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The Other Watcher: Exploring Giles and Buffy

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Oof. Monday. Regardless, welcome back to the Hellmouth, gentle viewers! It’s time to look into the Big Daddy Figure of Buffy: Rupert Giles. He’s got books. He’s got a haunted past. He’s got a great singing voice. Get ready. Here we go.

And oh, as usual…

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We first meet Giles in the Sunnydale High School library, where he works as a librarian to keep his secret employment well, secret. Just like Buffy, the members of the Watchers’ Council don’t exactly wear buttons on their lapels that read, “I’m a Watcher! Ask me how!”

Buffy at first is having none of this new Watcher crap. She doesn’t want to be the Slayer, she thinks he’s stodgy, but as the series goes on, they develop a relationship that’s often familial. He grows to trust her judgment; she listens to and trusts him. They also betray one another’s trust on several occasions.

BuffyandGiles

The relationship that develops between Giles and Buffy takes its first major step forward when Buffy is put through the Slayer crucible, a barbaric practice that strips her of her powers and then forces her to take on a crazed, sadistic vampire alone as an eighteen-year-old girl instead of a Slayer with super strength. Giles feels tremendous guilt about lying to her and injecting her with the serum that stole her strength away, and he comes clean about the test, much to her horror. But at the end of the episode, once Buffy has rescued her mother and passed the test, the betrayal is turned to the revelation that Giles has “a father’s love” for Buffy and made even more poignant by the knowledge that her actual father has essentially taken off for good.

I love the dynamic between Giles and Buffy. They have a close, complex relationship that matures throughout the seasons. He becomes her confidant, occasionally her crutch. And one of the biggest marks of Buffy’s ascendance to adulthood is when she realizes that he can be very wrong, specifically when he hatches a plot with Robin Wood to murder the newly-reensouled Spike.

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That’s one moment that exemplifies one of the more interesting and perennially frustrating themes of the show: people distrusting Buffy’s judgment. She’s saved everyone’s lives hundreds of times. She’s continually made the hard choices, sacrificed her chances of a life, sacrificed herself to save the world. And yet over and over again, the other characters of the show show distrust for her. Xander will date a thousand-year-old ex-demon whose personal death toll is probably in the tens of thousands, but when Buffy dates Angel or Spike, she’s got poor judgment. Willow joins in with Dawn and the Potentials to boot Buffy from her house after Buffy took her in and helped her stop using the magics. Buffy put a sword through her lover’s heart because it was the right thing to do, and she admits in the later seasons that if she had to go back to the showdown with Glory, she would have let Dawn die to save the world instead of jumping herself — even though it would have destroyed her. And Giles, who Buffy always trusted with the most sensitive information, tries to have Spike killed.

Was Spike a danger? Absolutely. But Buffy could handle him. Buffy could always handle him. She’d proven that, time after time. And again, people went behind her back and undermined her decision while still telling her that she was a leader, was a general in the war against the First to her face.

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That, for me, is the moment when Giles is almost more a Watcher than ever before. In season seven, it’s revealed how the first Slayer was created — essentially raped by having demonic energy forced into her body while she was chained to the earth. It’s a disturbing scene with the Shadow Men, using a young woman to do their fighting for them. And again and again for generation upon generation, always sitting in their Council with the “We Know Best” mantra tattooed on their foreheads.

We see it in season five when Quentin Travers comes to Sunnydale intent on putting Buffy through ridiculous tests to prove her worthiness and receive the information about Glory. And though Giles has been fired by the Council and eventually reinstated, he maintains the pride in his calling. At that moment in season seven where he conspires with Robin to have Spike killed, he’s telling Buffy that He Knows Best. She’s rightfully furious — she’s the general. She’s the Slayer. And that moment shows the very interesting reminder that in spite of that, the Watchers still think they have the right to undermine the decisions of the Slayers. That they get to be the final word on what goes or not.

The Watcher relationship is one of the things on the show that’s gotten some flack from feminist publications, and I believe rightly so. In addition to his capacity as a Watcher, his relationship with Buffy develops at the expense of her relationship with her mother in many cases. And when looked at with the Council taken into account, it has some issues as well. Buffy and Faith are really the first Slayers to buck the authority of the Council, and the whole idea that the Slayer has power because men gave it to her by violating her — well. Ick. That says some rather unsavory things.

That moment with Spike is the first major chink in the Buffy-Giles relationship. After seven years together, he doesn’t trust her to make huge decisions. Buffy saves Spike, slams a door in Giles’ face, and then goes on to win an impossible fight. She comes through. Again. And Spike, the one they wanted to kill, is the reason they live through it.

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One of the best things about the show is the complex characters and their relationships. And Buffy’s relationship with Giles is no exception. It’s very much like a familial bond, complete with the rough bits to balance out the warm fuzzies. In spite of the rough edges, though, it’s a relationship Buffy needed.

What do you think of Giles? The Watcher-Slayer relationship? The Council? 

Miss some of this month’s Buffy posts? Check them out over at Emmie’s Buffyverse! Can’t get enough of Giles? Check out his Monday Man post from last year!

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In Pursuit of Faith

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Welcome to the Hellmouth! If you haven’t been around this week, we’re celebrating Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s (the show’s, anyway!) sweet sixteen with a month of Buffy-related posts, character analyses, and tours of the show’s many philosophical themes.

As usual for these sorts of posts, beware of SPOILERS.

Today’s character is one who I’ve always really liked. In fact, she’s been part of the inspiration for a new project I started working on just for the funsies. Faith Lehane is a character who as always intrigued me, both in her role on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and her appearances on Angel. She has some fascinating relationships with the other characters on both shows, and she’s the perfect example of character evolution.

The Dark Slayer

First of all, I always love characters who explore the “what might have been” sides of existing characters, and Faith Lehane is a perfect picture of what Buffy could have been had she not had the support system of her family, friends, and Giles. When we meet Faith, she talks a big game, but she’s terrified out of her wits and on the run. The vampire chasing her is old, old enough to still have cloven hooves. And Faith had to watch as he tore apart her Watcher. Where Buffy had a loving mother and friends who stuck with her in spite of the monsters who populated her life, Faith was alone in the world and terrified.

Everyone reacts differently to terror and guilt, and Faith was dealt an abundance of both. After she accidentally kills the deputy mayor of Sunnydale, Faith doesn’t know how to deal with her guilt. Instead of choosing to trust Buffy (who has admittedly often pushed Faith away, jealously guarding the life she’s cultivated from what she perceives as Faith’s encroaching), Faith puts her trust in the Mayor.

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Faith and the Mayor

I think that what Faith wants more than anything is for someone to accept her and value her for her strength and who she is. Her relationship with Buffy is too adversarial for that kind of bond, but Faith finds what she’s looking for in Buffy’s season three Big Bad: Mayor Wilkins. It’s an unexpectedly beautiful relationship that brings out emotion every time I watch it develop. Evil or not, Mayor Wilkins sees the value in Faith. Beyond the fear-hardened Slayer, he sees someone desperate for acceptance, and he loves her. It’s something Buffy never quite figured out — the way to gaining Faith’s trust and loyalty is, quite simply, to accept and love her for who she is. The two people who do that gain a strong, intensely loyal ally. Those who distrust her and seek to use her find out how dangerous she is.

Faith and the Mayor form a beautiful bond that persists even after his death, as evidenced by how the First chooses to manifest itself to Faith in the form of the Mayor. I think that bond is what allowed Angel to eventually reach Faith.

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To Pull Faith from Darkness

Whether out of a sense of sadism or some other draw, Faith is pulled toward Angel from the first time she meets him. I don’t feel that her reasons are based on causing Buffy pain necessarily — I think she relates to him because of his past and hers. And in truth, her relationship with him is based on a mutual sense of understanding. After Faith kills the deputy mayor, Angel is the one who starts to get through to her. It’s her deranged replacement Watcher who manipulates her and messes with her mind enough to negate Angel’s influence.

All that said, Faith’s relationship with Angel is most explored in the spinoff when Faith arrives in LA. While Angel’s decisions regarding Faith after she tortures Wesley may seem insensitive from Wesley’s perspective (I wouldn’t be too Faith-friendly after that if I were him either), it’s Angel’s continued belief that Faith can become a better person that allows her to make the choices she needs to make. And Buffy doesn’t help with that, swooping in and freaking out.

Their experiences bond Faith and Angel in a way that Buffy can’t quite grasp or compete with. Buffy is, almost without exception, the epitome of the heroic archetype. Faith as an antihero is someone who has to make her own decisions and isn’t used to deciding for others. Angel and Faith can get through to one another in a way that no one else can. Theirs is a decidedly no-bullshit bond, but it’s also one of clarity and understanding.

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Defining Faith

Almost everyone is a product of her circumstances. When we first meet Faith, that’s who she is. She’s gone from rough upbringing to a tragic and overwhelming calling. What sets her apart as a character is how she manages, through the course of many years, to rise above simply being a churned out Slayer from a hard knock life.

Faith is able to make a choice to be something more, and while she’s still not perfect, she pushes herself beyond the girl who chose to work for the Mayor. She makes the active decision to be something more. I think that Faith’s eventual acceptance of herself is showcased in the final season of Buffy when she is able to return leadership to Buffy and admit that she wasn’t the best person to lead the Potentials — and incidentally, that moment is where Buffy gives Faith more acceptance and trust than she ever has before.

What do you think of the other Slayer? Who is she to you? Do you think that she would have been less of a tragic character if she had the kind of support system Buffy had? Do you think any of Faith’s development is Buffy’s fault?

 

Angelus: The Fallen Angel

He's even evil when he smiles.

He’s even evil when he smiles.

Welcome to the Hellmouth, would you like to try a combo meal?

This here post will contain spoilers.

It’s impossible to talk about the villains of Buffy without discussing Angelus. Of all the show’s Big Bads, Angelus is is the one that never goes away. While the Master and Adam and Glory all go the way of the very dead dodo, Angelus is always there inside Angel. He doesn’t go away. So let’s explore this character and what gives him the power he has.

Angel’s Background

Angel was born human in the 1700s and turned into a vampire by Darla when he was in his mid 20s. After that, he quickly became one of the biggest, baddest vampires in all the land. He and Darla cut a swathe through Europe and left a trail of bodies behind them. He formed a design on a young seer woman called Drusilla, torturing her family and tormenting her until she fled to a convent — where he then massacred every other nun around her the day she was supposed to take her holy orders. He drove her insane, then turned her into a vampire. Drusilla then turned William, a young English poet in love with a socialite above his “level” in society. William became Spike, and the four of those crazy kids left a trail of blood across the world.

Until Angelus, you know, picked the wrong victim. He killed a young Roma woman, and her tribe cursed him with the one thing they thought would cause him to truly suffer: a soul.

While most vampires in the Buffyverse maintain a certain element of their humanity, Angelus did not. The other evils of the world even remarked on the purity of his nastiness. So much so that the First Evil wanted him on its team. But after his soul was returned, Angelus became someone else. And lost the crappy Irish accent. (Sorry, David Boreanaz.)

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Angel as Angelus

When we first meet Angel, he’s a sort of broody, stalky type who hides in the shadows and looks handsome whilst doling out cryptic remarks. Throughout the first and second seasons, his relationship with Buffy develops into love until they consummate their union. Because fun fact: a soul curse is only good if you stay miserable. The second Angel experiences perfect happiness, POOF. He zaps back into sadistic-killer mode.

Bit of an oversight on the part of the curser, no?

Angel’s flip to Angelus is a whole gumbo of allegory, from the very basic “guy changes after getting sex” to the supernatural lens imposed on a less-than-ideal first sexual experience. But with Angelus, it always felt like more than that to me. Angelus’ first interaction with Buffy once he’s back in charge is not violent. It is, to quote The Princess Bride, NOT to the death. It’s to the pain. He deliberately causes her emotional anguish.

Angelus sets about tormenting Buffy and her friends, killing Willow’s goldfish and murdering Jenny Calendar. That moment, every time I watch it, is a picture of the finality of death. He breaks her and then uses her body to manipulate and terrify Giles.

Angelus as an Archetype

I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about this character. And the conclusion I came to is probably not hugely popular. I look at Angel as an abuser. He goes through the honeymoon phase, where everything is full of blood and peaches. But then something makes him snap, and when he snaps, he becomes a tornado of pain and devastation. When he’s done, he feels really bad about it, and it’s back to the honeymoon phase. The cycles of his character are, to me, very archetypical of an abuser. Some people see Angel and Angelus as two distinct people, but I’ve never really subscribed to that. Angelus is always present within Angel. Angel even acknowledges this constant struggle, because as we see in his spinoff series, the demon inside him is a discrete entity even from Angelus.

It must be crowded in there.

It’s no secret that I’ve never considered Angel a good mate for Buffy. The biggest reason for that is Angelus. He’s always there, just beneath the surface. While Spike’s shift through the moral spectrum is organic (albeit in many cases, self-serving), Angelus was restrained only because of an external impetus. And there is always the possibility that he will reemerge. And while Angelus is a single-minded evil being, his “humanized” side still perpetrates some pretty atrocious acts (like siccing Darla and Drusilla on a wine cellar full of lawyers, not to mention his actions in the continuation of his story in the comics).

Angelus is a villain who can only be contained, and even his “good” counterpart makes morally abominable decisions on a regular basis. I could probably write a book dissecting this character more, but instead, I’ll leave you with an Angelus quote from the season two episode “Passion.”

“Passion. It lies in all of us. Sleeping … waiting … and though unwanted, unbidden, it will stir … open its jaws and howl. It speaks to us … guides us. Passion rules us all. And we obey. What other choice do we have? Passion is the source of our finest moments. The joy of love … the clarity of hatred … the ecstasy of grief. It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion, maybe we’d know some kind of peace. But we would be hollow. Empty rooms, shuttered and dank. Without passion, we’d be truly dead.”

What do you think about Angel/Angelus? Does the fact that his soul was forced upon him negate or cheapen the good things he does? Is there any avenue to believe that without that magical muzzle he would have taken those steps himself? Do you see Angel and Angelus as two separate people or one man warring with his own darkness?

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