[Content Note: Emotional Abuse, Misogynistic Language, Violence]
For a recap of this show and my initial feelings about it, see here. Today we're going to line-by-line the transcript. BECAUSE IT'S MY BLOG AND I CAN, THAT'S WHY. Credit for the transcript goes here. (Note the irony that the transcriptionist is apparently a Xander fan. Note also that this is proof that Xander fans are not horrible people and are in fact capable of soaring acts of kindness and self-sacrifice. Thank you, kind transcriptionist, for providing captions for hearing-impaired people that Amazon streaming video does not.)
Joyce is very startled and jumps, accidentally slamming the hammer through the drywall.
Joyce: Oh! Buffy.
Joyce: No, no. Don't worry about it. I-I guess I just got used to all the quiet while you were gone. (smiles) But it's no problem.
Ha! Bet you thought we'd make it five lines into the show before I started criticizing Joyce! (For those of you who correctly gauged my searing all-consuming hatred of Joyce, please collect your prize at the door afterwards.) And I can already hear the objections from the kind people in the audience who are kind enough to give Joyce the benefit of the doubt. She doesn't, after all, say anything really wrong here. Sure, it's a little awkward, but it's one of those truthful Freudian slip things: she got used to the quiet and is now startled by the sudden noise but oh crap, I don't mean it like that, really, um, forget I said the awkward thing.
Oh, you nice people. You are nice. I love you all. Never change from your essential niceness. But here is the thing. If this was an isolated incident (instead of another example of Joyce's long-standing policy of Open Mouth, Say Shit, Never Apologize), then I would be right there in benefit-of-the-doubt land with you, snuggling pretty stuffed teddy bears and drinking in the heady odor of unicorn farts. But alas, this is not an isolated incident: by the end of the episode, Joyce will be "confiding" to a near-stranger in a house crowded with several dozen actual strangers, absolutely none of whom have any reason to keep this juicy tidbit from Buffy, that she's not really all that happy that her daughter is back.
So, really, this isn't an example of Joyce saying something innocuous-and-truthful that is also whoops-awkward under the circumstances. Rather, this is one more piece of evidence for the gigantic pile of True Fax that Joyce is not now and never will be happy, no matter what her life circumstances are because she refuses to take responsibility for her actions. She didn't want her daughter to be gone, despite banning her from ever returning to the house, but she apparently took no steps whatsoever to find Buffy (even going so far as to openly shun the one person -- Giles -- who knows her best and who was her best chance at tracking Buffy down), and now that her daughter is miraculously back, she's openly and repeatedly dissatisfied with how hard it all is and how not-quiet the house is. Your life, Joyce, is a goddamn tragedy. I mean, sure, every other parent in Sunnydale has lost at least one child to ravening vampires, sea monsters, preying mantis women, ghosts, and/or owlbears but you have to deal with the fact that your daughter was unfairly expelled from school by an obviously vindictive bigoted troll-man. HERE IS ALL THE COOKIES AND WARM MILK.
Joyce, belying her cheerful name, is not a happy person. Oh, she looks happy, with her Stepford Smiles and her cheerful demeanor, but underneath that facade is a withered soul mired in misery. She steadfastly clings to the self-delusion that she has Done Nothing Wrong, indeed, that she is incapable of wrong. Her addiction of choice is to the narrative that she is a Good Mother, and woe betide the daughter who brings up even the most minute shred of evidence to the contrary, because there is no room for grayscale in Joyce's universe. Either she is a Good Mother who has never done anything wrong ever, or she is a Bad Mother. Since the latter is unthinkable, anyone who presents evidence that might conflict with the former is clearly someone who must be silenced and stopped.
This is actually not that uncommon of a reaction; it is the logical endpoint for our Good Girl culture that is so obsessed with perfection. I am willing to bet that everyone in this thread has witnessed something like this in day-to-day blips from people being fallible normal people. The initial suggestion -- that maybe XYZ shouldn't have been said/done, or perhaps could have been said/done better than it actually was -- is met with a disproportionate push-back. The wail goes up: I AM NOT A BAD MOTHER / RACIST / SEXIST / ABLEIST / HOMOPHOBE. I CAN'T BE. I AM A GOOD PERSON. And then the people around the worried person double down to explain that everyone is capable of mistakes, and that a toxic culture breeds toxic behaviors, and that acknowledging those behaviors and Doing Better is something we all struggle with, and that's what makes us Good People: our willingness to examine and change, rather than achieving some kind of perfection at an early age and maintaining that perfection until the day we die.
Almost everyone does this; it's very very very very very normal. But not almost everyone takes it to the level that Joyce does. There's a difference between that initial knee-jerk reaction to being called to the mat for bad behavior versus digging in one's heels and staying there come hell or high water and no matter how many innocent loved ones you hurt in the process.
(And already this post is longer than most of the things I write.)
Joyce: Uh, can I make you a sandwich or something before you go? You must be starving.
Buffy: I was un-until that four-course snack you served me after dinner.
I am deeply, intimately familiar with the Doing Stuff For You form of apologizing. Indeed, because Aspergers (and an accompanying difficulty with Long Conversations) is now part of my life, Doing Stuff For You apologies are probably the apologies I most frequently receive. The form has its benefits and its drawbacks, like almost everything else in life.
But last time I talked about Joyce, I talked about the fact that actions are generally only good or bad depending on the context. Letting Buffy go to the Bronze and stay out late at night might be Good Parenting in the sense that Joyce trusts her daughter and is letting her flex her wings, or it might be Bad Parenting in the sense that Joyce is ignoring her daughter until it's convenient for her to double down and oppress her with Constant Attention and Grounded Forevers when suddenly Joyce decides to take an interest. Context matters, and its what makes abuse so difficult to talk about. Someone not talking to me for an hour can be abusive under the "right" circumstances. Someone taking my things without telling me can be abusive under the "right" circumstances. Someone buying me presents can be abusive under the "right" circumstances. We do not get to divorce those actions from their context and say that, for example, Buying Presents is always a good nice awesome thing to do. Life is more complicated than that.
Joyce is hovering. Okay. That's a natural response. Her daughter was missing and now is back. Everything was horrible and now has a chance to be better. Joyce wants to make up for the awfulness that contributed to Buffy's absence. I get that. Joyce even basically says this:
Joyce: No, no. (looks down at her keys briefly) I-I just want to put this whole thing behind us, get back to normal. (inhales deeply) You go. Have a good time.
But context matters.
Joyce doesn't attempt to apologize, apart from providing Buffy with food. (And don't get me started on linking sustenance and food to love and comfort and forgiveness. Because then we really will be here all day.) Joyce doesn't attempt to own the actions that she took that led to Buffy leaving. She certainly doesn't attempt to correct or modify her behavior to keep from repeating her patterns in the future. Joyce isn't doing anything to constructively get things "behind [them]" and move to a healthier place, or at least she's not doing anything hard-but-effective. Pulling food out of the pantry in this case is an avoidance tactic: I won't apologize or change my actions, but can I offer you some Cheezy Poofs?
Joyce's actions, in context, are problematic. She wants things "behind us" (tellingly, not "healed" or "made better" or to "do better", but just In The Past) not because she did something wrong and she wants to not be that kind of person anymore, but because she doesn't want to have to deal with things that make her uncomfortable. She wants a magical Reset Button, to pretend that what she said and did never happened. In the past. Behind us. Water under the bridge. And she wants that complete forgiveness and restitution of the status quo without any effort on her part to heal the rift she was instrumental in the formation of. Joyce hasn't learned anything from this experience except that she doesn't feel that she should have to grapple with her own bad behavior.
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 (until she then later loses interest and wanders off). See that previous episode where she grounded Buffy from literally doing anything except going to the school or going to the toilet. Which one?, you ask. Haha, you got me: that was a trick question. See the multiple episodes where she did that.
Buffy: What if [Giles is] mad?
Xander: Mad? Just because you ran away and abandoned your post and your friends and your mom and made him lay awake every night worrying about you? (to Oz and Willow) Maybe we should wait out here.
Here is a conversation that shouldn't be noteworthy as anything more than a flat joke that goes over like a lead balloon, and yet is.
Once again, like Joyce's slip about "quiet" above, this isn't an accident or a bad joke. This is Xander expressing his true feelings under the cover of a "joke". Which is passive-aggressive and a bullying tactic, because it means that you can say deeply cruel things and then, when your victim objects, you can castigate them for not being able to "take a joke".
Xander really does believe everything he says here, and he'll repeat himself several times before the episode is out. He believes that Buffy "ran away", thus painting her as a quitter and a coward despite the fact that she has saved the world multiple times since she became the Chosen One, with hardly a moment of respite for herself. He believes that she "abandoned" the "post" that was foisted on her against her will and which has ruined her life and will ultimately kill her. And he believes that she "abandoned" her friends and family despite the fact that it was in fact her friends and family that pushed her away. Xander himself deliberately kept the knowledge that Buffy would be fighting a souled Angel away from her because he didn't want to risk the chance that she might get back together with Angel, thereby continuing to deny Xander sexual access to her body. And Joyce, of course, literally told Buffy to never come home again.
It's possible that Xander doesn't know that last detail (though he does know that Joyce knows and isn't happy about it because she's been talking to Giles), but it's a fact that he isn't leaving open the possibility. He's already judged Buffy for her absence, and he has deemed her guilty of the worst kind of cowardice and capriciousness, based on his words here. He's put Buffy in the place where she has to defend her actions, explain them, and possibly receive his forgiveness. Xander, like Joyce, is not interested in any version of the facts wherein he was anything less than perfect and Buffy was anything more than craven.
Buffy: Well, thank you for the offer, but I think I just wanna get back to my normal routine. You know, school, slaying . . . kid's stuff. In fact, I'm jonesing for a little brainless fun. (to Xander) What are you doing tomorrow?
Xander: Oh, I would, but, uh, (reaches his hands around Cordelia's arm) I'm kind of tied up. (smiles)
Cordelia: You wish. (pushes him away)
Xander sits back into the couch, embarrassed.
Buffy: (to Willow) Will?
Willow: Um, tomorrow I--
Buffy: Oh, come on. Friends don't let friends browse alone.
Willow: Okay. I had some schoolwork, but . . . I can change my plans.
Buffy's friends are avoiding her, particularly avoiding spending one-on-one time with her.
That's okay. There's nothing wrong with that. Let is be said clearly: you owe your time to no one. If you don't have the emotional spoons to hang out with someone whose actions hurt you, that is your right and prerogative not to do so. I heartily endorse self-care.
However. If you choose not to hang out with someone, you cannot then castigate that person from a moral high horse about not being willing to talk to you about things. They cannot talk to someone who has not given them an opportunity. This, I will note here, is a recurring Joyce tactic: refuse to talk to, listen to, or spend time with Buffy and then ruthlessly berate Buffy for never spending time opening up to Joyce. And this is at its most essential a truly unfair form of abuse, the act of blaming people for not being intimate "enough" after they gave the space they thought was wanted.
Willow and Xander are making it very clear that they don't want to be with Buffy. They do not have the right, therefore, to complain when she chooses not to be with them. Berating her for doing what they ask her to do is abusive.
Buffy: What about home schooling? You know, it's not just for scary religious people anymore.
As a former home-schooler, this line made me happy-laugh. That is all.
Pat: Oh, I'm Pat, (offers her hand) from your mom's book club. (they shake hands) I'm sure she mentioned me.
Pat: I, um, I sort of took it upon myself to look after her while you were, (rolls her eyes) you know, off and away or what have you, and . . .
Buffy looks aside, not believing this conversation.
Pat: (inhales) Well, between, uh, (exhales) your situation and reading 'Deep End of the Ocean', she was, uh, she was just a wreck. You can imagine.
Buffy gives her a thin smile and a weak nod.
Pat: Anyway, I'm off. We're-we're making empanadas in my Spanish class tonight. (giggles) You go be with your mom. You two need to rebond.
Pat is a terrible person.
Pat has never met Buffy before. We cannot read this introduction in any other way; this is a meeting between two strangers. Pat doesn't know why Buffy left: she literally cannot know (Because Secret Vampire Slayage), but even if Joyce had been totally truthful with her, there still remains the fact that she hasn't heard Buffy's side of the story. And yet, knowing that she doesn't know why Buffy left (For all she knows, Joyce is the kind of person who dates abusive men who invade Buffy's room and physically attack her! Oh, wait...), she has still chosen to insert herself into Buffy's situation by belittling Buffy and mocking the situation with her little tee-hee eye-roll treatment here.
Furthermore, by engaging with Buffy this way, she has made it perfectly plain that Joyce is talking about Buffy behind her back.
Now, I'm a fan of group counseling. I blow off steam with a select group of friends about my loved ones, including my dear husband. I don't judge people for talking when they need to talk. But here is the thing: I am very careful not to Cross The Streams. The friends I confide in are not brought around the people I confide in them about unless they've been carefully vetted as the sorts of people who won't betray my confidence and make my loved ones feel uncomfortable and exposed. And this vetting process takes, literally, years. Once you've heard me talk shit about my mom or my husband, you don't get to meet my mom or my husband until after I've known you for a good long while and I know you can keep your mouth shut.
I don't exercise this caution because I am vain and don't want my loved ones to know I gossip. I exercise this caution because I don't want my loved ones to be confronted with the fact that they are being gossiped about. That stark fact, dragged out in the light of day, is never pleasant and almost always hurtful. Do I know for a fact that my mom talks about me with her "prayer group" as a way of letting off steam? Yes. Am I okay with that? Yes. Do I want any of those people to exist in my line of sight? Fuck no. There are more than enough people in the world; I'll keep company with my people and you can keep your people over there out of my sight. I don't need more judging in my life, thanks.
By ignoring these fundamental rules of courtesy, Pat is being intensely passive-aggressive towards Buffy. And by bringing Pat into this situation and inviting her to the house (twice!) without warning Buffy or telling Pat to close her fucking mouth no doy, Joyce is partially responsible for this situation and the pain it is inevitably going to cause Buffy. And, once again, I must point out that this sort of third-party insertion is not a new thing with Joyce: she did this in Inca Mummy Girl and she did this in Ted. By the end of this episode, she'll be inserting an entire roomful of several dozen strangers into her relationship with Buffy. Bringing strangers into the house to yell at Buffy for her is pretty much what Joyce does.
Joyce: (looks up) Oh, uh, before I forget, uh, Willow just called.
Buffy: (suddenly attentive) Where was she?
Joyce: Uh, she, she got held up, but she said she tried to call.
Buffy: (confused) Was there a message?
Willow is not only avoiding Buffy, she also stood her up on their date and made an obvious lie as an excuse. That moral high ground about You Don't Have To See People You Don't Want To does have a limit, and Willow has pretty much danced over the line.
Joyce: But I had a thought. What if I invited Willow and Mr. Giles and everybody over for dinner tomorrow night? (smiles) Don't you think that would be nice?
Buffy just opens the pitcher and pours herself a drink.
Joyce: Since I sort of already did, I was hoping for a yes.
I just... don't even. Does Joyce ever let Buffy know people are coming over before she invites them? Pat, Ted, foreign exchange students, strange girls claiming to be friends of Buffy despite never having been mentioned before, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, whatever. 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.
This is also especially awesome in light of the fact that no one -- not Xander, Willow, or Joyce -- want to be alone to speak with Buffy right now. Instead, they want to gang up on her so that they can ignore her as a group and then castigate her as a group so that she's virtually guaranteed to be unable to defend herself when the accusations start coming in a mile a minute from four different directions. Great! What a great plan!
Buffy: I thought they'd be here.
Angel: They are. They're waiting for you.
Buffy: (looks at him) Am I dreaming?
Angel: (smiles and chuckles) I'm probably the wrong person to ask. You'd better go.
Buffy: (looks at him) I'm afraid.
Angel: (shrugs and looks at her) You should be.
I actually thought this was disconnected weirdness, but it turns out dream!Angel is right: Buffy should be afraid of seeing her friends and family because they are horrible, horrible people. FLEE THE ABUSE, BUFFY! GO BACK TO THE SHINY CITY WHICH WAS CLEARLY MUCH BETTER THAN YOUR WHITE SUBURBAN HELL!
Joyce: Uh, as for private schools, uh, Miss Porter's accepts late admissions. I, uh, I wrote the information down for you.
Buffy: A girls' school? (goes to the island to read the slip of paper) So now it's jackets, kilts, and no boys? (looks back at her mom) Care to throw in a little foot-binding?
Joyce: Buffy, you made some bad choices. You just might have to live with some consequences.
.....................this was pretty much the point at which I started screaming at the television. I didn't want to spoil Husband on the whole Joyce tumor thing, but I am 100% ready at this point for Joyce to die as soon as possible. Not because I like it when Real People die, and not because cancer is super fun (spoiler alert: it's not), but because this particular, specific Fictional Character has no worth in my world. Get rid of her; write in a better replacement mom. Because, seriously, there is no redemption as far as I'm concerned from this passive-aggressive one-dimensional nightmare character on top of the eight-billion other incidents of passive-aggressive shit.
YOU MADE SOME BAD CHOICES?
What the fuck? In what fucking alternate universe, woman, is this statement appropriate or true or anything other than pure, unadulterated, FDA-approved horse shit? WHAT. THE. FUCK.
Buffy didn't "make some bad choices". Buffy saved the goddamn world. She fought countless demons, was beaten up, was injured, was emotionally harmed, was hindered by you yourself, and she never gave up. She went out there, night after night and night, and she fought on because she cared about saving lives. On the night in question, the night she got expelled, she went to confront Angel -- an abusive killer who killed everyone Drusilla ever loved because he wanted to torment her, and who appeared to be repeating that established pattern with Buffy -- because she was afraid that he would kill someone (Xander, Giles, or Joyce being the obvious targets) if she didn't agree to meet and fight. But Angel cheated and had his compatriots murder Kendra, the only other Slayer on earth and the only person who could possibly understand Buffy. THAT was why she was expelled. What "choice" did she make there that you can possibly be in any position to judge?
The "choice" to love Angel? Well, news flash, he did the exact same thing to Drusilla without any kind of involvement from her, plus now you are a victim-blaming asshat. The "choice" to run from the police? Well, otherwise the entire planet would have been sucked into hell, and I suppose that was a better alternative Because Lawful Stupid? The "choice" to flee to the city? Well, guess what? That was something you MADE her do. But your actions don't have consequences, do they, Joyce? YOU ARE A SPECIAL GODDAMN BUTTERFLY.
And I can already hear the counterpoint: Oh, but Joyce doesn't know all that! Really?!? WELL, I WONDER WHOSE FAULT THAT IS? If only there was, I dunno, an adult in Sunnydale that she could talk to who has all the most intimate details of Buffy's life over the past couple of years and could provide insight into what was going on and why she had to do the things she did. But, of course we couldn't go ask Giles about why Buffy did what she did because (a) then Joyce would have to give up her ridiculous I Don't Blame Me, I Blame Giles martyr complex, and (b) that would involve actually wanting to understand Buffy, which might accidentally lead to not blaming her. And that would be a fucking tragedy, if we couldn't blame Buffy anymore.
Joyce: Nothing's settled yet. (looks for something to do and spies the trash) I just wish you didn't have to be so secretive about things. (ties off the trashbag) I mean, it's not your fault you have a special circumstance. They should make allowances for you.
Buffy: Mom, I'm a slayer. It's not like I need to ride a little bus to school.
Joyce: (walks to the door with the trash) Couldn't you just tell a few people, like Principal Snyder . . . and maybe the police?
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.
The only thing keeping Buffy at the marginal level of safety she currently enjoys is the fact that people don't know she's the Slayer. You think if it became common knowledge that she is what she is, that people wouldn't be flying in from all over the world to challenge her? To hurt her? To prove themselves against her? To glom onto her as emotional and psychological leeches? To try to use and manipulate and monetize her for their own personal gain? You think governments wouldn't want to control her, to use her, to cut her up and study her? Do you think she'd have any semblance of a normal life left?
Everyone she ever met after her secret came out, every single one of them, would be suspect. She would have to consider ever angle. Is this person a trap? Are they being paid off by the vampires, or coerced in some way? Is this person a groupie, only interested in her for her status and protection? Is this person trying to profit off of Buffy in any way shape or form? Do they want to use her, to "score" a Slayer or to prove that they are stronger than her? Buffy would never, ever have any kind of normal life. She'd have all the drawbacks of being a famous celebrity, with none of the perks.
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".
Xander: (interrupts) And what'll we talk about at a gathering anyway? 'So, Buffy, did you meet any nice pimps on your travels? And oh, by the by, thanks for ruining our lives for the past three months.'
So before we get into the fact that Buffy didn't ruin anyone's lives and is not, actually in fact, responsible for any lives other than her own much as it might pain the rest of the people in the room to take responsibility for their own selves, let's talk about the fact that this is (at least) the second time that Xander has implied that Buffy is a sex worker and/or sexually promiscuous.
The other time being in Go Fish when Xander blurted out this little gem:
Xander: You know what really grates my cheese? That Buffy's not here to share my moral outrage about swim team perks. She's too busy being one of them.
The noun "perk" according to Google dictionary is defined as "Money, goods, or other benefit to which one is entitled as an employee or as a shareholder of a company." (Or, of course, as a member of the swim team.)
Xander views Buffy as an object. Of course he does; he's a Nice Guy. Viewing women as objects to which he is entitled because he follows the rules of nice guyness is an integral part of his character. Xander may not be pleasant to be around, he may be a passive-aggressive bully who uses humor as a screen to snipe at people who cannot socially object, he may be the kind of guy who would pretend to not remember nearly raping a girl because then she won't confront him about it, but none of that MATTERS because as long as he follows the letter if not the spirit of the universal laws, women will fall into his lap as a reward for correctly traversing the magical spell of nice guyness. (Not to be confused with the actual magical spell that Xander used to make Cordelia love him.)
So Xander views Buffy as an object. A sexual object, which has thus far not played by the rules of the game and has pursued vampires and swim team members instead of nice guys -- a fact that causes Xander a good deal of frustration and anger. And because Buffy is a sexual object who is not playing by The Rules, she is clearly either a slut or a whore. Not in the sense that Xander thinks Buffy is sexually active with anyone beside That One Time with Angel (we know she's not) or that she engages in paid sex work (highly doubtful), but rather the sting of the words because of the layers of misogyny behind them. Xander could just as easily call Buffy a quatloo, were the term one with an appropriate history of misogyny behind it. But because quatloo does not have the necessary misogyny, Xander reaches for slut and whore. First by claiming that Buffy sleeps with swim team members for superficial (read: unacceptable to Xander) reasons, and then by suggesting that Buffy spent the summer doing sex work for pimps.
Remember! Criticizing a woman is so much more fun if you can criticize her sexuality in the process.
Cut to the Summers house. Cut inside to the dining room. The table is beautifully set with Joyce's best china, crystal and silverware. Buffy is dressed up for the occasion. She is putting the last setting into place when the doorbell rings. She looks over the table one last time and then goes to open the door. Through the window she sees Pat waiting there, holding a large plastic food container. Buffy opens the door.
Pat: Hey, there you are! (comes in) Not thinking about any more flights of fancy, I hope.
Buffy can't believe her comments, and just closes the door.
Pat: Joyce said there was room for one more, so I said forget facial night and let's party! (smiles) I bet you like empanadas.
Willow, Cordelia, Xander, and Oz have invited every teenager they know to Buffy's house to avoid talking to her. Joyce has invited Pat. The end result of both actions are the same: Buffy literally can't explain or justify why she was gone over their dinner party, since the details are intimate and painful, and the backstory is secretive and magical. Remember, though, that this is the point: the longer the people in Buffy's life can keep her from talking with them in the one-on-one setting she keeps trying to engineer for discussion, the longer they can hold onto their precious self-righteous anger at the selfish little slut who abandoned them after risking her life to save the entire world thirty-three times in a row. If you can even imagine.
Joyce: Oh, Pat! Good. Buffy, I hope you don't mind.
"You obviously knew I would or you would have mentioned something before you invited her. Not that you've ever asked me before inviting someone over, but I guess there's a first time for everything."
Buffy: (louder) This is amazing, but I was sort of hoping we could just hang together, the gang.
Willow indicates to the band and makes like she totally can't hear Buffy. She turns her attention back to Oz and smiles at him. ... Buffy finds a relatively quiet spot in the dining room where they can talk.
Buffy: Is everything okay? You . . . You seem to be avoiding me, i-in the one-on-one sense.
Willow: (looks surprised) What? This isn't avoiding. See? Here you are, here I am.
Buffy: So we're cool?
Willow: Way! That's why, with the party, 'cause we're all glad you're back.
She isn't being very convincing, but Buffy decides to accept it for now.
Let the record show that Buffy tried to talk things out.
Cut to the kitchen. Joyce and Pat are having a little fiesta of their own, and pour some schnapps into two glasses. They raise their glasses, clink them together and each take a good sip.
Pat: Now, how you holding up, Joyce, hmm? Really.
Joyce: Really? I'm . . . I don't know. While Buffy was gone, all I could think about was getting her home. I just knew that if I could put my arms around her and tell her how much I loved her, everything would be okay.
Buffy reaches the kitchen and overhears.
Joyce: Having Buffy home, I-I thought it was gonna make it all better, but in some ways, it's almost worse.
Remember what I said earlier about confining my steam-letting-off moments to people who don't have access to the people I'm letting off steam about? Well, that's especially true when I'm in the same house as the person I'm letting off steam about. Jesus Christ.
The thing I like best about this conversation, really, is that it's not one of those "walk up at the wrong moment, assume the worst" things that television loves so much. Buffy could have been here for the entire conversation and it wouldn't be any less hurtful. In fact, it would possibly be more hurtful, because the entire theme of the conversation is how Joyce was wrong to have missed her daughter as much as she did, since it's not working out the way it did in her magical fantasy land.
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.
You'd kind of think that there would be an obvious parallel here: Buffy actually knows someone whose mother literally Body-Swapped with her because mom wanted to make sure her daughter did everything just the way mother did, but apparently there isn't supposed to be that overt of a connection -- the writers seem kind of ... oblivious to the parallels. 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.
Cut to Buffy's room. She comes in and swings the door partially closed behind her. She looks at her bed sadly and sniffles. She bends down to pull her bag out from underneath, slams it onto the mattress and opens it up. She goes to her closet, gets out a pile of folded clothes, goes back to her bed and stuffs them into the bag.
Fun fact: the bear on Buffy's bed is a larger version of the blue Gund Snuffles bear here, and was inordinately popular in my area when I was a teenager. I had one myself and when you combine this with the fact that Buffy eats Spaghettios and the fact that Joyce bears more than a passing resemblance to my mother, well, it's a little creepy.
Cut to Buffy's room. She's at her closet getting more things. She goes back to her bed. While she stuffs her things into her bag, Willow shows up at her door and sees her packing.
Willow: You're leaving again?
Buffy gives her a quick glance and goes back to packing.
Willow: (upset) What, you just stopped by for your lint brush and now you're ready to go?
Buffy: It's not like anyone will mind.
Willow: (heavy with sarcasm) Oh, no. Have a great time. Oh, oh, and don't forget to *not* write.
Buffy: (faces Willow, sobbing) Why are you attacking me? I'm trying.
Willow: Wow, and it looks so much like giving up!
This is the point where a good friend would say, "Whoa, hey, slow down. I'm sorry, I'm just ... a little lost here. What's going on? Can you tell me? Please tell me."
Willow doesn't know what's going on. I'm going to repeat that for clarity. WILLOW DOES NOT KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON. For all the oh, Joyce can't know about vampire slayage because she's incapable of leaving the house to ask questions bullshit I see online, I see no one pointing out the very, very, very obvious corollary that no one in Buffy's life knows, for sure, what is going on and that that ignorance is a very good reason to NOT attack her. And that not one of them has even tried to acknowledge that and rectify the information gap because that might cut into their attacking-Buffy privileges.
WILLOW DOES NOT KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON. Joyce could have just told Buffy (again) to leave. Xander could have sexually assaulted Buffy in the broom closet. Giles could have called and told her that if she's not on a plane to Jamaica in the next twenty minutes, the entire universe will explode. Lucifer himself could have risen out of the kitchen tiles and told Buffy that if she doesn't leave in the next five minutes, he will drag everyone in the house screaming into hell and eternal torment. WILLOW DOES NOT KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON.
Willow doesn't ask what is going on. She doesn't even try. The question marks up there are a lie: the only thing Willow is interested in right now is attacking Buffy and lashing out at her verbally. Willow could stop and say that she doesn't understand what is going on, but she wants to, and does Buffy have the time to talk to her. Please? She doesn't. She doesn't because she is not Buffy's friend. I don't know how that can be, given two seasons of characterization to the contrary, but here is is as a fact I cannot ignore. This is not the behavior of a friend. It is the behavior of an abuser.
Buffy: You guys were doing just fine without me.
Willow: We were doing the best we could! It's not like we had a lot of choice in the matter.
"I'm sorry, did your THREE MONTHS as honorary vampire slayer cut into your happy little life? Well, I'll fucking remember that for the next THIRTY YEARS of my tenure as the Chosen One. Sorry that your tourist trip in my platform shoes wasn't to your liking, but I don't remember anyone forcing you to take up the cross and follow me. In fact, Giles distinctly asked you not to do so, so it seems like you DID have a choice: slay or don't slay. You didn't have Option 3 of "leave the slaying to Buffy", true, but that is not YOUR right to demand of ME. BACK THE FUCK OFF."
Buffy: Sorry that I had to leave, but you don't know what I was going through.
Willow: Well, I'd like to.
...but not from having to, you know, spend time listening to you. BEAM YOUR JUSTIFICATION DIRECTLY INTO MY HEAD WHILE COWERING IN SHAME.
Buffy: You wouldn't understand.
Willow: (considers) Well, maybe I don't need to understand. Maybe I . . . I just need you to talk to me.
Hey, here's a thought, Willow: Maybe the universe doesn't revolve around your needs. Maybe you need to grow some ovaries, put on your big girl pants, and recognize that you live on the Hellmouth and that means that your BFF won't always be a phone call away for you to use whenever you need an emotional blanket. Maybe you could also realize that Buffy is not a goddamn stuffed teddy bear that only exists when you need emotional cuddles.
Also: Maybe Buffy has the same right to not talk to you as you exercised earlier to not talk to her.
Buffy: How could I talk to you when you were avoiding me?
Willow: This isn't easy, Buffy! I know you're going through stuff, but . . . so am I.
Buffy: I know that you were worried about me, but--
Willow: No! I don't just mean that. I mean, my life! You know? I, um . . . I'm having all sorts of--I'm dating, I'm having serious dating with a *werewolf*, a-and I'm studying witchcraft and killing vampires, and I didn't have anyone (starts sobbing) to talk to about all this scary life stuff. And you were my best friend.
I. You. What.
WHAT. WHAT. WHAT. WHAT. WHAT.
WHAT?!? Oh my god, what? Willow Rosenberg, how many of those goddamn things are things YOU chose to do? One plus one plus one plus one that's ALL THE THINGS. You chose to date. You chose to date a werewolf even after you knew he was a werewolf. You chose to study witchcraft. You chose to kill vampires. YOU CHOSE TO DO THOSE THINGS. Buffy is not responsible for your choices. Buffy's job in life is not to wait by the phone to counsel you about your life choices and pat you on the fucking head every time you need reassurance. Buffy does not exist to be your unpaid counselor.
If you, Willow Rosenberg, need to talk to someone about your life choices you find someone. Giles seems like the closest thing to a counselor in this world, but you haven't talked to him. Cordelia is someone you have bonded with in the past over boys and dating, but you haven't reached out to her. And there is a WHOLE WORLD of people out there who can be friended and spoken to, many of whom already know about supernatural stuff because you live on the Hellmouth. But that would take work! Effort! Actually getting off your butt and out of your house and away from your books and taking responsibility for YOUR life and taking action to improve your life. It would mean not waiting for a Manic Pixie Dream Girl named Buffy Summers to blow into your bedroom one evening with movies and popcorn and an ear that wants nothing more than to listen to everything that crosses your mind.
And it would require you thinking about people as people and not as dolls that exist only to listen to you whenever you can be arsed to not stand them up on dates because you were afraid they'd talk about their icky selves. So, you know, there's that.
Fun fact: Willow is complaining about the fact that her boyfriend turns into a werewolf three nights a month after she knows Buffy had to kill her souled boyfriend in order to save the world. Other fun fact: Willow Rosenberg is a monster.
Buffy: You have no idea how much I missed you. Everyone. I wanted to call every day.
Willow: That doesn't matter, Buffy. It doesn't make it okay that you didn't.
Willow says that line right after she says that she wanted to talk to Buffy but couldn't help avoiding her. Irony is not something that Willow grasps, apparently.
Joyce walks by the room and sees the bag on Buffy's bed.
Joyce: What is this? Is this some sort of a joke?
Buffy: Mom, please, could you, could you just--
Joyce: (interrupts) No, I can't just! Buffy, what is this?
Willow: She was running away again.
Buffy: No, I wasn't. (pauses, very confused) I'm not sure.
Joyce: Well, you better *get* sure and explain yourself right away! If you think you can just-just take off any time you feel like it--
Buffy: Stop it! Please! I don't know. I don't know what I'm doing.
She rushes from her room and heads downstairs. Joyce and Willow follow right on her heels. Cut to below. Buffy comes rushing down the stairs with her mother and best friend right behind. She stops at the front door, and turns into the living room when she finds Xander and Cordelia locked in a passionate embrace, blocking her way out.
Joyce: Don't you leave this house, young lady!
Buffy doesn't stop her determined walk.
Joyce: You know what? That's it.
I seriously expected Joyce at this point to say "You walk out of this house, don't even *think* about coming back," because, you know, she's already said it before, so why not again. The scene reads almost identical to the last time Buffy had to leave the house in a hurry, so I genuinely expected history to repeat itself.
In a way, I'm sorry it didn't. If Joyce had shown her true colors in front of everyone, maybe there would have been a hush while everyone realized, dude, not cool. Maybe people would have calmed down, seen things from Buffy's perspective, gone up to quietly apologize and hug. I would have liked that.
Alternately, if Joyce threw Buffy out again, maybe we could be done with Sunnydale and the Hellmouth could have them all. Buffy and Giles could have had a spin-off gig on, I dunno, a vampire-fighting cruise ship or something. I'd have liked that, too.
She runs up behind Buffy, grabs her arm and turns her around to face her.
True fact: Joyce would have gotten instinctively slapped in this scenario, were I Buffy. You do not physically grab my arm and spin me around (because doing so has the possibility of seriously injuring me). I realize that Buffy doesn't have damage to her spinal column, but Joyce still should not be getting handsy. Abuse red flag just went even higher, and I didn't think that was possible, but physically preventing someone from safely leaving a situation of emotional abuse is NOT on.
Joyce: You and I are going to have a talk.
The band stops playing and most of the people stop talking. Suddenly the level of noise in the room is reduced to just a few voices. Buffy looks around at everyone staring at them.
Buffy: (implores) Mom, please--
Xander and Cordelia come into the living room.
Joyce: (interrupts, mad) You know what? I don't care. I don't care what your friends think of me, or you for that matter, because you put me through the wringer, Buffy. (inhales) I mean it. (exhales and inhales) And I've had schnapps. (exhales) Do you have *any* idea what it's been like?
I actually missed somehow -- I blame the hearing issue -- that Joyce has issues with alcohol. I mean, we saw her drinking with Pat but even I can have one drink without losing control, so either Joyce had several more drinks we didn't see, or she's the sort of person who has one drink to "loosen up" and lash out with behavior that she absolutely can help but is pretending that she can't. The fact that she explicitly uses alcohol here as a justification points me towards the latter; in my experience, genuinely drunk people don't keep bringing it up as an excuse.
Joyce had apparently been drinking when she threw Buffy out, too. (I checked the transcript.) You'd think that maybe, just maybe, that might have caused her to rethink things while Buffy was gone. I know that if I thought that something had caused me to drive away the one person I loved most, I'd be reevaluating that thing very closely. Joyce not only doesn't swear off the booze at least until she patches things up with her daughter, she starts drinking the second night Buffy is back. While things are still in some ways "almost worst". When it absolutely matters that she keep her head on straight and not pick at the yet-to-scab-over wound that is her relationship with her daughter.
Joyce: (interrupts again) You can't imagine *months* of not knowing. Not knowing whether you're lying dead in a ditch somewhere or, I don't know, living it up--
Because being a slut and a whore is the worst thing a girl can be, short of dead. WE GET IT, WRITERS. (I would like to take a moment to note that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is actually taught in actual classrooms as a "feminist" television show. That is how entrenched sex-policing is in our culture, that even our feminist texts as deemed by our academics still hit us over the head with slut-slut-slut over and over again without any commentary to undermine or deconstruct it.)
Buffy: (interrupts in turn) But you told me! You're the one who said I should go. You said if I leave this house, don't come back. You found out who I really was, and you couldn't deal. Don't you remember?
Joyce: Buffy, you didn't give me time. You just dumped this thing on me and you expected me to get it. Well, guess what? Mom's not perfect, okay? I handled it badly. But that doesn't give you the right to punish me by running away.
So let's talk about non-pologies.
A non-pology is an apology that isn't one but which the victimizer uses against the victim in order to abuse them further because they wouldn't accept their 'apology'. A good example would be Bob-the-abuser saying "we're both to blame here" and if Jenna doesn't swallow her tongue and nod and admit that, yeah, she's probably at least partially to blame for her own abuse then the observers will decry her as unreasonable and untrustworthy for not being willing to work with Bob and meet him halfway.
"Mom's not perfect" is not an apology. It's trite, it's flippant, it's dismissive. You can apply that to just about anything. Mom didn't believe you about the abuse her boyfriend acted out on you? WELL, MOM'S NOT PERFECT. Mom threw you out and told you she'd rather never see you again than give you an hour or two to get shit in order prior to a long explanation? WELL, MOM'S NOT PERFECT. Mom has spent the last two years heaping emotional abuse on you at every turn? WELL, MOM'S NOT PERFECT.
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. No one is perfect. The "revelation" that an individual person isn't perfect isn't a meaningful epiphany for anyone; the only use it has here is to silence Buffy and tell her that she won't be allowed to complain or defend or even speak at all. MOM'S NOT PERFECT. And therefore Mom never ever has to apologize or fix things or change. (She's not perfect! Just forgiven! By someone other than you, yes, but you're a selfish little slut if you don't play follow the leader and forgive and forget!)
Buffy: Punish you? I didn't do this to punish you!
Xander: Well, you did. You should've seen what you put her through. You know, maybe you don't want to hear it, Buffy, but taking off like you did was incredibly selfish and stupid.
Buffy: Okay! Okay. I screwed up. I know this. But you have no idea! You have, you have no idea what happened to me or what I was feeling!
Xander: Did you even try talking to anybody?
Buffy: There was nothing that anybody could do. Okay? I just had to deal with this on my own.
Xander: Yeah, and you see how well *that* one worked out. You can't just bury stuff, Buffy. It'll come right back up to get you.
Buffy: As if I even could've gone to you, Xander. You made your feelings about Angel and I perfectly clear.
Xander: Look. I'm sorry that your honey was a demon, but most girls don't hop a Greyhound over boy troubles.
Hahaha, the fact that Xander wasn't struck by lightning on the spot right here pretty much proves there is no god.
One major reason why Buffy was so deeply traumatized that she had to escape was that, at the last moment, Angel had his soul restored. While he was confused and frightened and everything that Buffy ever loved, she had to kill him because his death was the only way to save the world. He had opened the gate, and he was the only way to close it.
Buffy couldn't talk to anyone about this because she knew no one would help her and most of them would hurt her. Joyce, Xander, and possibly Cordelia would pretty much rub salt in the wound, given that none of them had ever accepted the body/soul divide that is Buffy-verse vampires. Willow, the most potentially sympathetic, would be emotionally crushed to realize that her attempts to re-soul Angel had actually ended up causing Buffy more pain. Giles would be able to help, but Buffy has always been intensely uncomfortable talking about her romantic life with her middle-aged teacher. Buffy literally had no one to talk to because the people in her life are less interested in comforting her than in getting their own petty opinions on the record. She knows this because they've demonstrated this. So she did the next best thing and just opted out of the conversation entirely until she'd dealt with things on her own.
But here's the other thing: Xander knew that Buffy would be fighting a souled Angel. He was sent to Buffy, by Willow, to tell her that. Once he got there, he deliberately chose not to tell Buffy. He didn't want to take the risk that Buffy might draw the fight out, wait for Angel to be resouled, and then reunite with him and continue their relationship. Xander is spiritually (if not legally) guilty of cold-blooded murder as well as forcing his supposed 'best friend' to commit that murder on the only man she's ever loved. And he did this because he "loves" Buffy and wants really, really badly to fuck her. And this is presented as sweet and romantic rather than deeply monstrous.
I've read honest-to-god villains who were less evil than Xander Harris. (At least King Claudius didn't engineer Hamlet's death by making a weeping Gertrude have to kill him. And there's your epitaph for Xander when god gets off his arse and smites him: More villainous than a Shakespeare villain.)
Cordelia: Time out, Xander. Put yourself in Buffy's shoes for just a minute. Okay? I'm Buffy, freak of nature, right? Naturally I pick a freak for a boyfriend, and then he turns into Mr. Killing Spree, which is pretty much my fault--
Buffy: (interrupts) Cordy! Get outta my shoes!
Cordelia: I'm just trying to help, Buffy.
Normally I like Cordelia, and I especially like that she calls Xander on his shit, but today is just too much. Cordelia is the least to blame of the four horsemen here (Joyce, Xander, Willow, and Cordelia), but this is still not helping.
Willow: Buffy, you never--
Buffy: (nears the breaking point) Willow, please. I can't take this from you, too.
Xander: Let her finish! You at least owe her that.
Buffy: God, Xander! Do you think you could at least stick to annoying me on your own behalf?
Xander: Fine! You stop acting like an idiot, I'll stop annoying you!
......aaaaaand I'm done. The show mostly is, too: the zombies just showed up.
She embraces her daughter tightly. Buffy hugs her mom back.
Joyce: Are you all right?
Joyce: (panting) So, is this a typical day at the office?
Buffy: No. This was nothing.
Xander: (to Buffy) Nice moves.
Buffy: You, too.
And that's the end. Really. Buffy has been restored to favor -- i.e., she will not be actively emotionally abused -- because she's worth more to keep around as a monster slayer than to drive away as a scapegoat for Willow's codependency, Joyce's alcoholism and elaborate motherhood fantasies, and Xander's villainy. Thus proving to girls everywhere, and most especially to Buffy, that girls are worthwhile for what they do for other people and not for who they are.
Willow: I mean, I'm not a full-fledged witch. That takes years. I just did a couple pagan blessings and . . . a teeny glamour to hide a zit.
Buffy: Does it scare you?
Willow: It has. I tried to communicate with the spirit world, and I *so* wasn't ready for that. It's like being pulled apart inside. Plus I blew the power for our whole block. Big scare.
Buffy: I wish I could've been there with you.
Willow: Me, too. I really freaked out.
Buffy: I am sorry.
Willow: It's okay. I understand you having to bail. I can forgive that. Mm, I have to make allowances for what you're going through a-and be a grownup about it. (gives Buffy a slightly smug look)
Buffy: (smiles) You're really enjoying this whole moral superiority thing, aren't you?
Willow: (smiles) It's like a drug!
Buffy: Fine! Okay. I'm the bad. I can take my lumps . . . for a while.
Willow: All right. I'll stop giving you a hard time. (pauses) Runaway.
Buffy: (gives her a surprised look) Will!
Willow: (smiles and giggles) I'm sorry! Quitter.
Buffy: (widens her eyes at her) Whiner.
Willow: (takes mock offense) Bad seed.
And thus ends the episode where Buffy -- a feminist icon for girls everywhere -- learns that life is slightly less fraught with emotional abuse if you accept it and keep your head down and take on all the blame for the choices of the people around you as well as for your inevitable failure to be there at their beck and call every time they want something from you physically, emotionally, or psychologically.
A Final Note On Language.
I would like to end this post on a random ramble. I have never called the people in Buffy's life the "Scooby Gang". And now after this episode, I never will.
This was not initially any sort of principled stand; before I started watching Buffy I didn't use the term because I'm not a huge fan of Scooby Doo and I didn't feel the need to evoke something I didn't much care for in the first place in reference to something I'd not actually watched. And after Xander introduced the term, I didn't use it because I thought it was a one-time not-very-great joke right after Xander made a misogynistic joke about Cordelia being a slutty slut and I already didn't like Xander very much anyway and I didn't want to cede to him the ability to frame things. Xander's framings of situations are almost never my framings.
But now I refuse to use the term for the reason that I think it's essentially a harmful way to characterize the group. The people in Buffy's life aren't, in my opinion, a "team". I have yet to see compelling evidence that Joyce and Xander view Buffy as a person at all (as opposed to a Walking Vagina and a Fantasy Daughter); Cordelia, as much as I love her as a vocalization character, does not provide Buffy with substantial moral support beyond basic courtesy; and Willow and Giles seem inconsistently written as people, to the point that I never know if they will be supportive or destructive.
One could argue that these character flaws make the members of the group people in the sense that Real People are fallible, and I think one might not be far off with that. But giving the group a cutesy nickname that evokes literary dynamics actually undermines realism: Joyce becomes The Team Mom, Xander becomes The Heart, Giles becomes The Mentor, Willow becomes The Brains, and Cordelia becomes The Snark. (Or whatever role you want to give them.) The evocation of television tropes erases the realism, but also erases the very real dynamics of abuse within the group, by calling out to the concepts of, say, "The Team Mom" as a whole, as well as nodding at the fact that emotional trauma in television rarely lasts beyond a single episode.
One doesn't expect an abusive alcoholic mother in a "Scooby Gang". One does not expect to find a manipulative murderer in a "Scooby Gang". One does not expect to find someone who blames her dabbling in frightening forces beyond her control on her absentee friend who wasn't there to talk about her werewolf boyfriend in a "Scooby Gang". One does expect to find a team of motivated individuals who care about one another and who support each other through thick-and-thin.
That is not what that people in the Buffy-verse do. It's not who they are. And it's therefore not a term I can use. Words have meaning. They evoke concepts, they guide minds, they frame situations, and they can be used -- and used effectively -- to hide the reality of abuse. I'm not saying that's why the term was created or why it caught on, but I do think it's interesting that it works to make the people in Buffy's life seem more innocuous and supportive than they actually are.