Ethical Quandaries in BtVS and AtS
| Choosing between right and wrong
| Secrets and Lies
The things we do for love

| Who's responsible?
| Liberty and self-determination

| Television's responsibility to real-life violence

Warning: this page contains info about episodes up through season 7 BtVS/season 5 AtS. If you're in danger of being spoiled, proceed with caution.

Choosing between right and wrong

Many human baddies are shown choosing evil over good, although their conflicts are rarely black and white.

Secrets and Lies

Willow's lie of omission

Willow hid her friendship with Tara from her friends, lying about rose-floating with her and spending the night in her company. Yet she tells Tara about Buffy being the slayer. Willow claims to want something for herself outside the Scooby Gang--and Tara is a friend to share her witchhood (and other things) with.

Discovering, in any way, that you have relatively romantic feelings for a member of the same sex is a confusing time. You ask yourself lots of questions. Are these feelings for real? Is it okay that I'm feeling them? What do they mean? Does this mean I'm gay? If it does, what does that mean for me? If it doesn't, what does that mean? Am I normal? Etc., etc., etc. ...There is a strong drive, especially in our society, to hide those feelings. They are not publically acceptable. This applies even to people you are close to. (Hence, the closet.) We can talk as much as we want about the fact that sharing our thoughts and feelings with those we love helps us work through issues in our personal lives (and it does help!), but on a subject such as this there is a major fear of disclosing our feelings to others. No matter who they are, or what they mean to us, the rejection factor is very high. If you're not sure what you're feeling, how likely are you to share those feelings with someone else? And it certainly doesn't help that those Willow has felt close to in the past are pulling away from her, particularly Buffy (Gwen, Feb 9 08:58 2000).

Why does it have to be such a bad thing that Willow kept Tara to herself for awhile? She met someone that she likes a lot and has lots in common with who wasn't tangled up in the crazy life of the Scooby Gang. Someone who didn't come with all the emotional baggage of the past 3 years. Someone she obviously trusts enough to talk to about that life, though. Someone who could be an sounding board and give an outside perspective. Why did she have to tell the others about her? Sure, she told some little white lies to kind of hide the truth for a while . . . but they hurt no one. And she didn't put Tara in danger. And as soon as it was prudent, she brought her in on things. Haven't any of you ever had anything that was just kind of your special thing that you didn't want to share at first? For Willow, that happens to be a person -- a new friend. ...Is it selfish? Well... a little maybe. But not in a harmful way (MeeB, Mar 3 08:45 2000).

Willow lets her friends know about Tara in Who Are You, but the bigger revelation comes in New Moon Rising, when Willow finally tells Buffy about her feelings for Tara. "You have to be honest" Buffy counsels, but that's not always easy, especially in cases like this, when friendships are on the line. Buffy's uncomfortable reaction is mild compared to the angry reaction Willow could have gotten (and that Joss did get after this episode).

The things we do for love

Who's responsible?

Fault, blame, free will, coercion, traumatic childhoods, lack of a soul--the deeds of the Buffyverse characters raise interesting quandaries about responsibility--who has it, how much they have, and why (or why not).

  • Were the Pack responsible for their actions?
  • Is Angel responsible for Dru's insanity?
  • Who's responsible for Angel turning in Innocence?
  • Who is morally responsible for Jenny's death?
  • When is a human responsible for the actions of his wolf side?
  • Does James deserve forgiveness for killing Grace?
  • Who is morally responsible for the "beast's" behavior (Oz, Angel, and Pete from B&tB)?
  • Is Faith legally culpable for killing Allan?
  • Who's responsible for Faith's move to the dark side?
  • Is Angel responsible for Angelus' evil deeds?
  • Was Trevor Lockley completely responsible for his demise?
  • Should Angel feel guilty about killing Kamal?
  • Telekenetic Bethany is dangerous. People she feels threatened by get hurt. But did she intend to hurt them?
  • Is human Darla responsible for the deeds of vampire Darla?
  • Non-human actions and human ethics--does the concept of "moral responsibility" apply?
  • Who is responsible for Spike's feelings of love--is Buffy?
  • In Tough Love, Doctor McCarthy tells Ben to "take responsibility for your actions." How responsible is Ben for Glory's evil deeds?
  • If Glory used the Key, Dawn the person would not be responsible for destroying the universe--she has no desire to do so and is not evil as a person. But, she points out in "Spiral", the power to destroy the universe is "inside me".
  • Who has responsibility for Billy Blim's violence?
  • Women under the influence of a spell act out in ways characteristic of their personalities. But it's still a spell.
  • Is Spike responsible for killing and siring the ten people he sunk his fangs into?
  • Is Angel responsible for Fred's death?
  • Does Connor's past excuse his sins?

  • Who is morally responsible for Faith's turn to the dark side?

    [I disagree] that Faith was doomed to fail from the start. She apparently had a high attachment to her first watcher that was killed, maybe that watcher could have been the parent figure she needed to thrive? When that watcher died, she didn't get that same attention and training (18:08:37 1999) seems pretty clear that she was developmentally/emotionally behind Buffy and certainly not prepared for autonomy Giles (or someone) should have stepped up to the plate (19:48:42 1999) ...I think that the instant bond that Faith developed with the Mayor, as obviously evil as he was, makes it clear that if she had received a lot of attention elsewhere, she probably would have bonded just as easily. The way the Mayor so easily took her in makes it clear she did not want to be independent (LunaMoon, Jun 20 18:42 1999).

    Most of the bad girls ...I've know don't brag. They simply let people think what they think, and don't set out to prove anything. Faith's bragging was a cry for attention. And I was fairly disappointed with the Scooby Gang's reaction to her. They could have tried harder, Faith had the potential to be as great as Buffy (spikes_luv, Jun 20 19:09 1999).

    Buffy's role in Faith's turn

    I still blame a lot of [Faith's] dysfunction on the Watchers. Among other things, one of their psychiatrists apparantly came over specifically to make sure she was mentally fit, putting her and Buffy through all sorts of tests (as Buffy tells Willow at the begining of Doppelgängland) and they still didn't have a clue as to what was up with her. And I'm always carping about how much money the council apparently has, and how they let her live a hand-to-mouth existence. None of her needs, pscyhological, emotional, or physical, seem to have been a concern, let alone a priority, of the Council until she accidently killed someone, at which point they went all authoritarian on her. No wonder she hooked up with the Mayor! (Margot Le Faye, May 19 1999).

    Faith is responsible

    Do extenuating circumstances excuse one's actions? Connor as a case study

    [Connor is] stubborn, headstrong, reactionary. Worst of all, he's an accessory to the murder of an innocent.

    Yes, he grew up in a hell dimension, under circumstances that I can only imagine were terrible, and he's suffered immeasurable abuse and emotional and physical torture, probably on a regular basis. This, however is a contributing factor to the person that he is, not an excuse for his actions. No more than the demon that Angel has to fight every day is an excuse, or the wolf inside Oz, or Fred's time in Pylea or Gunn's time on the streets or Wes's own messed up childhood. Holtz had his family murdered, his daughter damned to hell for all of eternity. Those things do not lend legitimacy for what he did to Connor. The hell that must have been Faith's upbringing is no less meaningful because it happened in this dimension. She must--all of us must--take responsibility for our actions, despite the circumstances that were handed to us....

    [Connor's] story has always been about the memories that inform who he is and who he becomes, and about the choices that were made for him--he didn't ask to be born with superpowers, or to be Angel's son, or to be kidnapped to Quor-toth--but they're also about the choices that he makes and the tragedy of those choices.

    He's not unprincipled, or stupid. Despite not fully understanding how this world works, he knows the difference between right and wrong. His choices were oftentimes misinformed, and that scene in Inside Out breaks my heart, but it does so because he wants to do the right thing. He recognizes what the right thing is, but he chooses not to take that path. That choice is based on a whole host of extenuating factors, and I know all of them. They cause me to look upon him with compassion and understanding. But those factors don't negate the fact that he was wrong.

    His sins are his. And the mindwipe bothers me precisely because it takes the choice of atonement away from him. And he must atone for those sins. Origin works because I happen to believe that that's what he's doing by walking away from Angel and going back to his other life. In protecting his new parents, in living a good and meaningful life, he's making that choice. It's a good beginning. But the point is that it doesn't erase who he was, or what he's done. He has those memories back, and now he must work for the rest of his life to make up for his mistakes. There is no clean slate (ros_fod, Apr. 23rd, 2004 1:17 pm).

    Liberty and self-determination

    What is self-determination? The simplest answer is that it is the ability, and the right, to make decisions for yourself, rather than depending on, or being forced to follow, the decisions of others (family, friends, stangers, authorities, etc) regarding you.

    Self-determination is an important concept because without it we cannot explain what is wrong with acts like rape, assault, and murder, etc. But with it we can: these acts violate the self-determination of the victim. On the other hand, there are certain times we try to curtail an individual's self-determination, for example, when we try to prevent them from committing rape, assault, and murder on others. Individual liberty ends where it significantly and harmfully interfere's with another person's self-determination.

    Now, one can argue that self-determination is ultimately an illusion. We are all bound by the limitations of the circumstances we find ourselves in. Our obligations to others, our physical and psychological limitations, the limitations imposed by the environment around us. But to say that self-determination is a complete illusion is to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The importance of some self-determination is made readily clear by instances in which it has been violated:

    In addition, there are also examples of when obligations to others (or to themselves) dictate that a person give up their right to self-determination:

    Self determination as fundamental: Anarchism

    Television's responsibility to real-life violence BtVS plots which are Hellmouthy-versions of stories taken out of real-life headlines

    During the third season of BtVS, the WB network postponed the episodes "Earshot" and "Graduation, pt. 2" in response to acts of gun violence on high school campuses in the United States which resulted, tragically, in the loss of life. Buffy fans had a wide variety of reactions to the WB's decision:


    Yes I agree with the WB's decision to pull Earshot at the time. Even though this is one of the most substantial eps of the season the fact of the matter is that is hit WAY too close to what happened the week after Columbine. I remember watching it the first time and getting chills from some of the dialogue. I am glad to see that the WB decided to air the ep so that it's message was availiable for everyone to see (slay_me, Sep 21 19:24 1999).

    Graduation, pt. 2

    It is out of sympathy and compassion for the families and communities that have been devastated by the recent senseless acts of violence perpetrated on high school campuses that we have decided to delay this broadcast. Our decision is also borne out of a deep sense of responsibility to The WB*s loyal young audience. ...acts of violence at a high school graduation ceremony, even fantasy acts ...we believe, is inappropriate to broadcast around the actual dates of these time-honored ceremonies. We apologize to the millions of loyal *Buffy* viewers who are eagerly anticipating this episode. ...Like most of its loyal fans and the nations critics, we at The WB consider BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER to be one of the highest quality programs on television today (Jamie Kellner, CEO of The WB)

    For those of you who may not know, there was a high school shooting outside of Atlanta GA last Thursday. That is probably the reason GD1 was aired but GD2 was pulled at the last minute. Although nobody was killed last week, it shook up our community pretty badly. Although I DON'T agree with the WB's decision, I can understand why it was pulled at the last minute (Stealthgirl, May 25 19:15: 1999).

    The demon was not the problem for the network, it was the graduates with weapons hidden under the robes. And the school being blown up with fertilizer and gasoline. It would have taken only one psycho to use either idea at a graduation to ruin the future shows for us (Ms. Anubis, Jul 13 19:49 1999).

    There's the moral issue that the WB would have to face. ...morally, how could the people involved with the show and the network, especially those with families, be able to live with themselves after knowing that they may be responsible for deaths? I saw someone(who shall remain nameless) post a few days ago that even if postponing it saved just one life, it still wouldn't be worth it. To that individual, I have to say that you either got some bad wording, or you are a heartless person. I mean, can anyone here honestly tell me that a television show, although as great as BtVS is, is more important than even just *1* human life? Because, I gotta disagree with that person. It's my favorite show on TV, it's the best show on TV...but, when all is said and done, a TV show is not more important than a human life (?, Jun 1 17:02 1999).

    I think that people have become so impatient that they are not willing to wait and find out where the root of the problem lies and wants to "fix" things quickly. The truth be told, there aren't any immediate solutions to the problems at hand. there may not be any solutions at all. but i don't think televison networks are the only ones that should be accepting responsiblity for the violence. I think that the responsibility lies with the parents, the children committing the crimes, and our society. cancelling shows is not the answer (janie, May 25 19:46 1999).

    I share the WB network's concern and compassion for the recent tragic events at Columbine High School and at academic campuses across the country. I am, however, disappointed that the year-long culmination of our efforts will not be seen by our audience. Buffy the Vampire Slayer has always been extremely responsible in its depiction of action sequences, fantasy and mythological situations. Our diverse and positive role models 'battle the horror of adolescence' through intelligence and integrity, and we endeavor to offer a moral lesson with each new episode. There is probably no greater societal question we face then how to stop violence among our youth. By canceling intelligent programming like 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer,' corporate entertainment is not addressing the problem (Statement From Sarah Michelle Gellar)

    I think everyone needs to realize that the reason the episode was pulled wasn't sensitivity to the victim' families, fear of violence in the school, or a ploy for ratings. The reason was to avoid potential lawsuits.It is unfortunate that we live in a society that is always trying to make a buck off of someone else's pain and suffering, but that is our society right now. If this episode had aired and a tragedy took place at a graduation ceremony, some group would try and blame the show. By delaying airing the episode until mid-summer it will be out of the public consciousness by the time graduation roles around next year. ...lawsuits are very expensive. By delaying tonight's episode, the producers may have averted potential class action lawsuits and ultimately saved the show from cancellation. No matter how disappointed you may be, remember this was done to save "Buffy", not ruin your summer (Michelle, May 25 22:21 1999).

    Unanswered question: Why wasn't The Prom postponed? Its content was similar to Earshot. Perhaps it was not close enough in time to any specific real-life incident.

    BtVS plots which are Hellmouthy-versions of stories taken out of real-life headlines

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    This page last modified 4/27/04

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