When I first watched Buffy, we had a lot in common. She had just turned sixteen, I had just turned sixteen. We both had the weight of the world on our shoulders. She was destined to slay vampires forever, and I had too much homework. Her boyfriend was a vampire and mine was invisible. Outside of her slayer duties she was kind of a clutz, I was kind of a clutz. The message, “high school is hell” broke through the reality divide and succeeded in uniting a fictional vampire slayer from Sunnydale and a very non fictional teenager from Dagenham forever. It was me and Buffy against the world and, so long as we stuck together, everything would work out ok.
So you can imagine my horror when, as fictional characters often do, Buffy aged and changed before my eyes into a person that I did not recognise, into an adult that made bad choices, an adult that was done with the world and, when the world called her back, did not want to return. This was the curse of the dvd box set. Buffy had grown up and left me behind and I was barely a year older, confused and dismayed by a series that had once seemed so much simpler. Over the years, Buffy still held a special place in my heart but it was reserved specifically for its younger days, the characters and setting that I felt close to and familiar with as I worked my way through school.
Seven years later, I’m twenty four and a mixture of boredom and nostalgia lead me back to my dusty Buffy dvd box set. And suddenly I recognise the woman that I used to find so strange. I know her when she wanders around the university campus totally lost, I know her when she wears a stupid hat and stands behind a fast food counter and, crucially, I know her when she is weary, when she looks at her life and wishes for change. I can’t believe I used to berate this woman for always frowning and occasionally acting, in the words of Xander, like a “bitca,” when now I am this woman. It dawns on me that the message of this show is no longer high school as hell, because, as mostly anyone post education will tell you, being a grown up is worse.
That’s not to say that post high school Buffy is perfect by any means. But what should be celebrated here is the bravery of a show that grows up as you do, that is willing to leave high school behind and takes on new identities. Sure, sometimes it struggles to establish that new identity, particularly in season four with episodes like Beer Bad but, hey, so do you. This is a show that was ready to change its entire landscape and, perhaps most notoriously, bring about change through new characters. I am, of course, referring to Dawn and the bewildering introductory episode to her character, Real Me.
Now let me get one thing straight, Dawn is annoying, really, really annoying. But as unsettling as her arrival is, without Dawn the child the show would never have been able to truly evolve to Buffy the grown up. Dawn’s presence not only represented her responsibilities as a slayer, so overbearing that they invade her home and her memories in the form of a fourteen year old girl, but also her responsibilities as an adult. The birth of this new phase of her life begins at her death in the season five finale and, the thing is, she wanted to stay dead. Buffy doesn’t want to grow up, being a grown up sucks, a theme that could not be made any more clear by than season six, the darkest of the Buffy series, when she is reluctantly reborn.
Everyone has a bad time in season six and yet it also represents that in this messy, overwhelming adult life, it is your relationships with others that save you and redeem you, and so the world is not saved by superpowers but by friendship. This is an idea that, sadly season seven dispenses with rather quickly. For those who are quick to dismiss season seven, I think it’s important to note that there are many good things about it. The idea of ending with the start and revisiting its origins through the rebuilt high school is a great way of understanding just how far the show has come and how the past has shaped us. It also starts off where season six left off in concentrating on the rich and complex relationships these people have developed over the years. Selfless is a great example of this, in which we see each character furiously struggle with how they define themselves to each other as well as to the world.
The trouble with season seven is that it becomes preoccupied with having a finale of such epic proportions that it disregards these relationships half way through to concentrate purely on the fight ahead and how huge it is going to be. Giles sums this up well when he tells them, after Buffy and the gang have been frivolous enough to indulge on going on dates whilst there’s evil to fight, “the time for fun and games is over.” And with that, any thoughtful character delving episodes like Conversations with Dead People are thrown to the wayside in favour of episodes where Buffy gives big speeches about how they’re all going to die. This is also represented by the arrival of the Potentials, who, I agree are ultimately needed to endorse this idea of empowerment for all not just a chosen one, but whose presence in the house overbears any further development of characters we actually care about. Ultimately, I like the resolution of Buffy sharing her power and particularly that it is Willow who engineers this, it’s just a shame the most important element of the show is lost in the build up to this. I think the moment that Buffy admits she is now willing to sacrifice Dawn in her fight against the First truly represents this loss and from then on, even during its brief resurfaces, such as the moments between Buffy and Spike, it is hard to care when the characters seemingly no longer do.
The younger days of Buffy still hold a special place in my heart. You will never, ever, no matter how hard you try, find a better tv villain than Mayor Richard – “ Mininature…golf!”- Wilkins. But while high school Buffy is more consistent, and certainly funnier, it is grown up Buffy that I empathise with, episodes like Selfless that move and resonate with me. Watching Buffy take out a line of uber vamps in her final battle, I feel a twinge of pride. Whether it was fighting demons in Sunnydale or fighting commuters for a seat back to Dagenham East, she had my back all this time.