In between flitting from job to job, trying to write, occasionally sleeping or eating and pimping myself out all over the interwebs in desperate attempts to crawl out of the medical and financial hole I dwell in, I’ve been marathoning Buffy the Vampire Slayer. While watching it, I realized there is a lot more going on there than you might expect from what is, in essence, a teeny-bopper power trip modern fairy tale.
Nearly every member of the regular crew has something useful to teach us. Here’s what I learned from each of them, in no particular order.
Xander teaches us that, even when we may seem less capable than those around us, there’s always something we’re good at or needed for… And to accept and relish that. He may not be flinging fireballs or using super strength, immortality or bestial transformations, but he still has a part to play, even if it’s just keeping spirits up so the others can flex those supernatural muscles.
Anya is here to tell us that, no matter who you are or what you’ve done, the right person can always get you to change. Sometimes that’s for the worse – Olaf’s actions leading to Anya’s thousand-year reign as the official avenger of scorned women – but sometimes it’s for the better – Xander’s love leading to her becoming much more human and capable of love and bravery… Even if it ended poorly. She also gives us the lesson that, sometimes, pragmatism is better than mincing around the edges of a thing, even if it hurts.
Buffy’s Watcher and father-figure may seem restrained, unemotional, bland and geeky. But beneath it lies a reservoir of strong emotion, passions strong enough to break weaker souls… Maybe even strong enough, at times, to lead him to brutal actions in the name of those he loves. (His straight-up murder of Ben or his misguided collusions with Robin Wood to kill Spike come to mind, here.) Still waters run deep, and Giles teaches us that holding back isn’t always wrong… And that embracing passion is sometimes the right action to take.
Willow shows that it’s always important to be yourself… Even if you’re not entirely sure who that is, at the time. Sure, it doesn’t always end well – her ill-fated romance with Xander and her actions after Tara’s death prove that – but in the end, when all is said and done, she’s always stronger for it… Even if it doesn’t always seem readily apparent at first. She’s also got a large stripe of caregiver and tells us to try to see the good in everyone – very rarely does she have anything actually violent or malicious in mind for people, even when face to face with folks like Faith or Spike in their “bad” days – which is a lesson more folks should learn.
So many things one could try to learn from Spike… Though to be fair, a lot of them are embraced by other characters first (and sometimes better.) But the two main lessons to take from everyone’s favorite Billy Idol impersonating vampire-ghost? Love conquers all, and never give up. He’s had to reinvent himself from the ground up more than once, has been destined to love all the wrong people for all the wrong reasons, and has had more setbacks than just about any of the cast… But he keeps fighting. Nothing keeps him down for long, and he’s always seeking to better himself, whether it be by becoming a better combatant by watching videos of Buffy’s fighting style or by literally making himself a better man by going out and wresting his soul from a demon shaman. Oh, and one more: Live for the moment. Spike is excellent at throwing the thinking to the side, embracing the sheer joy of whatever task he’s engaged in, and living his best (un)life almost every moment of every night. And that’s to be admired.
Faith is, in many ways, a tragic character, and a deeper one than most people realize. The lesson to be learned from her? No matter how badly you’ve screwed up, no matter how much you hate yourself or your situation, there’s always a chance for atonement and forgiveness, always a chance to become someone that you can love and that others can respect. You have to learn to accept yourself before anyone else will, and though it takes a while – and a lot of murder and violence – she finally does.
Star of the show. Or is she? The lesson to take from the Queen of the Slayers is simple: You’re nothing on your own. Which sounds depressing, but it really isn’t… When you realize that you’re stronger with your friends, and strive to build those bridges, things get a whole lot better. The message is beaten into her – sometimes quite literally – again and again; when she’s left completely alone, things go terribly for her, but the more of her friends she rallies, the better she gets, both in a fighting way and in an emotional health fashion. This is summed up during her solo-turned-chorus in “Once More With Feeling,” (“One by one they turn from me, I guess my friends can’t stand the cold”) where she starts out entirely alone and Sweet nearly kills her, but when the rest of the Scoobies hurry to her side and Spike delivers his message followed by their duet, she becomes nearly whole again, and emerges on the road to healing from her trauma and becomming better and stronger than ever before. Alone, we die. Together, we endure.
What do you think? Am I overanalyzing them? Are there other characters with important messages hidden in their wacky supernatural teenage hijinks? Let us know down below!