Sunday, August 23, 2009

On Buffy and Harry Potter, Heroics, and why BtVS should have ended at S5

A PREFACE: This is only the first draft of what could be a much longer and much more in-depth essay. My thoughts will be disjointed and I’ll probably repeat myself a few times. I’m an English major—if I wanted, I could probably expand upon my argument here and make it into my senior thesis. I don’t say anything here that I don’t mean, and I hope you’ll bear with me.

I am having many thoughts.

First of all, it must be stated: Buffy Summers and Harry Potter are practically the same person. Not just their missions, their titles—the Chosen One, both—but personality-wise. If Harry had been born a girl, he would have pretty much been Buffy. If Buffy had been a boy… well, then she never would have been the Slayer and there the analogy falls apart, but you get my point. The closer one looks, the more similarities one finds—their tendency to use dry humor, their conflicting desires to depend upon and push away their friends (the obvious Xander/Ron and Willow/Hermione comparisons notwithstanding, but equally convincing), their superiority complexes about which they harbor inferiority complexes and, of course, their ultimate self-sacrifice stemming from an overwhelming feeling of responsibility. They do their jobs not because they were called to, but because they would have chosen them anyway. Even their responses to authority are the same—Buffy and the Watcher’s Council, Harry and the Ministry.

So here’s where I get controversial: I contend that Buffy should have ended at season five.

A Hero’s crowning moment is, I think, when they choose to sacrifice themselves for those they love, without reserve. Buffy for Dawn, Harry for the wizarding world… despite their fears, they faced the darkness and let it take them. They both chose death, serene if not content. Neither expected to come back. And yet, both survived.

Here’s the problem: while Harry’s story persisted for a mere two chapters after his resurrection, Buffy’s lingered for two more SEASONS. Harry was only gone a moment, but Buffy was dead for several months. And most importantly, Harry chose to come back; Buffy was forced. These key differences cause a massive splinter in what, until that point, had been nearly identical stories.

Buffy should not have been brought back.

It doesn’t matter which way you look at it—from within or outside the narrative. First of all, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer itself was up for cancellation. The end of season five was a viable end to the whole series, and if UPN had not bought the show from the WB, it would have been. And as much as I adore Buffy (which is a lot,) I’m not entirely sure the network move wasn’t a curse disguised as a blessing.

But more significantly, Buffy’s resurrection—her second, in fact—caused more harm than good. There is a reason a new Slayer is called when the old one dies: so that you don’t need to keep friggin resurrecting the old one in order to keep the demons at bay! When Buffy died the first time, in season one, Kendra was called. Brought back within a few minutes by Xander, Buffy found herself still endowed with Slayer powers. In fact, she was even stronger than usual, thanks to her connection in death with The Master, which was never truly explained. Her ability to retain her Slayer abilities and status can be excused, if only barely, by the temporary nature of her first death.

When Kendra was later killed, HER Slayer abilities were then passed on to Faith. Buffy felt no shift in power, but clearly the transfer happened nearly instantaneously.

So what, then, of Buffy’s second death?

By my reckoning, this should have gone two ways. Either Buffy’s no longer magically considered the legitimate Slayer, and therefore should not have had her Slayer powers restored after her second resurrection, OR if she’s just as much the Slayer she’s always been (along with, as opposed to instead of, Faith or whomever next carried the line) then yet a THIRD Slayer should have been called after her death at the end of season five. And if the latter were indeed the case, shouldn’t season seven have focused less on finding Potentials, and more on tracking down the other girl who could actually MATCH Buffy and Faith in strength?

But this didn’t happen. It cannot be excused by the secretive nature of the Council, nor the writers’ attempt at hanging a lantern on the problem by having Beljoxa’s Eye assert that Buffy’s resurrection put the Slayer line out of balance. If anything, this only confirms and reinforces their error: that despite what they, and admittedly we as viewers would like to think, Buffy is NO LONGER the legitimate Slayer. That title truly belongs to Faith at this point, whether or not she deserves it.

The result? We had to watch Buffy punish herself by entering into an abusive relationship with Spike and, over two seasons, despite all her fears she would and repeated affirmations that she would not, pull away from those she loves and lose her humanity. All the doubts she voiced to the First Slayer on her vision quest in season five—that she was drifting out of touch with her friends, was too involved in her job and was losing her ability to love—end up coming true. This is proven near the end of season seven when Giles asks if she would be willing to sacrifice Dawn this apocalypse around, despite her previous actions, and she affirms that she would. In a twisted development, the only person she’s not prepared to lose is Spike.

Who IS this girl, and what has she done with Buffy Summers? I thought death was supposed to be her gift; not her mandate.

Which brings us back to Harry Potter. Unlike Buffy, who was brought back to fulfill her duty which was no longer hers, Harry comes back because he knows there can be life BEYOND the duty. He finishes the job he was destined to do, and then retires to a life of quiet obscurity and normality, with a wife and three kids. Buffy never gets this chance. Despite Joss Whedon’s assertions in the DVD commentary of the finale, ending the series on a close up on the beginning of Buffy’s smile doesn’t really end on a sense of hope. It’s too late for that. Buffy has already unlearned her lessons, and grown past her Hero’s status into an anti-hero. Again: at the end of season five, Buffy was willing to let the whole world go to hell so long as she could remain loyal to Dawn. If keeping Dawn alive meant everyone had to die, then “the last thing [Dawn] will see is me protecting her,” Buffy had said.

By the end of season seven, that Buffy is gone. The woman that stands in her place is cold and detached. Everyone tells her she must be a leader, a general, prepared to make sacrifices. That person is no hero. A hero not only will not, but cannot fathom sacrificing anyone but themselves. They honor their friends, and those friends’ choices. They do not make ultimatums or demand anything. They certainly don’t say “I’m prepared to lose you” and offer up the people they’re supposed to love most as cannon fodder—they offer them the choice.

Again with the parallels to Deathly Hallows—Ron and Hermione finally get together, just as Xander proposes to Anya not because he’s certain the world is ending, but because he’s certain it won’t. Just as Neville finally asserts himself and stands up to the Dark Lord, Willow pays Glory back for hurting Tara and is able to rescue her. And just as Buffy refuses to destroy Ben even if it means destroying Glory, because he’s an innocent human, Harry challenges Tom Riddle to show some remorse, and prove that he was something more than a monster.

These stories were over. And yet Buffy carried on. And for what? So we could watch Xander leave Anya at the alter? So we could watch Tara die and Willow try and destroy the world? Or hell, even before that—so we could watch Willow succumb to “magic addiction,” the most desperate, hackneyed and unnecessary plot development EVER?

WHY? What FOR?

What lesson does Buffy learn at the end of season seven that she hadn’t by season five? How did she grow as a person?

It breaks my heart to say it, but… I think the answer is clear: she didn’t.

END NOTE: This doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the last two seasons. It has some of my favorite moments, and the acting was superb, and I have just as much trouble letting go of things I love as the rest of you. And, hello, musical! But even so, I’m just not sure it was the right call. Feel free to argue with me on any or all of the points I raise here. Comments are lovely.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Small Change

I realize that, after all this time, I really owe you an actual blogpost.

But first, a minor diversion.

For the next little while, this blog will be set to GMT + 3:30... that is, Tehran time. So hello there, Iranian officials looking for bloggers and trying to shut down those demanding their rights. Do I offend you? I really hope I do.

The thing that makes this vaguely relevant to my blog is the people who alerted me to this quiet form of support are, in fact, YA authors. They're the cavalry when it comes to censorship in all forms, and their pursuit of justice makes it that much more admirable a career path.

After all, as a great man once said: "We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided. Lord Voldemort's gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great. We can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust. Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open."

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

"But what I really want to do is direct..."

The title of this blog post is one of the most cliched lines I can think of. I'm not sure of the origins, but it's practically a gag now: the actor who fancies herself an artiste decides that directing is where her heart truly lies.

Which is funny because, for the longest time, I didn't see the point of having a director at all.

Granted, I was young and naive. I would go and see a play, and having a vague awareness of how such things were produced, I thought, "What a waste. Actors learn lines. They say them. Why do they need to be chaperoned?" As if actors are self-sufficient beings. As if a group of people are capable of producing something cohesive without a bit of vision (and, admittedly, supervision).

Like I said. I was young.

The thing about directing is that it really plays to my strengths. I love discovering a character and figuring out how they tick and who they care about and why they're there. When you're an actor, you get to do that for one person. When you direct, you get to do that for everyone. All of a sudden, you're the one who decides what the emotional core of every scene is. I cannot count how may times I've had to bite my tongue at a rehearsal because either I had an idea, but it wasn't my place to interfere, or because the director was making a choice that didn't make sense, or because an actor was ignoring direction and no one was putting them in their place.

I want that. I want to be that person. I want it to be my vision, my baby, me getting the final word in.

There's also, of course, the fact that memorizing lines makes me acutely anxious and while I love rehearsal and production, I kind of hate (non-musical) performance. Directing allows me to have a key role in the parts I love, and kind of disappear for the part I hate.

And yet.

There's something really... not sad. Annoying? Irksome about the... invisibilty of the director. When the audience waits at the stage door after a show, they compliment the actors on a job well done. There's no way to have a floating label that reads "This was Leah's idea!" every time an actor makes a choice that came directly from one of my notes. There's no way to tell if I was great at my job or if my cast and crew just managed to get by without me.

And that bothers me.

It's not that I'm a gloryhound or an attention hog. It isn't even that I just want credit where credit is due. It's that... how do you invite your parents to see a play you directed? They don't get to watch you. It's like you aren't even there.

I love the intimacy directing affords; when you do it well, the appreciation you get from your actors is unlike anything else.

But I just wish there were a way that I could share it with everyone.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Harry Potter is like chat history

Yes, you read that right. Bear with me-- I know it's very late at night/very early in the morning, and I have homework I really should be doing, and I'm tired (in fact, I had typed that earlier request as "bare with me" which is TOTALLY A DIFFERENT THING) but I had this mini-epiphony (minipiphony?) on the phone with Hayley earlier tonight and it occurred to me that it would make a nice, short blog post.

So yeah. Harry Potter is like chat history.

To understand that statement, you need to understand skype and my friends. Skype saves the transcripts of every textual conversation; as such one can easily go back and reread old chats when one is feeling nostalgic or lonely. While this can be fun, it can also be kind of painful and sad.

Enter Potter. This is like the third blog post I've written here about my suddenly wishy-washy sentiment towards the books. It's not a question of loving them-- of course I do-- it's more a question of how. And I realized something.

It's not just (or not exactly) that Potter was an event, and that we were participating in the storyline actively as each book came out. It's not just about surprise plot twists. And as much as I adore having all the books out and having them memorized word for word and engaging in deep analyses, it's just not the same. It's not the way I want to love them. Because no matter how great the Potter books are, as novels, that's not why I read them. I read them because I care desperately about those characters. They feel like my friends. I want to spend time with them.

And experiencing the series now, knowing I'll never get to see anything new with them... it's like I'm stuck reading chat history.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Emancipating Beauty

Well I guess that your parents
must have raised themselves a strictly pious daughter
cuz you move through this crowd just like parted water.
Oh, you dress so nice—you dress to kill;
they drop like flies, but who’s the funeral for?
- After Hours, Phantom Planet
It’s happened to all of us. We’ll be reading a book, or listening to a song, or watching a movie, and a line will jump out at us. And it’s not necessarily that it’s funny or poignant or well-put. It could be all or none of those things. But they stick with us… perfect metaphors, executed perfectly.

Sometimes they’re short and to the point, like one of my favorite lines from Panic! At the Disco’s Northern Downpour: “You clicked your heels and wished for me.” There’s a whole world in that one sentence; it tells an entire story in eight words.

Other times, they’re rather longer, and considerably more famous. An obvious example:

“ Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, strech out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
- The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
These passages impress us, inspire us, become a part of us… and as authors, they frustrate us to no end.

I want oneeeeeeeeeeee.

These little gems are products of our own talents, but unfortunately, our own talents are fickle, easily distracted creatures. One almost never gets poetry out of a first draft—it can take two, three revisions to reach a manuscript that manages to tread water as legitimately good, let alone great or inspired.

So how do they—the big They, all those other authors out there whom we want to emulate and wish we could be/be friends with—do it?

The answer is so stupidly simple that I kind of want to throttle it with my bare hands: they do it the same way we do. Hard work. Editing.

Which isn’t to say that just anyone could craft the next Great Gatsby if only they’ll revise enough. The good news is that editing is a skill, and that writing is a talent. Unfortunately, the bad news is that, y’know… editing is a skill, and writing is a talent.

And I think that’s what separates the good authors—or those who will become good authors—from those who aren’t. That they HAVE something to say… even if they don’t know how just yet. I keep thinking about that story about Michelangelo—how he said that his sculptures were trapped inside his marble, and all he was doing was freeing them.

We take our chisels to our word processors and we chip away at unnecessary phrases and ugly blocks of prose and then, eventually, we find out whether it was worth it: either we find a work of art at the center, or we keep cutting away until all that’s left is dust.

And so, like Michelangelo, I’ll keep at it with my hammer and chisel until I get to David.

[Yeah, I can’t do it. I can’t just end a blog with a conclusion. Tell me what you think! Agree? Disagree? Comments are excellent!]

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Right Place for Love

It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
- Robert Frost, “Birches”
I love this passage. Let it be my litany.

I acknowledge that everyone has a breaking point. When I reach that place—the place where I’m a little too stressed, a little too busy, a little too worried and worn out and tired and hurt and I snap, forgive me. Never take me at my word, for my actions will always speak louder. There is nothing you can do that can change the way I feel. There is nothing I can say that cannot be taken back and replaced with the truth, if I am given the opportunity. I am in the right place, I am at the right time. I will love now, I must love now, because I will not be granted another chance. This is it. And I can handle it.

It’s what I was put here to do.