I Just Now Saw: Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Welcome to “I Just Now Saw,” a new column in which I attempt to conduct conversations about television shows you watched ten years ago and I just now saw, in their entirety, for the first time. I’ve got a serious backlog of shows I’ve recently seen that I wanna talk to you about but today I will begin with Buffy the Vampire Slayerthe seminal lesbian feminist classic.

I think one of the primarily disarming feelings of watching a show all the way through, many years after it aired, is that you have to completely avoid reading anything about the show because you don’t wanna accidentally bite down on a spoiler. Buffy was particularly challenging in this regard — whereas I could read old Battlestar recaps knowing that the recapper knew as much as I did, Buffy was popular in the pre-internet-ubiquity age which means online recaps of Buffy were generally written a few years after the show stopped airing, meaning its authors had usually already seen the entire series before setting out to recap it. Therefore I was worried they might spoil a thing for me. You can’t read anything about it until you’re completely done watching it, at which point I just didn’t know where to even begin.

There’s just SO MUCH BUFFY that attempting to discuss seven seasons of 22 episodes each all in one post is nearly impossible, so I’ve just decided to focus on some of my largest feelings.

 

Top Ten Feelings I Have About Buffy The Vampire Slayer

1. It Was A Slow Starter

It’s not uncommon, of course, for a supposedly excellent television program to take some time to grow on me — The Wire and Battlestar Galactica, for example, took six or seven episodes to really suck me in (and then never let me go). But Buffy took a lot longer than that. It took three seasons, actually. I’d resisted researching the answer to the question “when do the lesbian parts start,” because my belief that the lesbian parts could begin at any moment was the only force driving me to continue watching episode after episode, especially every episode in which Drusilla had any lines. If I wanted to see what it looks like to have unusual teeth and talk like a melting cake, I’d take a bunch of Valium and look in the mirror, you know?

That being said, I’m not confident Buffy ever captured my entire attention at first, and by that I mean I was probs doing other things while watching, which likely contributed to my disenchantment. There was a monster of some kind, they killed it, then the episode was over. Everybody was dressed really bad and the special effects were almost comically terrible. None of the ongoing storylines snagged me — Angel seemed kinda broody and dumb, so I didn’t care about that, and Xander was obnoxious and Willow was talking in a weird baby voice all the time and I just kinda wanted to get a beer with Giles, and I don’t even drink beer. And maybe neither does Giles.

I also think the super-clever humor is one of the show’s strongest points, and you tend to “get it” more when you’ve already fallen for all the characters and for the concept in general. I think I’d like Seasons One and Two a lot better now than I did at the time because it would be more hilarious.

 

2. Buffy Wasn’t My Bestie

I think part of my late-start problem is that it took me eighteen lightyears to wrap my head around the idea of Sarah Michelle Geller playing a feminist heroine. I’m not in the “feminist heroines can’t look like Barbie Dolls and if they do it’s not progressive” camp because, hello, it’s television, have you met Veronica Mars or any other female heroine on any show ever, but this was a radically new context in which to see SMG. I’d never found her particularly inspiring as an actress, she was just that girl who dated the equally coma-inducing Freddy Prinze Jr and starred in all the 90’s movies I hated JUST KIDDING I LOVED THEM ESPECIALLY SHE’S ALL THAT AND CRUEL INTENTIONS. [But I loved them in a way dissimilar to how I expected to love Buffy, obviously.]

sarah michelle gellar with jennifer love hewitt on the set of "i know what you did last summer"

sarah michelle gellar with jennifer love hewitt on the set of “i know what you did last summer”

So what was it, then, that separated me from really connecting with Buffy Summers? She’s an outsider and a strong woman and I love both of those things. This is my best guess: she’s not a dork. She may be an outsider, but she’s not a nerd or an intellectual or, at least at first, much of a deep thinker in general. She doesn’t read books, understand computers, like school or get good grades. So it was Willow, then, who served as my ambassador to the show, at least at first (I think every show has one or more “ambassador,” your anchor, the person you can identify with or feels honest to you, like Alice on The L Word and Hurley on Lost and Jim on The Office). Willow was the nerd. She was so nerdy that she learned her way into powerful witchdom!

But then shit got dark, y’all! (more on this in a minute) Shit got super dark in later seasons and as Buffy became a Woman, she became a Woman I related to.

Oddly, I also felt closer to her in later seasons because of what she said and felt about the responsibility that comes with leading a group of (mostly female) humans in a united cause and being the Decider.

Faith: “I’m looking at you, and everything you have, and I don’t know, I’m jealous. Then there I am. Everybody’s looking to me, trusting me to lead them and I’ve never felt so alone in my entire life.”
Buffy: “Yeah?”
Faith: “And that’s you, every day, isn’t it?”
Buffy: “I love my friends. I’m very grateful for them. But that’s the price of being Slayer.”

 

3. Everything Looks So Familiar

At least half the cast of Buffy consists of actors I strongly associate with their other work. It took me a long time to get over the fact that Xander was dating Susan Keats from 90210. I had no idea this show was so chock-full of humans I know in radically different contexts.

Oz // Kenny Fisher from “Can’t Hardly Wait.” // Seth Green

Buffy

 

Anya // Susan Keats from Beverly Hills 90210 // Emma Caulfield

Susan was Brandon Walsh’s harpy feminist girlfriend from the newspaper who was probably really awesome and I’d totally love her now in a Miranda-from-SATC-way, but when I was thirteen I could only see her as an obstacle between Brandon Walsh and his true love Kelly Taylor. Also because Susan was a wet blanket.Buffy1

Cordelia // Rebecca, the manipulative bitchmom from The Lying Game. // Charisma CarpenterBuffy2

 

Dawn // Harriet the motherfucking spy. // Michelle TrachtenbergCollages41

 

Faith // Missy Pantone from Bring It On // Eliza DushkuCollages42

 

Xander // Kevin Lynch from Criminal Minds // Nicholas Brendon

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Willow // Band Camp Girl from American Pie // Allyson Hannigan

Buffy4

Buffy // Evil bitch from Cruel Intentions // Sarah Michelle Geller

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4. Tara and Willow Are So Gay

Aw, the 90’s! When it was such a huge deal for a lesbian couple to exist in the first place that having them act sexual towards one another would’ve been downright scandalous. But just like how Lucy and Ricardo’s separate beds strike present-day audiences as hopelessly antiquated and foolishly prudish, Willow & Tara’s tender sexless affections seemed a bit quaint at first. Plus they were always dressed in those long flowy skirts they sell at bougie boutiques by the waterfront in Berkeley which summoned memories of the pandering sexless lesbian image of the 1990’s. They didn’t kiss for the first eighteen episodes of their relationship! But still, it was groundbreaking shit and became the longest-running lesbian relationship on network television at the time.

I knew only one thing about their relationship going into it: that Tara would die. But I didn’t know about the tender and funny “coming out” scene with Buffy, or about all the funny gay jokes that would ensue or about what a good singer Amber Benson is. (JK I already knew that last one because prior to my marathon, I’d seen Once More With Feeling at Intern X’s apartment in like 2010 and we were all so stoned I couldn’t tell the difference between television and real life.)

Also I liked Kennedy as Willow’s partner too? Which I guess is also an unpopular opinion.

 

5. Oh, Spike

So I have this weird affection for bad-bois-turned-good-for-love. Like if an asshole does one tiny redeeming thing, I develop a panic that if he’s not rewarded for said redeeming action, that he’ll never do anything good again or believe in the good of mankind. (I have similar emotional reactions to every tiny thing Obama does for gay people, as you may have noticed.) Besides, Spike seemed more interesting than Angel, who reminds me of a loaf of bread, or Riley, who reminds me of meatloaf. I’d rather make out with a cardboard box. Or a cardboard box cutter. Or Finn Hudson. I don’t know what it is about men, they just have a habit of reminding me of carbohydrates and razorblades.

Spike, though! Young Spike in his glasses, reading love poems that nobody but his mother wants to hear! Evil Spike with the trench coat flapping in the wind with the fury of a thousand outsiders trying too hard to look cool! Spike with his heart, looking after Dawn, playing teacher’s assistant for the new class of slayers!

Prior to watching Buffy, I’d heard of and about Angel but never heard of Spike, so I assumed my affection for Spuffy was about as unpopular as my affection for Shenny (DON’T HATE), but after I’d watched the series I asked Laneia and she said everybody liked Spike! Silly me.

Remember when Spike went and visited Buffy at her job at the fast food restaurant? That was so cute. It’s always special when you’re trapped in a low-paying job which requires you to wear a profoundly stupid uniform and then your real friends from the real world come visit and catch you in all your uniformed scripted corporately-compliant glory.

[Yes, I cannot fit “Seeing Red” into my consciousness, cannot really know what to do with that. Because no. Just no. It failed on so many levels. If you’re going to use an attempted rape scene in your show, especially in a show about empowering women, you follow through or you don’t, and they didn’t, although Buffy Wiki says the writers stood by the decision, claiming “that moment was necessary to set up a powerful motivation for Spike’s quest to gain a soul.” But I don’t think so. Plus as metaphors go, that’s a weak one with no legitimate parallel in real life. I’ve read a lot of analyses of this since watching it which has lead me to conclude that there are so many angles from which this scene (and episode) fails that I can’t do it justice in this one paragraph, or even in many paragraphs quite yet. ]

 

6. Shit Got Dark

When shit got dark, that’s when I started relating, that’s when I fell in love with the show, and not just Season Six but how it made her stronger, I think, in Season Seven. It made her ready to lead. Sometimes being in charge is a way of keeping yourself healthy, you know? Those weren’t the seasons everybody else liked, were they? Those weren’t the seasons everybody liked. But that’s when Buffy became a thing to me. When she was depressed. When she missed death, when she wished she could be a part of death again. When she slipped into Spike’s lair and let him push her hard because she just needed to feel something, anything, just anything besides the tedium of being alive.

All day you do things you’re supposed to do — things you need to do, things you’re obligated or expected to do by others — because that’s just what there is to do. You don’t want to do anything so you can only do the things you need to do. But here is a thing you both want to do and do not need to do. So what do you do. You do it.

I get that.

 

7. I Love Andrew

I think Andrew was my Anya. He was one of my favorite parts of the show. I also loved how he was gay but it wasn’t a thing, it was just funny. Gay guys always steal the show from the gay girls but he didn’t.

[I was hoping that Vex would be my New Andrew on Lost Girl, but I’ll talk about that more in I Just Now Saw: Lost Girl.]

 

8. I Didn’t Hate Dawn

via scooby gang

THE SHIPPER IS IN THE HOUSE (via scooby gang)

There are many ways in which the traditional viewing experience differs from the marathon-viewing experience. Dawn’s storyline, I think, is a perfect example of this. When Dawn appeared out of the great blue nothing at Season Five’s start, I honestly thought I’d just missed something in the previous Season which would explain her presence, but six hours later I knew the truth about what she was doing there. If I’d had to wait six weeks to know what the hell she was doing up in Buffy’s situation, maybe I would’ve hated her like everybody did — but I didn’t. She was a 13-year-old girl, you know? There were episodes in later seasons where she annoyed the living fuck out of me, though.

 

9. Buffy Isn’t Bad at Relationships!

Why were Buffy and her pals so obsessed with the idea that Buffy can’t “make it work” with guys and all of her relationships are disasters? Um, she had two boyfriends before Spike. Angel, and then Riley. Like all relationships that end — a.k.a., every single relationship you’re ever in except for the one you’re in when you die — their relationships didn’t work.

10. What Makes Buffy Special

I think a lot of it is that they use ALL THE TROPES! But in a really exciting, fresh, fun way. Like almost the entire thing is potentially meta. There’s an attention to detail that manifests itself in really surprising ways, and fails in really surprising ways at times, too, you know? I think it did fail, from time to time, but only because it was so ambitious in the first place.

But of course, also the lady-thing!  I basically cried through the entire finale, and not because I was sad — I’d sort of prepared myself for everybody dying and was pleased that not EVERYBODY died any anyhow, the show was over so who cares who’s dead or not— but when all the potential slayers become slayers? I’m moved to tears by this epic exhibition of raw Girl Power, especially when all fifteen girls are suddenly infused with the power and confidence to kick 100 asses apiece. It was beautiful.

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Riese is the 33-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

Riese has written 1781 articles for us.

122 Comments

  1. Thumb up 3

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    “If I wanted to see what it looks like to have unusual teeth and talk like a melting cake, I’d take a bunch of Valium and look in the mirror, you know?” Oh my god.

    Also, I just finished doing a class presentation on Buffy (and other tv shows with queer characters) today, so this was weirdly relevant to my life!

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      I am sad to announce (and willing to admit I didn’t check to see if anyone else announced it first) that the comics actually clear up the Andrew thing, and he is straight. It totally doesn’t change how amazing he is though.

      I think my biggest complaint about Kennedy as Willow’s girlfriend is that she basically strong armed Willow into a relationship. Unlike Oz and Tara, she wasn’t gentle or accepting or kind. She just assumed Willow wanted her, and I feel like Willow went along with it because she was in a vulnerable place.

      But welcome to the Buffy lovefest!

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    Firstly – possibly my favourite Autostraddle post ever?! I’m Buffy obsessed. In fact, Joss Whedon obsessed.. but i won’t go into that or i’ll ramble on forever!

    Secondly – it’s so interesting to hear someone discuss Buffy from the point of view of only just having watched it all in one go. I was lucky enough to grow up with both a sister-in-law and cousin who were super into it, and sneakily leant me the videos as they came out… wayyy before my parents would have ever allowed me to watch it.

    Thirdly – Yes! Everybody loves Spike. I used to have a lifesize poster of him on my bedroom wall, that i would stand on a chair and take photos of myself next to.. to make it look like I’d met him. I was a teenager – this was totally acceptable.

    Lastly (‘cus I could talk about my feelings on Buffy forever) – I also liked Willow and Kennedy too, although I was devastated when Tara first died. I also loved Andrew. I also didn’t hate Dawn as much as the rest of the world seems to… so maybe in a lot of ways your experience of just watching it all at once wasn’t that different to mine watching it growing up.

    Thank you for this post! I love how frequently Buffy is referenced on this site, and a whole post dedicated to it has made my week.

  3. Thumb up 13

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    So, I watched Buffy pretty recently, too! And of course I feel a little ridiculous discussing it, because everybody else already saw it long ago.

    I loved Spike. His character, his evolution, totally blew me away.

    The first seasons of the show were hard to get through for me, but I didn’t expect it to be much different– after all, they were in high school, it was a very high-school show, the issues didn’t interest me, but i wanted to take in the full character development so that I could enjoy the later shows fully.

    Buffy’s character and her interests, especially as a teenage girl, are meant to position her as the “type” of girl who gets killed in a monster flick, and then to turn that trope absolutely on its head. Buffy doesn’t get punished for being feminine, interested in clothes, conventionally attractive, or blonde. Later, she’s able to evolve considerable complexity.

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      “Buffy’s character and her interests, especially as a teenage girl, are meant to position her as the “type” of girl who gets killed in a monster flick, and then to turn that trope absolutely on its head. Buffy doesn’t get punished for being feminine, interested in clothes, conventionally attractive, or blonde. Later, she’s able to evolve considerable complexity.”

      Yes! This makes perfect sense. I love it.

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        The evolving thing was my favorite part of Buffy. I loved that the characters became stronger, better more compassionate people over the course of the show. I get frustrated when characters don’t learn anything from their mistakes, or when characters shift from likeable to unlike able and back again. This is something you see a lot in all of whedon’s work. Willow and Xander are characters where you really see that growth, and Wesley.

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        “It was pretty much the blond girl in the alley in the horror movie who keeps getting killed … I felt bad for her, but she was always much more interesting to me than the other women. She was fun, she had sex, she was vivacious. But then she would get punished for it. Literally, I just had that image, that scene, in my mind, like the trailer for a movie what if the girl goes into that dark alley. And the monster follows her. And she destroys him.”

        Joss Whedon (on his inspiration for Buffy)

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    It’s funny, I think your feelings were pretty similar to my feelings the first time I watched the show, for the most part anyways. I did watch season 6 then 1-5 in one go, then 7 live though. Then when I went back and watched it later on, I had a lot of opposite feelings. I thoroughly enjoyed season 7 first time around, then watched the series again and realized they do a ton of speechifying and apart from pretty speeches, the writing was way more lazy and lackluster.

    Spike was always better than Angel though – he didn’t go around trying to be the big strong hero protecting the little girl all the time and getting pissy for no reason.

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    I just watched Buffy for the first time this year as well! Basically, I locked myself in my apartment and didn’t leave for weeks and then when I saw light again, I missed it which is weird because it was already waaaay over. Netflix is the best/worst.

    Anyways, Riese, I have to agree with you on almost every count, especially Spike because the fuck was that? I think it was good that they were willing to confront the issue of rape, but they should have done it well and not brushed it off the way they did. Plus, I feel like it was a dumb way to give him an ark. Also I have not felt feelings for an hour of television like I did during The Body. Fuck.

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    I’ll always remember my dad walking into my room when I was in middle school and telling me about this show the waitresses at work were talking about, and how he’d just watched an episode and really wanted me to watch it- it was “Buffy”, and my dad wanted me to watch it because he liked that it was about women being the hero and he felt that was important for me to see. The show is still an obsession.

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      i actually quit halfway through season three and skipped straight to season four! like i quit at episode 10 or something. then when i was writing this, I finally went back and watched all the season three episodes I hadn’t watched and I liked them so much! I don’t know if this was because i loved the characters more now or if I would’ve liked the eps if i’d watched them when i was supposed to, but i think it might be the former.

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        I don’t even think I’m halfway through S3, the last full episode I watched was ‘Band Candy’. Skipping to S4 sounds really tempting.

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        Seasons 1-3 are actually my favourite, but maybe its cuz I watched it since it first aired, so those are the seasons I’m most attached to? When I first started secondary school I had one friend that was just as obsessed with Buffy and we fangirled constantly, but then by about season 5 everyone in my class was watching it and it kinda put a dampner on it somehow. Excuse the hipsterism, but I was watching Buffy before it was cool : / But its okay now because enough time has passed that only lesbians and geeks and especially lesbian geeks are still obsessed.

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    You know that feeling of acceptance and understanding people talk about feeling for the first time on Autostraddle? I don’t think I’ve ever felt it so strongly as I do right now. Almost everything you wrote, Reise, is straight from my heart and to finally know I’m not the only one who loved the last three seasons way more than the first four, liked Kennedy and didn’t mind Dawn is seriously cathartic.

    Also I adore Spike and Andrew but I feel like that’s the norm? Nothing compared to knowing I’m not the only one who liked Kennedy.

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      Dunno, after the show ended and there was talk of doing the Spike movie, people would discuss who they thought should be in the movie and I would be like “Andrew!” and pretty much everyone else was always like “what no Andrew is annoying”. Maybe I was just somehow interacting with all the wrong people but when I saw “7. I Love Andrew” I was like “Yes! I feel validated.”

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          I can’t remember the quote, but I remember listening to an interview with Eliza Dushku where she said that she played Faith as in love with Buffy.

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        i was just glad that she got to have a new girlfriend! usually a gay or bisexual character on mainstream TV will get one shot at a same-sex relationship and then that’s the end of that. (at least in the early ’00s) so i was glad they introduced another queer character, and glad that willow had a chance to heal in something a little less passionate but not without its merits, you know?

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    I also watched BTVS in its entirety long after it aired. This post is validating my tv feels on a new level.

    ALSO: I went to a screening of the film “Drones” and met Amber Benson who is an absolute delight. But it freaks me out that she’s dating (or was at the time) and worked with Adam Busch aka Warren aka THE GUY WHO KILLED TARA

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    I honestly don’t know if I would have watched Buffy when it was on the air. It took me over a year to watch the first two seasons because I hate Angel and I hate Cordelia. They’re like the two least likeable characters ever.

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    ok, so i am also way behind and just finished watching buddy like 2 weeks ago and I loved it! I agree that it only really get interesting with season 4, and also that andrew (and anya) is pretty much my favorite character ever.
    Just bough season 8 in comics…actually cant wait to start reading it.
    also i think anya’s death was joss’s way of saying death to capitalism, but maybe thats just me…

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    The thing about Buffy is I largely didn’t care about most of the main characters on the show but it was good enough that I loved it anyway. And I guess as time passes I grow to like them more just because they are Buffy characters? But really my favorite Buffyverse characters aside from Spike and Andrew are all the major characters on Angel (even Angel was way better on his own show than on Buffy).

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    Loved this post. The way I like to say it is I’m a big fan of the first four seasons of Buffy. I think the fifth season was passable but the sixth and seventh seasons turned to crap and I mostly ignore them now. Still I really enjoyed your thoughts Riese.

    I sure don’t get anyone saying they liked Kennedy though. She’s the worst kind of TV character. Fake. Created from whole cloth to be jammed into a place by the writers. Granted there are a lot of fake characters in TV but when they’re shoved up against characters you’ve spent time with and who are rounded and complex, it just stands out.

    She doesn’t mesh with Willow’s personality at all. And besides, even if she did, by any measure I’ve seen, Tara’s death was at most a single year and probably less than that previous to Kennedy coming on the show. We’re supposed to accept that Willow is ready to move on THAT fast? No she wouldn’t. She almost destroyed the world over Tara. But that didn’t matter to the writers. They knew the show was ending and they did their TV bullcrap and forced her in. Even gave them a sex scene that was far more explicit than Tara ever got, which is just tacky as all get out.

    Yes, I still have strong feelings, but that’s why we know the show was darn good in it’s prime. :D

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      Exactly. My problem with Kennedy wasn’t that she couldn’t SOMEDAY date Kennedy or wouldn’t, with time, have evolved into a really interesting character, but that they threw an archetype at Willow full force in what should have been, timeline wise, no more than 6 months after Tara died. And not just that, but that Kennedy was all over Willow DESPITE Willow implying she wasn’t totally ready for a relationship.

      I don’t feel that Tara was Willow’s ONE TRUE LOVE or something, that she couldn’t date other people or ever move on or even just hook up with Kennedy later for fun times. It’s that Kennedy didn’t respect that Willow was not totally comfortable with herself or what had happened yet, that she wasn’t given space by the writers or the character to establish herself as a person without Tara or misusing magic.

      She needed to be given that time to develop her own personal strength and find peace, not with some ‘over the summer I went to cleanse myself with nice pagans in England and now I’m nervous but my new sexy partner will help me find the good in myself now,’ swept under the rug thing.

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    When Buffy first came out in 1997 (?) I thought it sounded like the dumbest show ever, so I didn’t watch it. (Even though I liked the dumb movie with Kristy Swanson & Luke Perry, yeah go figure.) I also don’t think we got that channel. ANYWAY.

    The first episodes of Buffy I saw were the season 3 ones featuring Faith, because my friend was a huge Buffy fan and tried to get me to watch it by sending me a tape of all of her episodes. Her argument was that she knew I’d like Faith, which I did, but not enough to seek out more of the show. (This was before high speed internet and torrents were a thing.)

    I finally caved and started watching Buffy live sometime during season 6, because by then Willow & Tara were really a thing and reruns of the first 5 seasons were running on FX so I could catch up without too much trouble. I also feel like the first few seasons at least were out on DVD by then. So I watched the show all out of order and read episode guides to fill in the blanks.

    Anyway, my point is, I don’t know if the backwards way I watched the show helped me love it more, or if it was the fact that I was watching it because lesbians (and I hadn’t seen lesbians on TV like that before at that point) or what. But I love the show a lot.

    I agree with a lot of your criticisms though, riese. Some of the early eps are laughably bad and Angel was so fucking annoying. The only time I really liked him was in the prom episode in season 3, when he shows up and dances with Buffy to that cover of “Wild Horses” – that makes me cry every time and I don’t even know why. If I had to pick a favorite season though, it would be 4. I hated Riley but I think I related to that season the most at the time I first watched it (when I was in college).

    Clearly I have lots of Buffy feelings.

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    My first date with my most recent ex was introducing her to Buffy for the first time so it always reminds me of her which sucks cause she was the first one I was actually in love with BUT I love Buffy and watched it a few years ago but because it came out when I was too young to watch it, I was super late on the bandwagon too. I also LOVE Joss Whedon.

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    I just finished Buffy for the first time 4 or 5 months ago, and share every single feeling in this post (except Andrew, I was super tired of him by S7). Especially everything about Angel and Riley being dumb loaves, and Dawn not being terrible, and Drusilla is ridic and not that funny, and everything about Spike.

    Also when I watched Buffy, I decided to pass on Angel since I didn’t like his character at all. THIS WAS A MISTAKE. Angel’s character is so much better in Angel, and even if it wasnt I wouldn’t care at all because Cordelia. She is so perfect and wonderful in Angel.

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      Oh, also, a cool place for nonspoilery recaps on Buffy (and Angel, and some other shows) is the markwatches site. Sometimes I have a lot of feelings after watching an episode and want to process them with other first time viewers, which is almost impossible because of the reasons in this article. But this Mark guy watches these series(es?) for the first time and writes good recaps and has feelings and there aren’t any spoilers (even in the comments, the spoilers are all in code)!

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    I also could not understand what the big deal was with the first few seasons. I’ve still never watched all the episodes. I did love season 3 though and shipped Buffy and Faith hardcore.

    Its weird because Buffy is definitely the least interesting character on the show most of the time. I loved Willow and Spike though.

    I never ended up watching season 7 but maybe that’s a project for the summer.

    Super excited for your Lost Girl post!

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    I’m really looking forward to this series. I recently also watched Buffy for the first time and a lot of what you said resonated with me. I missed out on a lot of 80s/90s pop culture since my parents were afraid if I watched the wrong TV shows I’d turn out gay or an atheist or something :D

    Is it crazy if like, we could find out what the next show you’re gonna do is beforehand, e.g., in the preceding column? I realize it’s unlikely many of us have time to actually watch the whole show before you write about it, but maybe some of the shorter ones.

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    Now you should probably read all of season 8 comics, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s more Lesbian stuff in it. There’s also Angel and Faith, Willow Wonderland and Buffy Season 9
    It’s still going strong

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    **trigger warning: discussion about assault in the context of Buffy

    Here’s the thing about Spike…he is a rapist. An admitted rapist, several times in the show he admits to assaulting women as part of his MO in his ‘bad boy days.’ Angel as well. What I have trouble deciding upon in this show and how it relates to rape is how the vampire-assault women-fighting-back is, in my opinion, a metaphor for fighting back against sexual assault (not fully sure what to read into it, but I think it’s pretty clear) and yet, here are these two characters who admit to being rapists–serial rapists even–but are both painted as fully redeemed soulful good guys who just have ‘a complicated past.’ And I’m not sure how I feel about that.
    **end of TW.

    Also, I just freaking hated Angel. Worst. Character. Ever.

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      I agree with you whole heartedly. I HATED the redeemed Spike storyline and I’ve never understood how people are so easily capable of forgiving monsters who’ve done unspeakable things just because they “hot” or “tortured” or whatever. Spike should have just died. That’s all he deserved. But instead he gets to fuck the heroine.

      If you look around you’ll see that trope happen a LOT in TV and movies and I think it’s an illustration of the continuing dominance of rape culture. Another example that comes to mind is Owen in Torchwood. He tried to rape a woman in the very first episode and who knows if he’d done it successfully before, rapists who succeed often try it again, but I never say any conversation about it from reviews or editorials. And once again what was his reward? Sleeping with the lead heroine of the show.

      What does this say about how society views men like this? They get to feel bad for a little while and they’re all better. And oh yeah, strong, accomplished women find them irresistible.

      It makes me sick to be honest.

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        I think we like the redeemed bad guy story lines not because we see other real life bad guys in them, but because we see ourselves. We want to believe that if these guys with their larger than life bad deeds can ultimately become good people, we normal fallible people can also be redeemed.

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      I appreciate your consideration of this topic. I, too, am never quite sure about how to feel about Spike, especially with the way he treats Buffy in Season 6. The bathroom scene is always mortifying to me.

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        I feel the same way. It was just weird for me because I liked Spike SO MUCH before that episode, and then that happened and I still haven’t been able to reconcile my feelings about him. He’s such an interesting character, and it’s so fuzzy what a soul actually changes about a being in the Buffyverse. I don’t want to just write his actions off as “oh, well, he didn’t have a soul then,” like it doesn’t count. But I wish that the people who are so vehemently anti-Spike because of that scene would hold Angel to the same standard. It’s just really hard in Spike’s case to figure out what to blame him for and what to blame the writers for, if anything. Spike is basically my definition of a grey area. I think I’m supposed to like him by the end, but should I? Can I? But I can’t being myself to actively dislike him either.

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          I know!! I kind of hit the same wall. I was so excited for Spike and Buffy to hook up. And when they did, it was horribly abusive. And for me, it was so personal and so gut wrenching because sometimes, when people can’t figure out a healthier way to cope, “F*** until I feel something” becomes an option, and whether it brings pleasure or guilt or disgust, it still somehow feels better to know something other than numbness. I just can’t help but to feel bad for Buffy because she does, on some level, (I believe) genuinely want Spike, but because of Angel, she made herself feel like it was wrong, and therefore used his affections as a method of self-harm. And the push-pull of it all was so strong that it just developed into an actual abusive situation. I can’t bring myself to feel bad for Spike because, even without a soul, he was actively choosing to be a better man until all sorts of convoluted emotions got in the way. But yeah, long story short, I don’t know how to feel about Spike.

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      I think the major distinction here is that this is a sci-fi show in which it is clear that the reason why both Angel and Spike did those things is because they did not have souls. I don’t disagree that people were often too quick to forgive, especially Buffy with Angel. But I don’t think they ever portray Angel as a completely redeemed character. That’s the entire point of his spin-off is his quest to earn his redemption. And I, personally, think that Spike is actually a much more redeemable character because (and I know there’s a fantastic Angel quote out there about this…) he, even while soulless, fought for and EARNED his soul. He knew, even without a soul, without a moral compass of any kind, that what he did was wrong. He didn’t fully understand it until he actually got his soul, but he still knew that being a vampire, living his life like that, wasn’t what he wanted. He was capable of love even without a soul. Angel, even with his soul, was just a shitty person who even tried to get rid of his soul (by sleeping with Darla) because he hated having to keep fighting.

      Anyways, enough of my rant, cuz I don’t think I’m explaining myself fully. But my point is just that there is a meaningful distinction on this show about wrong deeds done by demons without souls versus wrong deeds done by people with souls.

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    I love Buffy so much! I didn’t get to watch it till a few years ago but it’s one of the best shows I’ve ever watched while procrastinating over assignments. After reading the other comments I’m now motivated to go find the comics for season 8…

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    “Willow was talking in a weird baby voice all the time ”

    THIS. i got to season 2 and then life got in the way so i never got the motivation to keep going knowing “the willow tara storyline is like 2 season past this???” but now i feel the need to get into that. delayed gratification ftw.

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    The 4th season played on re-runs really early in the morning when I was like 12 or 13, and when I first realized Tara and Willow were gay I was so freaking happy, and at the time I didn’t know why haha. but to this day I still have a thing for Amber Benson. <3

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    This column is perfect, because I never watch things in a timely manner either. I haven’t watched Buffy yet, so I can’t really comment on the actual content of this post. I just wanted you to know that I have endured the numerous “WHAT YOU’VE NEVER SEEN BUFFY!?!?!?!?!!!!” exclamations as much as you might have.

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      Actually, that scene wasn’t supposed to happen that way. Joss Whedon said that Dawn was supposed to be in that scene but Michelle Trachtenberg wasn’t available, so they cast Andrew in the episode. Joss didn’t personally oversee the episode and basically the folks in charge screwed up, putting women on his arm, instead of men. Joss has been very clear that it was mistake–Andrew is definitely gay!

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    This feature is a great idea, Riese! Buffy is a show I’ve yet to watch, myself. I often get hooked on TV shows after they’ve ended. I had no desire to watch The O.C. in highschool when it was popular and current, but after it was cancelled, a lot of networks here started airing it. I accidentally got hooked when I was looking for something to watch one day just for the sake of having some background noise. I liked that I was able to enjoy the show without having any emotional investment in it. I didn’t need to worry about it being cancelled because it already had been.

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      oh i watched The OC because everyone was watching it, we were all obsessed. i was in college then. then when i moved to nyc i stopped watching it, but then when i found out about a bisexual storyline i went back and caught up on all of them. still never watched the last season though. i don’t really like the idea of marissa dying that seems fucked.

      i watch so many things for background noise…

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    I just finished the series for the first time and it’s really fascinating to enter into the fandom so many years after the fact. I was really surprised to find out how much hate there was for Dawn but you make a solid point as to why people probably would have been incredibly confused when watching it on air.

    As an older sister, I loved that they were able to incorporate a new family dynamic into Buffy’s life. That was something that really humanized Buffy for me and I thought the relationship between the two of them really rang true.

    I fell in love with the series as a whole. The way it was able to balance so many tones…there are episodes of Buffy that are some of the funniest episodes of television I’ve seen while others just bring out tears for 40 minutes straight. I’m so excited to finally jump into the Whedon-verse. Next up, Firefly!

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      entering a fandom after a show is over is SO INTERESTING yes yes yes this. i was also surprised by all the dawn hate, and also assumed it was because of the way watching a tv show in realtime works…however i’m just now making my girlfriend watch buffy for the first time and she fucking hates dawn, so it can’t just be the timing element…i guess there’s something about dawn that really aggravates people! i personally just can’t hate her though, ha.

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    I’ve be rewatching this with my roommate (his first time watching it the whole way through). One of my favorite parts about rewatching the first few seasons is noticing Jonathan showing up ALL THE TIME. Also the sexual tension between Faith and Buffy? Mmmmm…

    I wasn’t a fan of season 7, but I did like how dark season 6 got. Plus am I the only one who thought Evil Willow was really hot? (You know, until she got the gross veins.)

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    I also didn’t watch Buffy when it aired. For some reason my parents were against me watching anything other than nature documentaries, The Simpsons, 7th Heaven, Road to Avonlea, and the news. Haha.

    I watched the first season six or seven years ago and didn’t like it because I hated the campy special effects and thought Angel was so boring. Since then, I’ve had many people tell me to give it another chance and many of them have told me to start with season three.

    I would definitely prefer to watch Buffy over Vampire Diaries or Twilight.

    Perhaps the next time I’m sick, I’ll attempt to have a Buffy marathon.

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    Yes! Thank you for writing this, Riese! I started watching Buffy for the first time last summer, and I finished it a couple of weeks ago.
    I think a lot of you made really good points about Spike in “Seeing Red.” The producers stood by their decision to have included that scene, but I agree that it conveyed a message that inadvertently promoted rape culture. I think they definitely should have gone without that scene. It would have been more believable, IMHO, if Spike had gotten his soul back just because he was in love with Buffy. Or if that absolutely had to have had that scene, I certainly don’t think Buffy should have ever gotten back together with him. That scene also really ruined the emotional impact of Spike’s death. Other than that glaring flaw in the series, Buffy had a lot of really positive feminist messages. I wish I had watched the series when I was younger.
    What are y’all’s favorite seasons and characters?
    I think my favorite season might have to be season 7 because it was so action-packed. And also because Caleb and that first Turok Han Buffy fought were absolutely terrifying.
    I also really liked season 4. I know a lot of people weren’t too fond of Riley, but I found him endearing (way more than Angel, for sure). And I loved having Oz as a supporting character, as well as being introduced to Tara. And of course, because of “Hush.”
    Favorite character would have to be Giles, but followed closely by Anya, who’s followed closely by Buffy.

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    So I know I’m super late to comment but I just have so many Buffy feels. I watched it on Netflix like an episode a night with my dad for months and we both cried when it was over. He’s a giant scary beardy fellow but that show reduces him to tears(especially The Body).
    I started watching it cause I realized I was gay, and in a panic I watched everything that had a gay character in it. I’d already seen Firefly so I knew what I had to do.
    And then i watched Angel even though I hate Angel intensely as a character. I watched it cause I heard there was this super awesome character named Illyria but I did not anticipate the heartbreak that would come about because of Illyria. I straight sobbed for days man, not even kidding.

    ANYWAY. Mark Watches Buffy is a great recap site! He reviews them episode by episode and had no spoilers whatsoever for any of the show. And he’s a queer person of color, so he has a lot of great things to say about the show.

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      My favorite Buffy website is Critically Touched. I devoured it when I first discovered it and it really helped deepen my understanding and appreciation of the show. Mark Watches is great because it’s spoiler-free but I also found it to be an often difficult environment. I, and many others, noticed that if you didn’t agree on a point people in the community were pretty quick to attack you. It certainly didn’t all come from Mark himself, but I personally felt that he didn’t appreciate any criticism or difference of opinion and that ultimately didn’t work for me. I appreciate a good healthy debate without being attacked on a personal level!

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    I disagree with a quite few of the points in the article, but maybe that’s because it’s a show that I’ve watched since I was 9 and I’m now 20. Pretty much I have all these feelings about the “Buffy” and I’ve already poured over the nerd literature about it so I’m not hearing anything new her or things I really think are on point. That’s probably why I’m a little on the defense. I’m just going to comment on “Seeing Red.”

    Going with the whole fantasy thing, yeah there’s a little bit of humanity left in vampires, but Spike is still evil. He’s souless and his love for Buffy is not fully real. Their relationship isn’t this beautiful, sexy love story. It’s twister because of the whole evil, not human thing. We all needed that reminder and they gave it to us.

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    I love Buffy, I do a complete rewatch at least once a year. I also didn’t enjoy seasons 1 and 2 the first time through, but I like them a lot now. But oh my god, David Boreanaz was a TERRIBLE actor when he first started on the show. He gets a lot better, but wow, he’s pretty much just a cardboard cutout. And constantly standing like he’s modeling for a catalogue. I did like Drusilla though, but it might just be because I dig Juliet Landau.
    I could write a dissertation about all the criticisms, thoughts, and opinions I have of that show, but in the end, I love it.

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      Funny story: one of the major reasons I got into Buffy was because in a gen-ed cinema criticism class I took freshman year of college, my professor showed “Once More With Feeling” for his unit on Musicals. And then he told us that he wrote his doctoral dissertation on Buffy.

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    I only got around to watching Buffy in college in 2008. I fucking devoured it. I watched the entire series in under 5 weeks. Season one was definitely slow. I didn’t really, actively become engaged until the finale, Prophecy Girl. (Side note: poor Julie Benz. She was the first vampire we ever saw on screen so she was stuck with that terrible season one vamp face throughout her entire run on Buffy/Angel.)
    I really liked your whole assessment, but I am the opposite on the Buffster herself. I think the show clicked for me almost immediately because I identified with Buffy. I loved what her character was about. I also definitely identified with Willow because of the nerdiness/gayness, but she represents the more obvious me. I think it sounds strange to say that I see myself somehow in Buffy. I’m afraid it makes me seem like I think I just kick tons of ass and save the world every day. It’s not that, but I think I identify with her as someone who tries to take care of those around her. She’s someone who has to be strong for the people in her life and she feels a responsibility to protect them. If there’s something wrong, she tries to fix it. Of course she fucks up, brings her own massive problems, and fails, but I’ve done all those things too. Granted, I’ve never saved the world from demons (or have I?), but even when I was very young I felt it was my duty to look after those around me. The only major character I was meh on was Xander. It’s not that I don’t like him, but he seemed to get a pass quite often for acting like a dick.
    I must say, Riese, I’m surprised at the lack of Faith feelings. People seem to love her or hate her. Me? I’m an unapologetic Faith lover. That season 3 sexual tension with Buffy was delicious.

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      i know! everybody was like ‘arent’ you obsessed with faith?’ “don’t you ship buffy and faith?” etc etc. but i didn’t like her because she manipulated people and lied to people too much and seemed to assume the worst of everyone. i know that there’s a reason she’s like that, but she just never really clicked for me. i’ve also never been a big eliza dushku fan though in general, it seems like many others are

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        I hated Faith until I rewatched the series for the hundredth time this year. Then I just saw how lost her character is and started to sympathize with her struggle of being somebody.

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    I just can’t even begin to say all the things I feel about this show. It was seminal to my development as a human being and a woman and a queer person.

    Also, Riese, if you ever get the chance, watch the episodes with director commentary on. This alone was enough for me to get the DVDs (versus just Netflix) because the window into Joss Whedon’s mind just makes it all that much better.

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    Also, I feel like Angel is milktoast until he becomes Angelus. Then it’s like, ok, I get it. I think David Boreanez does an excellent job playing the transformation. It’s delicious

    This could also just be my sadism showing.

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    I DIDN’T KNOW TARA DIES AWHHGGGHHHH.
    I thought about waiting to read this until after I finished catching up on Buffy, but my love of top 10 lists overruled my fear of spoilers. It’s my own fault really.

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    I feel like I’m the only lesbian who hasn’t watched Buffy. Not one episode. Now I don’t feel so alone! I might actually watch it now… just for the gay happy rainbow stuff.

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        I used to say the exact same thing! “Well, I’ve seen the movie?” But oh my god, as much as I love the campy goofiness of the movie, it is light years less hilarious/complex/engaging/heartfelt/gay than the series. The series is so much better even just for/especially because of the gay happy rainbow stuff.

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    I am doing the exact same thing with Pretty Little Liars… nearly finished season 2 but still feel way behind the rest of the world.

    Slight feelings of guilt for neglecting my obsession with greys anatomy and the good wife, I’m sure they will understand though, once we’ve talked it out.

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    I am one of the many, many Buffy- (and everything Joss Whedon) obsessed people out there, and I LOVED this post. I, too, watched the whole thing pretty much at once as I didn’t get into it till a few years ago.

    I too liked Kennedy and really did grow to love Dawn, especially in season 7 (I mean, hello, the Xander-Dawn moment in Potential had me in tears). And the character development of everyone on the show was just fantastic.

    But I tend to disagree with your analysis of the attempted rape scene. I know this isn’t a popular view, but I actually think it was incredibly necessary to both Buffy and Spike’s storylines. Even though she had already broken it off with Spike, Buffy needed that moment in order to realize how far down into the darkness she had fallen. And she needed to see that to have the strength to lead in Season 7. And they did deal with it in the next season. Buffy would never let herself end up back with Spike in that way, no matter how much she cared for him and even loved him, because of it. She just couldn’t.

    The only thing that I’m surprised you didn’t mention is the whole Faith-Buffy storyline. As another of the commentors mentioned, Eliza played Faith as in love with Buffy. And, although Joss never intended to write it that way, I really do think that Faith really is the only person that Buffy could’ve ever ended up with long-term. Angel was way too broody, overprotective, and well, the no sex thing was kind of just the icing on that cake. Obviously, Riley was dumb, needy, and insecure, so that was doomed. And although I utterly adore everything about Spike and do believe that they were great together in their own way, it just wouldn’t have worked because Buffy needed someone who could both understand her and pull her out of her own darkness. Spike understood her, but would never be able to pull her out of her darkness. Faith had that. I will forever be a Fuffy lover.

    And this clearly has nothing to do with the fact that I think Eliza Dushku is insanely hot. ;)

    No, but seriously, even before Willow came out, the season 3 introduction of Faith was really what drew me into the show, and a lot of that was due to all of the sexual tension between Buffy and Faith.

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      wellllll! in general actually i am not a shipper of things that can’t happen. this applies to really everything in my life, i don’t want to want things i don’t have control over obtaining and i don’t want to wish for things that won’t happen. i’ve never read fan fiction (aside from when we read star trek kirk/spock slash in a women’s literature class in college) and i find the whole rizzoli & isles thing baffling, i can’t get through four minutes of that show and can’t live on subtext. so while i like making sex jokes during recaps, i’ve never actually genuinely “shipped” any pair of characters with incompatible sexual orientation in any show. but i bet if i did, i would ship those two!

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        Yeah, I definitely get that. But even outside of shipping Buffy and Faith together, I just always loved Faith’s storyline because that was the first time they really introduced a whole story arc about someone with a soul going dark. Obviously, they expounded upon that with all of season 6, but that was the first really big examination of the topic. And I definitely relate to Faith the most on the show because of that. It’s also why season 6 is probably my favourite season (though I always change my mind on which season I like the most).

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          I never really shipped Buffy and Faith. Probably because I was too busy shipping ME and Faith. I loved Faith because it just seemed so refreshing to see a woman be villainous but also complex. So often women are either stuck with being ‘good’ all of the time or being bad in very flat, stereotypical ways. And I was thrilled that when Faith is redeemed and comes back, she’s still rough, sexual, and aggressive. I was relieved that they didn’t paint those traits as symptoms of her becoming bad, although obviously those traits are depicted as getting out of control.

          I read an interesting paper once, though for the life of me I can’t remember who wrote it or what it was called, that suggested that the only two truly sexually liberated women in the Buffy-verse are Faith and Anya. They both love sex and are unapologetic about it and unlike every other woman, they aren’t punished for having sex.

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            Oh, definitely agree. With everything you said. I’m still very sad that Eliza didn’t agree to do a Faith spin-off. I liked her on Tru Calling (which is the show she turned down the spin-off for) but it simply wasn’t as good as a Joss-project. It had great potential and was starting to get there when it got cancelled, but it will always be inferior to a Faith spin-off, even just in concept. I love the depth of philosophy and human struggle and darkness explored in all of Joss’ works. And while Tru Calling started to touch a little on that, it just didn’t have what it takes to reach that deep of a level that Faith’s character just intrinsically had. Everyone can relate to her losing herself, especially those who have experienced depression and loss and lack of control.

            But, anyways, enough of my ode to Joss and Faith. ;)

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    Yay! I recently rewatched and loved Buffy ten times more than the first go. I love Andrew too, and it seems Tom Lenk is pretty much as adorable in real lifeL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NL-Eps8gQrQ. I was massively irritated by Willow until season three and now I pretty much worship Alyson Hannigan for how steely she got. Also dark and Vamp!Willow are totally the hotness.

    But my total favourite episode was Normal Again – and everyone I know seems to hate that one but was such a fantastic ‘what if’ premise, and was pretty much the only episode that I really felt Sarah Michelle Gellar was ‘being’ rather than ‘acting’. It spoke to me massively about how you can invent vivid worlds to protect you from the pain of ‘real life’, and how narcotic that can be.

    Buffy also introduced me to the deliciousness of angsty slash and although I wasn’t big into the fandom I did work through a lot of *feelings* as a result of reading that stuff in my early twenties, it was all pretty validating to my somewhat fluid self.

    I’m currently working my way through the comics and they are great but in a very different way. It’s more about the female protagonist/perspective in fantasy worlds, but I finally get the superhero comic book thing, I’m totally hooked. And I love Willow: wonderland.

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    Great article!

    I watched Buffy when it first came out (me and one male friend were the only people in our whole year at school who watched it) and then I re-watched it last year.

    I still cried like a baby in all the right places.
    I was able to laugh at the sometimes terrible monsters and effects but still like the episodes.
    With hindsight I realised that Angel was never right for Buffy in the first place.
    I still hated Dawn. Not because of the way she was shoehorned into the story, but because she was a whiny, selfish brat, unable to see the big picture of what her sister did.
    I still loved Tara and Willow because I can remember thinking “I think I might be like them” when I watched it first.

    I was given the season 8 comics by my wife-y for my birthday, so I’m planning to make a start on them soon.

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    I used to come home and watch BTVS re-runs every day after school. I remembered being so shocked when I got to the episodes with Willow and Tara and being really excited about it because it was the first time in my life that I knew of another person liking the same gender, and I knew it was okay that I liked girls because (keep in mind I was really young at the time) I thought if someone as smart as Willow did it then it was okay. It was super awesome to me at the time anyway.

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