Tuesday, February 16, 2021

How to Live Without a Soul

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Two ends a lot stronger than Season One. A two part episode called "The Becoming", written and directed by Joss Whedon, has two interesting thematic threads--what it means to be a Slayer and what it means to have no soul.

Buffy's mother (Kristine Sutherland) finally finds out Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is a vampire slayer ironically when she's in the middle of negotiating a truce with a vampire, Spike (James Marsters).

There are a few of the usual coming out allegory lines from Buffy's mother--"Have tried not being a vampire slayer?"--but fortunately the teleplay doesn't go full tilt on it. To do so would mean losing the moment when Joyce is relieved to learn Buffy didn't kill Kendra (Bianca Lawson). Can Buffy really be surprised her mother partly suspected her, especially since, as we're reminded moments later when Buffy notes her clothes were routinely blood stained, there are often hints of extreme violence around Buffy?

By the way, the police make one of their rare, useless appearances in this episode--apparently failing to notice the duffel bag of medieval weapons right in the middle of the room.

It makes sense that being a Slayer would isolate Buffy--the responsibility she carries isn't just about risking life and limb, or leaving her mother in the dark, it also means being the only person in a position to make decisions no-one else will ever be in a position to understand. Sacrificing Angel (David Boreanaz) at the end, just as he gets his soul back, is a perfect example. It's amazing Buffy can maintain her sanity. As it is, she ends the season kicked out of her house and expelled from school.

But what is the difference, exactly, between people who do and don't have souls? It seems like the writers generally played it by ear. Angel, without his soul, seems to be motivated entirely by sadism and bloodlust. But that's not true for Spike and Drusilla (Juliet Landau).

Spike tells Buffy that he's not as keen as Angel is on destroying the world--in fact, he tells Buffy that vampires, when they talk about destroying the world, are generally all talk--why would they want to obliterate their food supply, for one thing? So Angel's behaviour isn't really enough to use to define someone without a soul. If we're to look at it like Thomas Hobbes for a moment, then the vampires being motivated by self-interest doesn't really separate them from humans at all, where self-interest inevitably urges them to cooperate, as Spike does with Buffy in this episode. Certainly, it's always much safer not to give powerful people, like a Slayer, or authorities, like the police, reason to hunt you. In this case, the deciding factor for vampires would be the entirely physical thirst for blood and/or low intelligence.

I always thought it interesting that Joss Whedon, an atheist, would have created two shows where souls are so important, where a race of demonic beings are physically damaged by the presence of a crucifix. I always suspected there was tension behind the scenes between some of the atheist writing staff and religious members of the crew like, of course, Charisma Carpenter. As a Catholic, her faith in icons would likely be especially weirded out by Whedon's apparent independently operating two minds on the topic.

As days pass since Carpenter made allegations against Whedon, statements from other actors--and the absence of statements from some--make hers and Michelle Trachtenberg seem less and less substantial. If there was an on set rule about not leaving Trachtenberg alone with Whedon, why do so many of the other actors say they never saw any hint of the behaviour Carpenter and Trachtenberg are talking about? The statement from Amy Acker of Angel is particularly curious:

I will always be proud of the work we all did on Angel. While I personally had a good and professional experience, it is heartbreaking to hear that not everyone did. I do not condone any actions that made anyone feel hurt or uncomfortable, and I offer love and support to everyone who is speaking out to tell their truths.

That's a very carefully crafted statement. Again, like so many others, it's a statement that clearly says she saw none of the wrongdoing being alleged--which is surprising given the claim that Whedon made the whole working environment "toxic". Most of the statements have just enough supportive words to avoid the threat of being cancelled. Acker's is the most reticent. In addition to not even naming Whedon, she ends with the strikingly evasive "their truths". Once again, I can't say for sure Whedon's not a private scumbag but it looks to me a whole lot less likely that he is.

Twitter Sonnet #1443

To load the page a second browser grew.
Addresses filled the empty bar above.
To think of all the code we ever knew.
There's some electric sign for plastic love.
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In graphics rich in coloured dots we walked.
Bathsheba's mouse has clicked the wayward lamb.
In ancient disks the data's fully stocked.
The saucer shape was holding facts and dreams.
Electric stars dispense their rays and beams.

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