Episode Name: “When She Was Bad.”
Writer(s): Joss Whedon
Director: Joss Whedon
Quote of the Episode:
Buffy Summers: “You’re a vampire *pauses*… oh I’m sorry is that an offensive term, should I say Undead-American?!”
Screenshot of the Episode:
Buffy Summers, Willow Rosenberg
Buffy returns after summer with some serious issues. Her friends are confused, her Watcher is concerned, and her ‘not-friend’ Cordelia, tactful as ever, tells her to, “get over it.” It would seem her death at the hands of The Master in the previous season is playing on her mind. Who would have thought?
Interpretation of popular culture can be read like rich text. Culture is not contained in laws which are easily distinguishable, it is through enacting culture that we understand it. “Culture is public because meaning is.”[i] My training is in anthropology and this is how I have been taught to interpret. The presence of meaning in a pop culture offering, is a result of the writer, consciously or unconsciously, placing it there.[ii] The meaning is derived from cultural webs of significance.[iii] These cultural cues are easily processed by our brains and can be explained by Captain America saying, “I understood that reference.”[iv]
Buffy enters the season by slaying a vampire, as this is what she was chosen to do. Yet one of the first thing she says to Giles is, “You’re the Watcher, I just work here.” Later on in the season Kendra (another slayer) will say to her, “you act like slaying is your job. It’s who you are.” If we were all handed our vocations at birth, could we avoid years of struggle as we try find out where we fit? It would appear that this is not something we should want. Buffy, the chosen one, with preternatural strength
and fitness, doesn’t want to be the slayer. When we choose, our lives are richer. “Analysis of pop culture narratives can show how people and nation-states imagine their roles in the world.”[v] Viewing this through a socio-political lens, I cannot help but think of the millions of humans forced into lives they didn’t choose. Humanity’s deepest wish, is to have a choice. When we are without choice, we are not given a fair chance at life.
It would be remiss of me not to address Buffy’s obvious signs of post-traumatic stress disorder which causes the discontent in this episode. According to Mark Field, “Post-traumatic stress disorder is a very real phenomenon, and we see some here with Buffy. This will naturally isolate her even from her friends.”[vi] In the previous season, she dies at the hands of The Master, and her mortality washes over her. There are several reactions to this. To her parents she seems distant, while they feel her emotional pain, they can’t address it. They don’t know what has happened to her, demonstrated especially by Joyce’s concern, “I haven’t been able to get through to her for so long.” Angel and Giles seem more aware that she has issues, however Giles handles it better than Angel.
Willow, while young and seemingly childish, is concerned. Her love for her friend circumvents her jealously during that horrific dance scene. (You know the one). She thinks Buffy must have been possessed by “a possessing thing,” because her
friend couldn’t possible behave in such a cruel way. She is the kind of friend who vindicates her fellow females, instead of degrading them. Willow represents the kind of friend and feminist we all need to be.
The person who acts inappropriately? Xander. Whedon needed someone to represent how people normally react when someone hurts us. Xander’s behaviour is indefensible as he highlights a foul trait of humanity. Hate and anger may have protected our species in its infancy, but the correct response to someone having a hard time should be love. Not the vitriol Xander displays when Buffy returns after she realises her mistake. Xander also goes as far to say he will kill Buffy if something bad happens to Willow. Yet later in the season he will date Cordelia secretly, knowing this could hurt Willow, and it does. His character flaws expose the shadow traits of humanity throughout the show. He is often used as the scapegoat, for the wrong way to act.
Now let’s talk Principal Snyder. Yes we hate him, but he often offers the comic relief for balance. This is the product of wonderful acting by Armin Shimerman. Snyder, represents the authoritarian state by saying, “In their relentless pointless desire to exist.” It reflects the fear we all have of an authoritarian government controlling ‘the masses.’ The oppressive weight of who you are, versus what ‘they’ wish you to be. Of course when you are in high school (secondary school) you feel the weight of authority. There is a constant battle to be yourself. When a figure in authority says “pointless desire to exist” Whedon is trying to bare the world’s harsh underbelly. We should be strong and fight, but we must remember that the world will be relentlessly unfair.
Angel offers this nugget, “Don’t’ underestimate the anointed one just because he looks like a child, he has power over the rest of them, they’ll do anything for him.” Buffy is constantly underestimated throughout the show because of her youth. Yet she commands such loyalty, even at the hands of death, from her ‘scoobies.’ The youth of society, should not be so undervalued.
What lessons have we learned? Kindness, compassion, and understanding. When someone we care about is acting out by saying and doing hurtful things, do not immediately go to an angry place. We don’t know what is happening within the minds of others. We should not make their suffering more intense than it needs to be.
The final scene of this episode ends with the Anointed One saying in exasperation, “I hate that girl.” However Buffy’s final scene with Giles is the most telling, “Buffy you acted wrongly I’ll admit that but believe me, that was hardly the worst mistake you’ll every make.” This truth reoccurs throughout the series with Buffy making a number of mistakes and hard choices. The result of which causes havoc to the group dynamics. It even results in a death. However while these words from Giles comes across to Buffy as inappropriate, to me it is comforting. We are all human, and to error is human. Forgive, not just others, but ourselves, and then try to do better. When in doubt, talk it out. If that fails, “grind your enemies into talc”.
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“When She Was Bad.” Buffy the Vampire Slayer , season 2, episode 1, The WB, September 15, 1997.
 The presence of another slayer is the result of Buffy’s death in the first season. There has never been 2 slayers before, as no slayer has ever been revived.
 The one when Buffy dances with Xander inappropriately, saying “Did I ever thank you for saving my life?” To which he replies, “no,” her response? “Don’t you wish I would.”
[i] Geertz, Clifford. 1973. “The Interpretation of Cultures.” Basic Books.
[ii] McEvoy-Levy, Siobhán. 2018. “Peace & Resistance in Youth Cultures: Reading The Politics of Peacebuilding From Harry Potter to The Hunger Games.” Palgrave & Macmillan.
[iii]Geertz, Clifford. 1973. “The Interpretation of Cultures.” Basic Books.
[iv] Whedon, Joss ; Penn, Zak. 2012. “The Avengers.” Marvel Studios & Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
[v]McEvoy-Levy, Siobhán. 2018. “Peace & Resistance in Youth Cultures: Reading The Politics of Peacebuilding From Harry Potter to The Hunger Games.” Palgrave & Macmillan.
[vi] Field, Mark. 2013. “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Myth, Metaphor, and Morality.” Amazon Digital Services LLC.
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