Saturday, July 14, 2012

"Checkpoint" (Buffy 5.12): Fight the Power!

As an appropriate soundtrack to this pivotal episode, might I suggest the following:

In "Checkpoint," Buffy does what feminist conscious-raising groups (and Harmony in "Pangs") call getting control of her power. And interestingly, the one DO this episode offers to that end is to dismantle, discredit, or deny the power that resides in institutions. Here are some of the traditional power structures, and powerful people, that the Slayer slays in just forty-two short minutes:

Academia: This is not the first time that college professors have taken a beating on Buffy. (*Cough* Maggie Walsh.) But remember also the pop culture (for shame!) professor who humiliates her on the first day of class in "The Freshmen." There is a deep and abiding mistrust of academics that Jenn wonders is writer-specific. In any case, this ep brings us a history professor who ridicules his student for a) remembering and integrating past material; b) suggesting that multiple perspectives are valid; and c) demonstrating intellectual curiosity.

"I got my Ph.D. in smugness. And in being a dick."

Boyfriends: Okay, *not* a traditional power structure. But significant others, especially recently (*cough* Riley), have challenged and punished Buffy for being independent and self-actualized. When Spike's "pull her pigtails on the playground" style of flirting involves needling Buffy for being left, she rightly retorts that she doesn't need a man to save her. No ma'am you don't.

They are totally one of those couples that dress alike, though.

The Watchers Council: This increasingly nefarious institution confirms its inherent douchebaggery in this episode, showing up to "check" Buffy's skills and decide if she's worthy of having the information they've dug up on Glory.

Quentin Travers. Giving tweed a bad name since season 3.

They put her through a series of physical challenges, and interview her friends like I got interviewed when my buddy joined the foreign service. Though this makes for some hilarious moments (Jenn's favorite from the nervous ex-demon Anya: "Go deadness for the demons!") is entirely inappropriate and a bit wrong-headed. What exactly is their endgame here if Buffy "fails"? Spring Faith from prison?

Giles: Not in a bad way but still. The Council blackmails Buff by threatening to have Ripper deported. She must save him (and she does, getting him reinstated as a Watcher with retroactive pay),
further cementing not only his importance to her as a mentor, but also her role as the, for lack of a better word, decider in Sunnydale.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call claiming the phallus.

All of this demolishing of institutional power resonates thematically with the Council's revelation that Glory is in fact a god, and the appearance of the Knights of Byzantium, an ancient order dedicated to her destruction, even if that means sacrificing Dawn. Though Buffy derives much of her strength communally, from her friends/family, the series remains committed to critiquing institutionalized power structures. Seems this works in the Whedonverse as a whole as well. (*Cough* Wolfram & Hart, The Alliance).

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