Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn’t a series meant for a single dose of viewing. There’s a reason why a physics of the Buffyverse book exists or why college courses have been created to discuss the series’ many intricacies. Joss Whedon and his team have concocted a long-running series– complete with its current expanded seasons in the comic realm– that encourages repeat exploration into its various themes.
One important theme highlighted through the series is also one of the most important reasons why we keep returning to this universe — family. But not just the family you’re born into. Since 1997 Buffy has epitomized the notion that we create our own family with our closest friends.
I’ve got a theory: I believe we return to certain episodes or seasons or issues of a series throughout our lives in the same way that we look at old photos or videos of the past. We are searching for something sentimental that also evolves with our real-time life events. Like a fine wine, one season of Buffy might stir up feelings of sadness one year, while another viewing later in life could create an entirely different mood for you.
As audience members, we change, grow up, and react while time flies by. Likewise, as a living series Buffy morphs to our array of emotions because so much of the plot and characters are about the human experience of living and loving. The exceptional writing team dedicated to depicting honest relationships also elevates Buffy as a series.
Friends are more than set-pieces in the Buffy world, and three special friends have made up Buffy’s primary friend-family unit since her true Slayer beginnings in Sunnydale: Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), Willow (Alyson Hannigan), and Xander (Nicholas Brendon). These four have fought side-by-side, (sometimes) against each other, and, during the most heartbreaking episodes, alone. But they’ve always realized their love for one another in the end.
I turn to one of the underrated televised seasons of Buffy, season 4. During episode 20, “The Yoko Factor,” the finale arc approached and Buffy came to a grim realization: “So . . . I guess I’m starting to understand why there’s no ancient prophecy about a Chosen One . . and her friends.” As true as this statement is, there’s also a reason why we are watching a show about the Slayer AND her friends. We started watching for the supernatural, but we stayed for these four characters. We saw something fundamentally relatable with these four friends struggling to survive in the imaginative world of Sunnydale.
Until Dawn arrived and Mrs. Summers left (forever heavy sobs), Buffy’s family wasn’t a stable foundation for her life. She’s an only child– mystical Dawn-sister aside– which became even more evident during season 4 while she struggled to juggle college and slaying. And as Spike tried to drive a wedge between these four companions during the last episodes of season 4, Buffy’s presumed “weakness” and love for her friend-family unit became her greatest strength once again.
Willow and Xander are also only children with unstable family relationships. They both created a surrogate brotherhood and sisterhood around their friendship with Buffy. Giles completed this friend-family unit as the definitive paternal figure, always offering advice, compassion, and persuasion during the toughest of times. (Side note, as far as we know, Giles is also an only child with no known living relatives. Coincidence? We think not.)
The comic book seasons of 8, 9, and 10 also pay close attention to the notion of friends as family. Now all grown up and living in a new world, the Scoobies aren’t the rag-tag gang of misfits they once were in high school. It’s taken a very long time but all the past mistakes and misfortunes have begun to affect their once secure family unit. The fear of losing one another continues to creep into every single action they do or don’t take.
But the good news is that not one of the series’ Big Bads have been able to tear these four apart. Yet.
We continue to read on and have hope in Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles, because if they can’t make it as a family of friends, battling hordes of monsters and demons, then who can? Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 10 will conclude February 2016 with “In Pieces on the Ground, Part IV.”
During these last few days of 2015, we encourage you to go out and grab your closest friends and family and hug them! Because watching all those episodes of Buffy have definitely taught us one thing: don’t take your loved ones for granted.
Image Credits: 20th Century Fox and Dark Horse Comics