One of the cornerstones of this column is looking at series I love. I may not always have the chance to do an extended piece on The X-Files or one of the many odd outliers I have but I can do so here. This is a celebratory column.
But this can also be a meditation on the nature of fandom itself. I can highlight the very best elements of a series or books that blow it. This is a unique space in that way.
I can also look at the frustration that comes when fandom ends. Not everything I loved in my youth carries on. I don’t watch The Simpsons, South Park, or Family Guy anymore though they were appointment viewing. I don’t knee jerk watch films by filmmakers I love. And no, I’m not a fan of Buffy The Vampire Slayer anymore. And nothing sums up why like the two omnibuses of season 8.
The books cover the events following the show. Several major characters are dead. Buffy now leads an army of slayers. Vampires come out of hiding. Dawn is a giantess. And then things get really weird as a mysterious villain named Twilight rises up to destroy her arm. Who is he? What does he want? Well it all gets really odd.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 was written by a litany of great writers including series creator Joss Whedon, Cloverfield/Cabin in the Woods scribe Drew Goddard, Runaways/Y: The Last Man/Saga creator Brian K. Vaughan, Identity Crisis writer Brad Meltzer, and others and primarily drawn by artist Georges Jeanty. There is a level of talent here so great that it’s unlikely I will ever cover anything by this many gifted creators. In theory there’s a lot to like here. Jeanty’s art is pretty stellar start to finish. There’s a nice sprawling epic mythology. The characters are well balanced. The pacing is good. This should be good. It’s not.
Why? Well, I’m gonna cut to the core of things. This does follow on season 7 fairly well. And by this point Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a long way from why I ever loved it. This is bad because the show it continued from was very bad at the end. Buffy was dreadful in season 4, rebounded for season 5, tanked again hard in season 6, and limped to the end. That’s a batting average of roughly 50%.
It’s easy to say the things that derailed the show were graduating high school and the addition of Dawn. Those are clear, notable mistakes to be certain but I think there was a bigger issue, one that existed at the start of the show but only got worse with time: This is a sadistic work. There’s absolutely no such thing as a happy ending for anybody in this show. Everybody suffers and anything you might root for will be yanked away violently.
This results in characters who are so cynical and beaten down that they are utterly unbearable to be around. No wonder season 6 was so impossible to watch. The characters acted like people in a universe where the gods hate them. And that continues into this book which results in over a thousand pages of bleak assholes complaining.
And believe me, the storytelling problems that dogged the show are also here. One of the show’s other giant problems was constantly burning down the status quo. That’s fine, constant momentum works, but it always seemed to lead to show down a horrible path including the show violently rejecting being a college set show. While Buffy has a logical place here, everyone else doesn’t. Xander as a military leader does not work. Neither does Willow’s surreal quest. And Dawn’s plot is a middle finger. All the plots are balanced but they are awful.
Then there’s the big bad issue. Buffy’s archvillains dwindled in quality after the greatness of The Mayor and Twilight is even worse. A generic bad guy who hates the heroes. So what? Oh yeah until he’s revealed to be a possessed major character whose identity I’ll spare you. Yeah this is…weird and bad. Also Twilight? Not as clever as you think you are.
All this is bad enough. But I can’t ignore the sexual politics of this thing. It’s hardly helped that Whedon, Vaughan, and Meltzer all have major works with broken sexual mindsets. This is just drenched in toxic sexuality from Dawn’s magic STD to Buffy’s titillating lesbian fling. This series never has had truly mature sexuality and it never will. Sex is gross and bad start to finish.
Ultimately this is just a depressing read. I keep sticking on that point: Everything is unpleasant in this series. And that’s really weird because this was a funny show in its prime. What Buffy was in its prime was a hilarious show steeped in the idea of coping. The novels set then captured that so well. And this? It’s just bad.
We may have to work backwards on this y’all. I’m not going to cover Buffy immediately next column, but over the next few months I will look back in on this series. Maybe I was only in sync with it for a moment and it was always this thing. Maybe it mutated into something bad. We’ll see.