Friday, 6 October 2017

Buffy Season Seven: When the End is also a Beginning

Concluding our exploration of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Seven this week, and also concluding our Buffy Blog Series, Mary Going explores Season Seven as the end of the show but also as a beginning. Check out our other Season Seven post by Ash Darrow, exploring the character arc of Giles as a Slayer Ally in Season Seven (which you can find here) and don't forget to check out the rest of the posts in the series. As always, you can share this post and your thoughts and comments using the hashtag #BuffySlays20. 



All good things must come to an end. But, after seven seasons and 144 episodes – which include: the show’s successful resurrection on a different network; the spawning of a spin of show (Angel); and the death and resurrection of the show’s eponymous protagonist not once but twice – it’s safe to say that even though the show has ended, the legacy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer continues.  Fascination with the show and its characters shows no sign of abating, and this blog series is a testament to the interest and affection (or should that be obsession) that still exists for all things Buffy-related. Certainly, this blog series is just one piece of the dedicated and ever-growing fandom that devours special sing-along showings, podcasts (here’s looking at you: Buffering the Vampire Slayer), signings and comic-con events with the actors, producers, writers etc., as well as critical interest in the show that has sparked dedicated academic journals and conferences, and so much more. In this way, the final season of Buffy isn’t so much of an end, but rather another beginning. And, true to form, this theme underpins the whole of Season Seven.  


As much as Season Seven is conscious about the fact that this will be the show’s final season, it is also a season that, from the first to the last episode, is conscious in its efforts to take us right back to the beginning, to Season One, and to the very concept of the show itself: ‘Into every generation a slayer is born. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, the forces of darkness. One girl in all the world, the chosen one.’ Buffy is a show built around the classic horror trope of the pretty blonde high school girl.  Crucially, however, the show inverts this trope so that, rather than being defenceless and ultimately killed, the girl fights back. This formula became the backbone of the show’s success: Season One shows that death could not stop Buffy from defeating The Master – and looking pretty while doing it - and Season Two and beyond continues this message as it demonstrates that if you take away Buffy’s weapons, her friends, her hope, what’s left is Buffy, and on her own she can slay pretty damn hard.

Buffy is by no means perfect, and yes, we can and should be critical about the shows that we love. However, at the heart of the show is its empowering feminist message that women are not defenceless, and we can, in fact, be incredibly badass and awesome. This message continues to stand the test of time, and constructed around it Buffy demonstrates that there was a market not only for supernatural TV shows, but also for shows featuring strong female characters and even female leads. Buffy paved the way for shows like Dark Angel (2000-2002) and Orphan Black (2013-2017) to name just a few, and seriously, Supernatural – what are you waiting for? Returning to its own beginning, Season Seven explores this central message, and magnifies it. With Buffy’s death in Season One, another Slayer is called: first Kendra, then, after her death, Faith. This complicates the notion that there can only be one Chosen Slayer, and as Faith puts its, ‘We’re Slayers, girlfriend. The Chosen Two’ (‘Bad Girls,’ S03E14). Which brings us to the Potential Slayers who become an integral part of the final season.

(Potential Slayers training in Buffy's back yard)
Before they were called to be the Slayer, Buffy, Kendra, and then Faith were all Potential Slayers, essentially waiting for the Slayer to die. The first episode of Season Seven, ‘Lessons,’ opens with a scene in Istanbul where a young girl is chased and then violently killed. This is Buffy’s dream, but as a Slayer Buffy’s dreams are not exactly your run-of the mill ordinary dreams, and we later learn that the girl in Buffy’s dream is (or was) a Potential Slayer hunted by Bringers. Furthermore, she is not alone, and there are hundreds, if not thousands of Potential Slayers across the world, all waiting for the Slayer to die, and all now being hunted by Bringers. Although very creepy, it’s worth noting that the Bringers are not the Big Bad of the season, and instead, returning to another beginning, that title is reserved for The First Evil. The First is a non-corporeal entity, older than the universe itself, and also the source and embodiment of all evil, or, as Giles puts it, ‘there’s evil, then there’s the thing that created evil’ (‘Bring on the Night,’ S07E10). You may also remember both The First and the Bringers from the Season Three episode ‘Amends’ and their unsuccessful attempts to destroy Angel. In Season Seven, however, their goal is more ambitious. Giles states that The First wants ‘to erase all the Slayers-in-training and their Watchers, along with their methods…’ and Buffy finishes his sentence: ‘And then Faith. Then me. And with all the potentials gone, and no way of making another…It’s the end. There’s no more Slayer. Ever.’ (‘Dirty Girls’, S07E18).

The Slayer, or rather, the two Slayers Buffy and Faith, along with all of the Potentials, are thus trapped between two competing narratives, both centring on their deaths. On the one hand, The First wants to kill each and every one of them, destroying the line of Slayers. On the other hand, is the line itself. Created by a tribal group known as the Shadow Men who eventually become the Watchers Council, a young girl is infused with pure demon transforming her into the First Slayer, although she is also known as the Primitive. The Shadow men then use magic to create a line of Potential Slayers, thus ensuring that on her death, the Slayer’s abilities will continue to live on.  And if this sounds misogynistic and patriarchal, that’s because it is.

(The First Slayer, aka the Primitive)
The classic horror trope of the pretty-but-defenceless blonde is a misogynistic, pre-written formula that Buffy inverts, but in doing so the structure of Buffy creates its own pre-written formula that imposes a different sort of patriarchy onto its hero. The structure is inverted, but still present, and it is something that Buffy and Giles struggle with throughout the show as they negotiate their Slayer-Watcher relationship. This is perhaps best illustrated through the Season Three episode ‘Helpless,’ but it is also evident as Buffy muses over the possibility of handing over her Slayer duties to either Kendra or Faith. It is not until the final season, however, that the pre-written narrative of the Slayer, the isolation and unfairness of being the only chosen one, and that her destiny is marked first by another Slayer’s death, and then her own, is truly overturned. Bringing the Potentials to Sunnydale, Buffy attempts what has never been done before, or, as Faith puts it: ‘Trying to turn a bunch of little girls into an army. That’s pretty radical, B.’ With the help of Willow, and using the essence of a mystical Slayer scythe, Buffy activates every Potential:

'What if you could have that power now? In every generation, one Slayer is born, because a bunch of men who dies 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. Tomorrow, Willow will use the essence of this scythe to change our destiny. 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.'

(Buffy and the Scooby Gang at the end of 'Chosen')

If Buffy was created to upset the traditional narrative trajectory of the pretty-but-defenceless blonde, and in its place present a strong, powerful, although human (and therefore flawed) character who can defeat the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness (read: patriarchy), Season Seven amplifies this. Buffy defeats The First, but not alone: she is no longer the only Slayer, or even one of the chosen two. Instead, the final episode of the season ‘Chosen’ marks the beginning of a new line of activated Slayers. The conventional horror trope is not just inverted, but destroyed: all women are awesome. And what’s key to Buffy is that she has never been alone to begin with. Looking back to Season Two, Angelus taunts Buffy that he has taken away her friends and her hope, but this was never really true. The Scooby Gang is its many forms – Giles, Willow, Xander, Angel, Oz, Cordelia, Faith, Wesley, Anya, Dawn, and even Spike – were always there with Buffy, giving her support, friendship, and hope, and similarly this blog series marks not one voice but many, coming together with a shared love for Buffy. Standing with her friends, and staring at the now destroyed Sunnydale, Buffy envisages a new future full of possibilities. The end of Season Seven marks the end of the show, but it also marks a radical new beginning.  


Mary Going is a PhD researcher at the University of Sheffield researching the representation of Jewish figures in eighteenth and ninteenth century fiction, and she is also co-organiser of Sheffield Gothic. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer. 

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