In fiction, I've always been drawn to the conflict between duty and self-interest.
In general, it's a conflict that can't be studied without also deconstructing the hero's determinations of what constitutes duty and self-interest for them. And that's plenty fascinating on it's own. But this week, I'm cantankerous, and don't want to leave it at that.
I want to see a resolute hero. A character that has developed a fairly coherent and rational definition of their personal sense of duty through reflection upon extensive experience. And who has developed an equally coherent understanding of personal interest. And instead of a story simply exploring whether "everything they think they know is wrong" - I want to explore the character actually having to rectify duty and want through a series of challenges after having rebuilt that sense.
This is not to say that I dislike stories of angst or anomie. Far from it. It's a fertile ground for storytelling. But, I'm far more interested in seeing what happens to the hero once the anomie has been resolved. Why? Because, by and large, I've resolved most of my own anomie - at least for now. And I find it's just as much of a struggle to actually *implement* the type of life I want to have, now that I have an understanding of what that is.
This (among other things) is what bugged me about Chosen, the series finale of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". It's implied at the end of the series, that our heroine has finally come to terms with her destiny enough to try to pursue the sort of life she wants to have. And that's lovely, yet I find the implementation of this message terribly unsatisfying; the series ends without showing what this resolution actually is, and without showing the heroine putting her newfound resolve into action. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" was, at times, a fantastic 'coming of age' story, yet I think it failed to show the heroine (and her two friends) actually be of age in its final season. And I very much feel that it should have.
To me, seasons 1-4 were about a relatively resolute heroine. Buffy seems to have a sense of what she wants her life to be like, an understanding of where her duty lies, and struggles with the resultant conflicts. In general, Buffy is able to manage her duty and defy destiny to the extent that she is able to pursue many of the things she wants in her personal life. I found it to be an excellent story, told exceptionally well.
In Seasons 5-6, the fulcrum swings in the other direction, as Buffy's duties overwhelm her to a great degree. Additionally, the certainties that she once believed in seem to have been eroded to the point where Buffy no longer has as much conviction in anything beyond her duty, which is now solely a burden to her and no longer a source of purpose, as it often earlier was. During this stage, Buffy seems to be devoid of any goal or ambition for her own life, and it is questionable whether or not she even really wants to live or to be engaged in the world at all. Very little is joyous or life-affirming about her life. In taking the job as guidance counselor, Buffy has an opportunity for Buffy to become engaged in the world once again. Unfortunately, instead of exploring her aspirations, the job reveals a Buffy that cannot connect to other people and doesn't seem to be trying very hard. S5-7, showcases a Buffy Summers, who in the face of adversity, lost faith in herself, her purpose and her aspirations.
Buffy Summers doesn't necessarily have to be taken to this place, but it presents as fertile a ground for storyelling as the early seasons. And while I don't think this part of Buffy's story has been told nearly as well as earlier seasons, it's still a common element in the hero's journey. I was very interested in seeing how she might emerge from it. Despite the fact that the series has ended, I think I'm still waiting...
The way Chosen ends, it appears like Buffy may have had some sort of epiphany - and has regained that sense of purpose and of self that she had lost. And that's very nice. But will it take? Has she built something new out of the wreckage of her adolescence. If the S7 premiere, Lessons was truly about coming to terms with power and learning how to wield it, then I want to know if Buffy has in fact learned. Because throughout the season, it frequently appeared that Buffy had actually forgotten whatever lessons about power she should have learned over her tenure as a slayer. Namely, the value of resources beyond pure physical or magical prowess, of delegating and managing authority, and of finesse. Values she displayed in great abundance when foiling the Mayor's ascension in S3. I highly doubt Buffy has had the opportunity to read Kissinger, Machiavelli or Joe Nye - but after seven years of experience I expected better leadership out of her in the fight against the First Evil.
At the end of the series, it appears she's got her groove back. But I'm mystified about how this occurred. Buffy lost her resolve, purpose, and vitality in such an organic and systematic fashion - yet seems to have regained it so abruptly. Was it a benefit of grabbing the shiny red ax, or did she just need a nap? Regardless, in order to believe that Buffy's really gotten herself together, I feel like I needed to see more of this particular "Buffy" than the series showed me. Her victory at the end of Chosen underwhelms me, as I'm not sure what her purpose ever really was for opening the Hellmouth, or that she had any reasonable expectations as to what that amulet would actually do. I feel that the finale (and S7 as a whole) asked me not to think very hard about it, and that disappoints me.
I wish I'd seen resolve and purpose out of Buffy long before the finale - I wish I'd seen it developing late in S6, and mostly developed by the latter parts of S7. Why? Because I want to know what Buffy has learned through her struggles. Was Chosen supposed to show a group succeeding at being adults? To me, they still appeared to be struggling just to tread water. I want to see Buffy the grown-up, more secure in her place in the world, her duties, her wants, and herself. I want to see if this Buffy can manage life whereas the Buffy (and Willow, and Xander) of S5-7 seemed to have been broken by the forays into adulthood. I want to see a Buffy Summers become engaged in the world again, and I want to learn about what this life of hers might turn out to be. So I'm disappointed by S7, not only because I'm unconvinced that Buffy has emerged, reconstucted, from her dark place, but also because I've no conception of who this emergent Buffy really is.
And, disappointed though I may be with Joss Whedon, somehow it doesn't even touch how upset was by what Peter Jackson did with the characterization of Faramir in "The Two Towers". Tolkien's Faramir is resolute in his duties, and yet is not without interesting personal issues to angst over. I don't feel like Jackson's changes to the character enhanced the story. At least in the case of Jackson, he's screwing with borrowed characters instead of breaking his own. I don't feel like Wheedon "owes me" the pleasure of actually seeing his characters succeeding at being adults. It's just something I wanted, as I think it would have been truer to the concept of a coming of age story, and to Buffy in particular. With Jackson, on the other hand, I did feel that he owed me a Faramir that was truer to the source.
To sum up, I enjoy watching characters getting built up, and broken down. I enjoy seeing a character being rebuilt as something new. But I'd really like to see that rebuilt character in action, so I can get a feel for whether the rebuilding really worked and get some enjoyment out of watching the newest incarnation of said character... I want a tempered and resolute hero.
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