Warning and Disclaimer : I have thoughts - and a lot of feelings - about "Ted". This is quite serious, and more than a little personal; some very triggery subjects will be discussed. I’m not kidding. If this isn't your thing, by all means feel free to hit the back button right now, and no hard feelings. If you chose to continue otherwise, considered yourself welcome as well as forewarned. But please leave your weapons at the threshhold before you come in. Then wipe your feet on the mat, and help yourself to cookies. (Or hot cocoa with extra marshmallows.) And I apologize for the formatting issues (esp re: the messed-up cut tags) but DW is being a pain in the ass. (AKA, I still don't know what the hell I'm doing.)
And then there's the simple truth that when you engage in violence, accidents happen. We aren't robots. We can't turn off and turn on with the flip of a switch--and if we could, then we'd be okay with murdering people to gain our own ends. That fact that Buffy's violence is motivated by love is essential; it is both dark and light--she dances on the razor edge and she only has her instincts to guide her.( The disclaimer? Take it seriously, and procede... )
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In 1958 Lana Turner’s 14 year-old daughter Cheryl Crane stabs her mother’s boyfriend to death, allegedly in an effort to protect her mother. (The man, Johnny Stompanato, had gang connections and a history of violence behind him.) The court rules it justifiable homicide.
( The disclaimer? Take it seriously, and procede... )
Thirty years later another teenage girl, oldest of four siblings, reads about Cheryl Crane, admires Crane’s courage, and wonders if she would be able to do the same, if the need arose. Her (second) stepfather is a large and powerful man; her mom is barely 5’3”. Would a baseball bat be sufficient? A kitchen knife? She decides on a rusty WW1-era bayonet and hides it by her bed. Her mom finds it and removes it without a word.
In 2012 the same girl, now a woman, finally watches Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the first time. She enjoys the cleverness and subversion of the “high school is hell” metaphors, the genre tropes and subversions.( The disclaimer? Take it seriously, and procede... )
And then the woman watches “Ted” and for a few moments, she is terrified - for Buffy, and for the girl who hid a bayonet by her bed all those years ago. Memories she’s (thought she’s made) made peace with and packed away tumble out unbidden, like an overstuffed dresser drawer. She knows that her experience is not identical to Buffy’s, after all, and there’s a relief in that; the girl she once was couldn’t fight back, couldn’t protect her herself much less her family, and never even dared to protest or sass back; Buffy can, and does. She has resources that girl of long ago, and most abused children, can never dream of - confidence, physical strength, strength of character and will, resourcefulness, as well as devoted friends who come to her aid.
But she’s just a girl, after all, a 16 year old girl operating on instinct. She’s been given a “license to kill” (demons) and almost zero guidance in how to use it. The Watchers’ Council cares nothing for her welfare, or for the countless girls who have preceded her; what matters is that the Slayer does her job properly and follows the arcane rules imposed upon her, traditions handed down through the centuries.
Ted Buchanan, as it turns out, would make an ideal Watcher by the WC’s standards, barring his use of physical violence, and even that’s not a sure thing. After all, the original Shadowmen chained a girl and forced the power of the demon upon her; the WC may be more “civilized” on the surface, but they uphold a terrible tradition. The Slayer is used, discarded and replaced when she rebels or no longer suits the councils needs. Surely more personal abuse and violations of Slayers by individual Watchers is not beyond the pale.
Likewise Ted demands obedience from a string of women, discarding and destroying them when they disobey him or are no longer useful. How many Slayers throughout time have come before Buffy (later Kendra and Faith)? How many other people has Ted hurt or killed, women who wouldn’t follow the program, in addition to the four wives in his closet? The Watcher’s Council and Ted both operate within closed systems; they may allow minor changes and adjustments so long as the original paradigm is preserved.
Of course Buffy defeats Ted, motivated not just by her Slayer instincts but the instincts of a daughter and friend to protect the people she loves. She’s the Hero, after all. And yet she suffers for her actions; social ostracization, guilt, and shame. Heros may not end up in court charged with justifiable homicide but there are still consequences to bear. (There are always consequences.)
Or at least there are if the Hero is a teenage girl. Violence from men is so common as to be unremarkable; violent acts committed by women are still considered shocking. (It’s no accident that at the end of the episode Buffy and Joyce agree to a rewatch of Thelma and Louise, a movie that disturbed and polarize audiences because two female protagonists commit violent acts against male characters onscreen; the same violence by male protagonists is a commonplace in movies, and a guarantee of box office sales.)
So Buffy succeeds but at a cost. Her mother is safe but heartbroken and terribly lonely, unable to even look her daughter in the eye. Whatever her personal animosity towards Ted, much of it justifiable in light of his behavior, the last thing on earth Buffy ever wanted to do was to hurt her mother. The bond between them, one that suffered fissures long before “Ted Buchanan” came into their lives, is further damaged. And yet they love one another, deeply, no one questions that, and there’s the rub. The anger and love are warped and woven into one another so tightly that what poisons their bond also strengthens it.
And so it is with her best friends, with her mentor, with everyone who comes within her circle. Violence begets violence. It stains and spoils everything it touches; it cannot be put back into a tidy little box, locked up and tossed away. We can atone for it but we cannot undo it.
But this a fictional story and in fiction, unlike real life, there must be some catharsis for the viewer, a chance to release the anxieties the story has provoked, to relax and breathe again. And so it is for the characters themselves, or at least it seems at the moment. The episode ends happily, one might say conventionally, enough. More dramatically than the story of girl with the bayonet, perhaps (real life has no resolutions, remember); but Buffy and her mother come to an uneasy, unspoken peace on the back porch, their home (women’s space) reclaimed, and they can breathe again, for a time. Rupert Giles and Jenny Calender share a passionate kiss for the first time, Xander and Cordelia giggle while Buffy averts her eyes. It’s an ending worthy of Shakespearean comedy: All’s well that ends well.
Except, of course, that we've seen the entire series, and we know too much. The moments that made us smile and cheer when we first watched are painful now. (Not as painful as the memory of that bayonet and all that it represented, but certainly poignant.) The characters onscreen have the luxury of perpetual innocence; they can’t know yet that Buffy will hesitate to kill her lover and it will cost Jenny her life, and Giles his only chance at love; that Buffy will eventually run a sword through her lover’s heart. ( The disclaimer? Take it seriously, and procede... )
And Ted’s fingerprints (do robots have fingerprints?) can be found in the final hours of Buffy’s story when Giles and “General Buffy” and their friends represent the last vestigal traces of the WC, haunted by ghosts and locked into a closed and destructive paradigm. Violence begets violence.
In 2012, Buffy became my Hero - by which I mean my fictional hero, my avatar, as opposed to real life heros such as my mother. (Make no mistake - in her capacity to love and endure, I consider my mother heroic.) My brothers grew up with Spiderman and Batman and Hans Solo; with countless tales of soldiers and kings throughout the ages. I had to wait until I was in my 40’s to find her.
Was it worth it the wait? Yes, it most certainly was. Yet I can’t help feel a little wistful that Buffy Summers wasn’t around in the 1970's or 1980’s; I certainly would have loved her then as I do now, if perhaps for different reasons. I can hope that in the years since that at least one other girl or boy, etched with anger and violence, haunted by dreams of murder that are so common as to be unremarkable, has felt just a little less frightened and alone because of her.