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Where did I go? A farewell to the Buffybot

NoShoes
I can’t say I was surprised that the strong winner of “favorite Season 5 episode that isn’t The Body, The Gift, or Fool for Love” was Intervention -- because Intervention was my own pick. But at first consideration it might be an odd choice. It seems like the deep introspection and thematic heavy-lifting of Buffy’s spirit quest in the desert shouldn’t combine so well with the giddy comedy of the Buffybot’s first appearance -- but it does.

I think this is because the two halves of the story reflect on each other. Just as Buffy is coping with the accumulated emotional weight of grief and combat fatigue, the ‘bot appears -- a pseudo-Buffy good enough to fool her friends and slay a few vampires, but eternally sunny and angst-free. With her mother so recently dead, the ‘bot’s cheery disposition strikes her friends as odd, but they put her strange behavior -- including her romantic relationship with Spike -- down to an idiosyncratic part of the mourning process.

Much has been made of the Buffy depression story arc in Season 6, but it begins here, in the latter part of Season 5, and it begins as grief. Our cultural awareness of depression as a treatable psychological disorder leads us sometimes to ignore its link with mourning and grief, which we still consider a natural part of life (not a disorder, in other words). But guidelines for depression diagnosis are careful to point out that the normal and expected response to bereavement may strongly resemble a depressive episode and has many elements in common. And, something that starts as grief can become depression when it is compounded by other symptoms.

Grief is expected to get better on its own, eventually -- but sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it seems that people don’t want it to. Queen Victoria famously reigned for forty years as a widow. My own grandmother spent the last twenty years of her life in mourning for my grandfather, stubbornly it seemed to me -- she didn’t want to get over his death, and so she didn’t. She refused to forgive the universe for taking him away.

On the opposite end of coping strategies, people who are depressed or grieving often put on an “I’m Fine” mask when they deal with the world. Sometimes this mask is brittle and fragile and false-seeming, while other times it’s so effective that nobody notices it’s a mask. Sometimes it seems that people ought to notice it’s false, but they don’t -- maybe because they don’t want to. The I’m Fine mask exists for the comfort of other people, after all. One way to regard the ‘bot is that she is Buffy’s I’m Fine mask. That's why she appears when the real Buffy has removed herself in an attempt to deal with her emotional turmoil.

This part of her role becomes more apparent in the ‘bot’s second major episode, Bargaining Part 1. The real Buffy is literally dead -- there is no Buffy except for the ‘bot, the I’m Fine mask, carrying on to satisfy the needs of others. The ‘bot is an imperfect Buffy substitute in many ways -- literal-minded, predictable, and fragile. Perhaps most significantly, she is not a leader. The 'bot has to be told what to do.

None of Buffy’s close friends and family think, at the beginning of Season 6, that they’re better off with the ‘bot -- that’s why they’re willing to risk the powerful magic it will take to bring back the real Buffy. But, as Season 6 plays out, we will see the many ways in which people are inconvenienced by the complexities and needs of the real Buffy, so different from her comically uncomplicated robot doppelganger.

The Buffybot is a big hit at the parent-teacher conference; real Buffy is in danger of losing Dawn to a judgmental social worker. The Buffybot is always there for Dawn; real Buffy goes off on her own so much that Dawn feels neglected and lonely. The Buffybot is a domestic powerhouse who won’t stop making sandwiches; real Buffy doesn’t spend much time at home. Willow, who puts the most effort into reviving the real Buffy, is disappointed she isn’t happy about that -- unlike the Buffybot, who is indefatigably cheerful. We never see the Watcher’s Council interact with the Buffybot, but throughout the series they have made it clear she fits their ideal model for a Slayer: a superhuman vampire-killing machine with no will to challenge their authority. Not surprisingly, the demons also get what they want from the Buffybot -- a physically vulnerable Slayer who isn’t much of a threat compared to real Buffy.

Ironically Spike, the person who wanted the Buffybot in the first place, is the one who ends up getting more of what he wants from real Buffy -- possibly emphasizing Spike's role during Season 6 in helping Buffy heal emotionally.

After real Buffy is revived, her I’m Fine mask is destroyed when the Buffybot is literally ripped to pieces in front of her. And we, the audience, are sad to see her go -- because we also got something we wanted out of the Buffybot: pure entertainment.

Comments

( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
red_satin_doll
Oct. 16th, 2012 08:24 pm (UTC)
Sorry I'm so late with the comment! Excellent point about Buffy's depression arc beginning here, and Buffybot representing her "I'm Fine" mask. If I'm not mistaken, the first words Buffy says to the Scooby Gang, after Dawn brought her home and Spike sat with her in the living room, was something like "I'm ok" or "I'm fine"? (I expected her to be incoherent a bit longer than that.)

After real Buffy is revived, her I’m Fine mask is destroyed when the Buffybot is literally ripped to pieces in front of her.

YES to this. Really wonderful analysis, and a perfect metaphor for what Buffy is going through that moment (being torn from Heaven) and what she'll continue to go through emotionally through the rest of the season, and even into S7 - which brings us to the bittersweet smile that ends Chosen, and is the exact opposite of the "I'm fine" facade and the Buffybot's artificial perkiness.

It's somewhat painful to see the contrast throughout S6 - the Buffybot does everything "right" even when it seems like she's going to create a disaster (the PTA conference) but everyone wants the real Buffy back; the real Buffy comes back and everyone tells themselves she's fine, tries her best to keep going and disasters continue to happen all around her - and pretty soon everyone is taking her presence for granted again. It's especially hard to watch the season and watch Dawn go from "You're my sister and I love you and I need you" in one episode, then not even taking out the trash or lifting a finger to help in another.


For me, the Buffybot also symbolizes a theme that was explored in S4 - technology vs magic. Modern technology was mostly aligned with the patriarchy (the Initiative) but still included women who aligned themselves with it (Maggie Walsh); magic was aligned with feminine power (Willow) but could be used by both genders and the uniting spell included Xander and Giles. We saw that either form could be used for the good or misused, and by either gender. It was intention and application that was the issue. Buffybot seems to me a continuation of that. as she is technology misused, in this case created by Warren at Spike's request; here the patriarchy is symbolized by individual men rather than institutions, so we're sliding away from a systemic patriarchial structure and more towards "misogyny that is a result of said paradigm".

But the Buffybot turns out to be useful in the fight against Glory, while Willow is starting to get into deeper magics and beginning her descent into darkness (after, ironically, she resurrects Buffy). Intention and application.



Edited at 2012-10-16 08:31 pm (UTC)
red_satin_doll
Oct. 16th, 2012 08:33 pm (UTC)
(Part 2 - my original was too long)

I also think of Buffybot as a "redo" of Adam from S4 - she's the Pinocchio character, or the Frankenstein's monster, who makes other characters more aware of their own humanity in contrast to her, who questions what it means to be alive - the existential "Who am l?". She asks innocent, but logical existential questions that make Giles and Willow uncomfortable, and her mere presence is unbearable to Spike. Adam asked existential questions that were meant to be very profound, but in execution he was a crashing bore as a character and a Big Bad. The questions he asked are expressed so much better by Buffybot in part because she doesn't voice them but implies them. She is handicapped in contrast to Adam in that no part of her was ever human to begin with, so she isn't sentient, and yet, in her conversations with Willow ("Why doesn't Spike like me anymore?" - which is almost heartbreaking in it's own right) and before her death ("Where did I go...No, not me...the other Buffy?") there's a sense that this robot is doing what should be impossible - developing a sense of self-awareness. And this self-awareness, this sense of self, of "know thyself" is one that is utterly lost to Buffy, Willow, Spike in fact to all of the Scoobies this entire season.

The character who in fact takes over from the Buffybot in terms of growing self-awareness is, in fact, Tara - the one character who isn't falling apart emotionally, who in this season becomes a person in her own right and not just an extension of Willow, who achieves some of the self-confidence that still eludes Willow; who is also a gentle, well-liked person, connected to femininity and domesticity; and who is killed before the season's end; mirroring the Buffybot's demise (sudden, brutal, and permanent) at the beginning of the season, and at the hands of misogynists (the leader of the demon biker gang threatens the female Scoobies with rape; Warren violates Katrina's body and mind, after having spent an entire season harrassing/terrorizing Buffy.)
mcjulie
Oct. 18th, 2012 11:03 pm (UTC)
She asks innocent, but logical existential questions So true! And I never thought about the compare/contrast with Adam, that's a really interesting take.
red_satin_doll
Oct. 19th, 2012 08:43 pm (UTC)
I could also make parallels to the Real Me and the Replacement (the twin Xanders) but that's sort of more obvious.

BTW - I did try to link to this but LJ hates me so I had to delete it, so the link below doesn't work. (I don't know if you can delete it on your end?)

Edited at 2012-10-19 08:44 pm (UTC)
mcjulie
Oct. 19th, 2012 11:47 pm (UTC)
I think I got it! Re: the two Xanders, you could probably do an interesting meta on the core gang's doppelgangers. Buffy is the only one who gets two, although hers is the last to appear.

Edited at 2012-10-19 11:48 pm (UTC)
red_satin_doll
Oct. 20th, 2012 10:21 pm (UTC)
Challenge accepted!

(No, I can't believe I'm borrowing Barney Stinsen's catchphrase either.)

When I read your suggestion my first thought was, oh no I couldn't other people have done it much better than I could - and then I started writing the first draft; the ideas just started flowing. So thank you for the suggestion!

Question: What do you mean by Buffy "gets two" dopplegangers - are you thinking of WishverseBuffy, or NormalAgainBuffy? (If I include NA Buffy that would be interesting because my idea about the dopplegangers representing each character's "psychic break" in S6.)
red_satin_doll
Nov. 16th, 2012 07:47 pm (UTC)
Buffy is the only one who gets two

Ok, duh, never mind, I know the second one now *slaps forehead*
spuffy_luvr
Jan. 9th, 2013 02:07 am (UTC)
Ooh, very nice analyses from both of you. I'm actually glad to read both of these because I had far more cynical thoughts this past week about where the idea for the Buffybot came from and what she was meant to represent. In the back of my mind, I wondered if the writers were perhaps poking fun at the segment of viewers who wished Buffy would be more accepting of Spike, i.e., be helpless before his sinister attraction, just as the Buffybot is. Spike seems, at first, to want this too - he's quite happy with this more pleasant Buffy... until he realizes that she is not the real thing, not what he is truly in love with. He's in love with the real Buffy, the Buffy who is a scrappy, bitchy fighter and holds him to a higher standard, forcing him to better himself in order to deserve her. But there is a good portion of fandom who hates the real Buffy for this.

My opinion, of course.

You'll have to forgive me, I read waaaay too many fanfics this last week where Buffy was sweet and submissive and loved him despite his evil ways, and Spike was only happy and loving in return when she behaved so.... it led to a little cynicism and a lot of rage.

Edited at 2013-01-09 02:08 am (UTC)
red_satin_doll
Jan. 9th, 2013 02:28 am (UTC)
In the back of my mind, I wondered if the writers were perhaps poking fun at the segment of viewers who wished Buffy would be more accepting of Spike, i.e., be helpless before his sinister attraction, just as the Buffybot is.

Given the other ways in which the writers seem to poke fun at their audience or at the phenomenon of the show itself (meta commentary) such as the Trio, the Potentials, (and pretty much the whole of S8), I'd say it's not impossible, although I couldn't say it was conscious on their part.

If we go along those lines, it could also be read as a commentary on the early-season fans who wanted Buffy to be "the way she was" funny and perky in S1-3. Which is in fact something of a delusion on their part because she was NEVER as "happy and carefree" as some people imagine her to be. The mask was there from the very first episode. (i.e. the scenes with Giles in the library in Welcome to the Hellmouth.)

The Buffybot and The First, as Buffy's dopplegangers, seem like absolute opposites (representing the light and the dark faces of Buffy Summers) but beneath the surface they are actually very similar. Both are, in essence, what Buffy fears becoming - "just a killer". One is programmed to be a Slayer on command, the other is pure evil and it's only motive is to kill and destroy. They are both metaphorical "vampires" in that they depend on the human beings around them for their existence (the Buffybot in her programmed commands, the First in Caleb and the faces/voices of the dead that it borrows to sow discord.)

You'll have to forgive me, I read waaaay too many fanfics this last week where Buffy was sweet and submissive and loved him despite his evil ways, and Spike was only happy and loving in return when she behaved so.... it led to a little cynicism and a lot of rage.

You know I ran into a few of those this week - some ten years old, and others very new; "You love me and have done these things for me I'm stupid for not seeing that you're really good and I should love you." *sigh* And when it crops up in multi-chaptered fic it can be especially frustrating - ok, the story was going so good and then.....oy.

But I can actually say that about a lot of fics that aren't Buffy and Spike and have all sorts of other pairings (I read some Buffy/Giles fic this week. NOT MY THING but good characterizations and whatnot. But then those moments of - "oh no no no". And I'm already x number of chapters in and feel compelled to finish it.) So it's not just Spuffy fics. But I guess that's the wish-fulfillment aspect of fic. (I'm trying to be more "zen" about it, I guess. Not that I'm succeeding.)
spuffy_luvr
Jan. 9th, 2013 03:19 am (UTC)
...it could also be read as a commentary on the early-season fans who wanted Buffy to be "the way she was" funny and perky in S1-3. Good thought!


"You love me and have done these things for me I'm stupid for not seeing that you're really good and I should love you."

There is such a fine line between "I'll love you because you're nice to me, even if you are still ambiguously evil," and "I'll love you because I see the potential in you to be a truly good man." It's a fine line I find myself walking in my own stories, since I seem to be drawn to exploring soulless redemption (despite the fact that I prefer him souled up at the end of the day, whatever that means!).

The stories I've been reading are older ones that I've seen recced more than once. But we should probably not hijack this post to discuss it! :P
mcjulie
Jan. 9th, 2013 06:19 pm (UTC)
I wondered if the writers were perhaps poking fun at the segment of viewers who wished Buffy would be more accepting of Spike

I see it as more like the Trio -- the writers mocking themselves. Lines like, "darn your sinister attraction" and "look! It's Spike! And he's wearing a coat!" seem very much like the Buffybot expressing the fan viewpoint. But the writers are obviously fans themselves.

As early as Something Blue way back in Season 4, it was obviously hilarious to make Buffy and Spike openly a couple, so there's that too.

I read waaaay too many fanfics this last week where Buffy was sweet and submissive and loved him despite his evil ways, and Spike was only happy and loving in return when she behaved so

Grr. Argh.

I don't think that sort of thing was influential enough at the time to motivate the writers, but now that I consider it, they might have been making fun of something else -- fans at the time did sometimes complain about Buffy (character and show) being too gloomy, too much of a downer. So if what fans wanted was perky and cheerful Buffy, the 'bot could easily have been mocking that. There's some hint in the commentary on Bargaining Part 1 that this might have influenced the writers' thinking a bit, but obviously, in the Buffybot's second key episode, the Spike romance plays a much smaller role.
spuffy_luvr
Jan. 10th, 2013 01:29 am (UTC)
I'm very late to the party, so yeah, I have no clue what actually motivated the writers during the show, or how fans felt, or any of it. I'm coming in 15 years later, and just trying to make sense of it all. :) Like I said. It was a cynical day.

I like your take on the Buffybot far more.
kikimay
Oct. 16th, 2012 09:04 pm (UTC)
Lovely analysis, kinda fix my horrible day in the fandom.
I've never thought at Buffybot in a proper analytical way, but in her final scene, when she asks "Where did I go?", I always feel a deep sadness. In a way, for me that was also Buffy's voice, she was asking where she went, when she lost herself (in the depression) when she lost her life. (Where people go when they die?)
mcjulie
Oct. 18th, 2012 11:04 pm (UTC)
Oh! Good catch on "where did I go?" being a callback to Dawn's "where did she go?" in The Body.
red_satin_doll
Oct. 19th, 2012 08:42 pm (UTC)
WORD.
red_satin_doll
Oct. 19th, 2012 08:42 pm (UTC)
YES. Excellent point, and that line "Where did I go?" really represents Buffy in S6; as well as the Buffybot's question in Bargaining "Buffy who?"

I rewatched that scene again, and it's heartrending - and Dawn is having to watch her sister die a second time, even as she tells Spike she knows it's a robot. (SMG and MT play it superbly.)
livejournal
Oct. 20th, 2012 10:37 pm (UTC)
Everyone loves the Buffybot
User red_satin_doll referenced to your post from Everyone loves the Buffybot saying: [...] has wrritten a terrific, concise and focused meta [...]
livejournal
Nov. 16th, 2012 09:35 pm (UTC)
The Mirror Cracked: "Dopplegangers" on BtVS (1/?)
User red_satin_doll referenced to your post from The Mirror Cracked: "Dopplegangers" on BtVS (1/?) saying: [...] in the convo thread of her wonderful meta "Where Did I Go? A Farewell to the Buffybot". [...]
yourlibrarian
Jan. 8th, 2013 10:12 pm (UTC)
Sometimes it seems that people ought to notice it’s false, but they don’t -- maybe because they don’t want to. The I’m Fine mask exists for the comfort of other people, after all. One way to regard the ‘bot is that she is Buffy’s I’m Fine mask. That's why she appears when the real Buffy has removed herself in an attempt to deal with her emotional turmoil.

I like that observation and the contrast between the two in S6.

Here from buffyversetop5
lynnenne
Jan. 9th, 2013 04:10 am (UTC)
What she said. :)
red_satin_doll
Feb. 3rd, 2013 10:02 pm (UTC)
I just saw this has been nominated for a No Rest For the Wicked Award for best meta - alongside the meta I wrote that you inspired/encouraged (the dopplegangers/Xander one.) How cool is that?

Believe it or not, the nomination thing is what really excites me, and if awards stopped there, I'd be cool with it. I'm really bad at saying "this is better than that" or listing things numerically (in terms of "favorite this or that"); my mind doesn't work that way. Saying any of the metas in the catagory are the best, or better than the others, is like comparing apples to oranges for me. (a friend of mine once said that the only way that acting awards - Oscars, etc - could be totally fair would be if all the competitors had to perform the same role. Five versions of Lady MacBeth, for instance.)

I'm also tickled to death that all of the metas except the one by eleusis_walks were ones that I had either rec'd or at least mentioned over at my posts for Buffyverse Top 5. (Yes, that's me being freakin' damn conceited. I get to take a break from the self-loathing and shame once in a while, oui?)
mcjulie
Feb. 5th, 2013 03:08 pm (UTC)
Wow! Cool!

I love meta. I'm very much an English Lit major that way.
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )

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