harsens_rob (harsens_rob) wrote,
harsens_rob
harsens_rob

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Update sorta thing - plus Buffyverse Morality




I'm working on the next review for WATCHERS: The Virtual Series, which features the return of....



Yay, Oz!

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I'm also typing up Chapter 1 of the next story in the spanderverse. I know it will be following Spike on his recon and discovery of Razor and his motorcycle demon gang's assault on the Sunnydale Army Base. I don't have a chapter or story title, yet.
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I'm hoping later tonight to work a bit more on the 'Dawn of the Dead' review - I'm not sure why I haven't felt like working on it lately - except for a general malaise, because I really do love the movie and characters.
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Sunday's Question over on The Slayerettes is a tough one - it's not a specific question: "
What are your views on morality in Buffy and Angel? What do you think the characters views are on morality?"

Yikes, talk about a complicated answer - especially, I think, when it comes to Buffy as a character. Let's start with the shows first, though, because I think they're a bit easier. Buffy's morality in the very beginning was pretty black and white - especially in S1... you had the bad guys, you had the good guys, and they didn't get in each others' moral spaces without a possession going on (The Pack and Xander's behavior - specifically his attempted sexual assault on Buffy which is never treated with the seriousness it was due - as most big issues in S1 weren't really dealt with outside of the episode they were introduced within....).

Starting with S2, however, we really started to see a more complicated viewpoint on life. Not only did you have the usual evil vampires and demons, but our human characters started to show signs of moral complexity as well.
Buffy's real problems with the immoral, when it comes to humanity in general, starts in the minor episode, 'Some Assembly Required' in which we're really introduced to the first psychopath whose morality is clearly evil, without any extenuating circumstances. The character of Eric seems to have no true purpose behind his actions, except that he's nuts and seems to have as much of a desire to build a perfect woman (viewing people - or at least girls - as nothing more than an object created by collecting a series of parts - like Lego) as in his alleged reasons of helping undead-Darryl's sense of loneliness and isolation. A few episodes later and we have more evil humans in the form of the frat brothers who sacrifice young women for riches and power. In both of these cases, Buffy herself isn't deeply affected nor do the characters have much to say about the deepening moral ambiguities inherent in living life and moving from the 'sheltered teen' into an adult. But for the audience, we're being primed to accept that the Buffyverse is far from the white hat/black hat picture that was presented (disregarding people under demonic influence) in the first season.

Up until now though, Buffy's moral viewpoint has remained pretty much consistent (and naive). Sure, there have been evil people doing evil things - but that's because they were 'bad guys'. But what happens when Buffy can't justify the acts around herself as being caused by demons or disturbed strangers. What happens when the moral darkness starts to impact a lot closer to home? The audience is moved along in the new Buffyverse of moral gray in the character of Fordham. Buffy is forced to face that even those who she thought she knew can have a hidden darkness and motives that fly in the face of her own righteousness. Ford, an old friend of the Slayer's, is put in a crappy position and is driven by his fear to act immorally. It's the first real blow to Buffy's sense of the universe as having good guys and bad guys with a solid delineation between them. Suddenly she has a friend, a good guy, who is acting in an evil way by offering other 'innocents' as well as herself through horrible betrayal to death by vampire in order to put his own life above those of others. It's a situation that impacts on her as revealed at the end during her closing conversation with Giles - she doesn't want life to be full of these gray situations (although I find Ford's actions just plain evil, I can see that someone who cared about him could see him as being driven to do something he normally wouldn't through desperation). Buffy is clearly saddened by Ford's actions to become a vampire instead of facing death and you could say she's even a bit sympathetic, even if she had to stop his plans and then stake the thing he'd become, but you don't get the sense that she entirely blames him. She sees him sympathetically even after the things he did because of his extreme situation - in other words, she sort of gives him a pass - we don't see her truly outraged at the end of the episode. I always get the sense that there is more blame being placed on Ford's tumor than on Ford, himself.

But, the very next episode shows us that it doesn't take extreme measures to drive someone into acts of morality - and the lesson hits even closer to home for Buffy. Her universe is becoming far more complicated. This time, it's Giles himself who has acted in immoral ways by willingly summoning and cavorting with a demon in his rebellious youth. For the first time, Buffy has to look at her dearest and closest and recognize that it isn't always "the other" who can act immorally. She has to start dealing with the fact that sometimes any adult can act in ways that are just plain wrong - even those she cares deeply for. But, again, I think here Buffy doesn't really "get it" yet - "it" being that the universe is full of morally gray zones - because Giles isn't wholly responsible for things that happen because of his youthful indiscretions... yes, he played around with rebelliousness and dark magic - but his friends are just as culpable for their own deaths as anything he did. And Ethan Rayne's continuing moral darkness - driven by his fear and unapologetic selfishness - allows Buffy to allow Giles to slide off the hook. Ethan's clear and present evil let's Buffy slide by Giles' by putting it "in the past" - who he was is a totally different person that she didn't know. That was 'someone else' in a way that allows her to avoid directly confronting the fact that she can't always trust her friends, or even her family, to do what is right and morally upstanding.

The next question of moral gray Buffy faces is her own. With Angel's reversion to Angelus, Buffy has to face that she isn't always morally righteous, that sometimes emotions and can override what is right. It's something that she has to struggle with because she feels responsible for anything that Angelus does (like the death of Theresa) but she can't bring herself to force her sense of moral rightness to override her heart - it isn't until Jenny's murder and the direct affect on Giles that she can see for herself that she realizes her heart can't be allowed to overrule her actions. This is never made more clear than when Xander confronts her over Angel being responsible for Jenny's death (we can argue that, but it is a direct statement about Buffy's moral obligation to perform her duty despite her own personal desire). Even then, when the opportunity presents itself to allow Willow to save her from making that moral choice, she takes it. And, you have to think that if Xan had told Buffy that Willow was re-attempting the curse, she still would have avoided the moral obligation she had to stop Angelus with any force necessary. At this point in the series, Buffy hasn't yet dealt with the fact that sometimes things aren't clearly right or clearly wrong - she's still trying to deal with things that are easy and things that are too difficult, the morality be damned. It is why she finds it so easy to forgive and forget Giles' past and Angel's actions as Angelus - for Buffy, they are both different people when they committed their evil than when they were 'good' (and in Angel's case, I can agree).

In Season Three - things get far more complicated morally, than ever before. Angel is the first to recognize that Angelus' immorality isn't completely separate from his own. Even as souled Angel, he still struggles with the darkness within him, as he tries to get through to Buffy in "Amends" ... we've seen that Liam was a bit of a scoundrel, but in this episode we also see that Angel is just as driven by Angelus' blood lusts and the freedom that comes with immoral abandon as his soulless counterpart when he admits that he wants to drink from Buffy - that he wants to lose himself in her and give up his soul. Angel, right here, is among the most morally gray of any character in the Buffyverse, until Dark Willow comes along. But Buffy herself is not immune to giving into her more immoral impulses as she learns when Faith voices feelings that Buffy is already struggling with, but isn't ready to acknowledge - feelings of superiority. For Faith, morality becomes irrelevant because the Slayers are above those concepts and Buffy starts a slide into feeling the same way - things should be different for them ('want, take, have'). It isn't until Deputy Mayor's Finch's accidental death that Buffy starts to see what she could have sank to (and what Faith is currently sinking to) if she doesn't maintain her sense of moral certitude - if no actions are moral or immoral, than you stop caring about who you hurt (or so Faith claims when she tells Buffy that she doesn't care that Alan got in the way and got himself killed by her - we know that Faith is lying here). For Buffy, Faith acts as the wake up call that she has to always keep what is morally right in mind when she acts. And Faith's inability to do the same (because that would mean accepting culpability in Finch's accidental death) will drive her into more and more questionable acts until she loses any moral center at all. Buffy's universe, during Season Three, becomes a much more darker and morally confused, place for a while.

In Season Four, Buffy has returned to the path of moral righteousness. It's actually Willow who we start to get a sense of losing her way. It's not obvious, except in retrospect, by Willow of Season Four starts to replace her moral sense of what is right and wrong with her desire to avoid pain, to 'fix things' to the way she wants them and to misuse magic to punish those who hurt her. She draws back in time, here, but everything that she goes through in Season Six is foreshadowed very clearly in this season. She uses magic first to very nearly curse Oz when he cheats on her with Veruca the werewolf and later she uses magic to try to 'work her will' to divest herself of the pain. Now, Willow had a lot going on with her revolving around her fascination with magic that goes all the way back to Season Two - but morally, it's here where Wills starts to lose her center and drift toward more questionable behavior.

Over on Angel is where we really see that how morally gray the world is, however. Angel's entire character is being trapped between the light and the darkness - but in Buffy, that line was always more distinct. Angel = good, Angelus =  bad. Demons = bad. People = good (except for those outliers, but the characters never dwell on them because they are one-episode characters)
. Even Faith wasn't dealt with in terms of moral complexity - first she was good, then she was jealous and petty and then she was evil. It's in Angel that we see a Faith who isn't bad, so much as lost and in horrible pain over her own failures and misdeeds. This is a Faith who is trapped in the morally ambiguous fog - so trapped that she tries to drive Angel to kill her in order to escape what she recognizes she's become. In retrospect, we can see that Faith never truly became evil, so much as she played at being evil because she could no longer see herself as being morally good. It is in Angel's S1 that we see just how much damage that imposed blindness to what she'd allowed herself to do, in her feeling of being 'above it all', had done to her. And far more importantly, Faith sees how much she has damaged herself morally, too.

For Angel's series, morally gray will be the norm. Angel, Wes, Cordelia and Gunn will all suffer for being morally ambiguous mired in an equally morally ambiguous world. For Angel, the world is never as simple as in Buffy's and this shift to the morally questionable will spread over to his progenitor show starting in Season Six.

In Season Five, morally speaking, everyone seems to be relatively stable. Sure there is Buffy's "Beer Bad" drunken class skipping, but it's all very minor (I refuse to speak of Buffy's sleeping with Parker as immoral. A mistake? Certainly. But I personally don't believe that two single people having sex is ever morally wrong. Parker was immoral for using deliberately using a fake sob story to seduce freshman into bed, but Buffy wasn't immoral for falling for it nor was the sex itself an immoral act in my view.) The two exceptions are Giles and Anya. Giles skates a line, due to his sense of duty, by suggesting that Dawn may need to be killed in order to save the world. It's a moral gray area, but not unreasonable. His real turn into far more shady territory however, is the end of the season when he murders Ben to ensure Glory can never return. The one caveat to this is that the writers let Giles off the hook with this act by having Ben be an active conspirator by this point with Glory. I wish they hadn't. I think it would have spoken volumes more about Giles if Ben has remained the innocent victim of Glorificus and Giles had executed him, anyway. But we won't see this more ruthless Giles until Season Seven, and especially Season Eight. Anya is another story - we already knew that Anya inhabited a dark place in view of her being a former Vengeance Demon. It was easy to ignore her morally ambivalence, however, once she got involved with Xander because she played such a large comedy relief role. The fact that she really seemed to be falling for Xander also earned her our good will and we didn't really know much about what a vengeance demon was exactly. But in the comedy episode, Triangle, if you think about it for a moment, we're given a rather large clue that Anya is not exactly morally good - and more importantly never was - when it's revealed that she had changed her boyfriend Olaf into a Troll and banished him to an extradimensional realm. With this being played for laughs, we're not meant to recognize it for what it was, but this act hints at Anya's own problems with morality - something we are going to see far more clearly in Season Seven.

Buffy's entire universe becomes a more confused and bleak place where morality is fleeting and righteousness is easily lost in Season Six. Every single character this season suffers from no longer being certain in their morality. Buffy starts an abusive affair with Spike, who matches her in darkness (not surprising since his sense of moral rightness was never organic, but was always based on what he thought that Buffy might want). Willow begins to not only abuse magic, but to abuse others with magic in a direct echo of her 'Wild at Heart' and 'Something Blue' immorality - she not only avoids unpleasant tasks, but actively uses magic against Tara to make life easier for herself. And then, of course, there is her complete and willing immoral actions when she chooses to give in to her most darkest impulses to punish Warren for hurting her. And trust me, this was never about 'avenging Tara' ... her actions against Warren were always about Willow and her anger. Instead of dealing with her grief, she chose to push it aside with magic, just as she tried to do in 'Something Blue' and when her friends objected to her embracing her own selfish and self-centered immorality to act out, she turned on them as well. Xander's morally ambiguous behavior is more a function of his self-doubt - first by waiting until the last possible second to inform Anya he wasn't sure about marrying, and dumping her at the ceremony! And then by holding his friends (this is especially true of Buffy) to a higher standard than he can really claim to inhabit, himself. If Buffy suffers from feelings of superiority, Xander suffers from imposing an expectation of moral superiority on his friends.

Season Seven and Eight of Buffy is really about bringing the Buffyverse into the sort of ambiguous world that Angel has already inhabited during his entire run - Buffy is forced to deal with her feelings of superiority that comes with being a Slayer. In Season 7 it is admitting that she feels 'better than her friends' and in S8 it is her feeling she had a right to rob a bank, because it was a 'victimless crime' and it was for the 'greater good'. Willow also continues to deal with her own moral shortcomings - first by being afraid that she'll never be able to use powerful magic without going dark in S7 and then in S8, we find that she has traded sex for magical knowledge (cheating on Kennedy) and that in at least one future, she had in fact gone into the darkness again. Anya also comes out the worse, morally speaking, though her darkness was made clear before if we chose to see it. In Season Seven, not only does Anya become a vengeance demon, again, but we see explicitly that she CHOSE to become one to begin with. This makes it twice (as Buffy points out to Xander when he's on his high horse) that she has chosen to forgo her humanity to take the morally evil position of causing death to men she has no personal way of judging. We also see, explicitly again, that Anya used dark magic to punish Olaf, as well when she was still human. Clearly 'getting revenge' was always a part of Anya's make up, showing her to never have been all that morally upright since her early adulthood. Even Giles, who've we always seen as our moral center of the show - even when Buffy had fallen in Season Six, has a rough time in Season Seven and Eight. First, he chooses to kill Spike behind Buffy's back - in essence, plotting against her - and then in S8, he deliberately and coldly plots to murder and 'rogue Slayer' who, he feels, is 'misusing her powers'.

For the audience, this has been a challenge because our sense of the 'heroic-ness' of our Buffy regulars has been deeply marred over the last three seasons. These are characters who cannot be 'good' or 'bad' but are constantly drifting into a more ambiguous (and realistic) morality where sometimes they fail and sometimes they just plain have to do bad things in order to fight the greater evil. For our characters, these days, morality isn't and never will be as absolute as it once was.
Currently, I'd say the most moral character in the bunch is Kennedy - she has a moral certainty that is S1 Buffy-esque, perhaps because she hasn't had to make the tough moral choices yet that the rest of our characters have had to make. I'd placed Xander next. He seems to have grown even more decent, with his only flaw being supporting Buffy in her role as bank robber to fund the Slayer operations. I'd put Dawnie next on the ladder of moral certitude - her only vice thus far has been to cheat on her boyfriend, which is bad - no doubts, but next to our main player's since, she still comes out good. Fourth on the ladder: Andrew. Since his acceptance of his responsibility in going along with Warren and later, the First in Warren-guise, Andrew is the most likely to avoid moral gray areas. He remains very conscious of the fact that he has a lot to atone for and probably will never balance the scales (following murdering Jonathon). Fifth, I'm going to say Faith - though she is certainly not clean by any stretch, even now, and even though she is also guilty of cold blooded murder, the current Faith is also very conscious of the fact. Even though Giles sent her on a mission to kill the rogue Slayer and possible Buffy-assassin, Gigi, Faith really went out of her way to avoid the deed. She's not, despite her attempts to be, the Slayer she used to be - she's gone through too much and learned what evil she is capable of to ever allow herself to fall that way again (Gigi was killed, but it was while Faith was fighting for her life and it ended up being another accident). I do find it surprising to place Faith, morally, above Buffy or Giles, but these current versions of their characters have been disappointing to me. Willow will come sixth - her cheating on Kennedy for magical knowledge with Vasugi is reprehensible - especially with Kenn obviously having no idea of what she's been up to at all. We also know that in one possible future, Willow will return to being Dark Willow - so we know that morality remains a problem for her. But she's still above Buffy on my scale-of-morality, as the Slayer willfully chose to break into banks, not only making her a thief, but also setting a low bar for the other Slayers in their own moral or immoral choices (and see Simone for where that led). Buffy's holier-than-thou attitudes toward Giles after her own illegal and immoral behavior also sits entirely wrong with me. I'm also disturbed by some of her other choices as well - but nothing speaks more loud to me about Buffy's morally ambiguous state of mind than her torture and killing of a vampire in Japan... the scene in the park where she sets the vampire on fire with a "This is war" chills me to the bone. Finally, Giles is on the bottom rung - arranging for Faith to get close to Gigi in order to execute her and implying that he has basically been handling other wetworks activities has tarnished Giles in my eyes - he's seems to be continuing to embrace his more Ripper-personality traits in the fight for "good" started in Season 7.

I'm not going to include Angel or Spike here because I don't know how that is shaking out. Presumably, Joss will not have Angel starring in BTVS while IDW is printing his own title and at this point I don't know how Spike is going to fit into things. He appeared to have made a new home with Team Angel starting after Chosen, but now he has made a dramatic appearance at the end of the latest Buffy issue and there have been rumors that he'd be a Buffy regular again. Is this fact or fan-wanking? I don't know. And if he is going to be in Buffy - what does this do to Angel's title, since Spike is still getting limited series over there and is currently front and center in IDW's roster? For right now, I'm not going to dive into Angel's character's moralities further than I have since this had been long enough - but I may post an Angelverse Morality one evening....


Tags: angel, btvs, opinion
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