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Act IV: Buffy.

“Do not go gently into that good night.”

ANYA:

Buffy! Wake up! Buffy, you have to wake up, right away!

Why is Anya in Willow’s bed, trying to wake Buffy up? The First’s whole point is to separate Buffy from her friends. (Is there an echo in here?) Willow’s gone, already. Xander, too. And Giles. Anya will have to do.

Buffy. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I don’t know why those WB execs freak about the title; it could be worse. They could have to flog something called All-Purpose Cultural Cat-Girl Nuku Nuku. “Buffy,” according to the Very Best Baby Name Book, means “buffalo,” or from the plains, and while that may work for Buffy Ste. Marie, it doesn’t really work for Buffy Summers. (Maybe I should just chuck this book, already.) She is the Hero, the Protagonist, the Hands of Fate, the Girl in the Horror Movie, except monsters don’t want to meet her in a dark alley. She gets to have sex and live. (And is that the secret reason behind all those “Buffy’s a slut!” comments? She had sex with two guys this season. Two! That makes her a slut? Damn. And Riley is her first relationship in which she gets to have fun, happy, carefree sex, the kind of sex the rest of us have most of the time, the kind you don’t get punished for afterwards. I think we can forgive her for overindulging a little. Anyway, Riley’s cute.) Buffy is, as the Spouse likes to put it, the Phallic Woman, the mysterious, powerful female who dares to take on traditionally masculine power and authority (slaying, the “penetrating wound”). She is the Dark Anima, the Huntress, the Wrathful Goddess, Kali, the Morrigan, a Valkyrie, Diana. The Slayer. Xena. Christine Spar, for you Grendel fans. Catwoman. Faith. Et cetera.

But unlike those other femmes fatale, Buffy isn’t wrestling with a dark side. (Um—Faith..?) She doesn’t have to atone for anything. She isn’t grim. She’s fiercely moral, sometimes overly judgmental (though she’s harder on herself than anybody else) but she’s also funny, light, carefree, quick with a quip or a pun; when the chips are down, she’s at home with who she is and what she does. She’s Buffy. And that’s always come before the Slayer. (It’s in the title, even.)

Compare that with the proper and joyless First.

A lot’s been made of the fact that the First Slayer’s black. Some have felt empowered, others insulted, and a bunch are milling around wondering what all the fuss is over. A lot, actually. The Light/Dark (White/Black) dichotomy is a powerful one in Indo-European cultures, and even if it isn’t intentional, you find its echoes everywhere in American pop culture. (Why else is Buffy blond and Faith brunette?) Bringing race into play makes it that much more potent at digging up old wounds (and not so old). Plus, there’s the whole stereotype of the primitive/animalistic/instinctual being embodied by a black person. Black folk gots rhythm, after all; white folk gots lawyers, guns and money. And the show’s history hasn’t been great in this regard: I winced when EW dismissed “Consequences” with “Faith wipes out Sunnydale’s black population,” referring to her dusting of Mr. Trick. It’s mean; it’s harsh; it’s true. And Forrest turned evil, didn’t he?

But it also ain’t that simple. Forrest turned evil because it’s more effective to do that to a character everybody likes than to a relative nobody like Graham. As for the First Slayer being animalistic, primitive, instinctual—

Well, for one thing, she’s in the dreams of Our Heroes, and they’re all pretty dam’ white. They’re expecting something primal, and she draws on that image for power. (Scares the crap out of ‘em, it does.) And yes—she snarls, she has those natty dreads, she’s smeared with primitive warpaint. She can’t speak (though she’s quite eloquent, speaking through Tara). She’s the Slayer—strong, deadly, but also committed and disciplined and unwavering, the essence of self-sacrifice. Which isn’t terribly animalistic, really. It is, or can be, in fact, one of the most noble things about being human.

Everything means more than one thing. (Africa? Most likely. But Australia, too.) Read it how you like, take the good with the bad, and beware simple conclusions and first impressions.

But we were talking about Buffy’s dream. On re-watching, I’m thinking Buffy’s dream is actually shorter than Giles’s. I’m not going to time them, though. I’m not that obsessed.

Where were we?

Anya tries desperately to wake Buffy up, but Buffy, it seems, isn’t “in charge of these things.” She needs to get her beauty sleep, and rolls over—disturbing some chains. Chains? The First Slayer is chained, over her head, snarling—the Slayer of Damocles—

Zip! and Buffy’s back home, in her own bed, one of those neat dream teleportations. (From bed to bed.) She wakes up (not really) confused; there she is, in the doorway, looking in. “Faith and I just made that bed.”

“For who?” says Tara.

“I thought you were here to tell me.”

Is this Tara, projecting herself into Buffy’s dream? Another exception? Maybe. Perhaps. But beware—we know that Buffy’s gotten mysterious, prophetic hints in her dreams before, but like all phone calls from the Powers that Be, they’re frustrating, oblique, rarely straightforward until after the fact, when it’s too late. This exchange with Tara (and later, but we’ll get there) is almost certainly something outside of Buffy trying to talk to her—but it could just be the Powers that Be taking on the image of Tara in Buffy’s dream—Tara, this mysterious girl whom Buffy mostly knows as a powerful witch.

In true Powers that Be fashion, Tara just smiles a little at the suggestion she could actually be here to help. And Buffy changes the subject—where are her friends? Aren’t they supposed to be here?

“You lost them,” says Tara, matter-of-factly.

“No,” says Buffy. “No. I think they need me to find them.”

And that, for me, is the essence of Buffy’s dream, and Buffy herself. Forget Slayer strength and a tendency to favor pointed wooden weaponry—this is her real strength, the source of her. She takes a negative situation—”You lost them”—and turns it on its head, reformulates it as a problem, to be solved—”I think they need me to find them.” And once she does that, she can solve the problem. Nothing will stop her. We’ve seen this ability time and again, strategically and tactically; if one wanted to reduce it absurdly, one could say that Buffy thinks “outside the box.” But everybody’s getting impatient, they want to skip ahead to the important stuff. Little Sister. Little Miss Muffet. How late it is. Seven-three-oh. Who Faith and Buffy were making the bed for. That stuff.

But first, Tara offers Buffy her card—Manus. The Hand. “I’m never going to use those,” says Buffy. “You think you know,” says Tara. “What’s to come. What you are. You haven’t even begun.” Buffy looks back. The bed’s made. “I think I need to go find the others,” says Buffy.

That other stuff? Your guess is as good as mine. Buffy refused to be distracted by it; why should we? Y’all did notice, though, that the finale of season five will also be the 100th episode of the series. Right?

“Be back before dawn,” says Tara.

(I’m not even going to go there. Spoilers abound already, if you must know; I stumbled over one unflagged and didn’t close my eyes in time and now I know more than I want to know, and all I can hope is that it’s a red herring. You hear me, Joss? Lie, damn you! Lie to me! Lie like dogs! Lie lots!)

Buffy’s mom in the wall is a pretty easy read; mah jongg was a nicely nasty touch. But that’s Xander, isn’t it? Climbing the stairs? (Does he make it to the top this time?) And off goes Buffy, leaving her mother behind. It’s mean, and it’s cruel, and it’s kind of what Buffy’s been doing all year (and she realizes that, and here she’s digging at herself for it)—but she’s also got a goal. She’s focussed.

She’s going to find her friends, darn it.

Riley is none too comforting a presence in Buffy’s dream. Interesting, that.

Following Xander upstairs, Buffy stumbles into a bastion of traditional male authority—the Initiative; the Government. And there’s Riley. “Hey there, killer,” he says. “Riley! You’re back?” says Buffy. “I never left,” he says. (“Oh, I’ve been here forever,” said Oz.) “How did the debriefing go?” she asks. “I told you not to worry about that,” he says. (“You have to stop thinking,” said Giles. “Let it wash over you.” Darren and Samantha; “Don’t worry your pretty little head.”)

The debriefing, of course, went great; they made him Surgeon General. (Chortle.) And now he’s plotting world domination with the Man Formerly Known as Adam. “World domination,” says Buffy. “That’s a good?”

“We’re the government, baby. It’s what we do.” Nice shot of the gun on the glass table, the one phallic weapon—the occasional rocket launcher and taser aside—Buffy has eschewed.

Joss and co., bless their warped and twisted little hearts, don’t play Mars and Venus games—their idea of sex and gender is far too complex and tangled and real for the simple mind of Dr. John Gray to comprehend—but there’s a definite distrust of traditional male authority, and a constant theme of undermining it with what’s traditionally considered female power or authority. And we’re getting a powerful dose of that mistrust here, as well as a flashback to this past season’s overarching plot, and what we all thought was the theme: the Initiative; government conspiracy; the army and the chain of command versus autonomy and winging it. (And anarchy? Where did that come from?)

And even then, it isn’t that simple. For instance, this little scene humanizes Adam in a way I hadn’t thought possible; I just want to reach out and give the big lug a hug, now. Carefully. After all, he’s still dangerous. “She’s uncomfortable with certain concepts,” he says. “It’s understandable. Aggression is a natural human tendency, though you and I—” to Buffy, now (or is it?)—”come about it another way.”

“We’re not demons,” says Buffy. But does she mean herself and Adam? Or herself and the First Slayer, hovering over her shoulder?

“Is that so?” says Adam.

The easy reading is “Hey! Buffy’s a demon! The Slayer’s power is of some demonic origin!” Which immediately makes me distrust it. “Another way” doesn’t have to be the exact same way—and Adam and Buffy (and the First Slayer) all get their power from non-human sources—”another way” than normal human beings. I’ve yammered about this already, re: Slayer vs. Watchers, over the weekend (I think), so I won’t go into it here, for now. Just watch this one carefully.

Riley, meanwhile, is trying to dismiss Buffy. There’s a lot of work—”filing, giving things names.” Names, again. Oh. And the Spouse wants everyone to remember that “naming things” was one of the tasks given to Adam in the Garden of Eden.

“What was yours?” asks Buffy.

“Before Adam?” says Adam. “Not a man among us can remember.”

Aww.

But the alarm’s going off; the demons have escaped. Riley and Adam are building a fort. “Wait,” says Buffy, noticing the weapons bag on the floor. “I have weapons…” But she can barely speak—from fear, or something else?

And the bag doesn’t have weapons—just a big puddle of wet grey clay. Which she smears on her face. Demons to fight? Time to become the Slayer—relentless. Driven. Focussed. Inhuman. (“I know you,” says Giles.)

“I thought you were looking for your friends,” says Riley, no longer in his gov’t issued suit. “Okay, killer. If that’s the way you want it, you’re on your own.”

He may not be comforting, and you may not like him, but Riley just saved the day. He brings the Slayer back to earth, brings Buffy back to herself, reminds her of what’s important, what she was after, her goal, the problem she has to solve. And then he gets out of the way, to let her do her job. This isn’t the way she wants it, after all. She isn’t a killer. (She said so to Forrest, emphatically. No—wait—that was Faith in Buffy…) She may do well on her own, but she’s better with her friends.

Buffy walks away. The clay melts into thin air. She steps out into the brightly lit desert, which we’ve seen twice before, but never yet been to. The stage, as they say, is set.

“I’m never going to find them here,” says Buffy, stepping out onto the sand.

“Of course not,” says Tara. “That’s the reason you came.”

“You’re not in my dream,” says Buffy.

“I was borrowed,” says Tara. “Someone has to speak for her.”

Should we take a moment, and tackle the question of Tara’s identity? Where is she borrowed from? Willow’s dream? Xander’s? (Probably not—her bra’s not showing.) Someplace else entirely?

Just what the heck is her name? (Thespia? Which does bring us to thespian…) I don’t think she’s a demon, myself—though the accusations of “demonizing” lesbian witches would be a pretty funny aftermath. And if she is Thespia, or another Power, then she’s curiously muted. Weak. Powerless. (She might not have gone all-out against Wolfie Oz out of respect for Willow—though she sure was scared of him—but in “Superstar,” all she could do against Jonathon’s nemesis was spew smoke at it and then quiver in a janitor’s closet.) If she does turn out to be somehow associated with a Power, my money’s on her being an avatar—a limited human incarnation—of one. Not the Power itself. (Perhaps that’s why she started out all stuttery and meek, and is slowly growing under Willow’s care—some sort of Pygmalion riff, maybe?)

All of which is by way of saying I don’t think the Tara in Buffy’s dream is the Tara we’ve grown to know and love. But it could be the Power Tara’s associated with, trying to tell Buffy something, through the only familiar image that’s available.

(Borrowed? From where?)

“Why do you follow me?” asks Buffy. “I don’t,” says the First. “Where are my friends?” “You’re asking the wrong questions,” says the First. (What are the right ones, anyway?) Typically direct, Buffy responds: “Make her speak.” But Tara keeps speaking, quite eloquently, for the First:

“I have no speech. I have no name. I live in the action of death. The blood cry. The penetrating wound. I am destruction. Absolute. Alone.”

“The Slayer,” says Buffy, with the clue-by-four.

She looks down and she’s holding the cards (“I’m never going to use those”), but instead of the strange Watcher’s Tarot, she sees an image of herself and her friends, watching vids, safe at home. “I am not alone,” she says.

“The Slayer does not walk in this world,” says Tara/Slayer. Slara?

And Buffy says (all together now): “I walk. I talk. I shop. I sneeze. I’m going to be a fireman when the floods roll back. There’s trees in the desert since you moved out, and I don’t sleep on a bed of bones. Now give me back my friends.”

The kicking and the punching and the stabbing don’t matter. Buffy just won the fight, right there. The First Slayer is driven to speak, herself—”No. Friends. Just. Kill. We are. Alone.” She can speak. She isn’t as absolute as she’d like us to think. Or as she’d like to think, herself.

I’m not even going to dignify the Cheese Guy. Nor does Buffy. “That’s it,” she says. “I’m waking up.”

We’re pretty much done. The fight was lovely—especially those sudden, slow, silent, dreamlike cuts. (Wow.) But it doesn’t matter. Buffy’s won. “It’s over. We don’t do this anymore.” She rejected the false choice, much like Giles; she doesn’t have to be one or the other. She can be—she will be—both. She is the Slayer, yes, but she’s Buffy first. “You’re not the source of me.”

And she wakes up.

And everybody’s there.

And it was all a dream.

  1. Carrie    Jun 7, 07:09 AM    #

    I don’t know if anyone’s said this before, but the fact that The First Slayer is black, also kinda ties into the show’s overall theme of (references to?) “Apocalypse Now” — and “Heart of Darkness” by extension.


  2. JJ    Jun 23, 10:08 AM    #

    I’m pretty sure that the First is black because humans were supposed to have originated in Africa and had been black. I know that the First herself isn’t human, but people had to have existed in the first place for there to be a reason for a slayer to exist. So she’s probably black because that’s how humans looked, being that she herself isn’t completely demon, just that her powers originated from something demon like.


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