"Conviction": "City Of" Revamped

Spoilers for Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Fringe ahead.

Much of what makes Joss Whedon so venerable as an author is his insistence on establishing character development and emotional resonance as paramount to a grandiloquent plot. Each of his series thus far have made a point of bringing their characters to a variation of personal apotheosis, whether it be a hyperbolic good or evil. Episode after episode builds upon prior experiences to account for the decisions being made in the presented moment.

This brings me to the point of Angel season five. I am aware that this is a hefty chunk of fandom’s favorite season, and I understand why. It’s got quite a different feel to it than either of the four seasons before it, shooting for morally inquisitive supernatural crime procedural as opposed to existential soap opera with vampires. It’s less serialized, plus it features Angel as a puppet, Spike’s smarmy charm, and Fred as the omniscient scientist who suddenly can’t go a day without a miniskirt.

However, my distaste for the season stems from the fact that its entirety, whether intentional or not, is a reboot. It became hard for me to relate to the characters because their histories, those that shape their experiences, were unknown. The format reminded me of the beginning of Fringe season four, where viewers were introduced to a brand new world wherein a main characters had never existed. Sound familiar? While it still quantified as great television, I felt a disconnect from the characters in the story because there was no clear indication of what exactly they’ve been through that serves as an impetus for their behavior.

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On Unpopular Characters: Riley Finn


On a whim, I looked up the ‘Riley Finn’ tag, because I was hoping to see if maybe I could find some fic for him (I admit it, Riley/Xander is one of my favorite slash pairings, and it’s so frustrating to hardly ever find fic of it, since Xander is mostly paired up with Angel or Spike, and I can’t see him getting involved with vampires EVER). Instead, I wind up going through pages of hatred for him. PAGES.

The reasons, when given boil down to him either being boring or him being misogynistic.

Was I watching the same show as these people?

I like Riley. I think that he’s an interesting character who got shoved off the show for the simple fact that he wasn’t Angel and he wasn’t Spike. It’s probably the one place the rabid shipper gangs for Buffy/Angel and Buffy/Spike agree - hate Riley Finn. And, okay, I’ll admit that as time has gone on, part of why I cling so much to the fact that I like Riley probably has something to do with the way that people treat him. “You hate this character? LET ME LOVE THEM EVEN MORE!”

I digress. Riley is an interesting character to me. He comes to the show believing in a black and white worldview - human good, monster bad. He’s involved with the military for the same reason so many do - he sees the good that it can do, the good it’s capable of, and wants to be a part of that. He then meets Buffy and is drawn into the morally grey and complex world that she and the Scoobies live in. Suddenly, everything that he’s ever known, ever believed in, is something that he has to question. He loses the woman who was a surrogate mother figure to him, and then learns that she was using and abusing him. He sees all of the things behind the curtain and takes a stand against it, doing what’s right, not what he’s told.

And then, in Season Five, he’s lost his purpose. He obviously doesn’t fit in with the Scooby Gang - the only one of them he seriously interacts with beyond Buffy is Xander (which is at the root of my love of them together, as it gives both of them a friend who they can relate to - Xander has only Oz and Riley as his guy friends in pretty much the entire series). He’s been reduced down to being Buffy’s boyfriend. “The mission’s boyfriend.” And then she goes through everything with her mother and she pulls away from him and, when he attempts to get closer to her, she just pushes him further away.

This would be where the people who call him misogynistic come in, saying that he wants her to be weak. Well, yeah, okay, that’s true - in the same sense that Tara tells Willow in Season Six that their bedroom is where she can be weak. ‘Weak’ in this context means that she can slip off the mask and share her burdens. He wants her to be willing to open up to him, to let him in and see her at her worst, not just her best, to be there to hold her hand and tell her it’ll be okay. To let down her walls and love him, not just enjoy him. But she wouldn’t let him in past her defenses. It wasn’t Buffy the Slayer pushing him away. It was Buffy the Person, Buffy the Human.

One of the most telling things about the Buffy/Riley relationship is the opening scene of ‘Buffy Vs. Dracula.’ They’re in bed, he’s asleep, she’s awake, she goes to kill something, and comes back. She wanted Riley to be there and be her boyfriend when she wanted him to be, and then pushed him away when she didn’t. He’s asleep, clearly in no position to know what she’s doing, and when she comes back, he embraces her automatically, as if she’d never left. He expects her to be there, in bed, with him, all night, and she slips out to kill vampires. Yeah, she’s the Slayer, but we see her on patrol all the time, it’s clearly a nightly thing, and she has to sleep sometime - Slayer no sleepy means vampires no eaty. She chooses to leave him to go do something ‘more important.’

No question about it, Riley was her rebound from Angel, and it was doomed to failure from the start because no matter what she said, she never really loved him, at least not in the way that a girlfriend should love her boyfriend. Riley loved her, but she more loved what he represented - the normal guy. But Spike was right in that she likes her men with some darkness, not because she ‘loves the bad boys,’ but probably because she found herself swimming in the inky morally grey world, and anyone purely morally white or black would never survive the depths she goes to.

Not that Riley was innocent in their breakup, because, yeah, going to the vampires and letting them feed on him was him being stupid and petty and just getting back at her, and I won’t argue that he had a few issues about Buffy’s physical strength easily trumping his (though I think it’s pretty natural for a guy built like Riley and in the military to have some issues about someone built like Buffy and being a ‘civilian,’ (re: outside what he sees as the legitimate chain of command) being able to toss him over her shoulder like he’s a lighter than a pillow, but whatever), and yeah, when your mother is going through a serious medical crisis, your significant other’s obviously not going to be your first priority, but Buffy’s responsibility in the relationship’s self-destruction is generally glossed over by people, and I think she really does carry the lion’s share for it. Because she didn’t pay attention to Riley except when she wanted him around, she didn’t see the warning signs that something was wrong with him, ignoring the signs that there was something that she wasn’t giving him that he needed. When she wanted him around, he had the time to get the mask of ‘good boyfriend’ back in place.

It seems to me that Riley’s biggest flaw as far as the fandom is concerned is that he is not Angel or Spike. That or he’s connected to the Initiative arc, which wasn’t well received. I do wonder sometimes if, had he not been with Buffy at all, he would have just left at the end of Season Four, because he had no unique offering to the Scooby gang. His whole purpose in Season Five was ‘be Buffy’s boyfriend,’ which he seemed to be dealing with, though I have to think that there was trouble brewing with that, but then she wouldn’t even let him be her boyfriend. Once her mother started having medical problems, she basically just wanted him to be a person-shaped pillow, something that she could curl up with when she wanted, leave alone when she didn’t, and expect him to be right there when she came back.

Riley even says it in their confrontation in ‘Into The Woods’ - the vampires he went to needed him, needed something that he offered. Buffy had pushed him away, routinely didn’t want him around unless it was on her terms. That’s not how relationships are supposed to work. You don’t just have your partner there when it’s convenient or when you want. They’re supposed to be there, good and bad times. They can see you at your worst and love you anyway. It’s a give and take, and she wasn’t giving. Buffy wouldn’t let him see the worst.

Love isn’t easy. It’s dirty and messy, and you get hurt by letting someone in that far. But the risk is what makes the pay off so worth it. And Buffy didn’t want love. She wanted easy. I understand why she’d want it after the torturous relationship with Angel where she fought, she shagged, and loved til it made her quiver, but it wasn’t fair to Riley.

And you’ll note that I spent the majority of this post meant to be about Riley as a character talking about the Buffy/Riley relationship - that’s because he was written as a member of the Initiative or Buffy’s boyfriend, not as a separate autonomous character. That’s ultimately the biggest flaw of Riley, that he wasn’t written as his own person, just an extension of these other things. I understand how this can lead to Riley being considering boring, because the Initiative or Buffy were the source of his characterization, but why does that lead to hate? Why can’t that lead to disappointment that more wasn’t done with him or a wealth of fic and head!canons that give him his individuality? Nope, it’s all hate, which is a shame, because I really don’t think he deserves the hate and disdain that he gets.



(Chaucer, Merciless Beauty, 14th century)

“Ain’t love grand?” Spike bitterly and sarcastically remarks (Into the Woods) alluding to the extent to which he has been a “fool for love” (or if you prefer, “love’s bitch”). But ironically, the development of Spike’s passion for Buffy during season 5 has illustrated that the love that has possessed him truly is “grand” in the sense that it has transformed him into something better than he was before. The metamorphosis that Spike undergoes and the stages of that process bear a striking resemblance to the set of medieval romantic conventions commonly referred to as Courtly Love. The echoes of old stories of lovelorn Knights and of the fair ladies to which they devote their lives and their swords add depth and weight to the story of Spike’s love of Buffy.

The term “Courtly Love” is used to describe a certain kind of relationship common in romantic medieval literature. The Knight/Lover finds himself desperately and piteously enamored of a divinely beautiful but unobtainable woman. After a period of distressed introspection, he offers himself as her faithful servant and goes forth to perform brave deeds in her honor. His desire to impress her and to be found worthy of her gradually transforms and ennobles him; his sufferings — inner turmoil, doubts as to the lady’s care of him, as well as physical travails — ultimately lends him wisdom, patience, and virtue and his acts themselves worldly renown. Sound familiar? Like any intricate allusion, references to the various pertinent aspects of the mythos (which itself has no definitive version) are woven subtly throughout without heavy-handed complete correspondence. Spike and Buffy are after all modern characters and as such must retain the psychological depth lacking in medieval stock characters, and thus their story is not informed solely by the Courtly Love tradition. The correspondence, ironic and teasing at times, straight-forward at others, is however quite fascinating and worth further examination.

In the late twelfth century, Andreas Capellanus (“Art of Courtly Love” *) described love as:

… a certain inborn suffering derived from the sight of and excessive meditation upon the beauty of the opposite sex, which causes each one to wish above all things the embraces of the other.
Capellanus, De Arte Honeste Amandi, 12th century

This clearly describes Spike’s state throughout the season. That he indulges in “excessive meditation” is spectacularly illustrated…(Read more in the link)

Was Faith sexually abused?


Most of this isn’t canon, but rather my own head canon and why i believe it. So take it as you will. Accept it or disregard it. I just felt like writing about Faith.

Trigger warning for rape, sexual abuse, and violence.

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Now I can totally see the argument that says that a story about a woman who grows stronger in response to a traumatic experience is an empowering one. The idea that this woman took a horrific experience and made something positive out of it is arguably both powerful and affirming, and you could certainly make the case that by overcoming her abuser she ceases to be a victim. 

The problem I have is that an ex-victim is, to my mind, still a victim. 

Look at it this way. Virtually every procedural show (be it police, medical, whatever) has the Obligatory Ex Criminal (often also filling the role of Obligatory Ethnic Minority). The ex-criminal used to live on the wrong side of the law, but has since “gone straight” and become a cop/doctor/interstellar revolutionary/whatever. 

But, when you get right down to it, their job in the series is to do the criminal stuff. They pick people’s pockets, break into places the plot needs them to get into, and generally act like the Thief in a traditional D&D party. The same goes for anybody who is ex-military, ex-CIA, ex-vampire or ex-priest, the thing which they are “ex” defines their character as completely as the thing they do currently, arguably more so. The woman Eliza gets patched into her brain in the first episode of Dollhouse isn’t a hostage negotiator who happens to be female and happens to be an abuse survivor, she’s a female-abuse-survivor-turned hostage negotiator. The character is still defined primarily by the abuse, if only because without it, the episode would be stripped of most of its conflict and therefore most of its point.  

* * * 

Much as I love dissing Joss Whedon for his various airs and graces, he’s in a bugger of an impossible position. 

If he ignores the victimization of women, he’s not really doing his job as a “feminist,” but if he portrays it, he’s only reinforcing the kind of stereotypes he’s trying to fight against. 

Put simply, we like to see other people suffer, not because we are cruel but because it allows us to feel secure in ourselves. We construct convenient fictions for ourselves – like the old classic about how blind people’s other senses get razor-sharp to “compensate” for their lack of sight. We invest victimhood with virtue, and that is extremely dangerous.

* * * 

The reason you never see an empowered response to abuse from a male character is because people find the idea of a man suffering abuse, particularly sexual abuse, wholly unnatural. Put simply, men are not supposed to be victims, and for a male character to be abused in that way violates some major social taboos in the way that the abuse of women doesn’t. 

And that right there is the big problem. The reason people are willing to accept the idea that abuse can be a natural part of the background of an empowered fictional woman is because on a basic level we accept the abuse of women in general as natural. Africans are there to starve so we can feel good when we send them food. Women are there to be abused and oppressed so we can feel good when we “empower” them. 



I was reading academic articles about Buffy (I don’t judge your Saturday hobbies) and one of them mentioned something that struck me as being really interesting but not supported by the actual content of the show. The argument is that,

The series gleefully transposes conventional relations of…

Why S6 and S7 of Buffy Were Gold


I will try and keep this short, mostly because my brainpower at the moment is running on low.

This is mostly due to the influx of statements that I’ve been privy to that claim that BTVS really should have ended in Season 5. These can be valid opinions because the narrative structure was a little off in some of S6 and S7. 

However, when you state that Buffy was a better hero before and during S5 but not after, and to see her so wasted away ruined her as a hero (and my favorite one: She whined way too much) then to them I say this… with all due respect:

you’re missing the fucking point.

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Here Endeth the Lesson: The Relationship of Buffy and Spike” – Suzie Weis


This is a great Essay regarding Spike and Buffy and their relationship. 


When the murderous vampire Spike was first introduced in Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s second season, he appeared to be just another ordinary adversary for Buffy Summers.  After four seasons of mutual loathing and disgust however, they were about to embark on a journey that was at many times both rewarding and unfortunate for both of them.  For Buffy, having been in a relationship with the cursed vampire Angel and the good college boy Riley, no one would ever have dreamed that the follow-up, in what would become her third and final relationship of the series, would be Spike.  As Spike often quips, ain’t love grand indeed.
The definition of the relationship that develops between Buffy and Spike is a frequent topic of debate.  Was it obsessive love?  Lust?  Unrequited?  Romantic?  The list drags on, and many have argued one over the other.  In their essay “Buffy in the Buff: A Slayer’s Solution to Aristotle’s Love Paradox,” authors Melissa M. Milavec and Sharon M. Kaye argue that the three major relationships that Buffy has during her run on the show can be classified under Aristotle’s three levels of friendship – Riley as the utility friendship, Spike as the pleasure friendship, and Angel as the complete friendship.  To better understand their reasoning, it is necessary to take a closer look at each of Aristotle’s three levels and how each suitor qualifies.

The first level is the utility friendship, which is defined as “a relationship based on mutual benefit, irrespective of whether or not the two parties especially enjoy each other … the individuals establish a relationship in order to accomplish a conscious goal” (Milavec and Kaye 174).  Milavec and Kaye argue that Buffy and Riley have a utility friendship because they share a common goal in fighting evil and accomplish this together.  What undercuts a utility friendship it is built on rationality alone.  This model is an accurate reflection of Buffy and Riley’s relationship because “Buffy deliberately chooses Riley with a particular goal in mind: to have a ‘normal’ boyfriend” (Milavec and Kaye 175).  For Milavec and Kaye, when Buffy desires to date a wholesome good guy like Riley, she does so for all the wrong reasons and fails to connect to her partner emotionally.  They benefit one another in utility and nothing more.

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On “When She Was Bad”: gender tropes and power dynamics (part one)


So Martinus sucked me back into the black hole of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and my entire summer is officially going to be dedicated to writing really awful (read on to see) essays detailing my entirely too complicated and stupid thoughts on this stupid fucking show that changed my life and continues to eat up my time, affection, and attention years after I’ve finished it.

That being said, let’s talk about “When She Was Bad.”

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The fact that Willow, even under a love spell in “Him,” would react by attempting to turn RJ into a woman is proof that she isn’t confused about her sexuality and she is, as she identifies, a lesbian.


No character on BTVS, short of Andrew or maybe Spike, ever really took the time to develop a friendship with Anya. No one in the group cared for her that much, and that’s what really made her role in season seven nonexistent.


If it wasn’t for Willow, The First never would have been defeated. But not because she cast the spell on the potentials. Not to disregard the power of that spell, but the potentials would have been exhausted or killed off in that battle eventually. Even with their newfound slayer strength. It was the fact that Spike was there, with the amulet. And Spike never would have been alive to see that day, if it wasn’t for Willow saving his life in season four when he tried to commit suicide.


The reason Xander was unable to accept that some vampires could be good was because of what happened with Jesse in the very beginning of the series. Although they never mentioned him later, he was originally portrayed as a very close friend to Xander, and Xander was the one who had to kill him. He was able to do this because he knew that he was not killing Jesse but the monster that was using his body. He had to separate vampires from the people they used to be, or he couldn’t have killed his friend like that. So then when people were telling him that sometimes vampires could be good, he couldn’t accept that. Because then why couldn’t Jesse have been good? Why did he have to die?


Season six tore down the bright, shiny facades of all of the main characters and in doing so, brought us back to their roots.  Willow was once again the spiteful, controlling girl who told Cordelia to save her project by pressing “deliver”; Xander was the lost and angry boy who dove into the good fight as an escape from his regular life; Giles was the ultimate Watcher, desperately trying to distance himself because he knew sacrifices would have to be made; even Anya reverted back to her human days, as a woman scorned like which fury Hell hath no.

And Spike fell back into the dual roles we saw him play in season two—a protector/caretaker for his sick (physically and mentally) lover, and the selfish, sadistic demon that he was as he stalked Buffy through the Bronze.


For being such an absolutely undesirable character on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Cordelia really evolved into something amazing over the course of the show. Even before she became part-demon. It was the most impressive character transformation you saw over the course of both Angel: The Series & Buffy.