Once More Unto The Buffy

Every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in. I spent a fair amount of time as a Buffy The Vampire Slayer obsessive. I watched it religiously when it was originally broadcast and it was the first boxed DVD set I bought and therefore the first commentary track I listed to.

But other things came along and pulled me in other directions, Breaking Bad, Battlestar Galactica, Game of Thrones and now Westworld, but like a heroin addict watching others fix, it doesn’t take much get me hooked again.

This time it’s a podcast called Buffering The Vampire Slayer in which Jenny Owen Youngs and Kristin Russo watch an episode of the series starting with season one and then do a show to talk about what they’ve seen. It’s so enjoyable to eavesdrop on someone experiencing for the first time something you’ve loved forever.

Normally, this is a funny, insightful hour with a wink and a nod at low production values and the requisite TV plot holes, but the latest podcast about an episode of BtvS called The Pack dropped at an alarmingly appropriate time.

Considering gamergate, the ongoing war against rape culture, slut shaming, Cosby’s accusers and a presidential candidate’s “locker room” talk, an episode brimming with sexual assault and “boys will be boys” excuses opens up all manner of unsavory topics.

Until they brought it up, I had forgotten about the scene where Xander (possessed by a hyena, don’t ask) corners Buffy in an empty classroom and proceeds to exorcise his sexual frustration by attempting to force himself on her.

It also includes this really unfortunate line: “The more I scare you, the better you smell.”

That scene, absent the hyena possession, plays out every day in high schools all across the country, all around the world, and it very often ends the same way as this episode. The entire incident is dismissed (along with the girl’s feelings) with a clumsy joke about hormones and Xander’s artless approach to romance.

And the thing is, I didn’t even think about this at the time. That idea of boys behaving badly, of women being put in the position of having to just let it go, is so ingrained into our society that it’s unremarkable even when you see it on broadcast TV.

Things are changing a little bit at a time as old patriarchal notions give up ground by inches. You probably wouldn’t see TV treat sexual assault like this today. And just to be clear, I think Joss’s point in making this episode was to call out this kind of behavior. He’s a vocal and ardent feminist and he used many episodes of BtvS as metaphors for this kind of institutionalized problem.

All in all, this is one of the worst, dumbest episodes of an otherwise great series. I’m glad that I got hooked on season 2 and went back to watch season 1 later, otherwise I might never have gotten addicted in the first place.


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