Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 12: Wolves at the Gate, Part One
Written by Drew Goddard; Illustrated by Georges Jeanty
Note: Several of my thoughts on this issue were previously worked out in an email exchange with my good friend Baron Scarpia.
I take it most people know the phrase “jumping the shark”. In case you don’t, Wikipedia describes it as
a colloquialism used by U.S. TV critics and fans to denote the point at which the characters or plot of a TV series veer into a ridiculous, out-of-the-ordinary storyline. Such a show is typically deemed to have passed its peak. Once a show has “jumped the shark” fans sense a noticeable decline in quality or feel the show has undergone too many changes to retain its original charm.
Now that we know what it means to jump the shark, my question is can a series jump the shark more than once? Or do you have to jump over some other form of sealife? A Blue Whale, perhaps? By my reckoning, Buffy the Vampire Slayer jumped the shark at some point during Season 6, either with the episode Wrecked or Hell’s Bells. (Others might argue for the final scene of Seeing Red, but as far as I’m concerned it was past the point of no return before that episode anyway.) Still, I now find myself in the unfortunate position of having experienced an event that makes all Buffy’s past transgressions seem minor in comparison. This is worse than magic!crack Willow, worse than the comedy rape of Spike, worse than Buffy juggling, worse than the murder of Tara, even worse than the yellow crayon speech. And no, I’m not referring to the sight of Xander flying around in a helicopter that looks like a fish-bowl.
Buffy just screwed another woman.
I specifically chose to say “screwed” rather than “had sex with”, “slept with”,* “got jiggy with” or any number of other hilarious euphemisms, and the reason for this should become clear in due course. First of all, a little back-story. To briefly set the stage, one of the junior Slayers in Buffy’s squad is a young woman called Satsu, who is fairly blatantly in love with Buffy. I’m not just talking about a crush here - I’m talking full-on true lurve. The reason we know this is that, in an early issue, Amy cast a spell on Buffy which sent her to sleep, and, in typical Buffyland fashion, it had an escape clause built in: she would wake up if someone truly in love with her kissed her. Well, that someone turned out to be Satsu (although this was so unclear in the actual comic book panels that it had to be revealed in retrospect in a “Letters to the Editor” section after several readers wrote in asking who had awakened Buffy). In the most recent issue, Episode 11, Buffy had a long chat with her in which she explained that, while she was flattered, that wasn’t her thing. Fair enough. Cue Episode 12, and what does Buffy do?
She has sex with Satsu. For real.
This is horrible on so many levels it isn’t funny. There are a few ways you can attempt to spin this plot development, and none of them do the character of Buffy or Joss Whedon and his merry band of writers any favours. But here goes:
Theory 1. After being fed seven years’ worth of evidence to the contrary, we are now being told that Buffy is in fact attracted to women. It worked for Willow, after all.
Theory 2. Buffy has learnt nothing from the abominable manner in which she treated Spike in Season 6, and is proceeding to do much the same to another person, using them for a quick lay despite the fact that they want more out of it than a quick orgasm. Now do you see why I used the word “screwed”?
Theory 3. 2 grls 2gether = teh s3xy = $$$.
Yep, sorry, guys - I think Theory 3, probably with a bit of Theory 2 thrown in for good measure, is the most likely. The publisher suggested that retailers order more copies than normal for this issue. You do the math(s).
(Incidentally, I once read a very funny piece of intentionally absurd fan fiction which culminated in, for want of a better description, a gang bang involving a good 95% of the female characters in Buffyland. It’s some measure of how low this series has descended that, if Joss Whedon served this scene up as it exists in Issue 13, I wouldn’t even do a double take.)
So, we now find ourselves in a situation where the heroine of the tale is, in all likelihood, so callous and heartless that she is willing to toy with a friend/underling’s emotions in a manner that is utterly reprehensible and makes it difficult, if not impossible, to continue to root for her. Okay, so Seasons 6 and 7 did a pretty solid job of stripping Buffy of every ounce of humanity, but until now I still held on to a rather slim hope that she might have learned from her mistakes and realised that it’s not good to treat your friends as commodities that are devoid of feelings of their own, and can be picked up and used to scratch an itch, then immediately dumped. I really shouldn’t be surprised, though - it’s not as if there have ever been proper consequences for bad behaviour in Buffy, regardless of the writers’ endless pontificating to the contrary.
Perhaps I’m taking this all a bit too seriously? After all, it’s only entertainment, and at least on some level this episode was clearly written with its tongue planted firmly in its cheek (and yes, a lot of it is genuinely funny, considerably more so than any previous issue). Maybe I should lighten up and just see this as a bit of a laugh, a bit of outrageous fan fiction that really isn’t any better or worse than 99% of the other fan-written jaunts you can find for free on the web. Only it’s not fan fiction, and it’s not free. It’s also rather depressing to watch characters who I have developed some degree of affection for over the years being used for such cheap ploys. I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that these comics aren’t worth my time or money, and that I would be better served by cancelling my subscription and devoting the cash I save to something that actually gives me some degree of enjoyment.
Oh, and incidentally, what happened to the searing animosity between Willow and Buffy? The only thing worse than creating insincere conflict is creating insincere conflict and then not following up on it. (Hmm, sounds like Season 7 described in a nutshell.)
* Pointless aside: did I ever mention how much the euphemism “slept with” makes me roll my eyes? I’d imagine sleeping is that last thing either party will be doing. Which reminds me of a great exchange in the Season 5 episode Intervention:
Willow: Um… Buffy, this thing with Spike, i-i-it isn’t true, is it? You didn’t, you know, sleep with Spike?
Buffybot: No. I had sex with Spike.
Ah, happier times.