Netflix has given me some great gifts over the years: the new season of Arrested Development I had been praying for since 2006, a place to obsessively re-watch the first three seasons of Gossip Girl (and actively try to forget the fourth), and a way to discover Freaks and Geeks about thirteen years too late. But the greatest gift that Netflix has given me is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I never got the chance to see it when it originally aired back in the glory days of N*SYNC and Furby due to some cruel trick of the universe, but a couple of years ago Netflix made all seven seasons available for instant viewing and I was immediately hooked. It took me about a month to get through seven years worth of Buffy goodness, but the series is binge-watching television gold, and I loved every minute of it.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer begins as reluctant heroine Buffy Summers moves to Sunnydale, California and tries to move on with her life after being expelled from her previous high school for burning down the school gym (“It was full of vampi- erm, asbestos”). Unfortunately for Buffy, her new town happens to be right on top of a hellmouth – a portal between Earth and Hell, and a hotspot for supernatural activity – meaning that her job just got a whole lot more difficult. Buffy is The Slayer, the one woman in each generation who is tasked with protecting the world from supernatural baddies like demons, witches, and, yes, vampires. Throughout the series, Buffy and her friends, affectionately called The Scooby Gang or “the Scoobies,” save the world while trying to navigate their own personal lives.
Being a valley girl myself, seeing another valley girl kicking ass and taking names was refreshing after years of seeing big, manly Christian Bale-types dominate the world-saving business. Buffy was a series meant to empower women and redefine the horror genre, and I think it did a pretty great job. The series is far from perfect, and I won’t pretend to ignore the valid points that have been brought up against Buffy (nor will I pretend to agree with all of them), but at the end of the day, Buffy is an entertaining, witty show that embraces “girl power” and isn’t afraid to redefine some gender roles. Here are my four top reasons to love Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (Warning, there are spoilers. Like, a lot of spoilers).
4. The Fashion
Oh, how I adore ’90s fashion. Not only could Buffy Summers actually walk in those platform boots, she could behead evil vampires in them with just a roundhouse-kick without even messing up her hair. Amidst the tie-dye pants and Hawaiian shirts, there were some decent outfits worn in the Buffyverse throughout the show’s seven seasons.
Aside from providing the occasional comic relief, Buffy and the Scoobies’ outfits remind us that femininity and strength are not mutually exclusive. Despite what some unfortunate stereotypes keep trying to reinforce, girls can “wear the pants” while wearing stilettos and a pretty dress. Or while wearing plaid and skater jeans. Or leather. The women of the Buffyverse wore whatever the hell(mouth) they wanted to, because strength can be found in combat boots or bubblegum pink nail polish, and even the occasional crop top.
3. The Writing
It’s witty, it’s full of pop-culture references, and it’s full of slangy dialogue that makes you feel like you’ve been transported thirteen years into the past in the very best way. My love for the dialogue in Buffy is like a river that never stops flowing. But the writing on Buffy the Vampire Slayer also hints at big-picture messages throughout the show’s story arcs.
Season Seven’s Big Bad, Caleb, is described by creator Joss Whedon as the show’s biggest “bald faced misogynist” and he ends up being completely cut in half. Vertically. With a scythe. Another “bald faced misogynist,” Warren in season six, is flayed alive by Willow. Although not all of the sexist characters in Buffy end up suffering horrendous deaths (Riley and occasionally Spike unfortunately get away with their less than admirable behavior towards women), the few that do make a point against overt misogyny and underestimating women.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Buffy has always been a show willing to tackle real-life issues with its own special brand of supernatural parallelism. The season three episode “Beauty and the Beasts” tackles the issue of domestic violence, as the Scooby Gang discovers a string of murders committed by fellow high school student Pete. Pete drinks a chemical potion of his own concoction that turns him into a monster and leads him to kill in fits of rage. The episode sees Pete violently attack his girlfriend Debby, then ask for her forgiveness, which she gives him. Debby later defends Pete’s violent actions towards both herself and others, and is eventually killed by Pete after he transforms in a paranoid jealous rage. Unfortunately, domestic abuse is not a problem that is only seen on our television screens. Pete’s consumption of his potion is a veiled reference to alcoholism, and the episode sees Debby use language that victims often use to justify their attacker’s actions and Pete use language used by attackers to justify their violent behavior. Buffy was never a show that would shy away from depicting heavy issues, but it also wasn’t a show that would glorify or justify these issues in the way that some shows have in the past. Buffy stands against domestic abuse and makes its statement using the supernatural in a way that expresses its stand clearly to the public, as it has done with countless other issues over the course of its seven seasons.
Buffy also deals with mortality in a way that isn’t always seen in shows that have so many character deaths. In the fifth season episode “The Body,” Buffy’s mother Joyce dies of a brain aneurysm, and the heroine must deal with her feelings of helplessness and loss in the wake of a death that was free of supernatural ties. This episode is notable not for its supernatural approach to a natural issue, but for its lack of a supernatural element to tragic event. The episode sees these characters who are so accustomed to seeing otherworldly atrocities floored by this entirely unexpected death by natural causes, facing a confusion and grief that is not unknown to those of us who have lost a loved one. It is one of the most realistic portrayals of reactions to a death that I’ve seen on television, and it comes from a show that usually specializes in the impossible and bizarre. This episode really shows the heart of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that can be overlooked under its supernatural exterior, the side of the show that depicts the world with both its triumphs and tragedies.
2. Buffy Summers
Buffy Summers was never perfect. She made more than her fair share of poor romantic decisions, including dating at least two vampires and one misogynist with a bad attitude. She never really warmed to the idea of being the Slayer. She wore those aforementioned tie-dye pants. But Buffy Summers redefined a stereotype. How many horror movies have you seen where you find yourself screaming “Don’t go in the closet! Don’t go in the closet!” as some clueless blonde girl gets stabbed during the first five minutes of the movie? Buffy Summers was literally created to fight that trope. That clueless blonde girl clues in and goes from victim to victor by the time the pilot episode is finished.
Over the course of the next hundred episodes or so, we see Buffy Summers become a true leader, a warrior, and a martyr, literally sacrificing herself to save the world from evil (although she was resurrected in time for a catchy musical episode in the next season). She fights her own battles and fights off any idea of her being a damsel in distress. In fact, when the men in her life, specifically her friend Xander and her Watcher Giles, try to come to her aid, they’re usually knocked unconscious before the real fight even begins.
And Buffy isn’t just a badass in the physical sense. She becomes a leader to both her peers and the Potentials (girls who could be called upon to be the Slayer if the current Slayer dies) as they prepare to fight the First Evil, and a mother figure to her little sister Dawn after their mother’s death. And her monologue in the series finale may or may not have made me tear up a bit:
In every generation, one Slayer is born, because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule. They were powerful men. This woman is more powerful than all of them combined. So I say we change the rule. I say my power, should be our power… From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?
She makes her own decisions, even in the face of opposition. And when Buffy tells the Watchers Council they can sod off after years of their attempts to turn her into some submissive weapon that they can control, she’s standing up to a whole new kind of patriarchy.
1. All of the Other Female Characters
I could write an eighteen-part book series lauding the virtues of every character in Buffy that made me glad to be watching the show. Cordelia, with her confidence and ambition; Joyce, the strong single mother juggling both her career and the responsibilities of raising daughter that moonlights as a vampire slayer; Anya, the vengeance demon who becomes human. And don’t think I forgot about Willow. Not did she go from shy high schooler to one of the most powerful witches seen in the series, she’s also one of the first lesbian characters to be depicted on cable television. Her character arc saw Willow develop from a girl pining over her best friend, Xander, to a strong woman in control of her own sexuality. Even the slayer Faith, who goes from ally to evil villain back to ally, displays not only the strength to fight demons but also the strength to seek redemption (after going all evil villain).
The female characters in the Buffyverse aren’t perfect people. They aren’t all the pinnacles of feminist ideology. They are portrayed as people, who occasionally make unwise decisions that don’t end well for anyone, least of all themselves. But that’s what makes them complex, realistic characters. They don’t always live up to our highest standards, but even when they screw up royally they do it as strong, independent female characters, questioning society’s norms and often being shown as not only strong, but stronger than their male counterparts both emotionally and physically. And that’s pretty rad.
Written by Kristy Pirone
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