has been said a million times before, more eloquently, or intelligently or coherently by other writers/fans; and I suspect explored thoroughly in depth in academic papers.  I also realize that I am breaking my own self-imposed rule - AGAIN - to not write about subjects that have been "done to death". What's missing here,  I realize, is a theoretical foundation - philosophical, psychological, literary or political - to guide me and add the missing depth and context.  But here I am anyway, so....

Building upon what I said yesterday about Buffy's words in Beneath You As You Were (the apology to Spike) being directed to herself as well as him (a flip of the scene in DT): I wonder if the same couldn't be said of her words in Fool For Love, when she first says "You're beneath me."  That episode seems to be their entire relationship in a nutshell (except for the flame-y handfasting in Chosen). She may be talking to Spike, but if he is reflects her "dark half" (the role that Faith served in S3-4), it strikes me that she is really saying it to herself as well, repudiating her Slayer side, just as she rejects Spike's claim to love her.



[More about Buffy Summers, her men, and her tender heart...]In earlier seasons she wanted to be a "normal girl" and tried to reject Slayerhood in Prophecy Girl and "Anne", but reclaims it both times, and even bemoans the loss of Slayer powers in "Helpless". She disliked, and even hated, the responsibilites being a Slayer imposed upon her, but she still saw it as something she "did" moreso than something she "was"; a job she had to and chose to do.  But she didn't hate herself, whatever self-doubts or insecurities she had, so far as I can see.

S5 is the season where her self-hatred comes to the surface for the first time, I think.  Everyone talks about how Angel and her father wounded her heart, and this is true, but there's the cumulative effect of her father + Angel + Parker + Riley.  The break-up with Riley seems to break Buffy in a way I hadn't seen before.  S1-3 she fears and then decides that her dad doesn't love her; S3, she discovers that Angel doesn't love her enough to stay (however sensible his reasons are; and let's not forget her having to kill him).  By S4 she's decided the problem is with her being attracted to the wrong sort of guy and has taken the problem mostly on herself; but she still talks about wanting to find a "nice, normal" guy, and doesn't view herself as unlovable or unable to love.  Then the "nice, normal guy" turns out to be neither, at least by early S5, and she goes in a single episode from telling him during the break-up scene that it's his problem he can't feel what she gives him emotionally, to believing it's her fault for being closed-off (thanks, Xander) and running after him.


Intervention is the episode where she tells Giles that she's afraid she's losing the ability to love, when in fact we see evidence of her love for her friends, her mother and her sister all over the place.  She accepts Riley's viewpoint as her own, confusing the ability to say the word "love" with the act or state of loving, and views herself as incomplete, as somehow fundamentally broken, foreshadowing S6's "I came back wrong".

She cannot understand or believe the First Slayer's message that she is "full of love" - and the First Slayer is the matriarch of the Slayer line, Buffy's spiritual and metaphorical "foremother"; what was imposed upon the First Slayer is now a part of Buffy's DNA, so to speak, in her blood and her breath.  That is certainly a negative progression, IMO, from "He doesn't love me" to "I am unable to love".

All of this has occured by the time she goes to Spike in Fool For Love in her quest to understand better what being a Slayer really means, which is the classic hero's quest for self-knowlege. In this regard, Eve is the foremother of this quest in Western literature, although she was painted as the cause of "Man's downfall" for centuries.  S4 reflects this bias against Eve (unintentionally, I suspect) by naming the Big Bad "Adam", who seeks to understand his identity.  Adam in this regard foreshadow's Buffy's quest in S5; and the presence of the First Slayer partially if not entirely allieviates the mistake of giving the First Mother's (Eve's) search for meaning and truth to the First Father (Adam).

Jump ahead to S6, Buffy's self-hatred and self-doubt are the subject, the object (rather than the context) of the entire season; again, she takes the actions of someone else (the resurrection spell) and heaps the punishment onto herself because she cannot be open with her friends or call them out on their responsibility for her return.  But the seeds of self-doubt, planted in earlier seasons, having taken root by Fool For Love, to be seen in full flower by in Dead Things (to continue the hackneyed flower metaphor); unable to recognize or accept Spike's lov or is darkness foreshadows her rejection of herself, of her light and her dark in her growing inability or refusal to recognize "the Girl" and "the Slayer" as two components of the whole person, of "Buffy". Which is why she still needs someone else - Spike, Faith, even Warren at times - to be that Shadow-self, to be the "Other" ("not-Buffy"), aside from the other functions they serve as characters on the show.

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Speaking personally for a moment and going back a bit, her acceptance of Riley's opinion is one of the most painful things for me to watch in the entire series. (My intellectual response to the series was preceded by my inital emotional response while I was watching it, so one always informs the other.) I see it now as one of those plot points that the writers felt they had to insert to both 1) get rid of Riley, both because of his lack of popularity with fans, and to isolate Buffy so she could focus on saving Dawn (see my previous post); and 2) kickstart the arc of Buffy's psychological development: her literal "quest for self", as well as the metaphorical Hero's descent to Hell", her Christ-like death and resurrection.  But it's abrupt, awkwardly-handled, and indulges in a bit too much "Buffy-blaming" IMO.

There are other points throughout the series where emotional shifts or key events are handled awkwardly or abruptly, and seem to exist as quick ways of moving the plot from A to B, as well as create a moment of high drama that may be received emotionally by the viewer, but not in the ways M.E. intended, so that the viewer ends up feeling uncomfortable, manipulated, angry, or has to disregard said point altogether to lessen the cognitive dissonance. Xander leaving Anya at the alter in Hell's Bell's comes to mind, as does the AR or Tara's death (shocking moments inserted for the sake of moving the plot); Spike beating Wood, leaving him bloodied in LMPTM goes as far in it's depiction of graphic violence, or rather it's aftermath, as the black eye and scars Spike receives at Buffy's hands in DT but is remarked on far less often, if at all; but it's another moment that I find extemely uncomfortable.  The Riley/Buffy break-up scene, Xander's speech afterwards, and her shift from "his behavior is Riley's problem" to "it's all my fault", and watching her chase after him, is nearly as uncomfortable for me on an emotional level as watching Buffy beg and scream in the dreaded AR.

I think it was in character for Buffy to accept Riley's assessment. She blames herself. That's the sort of person that she is. I always struggle with how much to blame Riley and Xander for Buffy blaming herself, because they aren't in control of her feelings. You can't blame them for her feelings. And yet they both behaved badly, and she was hurt badly by it. It's a very tricky thing.

There are other points throughout the series where emotional shifts or key events are handled awkwardly or abruptly, and seem to exist as quick ways of moving the plot from A to B, as well as create a moment of high drama that may be received emotionally by the viewer, but not in the ways M.E. intended, so that the viewer ends up feeling uncomfortable, manipulated, angry, or has to disregard said point altogether to lessen the cognitive dissonance.

I know exactly what you mean, and very well put. It makes fannish disagreements very intense. But weirdly, it also feels kind of realistic for me--because in real life, the loose ends don't get tied up neatly, and figuring out who is right and how is wrong is never simple.
I think it was in character for Buffy to accept Riley's assessment. She blames herself. That's the sort of person that she is.

That is a very good point, and you're right - I rewatched I Only Have Eyes for You, and realized that whole episode is about Buffy seeking forgiveness for what she did to Angel (never mind that she could NOT have known what would happen - unlike James, the spirit inhabiting her, who goes to the school with a gun to pursue Grace; he may not have had conscious intent to kill, but there is no way you can point a gun at another person without already being aware of the possibility of harm. But that's OT)

I also rewatched "Doomed", S4, and I wrote a little about it in the thread in my previous post, so I'll cut and paste it here because I think it fits (I wish I had remembered the scene before I wrote this meta):

there's a scene where Riley point blank calls Buffy "stupid", self-centered, etc for rejecting trying a relationship with him and not giving him a chance; and that if she sees people and her life in a negative life that's what she's going to get back. I know there's truth to what he says but the WAY he does it, when he knows nothing of the circumstances and hardly knows her (which she calls him on, btw) really bothered me. He was being patronizing, belittling, shaming her for her feelings, and essentially telling her that she was wrong not to give him a chance. Because, you know, he's a great guy, and she SHOULD do what he wants. By the end of Doomed he's rewarded with a kiss and her opening herself up to him. I find that extremely objectionable.

Short version, I don't think it's OOC for her to blame herself (and again, my meta would have been improved by rewatching IOHEFY and Doomed beforehand); but I still think there is a shift in her thinking in that regard; being afraid to get into a relationship and open oneself up again is not quite the same thing as seeing oneself as unable to love or lacking in love. Perhaps it's more along a contiuum?

they aren't in control of her feelings. You can't blame them for her feelings. And yet they both behaved badly, and she was hurt badly by it. It's a very tricky thing.

It is a tricky thing, but her feelings - and certainly her behavior - changes 180 degrees in response to Xander's speech IMO. And I can hold them responsible for their actions, which I find objectionable at best (Xander) and repulsive at worst (Riley going to vamp whores then blaming Buffy for his actions.) I've said a little more about this downthread in response to eilowyn, but I can agree to disagree on this.

But weirdly, it also feels kind of realistic for me--because in real life, the loose ends don't get tied up neatly, and figuring out who is right and how is wrong is never simple.

ABSOLUTELY.

I think it was in character for Buffy to accept Riley's assessment. She blames herself. That's the sort of person that she is.

I wanted to add another reply to this because i just watched The Harsh Light of Day, where Buffy does the exact same thing with Parker - she blames herself when he gives her the brush off. So, yes, you are right about it being IC for Buffy. (I'm not sure how IC this is for Buffy compared to S1-3, but in S4 she is certainly a bit different, less sure of herself, after Angel leaving, and going into the bigger fishbowl of college.)

The difference, putting aside the fact that one was a one-night stand and the other a "long term" relationship, is that Willow immediately consoles Buffy that it isn't her fault, "the poophead principle". Whereas in S5, the message we get repeatedly from Riley, Xander and then Buffy herself was that she's to blame. That no one contradicts it in-show leaves the message that she is not mistaken in her impression. So that's what bothers me, but not everyone feels the same way.
It bothers me, too, but I guess I sometimes get defensive when it comes up because fans can be so incredibly harsh on Riley. I don't mean you, but I've seen people say things about him being the most evil character on the show, so I get into defensive mode pretty easily. I even get completely pissed off at Riley when watching those episodes (especially the part in AYW where he SO GRACIOUSLY accepts HER apology), but I still get defensive when talking about it. All the characters piss me off at times, and I don't think Riley is any worse than any of the others.
All the characters piss me off at times, and I don't think Riley is any worse than any of the others.

Oh absolutely in agreement here, and it's possible I may be coming off as too harsh in my tone, and if so, I apologize. I certainly get very protective of Buffy as "My girl" which I realize is silly - she's a fictional character and doesn't need me standing up for her, but we do get attached to whom we get attached to.

The hardest part is feeling that someone else is attacking our favorites because then we feel attacked on some level. local_max has written some wonderful Willow meta recently, and has expressed much the same thought - that writing about Willow is hard because he identifies with her so much, but so many fans are very vocal in their hatred of her.

Long story short - I'll try to watch myself and avoid character-bashing.

especially the part in AYW where he SO GRACIOUSLY accepts HER apology

WORD.
Riley's leaving and Xander's speech to Buffy always hit me like a punch to the gut - and your assessment of Buffy's emotional state is spot-on; somewhere there's an essay on Buffy's Campbellian hero's journey (again, I'm on my phone so I can't find it; maybe try slayageonline?), but your grounding it in her emotional journey makes so much sense to me.
I'm glad it resonated with you (and that it made sense!) I take it as a huge compliment when other fans - especially ones who I've admired for their writing - find something in what I'm saying.

That's exactly how that whole thing hits me as well - on a very emotional level. I am hurting for Buffy, finding Riley in that den with vamp whores, then being told it's her fault (by him and Riley); I cheered when she told him that his problem was HIS problem - my Buffy doesn't give in to ultimatums; then she turned around 180 degrees because of Xander's speech. Just NO to that.

Other fans have mentioned Campbell's writing in regards to understanding Buffy's journey, so you're confirming that I really need to read him. (Which might be more accessible to me that some of the essays on Slayage, but I'd be very interesting in anything you recommend on that account.)
One of the things that I think the show is normally good at is making characters with conflicting opinions seem like characters with conflicting opinions -- rather than "oh, that one is the voice of the writer, that one is the foil, etc."

I think they screw up with Riley, not in Season 4 or even most of Season 5, but with Into the Woods and As You Were. Basically, Riley never takes responsibility for cheating on Buffy with vampire hookers, and never apologizes, and Buffy never demands an apology. Even though the show makes it very clear that his behavior should be read as infidelity, the characters never acknowledge the gravity of his offense.

Note that I would be fine if Buffy forgave him. It's the attitude that he hasn't done anything that requires forgiveness that I can't accept.

(Although it bothers me less in AYW, because I think the trope there is "your ex boyfriend, who you broke up with for reasons that seemed perfectly good at the time, comes back into your life right when his seems perfect and yours is falling apart. Plus, you still think he's hot." The reasons for the breakup don't matter much in that story, and I don't think they really come up in AYW. But it was a chance for them to redeem ITW by having Riley apologize, and they didn't do it.)