Saturday, February 25, 2012

"Superstar" (Buffy 4.17): Hits me where I live

So, as a former (totally former) writer of fan fiction, I really appreciate the genius of this episode. It's got some razor-sharp writing, a delightful performance by Danny Strong's Jonathan, and I think some true insight into intertextuality. But before the boring litcrit stuff, on to the Buffy guide to writing really satisfying fanfic.

DO be a completist. No detail is left unnoticed by Jonathan's spell, which alters the Sunnydale 'verse to make him, well, a superstar.

Including the friggin' credits.

There are posters bearing Jonathan's face everywhere, including one on the back of Riley's dorm room door, replacing the baffling "Balls" wall art that usually resides there.

Which begs a few questions I've been pondering all season. Why does Riley have a poster in his dorm of various balls? Why am I not emotionally mature enough to refrain from snickering every time I see it? And what's the deal with that lighting sconce? Oh, and sorry about the shirtless Riley shot.

This should take the edge off.

DO know your characters, and be better than all of them.  Jonathan's spell is a literalization of Mary Sue fanfic in particular, where an avatar for the author interacts with the fictional world, and owns it as an utter rock star. In Jonathan's case, literally. He's also a best-selling author, famous athlete, movie idol, special ops consultant and swimsuit model, who's shacking up with blonde twins. But what makes the script particularly relevant to Mary Sue fanfic is that he outclasses all the Scoobies. He:

out-punches (and out-puns) Buffy,

out-hacks Willow,

out-chesses Giles,

and out-badasses Spike.

Though he still can't quite out-tall Riley.
Which brings me to . . .

DO keep your storyline as seamless as possible. Even in Jonathan's version of Sunnydale, Buffy and Riley are having problems related to the Faith sex from last week (that he solves), and Adam is still the Big Bad. He even posits a fan theory for how Adam is powered! Crucially, though, Adam isn't snookered by the spell. Watching Jonathan's exploits on surveillance monitors,

Kind of like we are.

he recognizes, and denigrates, televised fiction. I think this is more than just a throwaway moment. Adam is anti-TV texts, and therefore, at his mechanized core, anti-Buffy.

DON'T forget that whenever you write, you create a monster. In Jonathan's case, a literal one that attacks Tara.

Not cool.

But I think this works metaphorically as well. Intertextuality, when done right and read carefully, always alters the source text by default. After reading "The Company of Wolves," you'll never think about "Little Red Riding Hood" the same way again. Retellings cut a swath through foundational texts much like Jonathan's monster.

Though I prefer to imagine the embodiment of fanfic being a little bit less disgusting.

As my intrepid co-watcher Jenn points out, Jonathan's decision to "sacrifice his coolness" for the greater good is very much in keeping with the kid we got to know in seasons 2 & 3, and veritably unrecognizable from the Nerd of Doom we will meet in season 6. Not looking forward to it. Know what else neither of us is looking forward to? The Riley and Buffy bang-fest in "Where the Wild Things Are." Just the thought of it makes me bequeased.

A harbinger of horrible, horrible things to come.

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