Today, what I’m interested is “nonstandard” relationships, and how I see them explored in the show.
First, a little audio for your reading pleasure:
I mean, I’ve seen a lot of discussion of all the relationships in the series online, but somehow, inevitably, the interest seems to settle on Buffy and which of her lovers is the best match, the best lover, the best. (To be honest, Angel and Riley weren’t compelling characters for me in general, not even when things when bad for them — though they were at least less annoying when things went bad. Spike was a danger sign, a mess: I think that’s probably why so many fans responded to that pairing so well.)
Anyway, this time through, as last time, I was much more interested in the relationships of the characters all around Buffy.
Some of them are exceedingly brief, and played for laughs, which is fine: Cordelia’s fling with Xander, and her almost-fling with Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, are just sort of there, and Oz as a character has never seemed so cool to me in re-watching the series as it did originally: rather, it seems more affected each time I watch it. (Which is kind of the opposite of cool, really.) Giles’ brief relationship with Jenny Calendar was alright, though less interesting than Jenny’s backstory and her (arguably self-inflicted, via Angel) demise; I was more pleased with the hint of an interracial relationship he had with a woman from Britain — Afro-British woman, to be precise — though sadly Sunnydale ended up being too spooky for her. Disappointment indeed.
Willow’s relationship with Tara? I mean, say what you want about escapist fantasy and pulp, and criticize the relationship all you want: for a lot of people out there in the world — myself included — Willow and Tara were the first LGBT couple on TV to be depicted anywhere near as sympathetically, as really loving one another, as a real couple. (Yes, with limits; yes, with some issues. Those criticisms may well be valid — and as a heterosexual male viewer, far be it from me to dismiss those criticisms. But that’s inescapable with TV in America, and it’s certainly head and shoulders over the vast majority of depictions before or after it.)
However, it’s the relationship between Xander and Anya that stuck out for me in this viewing, and particularly because of how much of it I recognized. There were times when I felt that Anya was not an ex-demon, so much as Xander’s Korean-girlfriend-in-a-rubber-white-lady-suit. (If that makes sense, and no offense to Emma Caulfield, who does not resemble a rubber white lady suit at all.)
Allow me to explain: occasionally, Anya struggles with fundamental differences between the demon world and human experience — her most amazing moment in that case being her final emotional outburst in “The Body” where she neatly sums up the human condition from an outsider’s point of view:
But I don’t understand, I don’t understand how this all happens, how we go through this, I mean I knew her, and now she’s…there’s just a body, and I don’t understand how come she just can’t get back in it and not be dead anymore. It’s stupid! It’s mortal! and it’s stupid! And Xander’s crying and not talking, and I was having fruit punch and I was thinking that well Joyce will never have fruit punch, ever, and she’ll never have eggs, or yawn, or brush her hair, not ever, and no one will explain to me why.
Update: A wonderful friend of mine has gone ahead and put that speech up on Youtube, so those of you who don’t know it can experience what I’m talking about: a woman who is new to being human, grappling with the most unfair thing about life:
That moment in the episode “The Body” is great and amazing and moving, when all the way along Anya’s been set up to be all cold and callous but she gets it: she just struggles with how hard she gets it, is all. She gets it in a way most adults forget to get it, because, well, we know. She’s new to it, and the horror is palpable. An amazing moment: amazingly written, amazingly played. (I’m just sad I couldn’t find a clip of it online, it’s so deserving of sharing and yet… not out there. Not that I could find, anyway.)
But most of the time, Anya is not struggling so much with conventions of human culture as she is with conventions of modern American culture. Her outspokenness is not, after all, an inhuman thing: in a flashback to her life prior to becoming a demon, it’s revealed she was always a loudmouth. But her bluntness at times is really, truly reminiscent of bluntness I’ve seen in Korea:
Anya struggles, and Xander struggles too — how often can you explain to someone that what’s normative in their culture isn’t done in yours? How often should you just shrug? How much of what we do is culture, versus individual character? When do you shrug and smile, and when do you pause and say, “Wait a sec, I need to explain to you…”?
In a series that explored many, many “unconventional” relationships — an interracial couple seems at first blush about the only thing missing, though Giles does hook up with a “friend” from back home, and Buffy puzzles through what’s going on with Principal Wood until she realizes he’s the son of a previous Slayer — Anya and Xander are about the closest thing I’d seen to an intercultural couple on TV until Modern Family… and while I love Modern Family, Anya and Xander captured a lot of the relationship dynamic (and a lot of the difficulties of it, as well as the joys) in a way that struck me as not just engaging, but also interesting and somehow utterly familiar.
That’s far from all I have to say about Buffy… but it’s all I have to say for today.