Monday, November 07, 2011

Character Motivation Or Some More Thoughts On Buffy

Willow, by Phil Noto.
Character is my first concern in any story.

Character is the story, as far as I'm concerned.  Character locks you up into stories that otherwise have gaps in logic or weaknesses in craft.  Character will allow you to forgive the unforgivable.  Character opens a window on worlds both within yourself and beyond that you otherwise were unable to access.  As form follows function, so too your story should follow its characters.  Start with a good (or great) character and your story will emerge from them.  Many novels or movies you see today focus entirely on an idea - an alien invasion, for instance - and the characters are stand-ins.  Bland types inserted to scream or chuckle at as the world disintegrates (every character in the Transformers movies, I'm looking at you).

Character is why I love Joss Whedon so much.  All of his work, Buffy in particular, follows from explorations into his characters.  Buffy and her friends provided a lot of fascinating material to chew on for seven years on TV and for mostly one 'season' in comic books.  As I mentioned in my previous review of Buffy: Season 9 #1, the characters feel to me a little stalled out at this point. 

Willow, who has always been the most complex and interesting of all the characters to me, passive-aggressively takes out the loss of her magical ability on Buffy in a way that seems uncharacteristic for her.  Willow either says nothing at all, or makes very loud statements; there's never been an in between with her.  Buffy idles in self pity, which is her default any time something terrible happens in her life.  You would think at this point in her life, after so much, she would have learned not to keep making the same mistakes.

The Season 9 arc follows two tracks: one following the Buffy characters in San Fransisco, and the other following Angel and Faith in London.  The Angel series, despite also suffering from the same foggy aftermath of the Twilight storyline, does not have the same issues with character.  Angel does exactly what you think he would do: he tries to resurrect Giles and rectify a terrible mistake.  Faith tries to impart some wisdom - at the same time struggling with the concept that she has any - to Angel regarding loss and personal responsibility.  Both Angel and Faith continue to grow.  Buffy and her friends progress - Buffy has a new job, Xander and Dawn play at domesticity - but they are not growing.  Buffy and Willow will ignore each other's hurt as they have before, will confront each other in a fashion either personal or epic (or both) and we will continue to circle around the sad fact that the show probably should have ended with Buffy's death in Season 5.

I for one am very glad it didn't.  I loved the exploration of Buffy's grief over her own lost peace, and Willow's guilt, but Season 6 is also where we started to see attempts to force characters into positions they no longer filled.  Giles died primarily because after high school, he spent 5 seasons without anything much to do.  Dawn shuffles around it seems without purpose.  I love the series and want to see it continue, and regain the promise I felt in the first 12 issues or so of Season 8, when I felt the series was really going to go places the show couldn't.  It got off track after that, but I still have hope.  I am locked up in Willow and Buffy despite my concerns.  Great characters do that. 
Some of this I think has to do with a larger concern about serial fiction - just as I feel character is story, I feel stories need endings.  Buffy is without end right now - on one hand, thank God - but it is a story that has had its end built into it from the start ('Into every generation, a Slayer is born...') and has resisted it at turn after turn ('Prophecy Girl', the destruction of high school, the death of Buffy, the destruction of Sunnydale).  There's something to be said for its persistence, and ability to exist beyond its original structure, but the strain shows more and more.

That's my opinion, though - what's yours?

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