(If you are reading this before the post above it, go there first and then read this one.) And this week we come to the end of season 1, with an amazing episode that gives you a sense of how the show will continue from this point on. If you liked “Prophecy Girl,” which is season 1 at its funniest and most heartbreaking, I think you’re in for a treat in season 2. The highlight of this episode is, for me, the rooftop scene between Buffy and the Master. I remember being absolutely delighted by it the first time I watched, and “You have fruit punch mouth” was my favourite phrase uttered by Buffy up to that point (and still is very near the top). We see Buffy’s playful banter and enough funny to keep us from being utterly depressed.
But we also begin to see the dark side of the show. Buffy’s scene as she stands in the doorway and overhears Giles is a tear-jerker, and despite her bravado and toughness to this point, you realize she’s a girl. A young, teenage girl. She’s supposed to have her whole life ahead of her, but most Slayers are dead before they hit their 18th birthday, and that’s only starting to resonate with her.
And then there’s Xander. He has the guts to ask out Buffy, and when she says no, he’s MEAN. My heart breaks for him, and then you just want to slap him. But that’s Xander… you’ll watch him, time and again, lash out when he’s in pain. He is the heart of the show in the way Hurley was on Lost, but he also has a dark side, and revenge is often sitting in his back pocket to use whenever he’s upset. However, Xander knows who his friends are and what counts, and despite listening to the Music of Pain, he will come through in the end.
• Written and directed by Joss Whedon
• “I’m just gonna go home… lie down… and listen to some country music. The music of pain.”
• “I’m 16 years old. I don’t want to die.”
• “Oh. Good. The feeble banter portion of the fight.”
• Xander telling Angel to stop looking at his neck, and Angel being all annoyed with him.
Did You Notice?
• It’s not a coincidence that the prom dress looks like a wedding dress; Buffy is married to the Slayerhood, and her loss of a normal life is the ongoing theme of the series.
• Cordy doesn’t have her vanity plates on her car yet.
• I have to say it… the Big Moment where the theme music cues and the group Walks With Force down the street is truly awful. The biggest cheeseball moment of the first season. I will promise all the first-timers, this will NEVER happen again. (Maybe Joss Whedon, who studied with Michael Bay, took a little too much from his colleague on this one. I can just hear the theme song to “Team America: World Police” playing in the background…)
OK! This week’s second guest is Jennifer K. Stuller. I met her at Slayage 4 this past summer, and sadly missed her paper when I had to go practice my own, but from all accounts it was wicked. She is the author of Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors, which I’ve just started reading and I’m really enjoying it (it makes a great Christmas present, too!) She is a writer, blogger, author, feminist, pop culture historian, Charter Associate of the Whedon Studies Association, and Programming Director for GeekGirlCon . Her particular interests focus on what popular culture can tell us about social mores, particularly regarding gender, race, sexuality, ability, religion and class, in a given time or place. She has written for Geek Monthly and Bitch Media, on everything from James Bond to Jim Henson, to Honey West, Peggy Hill, and Quentin Tarantino, and has also contributed to several books, including Gotham City 14 Miles: 14 Essays on Why the 1960s Batman TV Series Matters , What is a Superhero?, and Critical Approaches to Comics and Graphic Novels: Theories and Methods – for which she wrote the feminist analysis chapter using 1970s Lois Lane comic books. Her most recent presentation for the Slayage Conference on the Whedonverses , as well as her other work can be found at her website.
Prophecy Girl: Subverting the Monomyth with a Feminist Kick
I’m thrilled to be a part of this project, honored that Nikki invited me, and excited that my first guest post is on “Prophecy Girl.” Though I’ve never been a big fan of season 1, it’s one of my favorite episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and in fact, probably in my top five of the series. It’s also one of those that has been most important in my work on female super and action heroes in popular culture.
Here’s why: When I went back to college as an adult to study in the wonderful undergraduate program in the Comparative History of Ideas at the University of Washington, I had the opportunity to co-create and co-facilitate a credited focus group with two other women that combined viewings of episodes of BtVS with theoretical and philosophical readings to discuss issues of human nature. I knew I wanted to write my senior thesis on female heroes in popular culture – a project that evolved into Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors – and that Buffy, created by Joss Whedon to be a feminist icon and a new vision of the hero, would play a major role in that project. So I used the course as an opportunity to get some initial research done.
Prior to our viewing of “Prophecy Girl” in the class we read works by Carl Gustav Jung, who proposed the concept of the archetype, and Joseph Campbell – author of The Hero With a Thousand Faces, an influential study of the hero myth (also called the “monomyth”). In brief, Campbell studied hero myths from around the world and found that they all contained a universal, or archetypal, series of stages and events including: The Call to Adventure or Initiation, The Refusal of the Call, A Trial or Quest, Supernatural Aid, Death and/or Descent into the Underworld, and Rebirth or Resurrection.
But this quest is generally considered a metaphor for the discovery of male identity. Women’s involvement in the hero’s journey typically limits them to the roles of the Goddess who aids, the mother, the temptress or the lover/prize. I wondered where the female heroes were, and what their journeys were like. And in discovering and studying Buffy was intrigued, moved, and fascinated by the ways in which she subverted the monomyth (and not just Buffy, but everyone around her.)
“Prophecy Girl” is a perfect example of this because it reflects back to the pilot, and as a possible series finale (BtVS was a mid-season replacement series and renewal was up in the air) allows us to see at least an initial progression of her journey.
I was going to write a more detailed episode synopsis, but don’t want to spoil it for those who have yet to watch, or be too redundant for those who already have. But in brief, in “Prophecy Girl” Giles discovers a prophecy that says that the Master shall rise and the Slayer shall die. Various portents, including an earthquake, reinforce this pending event. As Ms. Calendar says, the apocalypse is pretty seriously nigh. Buffy does indeed face the Master, and the prophecy is fulfilled, but as “prophecies are tricky things,” this all plays out in a way that might not be quite how you thought it would if you read the prophecy as literal. Buffy, as the hero, is resurrected, and comes back stronger and more resolved than ever.
Naturally, this is important to me because I want to see female characters in popular culture in heroic roles. As Joss Whedon has said, this series’ mission statement was about “the joy of female power: having it, sharing it, using it.” He also recognized the power of popular culture to change societal ideas about gender roles. Whedon’s said of Buffy that:
“people cared for her because she fulfilled a need for a female hero, which is distinctly different from a heroine. While a heroine is the protagonist, generally speaking, somebody swoops in and saves her. A hero is a more complex figure and has to deal with all the traditional rites of passage. Everything Luke Skywalker had to go through, Buffy had to go through, and then some.”
Notably, writer and director George Lucas was famously influenced by Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces – and elements of the archetypal hero’s quest can be seen in Luke Skywalker’s journey. But even with both ancient and modern female heroes – from the goddess Athena to the Amazon Princess Wonder Woman, from detective Honey West to Lt. Ellen Ripley, we never really saw those same mythic themes addressed from a female experience of the hero’s journey. That is, until Buffy Summers came along.
Whedon may not have been setting out to necessarily re-write the monomyth from a feminist perspective per se, but he definitely wanted to create a female super or action hero that would be inspirational, even iconic. Additionally, throughout the course of season 1, we do see Buffy experience the archetypal steps of the journey. From the refusal of the call to duty (asking Giles in “Welcome to the Hellmouth,” “Why can’t you people leave me alone?”) to her descent into the underworld to face the Master in “Prophecy Girl.”
But Buffy the Vampire Slayer is more than a feminist rewriting of the hero myth (which is exciting in and of itself) but of the very rules of the journey. As we’ve seen in our re/watch of season one, and without being too-spoilery as we will see throughout the series, Buffy and her allies will, as Giles points out, “thwart prophecy time and time again.” They will thrive as heroes because of their innovation, their drive, their love for one another, and their unconventional approaches to fighting the forces of darkness.
Recognizable character types such as the Hero, the Mother, the Father, the Sidekick, the Trickster, and the Villain will be tweaked. Sidekicks will become heroes themselves. We see the beginnings of these character developments in “Prophecy Girl.” Giles exhibits fatherly affection rather than a Watcher’s distance in his relationship with Buffy – even going so far as to attempt to take her place in her confrontation with the Master. Xander, a sidekick frustrated over not being a chosen one (be it hero or lover) is the heart of the group – and answers his own heroic call more than once. Cordy, seemingly the villain, aids the “Slayerettes” with her verve and quick-thinking. Angel and Willow will each eventually morph into different archetypes, and everyone will at one time or another be elevated to the role of hero. It’s exciting to me because it makes the elements that define a traditional hero flexible, and therefore relevant to a larger audience.
Prophecy, like the Slayer myth, may be written, but as Buffy tells the Master in their final confrontation, she flunked the written. (Even in a recent edition of the Season 8 comic book she says, “I never do what I’m meant for.”) Buffy does not let others decide her journey for her. From the beginning she changes the rules not only of the hero myth, but of her own Slayer myth too – and I love her for it.
Side Notes, Trivia and Random Observations
• The episode was written by Joss Whedon and it’s the first time he directs.
• Notice that Giles has a proper cup of tea, saucer and all. It’s how we remember he’s British.
• The Master is played by Mark Metcalf – a.k.a. “The Maestro” from Seinfeld.
• The Master’s sunken lair is reminiscent of the 1987 vampire classic, The Lost Boys – one of Whedon’s inspirations for BtVS.
• Whedon’s trademark horror/humor combo. The Master’s ecstatic “Yes! Yes! My time has come!” response to the earthquake is followed by his asking the Anointed One, “What do you think? A 5.1?” (My husband questioned whether or not the Master would know about the Richter scale. It was developed in 1935 and the Master was trapped in 1937, so . . . maybe.)
• Buffy’s scene with Giles where she says, “I’m 16 years old. I don’t want to die.” is gut-wrenching. The look on Giles’ face – especially when she says “You’re so useful sitting here with all of your books!” reveals he has already crossed the boundary from Watcher to father figure. (A fact later reinforced by his telling Buffy “I’m older and wiser . . . Just do what you’re told for once!”)
• Xander’s awkwardness with women is palpable. And, “Date me. . . . Date me?!?!?” is reminiscent of “Welcome to the Hellmouth” when he says to Buffy “Can I have you?”
• I forgot how hurtful Xander can be sometimes, “Guess a guy’s gotta be undead to make time with you.” Harsh, indeed.
• Robia LaMorte, who plays Jenny Calendar, was “Pearl” of Prince’s back-up dancers Diamond and Pearl.
• Angel is panting like mad, but can’t perform CPR because he has “no breath.”
• Buffy is smarter than people give her credit for at this point. She’s instinctually good at making connections and deducing things through observation.
• Buffy comments on fighting three vampires in one night. Later this will be a light evening of patrolling.
• Xander telling Buffy, “Willow’s not looking to date you – or if she is she’s playing it pretty close to the chest.” It’s a line that doesn’t have much meaning except in retrospect. But it’s hard not to read into it, or wonder about exactly how far back some character developments go.
• Buffy saying she can’t go to the dance and Joyce asking “Why? Is it written somewhere?” Brilliant. (And very clever too.)
• Buffy in Willow’s bedroom – made me think about how many more times we will see them sitting on each other’s beds having a meaningful conversation.
• Angel’s statue of Kwan Yin – like a true Bodhisattva, Angel will delay his own enlightenment to ease the suffering of others.
• Someone had to put faux Dewey Decimal labels on all those library books!
• Buffy, Xander, and Angel Power Walk to the BtVS theme music. (Is this the series’ first power walk?!?) [Yes... and it's the LAST!" — Nik]
• “Oh, look. A Bad Guy.” – Buffy, as she trips a vamp
• “I’m going to go home, lie down, and listen to country music. The music of pain.” – Xander, on being rejected. Twice.
• “The part that gets me though, is where Buffy is the Slayer. She’s so little.” – Jenny Calendar
• “Oh good. The feeble banter portion of the fight.” – The Master to Buffy (Especially because Buffy’s banter and puns will become an important, and trademark, part of her arsenal.)
• “Calm may work for Locutus of the Borg, here. But I’m freaked and I intend to stay that way!” Xander (Because we love geeky pop culture references.)
• “I told you to eat before we left.” – Xander to what he thinks is a hungry-looking Angel
• “I may be dead, but I’m still pretty.” – Buffy, on her resurrection
• “You have fruit punch mouth.” – Buffy to the Master
• “You’re that amped about Hell? Go there.” – Buffy to the Master
• “I like your dress.” – Just about everyone, to Buffy
• “We saved the world. I say we party.” – Buffy, on averting an apocalypse