This is a sort-of-quick (well, it felt quick) essay with an overly-specific audience, and hopefully the first of three or four (though probably not–my foll0w-through sucks), looking at CHARACTER ARCS THAT DON’T MAKE SENSE in some of my favorite TV shows. These are things that have always pissed me off, stupid inconsistencies that come as consequences to bad, shortcut-happy writing rather than conscious, careful character development, and as a serious, dedicated fan, I’m kind of offended. So now I’m finally taking the time to both VENT and EXAMINE these super irritating and problematic character arcs because I have the tools and abilities to do so. Honestly, these are things, as a writer, I just find inexcusable.
In this essay, I’ll look at BTVS season 6. In the next one, whenever the merp that will be–I’m planning to look at Gilmore Girls season 5 and 6. Future endeavors? I’m not sure yet. But I’ll let you know.
Buffy season 6: Freeloading Witches or Sh1tty Writing or like, Both.
(SPOILERS Ahead, FYI)
What strikes me as most problematic in season 6 is that the writers seem completely unwilling to address basic financial weather questions, and so it makes a great many characters that have otherwise proven themselves to be sweet, helpful people we have come to adore to seem like freeloading assholes. I’ve trolled the message boards looking for proof that I am, in fact, not the only Buffy fan who is upset about this shit. And yeah. I am not alone.
Seriously, let me unpack this, but first, let me contextualize:
I recently marathoned season 5. I mean, I’ve seen it before, LOTS of times, and I’ve even thought about writing a blog post dedicated totally to season 5, what it’s like to revisit it, how good it is, and I might still. Anyway, I like, respect season 5. Season 5, in my opinion, is the most unified in terms of vision. Each episode feels important to the whole while standing alone as a solid, careful piece of writing. It’s certainly the most serious of all the seasons, and it deals with the places in Buffy’s heart that we’ve never seen before–her mother, her sister, her mortality. Up until now, the Slayer has been an abstraction–to both us AND to Buffy. But after season 5, Buffy must face what it means to be the Slayer with a new resolve, a new intensity. Season 5 has the greatest and scariest of all the villains–Glory, the only villain in the history of BTVS that causes Buffy to question her ability as protector: of Dawn, the world–so that she actually runs away. Buffy’s never run before. Fighting, winning–these are the only things Buffy is good at, or at least the only things that give her confidence enough to feel that she’s good, that she belongs, that she has some place in this world.
As you can see, I feel an intense loyalty to season 5. It’s my favorite season, and I think it demonstrates the most growth for all of our characters, especially Buffy. Have you already forgotten? Death is your gift. So I’m hard on season 6. ALWAYS. I’m hard. It’s a problematic season. It’s got incredible ups (“Once More With Feeling,” “Tabula Rasa,” Spike) and really nasty lows (“Doublemeat Palace,” the trio in general), but it’s not a bad season. It’s just…uneven. But it’s semi-ishy episodes aren’t even half the problem. Everybody who’s seen Buffy or pledged their loyalty to ANY WB/CW “teen” drama knows that the occasional silly villain-of-the-week comes with the territory. So it’s not the bad episodes, or even the lame-o villains that really piss me off. It’s other things. I mean, mostly, it’s the money.
So…it’s season 6 now. Buffy has died–to save the world of course, and all of us! Willow and Tara have been living in the Summers house, seemingly since Buffy’s death at the end of season 5. What’s nice about this, or kind of a relief, is that Willow and Tara are taking care of Dawn (and the Buffybot), while surrogate mothering-it all day, living in the Summers house, going to college, and researching spells to bring Buffy back. This is thoughtful of them, extremely gracious and benevolent, helpful, really, and mostly expected. I guess.
Okay, BUT: So when Buffy returns from the dead (according to Spike, she’s been dead for 147 days), she is immediately burdened with a ton of financial debt. Her mother’s life insurance was mostly used up to pay medical bills, it turns out, so the mortgage is not paid, and there’s very little money left for day-to-day expenses. Buffy ultimately ends up getting a job at the Doublemeat Palace to pay down some of this debt (which I don’t understand at all, seeing as she was offered jobs to work with both Xander and Giles—apparently construction/The Magic Box are more stressful than the Doublemeat Palace, no, but this is another issue entirely) while Willow and Tara continue to attend UC-Sunnydale, jobless, while also living (seemingly for free) in Buffy’s house, which is not paid off.
This is majorly problematic to me. Not only because Willow and Tara don’t seem to pay rent, but because, while Buffy was dead, they were the ones who seemed to let things get so terribly out-of-hand in the first place. I don’t mean it’s their fault, I just mean…negligence, man. During the scene in “Flooded” (6.4) when the Scoobies confront Buffy on her money issues, it seems as if they’ve known about the problem for weeks, months even, but have not done anything to address the problem until now—now that Buffy’s back. They explain to her the specifics with a great deal of certainty. “This house,” scolds Anya, “just sitting here, doing nothing, costs money.” Tara knows all about the life insurance, and Willow and Xander know all about how the medical bills managed to suck the life insurance dry, and, based on Anya’s statement, it’s clear that the house has still got some debt on it, and that a portion of the mortgage is still outstanding. So they’ve seen the paperwork, no? They know what’s going on.
Here’s the thing: all along, while Willow and Tara and the rest of them have been properly assessing the Summers estate financial debacle, Buffy has been dead. DEAD. D-e-a-d. Dead, as in, not alive anymore and therefore, unable to know or contribute to what was going on. Also, even while they did manage to bring her back from the dead, the success of Willow’s resurrection spell was no guarantee–they all knew that–and there was a HUGE chance that Buffy would remain dead forever…like dead people often do…or that she would, yeah, come back wrong (or, in the words of Anya in Bargaining Pt. 2, a zombie: “looking for some brains to eat”). So, it seems like there should have been at least some responsible discussion (over the course of 147 days, which is nearly six months) on what they would do should Buffy NOT return and they be forced to face the financial situation alone: meaning either putting the house in foreclosure and Dawn in foster-care (seeing as her dad is still like, in Spain or whatever, either way: MIA), or at least maintaining the financial situation to prevent this worst-case-scenario from happening. Particularly the Dawn-in-foster-care part, as this would not have been a part of Buffy’s wishes, and, based on what we know about Willow and Tara so far, neither of them would want to defy Buffy’s wishes, because they care about Buffy, and they owe her their lives, and would want the best for Dawn. Instead, it seems like the Scoobies, mainly Willow and Tara, have been operating consistently under the assumption that Buffy would, at some point soon, be back in the picture. This ignores the parts where there was uncertainty as to whether or not the spell would work or Buffy would come back right. AKA: Amateur hour at the Mutant Enemy writers table. Harsh?
Sue me, but it seems like, if Willow and Tara truly wanted to help Buffy by taking care of Dawn, and if they had planned on doing this for an extended period of time, (I mean, presumably, at least till Dawn was eighteen–so like, 2-3 years) then they would have sold the house, or at least gotten JOBS, even the part-time kind, in a responsible attempt to attenuate the situation and, if not to prepare things as best they could for Buffy’s return to the living, then to build a better future for Dawn, who they care about. Am I wrong?
Let me show: In “Flooded” (6.4), when Buffy confides in Giles about her financial problems, she says about money: “It turns out, mom left me some, and while I was dead, it got squandered on luxuries like food and clothing.” That said, and with no mention of Willow and Tara getting jobs or paying rent, or bringing any other financial support to the table (ie: help from parents, savings, student loans, etc.), it seems like Willow and Tara, while Buffy was dead, were simply slurping whatever was left out of the Summers estate to pay for daily living expenses and the mortgage, while contributing nothing themselves. This left the well dry and the financial situation, not only dire, but in severe shambles so that, when Willow’s resurrection spell DOES work, it is both a relief and a convenience for them (and the writers), in that the burden logistically falls on Buffy, who owns the estate and therefore all of its problems, and who’ll have to clean up the mess on her own.
Like she always does.
But, you see, it’s one thing when Buffy is forced to solve problems on her own because they’re problems that ONLY Buffy can fix—ie: slayer stuff. It’s another thing when you have two able-bodied witches who seem to have completely forgotten that, oh hey, there’s a practical, real-world problem and we can help for once! So let’s do that. The fact that they don’t take any kind of action, based on previous characterization, is totally inconsistent.
Further, and related, there’s no mention as to how Willow and Tara pay for college, but seemingly, they do, as they continue to attend. So where is that money coming from? Even Dawn, in the episode “Flooded,” says to Giles, “[There’s] no chance I’d have to quit school to work assembling cheap toys in a poorly-ventilated sweatshop?” I mean, I know she’s being sarcastic, but at least she’s SAYING something about it, about sacrifices.
Throughout the entirety of season 6, I’m not sure Willow or Tara once thinks of making a personal sacrifice to make things easier for Buffy. Not once does Tara offer to get a part-time job to supplement day-to-day expenses or does Willow offer to pay half the mortgage. In fact, while living in Buffy’s house, instead of offering to pay rent, Willow becomes a magic addict, brings crazy-eyes Amy back from rat-state, drives Tara away, becomes completely useless, and almost gets Dawn killed in a car accident. Then she almost ends the world. Ie: Even more shit on Buffy’s plate, to which I say, “GEEZ, WITCH LADY. GROW THE F#CK UP.”
Meanwhile, Buffy continues to save their lives on pretty much a daily basis, and what the hell? Are we just supposed to believe that they live there for free, and that Buffy’s all like—Yeah, sure, not only will I continue being the slayer, but let me get a job at that disgusting shithole the Doublemeat Palace as well while the two of you continue living in my house for free, jobless, studying stuff at college that you’ll NEVER need because, hey, we live on top of a Hellmouth, and who knows if we’ll live past tomorrow anyway? At the very least, if they aren’t going to help, they could have MOVED OUT once Buffy got back. That would have solved a lot, at least for me. And given how Buffy is sort of passively angry with Willow and Tara anyway for bringing her back from the dead, wouldn’t she just, like…be more upset?
These are all questions that could be easily answered with throw-away lines here or there, something, anything, to solve such glaring logistical nonsense, but the writers seem to instead focus all of their energy on burdening Buffy—like they always do—but this time with the practical stuff of real life upon her return to the living, rather than the requisite apocalypse stress. It’s an interesting tension for this show, financial weather, and something they’ve never really dealt with before; however, it’s not interesting enough to carry so many logistical problems scot-free. There are consequences: Willow and Tara, in my eyes, seem like irresponsible freeloaders in season 6, and while Buffy is dead, they’re just playing house, and I’m never able to truly forgive them. It seems like they have no intention at all of helping Buffy or Dawn practically or financially—only emotionally, and only, (again) considering Willow’s wicca-meltdown circa “Wrecked,” when it is convenient for them, which, in a season with a lot of tension predicated on practicality and financial weather, is simply not enough. The logistical holes end up being these huge distractions, and there are just too many, so I am asking questions where I should be enjoying what is otherwise my favorite TV show in the world.
Final note and tangent: At this point, it is no wonder Buffy runs off and starts banging Spike. If your friends were being such complete and total assholes right after they forced YOU out of a sweet existence in some heaven dimension just because they missed their superhero bff, you’d be boffing the Big Bad, too. In fact, Buffy’s is probably the only character arc in ALL of season six that MAKES TOTAL SENSE. Buffy, feeling abandoned by the very same friends who, while she was dead, apparently missed her so much that they had to risk majorly to bring her back, turns to Spike—who’s also been brought back from the dead against his will, who’s also experienced extreme loss in the way of, well, life, and who, in his weird, vamp way, loves Buffy unconditionally.
In fact, he’s the only one who seems to truly love Buffy (and Dawn) for the duration of season six.
Here endeth the ranteth.