Buffy Shareage S1: E3 Witch

Witch is my favorite episode of S1. As the first non-pilot episode (Welcome to the Hellmouth and Harvest both count as pilots in my opinion), and it definitely feels less . . . pushy. It’s a chance for the writers to start relaxing into the rhythm of the show without being mired in exposition-ville.

The relationships between Buffy, Willow, and Xander start to solidify and take on a natural quality, and the Slayerettes (later to be renamed the Scoobies) – or more importantly, the idea that Buffy will stop worrying about putting her friends in danger and count on Willow and Xander as allies in the slayage business – become a thing.

I like the Joyce-Buffy interactions, too. It’s important that the audience appreciate Joyce’s efforts to be a good mother. If she were too good at it or too bad at it, we wouldn’t identify with her or care about her.

Buffy and Joyce Summers - Buffy S1 E3

One of the key themes of the show is that in the modern age, the slayer cannot necessarily be isolated from the world. Superheros are cool, but if all they do is open super cans of whoop-ass on their foes, they get boring. Buffy is worthy of seven seasons because she’s a slayer with family and friends, not to mention a desire to be more than just a slayer. She’s not a traditional chosen one. If the characters in her world aren’t intriguing, she becomes less intriguing.

A few other observations.

Throughout the first three seasons, Cordelia repeatedly demonstrates that she’s smarter than people give her credit for. In this episode, she uses the term hyperbole correctly, but nobody notices because she’s also being a bitch at the same time.

Why would anyone want to harm Cordelia?

Also, Elizabeth Anne Allen (Amy) does a lovely job of switching between Amy and her mother. Her facial expressions, vocal inflections, and posture change. It may not be evident when watching the episode for the first time, but on repeat viewings, you can actually tell when Amy’s mother is controlling Amy’s body and when Amy is in there. (Sarah Michelle Gellar and Eliza Dushku have an opportunity to show off their skills in this area in S4, although the winner of the award for transforming into another character will forever go to Enver Gjokaj as Victor in Dollhouse.)
Elizabeth Anne Allen as Amy

Finally, I like the fact that Buffy leaps into action and puts Amber out when the girl catches fire during their cheerleading tryouts. Buffy doesn’t do this because she has superpowers or because she’s the chosen one. She does this because she’s Buffy and she cares about people. She sits with Amber after putting the fire out and reassures her that she’s going to be okay. Screenwriting guru Blake Snyder would call this a “save the cat” moment, and it works. We don’t just like Buffy because her name is in the title of the show. She would be a hero even if she weren’t a superhero.

Finally, Buffy uses more than just super strength to defeat Amy’s mom. The mirror trick takes smarts.

Buffy Shareage S1: E2 The Harvest

The Harvest continues where Welcome to the Hellmouth left off. A little bit of action followed by a bunch more exposition in the library.

Fortunately, the exposition in The Harvest is a little less awkward, primarily because Xander and Willow are present, allowing for a question and answer exchange.

My favorite things about The Harvest:

Sarah Michelle Gellar’s hair is adorable.

Willow to Cordelia and Harmony: “Deliver.”

Deliver

The Master to failure vampire: “You’ve got something in your eye.”

The irony in Buffy’s conversation with Joyce, who gives her the “I know what it’s like to be a 16-year-old-girl; everything is life or death,” speech.

Cordelia: “I have to have the most expensive thing, not because it’s the most expensive, but because it costs more.”

The Jesse twist. Rarely does a show give the audience a surprise like this. People expect the “main characters” in a pilot to last for a while. In fact, Joss originally wanted to include Eric Balfour in the opening credits to throw the audience off even more, but they didn’t have the budget to create a whole separate credit sequence for one episode.

Buffy demonstrates real creativity and intelligence when she tricks Luke into expecting sunlight to distract him long enough for her to slay him.

Buffy powns Luke

Other observations about The Harvest:

When Principal Flutie attempts to prevent Buffy from leaving school grounds, Buffy leaps over the fence. In subsequent episodes (throughout the seven seasons), situations arise in which this super-jumping ability would come in extremely handy, but Buffy does not always use it.

Buffy has super-jumping powers. Why doesn't she use them more often?

Having seen Angel’s backstory in Becoming, I’m not completely sure I understand why he has such a ‘tude when he interacts with Buffy.

Angel starts out with a serious 'tude.

My biggest issue with this episode is the scene in which Xander and Buffy are underground, trying to get away from Jesse and the vampires, and Buffy is unable to push a door closed without Xander’s help. I just couldn’t buy it. Buffy has super strength. That door should be no problem for her!

That door should be no problem for superhero Buffy.

Fortunately, the “superhero can’t close a simple door” moment didn’t ruin it all. At the end of this episode, my friend was hooked. She said she couldn’t wait to watch the next episode. So far, so good!

Buffy Shareage S1: E1 Welcome to the Helmouth

As pilots go, Welcome to the Hellmouth is decent. The best pilot episodes I’ve ever seen include Serenity (Firefly), the LOST pilot (titled, appropriately enough, Pilot), and Fire in the Hole (Justified). Welcome to the Hellmouth doesn’t come close to any of those, but it has enough going for it that I was at the very least drawn in and curious to see where things went next the first time I saw it.

Joss Whedon wrote and co-directed Welcome to the Hellmouth.

Here’s what Welcome to the Hellmouth does well:

The pilot establishes Joss’s overreaching intent, which is to flip horror tropes on their heads and give the girls more to do than just scream and hide behind the boys who have come to save them.

This episode also clearly establishes the smart combination of humor and horror that became one of the show’s most popular elements. It contains a number of classic-Whedon lines of dialogue.

Buffy approaching and befriending Willow is a nicely crafted “save the cat” moment.

And, most importantly, character introductions are outstanding.

The Buffy-Joyce relationship is not too sweet or too oppressive. Buffy and her mother are not BFFs, but there’s no heavy, angsty stuff going on either.

Joyce and Buffy have a realistic relationship.

Joyce is trying to be a good mother, but she has what she sees as an unruly teen on her hands. She doesn’t want to be a hard-ass, but she also feels responsible for making sure Buffy doesn’t turn into a delinquent. In just a few minutes of screen time, this heavy burden Joyce carries, along with her loving but concerned nature, are clearly defined.

Willow’s character is delightfully charming and sympathetic. I adore every little thing about Alyson Hannigan’s performance. She was, without question, the right casting choice.

Xander comes across as lovable rather than obnoxious. Joss walked this fine line with Xander throughout, making him one of my favorite characters (and his arc one of my favorite character arcs of all time . . . right after Wesley’s) ever.

Willow and Xander are immediately interesting.

And Cordelia … well, Cordelia is just awful. Which I love because Joss doesn’t write two-dimensional characters. Of course, I didn’t know that when I watched the episode for the first time – I just knew she was a wonderful non-supernatural source of conflict.

Cordelia is deliciously awful.

And then there is Giles. Did I love Giles when he first appeared? I don’t think so. Because here is what Welcome to the Hellmouth does not do well:

Exposition.

Giles is a textbook with arms.

In the pilot episode, Giles serves solely as an explainer. Buffy accuses him of being like a textbook with arms, and he really is.

He’s still Tony Head, so he’s adorable and British, but we don’t really get to see much of him, and when we do, awkward exposition ensues.

The scene in the library after Buffy examines the dead body and explains to Giles (for no reason other than “sharing information with the audience”) how she knows he won’t rise again (which, frankly, she could not possibly know) is cringe-worthy.

Buffy wants less exposition and more action.

Joss does his best to infuse said exposition with lightness (“Did you send away for the Time-Life series?”), but it still feels heavy and imposing. If there is anything about the first episode that I desperately want to assure people will get better, it is this aspect of the show.

Fortunately, after watching Welcome to the Hellmouth, my friend was ready to watch The Harvest, so she wasn’t scared away yet.

Buffy Shareage S1: The Season That Comes With Disclaimers

I often encourage others – friends, family members, coworkers, acquaintances, perfect strangers, imperfect strangers – to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Not as often as I recommend Firefly, mind you, but frequently enough that those close to me would probably call it a habit.

Occasionally, someone actually listens to me.

When that happens, I immediately start apologizing for Season 1. Well, first I get a little giddy and use the word “awesome” a lot. Then I engage in what I see as necessary preemptive measures – efforts to convince the potential convert not to give up until he or she has made it through the first season and given the second season a chance.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a mid-season replacement.

Buffy was a mid-season replacement, and Joss was still struggling to find the show’s voice throughout the first season. It’s definitely the weakest of the seven seasons. It’s also dated, it’s filled with awkward exposition, and it features a Big Bad who’s trapped underground for eleven of the twelve episodes.

Having seen S2 through S7, I feel compelled to repeatedly apologize for S1 because it’s just not as good.

This is perhaps unfair. To Buffy. To Joss. To my friends. But I do it every time. Sometimes more enthusiastically than others, depending on the soon-to-be initiated.

Nobody "prepared" me for S1, and I loved it.

The thing is that nobody “prepared” me for S1, and I was hooked after the first two episodes.

When S1 was first released on DVD (yes, I know that was a long time ago), a friend of mine asked for the set for her birthday and then encouraged me to watch it with her. No preamble. No “it gets better; just give it a chance.” Just “Watch this. You’ll like it.”

I did.

And I did.

So why, if I was so willing to go on the S1 journey with no awareness that the show would become so much better, do I assume everyone else will give up and walk away from it before giving it a chance to reach its potential?

Why do I worry so much that my friends, family members, and other initiates will fail to stick with it long enough to experience episodes like Surprise and Innocence, Hush, The Body, The Gift, Once More With Feeling, and Chosen . . . not to mention Band Candy, Tabula Rasa, and Storyteller?

Let's explore Buffy from the point of view of a newbie.

In this series, I shall explore Buffy with the help of a newbie – a friend who has never seen the show (or any other Whedon show) and is prepared to share her experience as she watches for the first time.

I admit, I have given her the apology speech. Several times, in fact.

Will she make it through all seven seasons?

As of this moment, I do not know.

All I can say is that I sincerely hope so; if she can just stick it out through S1, I’m sure she’ll love it as much as I do.

The Curious Case of the Missing Mission

The Joss Whedon Fan Club has faced a few challenges over the last 10 years.

When I started it, the people I was listening to were all about monetizing. This was in 2006, and using the internet as a money-making machine was a thing. I guess it still is, but it doesn’t seem quite as ‘stake-your-claim-and-make-your-fortuney’ as it did then.

To be fair, the idea of making money from home doing something I was passionate about sounded pretty good to me. I like money, and entrepreneurship appeals to my creative, control-freaky nature. So it’s not like I was resisting the monetization train.

I imagined having all manner of time to write and teach and wave my geek flag like a madman. It sounded rather glorious.

I started the club with paid memberships (which came with goodies), and I opened an eBay store where I sold collectibles, t-shirts, autographs, posters, props, costume items, and other things people were willing to spend money on. I learned a lot about what sells and what doesn’t (Buffy action figures have seen their day).

I spent a lot of time packaging things up and printing shipping labels and taking armfulls of boxes to the post office.

The thing was, I didn’t particularly enjoy doing those things. Those things were tedious, and by the time I covered expenses, I wasn’t making any money anyway.

After a few years, I started wondering what the heck I was doing all that work for (I think I started wondering that right away, but I felt like I’d made a commitment, so I kept at it). And, I wasn’t writing and teaching and flag waving because I was kind of tired and unenthused all the time.

So I donated the remainder of my inventory to the Austin Browncoats, and I closed the eBay store, and I just let the fan club sit there for a while. Which broke my heart. Because I was no less a fan of Whedon’s work. I still talked about Joss nonstop to anyone who would listen. I still kept up with Joss and Joss-alum news. I still attended DragonCon every year and geeked out at Buffy and Firefly panels.

But the fan club was just idling.

Every once in a while, I’d get an email from someone asking me a question or sharing a fan tribute he or she had created and asking if I’d be interested in posting it on the website. And I was interested. Because I still wanted to do the fandom stuff. I just didn’t want to “run a business.”

And finally it hit me. The whole reason for the fan club was celebration. Not money. Not membership gathering. Celebrating.

If the Joss Whedon Fan Club had started out with a mission statement, it would have had the word “celebrate” front and center. Selling stuff is not celebrating. Celebrating is celebrating.

The thing I had been mourning wasn’t dead. It was just on the wrong path. Once I realized what I’d missed back in the beginning, I was energized. I was pumped. I was ready to make the fan club exactly what it was supposed to be.

The Joss Whedon Fan Club is a celebration.

Everyone who loves Joss’s work is a member.

So. These are the Lessons I’ve learned. It’s Showtime. It’s time to Get It Done. I’ve been Touched with this epiphany and Chosen to discover the fan club’s Potential.

Here’s what’s in the works.

  • Updated website (set up, but still needing some designy love)
  • Transfer of older blog posts (in progress)
  • New blog posts (also in progress)
  • A call to all creative people to share your fan tributes, so I can post them and let everyone enjoy them.
  • A convention directory listing Joss alum appearances (coming soon)
  • More stuff as I think of it

About the fan tributes: Drawings, videos, songs, stories . . . if you made it, I’l post it (unless it’s, like, super obscene or something – kids are Whedon fans, too, so let’s keep it closer to the PG spectrum than the NC-17, ‘kay, thanks).

Thanks to those who have patiently waited for me to get my act together.

Let’s celebrate, shall we?

Some People Make Me Embarrassed to Be a Woman

Sometimes when I’m heard muttering about how outspoken feminists do the gender more harm than good, someone who doesn’t know me well gets confused (or bent out of shape) and challenges me to explain myself. What with my gender being femin and all, I guess it’s just assumed that I shut my brain down and faithfully follow the supposed leaders of the movement that’s all about me and my “sisters” without question.

So today, I shall explain myself in an analysis of the feminist objections to Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.

[AGE OF ULTRON SPOILERS AHEAD]

Take a gander at this open letter to Joss, written by a woman who apparently went to Age of Ultron hoping she’d find something to bitch about. ‘Cause, I saw the same movie. And I’m a woman. And I’m a Joss Whedon fan. But I’m not a card carrying feminist. And I was blown away by the movie.

How I responded to the movie

When I saw Age of Ultron, I was sucked into the Marvel universe and taken on a wonderful, exciting, funny, Whedony ride.

When I walked out of the theater, I seriously wanted to run back around and get in line for another go, just like I used to do at amusement parks after riding something so thrilling I had to experience it again right away.

In fact, I saw Age of Ultron three times over opening weekend, and I loved the experience passionately every time.

  • The movie reminded me why I adore Joss’s incredible creativity and storytelling power.
  • It made me forget for a full two-and-a-half hours about all the things in my regular life that I’d rather weren’t part of my regular life.
  • It gave me a blissful period of time during which I felt nothing but exhilaration and pure joy.

I thanked Joss on Twitter, although I know my words were a) hardly eloquent enough to express the depth of my feelings and b) probably never viewed by Joss, what with his busy schedule and all.

How they responded to the movie

Here’s a smattering what some other people tweeted to Joss over the weekend:

@josswhedon “talks against misogyny” @josswhedon “is the master of misogyny”

@josswhedon I am going to do everything in my power to destroy your career the way you destroyed natasha romanoffs character you piece of shit

@josswhedon everything about you is SHIT

@josswhedon why do you ruin everything we love

@josswhedon can’t complain about sexism in other people’s movies after the hatchet job he did to Black Widow in Age of Ultron.

@josswhedon why can’t you write female characters as real people

@josswhedon you son of a bitch, what the hell you doing with natasha romanoff

@josswhedon why do you think fucking with your characters’ reproductive agency is a thing that you should do?

@josswhedon can fuck off. Never touch marvel again you sexist asshole

@josswhedon is a strong female character not in your vocabulary?

@josswhedon I hate u and ur shitty sexist writing <3

@josswhedon thanks for ruining Natasha romanoff you absolute trash can

@josswhedon you’re trash

@josswhedon u misogynistic balloney man

@josswhedon do us all a favor and stop calling yourself a feminist!

[sic]

That’s not all of them.

If this is what feminism is, then I’m damned proud not to identify myself as one of them.

Here’s what I have to say about all that.

Before I address the reason for all the outrage, I’d like to say two things about the nature of these vicious attacks.

One, I’ve been deeply disappointed by creative endeavors before. George Lucas and J.J. Abrams have both let me down in spectacular fashion – to the point where I still get wound up and rant about my suffering years later.

So, regardless of how much I happened to love Age of Ultron, I get what it’s like to be disappointed. When you’ve been waiting for something that’s supposed to be awesome – or answer burning questions (I’m looking at you, J.J.) – for years, and what you ultimately receive doesn’t even come close to living up to your expectations, it’s rough.

That said, I have never directly called Lucas or Abrams names or attacked either of them in public. Not even a little bit.

Second, I can’t help but notice that a majority of these filth spitters apparently lack basic capitalization, punctuation, and grammar skills. So, before they’ve done anything else, they’ve definitely demonstrated to the world that women can’t use the English language properly. Thanks ladies. I appreciate the boost on that score. At least Sara Stewart’s open letter to Joss had been through a spell check!

Now, because it’s impossible to respond constructively to all the cruel words fired at Joss in 140 characters or fewer, I’ll address Stewart’s complaints, which are carefully organized and expressed without profanity.

Natasha Romanoff can’t have children.

Natasha Romanov

The primary issue amongst the feminists seems to be Natasha’s sadness over the fact that she was sterilized against her will by the PTB at the Red Room.

“. . . did we really need Natasha to have a mini-breakdown over the fact that she can’t have children? Haven’t we gotten to a point where the one lonely female superhero in our current landscape can just pursue the business of avenging without having to bemoan not being a mother?”

Let’s start with a given. Natasha Romanoff was sterile in the comic books. So, Joss didn’t make that up; he simply used it.

Second, Romanoff didn’t break down because she couldn’t have children; she broke down because cruel people molded little-girl Natasha into a cold-blooded killer and took her choices away from her. Against her will. She’s sad and angry because she never had the opportunity to decide what her life would be like – not just in the reproductive arena, but in the career arena and every other arena that exists.

Natasha Romanoff was deliberately molded into a monster. The Red Room violated both her psyche and her body. Yet, Romanoff has managed to stay sane. She’s managed to use her skills to benefit others. The one thing they did to her that she cannot change – that she cannot overcome through force of will – is the fact that they took part of her body. To make her a more efficient killer.

So, Wanda Maximoff throws Romanoff back into little-Natasha’s nightmare reality, and Romanoff remembers, viscerally, who she was. Her breakdown isn’t a sign of weakness – if anything, it’s a testament to just how powerful Maximoff is (wait, who said there weren’t strong women in this movie?).

Is it the fact that Romanoff kicks ass that makes her a strong female character? I don’t think so. Kicking ass is what she was designed to do. Her strength comes from her ability overcome her past and be an Avenger instead of a villain.

When confronted with her desire to have a different life, especially immediately after literally reliving the pain and horror of her childhood, Romanoff responds like a human being instead of a superhero. How does this make her less strong? From my perspective, it shows how freaking strong she actually is!

If Romanoff is to have any character development (as in, Joss makes her a fully realized human being instead of a plastic superhero), the origin of Black Widow has to be part of that development. So, how was she supposed to react? With flippant, casual annoyance?

“Oh, yeah, Bruce, I’d love to run off and have a peaceful life with you in which neither of us has to be a monster. Thank goodness I’m not carrying around any baggage from my upbringing that might interfere with that!”

Also, correct me if I’m wrong. Aren’t the feminists the ones who are all about women getting to be 100% in charge of their own reproductive choices??

Owning one’s reproductive choices does (as far as I know) include being one of those women who wants to have children. You can’t have it both ways, ladies. Either you’re in favor of all women having their own feelings, plans, aspirations, and dreams about having children or you’re not.

Or are we to shun every woman who has a biological clock as an agent of the “man”?

Clint Barton’s wife is a homemaker.

Laura Barton: Strong Female

Stewart’s next objection regards Barton’s wife.

“You got Linda Cardellini — Lindsay goddamn Weir! — in your movie, and you made her a housewife. As Hawkeye’s secret spouse (he’s kept his family in some sort of superhero protection program, apparently), she is literally pregnant and in the kitchen for most of her screen time. Sure, she dispenses some womanly words of wisdom and lets the Avengers crash in their Pottery Barn-tastic farmhouse, but seriously? That is some reductive gender shit right there.”

If I’m reading this right, according to the feminists, being a housewife is not an acceptable choice for a woman (especially if she’s Lindsay Weir).

Does every woman in a superhero movie have to wear a latex suit and beat the crap out of bad guys – or robots? Is running a farm, raising children, and waiting to find out if your husband has been killed by a bad guy – or a robot – not heroic enough?

If feminists were in charge of the cinematic universe, human beings would become extinct because women wouldn’t be allowed to have and raise children!

Clint Barton has a wife. If he has a wife, she’s gonna’ be a woman. What does Stewart want his wife to be like? Should she be some kind of powerful attorney in a big city who eschews the trappings of domesticity and refuses to have children because doing so would interfere with her career? How does that improve Age of Ultron?

Laura Barton is a kind and patient woman. A woman who has made a choice to support her husband as he runs off to save the world, knowing he could die, but accepting that it’s what he has to do and being okay with it. All while suffering the discomfort and hormonal wackiness of pregnancy! She is, in my book, a hell of a strong woman. She’s amazing, yet the feminists are complaining because she chooses to be a housewife. And because Joss chose to include a strong woman in a superhero movie who isn’t a traditional superhero (trust me, those kids of hers undoubtedly think she’s a superhero in her own right).

Maria Hill and Helen Cho don’t do anything important.

Maria Hill and Helen Cho: Strong Females

Next Stewart complains that Maria Hill doesn’t do anything but “walk around with a clipboard, wear tight black pantsuits [dresses actually] and have the occasional chastising Skype session with our heroes,” and Dr. Helen Cho, “who can apparently do brilliant things with genetics but mostly just gets mind-warped by the villainous Ultron and, later, beaten up [shot, actually] by him.”

Here’s something to keep in mind. The characters in movies are always going to be either male or female (or robots). These two characters are women, and they’re both competent, smart, powerful women. Hill is, like, the best project manager ever, and Dr. Cho is a brilliant scientist.

If these characters had both been men, and their roles in the movie had been the same, the feminist would have been whining about how all the powerful characters in the movie were male.

Ultron was going to find himself a brilliant scientist to mind-whammy, and he was going to shoot that scientist when things didn’t go his way. So, if Dr. Cho was definitely going to be either male or female, which one should Joss have chosen?

From what I can tell, the feminists would have been pissed off either way.

Pepper and Jane Foster aren’t in the movie.

Pepper and Jane Foster: Strong Females Who Weren't In Age of Ultron

Stewart also complains about the absence of Pepper and Jane Foster in the movie. Seriously? We now need to add superfluous female characters to movies just so the estrogen and the testosterone are balanced at all times?

Wanda Maximoff isn’t Buffy.

Wanda Maximoff: Strong Female
Finally, Stewart accuses Joss of failing the feminist movement by giving Wanda Maximoff “zero quippy Whedony dialogue.”

Yup. That’s right. Her biggest complaint regarding the Scarlet Witch is the fact that she wasn’t witty enough. Never mind the fact that her character is a balance to her brother’s brash arrogance, or that she makes smart decisions and kicks ass with a vengeance (literally). Never mind that in a moment of rage and grief, she rips the “heart” from an Ultron robot. No, she’s not strong enough because she doesn’t get to say anything cute.


Age of Ultron is one of the most entertaining superhero movies I’ve ever seen. It is filled with interesting, complex, often flawed characters, all of whom are either male or female. Even the robots are complex and interesting. None of the main characters are spared their moments of conflict. Everyone struggles. Everyone.

At what point do we stop keeping score? At what point do we acknowledge that – as in the real world – all human beings are unique, regardless of gender?

  • Some Age of Ultron characters want children (Barton and his wife, Banner, Romanoff).
  • Some characters get mind-whammied by Loki’s scepter (Barton in Avengers Assemble, Dr. Cho in Age of Ultron).
  • Some characters get shot (Barton and Dr. Cho again).
  • Some characters make terrible decisions that affect the safety of the world (Stark, Banner, Wanda Romanoff).
  • Some characters sacrifice their safety and happiness for others and for the safety of the world (Pietro Maximoff, Romanoff, Banner).

Characters are not pawns to be manipulated by people who identify themselves with “isms” to forward a cause. They’re people.

What makes Whedon’s work so compelling is not that he creates strong female characters. It’s that he creates strong human characters, and some of them are women. If he backed down and only gave us women who are solely superheroes, he’d be doing a disservice to his audience.

Feminists: Do not ask Joss Whedon to remove the humanity from his characters to fit your agenda!