Thursday, January 24, 2013

"Forever" (Buffy 5.17): Mourning Becomes Angel

In Sunnydale, we're still dealing with the fallout from Joyce's death. Which of course makes sense--that sort of trauma isn't shrugged off after forty minutes, but I could see a lesser show not taking the time to as carefully and curiously explore how each character copes with loss. So we're back to the Do's and Don'ts of processing pain.

DON'T be an enormous ass. Buffy's dad apparently has yet to even call his bereaved daughters, or to provide them with reliable contact information, apparently.

Giles NOT talking to Buffy's dad. Also, written and directed by Noxon? Good sign.

That is one of the details about the show that continues to stick in my craw. Though Mr. Summers wasn't perhaps an ideal father in earlier seasons, he was a present one. It seems beyond the pale of even the deadbeatest of dads not to acknowledge this tragedy in anyway. I get that adding another character would probably be more trouble than it's worth, but still.

DON'T be a normal-sized ass, either. We all know Xander has issues expressing pain. It tends to manifest as anger, and that anger is not always directed at an appropriate target. As Jenn puts it, Xander misunderstands and then sounds off. His treatment of Spike, and his genuine attempt to honor Joyce, is unfair.

And he makes Willow make her worried face.

DO remember to celebrate life. Anya and Giles have different ways of indulging this impulse.

Way 1

Way 2 (with "Tales of Brave Ulysses" playing in background).

But it seems an important one that the show endorses. Anya embraces sexual expression, and Giles remembers the day and night he spent re-teenager-ed with Joyce in "Band Candy." Actually, maybe their strategies aren't that different after all.

DO feel the pain. This is a big one, and the episode's major concern. Dawn, brattiness finally justified, understandably seeks a magical solution to her very human hurt. She asks Willow and Tara if there are any spells that could bring her mother back. I think this is a smart moment in the show--for the most part, everyone takes it for granted that the Scoobies live in a world where the supernatural is commonplace. But this moment is an exploration of how that conceit would affect the emotional lives of the characters. Though Tara staunchly refuses, citing the Wiccan directive not to interfere with the natural order of things, Willow helps Dawn. Spike does too.

Not actually helping, part 1.

Not actually helping, part 2. Plus, I felt bad for the monster, who was only trying to protect her eggs.

Both of these characters have and will demonstrate issues with control and processing pain. As Jenn points out, for Willow in particular, the failure to ask "should we" in the name of "can we" is dangerous. The impulse to help Dawn (and Buffy) by bringing Joyce back comes from a good place, but it is a terrible idea. The episode argues for this both in content (What we presume is a zombified Joyce horrifyingly creeping closer to the house as the Summers sisters argue, and Buffy has a much needed emotional breakdown) and structure (the creature Spike consults about the spell, and therefore brings into Dawn's life? Not the last we'll see of him.

Not by a long shot.

DO be present. This is almost a corollary of the above point, but it has a literal embodiment in the episode.

Namely, this body.

Angel can't show up until nightfall, but when he does, he does the only thing that could help Buffy. Sit next to her all night. Everyone experiences and expresses grief differently, and there is often anxiety on the part of all involved (including those closest to the tragedy) to know what to say. Even Buffy doesn't quite know, and instead threw herself into funeral preparations and caretaking. But Angel's appearance, as well as the emotional breakthrough the sisters have, just in time to allow Joyce's body to return to rest, argue less for saying, and more for just being, in the face of terrible pain.

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