Good, evil blur in `Buffy' finale

Review: The show's troubling imagery could be viewed as an excuse for attacks on authority.

July 13, 1999|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

The only thing that can save Angel, the vampire lover of Buffy, is to drink the blood of a slayer. But the only slayer on hand is Buffy.

"Drink me," Buffy commands the fading angel, and, boy, does he ever, coming back to life as he drinks like you wouldn't believe.

If this isn't a metaphor for sex (and, I might add, one of the more intense, sensual and violent metaphors for sex I have ever seen in a teen drama), then I'm the king of Transylvania, baby.

The long-delayed and much-discussed season finale of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" will finally air tonight on the WB, and I hope every parent of a teen-ager and every adult who has been flapping his or her jaws about teens and popular culture since the carnage at Columbine will watch.

The WB has come under some fairly heavy fire for delaying the episode that, in addition to the vampire kiss, includes the graduation of Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) from Sunnydale High School and an epic battle between the forces of good (Buffy's side) and of evil (those on the side of the mayor of Sunnydale) during the commencement ceremony.

"Our decision to delay the airdate of this episode had to do with many issues, the foremost of which was being sensitive and respectful to the communities and individuals devastated by recent acts of violence in their local high schools," Jamie Kellner, CEO of the WB, said in a statement issued last week.

"The timing of the finale [originally scheduled to air during the May sweeps ratings period] also coincided with the over 35,000 combined junior high, high school and college graduation ceremonies being conducted nationally. ... We have received both praise and criticism for our decision. ... If we erred, it was on the side of caution."

Given that the truest thing we can say after 10,000 studies is that there is a link between viewing media violence and real-life aggression, though we still don't know precisely how the process works, it seems hard to criticize the WB for showing some restraint in May. On the other hand, if Kellner believes the episode could play any role in real-life acts of violence, maybe it should never be shown.

But a review like this is not the place to try and sift through 45 years of data on viewing television violence. Instead I would urge those who want to understand television and youth culture better to focus on some of the imagery in "Buffy" tonight.

The sexual aspect is fairly obvious: the leather-clad Buffy, smacking the reluctant Angel (David Boreanaz) hard across the face three times until the monster within him overtakes his reluctance to drink her blood and he takes her on the dungeon floor.

But, while it is a bit more diffuse and complicated to dissect, also pay attention to the idea of outsiders vs. authority, the forces of good vs. the forces of evil, and light vs. darkness. Buffy and her band of "fellow outsiders," to use the language of the WB press kit, are, of course, on the side of good. The mayor, who tonight morphs into a giant computer-generated monster, is evil and needs to be destroyed.

The mayor's transformation sets the great battle in motion tonight. And all of it is cloaked in a medieval, dungeons-and-dragons imagery with crossbows, flaming arrows and battle axes.

In terms of television drama, Joss Wedon, the creator of "Buffy," has created a compelling and brilliant mythology with the vampires living under Sunnydale and Buffy, the slayer, above. It is almost as great a mythology as the one created by Chris Carter in "The X-Files." But, if a teen who saw himself or herself as an outsider was looking for it, this mythology could also offer justification for violent attacks on authority figures and members of what the WB press kit calls the "in crowd" at Sunnydale.

We adults need to understand that. And critics need to make that point even if it makes them sound decidedly unhip and out of it for not blindly celebrating "Buffy."

There are no consequences to tonight's carnage. In fact, the episode ends with Buffy and her posse of white, suburban outsiders joking about events. I know, the jokes are supposed to be the very thing that makes "Buffy" really cool. They are also supposed to undercut the violence.

For me, they do neither. I wonder how they play with teen-agers who feel like outsiders and are angry at those who aren't.

`Buffy the Vampire Slayer'

When: Tonight 8 to 9 Where: WNUV (Channel 54)

Also: Jamie Kellner online talking about "Buffy"

When: Tonight 7: 30 to 8

Where: AOL (Type in keyword AOL Live)

Pub Date: 7/13/99

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