“Guidance and Estrangement”

 

“GUIDANCE AND ESTRANGEMENT”

During its seven seasons run, the television series, “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” has generated a good number of controversy amongst its fans, other viewers and the media in its approach to several subjects regarding its main character, Buffy Summers, and its supporting characters. Many of those subjects have included sex, violence, addiction, and discrimination – both gender and racial. But there seemed to be one topic that fans of the series seemed to be in conflict over – namely authority figures and how it pertained to Buffy’s relationship with her Watcher, Rupert Giles.

When the series first began in January 1997, Buffy and her mother, Joyce Summers, had recently moved from Los Angeles to Sunnydale; following the latter’s divorce from Buffy’s father, Hank. The Summers’ marriage had buckled under the strain of his infidelity and Buffy’s early activities as a Slayer in Los Angeles. The move to Sunnydale also meant the eventual erosion of daughter and father’s relationship. Since Buffy’s first Watcher, Merrick, had killed by a vampire named Lothos; the young Slayer found herself with a new Watcher – the English-born Rupert Giles.

The relationship between Buffy and Giles went through many stages and emotional upheavals. Due to her father’s declining presence in her life, the Slayer began to regard her Watcher as a new father figure. Yet, at the same time, she struggled to maintain a private life of her own – one that involved school and a social life – despite Giles’ insistence upon her focusing upon her training and duties as a Slayer. One such incident occurred when Buffy wanted to forego another training session to attend a fraternity party at Sunnydale’s University of California campus in (2.05) “Reptile Boy”. Despite their occasional bouts of conflict and the crisis surrounding the re-emergence of Angelus in late Season Two, Buffy’s view of Giles as a replacement for her father had grown stronger by mid-Season Three. Then came the Cruciamentum in the episode, (3.12) “Helpless”

The Cruciamentum was a test that senior members of the Watchers Council put each Slayer through on her eighteenth birthday. She must be weakened (namely stripped of her Slayer abilities) and left alone with a vampire to test her skills and resourcefulness. The weakened Slayer rarely survives such a test. As I had stated earlier, Buffy had truly began to regard Giles as a second father, especially since her own father failed to appear and take her to an ice show for her 18th birthday. Unfortunately for Buffy, the Cruciamentum test proved to be the first time that Giles would betray her. Showing more loyalty to the Council than the Slayer, he placed Buffy under hypnosis before stripping away her Slayer abilities with a drug. However, guilt over his betrayal and the danger of a psychotic vampire loose upon Sunnydale led Giles to confess his actions and help her deal with the vampire. Because of his actions, the leader of the Watchers Council – Quintin Travers – accused Giles of being too emotionally close to Buffy and fired him. However, Buffy severed her ties with the Watchers Council and continued to regard Giles as her Watcher. However, the Cruciamentum did not prove to be the last time that Buffy and Giles would clash.

Season Five provided more heartaches and crisis for Buffy than any previous season. Buffy’s relationship with her college boyfriend, Riley Finn, crashed and burned. She discovered that her old nemesis, the vampire Spike, had fallen in love with her. Joyce became seriously ill. And a new member joined the Summers household – a younger sister named Dawn. However, Buffy and the Scoobies eventually learned in (5.05) “No Place Like Home” that Dawn was originally a mystical object known as the Key, which can be used to open portals to alternate dimensions; a group of monks transformed the Key into human form and sent it to the Slayer for protection from the villainous hellgod, Glory. The hellgod wanted to use the Key (Dawn) to return to her home dimension. The memories of Buffy and her associates were altered, along with relevant records, so that they believed Dawn had always existed as Buffy’s sister. Once Glory discovered that Dawn was the Key, her presence became a threat to human existence. Giles certainly believed so and insisted that Buffy kill Dawn before Glory can use her blood in (5.22) “The Gift”. Fearful for Dawn’s life, Buffy asked Spike to protect the teenager from any threat. I can only wonder if she had viewed Giles as a possible threat.

Eventually, Buffy sacrificed her life to stop the threat of Glory and to close the portal that the hellgod had used Dawn’s blood to open. Several months following Buffy’s death, Giles decided to return home to England in (6.01) “Bargaining”. Following her resurrection, he returned to Sunnydale. However, he noticed that Buffy had begun a disturbing trend of depending upon him for everything – including matters in her non-Slayer life. In the episode, (6.07) “Tabula Rasa”, Giles decided to return to England in order for Buffy to gain independence. He did not return, until the crisis over Willow’s turn to evil evolved, following the death of her lover, Tara Maclay.

Giles’ return to England during Season Six proved to have a major impact upon his relationship with Buffy during the show’s seventh and final season. The impact of his disappearance would not be realized, until the two clashed over the status of a chip-free Spike in the episode, (7.17) “Lies My Parents Told Me”. After acquiring his soul in Africa, during the Season Six finale, (6.22) “Grave”, Spike returned to Sunnydale, racked with guilt over his past as a vampire and his attempted rape of Buffy in (6.19) “Seeing Red”. And unbeknownst to himself and others, he was being mentally tormented and controlled by the season’s Big Bad – the non-corporeal being known as the First Evil. Spike’s troubles did not end there. By (7.13) “The Killer in Me”, the chip was slowly killing Spike and Buffy had to request help from her old flame, Army officer, Riley Finn, to remove the chip for good. Spike was finally free from the dangers of the chip, but not from the First Evil.

Buffy and Giles’ clash over Spike first spilled over in an amusing exchange featured in the beginning of the following episode,(7.14) “First Date”. However, Giles’ anxieties over Spike’s chip-free and First Evil-influenced state continued unabated. He continued to insist that Spike be contained or slayed, for the safety of the Potentials and the Scoobies, now residing inside the Summers house. Giles disappeared for two episodes and returned at the beginning of ”Lies My Parents Told Me” with a magical artifact called a Prokaryote stone. Willow used the stone and a spell to penetrate Spike’s mind and make him more conscious of how the First Evil’s trigger worked. Needless to say, the session ended in disaster, with Spike unintentionally hurting Dawn (why Buffy allowed her to hang around, I do not know). Following the failure to break the First Evil’s hold on Spike, Giles conspired with Robin Wood – the son of a Slayer that Spike had killed back in 1977 – to kill the blond vampire behind Buffy’s back. Buffy eventually realized what Giles and Wood had conspired and coldly ended their Watcher-Slayer relationship . . . and friendship.

I am not really surprised that Buffy turned his back on him, following the incidents of ”Lies My Parents Told Me”. As I had earlier pointed out, it was not the first time he had betrayed her. He betrayed her in Season 3’s “Helpless”. But he realized his error and made amends in the end. In late Season 5’s “The Gift”, he continuously pressured Buffy to kill Dawn in order to save the world. Not only did she refuse, but she asked Spike to kill him or anyone else who made a move toward Dawn. Even if Dawn’s death would have saved the world, I do not think that Buffy could have lived with herself if she had killed her younger sister. Her slide into catatonia in (5.21) “The Weight of the World”, following Glory’s abduction of Dawn, struck me as proof that Buffy would have serious problems with anything happening to her younger sisters.

But Giles’ betrayal in “Lies My Parents Told Me” proved to be the last straw. Not only did Giles plotted behind her back, he never expressed any remorse for his actions. Worse, he only gave Spike once chance to deal with the First Evil’s trigger before he began plotting with Robin Wood behind Buffy’s back. Giles never took into account that triggered or not, Spike was not the only dangerous person in that house. There was Willow, who was not only a very powerful witch, but still emotionally unsure about herself. And I suspect that if the First Evil had triggered Spike, he would have to deal with Willow, a powerful and experienced Slayer in the form Buffy, and a house full of potential Slayers. Giles never considered all of this or that Wood’s plotting centered on an emotional desire for revenge against Spike. Instead, he allowed his fears and his dislike of the vampire to rule his emotions. And he never expressed any remorse for his actions.

Buffy had been slowly maturing as a person throughout the series’ run. By late Season Seven, it was time for her to realize that Giles did not always have the answers or that he was not always right. It was also time for her to realize that sometimes, every individual has to question authority figures . . . or rely upon yourself and not a parent or a surrogate parent. Back in early Season Six, Giles realized that Buffy could not always depend upon him and that sooner or later, she would have to learn to stand on her own. Unfortunately, the destruction of the Watchers Council triggered a great deal of fear within Giles. He forgot about his resolve about Buffy becoming an adult, and tried to overcome this fear by resurrecting his old relationship with Buffy. By ”Lies My Parents Told Me” he failed to realize that she had matured too much for him to recapture it.

Buffy and Giles had failed to resolve their conflict over his final betrayal by the end of the series . . . despite their willingness to fight together in the final battle against the First Evil’s plans in (7.22) “Chosen”. Their relationship grew worse over Giles’ failure to inform Buffy about his and Faith Lehune’s dealings with a rogue Slayer named in one of the Season Eight stories featured in a series of comic books based upon the series. It was not until their dealings with the being known as Twilight (aka Angel) that Buffy and Giles finally reconciled. Unfortunately, their reconciliation did not last very long. While still under the guise of Twilight, Angel murdered Giles. Pity. It would have been nice to see Buffy and Giles develop an equal relationship between two friends and colleagues.

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