The Eternal Buffy
written by Vinay Menon; from thestar.com
Say goodnight to Sunnydale. As fans and scholars know, this heroic slayer leaves behind a lot more than just dead vampires
The final apocalypse is upon us.
In about 96 hours, the world's most alluring vampire slayer, one Buffy Anne Summers, will skulk through the deserted shadows of Sunnydale — ground zero in the struggle between good and evil — for the last time.
Since March, 1997, Buffy has patrolled her California town with mesmerizing aplomb. With a scrunchie in her blond hair and a glimmer in her green eyes, she has vanquished vampires and destroyed demons with high-heeled kicks and sardonic quips.
On Tuesday night, she faces her most daunting challenge yet: saying goodbye to viewers who have dutifully followed Buffy The Vampire Slayer with spellbound devotion.
It won't be easy.
Alas, after 144 episodes spanning seven seasons and two networks, Buffy is building toward its fiery finale. As our prescient hero sang last season: "These endless days are finally ending in a blaze."
Will Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) defeat the biggest Big Bad of them all, a sinister, incorporeal entity known as "the First?" Will the Scooby Gang survive the epic battle? What will become of Spike (James Marsters)? And how will Angel (David Boreanaz) figure into the ultimate smackdown?
What can fans expect?
"They can definitely expect some people to die," says creator Joss Whedon on the phone from his Los Angeles office. "They can expect the show to close out and kind of fulfil what we set out to do."
When it premiered as a WB mid-season replacement, nobody could have predicted the future impact of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, a show based on a disastrous 1992 film with the same ironic title.
Though it was initially aimed at teens, the show was a curious mix of drama, comedy and horror. Through razor-sharp writing, including an endless array of subtle allusions, and a compelling ensemble cast, the show soon resonated with a more diverse audience.
Today, despite perennial "mediocre-to-average" ratings (about 5 million viewers a week), no other television show has triggered as many books (more than 150), Web sites (more than 1,500), not to mention comics, magazines, videogames and relentless academic analyses, including conferences and nascent college courses.
One recently published book, Buffy The Vampire Slayer And Philosophy: Fear And Trembling In Sunnydale, includes chapters such as "A Kantian Analysis of Moral Judgment in Buffy The Vampire Slayer."
Such high-minded titles may seem beyond the pale, especially to the uninitiated — those who've never watched the show but wrongly assumed it was roughly equivalent to Sabrina The Teenage Witch or Xena: Warrior Princess.
In reality, Whedon's inspiration for Buffy was wide-ranging. Sources included everything from television shows such as My So-Called Life and Wonder Years, to films such as Les Vampires (1915) and Lost Boys (1987), to novels by Anne Rice, to a 1973 scholarly volume titled Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology Of The American Frontier, 1600-1860.
But, from the start, Buffy had a simple working premise. It was about growing up.
"To me, that's always been the idea," Whedon tells me. "It's about that painful rite of adolescence and young adulthood that is so shaping for everybody.
"So, if you take that and basically turn it into a superhero story, it's a way of saying, 'You are a hero if you get through the day.' Nobody really gets over their adolescent experiences."
As such, the Hellmouth, or portal to all otherworldly evil, was situated under Sunnydale High School — the most obvious metaphor for "high school is hell" that television has ever known.
And Buffy, "the chosen one," the latest in a long line of empowered slayers, was cast as female even though several execs warned Whedon that such a conceit would never work with an action-horror show. The beautiful blondes were supposed to scream and run away from the monsters, not drive stakes through their hearts and courageously sacrifice everything to save the world.
"The lasting and most important useful thing about Buffy is this idea of a female hero," says Whedon. "I think it would be less of a surprise today, this idea of a female hero in a mythical situation, but there were very few of them in the mainstream then."
Still, "girl power" alone is not enough to propel a narrative, otherwise Birds Of Prey would still be on the air and Charmed might not seem so inane.
Whedon's real genius was in creating a multi-dimensional, deeply recessed and densely layered mythology — the academics call it "Buffyverse" — that could engage both supernatural escapism and earthly social constructs such as friendship, love, power, religion, responsibility and free will.
Characters' emotional responses transcended the paranormal. In the second season, in the episode "Innocence" (January 1998), Buffy and Angel finally consummate their simmering relationship. But, to Buffy's chagrin, the carnal act transforms Angel into "Angelus," a soulless monster. (As analogies go, this one struck a chord with many teenage girls.)
For a show about the travails of vampire hunting, there were also moments of comedic brilliance. Much of this was due to the writing — specifically, Whedon's ability to infuse dialogue with hipster neologisms or culturally specific phrases borne from semantic re-ordering ("guiltapalooza," "riding the mellow," "tingle moment," "twosome of cuteness.")
As the linear, serial narrative unravelled, and viewers became invested in the characters, it was also possible to create episodes that mockingly satirized the show itself.
This season's "Storyteller," in which Andrew (Tom Lenk) starts to shoot a video "so the world knows" what Buffy and her friends were really like, was one of the most inspired, creative and hysterical hours of television this year.
At times, Buffy was also profoundly moving without resorting to mawkish sentiment. In "Potential," when Buffy's sister Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) realizes there was a mistake, and she's not a potential slayer, Xander (Nicholas Brendon) comforts her by commiserating, or sharing his own sense of not "belonging" with the others who are blessed with superpowers.
You could go on and on, citing either "Hush," which featured 28 minutes of silence or, my favourite, "Once More, With Feeling," a musical episode in which Whedon wrote lyrics and composed the original score with almost no formal training.
"I hope what people will remember is that for seven years they lived with these characters who were very real," says Whedon. "I hope I made people feel a little stronger; that was all of my intent."
During the shooting of the finale, which took several days, Whedon himself broke down only once — after shooting Willow's (Alyson Hannigan) final scene.
"That's when I finally broke," he says. "And when they started to take the sets down, I thought, 'Oh wait.'"
The show may have occasionally struggled (parts of Season 4, 5, or 6, depending on who you ask), but one thing that never wavered was Whedon's sense of "diegesis," or the fictional world he created in Sunnydale.
He almost left the show at the end of the fifth season. In fact, he almost ended the show itself, but the studio and network had other ideas.
"I had planned for it to continue without me and then I discovered that either it couldn't, or I couldn't let it," he says. "Buffy was so much my voice and the idiosyncracies therein, that I could just never pull myself away.
"With Buffy, it was too close to my heart. I've lived with this girl since I was out of college. So we're talking about pretty much half my life now."
He knows fans are distraught, almost inconsolable.
"Looking at the time line is making me miss Buffy even more and it's not even over yet!" wrote one fan on a British message board. "One week left for us.... Excuse me while I go cry myself to sleep."
Another fan wrote a lyrical homage to the show, mirroring the rhythms in the song "Where Do We Go From Here," from the musical episode.
"Where do I go ... from here? / Might go insane, I fear / The show is done / There'll be no more fun / So I'll just cry in my beer / How can I stop ... my tears?"
Whedon understands the fervour of his fans, some of whom paid for a "thank you" ad in the Hollywood Reporter. Though the weekly show may be over, the franchise, he promises, will abide.
"(Fans) can expect closure but not the end," he says. "Nobody has a firm handle on what might come next, but I don't think that anybody feels that this universe is going away."
There's a pause.
"The show is still about life and life is not a thing that says 'The End' at the end."