Posted by: mzbitca | March 10, 2009

Buffy, Season 1

Although I haven’t blogged since the first episode, I’m still watching Dollhouse on a regular basis.  I’m slightly torn, as I feel the show is getting better, but there still have been major screw-ups and missed opportunities.  I will most likely finish out this season but we’ll see if I return.

One thing this has caused me to do is think back over the first season of Buffy.  I didn’t start watching until the third season and quickly caught up.  I also was a high school girl not as strong in her feminism, so I just appreciated things like Seth Green and a girl beating people up.  I’ve been wondering how I would view the first season of Buffy if I was watching it now with a feminist lens.

Buffy, as I tend to view her, is a girl/woman who fights the system while dealing with issues of identity and power.  She does things her own way and trusts herself and her intuition.  However, going by the first season, that was not always the case and I can see now the progression she had to go to to be the person at the end of season seven.

Buffy starts off this season with a move to Sunnydale after being kicked out of Hemry. She wants to start over and be a normal kid but on her first day she is confronted with the fact that her calling is not going away and neither is Giles (thank god).  She resists and takes it less than serious but when her new friend Jesse is caught and killed she realizes she has to be responsible and do what only she can do. 

She breaks little rules throughout the first season, such as keeping Willow and Xander nearby and included (which is a great assest and the first real example of how important it was for her to do things her way) and by refusing to be intimidated by Snyder.  However, most of her rule breaking is typical adolescent and tends towards incredibly stereotypical behavior.  She doesn’t  just want to be a strong girl, she wants to be a cheerleader, she wants to date dreamy boys, she wants to go to prom.  Not that any of these are inherently bad but also very gender specific.  Her image of a normal life is very stereotypical in nature.

Her relationship with Angel is also incredibly passive.  She loves him but listens to others (Xander, Giles, Angel) that it is wrong for her to be with him.  She lets others views and opinions interfer with her feelings and she has yet to gain the ability to view the world for herself and learn to make her own judgments about individuals. As much as she may claim to buck the system, she is still firmly in its claws and buying into it’s beliefs.

The final kicker is the season Finale, Prophecy Girl.  Giles and Angel had been talking about and managed to get ahold of a book with prophecies, some that concern the Slayer (all without mentioning it to Buffy).  Buffy eventually hears them discussing the prophecy that states she will go to face and the Master and she will die.  The scene where Buffy, who thinks she’s just spying on Angel, unexpectedly hears this news is heartbreaking.  She had no concerns about the two of them talking and trusted them implicitly.  Then,  she gets to hear two men talking about her life and this time it’s about her  dying.  Just as when Merrick approached her and informed her about her calling, now another man is telling her that this means her death.  Buffy’s reaction is sorrowful and angry, as it should be.  She never asked for this and she has yet to fully embrace it as a part of her but more as something she’s told she has to do.  Of course, Giles informs her that she can’t quit and she has to face the Master anyway.  Buffy, herself, makes the decision to do it after seeing the hurt Willow has gone through, but her decision is colored by the fact that she feels there is no choice and she has to do it.  

When Buffy meets the Master and he tells her that by coming she fulfilled the prophecy and if she had refused (like she wanted to), nothing bad would have happened.  The realization in Buffy’s eyes is painful as she realizes trusting in the system has done nothing but gotten her killed and hurt the world.

Of course we know how it works out,  due to the one major deviation from her role she made (befriending Xander and Willow)  Xander is unable to accept the prophecy as fact as is there to save her, something Angel (who adhered to the system) would not have been able to do.  Buffy then goes on to kick the Master’s Ass and claim victory.   However,  one thing that she still will deal with in the second season is the fact that blindly following and believing in the system and The Watcher’s Council is not always the best for her and that she needs to learn to trust herself more.



  1. This is a great post. I also came to Buffy in season two or three, as a high schooler without a sophisticated understanding of feminisim. I think a lot of what you’re saying about season one is really true. If I didn’t know that Joss Whedon was behind Dollhouse, I probably wouldn’t be watching. But if Buffy were on TV today in it’s first season, I wouldn’t be watching either and what a loss that would be!

    I think one thing that you allude to here is that season one sets up Buffy’s ability to grow. She truly grows and changes over the seven seasons, as does the Buffy universe. And if Buffy hadn’t started in the first season bound by mislpaced trust in the Watcher’s Council and desire to be stereotypically pretty and normal, the series and her changes wouldn’t be so powerful. This could definitely be the case for Dollhouse. If we don’t start somewhere fundamentally troubling, yet also somewhat flat and expected, the moments of growth and change won’t matter much.

    I’m gonna hang on for those moments.

  2. Yeah, I kind of feel like Buffy gained awareness of itself as a Feminist Icon Show as it went along. Contrary to a lot of folks, I didn’t pick up much feminism therein until later in the show’s run. (Maybe… not even then? DON’T HURT ME.) Except for that one episode with the hyena people! That was in Season One, right?

    “Firefly” and “Dollhouse” both seemed to me to be fundamentally more feminist, to have that more built into their basic premise. “Dollhouse,” in particular, strikes me as a feminist show, even though or because of the fact that it skeeves me out, because it’s very specifically about a woman who has her agency taken away, and works to regain it, although everyone in her environment is complicit in her… I don’t know, “victimization,” I guess, is the right word. Even the sex-bunny stuff that Echo seems to do all too often strikes me as a feminist statement, because there’s a lot about how hollow and performative that is, how it doesn’t correspond to any “authentic” desire on her part but has more to do with what other people around her want from the “perfect woman.”

  3. Excellent post!

    I love the character progression of Buffy. The person she becomes seems to take shape as a kickback to the things that rob her of her agency (whether it be men deciding what’s best for her, or prophecies telling her this is how it’s gonna be).

    That scene w/ Giles and Angel broke my heart too. How many times do we watch Buffy’s life being discussed by people (and let’s face it, mostly men) as if she isn’t an agent in it? How often do we have to watch people decide what Buffy should and should not know (I am thinking of the episode where she turns 18 and is locked up in that vampire house for a test, but can’t think of the name), like when Giles deceives her and believes it is for her own good?

    This, added up w/ the fact that Buffy hates dying (shameless plug alert). It pisses her off royally, but it also helps her decide that she isn’t willing to let other people decide what is still decidable in her life.

  4. I’m one of those crazy people who saw Buffy as a feminist icon right away. Of course, I also started watching from the first episode and while in 6th grade, so that may have had something to do with it.

    While I think you’re totally right about Buffy evolution in the course of 7 seasons and how she generally just got more and more kickass as a feminist icon, I also thought that the first season did a lot right in those terms, including the inclusion of the stereotypically girly stuff. I loved how Buffy was concerned with boys and clothing and cheerleading, and how those things were a source of knowledge and strength for her. Unlike so many other things that make it seem like girly stuff is “ew” or less than, I felt like Whedon really understood that girly stuff was just different. So she wasn’t interested in battle axes; being interested in cheerleading was what helped save Amy (let’s forget that she becomes rather evil herself!). Liking clothing helped her pick vampires out of a crowd. Being interested in boys and life gave her the oomph necessary to be an effective slayer.

    While I’m not nor ever have been stereotypically girly (at least not in the way that Buffy was), I liked seeing that as a strength; and I was kind of saddened when the pastels and florals and flirty fun clothing seemed to fade away into more pants and darker colors. It seemed like Buffy lost something to slaying when she lost that bit of her.

    This ardent defense could be – more than could be, actually – because season 1 is one of my very favorites. It frequently comes in the top two on my personal list.

  5. Ah, Buffy. Always guaranteed to get lurkers to comment! 🙂

    I saw Buffy as Awesome Female Icon from first season, but mostly because I view Buffy as a Power Fantasy for Girls instead of a Feminist Icon.

    I mean, you get Buffy, who kicks ass and takes names basically from the beginning. Willow, who is a geek (like me!) but her Geekiness is what makes her awesome, it’s what makes her useful. Even in the romances of the two “main” female characters, you get idealised power-type fantasies, of Buffy-Angel OMG THEIR LOVE IS SO DEATHLESS AND TRAGIC and Willow, wonderfully geeky Willow, who ends up dating Oz, the older guy IN A BAND. *swoooooon*

    Like petpluto, I think that having a Girly Girl who isn’t a victim, who can have fun and kick ass it what made Buffy work. 🙂

  6. I feel old.

    I came to Buffy in second season, as a mother. Buffy allowed me to indulge the worst fears I had: my daughter will want to be a cheerleader, that nice boy will turn out to be evil, and yes, three days a month, no one is much fun to be around.

    I suspect Willow and Tara helped my oldest daughter come out of the closet and the broom closet at 13. This, I am grateful for.

    I wasn’t worried about feminism (not while trying to make a living with 4 kids under the age of 8) but looking back, it was feminist from the start, acquiring the more action-oriented characteristics later.

  7. Excellent post. Her including Willow and Xander is also the first step towards building and sharing power with a community that grows in size throughout the series (a subject I wrote a paper on some years back).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: