Philosophies Represented on BtVS and AtS

| Anarchism | Aristotle's functionalist theory of virtue |
Byronic Romanticism | Joseph Campbell | Capitalism | Communism |
| Democracy vs. neo-fascism | Simone de Beauvoir | Dualism |
| Existentialism | Feminism | Sigmund Freud |
| Issues of free will | Issues of personal identity |
| Theories of justice | Thomas Hobbes | Kantian ethics |
Søren Kierkegaard | Jungle morality | Liberty and self-determination |
Machiavelli | Nietzshe's master and slave morality |
Objectivism | Marxist subtext | Jean-Paul Sartre |
| Proto-Socialism with Neo-slovo-abolitionist leanings |
| Philosophies of slaying | Relativism | Skepticism |
| Social constructivism | Utilitarianism | Thomas Aquinas |
| Warrior Ethics vs. Care-taker Ethics | Illyria's political philosophy |
| Cordelia and Plato: The Allegory of the Cave |

Warning: this page contains info about episodes up through season 6 BtVS/season 5 AtS. If you're in danger of being spoiled, proceed with caution.

Dualism holds that a person is made up of two very different things: a complex physical/material organism, and an immaterial spirit/mind which is essentially conscious (René Descartes).

Minds think, desire, sense. They are non-spatial. Bodies on the other hand have "extention" of some sort: size, shape, weight, length, breadth. Under dualism, bodies lack the capacity for thinking by themselves (without spirit or minds). In addition, minds and bodies can be separate from each other: for example, Buffy and Faith's consciousnesses can separate from their original brains and enter another body then be switched back.

We can oppose dualism to materialism. No, not the greedy money-grubbing materialism, but the view that people consist of nothing but physical matter, and that the mind is just a process of the brain. Human desires, moods, and actions, can be explained in terms of the neuronal activity of the brain and its chemical and electrical activities.

The Buffyverse has a decidedly dualist outlook. The following are only possible if spirits are separate things from the brains (or objects) which house them:


Possession of a physical object:

Astral travel (Nightmares and WAY)

Ghosts in IOHEFY and RWAV

Possession of the dead:

Problematic cases:

...The Buffy universe seems to have the rule that to act in the world, one must take a form from the world, and even then, it's not easy; they are constrained by the weight of emotion and physical restrictions that all humans must deal with. In specific, I'm thinking of the times when higher powers were called in non-corporeal forms (Giles asking for help from the Powers That Be in [The Zeppo], or the oldest evil summoned by three priests in "Amends") but were unable to do anything other than put on a light show and talk. Even the ghosts in "I Only Have Eyes for You" needed to take over bodies to play out the drama.

Then, all of the entities who have become human experience some kind of disjoint: Anya is rude, Dawn is clumsy (physically and socially).... Vampires, in taking over a new host, may have the easiest time in the transition, but at the cost of keeping the personality quirks of the body: witness Spike's romanticism or Mistress of Pain Willow's sexuality. Even the Mayor, after undergoing a 100-year culmination of power gathering to become a "true" demon, had residual emotions for Faith which lead to his downfall.

I also posit that human isn't the only form available to demons (i.e., the hellhounds in "The Prom"), but it gives the widest range of action. So, [perhaps] Glory took physical form to coerce the keepers of the Key to give it to her. Then they constructed Dawn to allow her some independent action (gerrymander, 3:21 pm Nov 28, 2000).


"The hardest thing in this world is to live in it," -Buffy, The Gift

| Definition | Jean-Paul Sartre | Simone de Beauvoir | Søren Kierkegaard | Buffy | Angel | Adam | Glory | Connor | Illyria | Other exmples |

A common existentialist claim is that "man is his freedom". For the existentialist, choice is central to being fully human [Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)]. Existentialists often note that people struggle against this freedom of choice because it implies that life has no real meaning. They do this by inventing meanings--religions, laws, biological imperatives, the unconscious etc.--anything that will tell them what to do. But there are no absolute guidelines in the universe.

Is BtVS an existential show? Not in this sense: The show is ripe with meaning--the fight of real good against real evil (but see the relativist interpretation, below). In that sense, when the characters search for meaning in life and a place to belong, they get it in spades. There is no question that some great power for Good exists in their universe. However, the lines of good and evil are sometimes blurred, and most characters are free to chose otherwise than they have.

Buffy: In the Buffyverse, some people are not their freedom. Before Buffy died, she was the subject of prophecy and her fate was in some ways pre-determined. In Prophecy Girl, she struggled against that destiny, but her actions followed the prophecy. Buffy is no longer the subject of prophecy, and she has a choice about her whether or not to accept her calling. But a calling she has, from the forces of good.

The fact that she can choose to turn her back on that calling (as Faith did), with all the possible repercussions, weighs on her heavily. However, the consequences of not accepting her calling are much too serious to call it a real  choice, at least for someone with moral integrity like Buffy. For example, could she have really chosen not to send Angel to hell in B2? The only time Buffy really "chose" not to follow her calling was in Anne. This episode is not necessarily a fair examination of what her life could be like if she stopped being the slayer, but it does demonstrate how Buffy's identity as the slayer is integral to her self-image. Can we chose not to be the people we really are? To even believe that we have a built-in character is to argue we are not totally free. In that respect, Buffy is not an existentialist character.

Angel: It is less clear that Angel has a "calling" to do good in the same sense that Buffy does. He has struggled with exactly what his purpose is, or if he has one at all (see, for example, Lover's Walk). Sometimes he has come close to believing that only the forces of evil have a purpose in mind for him; this is the conclusion the the First Evil tried to convince him of in Amends. He knows the Powers that Be expect him to be a warrior for Good, and that he has a destiny of some sort, but the forces of evil also believe he may still be swayed to their side in the end. It could still go either way. Angel is constrained by his vampire nature (although now there is a cure for that--a cure he chose to reject). His human desire to do good pulls in the other direction. But what happens when Angel no longer believes that humanity can be saved and that he can be saved? For one who finds it not so easy to embrace evil, there are only everyday acts of compassion.

I'd think that the post-Amends Angel is more likely to believe in God than the pre-Amends one. ...In Amends, Buffy's argument that Angel's life was worth something didn't fly with wasn't until some supernatural force intervened that he abandoned his suicidal intentions, leading me to believe that the atheism of Sartre and other existentialists wasn't really working for him (Mircalla, Jun 6 20:57 1999).

Angel's perfect day: Real existence vs. Ideals and the champion's path

Glory on the human condition--does she have a point? You decide:

"I could crap a better existence than this." --Glory

"People. How do they function? Here. Like this, in the world, with all this bile running through them. Every day, it's ... Whooo... you have no control. They're not even animals they're just these meatbaggy slaves to hormones and pheromones and their... feelings. Hate 'em! I mean really, is this what the poets go on about? This? Call me crazy. But as hard core drugs go, human emotions just seem useless. People are puppets, everyone getting jerked around by what they're feeling - am I wrong?

...'cause I look around at this world you're so eager to be a part of, and all I see is six billion lunatics looking for the fastest ride out. Who's not crazy? Look around - everyone's drinkin', smokin', shootin' up, shootin' each other or just plain screwing their brains out because they don't want 'em anymore. I'm crazy? Honey, I am the original one-eyed chicklet in the kingdom of the blind 'cause at least I admit the world makes me nuts. Name one person who can take it here. That's all I'm asking - Name one." (Doug Petrie, TWOTW)

Other examples of existentialism in BtVS and AtS episodes: James in purgatory, the constraints of beastliness, Angel reads Sartre, Earshot angst, Freshman alienation, post-breakup pessimism, Is Adam an exisentialist character?, Xander's career crisis, The Beast made human, April's purpose, Existentialism Much? (Existentialism in Season 6 by Slain), Connor's existentialist crisis, an existentialist meaning of life, Illyria's existential crisis.


| What feminism is |
Feminism and sexism in BtVS/ATS episodes: season 1, season 2, season 3, season 4/ATS 1, |
season 5/ATS 2, season 6/ATS 3, season 7/ATS 4
| ATS season 5 |
Buffy vs. The Watchers | Domestic abuse in BtVS/ATS episodes |
Is the Slayer a Feminist Icon? | Buffy the Patriarchy Slayer (essays on feminism in BtVS) |

What feminism is

The "first-wave" liberal feminism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was a demand for legal equality which culminated in granting women the right to vote that Willow values above a shallow life of riches in Halloween. Second wave feminism was the women's liberation movement. In the mid-twentieth century, Simone de Beauvoir argued that if "man is his freedom" (see existentialism), it should follow that woman is her freedom, too. But the reality is that women are not their freedom--their lives and the meaning of their lives are defined in relation to what they can do for men. They are "the second sex."

According to de Beauvoir, women could not be equal until they were free to choose for themselves and change their own conditions. Women cannot look to men to grant them freedom. If that were to happen, women would not themselves be choosing their freedom.

I personally equate feminism with a belief that women are the equals of men, can do anything men can do, and shouldn't be denied opportunities socially, culturally, academically or professionally just because they are women. I've seen far too many people IRL stereotype feminists as butch, angry, man-hating, hairy-legged harridans, when we're not all like that (devil, Feb 8 22:19 2000).

Feminism (or lack thereof) in BtVS episodes

Joss Whedon's inspiration for the slayer was the prototypical blonde chick in the horror flick who walks blithely into a dark alley where we, the viewers, know a monster lurks. Crunch --she is predictably victimized. What if, Whedon thought, the ditzy blonde fought back? Buffy, the brawn who lets her Watcher, Giles, do most of the book-work, was born. But a blonde ditz? Not on the likely. Buffy has been known, on occasion, to use words like "oeuvre" and make obscure cultural references (e.g., the play "Waiting for Godot"). She's no bimbo with a wicked right cross waiting to be told what to do.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a show in which women take an active role without always having to be saved, upstaged, or lectured to by a male character. Women and men are both shown as three-dimensional--both heroic and both flawed.
    SMG should not be so concerned with society's perceptions of feminism. Take a stand, Sarah. Your character, and meal ticket, wouldn't have existed without the feminist movement. Feminism is a wonderful thing, that makes our society richer -- and more just (Robin Goodfellow, Oct 21 11:57 1998).

Season 1:
Season 2:

Season 3:

Season 4/Season 1 AtS:

Season 5/Season 2 AtS:

... I disliked that Darla's entire existence is contained in her sexuality. I know there weren't a lot of choices for women who wanted to control their own lives back in 1600 but still, it made her seem kind of flat. "Oh, of course, she's a hooker. How could she be anything else?" I would love to know that she is something else, something a bit deeper maybe (jengod, 3:43 pm Nov 15, 2000).

Season 6/Season 3 ATS

Season 7/Season 4 ATS

To take someone's personal power away, you have to convince them that they have none, and make them afraid to seek it. The FE was incorporeal because it was both the outer voices that tells women that they have no power, and the inner voice that tells women that they don't need or deserve any. But that's all it was-a voice. It could only convice people to harm themselves or give up hope. It couldn't do anything itself.

There is Potential in each of us women. There is power and strength and courage. We have the Heart to love and share, the Spirit to understand and create, the Mind to think and grow, the Hands to build our futures. We cannot let that power be usurped or subjegated. We form over half of the world's population, yet many of us let the other half tell us what we can and cannot be or do. Power can't be taken without our permission.

I too was very very happy with the message of empowerment in "Chosen." Buffy learned to believe in and trust herself, and that made her able to teach others to do the same. By sharing power instead of hoarding it she became stronger and, finally, no longer alone. She and the thousands of other girls who share in her power are free to be what they want to be, go where they want to go. And so are the rest of us, if we believe we can (Arethusa, 5/22/03 8:21).

Season 5 AtS

Fred is getting a little tired of male colleagues' patronizing attitude towards her. She's more than a helpless female with a tendency to babble.

Buffy vs. The Watchers: Wesley's appearance in Sunnydale introduced a new kind of authority into the Watcher/Slayer relationship. "Are you not used to taking orders?" Wesley asks Buffy. And indeed she isn't--in the first season, Giles repeatedly followed Buffy's lead and her plans. In the following seasons, they worked more as a team, with Giles providing the necessary background knowledge and Buffy determining and following through on the plans. Buffy has taken Giles' lead from time to time, but not to any degree that would make things go smoothly with the more autocratic Wesley. "I just love it when you take charge, you man, you," she taunts him in Graduation, pt. 1. Her rebelliousness against Watcher authority makes her "resignation" from this authority in G1 a little anti-climatic. has happened so often before a patriarchy imposed itself over the top of a completely female occupation. The Watchers are a male-centred society. How many have we seen so far? Five ...all men but for the one was hell-bent on unimaginable power. You can bet in centuries past that the gender ratio was even worse, how many women would have gotten the education necessary to become a Watcher? ...Giles truly cares for Buffy but he is the single Watcher we have encountered that has allowed himself to come so close to their charge, to defer to her judgement on occasion, and he was censured and dismissed for it. The Watchers claim total authority over the Slayers including the power to try and imprison them for their natural lives. This authority has no supernatural origin as the Slayer's does, they assume it because they feel it is their place... (Vox, Nov 3, 1999).

In G2, Buffy insults Wesley in an odd juxta position. "The council is not welcome here. I have no time for orders. If I need someone to scream like a woman, I'll call you." The clever, skillful Buffy has already stated that she (a woman, incidentally) is in charge of the battle. And being a woman, every time she screams, she is, by definition, screaming like a woman. The same is true for any other woman. But it also becomes her big insult to throw at the naive, bumbling Wesley. Did anybody else get the least bit irritated by the contradiction in that bit of dialogue?

Is the Watcher's Council a sexist organization? Vox on Slayers, Watchers, and power
Buffy vs. the Watchers: Round 2

Domestic Abuse in BtVS and A:tS episodes

"...Battered women such as Debbie in "Beauty and the Beasts" and Rachel in "In the Dark" have been characterized as weak and "codependent" and addicted to the abuse/abuser.... There is no typical battered woman (ie weak, low self-esteem, "codependent", must have been abused as a child, etc. -- our society is quite fond of pathologizing victims). The victim/survivors of domestic violence I have worked with as a counselor and advocate are quite diverse in terms of their personality, socio-economic background, race/ethnicity, lifestyle, level of education, mental health, and childhood experience/family background etc. What they all have in common is being in a relationship with a batterer. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence defines battering as "a pattern of behavior used to establish power and control over another person through fear and intimidation,often including the threat or use of violence. Battering happens when one person believes they are entitled to control another." What so many people fail to understand is that domestic violence is that the physical violence is one of (many) tactics batterers employ to maintain power and control over their partners.

My strongest objection to how BtVS has portrayed battering is that it has consistently failed to depict the real dangers battered women face. "Buffy" and "Angel" have presented leaving as the ultimate solution for victims of domestic violence. However, leaving the abuser is not synonymous with safety; on the contrary it is the most dangerous time for battered women. The Bureau of Justice reports that although divorced and separated women comprise only 7% of the population in the U.S., they account for 75% of all battered women and report being assaulted 14 times more often than women still living with a partner. Because domestic violence is about power and control, when a woman leaves the relationship it represents the ultimate loss of control for the batterer; the batterer will resort to more extreme and violent methods to get that power back. It's much easier for us to look at a woman in an abusive relationship and blame her then confront this unsettling reality.

Finally the idea that most abused women are so "weak" and so addicted to their abusers that they never leave is a fallacy. Many women do leave after the first incident or sign of abuse. Other women make multiple attempts until they gain the support and resoruces needed to successfully and safely break free. Susan Schecter, a pioneer in the battered women's movement, noted the following in her classic book, "Women and Male Violence": "Battered women are not passive, rather, they engage in step-like, logical behavior as they attempt to stop the violence or leave. Not all of them are successful because the major variable, the violent man, is outside the realm of their control. Staying, especially given the lack of resources and social supports for leaving, should never be read as accepting violence."

"Ted" is the brilliant exception in that it portrays domestic violence for what it is: an issue of male power and control. By making Ted a controlling robot programmed to spew sexist ideas and rules, the show successfully and smartly wrote an allegory that captured the core dynamics and roots of family violence and challenged us to think about the role of society and socialization in the shaping of gender identity." (DSP, 05 Feb 2000 23:41)

The Slayer's Journey: Buffy Summers and the Hero's Life 

By Rattletrap

Joseph Campbell's 1949 book The Hero with a Thousand Faces identifies common strains in the mythology of all world religions and cultures. Campbell concludes that all are different and varied manifestations of one "monomyth," a universal story with roots in the universal human experience. One key component of Campbell's analysis is the recurring hero's journey that appears at the heart of most stories. The hero always passes through several phases in his quest; regular stages that Campbell identifies and defines. Modern writers such as Christopher Vogler, author of The Writer's Journey, have recognized the value of Campbell's scholarship in the creation of modern popular stories on film, in novels, and on the small screen that is our concern here. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is deeply resonant with its audience, in part because it is a modern retelling of the timeless journey of the hero; a journey that parallels our own individual life journeys. At the same time, the monomyth is updated to reflect some of the realities of life in the postmodern world.

Campbell divides the hero's journey into three phases: Separation, Initiation, and Return. I will borrow his terminology regularly during this essay, though I have also borrowed indiscriminately from Vogler's book and other sources. In brief, the Hero is offered a call to adventure during the Separation phase, and, after several refusals, she accepts. The period of Initiation is the bulk of the story, in which the Hero faces a series of increasingly difficult challenges, both outer and inner. Finally the Hero experiences a literal or metaphorical death and resurrection and begins the long road back-this is the Return phase. Many scholars have noted that the heroine's journey differs slightly from the hero's. The female journey tends to be spiraling or cyclical, rather than linear or curving in one large, gradual circle as does the journey of the male protagonist. This generalization also holds true for Buffy. Each episode contains within itself a small hero's journey. Each season contains a longer adaptation of the journey. The entire series is also its own journey, which will be the focus of this essay. Finally, each of the main characters struggles through her or his journey that intersects the larger story at many points along the way. Please bear in mind that the hero's journey is not a hard and fast law of writing, but a form that generally appears, with an almost infinite number of variations. This analysis is open to other interpretations, most of which are not mutually exclusive.

Separation and the Call to Adventure
(Season 1)

The opening moments of "Welcome to the Hellmouth" set the stage for the entire series. An establishing shot shows us Sunnydale High School after dark, and we are transported inside to find a young man and a young woman breaking and entering, ostensibly for a make-out session. While this sequence is, in many respects, a horror movie cliché, Joss Whedon turns it on its head almost immediately when the young woman, vampire Darla, devours the unnamed young man. This prologue foreshadows many of the elements that become commonplace in Buffy over the next several years-juxtaposition of ordinary with fantastic (e.g. high schools and vampires); repeated use of clichés from movies and television, but with some modification; and, perhaps most importantly, a role reversal with a dominant, female heroine.

Returning after the credits takes us to the World of Common Day (or the Ordinary World). This is Sunnydale High School during the daytime on a regular class day. This sequence serves several purposes. First, it introduces our dramatis personae-we meet most of the characters who will become allies and nemises over the next several years. The scene also establishes the basic geography of Sunnydale, a one-Starbucks town roughly 2 hours on the freeway from LA's shopping district, and gives us a glimpse of the social hierarchy that defines SHS. Also, several conversations during the first few scenes of "Welcome to the Hellmouth," give us the background on our heroine-sixteen year-old Buffy Anne Summers, kicked out of Hemery High School in Los Angeles after burning down the gym. Whedon establishes Buffy as a damaged heroine from the outset-one who has traveled the hero's road and returned ladened with cynicism and battle scars, and with no desire to set out along the road again.

The opening sequence in SHS also issues the first Call to Adventure. Buffy enters the library for the first time. The soundtrack subtly shifts, eliminating the background noise of the halls for the quiet silence of the library and cueing us in that this is special space, terrain on the edge of the Ordinary World. Buffy meets with Giles, who will function as her Mentor figure for most of her journey. In this instance Giles also functions as a herald, offering Buffy her first Call to Adventure. Our heroine, weighed down by her expulsion from one school and the loss of her friends and her social status, bluntly refuses. The discovery of the dead body later in the day prompts Buffy to return to the library, where Giles issues a second Call, which Buffy again refuses.

Despite Buffy's persistent refusal to accept her destiny, forces beyond her control push her out on the road. The seemingly innocuous decision to go to a club that evening takes her to the Threshold of Adventure. She meets with another Herald figure in Angel, who appears only as a tall, dark, handsome stranger; but of whose character we know nothing. Buffy again refuses the call, but, in the time-honored tradition of Heralds on the Hero's road, Angel leaves her with a parting gift, a small silver cross necklace.

In The Writer's Journey, Vogler notes that the transitional point on the Threshold is often a bar or watering hole of some type. Buffy is no exception. The dark, noisy, crowded world of the Bronze contrasts with the daylight world of classes at SHS. The conditions make it a perfect hunting ground for vampires, reinforcing the show's juxtaposition of mundane and mythical elements. Here Buffy is given the call she can no longer refuse. Willow, one of Buffy's very few friends at this point, is abducted while acting on Buffy's advice to seize the moment, because life is short. Feelings of responsibility toward her friend finally force the reluctant Hero into her journey. Before the journey can begin, however, Buffy must confront another archetype along the road. She encounters Cordelia and the Cordettes outside the bathroom in the Bronze and is confronted with a decision: rescue Willow and sacrifice her social status or ignore her calling and embrace the normal life of a high school student. Cordelia, in this context, represents the Guardian of the Threshold, a figure that stands in the way of the Hero's passage, but is not necessarily a malevolent figure.

Buffy successfully rescues Willow and stops the Harvest from occurring. This places her on the road of the Hero's journey, but the stage of Separation is not yet complete. In keeping with the mythological tradition, the Hero must find allies and prepare for the journey before completely leaving the World of Common Day behind. The remainder of Season 1 consists of just such a process. The Scooby Gang first begins to function as a unit in episode 1.3, "The Witch." This episode also establishes the formula for the remainder of Season 1. A catalyst event, such as the discovery of a body at Sunnydale High (a staple of the series) pushes the gang into action, the gang goes to the library to do research, and based on the new knowledge gained confronts the baddie. While Season 1, like all Buffy seasons, had its big bad, the Master did not figure prominently in most of the episodes, and did not directly confront Buffy until the season's final episode. This season focused more on the "High School is Hell" metaphor that defined the early years of the series and on the emerging relationships in the Scooby Gang.

The characters that appear in the Scooby Gang are also important archetypes in the Hero's Journey, because sidekicks, too, serve an important function in literature, TV, and film. Like many Heroes, Buffy finds herself accompanied by people of a lower social status-Don Quixote's companion Sancho Panza and Frodo's servant Sam are both literary examples of this phenomenon. Buffy refuses to shun Willow and Xander despite their lower status in the SHS social structure, and they wind up as her most loyal supporters on the Hero's path. Xander, especially, embodies a common archetype in literature-the comic sidekick and the boy who refuses to grow up. He represents the funny, playful side of the Hero and reminds us never to take any calling too seriously.

Angel, too, fulfills a specific function on the journey. His character appears sporadically through the early part of Season 1, usually warning of some impending doom and then vanishing back into the woodwork. In episode 1.7, "Angel," he is revealed to be a vampire, but one with a soul fighting on the side of good. Vampires are a common embodiment of a form that Campbell refers to as the Shapeshifter, an ambiguous character whose intentions are never entirely clear and may appear as either an ally, an enemy, or swing back and forth between the two. Angel's human appearance, demonic nature, and gypsy-restored soul make him a near perfect embodiment of this archetype.

Cordelia, as I have already suggested, fulfills the role of Threshold Guardian, an obstacle that must be overcome before the Hero can set out on her path. On BtVS, Cordelia serves as the symbolic reminder of the life that Buffy has forsaken. Threshold Guardians are rarely enemies to be defeated; instead the Hero must often co-opt or assimilate them as part of the group. Buffy does just this. She saves Cordelia's life several times during the first season, and by the end of that season, Cordelia can no longer deny Buffy's ability. In the season's penultimate episode, (1.11) "Out of Mind, Out of Sight," Cordelia is threatened by invisible girl Marcie and solicits Buffy's protection. Her once adversarial character comes to a mutual toleration, if not respect for, the Scooby Gang.

By the end of Season 1, then, Buffy is ready to set out on her Hero's Journey, to complete the process of separation and leave the World of Common Day. In the final episode of Season 1, "Prophecy Girl," Buffy makes a willing decision to accept her calling and face the Master, even knowing that it will mean her own death. Buffy's death, in the larger scope of the series, is not the death and resurrection experience that the Hero must experience. In represents, instead, the crossing of the threshold and the willing acceptance of the Slayer's calling and all of the risks and consequences contained therein. While Buffy regularly relapses and longs for the life of a normal girl, subsequent episodes suggest that she never seriously considers abandoning the slayer's journey.

(Seasons 2, 3, and 4)

In Campbell's structure, most of the Hero's Journey occurs within the phase known as Initiation. During this phase, the Hero faces a series of tests or ordeals, each usually more intense than the last, building toward one final crisis. Seasons 2 through 5 of Buffy carry our heroine on just such a journey. The early episodes of Season 2 appear to roughly mimic the pattern of Season 1, but serve increasingly to remind our characters of the darkness within each of them and the dangers of the Hero's road. This season, perhaps more than any other, is emblematic of the Hero's inward journey. "The Dark Age" shows us the Campbellian archetype of the Shadow. Rarely cast as a person, the Shadow instead embodies the ever present darkness within each of us. Giles, once the stable, reliable Mentor is revealed to be a one-time practitioner of the black arts. "What's My Line" introduces Kendra, the Vampire slayer, called at the moment of Buffy's death and serving as a subtle reminder of the dangers the journey poses to the Hero.

The second season takes its most severe turn with the "Surprise" / "Innocence" two-part episode. Angel, already a Shapeshifter, reverts to his evil nature after knowing a moment of true happiness during a night of sex with Buffy and begins terrorizing her and the Scooby Gang. In so doing, he becomes the homme fatale, a common archetype in literature and film. Campbell's Hero often must face a lover that turns to an enemy (or vice versa) on the Journey. Angel's turn to evil drives Buffy into a period of intense self-examination during the end of Season 2, culminating in the stirring metaphor of "I Only Have Eyes for You," during which she finally accepts what has happened and what she has to do to fix it. In that season's finale, "Becoming" (2.21, 2.22), Buffy is driven away from home, expelled from school, and forced to send a resouled Angel to hell. The final shot of the episode shows her riding a bus out of Sunnydale for parts unknown, unable to stand the emotional strain of the journey.

Season 2, then, might be summarized as a period of internal focus. That season's big bad originated from within the group and forced the Hero to draw on her deepest emotional reserves to survive the journey. The first several episodes of the following season explore Buffy's attempts to make peace with her mother, her friends, and her past; all key components in the hero's journey. Again, we are reminded of the Hero's own internal darkness by the arrival of Faith, a character embodying the archetypes of Shadow and Shapeshifter, and showing us what direction Buffy might have gone with only a slightly different course of events. This continued inward journey is only a part of the larger movement through the Hero's ever-expanding special world.

In keeping with Campbell's form the next stage of the journey takes her toward a broader, more external focus, one that includes the entire town and the people she protects. In Season 3's main story arc, Sunnydale's immortal mayor, Richard Wilkins III, has built the town for demons to feed on in preparation for his own ascension. The Mayor embodies yet another common archetype. Campbell's Hero must often face and defeat a powerful father-like figure. The Mutant Enemy writing staff especially emphasized this facet of the Mayor's personality with his peculiarly gentle paternal relationship to Faith. It is doubly fitting, then, that the Mayor's transformation into the demon Olvikan should cause him to become a giant snake, an ironically fitting phallic symbol that further emphasizes his status as the father figure.

Season 3 is also fairly unique among Buffy seasons in that it ends on a positive note with few unanswered questions, offering our group a brief respite before the next stage of their journey. Season 4 expands the Hero's special world even farther. The narrow constraints of high school class and living at home give way to the more open intellectual and individual freedom of the college campus. This greater freedom also leaves the Scooby Gang more disoriented than they have ever been, each more isolated and weighed down with her or his individual problems and less focused on the journey at hand. The process of reorganization and redefinition midway through the story is integral to the journey.

That season's big bad is not revealed until fairly late in the season. Ultimately, however, his story is only part of the ever expanding world view of the Hero. The main adversary for most of the season is the mysterious, government operated "Initiative," operating clandestinely from beneath one of the dorms and suggesting that activities in Sunnydale have moved beyond the concern of local authorities and attracted the attention of national ones. Frequently along the Hero's Journey, a perceived threat turns out to be a competitor, but one that shares a common goal. Such is the case with the Initiative. Both the Initiative soldiers and the Scooby Gang share a common interest in demon hunting, but they differ wildly on methods and ultimate objectives. Buffy is able to work alongside the Initiative for a while, but finds her view of the calling remarkably different from theirs.

The initiative produces the monstrous Adam that becomes the main antagonist of the season, but his plan is not fully revealed until episode 4.20, "The Yoko Factor." The Scooby Gang unites to defeat him in (4.21) "Primeval," and is forced to summon the power of the first slayer to do so. This act forces them to tap forces more powerful than anything they have used before, as each stage of the journey grows progressively more difficult.

Season 4 also ends on an unconventional note, but one critical for the journey. Vogler notes that the stage before the final ascent often entails a brief interlude, often the Hero and allies gathering around a campfire to share stories. Buffy and the Scooby Gang instead settle into a nice evening of movie-watching in the Summers living room, perhaps the modern-day equivalent of a campfire. The dreams they share reinforce their unity and set the stage for the final stage of the Initiation.

(Season 5)

After years of struggle, the Hero survives her ordeal and prepares to face one final, ultimate conflict, the climax of her journey. Before she can do that, however, she is given a reward, something powerful that offers some pay off for the struggle to this point and foreshadows greater rewards ahead should the journey be completed. Our heroine receives a new lease on life for the fifth season. The dream encounters with the first slayer during (4.22) "Restless," leave Buffy curious about the deeper source of her power and longing to explore the slayer's true nature. That internal reward is paralleled by the external reward in the arrival of the slayer's mystically created younger sister Dawn-literally the creation of a new life in the middle of the journey.

Season 5 also continues the Hero's steadily expanding worldview. Season 2 dealt with internal demons, Season 3 with local ones, and Season 4 with national ones. The only thing larger could be a confrontation with a god. If Season 3 was embodied by conflict with a father figure, then Season 5's big bad is the embodiment of a mother figure-a goddess known as Glory-created by Joss Whedon and his writers, but recalling the countless spoiled, arrogant, and evil goddesses of ancient mythology. Here Mutant Enemy places a curious twist on the traditional Hero's Journey. Campbell's Hero must always face a goddess or a maternal figure (one symbolic of the feminine aspect of Self, just as the father figure symbolizes the masculine aspect), but that figure traditionally appears fairly early in the journey. The father figure traditionally arrives much later, usually in connection with the Hero's ultimate conflict. The reversal of roles in BtVS that has become the hallmark of the show continues even into the structure of the Hero's journey. A woman is the great Hero; therefore a woman must also be the great enemy.

Midway through Season 5, our Hero faces another experience common on the Hero's journey-the reversal of fortune. The early episodes show Buffy getting stronger as a slayer and more focused on her journey. Her mother struggles with, but apparently defeats a brain tumor. On the evening after her successful surgery, however, the conflicts long suppressed in Buffy's relationship with Riley come to a head, culminating in Riley's departure on a helicopter for demon fighting in the jungles of Central America. From that point, Buffy's fortunes begin a downward spiral. Two months later, she discovers her mother's lifeless body, dead from complications from the surgery. Buffy is forced to take on the duty of caring for an increasingly rebellious Dawn in addition to her already formidable slayer workload. What began as a new lease on life at the beginning of the season spirals out of control into an almost unbearable burden. Glory's capture of Dawn at the end of (5.20) "Spiral" drives Buffy into a catatonic state.

Buffy is pulled out of her catatonia only by Willow's intervention. This, too, is a common occurrence along the Journey. The Hero frequently finds himself inadequate to the task and must rely on the special skills of his allies to confront the final challenge. Buffy realizes that she, alone, simply cannot win; but with the aid of her "big gun" Willow, Xander's skills as a construction worker and bowling virtuoso, and Spike's fighting prowess they might have a chance. Ultimately, however, the Hero is still required to perform above and beyond.

The apocalyptic battle of (5.22) "The Gift" culminates with Buffy's sacrificial death in Dawn's place. The passage through death and resurrection/rebirth ushers in the final stage of the Hero's journey, the Return. All Heroes experience some sort of death and resurrection-sometimes a literal death as in Buffy's case, in others a journey to the land of the dead as Odysseus performed, in others an apparent death later revealed to be false (e.g. Frodo in Shelob's lair), in still others a symbolic or metaphorical death.

(Season 6)

The Return stage of the Hero's journey deals with the Hero's reintegration into the Ordinary World. Buffy's return embodies the common theme of the reluctant or refused return. In her death, she finds peace and fulfillment only to have that tragically destroyed by her forced return into the World of Common Day, a world in which the common day is so bright and violent it seems like hell. Campbell notes that heroes often become so accustomed to life on the journey that they do not smoothly reintegrate into their Ordinary World. This, so far, has been the theme of Season 6. It is instructive to note that the writers have not tried to come up with a bigger or badder antagonist, but rather an inconsequential group of stooges that slide in below the radar and annoy Buffy more than they threaten her. The real story of this season deals with Buffy's reintegration into the Ordinary World-the assumption of the mundane tasks that characterize all of our lives, such as bill paying, home repair, and working-and finding the balance between those tasks and the special calling of the Hero.

Frequently, the Hero is required to return home and restore order or set things to right (Odysseus, Frodo, etc.). The slayer's ordinary world in Season 6 is badly in need of such reordering with her long-time allies more alienated and alone than ever, each drowning in their own difficulties. We can safely assume Buffy will again rise to the occasion, but when and how remain to be seen.

| Relativism | Theories of justice | Issues of Free Will | Issues of Personal Identity | Utilitarianism | Kantian Ethics | Thomas Aquinas |

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This page last modified 5/16/04

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