Monday, October 8, 2001

She'll Save the World Some More

"You can always come back but you can't come back all the way..."
-R. Zimmerman

Through all the words, all the blinding images of the past year the one that I can't seem to get out of my mind was a quiet lunch with a friend when she told me that she used to like watching scary movies until she realized that life itself is scary enough. The startling sad events of the past month have somehow changed all that existed before. Pieces of art, works of music, and even old friendships have all been recast in a different hue in the light of the day that some of us were woken up.

One of the issues I've been struggling with is the proper role of art in a healthy life (and thank you Liz for the reassuring note last week). There are times when I just have to hear some music, not as entertainment, not as a distraction but because I need to feel connected. Maybe that's what friends are for. Maybe that's what happens when the rock runs out of luck, but there are times when music, movies, and literature centers me amongst the swirling chaos. Good art does that. Great art teaches as it inspires.

Yes the world has changed since last we saw Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The best show on TV had a brilliant season last year ending with Buffy's death and fans have been anxiously awaiting the resolution- how they will bring the slayer back to life. It now feels a tad silly to say but the superb writing and acting of the show made me not merely cry twice but (and still in a most manly manner mind you) uncontrollably bawl my eyes out. First was the stunning episode in which Buffy's mom unexpectedly died (probably the best hour of episodic TV I've ever seen) and then the season finale when Buffy sacrificed her own life so that her sister and the rest of the world could live.

The show has always been metaphorical about surviving in the world with vampires and demons and scary beasts that coexist alongside the normal demons, like being a teenager, being unpopular, just wanting to be normal, having your heart broken ("What's worse than being in love with someone that used to love you?" Darla asks Angel in the first season) etc. But now that we have seen how pure evil can truly exist in reality, how there really are beings out there that want to kill the faceless out of undiluted hatred, the show seems both sillier and more profound.

On a selfish note the good news is that the show switched networks (locally from WB23 to UPN9). I live in a house where I have to manipulate my antenna, stand on my head, hook up electrodes to Mr. Max's whiskers in order to get the WB's signal halfway decently. So I've become accustomed to watching Buffy through a haze (different than the one normally in my head) with clicks, buzzing and an occasional fade out and blue screen at the most inopportune times.

Ironically my friend and I recently made a swap. Part of what I received was a TV to place in my office. She hadn't used it since living "way out there" (Hopkins she thought) and so none of the channels was properly tuned to receive the local stations' signals. I spent all of an afternoon trying to get the TV to work but about the only channel I could get clearly was channel 23. Figures.

With the big finale last year on the WB and the switch of networks and Buffy dying and all this year's season premiere promised to be something special. So special in fact that the pressure to be a satisfactory resolution to the state of things seemed a daunting if not impossible task. The show, like most network series has episodes that serve merely as a transition to get the overall storyline to another place. For awhile it appeared as if Buffy's season premiere was just such a show. The episode had plenty of gore and campy humor (though Zander had a nice line about being a "manwich" and Anya was pretty funny with her persistent wish to reveal some exciting personal news even though the world was quite literally on fire around her).

A gang of demons overtook Sunnydale because they found out the slayer was dead and turned the town into a hellish inferno with no moral structure. Just as it appeared the episode would be mostly devoted to fight scenes, scary moments (Leave it to your friends to cast a resurrection spell but then leave you stranded inside your coffin. DOH!) and the mysticism that those who don't follow the show think it's all about, the final scene showed why the show shines.

It wasn't the cast of a witch's spell that brought Buffy back to life. Rather it was the sisterly voice of love and fear and connection that restored Buffy's heart. The show is at its best when it subtlety raises questions about life- what is the soul, the spirit, the essence of another? Both Willow and Dawn in separate scenes had to grapple with being expected to be courageous and strong while grieving the death of a loved one. Does that mean getting back to "normal," to the way things used to be? Does it mean assuming responsibilities of the dead? Does it mean honoring the spirit by pressing on even through the fear and loss? Let's see any other show deal so intelligently and sensitively with such a basic but complex emotion. This is a remarkable show and it's good to have Buffy back and kickin' some serious butt.

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