Love Hurts, or, Why Buffy Couldn’t Find Love

[4 April 2011]

By Maria Vlahos

Joss Whedon is the creator of the iconic television shows: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), Angel (1999-2004), Firefly (2002), and Dollhouse (2009-2010). He is best known for creating unique and strong female characters that are independent, sexy, and possess a supernatural amount of strength. In fact all four of his shows are based off science fiction ideas like vampires, space travel, and mind control. By creating these fantasy shows, Whedon tries to make his audience understand what it means to love, what it means to hate, and what it means to be human. Whedon has cleverly built his shows around themes of feminism, witty humor, and his personal version of existentialism. His shows have brought both discomfort and debate among his worshipful fan base that follows him fanatically on the Internet. Whedonesque.com, a popular, fan-run website, is the number one site online that is dedicated to tracking all things Joss Whedon.

Throughout all the discussions and debates heard by Whedon fans all over the world, there is one theme that connects all of them. This theme that all fans can agree upon, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer all the way through Dollhouse is the idea that, love hurts. Characters on Buffy, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse have all experienced love in one way or another: they have fallen in love, been in relationships, or have been infatuated with someone. Yet their love has never lasted. With the exception of two couples on Dollhouse (Sierra and Victor, Echo and Paul [sort of]), every relationship in a Whedon show that begins as something great is eventually destroyed. Characters again and again fall in love just to end up getting hurt. But if love is meant to be something happy, something to reach for, and something that is meant to be fulfilling, then why is it that Whedon’s characters never end up with love? Why do they fight so hard for love just to lose it and end up hurt and in pain? Buffy, Angel, and Spike are natural fighters who have conquered hell demons, monsters, and vampires, and have stopped multiple apocalypses, but why can’t they conquer love? Why does love hurt them so much?

These three characters each have a special life calling. Their duty in life is something bigger than what most people have. They have the role of saving the world from evil; something that was placed upon them and can sometimes feel like a burden on their shoulders. But their life callings define the choices they make, which in turn define who they are. They are forced to choose wisely and selflessly every day and because of this they must sacrifice love, something that leaves them hurt. The difficult choice of putting the world first is the right thing to do. They know that their life’s calling is more important than love. But knowing this why do they keep falling in love? They are human and love is inevitable and unpredictable. They end up falling in love because they can’t help it; it is beyond their control and only when it gets in the way of their responsibility are they able to see it and make the choice of giving it up for the better cause. For Whedon’s characters, male or female, love does exist, but love doesn’t conquer all and isn’t primary. Each one of their lives is too complex for one emotion to dominate their choices. Their life calling is what comes first and even if love gets in the way, no matter how strong or how true it is they will chose against it because that is who they are: selfless people who see that saving the world is more important than their small emotions.

In Season One of Buffy, Buffy has a tough time coming to terms with her calling as the Slayer and tries to quit before realizing that being a Slayer is who she is; she can’t turn away from her responsibility. As Slayer, she has a hard time fitting in at school because despite her physical appearance she can’t help the fact that strange things happen to her. For example, the first day of her new high school, in “Welcome to the Hellmouth” (1.1), she is befriended by the most popular girl in school, Cordelia Chase, who is convinced that Buffy is a “freak” after Buffy mistook her for a vampire and attacked her with a stake. Throughout the seven seasons, Buffy learns to accept her calling even if it does keep her from connecting with many people, because she is called on to save the world rather than merely date. Buffy desperately wants to connect with those around her and be normal, but despite her attempts, it doesn’t happen. She reconsiders and instead tries to create her life in her own terms by accepting her responsibility.

When Buffy starts to form a relationship with Angel, she creates a great connection with someone who understands her and loves her for who she is. But their differences soon become obvious and the pain between these star-crossed lovers becomes unbearable. Buffy is a vampire Slayer and her job is to dust vampires like Angel. It doesn’t matter if he has a soul or not. Her job is not to decide which vampire should live and which should not, her job is to make sure that vampires die before they kill innocent people. But Buffy and Angel’s chemistry and their instant connection give a new meaning to “opposites attract”.

During Season One, their relationship was a mere infatuation and flirtation, but by Season Two, their love was full blown. Angel, the broody vampire with a soul, bcame Buffy’s lover, but their relationship was doomed. Not only was he a vampire and she a vampire slayer but he was also a 241-year-old with much more experience than a 15-year-old schoolgirl. No matter how much they loved each other, two things ultimately torn them apart: Buffy’s need for being normal and their separate callings. Buffy and Angel could never be a normal couple. Not only was she a Slayer and he a vampire, but he was a vampire cursed with a soul. Vampires can’t go out during the day or eat real food, they can’t have kids and they are immortal. In “Surprise” (2.13) and “Innocence” (2.14), the climax of their relationship, Buffy understands that for the first time, she can never be normal with Angel. In this episode, Buffy and Angel make love for the first time and the gypsies curse is broken. The curse that gives Angel a soul in order to suffer for his sins states that if Angel ever feels a moment of true happiness he will return to the evil vampire he once was. Up until this point Angel and Buffy were shown as the perfect romantic couple. Angel was the perfect man that every teenage girl yearns for. But when Angel turns into Angelus, as vicious vampire as has ever lived, he proves a warning given by parents to their young daughters everywhere: sleep with a guy and he changes. By the end of Season Two, Buffy is forced to make a decision to kill Angelus in order to close the gates of hell and thereby save the world. Her choice comes from her selflessness and her duty to keep the world safe.

Being herself with Angel seemed normal; she didn’t have to lie about who she was in fear that he wouldn’t accept her. He understood that she was the Slayer and she didn’t have to conceal her identity, something everyone that went through high school is guilty of. He even helped her fight the vampires. So why was their relationship really not normal? In Season Three, Mayor Wilkins states why very clearly when he says:

“You’re immortal, she’s not. I married my Edna May in ought-three and I was with her right until the end. Not a pretty picture: wrinkled and senile and cursing me for my youth. Wasn’t our happiest time. And let’s not forget the fact that any moment of true happiness will turn you evil. I mean, come on. What kind of a life can you offer her? I don’t see a lot of Sunday picnics in the offing. I see skulking in the shadows, hiding from the sun. She’s a blossoming young girl and you want to keep her from the life she should have until it has passed her by.”

Angel knew that their relationship could never work way before Buffy did, but he gave in to his feelings for her when he should have walked away. We can see his understanding of their relationship being doomed when he shows a bit of jealousy in “Some Assembly Required” (2.2) towards Xander when telling Buffy, “Yeah, but he’s in your life. He gets to be there when I can’t: take your classes, eat your meals, hear your jokes and complaints. He gets to see you in the sunlight.” By the end of Season Three, Angel and Buffy both finally realize that they really can never be normal because of Angel’s vampirism and the danger it could bring to Buffy and those around him. Being with Angel for three seasons has also made Buffy realize that she will never have a normal life and that slaying is who she is. This shows her growth as a character, something that Whedon is very keen on doing. He lets the characters on his show grow and mature not often seen on other shows, where characters stay pretty much the same for the entire run of a show.

When Angel came to Sunnydale it wasn’t to help the world, it was to help Buffy. He was attracted to her from the moment he saw her and wanted to help protect her. Through Buffy and with her was he able to find his life’s meaning and his duty in this world: to fight evil and seek redemption for all the bad he has caused. At the end of Season Three when he leaves Sunnydale he goes to Los Angeles to continue to play his part in the fight against evil. This marks the ending of the Buffy and Angel relationship and Whedon created a spin-off show for Angel to continue his fight in.

Buffy comes to see Angel in “I Will Remember You” (Angel 1.8), and their duties in life are tested again, but this time it’s Angel’s responsibilities that keep them apart for good. In this episode Angel becomes human after his blood gets mixed with a demon’s blood, during a fight where Buffy and Angel were attacked. Buffy and Angel were shocked by the sudden realization that Angel had become human and that all their problems were solved. They could now finally be together because he was no longer a vampire. Buffy and Angel make love all night with no repercussions, Angel tastes food for the first time in centuries, he can go out in the daytime and for the first time they are perfectly content. But the next day they have to go back and kill the demon and it is then that Angel realizes his has become helpless because he cannot help Buffy fight. He sees the limitations of his being human and what that means to him. He is and will never again be able to fight evil, his life’s calling. But he is able to convince the oracles to change him back to his old self; a vampire with a soul. Angel realized that he couldn’t be with Buffy if that meant he couldn’t help people. He has duty to himself and the world and he can’t turn his back on it; he has killed too many people and caused too much pain to ever stop seeking redemption. This hurts Buffy, because to her it meant that he ultimately chose to be a vampire rather than be with her and essentially that’s what he did. He had the choice to choose love or saving the world and he chose the latter. His life’s calling is now clearer than ever before and to fulfill his duties he must sacrifice love, no matter how much it hurts. Angel is called to be a hero and he accepts it.

Buffy fell for guys frequently throughout the show. But why did she do this to herself? Hasn’t she learned that being a Slayer makes it impossible to ever be in a normal relationship? Didn’t she know that before she got into the relationships? Isn’t she sick of heartbreaks and letdowns? Love is a human emotion that is impossible not to feel. Buffy, more than others, struggles to connect with people because her calling requires her to distance herself from others.

In Season Four, Spike was captured by The Initiative and had a microchip inserted into his brain that prevented from harming humans. Because the only way to be violent to was to cause pain to other vampires and demons he joined forces with the Scoobies (Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles). In Season Five, Spike realizes that he loves Buffy. He is there for her when her mother dies and when she needs help with Dawn. Buffy wants nothing to do with Spike and persistently rejects him. She doesn’t trust him, because even though he has a chip in his brain, to Buffy he is still a vampire and vampires have no souls. Spike continues to profess his love for Buffy and in “Crush” (5.14), to show his love, he offers to kill Drusilla for Buffy, a gesture that fails to move her. In “Intervention” (5.18), Glory kidnaps and tortures Spike in order to get him to tell her where the key is. He doesn’t say anything and for the first time Buffy feels something for him. She kisses him quickly and it was at this moment that he finally gained her trust.

But why would Buffy ever fall for a vampire again? She knows that it can’t work out; she tried it with Angel and at least Angel has a soul. Spike is merely muzzled because the chip stuck in his head won’t let him be himself. The fact of the matter is that Buffy doesn’t fall for Spike, ever. She levitates towards him in Season Six, because after sacrificing her life to save her sister, she is brought back to life by Willow’s magic. Her friends unknowingly pulled her out of heaven back to earth, which she now experiences as hell. All of Season Six, Buffy is in a dark and lonely place and the only person she can connect with and trust is Spike, as he is the only person she is in contact with who has also died and came back to life. And because of that shared connection she eventually turns to him sexually in order to feel alive again. They keep their sexual relationship secret and no matter how much Buffy hates herself when she sleeps with Spike she keeps coming back. For Buffy having sex with Spike is the only way to feel something because of the numbness she feels to everything else around her. In “As You Were” (6.15), Riley returns with his wife and she becomes embarrassed that she has a relationship with Spike. She ends the relationship with him, but realizes that she has some feelings for him. In “Seeing Red” (6.19), Spike forces himself onto Buffy, trying to rape her and she is barely able to fight him off. He flees Sunnydale realizing what he tried to do.

Up until now Buffy and Spike both have feelings for each other but don’t know how to show them. Their relationship started in an unhealthy way and has ended in an unhealthy way. Even though Buffy has feelings for Spike, she can’t let herself be with Spike for real, because he stands for everything she is against, everything she has fought against her whole life.

Angel and Spike are very different vampires that have very different relationships with Buffy. Angel was Buffy’s first love; he treated her in almost a fairytale way and he knew her when she was at her highest point in life; Spike fell for Buffy at her lowest point. He has seen her bad side and still loves her for who she is, but that does not dismiss the fact that he is soulless. Because of his reputation Buffy doesn’t love him the way he wants her to. The finale of Season Six shows Spike getting his soul back, after enduring a series of brutal trials in Africa. He comes back into Season Seven as a vampire with a soul. When Spike gets his soul back it changes their relationship forever. Unlike Angel who was cursed with his soul, Spike wanted his soul back for Buffy. He wants to give Buffy what she deserves, a man with a soul. But if things didn’t work for Angel and Buffy why would it be different for Spike and Buffy? She is still the Slayer and he still has a demon inside of him. The only difference is that Spike doesn’t really have anything to live for. He has no duty, no responsibility to uphold, yet.

Spike and Buffy become very close during Season Seven. We see both of them grow as individuals; Buffy needing someone to care for her and Spike becoming a good man for Buffy. Even though they are not physically intimate they are emotionally connected. Their love grows in a mature way. They rely on one another and they learn to trust each other. They have no expectations from each other and they both understand and accept each other’s pasts.

Unlike the other relationships, this one seems to be working for Buffy, but she never openly admits to it being a relationship. Maybe it is because she has been hurt before and she doesn’t want to get hurt again, or maybe it’s because she’s grown into a woman who doesn’t need the reassurance of calling Spike her boyfriend in order for her to believe that he will be there for her. But something happens in “Chosen” (7.22); Buffy gives an amulet to Spike, an amulet that can only be worn by a champion with a soul who is more than human. By calling Spike a champion she gives him a reason to live and a goal to fulfill; he was to help in the apocalypse that was coming very soon. Spike sees Buffy’s strength physically and emotionally and doesn’t feel threatened in the way Riley did. He wants to make it work with her and he is willing to do it on her own terms. They are able to spend the night together with Spike just holding her in his arms. Their love for each other is not physical but emotional and that is what makes it real. They can connect with each other and touch each other in a way that she could never do with others and the reason is that they didn’t need to sleep with each other to prove their love.

Buffy and Spike come to the realization that their love will never be fulfilled, not because they don’t love each other, but because other circumstances won’t let them. The end of the world is coming and no matter how much they love each other they have to push their feelings aside. Spike knows that Buffy’s job is to save the world and he is going to help her. Spike could have easily left the collapsing Hellmouth with Buffy in order for them to be together, but that would have meant letting evil take over the world. How could he be with her if he was responsible for letting evil take over? Would she love him if he did that? It was never a question for them to not save the world. Thanks to Buffy, Spike found his purpose and who he was called to be. He took it upon himself by embracing it. Spike turned out to be more like Angel during the last few episodes of Season Seven. He began to have a purpose and with that purpose came responsibility. Both vampires found their life’s calling because of Buffy and both decided to follow it to show their devotion to Buffy. And both relationships ended, much to Buffy’s dismay.

So does this mean that Buffy can never find love? The series ends and Buffy hasn’t found it. Was she doomed from the start? The simple answer is yes. Slayers aren’t supposed to have friends; they aren’t supposed to have relationships. They can’t. But Buffy has friends and she tries to have relationships; she unlike other Slayers has tried to connect to people and that’s what makes her a very strong and successful Slayer. But maybe Whedon is saying that she’s just a teenage girl and she’s too young to have a relationship. When Angel comes back in “Chosen” she tells him that maybe she’s not ready to be in a relationship:

“I’m cookie dough. I’m not done baking. I’m not finished becoming whoever the hell it is I’m gonna turn out to be. I make it through this, and the next thing, and the next thing, and maybe one day, I turn around and realize I’m ready. I’m cookies. And then, you know, if I want someone to eat m- or enjoy warm, delicious, cookie me, then that’s fine. That’ll be then. When I’m done.”

This is the point where Buffy has finally realized that she still has to become who she is before she can be with someone else. Maybe the metaphor here is that she’s just too young for a relationship and her personality hasn’t fully formed enough to be ready and mature for a relationship to work.

Joss Whedon made seven complete seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The twists in his storylines and loveable characters kept audiences interested. But did he make his decisions just to pull in a large audience or did he let the characters develop naturally? When Whedon created Buffy, he created a television show about life, a show about assuming responsibility for one’s life rather than a romantic drama. Buffy had more going on in her life than characters in other modern teen shows. In Buffy, love was secondary; saving the world came first. Other teen shows fail to capture life’s problems and tend to focus more on relationships and the mood the girl is in or whether her boyfriend loves her or not. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is about humans, their emotions, their purpose in life. This gave Whedon more of an edge and ultimately helped him to create one of the smartest, most studied television shows ever made.

MARIA VLAHOS was born and raised in Verona, NJ and is a junior at Fairfield University in Connecticut where she is a New Media: Film and Business Management major.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/139130-love-hurts-or-why-buffy-couldnt-find-love/