Sixteen Candles and a Bloodstone: Thoughts on Witch
I want to try something out: writing meta for an episode upon its completion in Seasons. In a way, Seasons sort of is an exercise in meta, since it requires me to try to synthesize an episode as it is within both my knowledge/interpretation of canon (through the series) and my invention of Buffy's Calling and her subsequent experiences before she came to the Hellmouth, the goal being to more or less erase the lines between episodes – to make the seasons (and the series) one big story, rather than a collection of a lot of smaller ones. We'll see how well this experiment works out as time progresses, I suppose.
The question I have to ask myself now is if it's overly narcissistic to spend time writing what's essentially a writer's commentary on my own fic, for no other reason than to justify the decisions I've made. I still can't decide, which is why this post may end up only being a one-off (or it may not, who knows). All I can say for sure is that exploring my reasoning is often helpful to me, and it's possible that there may be others interested in my interpretations, since I (at least) haven't seen much in-depth commentary or speculation about Buffy specifically in and before s1. And I also know that I sometimes wish that that the author of the fic series I got the idea from (1breath's X-Files “Seasons”) would explain how she came to the conclusions she did, and what she thinks the significance of certain episodes are, or could be, in the greater scheme of Scully's mytharc.
So, with all that said, Witch.
Witch is very typical of s1, in that it presents a lot of scenarios which could easily have been played in a fashion as black as fresh tar. – which is naturally the direction I chose to (attempt to) reroute to – but didn't. Not only does Buffy heedlessly leap in front of a car to save Cordelia, and not only does she nearly die from a witch's curse, but she is rejected from the cheerleading squad, the thing she'd sought to bring some normalcy and perhaps legitimacy to her school life. I think on the surface, Buffy's desire to get back into cheerleading was something we as an audience may have been meant to interpret as frivolous, childlike, and irresponsible (as Giles believes, and as it's played up), but in my interpretation of canon and its progression, and in light of the origin I made up for her, I think it's actually pretty important. To some degree, this loss could be seen as the final nail in the proverbial coffin for her past life (as she's unable to even make it on the squad, unable to reclaim even a minor part of the life of pre-Slayer Buffy), and what's interesting is that her pursuit of a reclamation of her past only serves to drive her further down the Slayer's path: as it's on the squad itself that she runs into (presumably) one of her first non-vampire foes, which forces her into two very public acts of heroism (saving Amber and Cordelia) and nearly costs her her life.
What's also conceptually interesting to me is the quality of this near death. It wasn't just a close call, something I imagine she'd faced dozens upon dozens of times prior to her arrival in Sunnydale. It was dying. For the first time in my story (and in canon), she was forced to face death without any way of fighting it, stripped utterly of the protection her power as a Slayer affords her. It's for this reason that I chose to connect her delirium in Witch to her death in Prophecy Girl through premonition – because at their baseline, both involve a terrifying degree of helplessness, and, consequently, her survival becoming dependent on the actions of someone else.
I think it's very apt that Buffy had to rely on Giles so very soon after her move to Sunnydale, after her readjustment to life not just as the Slayer, but as a Slayer with a Watcher. I've underplayed the effects of her grief for Merrick (as well as Tisha, I feel), because I know that having Buffy constantly struggling with the chains from what essentially amounts to a bunch of dead OCs wouldn't make for a particularly engaging reading experience, but for me it's not possible to ignore the influence . At this time in her story, Giles isn't just her Watcher; he's her replacement Watcher, a constant reminder of Merrick, who she was unable to protect. He's a new and disparate element in her life. Yet in Witch, a mere ten days after their first meeting (because, yes, I have a calendar for this fic; several calendars), Giles saves Buffy's life. I think to some degree this serves to lay the foundation for the bond between them, and I'd hazard to speculate that this incident is an early step in establishing why Buffy finds so much safety in Giles.
(and I'll just take a moment to say that I doubt most of what I'm speculating on was in fact intentional by the writers; what's important is everything works out so nicely)
Of course, it was highly convenient that this incident occurs so early on in the series for another reason: it was in a prime position to coincide with Buffy's birthday. I'll be frank here – the opportunity to have Buffy almost die less than a week before her birthday was my second largest motivation in shifting around the timeline as much as I did (the first being that the suggested canonical timeline makes no sense whatsoever). Not only does it keep s1 inline with her special birthday tradition (of gut-wrenching misery and horror), but it allowed me to stress my point (which, by this time in the fic, I've certainly pounded into the reader's skull): that Buffy's life as the Slayer is one of misery, sacrifice, and a certain degree of terror. She can't count on making it to her birthday, even if it's only a few days away. She can't ever seem to find ground to rest on that won't be ripped apart. And I think this is extremely important, not only in understanding her actions between Prophecy Girl and When She Was Bad, and between Becoming and Dead Man's Party, as well as down the line in The Gift and s6/7, but in how she approaches romantic relationships, and how she treats her partners. Angel is going to be entering the picture very soon here (arguably, it starts in the very next episode, Teacher's Pet), and I think dealing with him in the context of her instability will be interesting (because, I'll be honest, there's nothing less interesting to me than “true, instantaneous love” as character motivation; nor do I believe for a second that that's even a realistic for someone in Buffy's position).
Having Buffy's birthday here also allowed me to explore the disparity between her relationships with her mother and her father (though one could debate how effectively I pulled it off). The show does a poor job of explaining why Hank Summers so utterly disappears from his daughter's life (daughters', with Keyverse), beyond a few minor suggestions and Buffy's confession in Conversations with Dead People, so this is something I have a lot of freedom to pursue. I think it's important not to demonize Hank, because I think to some degree I can understand why he removed himself from Buffy's life – the divorce would've put strain on their relationship anyway, since Joyce took full custody (by all appearances), and we know by his own admission that he feels the distance between them (When She Was Bad). I would imagine that his feelings of distance only increased after s2, following not only Buffy's extended disappearance (only to find out she'd been in LA all that time, though in my timeline, Hank has already moved to San Diego by s3), but the change in her relationship with Joyce after she finds out, and accepts, that Buffy is indeed the Slayer. I would wonder what Joyce's conversations with Hank about Buffy were like after s2, what he must've thought when interacting with either of them (suddenly, Joyce wouldn't be complaining about Buffy's absences and grades and attitude anymore, yet Buffy's behavior hadn't actually changed; it may have even gotten worse).
This of course doesn't excuse his behavior (and we're all pretty sure he was cheating on Joyce to begin with), but I think since I began Seasons with Joyce and Hank together, I should be able to illustrate the deterioration in Hank's relationship with Buffy through the years following the divorce, so I can at least present a why and a how and a when. What better way than to start with Buffy's birthday, featuring a repeatable event that will inevitably come to a termination in Helpless (the ice show)? And what better way to pound on the tension than to have her dealing with a very traumatic and very recent near death?
Serendipity. For me, anyway.
Buffy's birthday also allowed me to further flesh out her relationship with Willow and Xander, which on the show seemed to bloom out of nowhere and was suddenly just a thing, their closeness as unarguable and unchangeable as Giles' Britishness. Something the show never pointed out was the sheer uniqueness of their relationship at the start: that Buffy is a superhero who decides to befriend two of the biggest losers in Sunnydale High (discounting Jonathon and probably/certainly Andrew), and includes them in her work and her life. I feel that it's not unrealistic to speculate that Willow and Xander were in awe of her, that it might have terrified them nightly to learn of Buffy's constant near deaths just as much as it electrified them. When I watch that scene in Witch when Buffy saves Cordelia, all I can think is what Willow and Xander must have thought if they'd been there to witness it (which is why I had them show up at the scene while Buffy was still standing on the road): normal people don't do stuff like that. Heroes do, the sort who are infallible, tough, gallant, and untouchable. Yet they are constantly reminded of Buffy's vulnerability, when she fails to make the cheerleading squad, when they see everyone staring at her like a freak, when she tells them she's having two birthdays between her two parents (and when Dawn asks why Hank is not present at Buffy's birthday party), when she begins to die in their arms. In this way, I think I can very easily justify why they became as close as they did, as quickly as they did, while also leaving a splinter there to explain why it was so easy for them to fall apart during the times they did – because I think to some degree, that separation was always there, from day one (which is something I may pursue in Pack, re: Xander's words to Willow about their life before Buffy).
On a canonical note (there's no segue here), I would also like to point out that despite Witch's...campyness, even here we are confronted with the depths of Buffy's strength, courage, and intelligence. I've already spoken of her actions in regards to Amber and Cordelia (she jumped in front of a frigging speeding truck), but I also just want to mention that it's Buffy, not Giles, who realizes that Amy is the source of Sunnydale's problem of the week, and it's Buffy again who realizes that the woman they'd assumed was Catherine the (No Longer) Great was in fact Amy. I've often felt that Buffy's sharpness is discounted a lot, not just in fan discussion, but in the show itself – from Buffy herself. Giles is the one with the pile of books and a librarian's patience, but Buffy is the one who can quickly and easily come to accurate readings of the people/demons around her (nicely illustrated in Welcome to the Hellmouth, when Buffy is able to almost instantly find a vampire in the crowd without Giles' “honing”), who is able to come up with strategies on the fly, whose speculations often turn out to be accurate (as in Witch and, soon, Teacher's Pet). I think it's important to recognize this, that Buffy isn't simply the brawn to Giles' (or someone else's) brains, especially in s1, which is a season even I often find myself thinking is “stupid” and somewhat inconsistent tonally from the rest of the series.
And with all that said, I'll stop turning over Witch, because it's been a year and I've had enough of it. Onward to Teacher's Pet.
Teacher's Pet Meta/Thoughts >>>