It's About Power
Sword-fightin’ chicks. Who doesn’t love this?
—David Solomon, commentary track, “Selfless”
It is not for thee. It is for her alone to wield.
—Inscribed on a mission wall in “Empty Places”
Listening to the DVD audio commentaries for Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Seventh Season is much like watching the show with a room full of Buffy addicts you met on the Internet. That is: fun, obsessive, and something you hope no one ever finds out about. Buffy‘s writers and directors are clearly some of the show’s biggest fans, alternately falling silent to catch their favorite lines and camera angles and gushing about their favorite actors, scenes, and episodes. (“I love him!” writer Drew Goddard exclaims each time Andy Umberger [who plays D’Hoffryn] appears. “No, seriously, I love him. I want to kiss him.”) The staff’s geeky fanaticism is the most enjoyable aspect of the DVD extras. Rather than set themselves apart from the fans, they repeatedly express their solidarity. In “Buffy: It’s Always Been About the Fans,” Joss Whedon comments, “We sort of worship at the same altar. Me and my staff are the biggest Buffy nerds alive.”
As with any series with a rabid cult following, such rapture is the show’s lifeblood. Much like Star Trek or X-Files fans, Buffy fans feel a connection not only to the show itself, but to the show’s world. Viewers can deepen their knowledge of the Buffyverse (or revel in how much they already know) with a series of featurettes, including a brief, forgettable film of the wrap party (“Buffy Wraps”), outtakes, and “Buffy 101: Studying the Slayer,” and “Generation S,” which include interviews with writers, cast members, fans, journalists, and Buffy scholars.
“The Last Sundown” shows clips of Whedon’s 10 favorite episodes, as he explains that when he created Buffy, the concept of a female action star was still “revolutionary.” He wanted to explore the idea of a young woman as “a hero, not just a heroine, but a hero.” Even so, in many ways, Buffy’s (Sarah Michelle Gellar) plight has always been to become a fully realized hero within the grip of male authority: the watcher council (mostly male), her watcher, Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), and the men who endowed her with slayer abilities (as we learn in “Get It Done,” men chained a girl to the earth, and merged her with the essence of a demon, creating the slayer line).
Over the past few seasons, Buffy has systematically taken back her power from these sources of authority. In season five, she cut herself off from the council; Giles left in season six, and though he returns in season seven, he is mostly a follower rather than a teacher. By the last season, Buffy’s only relevant authority figure is her own power, as this is governed by men’s rules. In order for her to wrangle free of this final source of authority, she must be threatened in the most extreme way possible.
This threat comes from The First (the source of all the world’s evil), determined to wipe out the slayer line, one potential slayer after another, until the Hellmouth has no guardian. Though The First can appear as anybody who has died, it is non-corporeal, and must do its killing through agents, such as the bringers (black-robed, eyeless baddies) and a superstrong misogynistic ex-priest named Caleb (Nathan Fillion). Mostly, however, its power lies in its ability to invoke terror, to cow Buffy and the other girls by convincing them that they are powerless and at its mercy: “You don’t know hurt,” The First (here spoken by Azura Skye) tells Willow (Alyson Hannigan) in “Conversations With Dead People”. “This past year’s gonna seem like cake after what I put you and your friends through, and I am not a fan of easy death.”
The First’s posturing makes it clear that it is threatened by Buffy’s power. When it tries to convince Spike (James Marsters) to kill Buffy in “Sleeper,” it tells him, “Take her, taste her. Make her weak.” Just so, Goddard comments during “Dirty Girls” that season seven is largely concerned with female empowerment, and how men try to take power from women. Though The First’s primary targets are the slayers, it also appears to view women in general as an enemy (especially as it chooses Caleb, a “woman-hating jerk,” as its vessel). As Buffy comes into her own (as she does at a certain point of every season), she determines not to play by the rules anymore. “They think we’re gonna wait for the end to come, like we always do,” she says in “Bring on the Night.” “I’m done waiting. They want an apocalypse? We’ll give ‘em one.”
Though it takes most of the season for Buffy to make good on her promise (mainly due to the nay-saying Potentials), she eventually does fight, and on her own terms. Caleb presents a rare challenge for the Slayer: he is one of the few villains who she cannot come close to taking in a fight. When she seeks him out in “Touched,” he tells her, “I lay one hand on you, and you’re just a dead little girl.” Lay a hand on me, if you can,” she rejoins, and proceeds to evade him with slo-mo matrix-y skill.
As season seven centers on “women’s power,” and their connection to one another, it is regrettable that the commentaries are mostly devoid of female voices (the single exception is writer Jane Espenson who co-commentates “Conversations With Dead People”). But this is part of the paradox of Buffy: it is a male-created show about a girl becoming a powerful woman who ultimately refuses to live in a “man’s world.” In the series finale, “Chosen,” Buffy shares her power with potential slayers around the world, stating, “Every girl who can stand up, will stand up. Slayers. Every one of us.” This is the lesson Buffy has learned: as Espenson comments in “Buffy: Full Circle,” “The way you protect your power is not to hoard it, but to pass it on.” As the series draws to a close, it feels more like a new beginning for the “scooby gang,” all of whom have grown into heroes in their own right. As they stand at the precipice of what used to be Sunnydale, Dawn (Michelle Tratchenberg) asks Buffy, “What are we gonna do now?” A smile spreads across Buffy’s face and her fans can imagine her future, free even from the devices of her creator.