Priority One Alert: That Joss Whedon Thing

So, hey, if you’re reading this, you’ve noticed that the blog is behind schedule. By like a year.

I’d post some big spiel on how it happened and everything, but I’m sure no one wants to hear what amounts to be some bad excuses.

Anyways, this post is the one that would actually go on August 17th of this year (as opposed to early August of last year, which is where the upcoming post on “Mudd’s Women” should have been posted), and is happening because gossip has come out that pretty well intersects with the sorts of things I cover: namely, that Joss Whedon has, according to his ex-wife, has been a hypocrite when it comes to his long-professed feminist values.

Now, obviously, I’ve criticized Joss Whedon before on this very blog. And I have a great deal of further criticisms of his work, and certainly of his politics. insert your preferred “Bernie Would Have Won” meme [HERE] But this one cuts deep. And not just because of how much the man’s work means to me. That’s because one of the main inspirations of this whole “lets blog Star Trek” idea was found out to be not such a great person in much the same way as Joss, not too long ago. And while this isn’t a huge shocker, it’s nonetheless a massive disappointment. And it’s incredibly relevant to Star Trek Debriefed.

It’s no secret that Gene Roddenberry was horrendously flawed, and seemed to sabotage himself constantly. Granted, the acts of self-sabotage were often because Roddenberry demanded a level of control over his show that wouldn’t be granted to any producer before the ’80s (and not consistently until around the time that Whedon developed Buffy for television), but his flaws played a huge part in why Star Trek only lasted three seasons. Despite being an era of out loud massive sexism everywhere, NBC held it against Gene for having affairs, as much because he used his position to cast his mistresses in prominent parts as because his interpersonal skills with network executives frankly sucked. But with fans and more than a few actresses, Gene did possess the charisma necessary to get the adoration he craved. And this is where Gene Roddenberry and Joss Whedon are woefully alike: when in possession of power over people, they both used that power to manipulate people.

But there are two things that separate Roddenberry and Whedon: one, studio and network executives never gave Roddenberry a whole lot of power. In fact, they seemed to revel in stripping Gene of his power as much as possible. Second, Roddenberry never seemed to actively engage in presenting a false of himself to the public. Granted, Gene allowed the fans to create the illusion of him being an impeccable human being, but he certainly wasn’t above, say, complaining about the Star Trek films in public, or allowing his hanger-ons to decanonize the Filmation series when that studio was closed (and the legal status of the series was placed in flux for a time). Bot Joss loudly and proudly has proclaimed himself to be a feminist, and did use his marriage as cover for the problematic parts of his work. And while Gene kind of hand-waved (or, more accurately, never was forced to acknowledge) most of Star Trek‘s issues (except Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s notorious episode “Code of Honor”, for which the blame was laid squarely upon the feet of that episode’s director), Joss has constantly side-stepped those same concerns because he’s declared himself to be a feminist and ally. Worse, he never did mount that vigorous of a defense of Marti Noxon when she was showered with a ton of flack for “ruining” Buffy while that show was on UPN. Contrast this with how Gene protected Dorothy Fontana for decades by accepting credit for rewriting “City on the Edge of Forever” (and therefore saving her the from direct-and sometimes quite sexist-bile of Harlan Ellison), and you may, like me, find Gene Roddenberry to be a more sympathetic figure in regards to gender politics at this juncture (which is a rather nihilistic state of affairs if you ask me).

And worse, since I’ve long identified with Xander, the original Joss Insert Character/Problematic Joss White Male Character, I find myself wondering if the redemption I see in Xander and seek for myself is a total pile of bullshit. While I generally refuse to announce myself as a feminist or an ally because I’m certain that I don’t do enough to help and I certainly bear far too many scars of privilege and upbringing to be worthy of such titles, I now wonder if I’m full of shit and am merely another one of those “good guys” who is anything but. And this is only emphasized by the fact that the next post I’m writing is about “Mudd’s Women”-an episode of Star Trek with some obvious and notoriously troublesome issues with its sexual politics (to say nothing of the loads of male gaze baked into the plot). These are issues that I was going to be addressing here, but now it’s going to come with a lot more doubt and introspection.

Assignment: 1966: The National Organization for Women

It’s June 30th, 1966. The top 3 songs in the country are, in order, “Paperback Writer” by the Beatles, “Strangers in the Night”, and “Paint It Black” (the rest of the Top 10’s a bit of a train wreck, however). The Mothers of Invention release Freak Out!, their debut album, on the 27th. The album is initially a bomb, but as the Mothers (and Frank Zappa especially) rise in popularity in the ’70s, it’ll be hailed as a classic. The Beatles, who are said to be influenced by Freak Out! (despite being referred to by Zappa as “only in it for the money”), begin an Asian tour in Tokyo at the Nippon Budokan, which will become not only a popular venue for rock acts, but for acts to record live albums in after Cheap Trick’s popularity exploded worldwide in the late ’70s in the wake of Cheap Trick at Budokan. In non-music news, Dr. Maurice Hilleman announced that a vaccine for mumps was successfully tested on Saturday the 25th. The Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York was decommissioned as a result of the increasingly huge ships being unable to pass under the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. On the 26th, the “March Against Fear”, by now having over 16,000 marchers after being started by one man, James H. Meredith (who was shot and hospitalized after starting), ends at the Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson, Mississippi. In lighter news, J. J. Abrams is born the next day, and John Cusack and Mary Stuart Masterson the day after that. And throughout the week, there are some big sports stories: Dikembe Mutombo and Mike Tyson are born on the 25th and 30th, respectively, and Ron Santo of the Chicago Cubs is hit in the face by a wild pitch on the 26th, breaking his cheekbone. When he returns on Independence Day, Santo will begin wearing a helmet with an earflap, which eventually lead to them being made mandatory by baseball in 1983.

This is all secondary, however, to the formation of the National Organization for Women on the 30th. In the 50 years since, NOW has grown from 49 founding members to over half a million. While Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, is credited with touching off the “second wave” of feminism, it’s the formation of NOW that brought the movement kicking and screaming into the mainstream. More importantly, it forced the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to actually enforce Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in regards to women. The problem with this is, however, is that it means that NOW is pointed at (primarily by critics) as the embodiment of all feminism. This just isn’t the case.

Firstly, NOW under the leadership of Friedan gave no time for its lesbian membership, a sad situation that Friedan spent that last thirty-some years of her life walking back from. Furthermore, a key complaint about The Feminine Mystique was that it ignored the plight of women who weren’t middle-class and white (without having actually sat down to read the book and make my own assessment, it sounds suspiciously as if Betty Friedan is the first person who was ever told to check her privilege). Lastly, and on a personal level, there is no monolithic standard for feminism, even if the core goal (equality for women) is universal.

Maybe it’s because I’m a guy who’d like to see himself as a feminist, or at least an ally, I’m sensitive to these schisms. I don’t look down at porn or Power Girl’s notorious boob window (or most of the more debated female superheroine costumes), and I’ve definitely staked something of a claim towards being far more sympathetic to Xander over at the StoryWonk forums than most (I’m about the only person who didn’t bury “Go Fish”, for instance). A lot of this is because I’m trying to not be a total hypocrite, but also because I’ve been that guy over the past 38 years way too many times, and I know first hand how hard it is to be a better person when literally everything drummed into you culturally says that it’s OK to be sexist (for instance). That white male privilege thing is absolutely real, everybody. On the other hand, I’d like to think I’m pretty ahead of the curve when it comes to bisexuality……but I also recognize that how I came to that position can be construed as being less than pure (which is why The Great Willow Sexuality Rant took months of writing and over 20 revisions before I published it).

But with those largely personal caveats aside, NOW has done a lot of great things in the world, and as with everything, the organization is constantly growing and changing. Not all at once, and maybe not perfectly, but they’re fighting the good fight as best as they can.

Next time, we inch ever closer to actual episode reviews again (yay!) by introducing Robert H. Justman’s preferred Star Trek music composer.

Priority One Alert: The New Star Trek Fan Film Guidelines

If the internet is known for one thing, it’s porn.

Wait, that came out wrong. Let’s start over:

If the internet is known for anything (besides porn), it’s shopping.

For fuck’s sake! Let’s do this right this time, OK?

If the internet is known for anything (besides porn and shopping), it’s for giving people a way to share their love for (or hatred for) just about anything (including, ironically, shopping and porn). Fanfiction, message boards (hey, StoryWonk forums!), social media (hey, #OddWonks!), fan art, podcasts, websites……seriously, people put a lot of work into goofing off on the internet. And they certainly aren’t doing it all alone, either, which was highly difficult to do before the internet became a thing. And with this interaction comes bigger and better things. Websites (not this one, obviously) are looking more professional than official websites, fanfic collaborations are happening with greater frequency, and since the rise of YouTube, fan films have become a new and promising avenue of creativity.

The birth of the modern fan film can be traced to Troops, a rather genius parody of both Star Wars and Cops. While Troops was not a “fan” film in the strictest sense (Kevin Rubio, the driving force behind the project, was working for Fox Kids at the time, and recruited people he knew from working in the industry, including the film’s top-tier voice cast), it inspired and entertained Star Wars fans across the globe, so much that Lucasfilm eventually backed a fan film competition, The Official Star Wars Fan Film Awards (which is now known as The Star Wars Fan Movie Challenge). It was an unprecedented show of support by an IP holder, and has been rewarded with an engaged fanbase (even as the Prequel Trilogy has become increasingly criticized and reviled).

Contrast this with Paramount (and, as a result of the Viacom Split, CBS as well), who has had a bit of a contentious relationship with Star Trek pretty much from the very moment they purchased Desilu in 1967. The series was a big money-loser and Gene Roddenberry wasn’t easy to deal with at all, so Paramount happily helped NBC to kill the show in the third season (after which they proceeded to gut Desilu’s other TV series, Mission: Impossible). And when fandom (which was powerfully active from the moment that the series began to air) exploded in the ’70s, Paramount cracked down on fanfic, declaring that it couldn’t be included in fanzines that charged money (a necessary move to help offset the costs of publishing).

Naturally, this backfired, and soon pornographic fanzines (including ones with the first examples of “slash” fan fiction involving Kirk and Spock) spread like wildfire.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, once the internet became a thing in the ’90s, Paramount C&D’d (cease-and-desisted) a number of fan websites into oblivion. Granted, the late ’90s were the days when many websites were loaded with itty-bitty, low-res screen grabs and dialogue quotes, but this was an extremely fan-unfriendly move (and one echoed by 20th Century Fox, who produced three shows with heavy internet popularity: The X-FilesThe Simpsons, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

Now, however, Paramount and CBS have taken things to a new extreme: sparked in large part by their legal action against Alec Peters and the Axanar fan film, they have released a set of fan film “guidelines” which in essence shut down every single fan production. Stories can only be 30 minutes long, in two parts of 15 minutes, with no further episodes. No Star Trek veterans of any type can work on fan films. And any Kickstarter-type campaigns can only raise $50,000. Period.

The thing is, every one of the major fan productions (AxanarStar Trek: New VoyagesStar Trek Continues, and Star Trek: Renegades) has enlisted multiple alumni, with Renegades featuring Tim Russ (Tuvok from Star Trek: Voyager) as director. Additionally, all of these projects have raised far more than $50,000, with the sets alone costing far more than that (James Cawley, the primary mastermind behind New Voyages, has sunk at least quadruple that of his own money on sets alone over the years). So, quite frankly, this shatters all further plans, including multiple episodes in various states of completion (as none of the crews want to be sued like Alec Peters).

Worse, fandom has blamed Peters because he demanded that Paramount and CBS provide firm guidelines right as he was sued, as well as him taking a salary so he could devote all of his time to the project. Granted, that last part is rather dubious under the previous “non-profit” rule, but there is precedent (the heads of non-profit organizations in the real world do take salaries). There seems to be some accusations that Peters is trying to use Axanar to “go pro” (i.e., use this production as the basis for a professional, for-profit operation). This is where I cry foul, because let’s face it: fan films are posted to IMDb. So for the amateurs involved in these productions, these films have been a way towards building a legitimate career in film and television. (And for a number of actors in the fan productions, it has led to work on the franchise.) While Peters’ methods appear questionable, they aren’t so far removed from the norm, as there are people involved with these fan productions who do get paid. Peters was just open about it, and is the first showrunner to do so. While he’s not innocent, Peters is not the only guilty party here: Paramount and CBS went above and beyond by suing him, and have behaved even worse by invoking these new guidelines.

As a final postscript to this entire awful mess, Paramount and CBS have officially licensed James Cawley to offer tours of his version of the Enterprise TV sets. So, Star Trek: New Voyages, in some perverse fashion, gets officially sanctioned, but at the cost of multiple episodes (across the various fan productions) never getting finished, and likely never seeing the light of day. While it’s good that Cawley will eventually recoup the costs he incurred over the years, it was never about the money: it was about the love of Star Trek.

Next time, we discuss a milestone of women’s rights.

Guardians of Forever: DeForest Kelley

“I’m a doctor, not an escalator!”-Dr. McCoy in “Friday’s Child”

Regardless of the impression this blog or anything else gives, casting for TV shows and movies is hard. With few exceptions (Tom Selleck and Sean Young’s audition for Raiders of the Lost Ark, Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly in Back to the Future, and Riff Regan as Willow in the infamously bad unaired Buffy the Vampire Slayer pilot among them), audiences just don’t get to see the casting process. So, really, it’s no shocker if people think that great casting is the easiest movie magic of all. (It’s why I’ve linked to the Buffy pilot, in fact, because with all due respect to Riff Regan, the show isn’t still ongoing in comics and I’m probably not the last of the Willow/Xander shippers on Earth if she had not been replaced by Alyson Hannigan.)

However, Star Trek fans got probably the best public look into the difficulties of casting with the role of the Enterprise‘s chief medical officer. At this point in the blog, there have been two pilots shot, and two different doctors, with a third in the cards for the series proper. John Hoyt’s Dr. Boyce was too old and crusty while Paul Fix’s Dr. Piper was too mild for what Roddenberry envisioned: a sounding board for the captain who would be unafraid to challenge him while still being someone that viewers could like and trust. The irony, though, is that Gene Roddenberry had already suggested and fought for the right man for the role while making both pilots, only to be swayed by each episode’s director.

DeForrest Kelley was born on January 20th, 1920 in Atlanta as the son of a Baptist minister, and got his first taste of show business by singing in the church choir. Following a trip to California to visit his uncle, Kelley was determined to break into show business, acting on the stage and studying film at the Long Beach Cinema Club. By 1941, he had auditioned (and lost) a role in This Gun for Hire and met Carolyn Dowling while acting in a production of Skylark when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Kelley enlisted with the Army Air Corps, eventually was transferred to the First Motion Picture Unit, meeting and becoming friends with George Reeves as they appeared together in numerous short films and Armed Forces radio broadcasts. It was one of these appearances, Time to Kill, that inspired Bill Meiklejohn at Paramount (who had passed him over for the role in This Gun for Hire) to offer Kelley a seven year contract, just as the war was ending and he requested his discharge after marrying Carolyn.

The contract was a great deal at first, but by the end of the decade the studios were re-thinking their way of doing business and Kelley was a free agent. By then, however, television was in full swing, and eventually DeForest Kelley became known for playing villains, with a role as Ike Clanton in an episode of CBS’ historical “news” program You Are There leading to two big movie roles: Tension at Table Rock and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (the latter as Morgan Earp thanks to a conflict with the former film). This led to more and more guest roles on TV, and eventually a pilot named 333 Montgomery Street as a fictionalized version of lawyer Jake Ehrlich, the inspiration for iconic TV lawyer Perry Mason. The pilot was unsuccessful, but it marked the first time Kelley worked with Gene Roddenberry. And while Roddenberry was unable to convince pretty much anyone that famed screen villain DeForest Kelley could be the Enterprise‘s doctor, he was able to get him cast as a coroner in his Police Story pilot. NBC saw that pilot, and while they didn’t pick up the series, they were convinced once and for all that Kelley was right for the role of Dr. McCoy.

Next time, it’s time to discuss one of the primary candidates for the role of “the villain” of Star Trek Debriefed.

Reviewing The Witches of Echo Park and Death’s Daughter

The last two years have not exactly been the best for me. I quit my job instead of riding it out until I could qualify for a 10-week pension and unemployment to move to San Diego, where I floundered for 8 months failing to find a job, only to be dumped back in Vegas and all of my possessions packed poorly and sent back a week later and placed in storage (where the overwhelming majority of it still resides). That was just a prelude for a 2015 where my job prospects were nil and I barely managed to scrape together enough cash to keep things like this website going as I mooched off my parents. Despite the regular activity on this blog, my work ethic dwindled, and my health generally cratered. Worse, I distanced myself from a lot of people (for reasons that I find valid) and essentially retreated to one small room for most of the day (when I wasn’t sleeping in that same room). Things have improved substantially in 2016 because I have a job (hooray, money!) and because I spent a lot of last year making new friends online (on Twitter and the StoryWonk forums primarily) and doing a lot of old-fashioned soul-searching (I’m loathe to call it “good” since a good deal of it involved getting over someone that I let slip out of my life years ago and recognizing what a huge mistake that was). In the end, I’d like to think that I’m at least a marginally better person as I start to get fully back on my feet.

One of the big pillars of strength since leaving San Diego has been engaging in StoryWonk’s re-watch of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. I’m a bit ashamed to say that it’s the first full-on re-watch since both shows left the air (even though I had been buying the comics until a year before I quit my job), so re-watching has been more than a little good for my soul. Obviously, my opinions are a bit…..odd coughWillow/Xander shippercough, but it’s been all good. However, when I received the welcome windfall of free gift card money for Christmas, Dusted had just passed “Hush” and the introduction of Amber Benson as Tara.

It’s not hyperbole to say that Amber Benson’s performance is a massive inspiration to me: I took to live-tweeting Buffy (and the occasional Angel) because of her debut, and I was literally a blubbering mess during “Hush” and “New Moon Rising” (the episode where Willow officially starts dating Tara) because of this. Tara, despite being the shyest character in the entire franchise (she can barely speak when we first meet her), quickly establishes herself as the bravest and purest of the Scoobies, and Amber Benson never once failed to play the part with integrity and honesty, and she has been unswervingly kind and decent in every interview or appearance that I’ve ever seen or read. It was this bundle of factors that led me to use some of the gift card money to purchase two of the books she has written: The Witches of Echo Park and Death’s Daughter.

Full disclosure time: I didn’t make this purchase blind, and had been considering it off an on for years. One of my first Buffy-inspired purchases in 2002 was the Tales of the Slayers trade paperback that Benson had contributed to,  and I watched the Ghosts of Albion web series for the BBC that she had co-written years ago (which is currently on my virtual re-watch pile), and in typical fannish fashion, I’ve been aware of her second career as a writer and director. This was simply when I finally decided to jump in and start reading.

When both books arrived in the mail, I eventually (after a not inconsiderable amount of waffling) decided to start reading The Witches of Echo Park. The plot, in as TL;DR a fashion as I can provide: Lyse is traveling to LA to visit her great-aunt Eleanora, who she has just found out is terminally ill. Lyse, who lived with Eleanora after her parents died, is less than eager to return to Echo Park after all these years, but she may be staying for a lot longer: Eleanora plans to induct Lyse into her coven of witches, which completely turns her life upside down.

There’s a lot to like about this book, but the first thing that grabbed me is just how well Benson builds her world. I felt like as if Echo Park was almost tangibly real (it is a real neighborhood in Los Angeles, but that’s entirely beside the point) in a way that felt a bit magical.

And wow, that was an awful pun.

Bad punning aside, there’s a vibrancy to the environment and characters that I found to be quite engaging. This grounded and authentic environment allows for a surprisingly seamless transition from Lyse’s assumed mundane world to the magical world that she actually lives in, and sets a clear tone for the book. The world building is also aided by the book’s structure: instead of your standard numbered and/or titled chapters, each chapter is titled by the name of one of the members of the coven (Eleanora, Lyse, Lizbeth, and so on), and the narrative follows that character. What this means on a practical level is that we learn not only a lot about each member of the coven (and their families, friends, and snuggle whore cats), but we find out that they’ve been keeping secrets from one another…..with Eleanora having the most and the biggest.

If there’s a downside to The Witches of Echo Park, it’s that it becomes pretty clear that the book is the first in a series towards the end. Granted, the second book was about to come out when I purchased this one (and the third is currently being written), so I knew this was the case. Moreover, there is a complete story here, but my first thought was that of slight annoyance at the end because it was just getting really good. (So, basically, my biggest complaint is that the book left me wanting more.

And, now for something completely different: namely, Death’s Daughter. While as much of a work of fantasy as The Witches of Echo ParkDeath’s Daughter has an entirely different tone and structure. Gone is the ensemble cast and instead we have a singular protagonist, Calliope Reaper-Jones, who narrates the book from her perspective. Callie is a snarky, self-absorbed, and occasionally self-depreciating twenty something toiling as an assistant for the VP of Sales at House and Yard. Suffice to say, she is less than thrilled with her “glamorous” existence.

I should hate, Hate, HATE Callie, and if she was a real person, I probably would. But in this context, and with the book being this well written, I don’t. In fact, I quickly began to like Callie and her near-constant stream of top-shelf snark.

A massive part of this is because it appears to be a coping mechanism: Callie has literally used a forgetting spell so that she won’t remember (and therefore avoid her obligations to) her family. On its face (and particularly after Callie unloads the full force of her ‘tude on her father’s assistant, Jarvis), you’d think that it’s because Callie is rebelling against her family or being petulant, but then she retells in full detail two incidents that convinced her that being the daughter of Death and living with the immortality that came with her father’s position isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And later on, the snark covers for some imagery that’s worthy of the worst (or best, depending on your outlook) of Stephen King’s philosophy on horror: “I recognize terror as the finest emotion (used to almost quintessential effect in Robert Wise’s film The Haunting, where, as in The Monkey’s Paw, we are never allowed to see what is behind the door), and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find I cannot terrify him/her, I will try to horrify; and if I find I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud.” The contrast between the humor in Death’s Daughter and the more horrific elements is central to the story: Callie has avoided the ugly aspects of Death, but now has to embrace them in order to rescue her sister and father.

The same elements that made The Witches of Echo Park so enjoyable are also present in Death’s Daughter: strong characterizations and great world-building abound. The best being the structure of the supernatural world, with Death being a corporation. This idea, while far from original (Dragon Ball is probably the most famous example), makes sense here. Instead of just giving lip service to how bureaucracies behave (generally to score some cheap jokes), Death, Inc. is actually seen as a functioning corporation, and it even presents a logical answer to the question of what happens to deities who are no longer worshipped? (The answer: they’re reassigned.)

It’s this attention to detail that Benson such a great writer-enough detail to create realistic, immersive worlds without ever bogging down the story. The Witches of Echo Park and Death’s Daughter represent the best type of fantasy: they make the impossible plausible. So, by all means: buy these books. Amber Benson is a hell of a writer, and I’m thrilled now that I’ve finally taken the time to sample her work.

What Have We Learned, Tara?: The Ongoing Problem Of LGBT Representation In Media

Yesterday, March 10th, was the 19th anniversary of the premiere of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which was noted in fan circles and by Sarah Michelle Gellar herself in an appreciative message across her social media accounts (alongside an image of her from the Season 1 promo photo shoot in that truly hideous beige dress). I’ll admit that the 19th anniversary isn’t that big of an issue for me: besides the 20th being a nice, round number, next year is also the 15th Anniversary of me first watching the show. But, later that evening, I stumbled upon a trending topic on Twitter that dovetailed with my previous blog post on Willow’s sexuality: LGBT Fans Deserve Better. And after clicking on the link, my heart quickly sank:

It happened again.

“It” being the death of a popular gay character on a show (this time it was The 100, which I don’t watch) in tragic fashion. And worse, fans were so distraught that a fundraiser for The Trevor Project (an absolutely wonderful charity that I wish that we didn’t need) in the name of helping people who might be feeling suicidal.

It hurt to read that, and it hurts even worse to write it.

And then I see that The 100‘s showrunner has been less than responsive to the death of this character, Lexa.

My heart sank again.

Haven’t we as a culture learned anything? Representation on television matters. Heroes matter. If there’s anything-and I mean ANYTHING-we should have learned from Tara’s death all those years ago is that no matter how well plotted or conceived a character death is, there are repercussions, and they are ugly, and they are horrible, and they hurt. One of my favorite quotes from G.I. Joe‘s biting satire of ’80s TV, “The Wrong Stuff”, is when Cobra Commander says, “You lack imagination, Destro. We possess the ultimate weapon of control! People trust television; it’s their friend. They believe what television tells them about the news, the weather, or G.I. Joe! Don’t you see? We control the creation of truth!” It is of course one of the many chillingly accurate points in an episode of television that skewers its own medium with some brilliant black comedy, but there is an incredible positive side to this point: people who are not a part of the cultural majority have long been humanized by television, and Ellen DeGeneres coming out of the closet in such an open and honest way paved the way for the incredible strides that LGBT people have made since 1997. The year before, Congress passed DOMA, The Defense of Marriage Act, one of the most vile pieces of legislation of my lifetime. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was still a relatively new policy for our nation’s military, which forced gays and lesbians serving our country into the closet. Now, DOMA has been ruled Unconstitutional, and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is deader than disco, and we have Ellen DeGeneres and the ensuing flood of fictional LGBT characters to thank for this. But even then, we’re still making the same mistakes and giving voice to the same damaging stereotypes like the Dead Lesbian and the Evil Lesbian.

Worse, the character of Lexa was killed off because her actress, Alycia Debnam-Carey, is fully committed to Fear the Walking Dead, which is expanding past its initial six-episode season (Season 2 will be 15 episodes). The thing is, on Fear the Walking Dead, like its parent show, characters are never safe. It’s highly conceivable that Debnam-Carey’s character dies within a year or so, freeing her up to return on The 100. (this naturally ignores the reality that it’s possible to write off a character without killing them off.) This is just painfully sloppy, especially in comparison to Tara’s death, which was the culmination of a storyline that pre-dated Amber Benson’s incredibly fortuitous casting in the wake of Seth Green’s abrupt departure in Season 4.

In this way, I fear we may have regressed in how LGBT characters are represented.

I had made my comment on Twitter, and was beginning to move on with a heavy heart until Emma Caulfield (who played Anya on Buffy and is all kinds of awesome besides) posted a link to a post on The Mary Sue about the entire situation (it’s here, and the writer, Teresa Jusino, did a far better job breaking down the issue than I’m doing), which did nothing to make me feel better. In fact, with one paragraph, she made me feel literally sick to my stomach:

“Fans often cited a similarity between Lexa’s death and Tara’s death on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In that case, too, the ‘real’ lesbian was mourned while the queer girl who’d previously had a long-term relationship with a guy didn’t get as much attention – that is, until she kept asserting on the show over and over that she was indeed a lesbian, and that her relationship with Oz was a fluke.”

Why?

WHY?!

It sounded like something from my rant on Willow’s sexuality, and it made me realize that no one is right here. It’s all just a giant disaster, and it breaks my heart for everyone making The 100, for the fans distraught over the death of their favorite character, for the bi fans who are being subtly thrown under the bus again, and for everyone else, because this makes us all smaller and pushes us further apart. The worst part is knowing that I don’t know how to help at all, and I desperately want to be able to wave a wand and make it so that everything and everyone understands that love is love is love, and that things like the death of Tara, or Lexa, or whoever on a show doesn’t leave viewers feeling like they don’t matter.

I wish it was that easy.

Guardians of Forever: Grace Lee Whitney

With Star Trek officially picked up by NBC, the series entered into a short-lived but tumultuous shakedown. Besides recruiting episode writers and rounding out the production staff, there was the matter of getting the cast in order. While William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, James Doohan, George Takei, and the soon-to-be-indispensible Eddie Paskey were the only cast members from “Where No Man Has Gone Before” retained (though Roddenberry already had plans to try and “sneak” Majel Barrett back onto the show), there were still many characters needed, least of which being the idea of a female yeoman that Gene Roddenberry was unusually adamant about including. For the third (and ultimately final) attempt at such a character, the decision was made to cast Grace Lee Whitney.

Born Mary Ann Chase before being adopted, Whitney first got into show business in her early teens as a singer in Detroit and eventually Chicago before breaking into acting. Most of Whitney’s pre-Trek roles were in comedies (and with a number of “eye candy” roles thrown in). One of these appearances was on The Outer Limits, in the episode “Controlled Experiment” (which had been intended as a pilot for an unrelated series), gaining the attention of Bob Justman. She also appeared on The Lieutenant, which led to her being cast in the failed Police Story pilot mentioned here two weeks ago. Upon being cast, Whitney was given another western-inspired sales pitch: Her job as Yeoman Janice Rand was to be Miss Kitty to Captain Kirk’s Marshall Dillon: a close confidante and implied love interest, but prevented from doing so by duty. This was not a minor role: Miss Kitty was (despite-or maybe because-she ran a brothel) one of the strongest female characters on television at the time, and Amanda Blake (who played Miss Kitty) was one of the most liked and respected actresses in the medium because of the gravitas she brought to the role. More importantly was the implication that Yeoman Rand was as essential to Star Trek‘s long-term success as Miss Kitty was to Gunsmoke‘s.

I mentioned during my all-too brief eulogy for Grace Lee Whitney last year that she had influenced the switch from trousers for the women to the now-infamous miniskirts and go-go boots. Now is the time to tell the story. After being cast and sold on how to play Yeoman Rand, Whitney noticed a serious disconnect after her first promotional photo shoots with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy: it was difficult to appear alluring in trouser, especially since she, as a dancer, had great legs. Furthermore, the high, stylized collars simply would not do, seeing as how she was also blessed in other areas, as well. So, not only were skirts in (which Gene Roddenberry, true to form, made sure were scandalously short-we’re talking Sarah Michelle Gellar in Season 1 of Buffy short), the necklines were lowered just enough to draw viewer’s attentions downwards, but not enough to undermine military decorum or anger the censors. The whole thing was genius, but as the feminist sex wars started up, opinions towards the skirts turned unfavorable (especially as their existence was blamed on Roddenberry, who was by this time well known for his hedonistic tendencies). I’m not touching any of this in its own essay since 1) I was a child during the feminist sex wars, 2) I like the skirts because, hey, straight guy (and this was one of those things that helped to confirm that), and 3) because tackling the sexist elements in the series on an episode-by-episode basis is the best strategy.

But, in the end, the miniskirts were introduced at the behest of a female cast member who understood fully her role on the show, and that cast member never complained about the skirts after the fact. Unlike a lot of the more notoriously scandalous outfits on the show, there was never any doubt that the decision was made by an empowered actress. (And as we’ll eventually discuss, that’s an all-important distinction for Grace Lee Whitney.) So, yes, this is one of those “agree to disagree” moments here on the blog.

Next week, we’re staying in 1966 to discuss one of the great civil rights and labor leaders of the ’60s.

The Great Willow Sexuality Rant

First Disclaimer: I’m not gay, nor a woman. I can pull out the “but I know or have known plenty of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people” card, but that’s frankly a load of bull, and we all know it. The best I can manage is that I hashed out some of these issues while Buffy the Vampire Slayer was still on the air with my very close friend (and quite often more than a friend) at the time, Diana, who’s bi herself. But, even then, I have no real standing to write any of this, but that has never stopped me from shoving my keyboard in my mouth in the past, so why stop now?

Second Disclaimer: I ship Willow/Xander in a pretty big way (it’s my favorite ‘ship in the franchise, and probably in the top five across all of my many fandoms), and so did Diana when I knew her (it’s been about a decade and a half since we’ve had any contact, so absolutely none of this is her fault). So, yes, there’s a bias in play. But, ironically, I ship Willow/Tara, too, because how can any person on Earth not think the world of Tara or her actress, Amber Benson? (Pretty much no one ships Willow/Kennedy, and with good reason.) But still, your mileage may vary greatly as to whether shipping Willow/Xander destroys the credibility of this rant.

Buffy-8

I’m sure this how you think I view Willow and Tara at all times, but really, it’s not. I swear.

Third Disclaimer: No, this is not a part of the Star Trek Debriefed project.

Being a fan with delusions of writing creatively is not easy. There’s always the inkling to pick apart the writing process and the choices a writer makes. And being a fan with delusions of writing creatively while also reviewing cartoons and other TV shows is just plain insanity. The level of fan stupidity this situation inspires is difficult to properly fathom unless you’ve actually lived it (suffice to say, it’s pretty freaking stupid). And, pound for pound, the fandom I’ve lost the most brain cells to the supposition that “they’re doing it wrong” is for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff, Angel. (And I watched Heroes to the bitter end of its first run on television.) I had thought I was cured of my affliction, what with Buffy ending, Angel‘s fifth season being on the whole excellent, and my being satisfied with the Buffy and Angel comics (even if certain things like being jobless for close to two years have prevented me from reading anything but synopses of them recently).

But then, after more or less letting my Buffy and Angel DVDs sit on a shelf (and then, after the jobless thing reached its current utterly dire state, in a box in a storage unit along with 95% of my personal property) for years, I stumbled upon reruns of the first couple of seasons on Logo, and was inspired to search for a Buffy-related podcast, settling on Dusted, which has led to me falling down a rabbit hole of writing Buffy fanfiction for the first time in a decade, re-watching Veronica Mars, and even reading Jane Austen (and loving it!). So, yes, I’ve re-engaged with an old favorite in a way that I haven’t in a very long time. And part of this means re-examining Buffy and Angel with a critical eye while still maintaining my status as the fanatically dedicated Willow/Xander ‘shipper on the StoryWonk forums.

With that said, my Buffy origin story is also a bit odd. Unlike Robotech or Doctor Who, where I put off watching the shows for many years because I knew I wouldn’t be able to properly enjoy them when they first came to my attention, I generally dismissed Buffy the Vampire Slayer for most of its run before jumping in for no good reason whatsoever. A big part of this lies with the 1992 movie, or more accurately, its trailer, which was pretty incessantly spammed during whatever it was I was watching back then, and looked unbelievably stupid (which it is, by the way). So, when I first heard about the show, I believe during the controversy over episodes that were postponed after the Columbine massacre, I didn’t lift a finger to watch it. Nor did I when Willow and Tara’s relationship first made waves, or when the series jumped networks to UPN (which I loathed far less at the time than The WB). No, I first started watching Buffy because when the first season DVD set was released, I had just purchased my first DVD player a month prior, so I bought it on a whim, only to enjoy it for its humor and for how unbelievably adorable best friends (and potential love interests) Willow and Xander were.

Buffy-11

I dare you to not consider this to be adorable.

Then, two days after purchasing the DVDs (a Thursday), I got to the season finale, “Prophecy Girl”, and everything changed:

What had seemed incredibly stupid in that decade-old trailer was now something far more powerful. And as a critical viewer, Sarah Michelle Gellar became one of my favorite actresses because she nailed it in that scene, and the rest of the cast did their damnedest to match this performance.

So, I leapt in head first, recording the twice-daily reruns of Buffy on FX (starting with “Killed By Death”, a late second-season episode) while watching both Buffy and Angel on their regular nights (the former started with a rerun of the season premiere, and the latter with “Provider”, the last happy episode of the year before things got amazingly dark). In addition to fansites and fanfic, I also started reading the Spoiler Slayer daily (the site is still up with all of its news archives), and walked into one of the great bits of fan speculation for that season: the Big Scooby Death.

Now, characters dying on Buffy and Angel wasn’t new, but this rumor took on a life of its own because a lot of people astutely pegged Willow’s girlfriend, the kind and shy witch Tara, as the character most likely to be killed near the end of the season. Willow and Tara, being the first open, regularly appearing lesbian couple on US TV, had attracted a devoted and quite frankly fanatical fanbase (even more so than the ‘shipper fanbase for Xena and Gabrielle on Xena: Warrior Princess, which remained strictly subtextual for the run of that show), largely centered on a message board known as the Kitten Board (which I was shocked to find still exists). These fans seemed, from my perspective, to be focused less on the show as a whole than on the one element that, while pretty awesome in its own right, was mostly relegated to the “B” plots of episodes. This was brewing about as I was furiously catching up on the show, and while some other controversial content (namely, the Buffy/Spike relationship, which became distressingly dark after a scene where Spike tried to rape Buffy) was airing.

With the 19th episode of the season, Tara was killed in the last scene (the episode title, “Seeing Red”, even refers to how Tara sees her own blood splattering on Willow’s white shirt before collapsing to the ground, dead).

Buffy-5 Buffy-4

It was, in true Joss Whedon fashion, spectacularly powerful and cruel (the most brutal blow being that Amber Benson, normally a recurring player credited as a Guest Star at the start of her episodes, was promoted to the opening credits for this episode,

Buffy-6

It was even more messed up knowing that Tara was going to die, and that this was going to be in the episode.

something Whedon had wanted to do for years with a departing character), and also massively foreshadowed, dating back to at least the third season.

The members of the Kitten Board, however, took the news very poorly as it was first spoiled (and their board was a fairly reliable source of information, if myopically focused on Willow and Tara). To be brutally honest, they went absolutely nuts. And with Willow turning to the Dark Side in murderous fashion, there were two perceived stereotypes in play: the Dead Lesbian and the Evil Lesbian. And then after news hit (and relatively early, too, since the climactic scene of the season was shot on location) that Xander was the person to talk Willow down, it was claimed that Joss (who was present at the aforementioned location shoot, a known sign of a scene’s importance) was going to make Tara an “experiment” and pair her off with Xander.

Buffy-7

Never mind that the scene was about the sort of unconditional love that only Xander, Willow’s oldest and best friend, could provide.

The thing is, to the long-term viewer (or intensely crazy first-time viewers binging on the show as fast as possible in the days before Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu), the events of Season 6 were pretty much inevitable. Willow took up magic towards the end of Season 2 in part to help restore Angel’s soul, and from that point on, her powers grow at an alarmingly fast rate. Worse still, Willow had a growing tendency to use (or try to use) her magic to weasel out of difficult personal situations.

Buffy-1

Like a secret affair with Xander, for instance.

This grows to the point where Willow uses magic to partially wipe Tara’s memories in response to Tara’s concerns about Willow’s abuse of her powers. (And that’s not even where Willow bottoms out.) When Tara is killed, Willow has been trying hard to break her dependence on magic cold turkey to enough success that Tara has reconciled with her after a separation of at least 5 months. With Willow’s two previous outbursts in the face of extreme grief (a “Thy Will Be Done” spell in Season 4 that causes enough chaos to get her recruited to become a Vengeance Demon and an angry attack on the Hell God Glory in Season 5 that actually managed to hurt her before fizzling out) taken into account, Willow’s actions were completely expected.

Buffy-3

This was always going to happen.

And as for Tara’s death, the series had previously killed off Jenny Calendar and Buffy’s mother Joyce and sent Angel to Hell at points of great happiness for them and the characters closest to them (and the audience). And with her reconciliation with Willow, Tara became the fourth such character on Buffy the Vampire Slayer to suffer such a gut-wrenching fate in the service of the series’ greater plot. In fact, Joss has stated multiple times that the death of Jenny Calendar in Season 2 was a notice to everyone that, yes, anyone on the show could die (though Whedon has also repeatedly declared he would never kill off Willow, no doubt because she, especially as performed by the great Alyson Hannigan, is an inherently likable and sympathetic character).

Buffy-10

If there’s a list of things guaranteed to evoke an emotional response, the sight of Alyson Hannigan as Willow crying her eyes out has to be near the top.

In fact, excluding the 12 episode first season, each of the seasons to that point had hinged on the death of a supporting character: Jenny in Season 2, the Mayor’s Deputy, Allan Finch, in Season 3, Maggie Walsh of the Initiative in Season 4, and Joyce Summers in Season 5.

During the summer hiatus, the staff of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and especially Joss Whedon) received the very angry feedback, and by August of 2002, Whedon told The Advocate, “We do that now, and we will be burned alive. And possibly justifiably. We can’t have Willow say, ‘Oh, cured now, I can go back to cock!’ Willow is not going to be straddling that particular fence. She will just be gay.” (Somewhat ironically in the context of this website, the interview was conducted by Andy Mangels, a key figure in the Filmation library being released on DVD in a time-compressed state.) Furthermore, a new character was conceived to be Willow’s new girlfriend while Whedon openly toyed with the idea of resurrecting Tara (at the time, only series leads Buffy and Angel had come back from death). That character, named Kennedy (seemingly after the ’90s MTV VJ and current libertarian whackjob), turned out to not only be the anti-Tara in terms of demeanor, but one of the most unpopular characters ever conceived for the show.

Buffy-2

It doesn’t hurt that her first line is a snarky bit of business directed at Buffy.

The Kitten Board was not placated in any way, and to this day still ignores every part of Buffy beginning with Tara getting shot.

Declaring that Willow would no longer “straddle the fence” was, however, not just an overreaction, but a reductive and, in a current context, where bisexuality is no longer as marginalized as it was in 2002 (at the time, bisexuals were considered to be “sluts” or delusional about their gay/straight orientation, if they were even acknowledged at all), horribly outmoded. It also severely limits Willow’s character growth, as discussions of her sexual identity had never quite moved past the binary: in “Triangle”, which centered on Xander’s love for girlfriend Anya and best friend Willow (and the fact that both women distrust each other greatly because each thinks the other will hurt Xander), Willow deflects Anya’s claims that she will “steal” Xander from her by replying famously, “Hello, gay now!” Later, in “Tough Love”, Willow and Tara have their first fight (ostensibly over Willow’s magic abuse), and the subject of Willow’s sexuality is broached, specifically in regards to whether or not Tara represents a “phase” for Willow. It’s the sort of horrible thing that happens when couples fight, but this falls right into the trap of bi erasure. Granted, this is in the context of an emotionally charged fight and we can forgive Tara for going there, but we never get another honest exploration of Willow’s clearly fluid sexual identity. There is a lot of room for Willow to be identified as bisexual, especially since Willow and Oz’s final parting never once makes their final breakup an issue of Willow’s sexuality. And with Willow’s dream in “Restless” being focused on her amazing personal growth over the course of the series (and her fears that she may be hiding her true self for fear of ridicule), this is an extremely fair avenue to pursue.

The core of the problem here (I write roughly 2,400 words into this blog post) is that Willow’s sexuality was never effectively planned out. In the early days of the series, Whedon began mooting the possibility that either Willow or Xander was gay. And based on the evidence through the second season, it was looking as if Xander was going to be that character. In “Halloween”, Willow’s eventual boyfriend, Oz (played by Seth Green), first appears, and first takes notice of Willow. However, the episode also marks the first appearance of Larry, a fairly stock bullying jock character, who harasses Xander through much of the episode. Later on that season, in “Phases” (which marks the formal start of the Willow/Oz relationship and of Oz being a werewolf), Larry comes out as gay to Xander, and ends up believing that Xander is also gay. This, in addition to Xander’s frequent lapses into gay panic (which were at least partially understandable for a teenage boy to have in the ’90s), provided some serious hints that Xander might be gay. However, all of this hard work would be thrown out in the closing days of the third season.

Allow me to digress a bit: Season 3 was a major period of transition for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Angel was openly in development, and would cost the parent show not only the title character, but perpetually blunt cheerleader (and occasional comedy mule) Cordelia Chase. Losing the series’ male romantic lead was bad enough, but for a show that thrives on snarky dialogue to lose its sharpest tongue was a big loss. However, when “The Wish”, an episode spent mostly in an alternate reality where Buffy never came to Sunnydale and Willow and Xander were turned into vampires became incredibly popular with fans (and with Joss Whedon, who had not been particularly involved with the production of the episode), the seeds for Cordelia’s replacement in the cast were sewn. The breakout character of the episode was Vampire Willow, who was sadistic, creepy as hell, and sexually bent. So, even though she dies in the episode (all of the show’s regular characters except for Oz and Giles die), Vampire Willow was brought back in “Dopplegangland”, where she proceeds to tear up the Sunnydale we’re familiar with, as well as hit on both Xander and Willow over the course of the episode. However, in order to do this, the demon responsible for the twisted alternate Sunnydale, Anyanka, returned. At the end of “The Wish”, Anyanka is left as the human girl Anya, who is ultimately even blunter in tone and demeanor than Cordelia ever was. And she, too, was popular, so Anya returned for two more episodes, this time finding herself interested in Xander (she even ends up as Xander’s date to the Senior Prom), and plans were made to have the character return on a recurring basis in Season 4, pretty much ending the idea of Buffy having a gay friend.

That is, until Seth Green left the series rather abruptly.

When he joined the series in the second season, Green had just scored his breakout performance as Scott Evil in the first Austin Powers movie. Oz became a big favorite with viewers and the writing staff, and was upgraded to regular status. But honestly, Oz was better served in a recurring role, and that was also how Green, who was now as well known as Sarah Michelle Gellar and Alyson Hannigan following the massive success of the second Austin Powers movie, felt. The problem is, Oz was actually going to have a season-long character arc where he was tempted by singer (and fellow werewolf) Veruca, before ultimately choosing Willow (with the ultimate plan being that Oz would die in the fifth season, sparking the Dark Willow arc we ultimately saw in Season 6). As a result, the Veruca arc was hastily concluded, and after a few episodes of Willow being hopelessly distraught over Oz’s departure from Sunnydale, Tara was introduced, and their relationship hatched after Amber Benson’s second appearance (and hinted at with a steadily increasing lack of subtlety until Oz’s return in “New Moon Rising”, which officially began Willow and Tara’s relationship).

Buffy-9

Amber Benson was instantly awesome as Tara. Seriously.

And, the digression has now ended. The issue as to whether or not Joss Whedon should have stuck firmly to his plan is the ultimate Catch-22. J. Michael Straczynski rigidly followed his blueprint for Babylon 5 (and even went to far as to structure things such that characters could be replaced if actors left the series, which ended up happening), and that show is a classic. But Joss Whedon’s method for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel also paid off multiple times: besides the ground-breaking romance between Willow and Tara, the characters of Harmony, Amy, Spike, Faith, and Wesley were all greatly expanded from their original conception (in fact, all save Spike and Faith were intended to be one-shot characters) but retained due to their popularity with fans and the writing staff. (Wesley’s expanded role turned out to be particularly impactful, as Alexis Denisof and Alyson Hannigan ended up married with children after meeting while filming Buffy.) So, really, there is no right answer, as both approaches have resulted in some great television. However….

There’s also something to be said about making a change to your creative plans in response to viewer feedback. And both of my above examples, Babylon 5 and Buffy, were early pioneers in creators interacting with fans online. But in case of the outrage over Tara’s murder on Buffy, the complaints and the response have aged badly, bordering on being biphobic. Other than Terry Moore’s classic indie comic Strangers in Paradise and John Constantine, the lead character of DC’s Vertigo-imprinted comic Hellblazer, there were no bisexual characters in mainstream mass media (and an indie comic-even if it was critically lauded-and a comic published as part of a mature-audiences imprint stretch the definition of “mainstream”). And the number of out bisexuals in film, TV, politics, and the like was fairly small. A great deal of the issue was that gay and straight people alike denied the very existence of bisexuality, and when they did, being bi meant you were derided as being a nymphomaniac or unable to make up your mind. Declaring all of the pre-existing messy character development thrown Willow’s way to be null and void played right into these stereotypes, and the conception of Kennedy (whose actress, Iyari Limón, has rather ironically come out as bisexual in the years since Buffy ended) was sloppy and rushed.

Worse yet is the aforementioned issue of Willow’s character growth being limited. Before Tara gets shot, Willow is incredibly binary in her world view. She cuts off a great deal of her relationship with Xander in Season 3 after “Lovers Walk” because reconciling with Oz is “right” (never minding still extant feelings for Xander that don’t entirely fade until she learns he’s had sex with Faith), she flips pretty strongly against Faith once she learns that Xander had sex with her (following a chilling scene where Faith nearly rapes Xander), and there are also the incidents in “Triangle” and “Tough Love” mentioned previously. After Tara’s murder, Willow’s binary view of the world shatters: she has to reconcile her “Dark” period at the end of Season 6 with her “Light” periods in the other seasons (a process not fully realized until the Season 9 comics). Faith similarly is no longer someone to be purely hated, because Willow herself has killed and done some pretty vile things. But the binary periods of her romantic life (Xander and Oz on the one side, Tara and later Kennedy and Aluwyn on the other) are not fully reconciled, even though Oz appears during a substantial portion of the Season 8 comics (in addition to it being Xander, Willow’s first love, who stops her from destroying the world, as well as her implied attraction to Dracula in Season 5 and having to be reminded that she is gay in “Him” when pining over a magic-infused boy at Sunnydale High). Instead, Willow is thrust into a relationship with Kennedy (eventually cheating on her and then dumping her during the Season 8 comics), and then pursues a potentially self-destructive dalliance with female snake-demon Aluwyn (which ultimately plays out over a decade of continuity). Unless Joss is playing a sneaky-ass long game, this arc towards balance in Willow’s character evolution seems to be absent in one very defining area.

I must note, though, that as a fan, I had expected anything but a relationship for Willow in Season 7, or at least not until the last couple of episodes of the season, and in the most tentative of ways. To see an “anti-Tara” like Kennedy enter a full-fledged relationship with Willow in less than half the episodes it took for her to get with either Oz or Tara was and is extremely jarring. To have this all play out while striking an intense (and to my eternal regret, now lapsed) friendship and relationship with a mostly closeted bisexual woman who was a fan of the show (and a fellow Willow/Xander shipper) was downright maddening. Worse, Kennedy was the de facto face of the Potential Slayers that invaded the series en masse in its final year, meaning that an already difficult character represented two things that disrupted the dynamic between the show’s Core Five characters (Buffy, Willow, Xander, Giles, and Dawn).

The pigeonholing of Willow’s sexuality was compounded, however, when Joss Whedon revived Buffy and Angel in comics. Fairly early in Season 8, one of the newly activated Slayers, Satsu, falls in love with Buffy, and they ultimately spend the night together twice. The storyline made headlines in the comics world (and even Sarah Michelle Gellar herself reacted positively at the development), but the emphasis on why Buffy ultimately rejected Satsu was placed almost entirely on the notion that Buffy was absolutely straight, as opposed to the very good reasons she would have (namely, that Satsu was Buffy’s subordinate at the time, and the actually stated point that Buffy’s romances always end badly for the other person). Even more worrying was that Willow and Kennedy were just as enthusiastic in declaring Buffy straight without even the slightest consideration that she might be bi. Now, granted, as I currently write this, Satsu is finally slated to return (nearly a decade in continuity after we last saw her reacting poorly to Buffy and Angel doing it like bunnies during Twilight), but I for one hold no illusions that Buffy is going to dump Spike for Satsu.

This is ultimately my problem with limiting Willow’s sexuality to a binary state: it mutes the truly inspiring and wonderful message of Willow and Tara’s relationship, that love is about the person, and not their gender. Furthermore, it seems rather backwards in an era where the concept of fluidity of sexual and gender identities are being understood and encouraged, particularly in popular culture. Torchwood, which owes a lot to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, really excelled on this point, presenting a full spectrum of sexual orientations (most notably with Jack, who identifies as an “omnisexual” in-series), and now its parent show, Doctor Who, has rather explicitly revealed departing companion Clara Oswald (and author Jane Austen) to be bi. Even The Legend of Korra, in astounding even myself by becoming the first American cartoon series with a same-sex relationship, has seen the show’s creators state in no uncertain terms that Korra and Asami are both bi, which addresses fairly and honestly their previous relationships with Mako in a fictional context.

While it’s not shocking to see newer works surpass their inspirations, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is an ongoing concern, and quite frankly, I expect better of it. I want to see the comic tackle bisexuality, and I also think that there are some potentially great and challenging ways to tackle transgender issues in the face of “Chosen”, and more importantly, I think that Joss and the other Buffy writers past and present can write such stories that are even better than my half-formed ideas. (They do get paid to write, after all, while I don’t.) I do hope, however, that one of my favorite TV shows (and comic books) gives me something to sing about once more.

BWX

Namely, by admitting once and for all that Buffy/Willow/Xander is the series’ one true relationship.
And yes, I’m actually fairly serious about this.