by Billie Doux
Selfless, and the efficacy of the phrase insane troll logic
by Josie Kafka
Season seven’s “Selfless”—in which we learn Anya’s backstory and she rejects vengeance once and for all— is Drew Goddard’s first Buffy episode. It is a wonderful debut from a writer who would go on to do Daredevil, Lost, Alias, Cabin in the Woods, and even Deadpool 2. The dialogue is perfect, and the flashbacks to key moments in Anya’s life are a love-letter to the fans.
Like Aud, Anya’s odd previous incarnation: a medieval bunny-loving Swedish communist with narrow hips like those of a “Baltic woman from a more arid region,” who turns her boyfriend Olaf into a troll, after he tells her that her “logic is insane, like that of a troll!”
Due to the mystical properties of Whedony magical phrases, that line jumps a thousand years into the future, or a few seasons into the past, to reappear in season five’s “Triangle” (the first time we meet Olaf as a troll): Xander declares that Olaf is using “insane troll logic.” (Anya’s boyfriends seem particularly attached to the phrase.) It pops up again in season seven’s “Conversations with Dead People” (Buffy says it in reference to some pop-psychology from Jonathan Woodward’s vampire).
“Insane troll logic” is my most useful Buffy quote. It is especially useful in work meetings.
But that’s not all: Goddard manages to hit all of Anya’s major characteristics, from her complex feelings about bunnies to her Randian capitalism to her “literal interpretations” and vengeance-workaholism, ironically discussed—with Halfrek, no less, who is probably Cecily, who dated Spike when he was William the Bloody Awful Poet!—after a Russian-Revolution massacre.
As though those period flashbacks weren’t enough (and I haven’t even mentioned D’Hoffryn), Goddard also gives us an outtake from season six’s musical episode “Once More with Feeling,” in which Anya expresses her optimism about a future with Xander while giving us her full name, inspired by the name she gave the Watcher’s Council in “Checkpoint.” Goddard trusts us to remember how terrible Anya felt after Xander left her at the altar while showing us that Anya has always been too devoted—to Olaf, to her work, to Xander—to really find herself.
When Buffy, Xander, and Willow discuss what to do about newly-massacring Anya, Xander says “When our friends go all crazy and start killing people, we help them.” It’s part of Buffyverse ethos: redemption is always possible, but nothing is possible without a family, however it might be composed.
A beautiful sentiment—but it’s also one last reference for long-time fans to appreciate: as the conversation continues, Buffy finally learns that, contrary to what Xander had claimed, Willow never told Buffy to “kick [Angel]’s ass” back in the season two finale.
It’s an uncomfortable conversation, but one that shows just how strong this show can be: over seven seasons the writers—even a newbie like Goddard—never forgot who these characters were and what their history was, both with each other and over the span of many centuries. Uncomfortable conversations happen when death is on the line. Buffy may have a “pattern” of trying to kill all of her friends at one point or another. But at the heart of this show is the idea that there’s nothing a “clever retort,” a dash of “little pop-culture references,” and friends willing to look out for one another can’t stop.
Not even the end of the world.
Here's to you. It's not blood, it's bourbon.
If you were a Buffy fan back in the day, you know we weren’t just obsessed with the cast; the writers were a huge part of the fandom love (or anger, depending on the season). Not only Joss Whedon was an incredibly gifted writer, he had assembled an amazing writing team. We were just so lucky. From heartbreak to comedy to mythology, they left their personal signature in every script they wrote while building the wonderful world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So, I’d like to thank each one of them for giving us something to sing about, twenty years later and counting.
-- There is Marti Noxon, queen of pain, giver of melodrama, I will forever thank you for the masterpiece that is “The Wish.”
-- Jane Espenson, absolute queen of the geeks, owner of all wittiness, I’m so grateful for “Earshot.”
-- Doug Petrie, who delivered consistent and entertaining episodes, we shall always praise you for “Fool For Love.”
-- David Greenwalt, who was there at the conception of the show, thank you for “Angel” and freaking Angel.
-- David Fury, the mustard man, writer of a bunch of scary episodes, it was a funny one from you that slayed my life, “Crush.”
-- Rebecca Rand Kirshner, who delivered understated yet important episodes, thank you for giving us such a perfect little story with “Help.”
-- Stephen S. DeKnight, you bastard, you gave us those great yet infuriating season six episodes. “Dead Things” was terrific. Then you killed Tara. I hate you.
-- Drew Z. Greenberg, I know some fans don’t like it, but thank you for “Entropy.”
-- Drew Goddard, a fan who became a writer, “Selfless” was just the incredible episode that Anya deserved.
-- There is also a writer called Ty King, who wrote the amazing “Passion” and never came back. If you are out there reading this, we just wanted to say you were the first one to rip our hearts out. We are very grateful.
-- Finally, to Joss Whedon, who brought this band of geeks together and poured his heart and talent into the show, here lies infinite gratitude. Thank you all.
Sarah Michelle Gellar was twenty years old in 1997 when she started playing Buffy. She was spotted by an agent at the age of four, and was in her first TV production when she was six. She was also a competitive figure skater and a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. She auditioned for the part of Cordelia, but Joss Whedon soon realized that she would be great as Buffy. Good choice, Joss.
I was always fascinated by Sarah's portrayal of Buffy. Sarah is not very tall and usually looks tiny on screen, but she could scare supernatural creatures, and sometimes her own friends, with just a glance. I loved that scene in "Living Conditions" where she gave Xander and Oz a murderous stare when they tied her up because they were afraid that she was going to kill Kathy, her roommate. They both looked scared to death — I would have been, too. I thought she was fierce, and I loved her as Buffy.
Gellar was also very funny and made a variety of noises to communicate Buffy's distress or confusion. I loved all her little noises. She could also play tragedy and made me cry on lots of occasions. Those final moments in "The Gift" just slay me, pun intended. She could also play a robot, Faith in Buffy's body, a beautiful and confident girl, but also one who knew that she did not fit it in, and still made the best of it. She always appealed to me because I was never very popular and it just warms my outsider's heart when I see Buffy choosing her friends based on their wonderful qualities, not because they looked and acted just like she did.
I enjoyed Sarah's portrayal of High School Buffy, but I really loved her when she got a little older and had so many responsibilities that made Buffy's life so much harder. It was the character of Buffy who dealt with leaving home for the first time, finding out she had a mystical sister, losing her mom, having to pay the bills, and fighting a god from another dimension... all while having to be the slayer. Buffy did all those things, but it was Sarah whose emotions, spirit, and talent made Buffy all that she was. I can't imagine anyone else in the part. She was magnificent.
Sarah now has kids and is a little older, but she is still acting and is very busy. She's involved with many charities, and she has recently joined Twitter. She has a cookbook titled Stirring up Fun with Food that will be released next month. But for me, she'll always be Buffy.
Watching Buffy with my Girls
Buffy happened when my two youngest girls were moving through the teenage years. During that time we disagreed about many things – music, music videos (which I critiqued loudly as they watched), clothes, dating, school – you get the idea.
But we did agree on one thing: Buffy. Here was a kick ass girl with a posse of weirdos who saved the world on a regular basis. If you couldn’t relate to Buffy herself, then you could to Willow or in the case of one of my daughters, Faith. These were role models that I could support and that they loved. The female characters on the show were smart, opinionated, in charge of themselves but they were also vulnerable and dealing with many of the same teenage troubles as my girls. And the show didn’t talk down to them. It was entertaining but also smart and witty. One of my favourite memories is all of us sitting together each week to watch the next episode. Even their older sister who was away at university got in on the action.
My daughters grew up with Buffy and are all now ‘grown-ass women’, as my youngest reminds me on occasion. They are strong, confident and beautiful. We still talk about Buffy and re-watch it regularly. I won’t say that Buffy changed our lives but having a show with strong women and smart dialogue showed them that it was possible to be themselves even if it meant fighting the demons of the world.
Spike, and Spike versus Angel
by J.D. Balthazar
William the Bloody Awful Poet was a bit of a loser, a kind, pathetic man who pined for the love of a woman who considered herself above him in every way. Angry and upset over her rejection, he literally stumbled into Drusilla, who turned him on the spot. William spent the next century and a half searching for his purpose, his own personality while surrounded by vampires that were far more evil than he was. So he did his best to impress them, by killing two slayers and taking a new name: Spike.
Spike was never a normal vampire. He was always a bit more human than the rest. He retained the most important aspect of his personality, the ability to love completely. Even though the demon inside twisted that trait, it was still always his defining characteristic. So when he fell in love with Buffy, it made total sense. Their relationship was always a bit twisted, until he went too far and almost raped her. Realizing that the demon inside himself was never going to be worthy of her, he found a way to restore his soul.
I don't think the writers liked Spike that much, despite that fact he was an amazing character. As a romantic lead, he literally sacrificed himself on at least two occasions for Buffy. Although she may have never loved him in the same way she loved Angel, in a lot of ways he was a far more appropriate choice for her. Especially after he restored his soul for her. But even without Buffy, in the end Spike was a hero, even when he was a monster. That's the Spike I loved.
Angelus never thought much of Spike, Drusilla's idiot boyfriend. Spike was not as bloodthirsty as the rest of them, and never had the desire to destroy the world. Yet Angelus was stuck with Spike until the gypsy restored his soul and he became Angel. Angel moped for close to a century, trying to find a way to exist given his new moral compass. He struggled with his humanity, and eventually chose the path of a hero so he could aid the new slayer, Buffy. Their love affair was always going to be tragic, because Angel can never truly be happy, because his curse won't allow it. His story is one of pain and existential crisis, of questing for redemption and trying to atone for the evil and destruction he inflicted on the world for centuries.
Spike, on the other hand, was always his opposite. He was fun and reckless. Never one to be a mastermind, he preferred to be in the moment and in love. His story took a similar turn to Angel's when he fell in love with Buffy, allowing her heroism and strength overwhelm his need for blood to the point where he realized he was never going to be worthy of her, so he reclaimed his own soul. While Spike was still following in Angel's footsteps in a lot of ways, he was a far more noble creature than Angel, and not the same kind of hero.
Which was the better character? That's really hard to say, since they both have great qualities that make them engaging leads. Angel is a stoic hero with a deep need to brood. He still had a soft center when it came to those he loved, and a fun sense of humor. Of course he also had a big nasty flaw in that when he loses his soul he is the worst of the worst. He is an example of extreme contrast, since his evil self was so evil that it was always at war with his good self.
But Spike as a soulless vampire chose to restore his soul. He was always in the middle, walking the tightrope between monster and hero. A literal fool for love, he was always defined by the person he was focused upon. When he was with Drusilla, he let his baser instincts reign; when he was with Buffy, his nobility and heroic nature shone through. Does that mean Spike was nothing more than a cypher? A man without his own personality? No, not at all. He just took cues from the person he loved. Spike and Angel, the primary romantic leads on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, are about as different as you can get.
So, Spike vs. Angel. Which is better? For me, it will always be Spike. From the first moment he was on screen in "School Hard," he was my favorite character. His journey was far more redemptive than Angel's and in the end he chose to regain his humanity whereas Angel had to have it forced upon him.
“I was feared and worshiped across the mortal globe and now I'm stuck at Sunnydale High. Mortal. Child. And I'm flunking math...”
One of the greatest aspects of the Buffyverse is how every character grew into something very different by the time their story came to a close. In that respect, I personally found Anya’s to be one of the most compelling. She may have been a large source of the show’s offbeat humor, but she also went though something very raw and relatable.
“But I have their money. Who cares what kind of day they have?”
From her earliest appearance in season three’s "The Wish", to her all too hurried death in "Chosen", we watched her come to terms with both the material and fundamental aspects of humanity. It’s strange, but I largely found her to be one of the more relatable characters because of that. Though she had her own way of communicating it, her candid nature showed how she managed to be drawn to the same objective parts of living in the world today as we all are. How many of us are driven by money in the same way that she is, but are too afraid to say it out loud?
“I knew her, and then she's... There's just a body, and I don't understand why she just can't get back in it and not be dead anymore. It's stupid. It's mortal and stupid.”
Then there were the parts that were a little less quantifiable. We all have difficulty expressing ourselves, and coming to terms with why pain and loss are a part of being human. Anya faced that same difficulty. Her moment of sheer desperation in "The Body" trying to understand why someone like Joyce could go from being with us one moment, to being a corpse the next was all too familiar.
“Before I knew you, I was like a completely different person. Not even a person, really. And I had seen what love could do to people, and it was hurt and sadness. Alone was better. And then, suddenly there was you, and... you knew me.”
The biggest part of Anya’s journey was another familiar struggle. She spends most of her time on the series attached to Xander, and it wasn’t until he left her at the altar that she had to find out who she was without the person she had dedicated her life to. If she wasn’t Mrs. Anya lame-ass-made-up-maiden-name Harris, then who was she really?
“What if I'm really nobody?”
That struggle became very raw and exposed when she tried to revert to who she was before Xander, only to realize that she couldn’t be that person anymore. As we saw in "Selfless", she had changed, whether she liked it or not. She wasn’t capable of massacring a bunch of innocent kids in the name of vengeance. It wasn’t until that point that she began to figure out what it really meant to be human. Which lead her to becoming the hero she was by the series’ end, risking her own life and saving Andrew’s in the process. It’s a shame her death was glossed over so quickly, though. A sad symptom of Whedon not getting the two hour finale he wanted, and desperately needed.
“When it's something that really matters, they fight. I mean, they're lame morons for fighting. But they do. They never... They never quit. And so I guess I will keep fighting, too.”
Of all the characters’ journeys in the Buffyverse, Anya’s always stood out to me as one of the rawest and most painful. The fact that a journey like this could be balanced with her role as the center of some of the show’s funniest gags is a testament to how well written the series was, and continues to be for a new audience. It’s definitely time for another re-watch.
Once More, With Feeling
I’m not here to convince you that “Once More with Feeling” is the best television episode ever created (although it is), I just wanted to express how important it is to me. It helped me through a really tough time in my life and continues to help me. The soundtrack is one of my most listened to albums in my library and I still watch the episode after bad days. Season six in general is really important to me, but “Once More with Feeling” feels like the thesis of the entire season boiled down into one episode. With music. Buffy is severely depressed, having just been brought back to life. She opines that she’s just “going through the motions,” but the point is that she does go through those motions. It’s hard for her to get up in the morning, but when it matters she does get up and goes to rescue her sister when it matters.
If Buffy Summers can get through season six, I can get through my day.