Ten Memorable Characters – Buffy Summers

What can we really say about Buffy Summers (Yes, that’s her REAL name) that hasn’t been said already.

Ditzy blonde cheerleader resides in sunny Californian suburb where she attends high school with a clique of friends. So far, she sounds like just about every other girl in a high school drama on prime-time.

How about headstrong teenager, forced to relocate to sunny Californian suburb because of slightly pyromaniacal tendencies at former school who spends most of her waking hours at night, in a graveyard, fulfilling a destiny to protect the unknowing inhabitants of tiny old Sunnydale from the forces of darkness. And breathe. Oh, and her combat skills combined with immaculately placed puns are drool-worthy.

No, Buffy Summers has never attested to any particular stereotype associated with her. Creator Joss Whedon has said many times he wanted a blonde, teenaged girl to go into a dark alley way, just once, and come out not so chopped into pieces.

Buffy Summers, then, can be considered the ultimate retribution. With a confident strut, she ventured her way into that dark alley one night in the late nineties, and walked out with the pieces of what had relegated female roles on television to weak and vulnerable for decades before her.

Spawned from the ashes of a failed big-screen adaptation, Buffy Summers– Version T.V., followed in the wake of women like Xena and Scully, but set herself apart. To say that Xena and Scully had no role in bringing Buffy to life would be dissolute, but to disregard Buffy as the (fully-realized) matriarch of both the aforementioned and legions of female firebrands that came after her would be nothing short of ridiculous.

In the seven years Buffy graced our television screens, we saw a youthful adolescent struggling to accept her duty as destined protector evolve into a woman who, having made the sacrifices she learned to embrace with the same duty, became flawed, hardened and more frighteningly realistic than most people could stand to bear. Yes, she fought vampires for a living, but the show and character was never without layers; the demons surrounding her representing the perilous metaphors life presents.

She began in high school, yearning for a normal life, but instead was forced to take on an ancient duty passed on to one girl in every generation, responsible for keeping human-kind thriving. Her biggest problems then were choosing over dating and patrolling, how to study for biology and get rid of resident vampires, when she was having love-y feelings for one of them.

Perhaps the most touching moments in those first years was her realization that she would die at the hands of the Master, an age-old vampire who was prophesized to kill her at the end of her sophomore year. It scared the hell out of her, like it would any other teenager, having to choose between her life and duty to others.

“Giles, I’m 16 years old…,” she told her very adult, Watcher and mentor. “I don’t want to die.” With a swift motion, she rips the symbolic cross necklace from around her neck, and throws it to the floor.

This was the moment Buffy Summers set herself apart. Teary-eyed and ironically uncomprehending of the dark world around her, she was a girl not afraid to be vulnerable. Unlike her famous predecessors, whose love life and relative emotion was either bared at a minimum or superfluous, Buffy found a balance. She was a heroic young girl and that girlhood was never shied away from, diminished or hidden. It was the source of her power and existence.

Over the years, Buffy graduated from high school, banished her one true love to hell (only to have him return and spin-off) and made her way to post-secondary academia at Sunnydale University (not necessarily in that order).

The next pivotal moment in her life seemed to come at the unexpected death of her mother, leaving her to parent younger sister Dawn. Her eerie, “Mom?…Mom?…..Mommy?” still reverberates through audience members minds, as they remember the awkwardly sprawled Joyce on the Summers’ family couch. This was the biggest turning point in Buffy’s history, truly pushing her to complete the journey between girl and woman.

Here was, arguably, one of the most strongest and capable women in the world, completely lost and unable to figure out just what to do with her life. Confused and alone, she had no choice but to stumble forward, as many of us do. It seemed logical at the end of the very same season that Buffy would leap off a grande tower, in hopes of saving the world from merging with a hell-dimension. Some called it sacrifice, others looked at it as her ultimate reprieve.

At the beginning of Season Six, Buffy was brutally resurrected from the grave at the hands of her best friends. Believing she was being tormented in a hell dimension, they unknowingly pulled her away from the only peace she had every known (in heaven) and re-introduced her to harsh realities of the world. The image of her clawing her way to the surface was a metaphor for growing up, where the light and innocent world you once bathed in as a youngster is no longer a reality.

“Everything here is … hard, and bright, and violent. Everything I feel, everything I touch … this is Hell. Just getting through the next moment, and the one after that …knowing what I’ve lost.”

At this point Buffy is most distant and estranged from the world and her friends than she has ever been. This theme continues throughout the season—she indulges in a violent relationship with chip-neutered vampire Spike and we see very few interactions with Buffy and her friends. This distant behaviour was reflected in the audience, many of whom complained that the character they once knew and loved was now self-involved and proud.

Flaws however, are essential to multi-dimensional character development. Buffy’s arrogance was an extension of her growth in a world that constantly demanded of her. Her family and friends looked to her for leadership, while the world at large begged for her protection, though highly unawares.

Early in season seven she makes revelations that worked to define her flaws, while conclusively refining her role.

“They don’t know. They haven’t been through what I’ve been through. They’re not the slayer. I am. Sometimes I feel… this is awful. I feel like I’m better than them. Superior.”

What was remarkable about the situation was how many audience members didn’t understand.

In Buffy’s world, her superpowers were a hyperbolized version of what every single individual in the real world feels is the aspect of their life that sets them apart. Her superpowers made her life more difficult, harder to live, yet also made her feel as if that same life was better-earned and thus, more important than anyone else’s. It’s not the most kosher realization to come to, but we’d be liars to say that we didn’t all feel it. It is the superiority complex that comes with the divine experiences of life. No one else has lived in our shoes, carried our burdens or has seen the world through our eyes. If there’s one thing that Buffy as a character should have taught us, it’s that everyone–girl, boy, gay, straight, black, white or blue—is a slayer.

What we do with our power is up to us.