Gingerbread when Husband and I got to it in the course of our Buffy-watching. We have now done so, and I find myself sitting here at a loss for what to say.
Chances are, if you like Joyce Summers, you're not going to agree with anything I say here. I respect that, I really do. Gods know I am intimately familiar with how a fictional character can be viewed very, very differently depending on who is doing the viewing. I'm almost tempted to opine that fictional characters are like Rorschach tests, and that whether we see a crab or a spider or a butterfly or a bat says less about the source material than it does about what we bring to it. (I say "almost" because as much as I like the poetry of the idea, I can't back it up with facts or anything.)
And chances are equally good that if you don't like Joyce Summers, there's nothing new I can say that I haven't already said here and here and here. I don't like Joyce Summers. I genuinely, honestly believe that she's a character with a narcissistic personality disorder, but which the writers are trying to sell to us as a loving, quirky, sainted mother only interested in her daughter's welfare and accidentally swept up in evil forces that she cannot control. If there's anything left that is interesting to me in the Question of Joyce, it's only that the television tropes and limitations that were designed to telegraph this wonderfulness in Joyce failed so badly. That seems kind of worth exploring, except that I've reached a sort of Joyce Fatigue. I hate Joyce; what more is there to say?
And possibly this Joyce Fatigue ties in with the fact that I lived all this shit. Once, for myself, twelve years ago in an episode too long to get into here, and once again, vicariously through a family member just this very week. This past Monday, a girl I love very dearly, a girl not much older than Buffy, was told by her mother to leave home and never come back, because her mother couldn't accept who her daughter turned out to be. Her daughter failed to live up to the Fantasy Daughter in her head, and when she refused to change -- because that fantasy was unachievable -- her mother threw her out. Told her to leave, told her to never come back. Waited until she walked out the door and then changed the locks. And that teenage girl whom I love became essentially homeless, living on the charity of friends who couldn't afford to take her in for very long. While her mother turned around and told everyone else that the girl had left on her own without any provocation, and milked every drop of sympathy she could out of our family.
This situation, like Buffy's, eventually resolved itself. The teenage girl took the Buffy response outlined so clearly in "Dead Man's Party" and came home and took all the blame on herself. She did the smart thing: the alternative was to literally starve on the street. Her mother is gratified and happy that everything resolved itself so well for her; the girl is just relieved that the emotional abuse has been dialed back a little. Status quo has been restored ... for now. But unlike Buffy, this story is real. It's something that I and my family have had to live with for the past six days. And in light of this real tragedy, I find that my hatred of Joyce is something I cannot sustain for the moment. What was bright and burning and fiery is a dull throbbing ebb of pain. Because I live in a country where throwing good children out of the house for failing to be perfect is a reality. Because I live in a world where being thrown out by your parents means being thrown to the wolves, with little or no safety net to catch you. Because I live in a world with Lost Boys, with abandoned children, with unfeeling parents, and with a presidential candidate who would like to reduce what little safety net we have even further because he doesn't think people have a right to eat.
It's hard to rage against Joyce when all I want to do is curl up in a ball and cry. That is what I am saying. And I can't think of anything hilarious and quirky to say here to make this post less depressing, so imagine a fart sound in the background, or maybe a dog in a silly hat.
But I digress.
So here is your Gingerbread post, by popular demand:
Nothing that Joyce does here hasn't been predicted in advance by my previous anti-Joyce rants.
That's my response to this episode. Either I'm getting serious Confirmation Bias or I fucking called it.
Joyce doesn't respect Buffy's boundaries.
I just... don't even. Does Joyce ever let Buffy know people are coming over before she invites them? ... If there is a faster, more direct way of making Buffy feel like a tourist in her home with no control over her personal space, I can't think of it.Buffy: Mom, what are you doing here?
Joyce: I brought you a snack. I thought it was about time for me to come out and watch. Y-you know, the slaying.
Buffy: You know, the slaying is kind of an alone thing.
Joyce: But it's such a big part of your life, and I'd like to understand it. It's, um, you know, something we could share.
Joyce doesn't respect Buffy's boundaries. Ever. She shows up during Buffy's patrol, and doesn't ask if it's a good time, or if her being there will put Buffy in danger by distracting her. She never ever asks if something is alright with Buffy; she just asserts that This Is What Joyce Wants. And therefore it will happen if Joyce has any say in the matter. She shows up at Buffy's school, again without asking, because she wants to be there and that's the end of that. She even goes so far as to argue with Buffy when Buffy asks her to not do this to her at school, and Joyce belittles her objections as mere "embarrassment".
Joyce doesn't prioritize Buffy's feelings.
That isn't an apology. It's not even an attempt at one. It's a way of dismissing the person in front of you, and the pain you've caused them.Joyce: (distraught) They were little kids. Did you see them? They're so tiny.
Buffy: (sympathetically) I saw.
Joyce: (shaking her head) Who could do something like this? I just... (looks down sadly)
Buffy: I'm so sorry that you had to see this. But I promise, everything is gonna be okay.
Buffy: Because I'm gonna *find* whatever did it.
Joyce: I guess. It's just you can't... you can't make it right.
Joyce doesn't prioritize Buffy's feelings. She's more interested in mourning the two children -- two children she doesn't know and which she is skirting close to the line of appropriating for her own purposes so that she can feel good about feeling bad (I'm looking at YOU, third-cousin-once-removed who shows up at a funeral and acts like the death of the person they've never met before hurts them WAY WORSE than it does the immediate family) -- than about how this affects Buffy. You know, Buffy? The person with the constant survivor's guilt because she thinks every death in Sunnydale is a death she had the power to prevent and yet didn't? Joyce even tells Buffy that she "can't make it right" and almost aggresses against her in that scene for not mourning the "right" way.
Joyce doesn't care about people other than herself.
I can't get over how aggressively ignorant Joyce is about vampire slaying. This goes beyond refusing to talk to Giles about this stuff: Joyce is actively refusing to think about her daughter's position. ... It doesn't take a rocket scientist to think of these things. It does take someone willing to sit down and mentally walk through what it would be like to live in Buffy's shoes. Incredibly, Joyce has not done that, not in the entire three months that Buffy has been gone and the house has been "quiet".Joyce: Mr. Mayor, you're dead wrong. This is *not* a good town. How many of us have, have lost someone who, who just disappeared? Or, or got skinned? Or suffered neck rupture? And how many of us have been too afraid to speak out? I-I was supposed to lead us in a moment of silence, but... silence is this town's disease. For too long we-we've been plagued by unnatural evils. This isn't our town anymore. It belongs to the monsters and, and the witches and the Slayers.
Joyce doesn't care about people other than herself. She puts down Willow and Amy by saying that they "dabble" in magic, which makes them sound like they practice magic as a silly little fad rather than a meaningful part of their life. She lumps Buffy in with the forces of evil when she rants that the town belongs to "unnatural evils ... the monsters and the witches and the Slayers". She says this even knowing that the very fact that there are Slayers is supposed to be secret, and that this secret is the only thing keeping Buffy alive and (realtively) safe.
Joyce makes light of the locker raid at school and the book raid in the library, and the fact that these things are egregious violations of human rights. (Though unfortunately legal in America.) She tells Buffy that her job as a Slayer is "fruitless", and that she's a reactionary force. (So are police offers. So are domestic abuse attorneys. So are emergency medical personnel. God-fucking-dammit, Joyce, but you are a real class act, do you know that?) Meanwhile, Joyce has a all-consuming need to build herself up and to surround herself with admirers and social power: Ted. Pat. MOO. All these things are, first and foremost, about making Joyce feel special. That these things damage Buffy in the process is not a consideration for Joyce.
Joyce is controlling.
In other words, Joyce providing Buffy food isn't a genuine apology. It's just one more example of Joyce realizing that things aren't the way she wants them to be and deciding that the correct option is to supervise and police Buffy's every action to an oppressive extreme ... See that previous episode where she grounded Buffy from literally doing anything except going to the school or going to the toilet.Joyce: I don't want you seeing that Willow anymore. I've spoken with her mother. I had no idea her forays into the occult had gone so far.
Joyce controls Buffy's life to an abusive degree. We've already talked about her showing up while Buffy is slaying and then later at school, in both cases asserting her will to be there over Buffy's potential needs to have her absent. By the middle of the episode, Joyce is telling Buffy that she's not allowed to see Willow anymore ever again, based on something that Willow's mother has said. Willow has been tried as an absentee without a single witness offered on her behalf and Buffy has been given the sentence of never speaking to her best friend ever again. By the end of the episode, Joyce is chloroforming her daughter and tying her to stakes in order to control her behavior completely.
Joyce hates Buffy for not being the fantasy daughter that she wanted.
And let's talk about Joyce's magical fantasy land, because again we see patterns. This is not the first time that Joyce has expressed open and verbal regret with having a daughter who isn't a carbon copy of her. She got into a fight with Buffy because Buffy didn't want to be on the yearbook staff like Joyce was. She shamed Buffy in front of a stranger because Buffy didn't want to go to the school dance. ... Joyce is apparently supposed to be sympathetic in spite of the fact that she's openly favoring the daughter in her head over the one that actually exists and has feelings to be hurt by all this compare-and-contrasting.Joyce: Good morning, sleepyhead.
Buffy: (imploringly) Mom, you don't want this.
Joyce: Since when does it matter what I want? I wanted a normal, happy daughter. Instead I got a Slayer.
So here are my final thoughts on the episode:
We're not supposed -- or, rather, the characters refuse -- to view these magical reset actions as an established pattern ... We don't get to point out that Drugged!Joyce ignores and belittles and passive-aggresses against Buffy in ways that are consistent with previous actions on her part. We don't get to point out that bringing a Man Buffy Does Not Know into the house without warning Buffy is not substantially different from bringing a Male Student Buffy Does Not Know into the house without warning her. We don't get to point out that using a boyfriend to shame Buffy at mini-golf is not substantially different from using a female exchange student to shame Buffy into going to a dance. We do not get to point those things out because then the Watsonian red flag goes out on the play: BUT IT WASN'T THEIR FAULT!
No, it wasn't their fault. I agree. But it's not their fault because there's a magical reset button that makes it not their fault. And I'm not sure how I feel about writers who want to take persistently abusive traits up to 11 without having to actually commit to the character changes. Nor am I sure how I feel about a show that takes on relatively obvious shit ... while quietly obscuring the non-obvious shit like ... tackling parental abuse (DON'T INVITE SERIAL KILLERS INTO YOUR HOUSE WITHOUT GIVING YOUR DAUGHTER A HEADS-UP, MMKAY) without, you know, tackling parental abuse (UNLESS THEY'RE EXCHANGE STUDENTS).