What I Learned from Binge-Watching Buffy

I had six days off in a row last week.

It’s just the nature of my job. Most weeks, I work almost every day. But other weeks, nothing’s going on at work, and my supervisors decide to clump my days together (four at the beginning of one week, four at the end of the next). The result: a weird, mini-vacation that I didn’t ask for, suddenly heaped into my lap.

I usually come up with a game plan; “Monday, I hang out with _____  Tuesday I go and write at _____, Wednesday it’s drinks with _____,” etc.

Last week was supposed to be no different. Last week, I was supposed to go walking around the city, write at Kinokuniya, do a lot of things.

But then I got home from work on the eve of my mini-vacation, and decided to give the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer another shot. It’d been a struggle so far; the first season was extremely dated, but I was holding on because I’d been told–repeatedly, by everyone I’ve ever known–that the show eventually got amazing. That there would be a moment when the stars aligned and the show would suddenly be amazing. Slogging through Season 1, I wasn’t convinced.

But then, Spike and Drusilla showed up.

It was their introduction–that was the moment that hooked me. Spike’s oddly level-headed approach to mayhem, Drusilla’s… being Drusilla, and the way they oozed chemistry and charisma in their first scene together absolutely blew me away. I had to see more.

And then Angel turned evil. And Faith showed up. Then Glory. Then Dawn. I was hooked. Like, “Oh… Hey… I have work tomorr–OH MY GOD I JUST WATCHED BUFFY FOR SIX DAYS!” hooked. Like, “Oh, thank God there’s a canon Season 8 in comic form” hooked.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a fantastic show. My favorite kind, building a cast of fun characters who genuinely grow together–who suffer and sin and face tragedy together. Painfully real tragedy, at times.

I justified the binging by reminding myself that my NaNo project for this year is an ensemble piece, purposefully written like a TV series. I have to watch Cowboy Bebop (again) later this year anyway, so why not experience a classic ensemble piece of nerdom and see what I could learn from it?

Turns out, I could learn a bunch.

So, I thought I’d share the three major things I took from the experience (rather than the full list of 16 items [this post was turning into a treatise on the show]):

  1. Your Good Guys Aren’t Family Until They’ve Made Terrible Mistakes and Forgiven Each Other:
    Season 6 is kind of a nightmare. Absolutely everyone messes up in a major, terrible way. It’s depressing, it’s real, and it makes the cast feel more like a family than inside jokes ever could.
    It’s something that I’ve never seen used to such an intense degree. Usually, betrayals among good guys are accidental–misunderstandings–but, in Buffy, they’re bad decisions, made consciously, almost every time. And illustrated with such balance that you often can’t blame either side.
    But, in all of those cases, when the smoke clears, the good guys forgive each other and move on. They help each other manage whatever problems caused the fallout.
    That is what family is supposed to be. Sure, making your good guys genuinely try to kill each other won’t… really work for most stories, but the healing that comes afterward is something powerful, and I want to see more of it in fiction (definitely my own).
  2. Major Life Changes Are Sad, Beautiful, and Essential:
    Sometimes, shows don’t run in real time. They don’t have to. And, often, for something formulaic, it’s better that they don’t. Having eight seasons with the same settings, same characters, and same emotions can be comforting, and it can allow a writer to wring every possibility out of a set of characters.
    But moving those characters along, putting them in completely new settings, and letting their emotions change, is exciting, and elegant in its honesty; things change. People change. Places you love go away, or you have to leave. Life happens. Denying that feels somehow… wrong. I love fiction’s ability to capture microcosms from a character’s life–to feed our own need to have back certain, perfect elements from our pasts (that one awesome apartment, the one jacket, the people you’ve lost, etc.)–but that just isn’t what life is. And, I know that, personally, that’s not what I want my fiction to be.
  3. Sometimes, Stories are at Their Absolute Best When They Step Outside of Themselves:
    “Hush.” “The Body.” “Normal Again.” These are episodes that I’ve thrown onto a personal list, which was formally dominated by Doctor Who’s “Blink,” and The Legend of Korra’s “Beginnings” two parter. I don’t know if it’s just me, but something incredible happens when a story completely defies the sum of its parts. The Doctor is only in “Blink” for a few seconds. “Beginnings” focuses almost entirely on a different character and has a different art style. “Hush,” is almost completely lacking dialogue (and has the most Whovian, Gaiman-ish nightmare gentlemen this side of hell). “Normal Again,” made me question my life, and I can’t even think about “The Body,” without getting upset. Sometimes, the whole of a story transcends itself and becomes something terrible. And beautiful. And amazing.
    And it’s something I’d be a fool not to try with my own stories.

Well, that’s all for now. Next up is 30 Days of NaNoWriMo 2, although it’s going to have to be different from part 1, unfortunately (I had a much more flexible, less time consuming job two years ago). I’m not 100% sure how it’ll be different, but I’ll still be posting for the month, about NaNoWriMo, so stay tuned.

For now, thanks for reading. And, as always, write well.

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