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BtVS meta: Ben as Illusory Comfort in Season Five
restless, giles, anya
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TW: long discussion of death and insanity. 

Spoiler warning for BtVS season five.

Notes: Somewhat inspired by an exchange with lostboy_lj yesterday.

However, some of this is somewhat emotional, RL-y stuff which I found out about today.  None of it is specific enough that I feel like I’m sharing anything too personal.  OTOH, it is emotional enough that I am really not guaranteeing I reply to all comments.  It is what it is.  For the record, it’s my grandmother and it’s a long story that I don’t want to get into, thanks (I am mostly saying this so people don't think it's about me or my mother or my non-existent siblings -- there are two generations removed; I'm okay).

Since this is partly actually not about the show, it is very possible that I am wrong.  I’m almost tempted not to allow comments on the entry, but, well, yeah, comments are fine, but keep in mind what I said.

I also didn't edit this or anything, so keep that in mind as well.

Here’s the thing about season five.

We are all going to die.  Period.  End of story.  There is no if.  There is no if only.  There is no stopping it

There is delaying it.

There are ways to cope with death, and the (a) primary way is to delay it with medicine.  Doctors go through incredible amount of schooling, take oaths to do no harm, are authorities that we place our lives in.

We all recognize on some level that the world is not right.  That there are things that can hurt us.  Medicine, in the age of antidepressants, can comfort us by suggesting that our anxiety and depression and fears can be alleviated.  That’s good, for most of us.  No, really.  But some of our anxiety and depression is not something that can be treated pharmaceutically, because some are related to the fact that we are going to die.  It is really hard to live with this fact every day, every minute.  Our puny brains can’t handle it.  Or, maybe: my puny brain can’t handle it.  But not just death: there’s pain, there’s suffering, there’s the recognition that somehow or another, “everything gets stripped away.”

But there’s medicine.  The doctor comes out of surgery, beaming, proudly announces that Joyce is out of the woods.  The authority figure said she survived.  He’s wrong.  Doctors don’t know everything.  They can’t.  Though in real life, too, the medical system is not always worthy of the trust we place in it.  Or at least pockets of the system.  (There may be personal family experience talking, here.  This is not about me.  It may be about my family.)  There’s no reason to disbelieve that the doctor did anything wrong, that there was anything that could have been done.  But it’s outside of Buffy’s knowledge, outside of ours.  The Scoobies immediately recognize this is outside their capabilities—but unlike every other subject, they assume that they are powerless and that whoever has the power, the doctor, should be trusted.  In season six, Willow breaks out the chemistry kit again, but for now, it’s the job of the Scoobies to Scooby and it’s the job of the doctor to apply medicine.  But the doctor is wrong.  He said Joyce was out of the woods, and she wasn’t

It’s not anti-medicine.  It’s not anti-doctor.  What it is anti-, is the idea that medical authorities are offering guarantees.  That doctors can do something better than reduce the chance of death.  That doctors have their own Book of Thoth that can protect and warn against the inevitable.  That in a show that regularly subverts authority, medical professionals are somehow beyond criticism or have unlimited power.  That there are professionals who can take care of our health, prevent death, and when we are very, very old, give us fair warning so that we can make peace with the inevitable on our own time is a lie.

The man who holds the key (no pun intended, I think) to resurrecting Joyce from her natural death is Doc.  His knife is used to stab Spike and open dimensional portals, not to heal.  We have the Initiative doctor who pretended to fix Spike to save his bacon, and in the way OOMM revisits Spike and Riley’s season four arcs a reminder of the way medicine can be used to “enhance” the body and mind in a way that ultimately does more damage than good and can (in Riley’s case) eventually kill you.

So here we go.  Ben is Glory.  Remember Weight of the World?  As is emphasized there, the things that Ben are not, are:

  • With Glory
  • Working together with Glory
  • Connected with Glory in some way
  • Subletting from Glory.

He is Glory.  He’s the doctor, she’s the beast.  Two entirely different creatures, inhabiting the same body.  It’s like a bloody sitcom, though it’s probably only the undead guy who (he thinks) is never gonna die who can laugh about it

Glory is the Beast.  She’s the Old Gods, death, destruction, carnage, selfishness, need, want.  And all her actions spring from her boundless vanity, yes, yes, but most of all, she wants to go home, to the immortal place.  She will suck any brain, kill any Knight of Byz, take down the slayer, destroy anything in her path to get to a place where she doesn’t have to fear the stink of mortality (and morality) rubbing off on her.  She is ruthless and she is ruled, completely, by her self-involvement and recognition of the horrors of human life.  The one-eyed Chiclet in the kingdom of the blind, and all that (or so she thinks).

And Ben is Glory.  He’s ruthless, too, though we don’t see it at first—though we see it, in Listening to Fear, long before the gang does.  Mostly, though, he is a cover for the old fears that Glory represents, her presence gradually cracking up Doctor Ben’s façade until there’s nothing left.  In season five, Glory is the cause of all Buffy’s problems, and however briefly Ben seems like the solution: doctor, attractive guy, charming.  He’s “Ben” as in “benevolent,” probably.  But he doesn’t actually do all that much practicing medicine this season.  He’s “almost” a doctor, we learn in Out of My Mind.  But he’s not really there to heal, though that is what he wants, or thinks he wants.  He never really gets around to it, until he does help save Giles in Spiral.  What he does do is help dispense friendly advice throughout.  And what friendly advice!  His first scene is reassuring Buffy that things are probably fine with Joyce.  His next scene is restraining a patient and talking about how surprising it is that the security guard who wasn’t crazy yesterday is crazy now, as if he didn’t know why.  But the main early scene, in Shadow, that really hits hard in retrospect is this one (quoting whole passage):

DR. ISAACS: I know this is very difficult, and, uh, because of the nature of your mother's illness ... unfortunately, things may progress very quickly.
BUFFY: Things? What things?
DR. ISAACS: Symptoms. There's a fair variety that might present. Loss of vision or appetite, lack of muscle control, uh, mood swings...
BUFFY: But what can we do?
DR. ISAACS: Well, not much, until we determine if the tumor's operable. Which we are working on. (Leads Buffy over to some chairs and they sit)
BUFFY: Is there something that I ... I mean ... can I help?
DR. ISAACS: Well, there's some literature you might want to look at. If we aren't able to go in surgically, there are a number of new treatments that are very promising. Your mother's prognosis is a lot better today than it would have been only a year ago. Even if the tumor's not operable, she has a real chance.
BUFFY: What's a real chance?
DR. ISAACS: Nearly one out of three patients with this condition does just fine. (Buffy sits back looking shocked. Camera stays on her face as the doctor continues.) Now, let me ask. Does your mother's insurance company require copies of the MRI and pathology reports?
BUFFY: I'm not sure.
DR. ISAACS: (OS) Well, just let me know as soon as possible. And I could use some information regarding your mom's lifestyle and home environment. For instance, does she use a cell phone?
BUFFY: (frowns) Uh, I think so. Uh, yeah, she um, she-she has one of those ear things.
DR. ISAACS: OK, is your house near any power lines, chemical plants, waste disposal facilities?
BUFFY: Uh ... I-I don't know. Maybe.
DR. ISAACS: Well, the more we know...
BUFFY: I'm sorry.

The doctor scowls and writes on his clipboard. Ben approaches and puts his hand on the doctor's shoulder.

BEN: Excuse me Doc, but they told me you're needed in ICU.
DR. ISAACS: Excuse me, Miss Summers. (Gets up)
BUFFY: (distracted) Uh, it's okay.

Isaacs leaves and Ben sits down next to Buffy.

BEN: Thought you looked like you needed a break. Guy's great, but he doesn't have the bone in his head that tells him when to back off.
BUFFY: You mean ... they, they didn't need him?
BEN: Well, I'm sure someone does somewhere, they always do. He really is a good doctor. Your mom's in good hands.
BUFFY: (smiles) Thank you. It's Ben, right?
BEN: Right.
BUFFY: He, um, he was just telling me that there's nothing I can do.
BEN: Yeah, I'm gonna tell you the same thing. Give yourself a break. Listen, your mom's gonna be unconscious for at least another six, seven hours.
BUFFY: A break?
BEN: Well, I just mean go out, get some air. Come back later on this evening, talk to the doc then if you want. My unsolicited advice of the day.

He leaves. Buffy leans her head back and sighs deeply.

How good of Ben to intervene!  He saved Buffy from that load of questions.  And yet!  And yet.  His purpose in this scene is to comfort Buffy by assuring her that she is powerless and that Dr. Isaacs has the power; and, implicitly, that it’s okay if Buffy doesn’t worry herself about it.  It’s not so much that I think Buffy had any information Dr. Isaacs could use, or that Buffy didn’t need a break.  But it’s consistent with a pattern of Ben: he uses deception to placate Buffy (and others) into believing that a real problem, whether it be Glory, the string of crazy people in her wake, or Joyce’s upcoming death (though Ben is not actually aware of the last one), is not a real problem.  Don’t sweat it, no need to prepare (though, it’s not as if preparation is possible): your problem is in good hands

In Listening to Fear we learn that Ben has summoned a Queller (from spaaaaace!) to kill the crazy people, in an effort to erase the evidence of Glory’s handiwork.  No one misses the crazy people.  Who knows what caused their dementia, but they are a lost cause anyway, and the earlier the pattern that the crazy people just die is established, the sooner it’ll be normalized and become an accepted part of society: it’s just one of those things that happened.  No need to worry about it.  And it’s clear here that Ben is working in Glory’s interest, ultimately, though he doesn’t want to be and is even trying to undermine her: removing the evidence that Glory exists reduces the chance that people will become aware of her and start to arm themselves for her attack

And let’s be absolutely clear here.  In order to maintain the illusion that the medical system is on top of this problem, Ben is killing patients; and then the high mortality rate can become a justification not to be concerned when an individual one dies.  In order to protect himself and protect the aesthetics of the medical community, Ben is literally killing patients in order to normalize their deaths, in order to make their deaths seem reassuring rather than terrifying.  Reassuring, that is, to everyone except the people who are going crazy and dying and those who still manage to care about them.  But caring about them is discouraged—because Ben, as we’ve seen, places medicine as the sole authority and attempts to shift non-professional caretakers such as Buffy outside the realm of having any power over their fates.  It’s not just the idea that there is a risk of an unquestioning belief in medicine as a preventative measure to stave off real death (and existential terror) leaves one unprepared for death (and terror), it can hasten it.

Glory’s sucking minds, then, is probably a representation of the total fear.  Insanity as metaphor—that is probably gross and problematic, right?  Well….  Only if insanity is purely a matter of brain chemistry.  What Glory describes to Tara is the experience of being afraid, anxiety ramped up even higher than usual, of being in an existential void devoid of meaning with nothing but the certainty of suffering and no comfort, no out.  No pharmaceuticals can cure being “crazy” for this reason, though maybe (if this were not metaphor land with magic and stuff) they could help.  The only way to solve this is to go confront the source—the way Willow does by restoring Tara from Glory, which she only gets the power to do after she’s found her own (mystical/existential) healing in The Weight of the World with Buffy.

And so Ben is the modern face on Glory; he is the space occupied by Glory when she is not active.  And that identity is designed to use medicine to placate fears.  In the context of death, it’s the suggestion that you don’t have to worry yourself—you or your parents are in good hands.  In the context of insanity, it’s the suggestion that the right combination of drugs can cure painful psychological ills that may result from aspects of the human condition we have to deny in order to survive.  (“Gods don’t pay,” says Glory in WotW.  But they do.  We do.)  Ben is a cover for Glory; Ben is the illusion that there is an escape from death and pain in medicine.  There may be a reprieve.  I’m not anti-medicine or anti-drugs, because that’d be…I’m tempted to say “crazy,” but that’s obviously the wrong word (or the right one), but Ben’s role is not to represent actual medicine: that’s Dr. Isaacs, who is an authority figure that I said earlier we could question, but despite being wrong I don’t think there’s evidence that he failed at his job.  Ben is the illusion of medicine as a balm to soothe existential issues.  And those existential issues are Glory, ready at any moment to rip us to shreds and drive us totally out of our minds.

Ben is not just a metaphor, but a person.  And as a person, Ben does, I think, really want to help people.  But he’s doomed by his own patterns.  The reason Ben’s whole relationship to the external world is to enable Glory, enable death, enable everything one is afraid of, by hiding its existence is because Ben’s whole life is dedicated to suppressing Glory.  That’s too much burden to put on a person, and there’s no real way to expect that Ben would be able to do so.  He says that he went into medicine to help people, but I think it’s pretty likely that he went into medicine the better to suppress Glory with.  He was looking for “the right combination of drugs” to push her down, erase her, deny her existence.  It didn’t take, of course.  There is no right combination of drugs to push Glory down: you have to fight her on her turn, morally, philosophically, existentially.  You know—with Troll Hammers and Dagon Spheres.  (And robots!)  But while it turns out that Ben has basically been a negative force all season long, it all stems from the fundamental failure of “physician, heal thyself”; emotionally and physically, Glory was stronger than him, and a whole life devoted just to keep Glory at bay, with nothing else animating it, is doomed to fail.

As the season goes on, the illusion that Ben is doing anything to counter Glory gradually becomes more and more punctured.  By calmly talking to Dawn about his "sister," he's exposing her to the threat of Glory to come and attack her.  By attempting to hoard the information about the Key but not contacting Buffy to warn her about the knowledge he possesses about Glory, he helps doom Buffy.  By going to treat Giles, he exposes the gang to Glory's wrath.  He is constantly hedging his bets from the moment he discovers Dawn's Keyness onward—trying to leave his options open to be the genuine force for good he wants to be and to operate, basically, in Glory's interests, which are ultimately his own.  I focus less on Ben later in the season because the later-season things are less medically focused, until of course the treatment of Giles, where he does cure the proximate ill but exposes Giles and everyone around him to a much greater danger because he's unwilling to tell anyone, or admit to himself, what dangers he is hiding, what dangers he has set up a life in order to hide.

Back to The Weight of the World.  When Spike first asks, at the very beginning, what they should do if they encounter Ben, Willow is more right than she knows in her first response, that “a doctor” is not what Buffy needs right now.  Buffy’s crisis is existential, not medical, though it manifests in a medically-familiar form (being comatose).  It’s at the end, then, after Joyce’s death, after Giles’ near-death, when Dawn is finally taken away, the walls between Ben and Glory start to fall down, just as Willow enters Buffy’s mind and counsels her (emotionally, spiritually) through Buffy’s certainty that she has already killed Dawn.  The walls don't really collapse until Ben finally chooses a side definitively in TWOTW, and that side is himself (which is Glory), not Dawn.  Both textually and thematically, it is the imminence of the ritual that breaks down the Ben/Glory barriers; Dawn’s death cannot be ignored, cannot but be contemplated, and suddenly Glory can’t be hidden behind gentle Ben.  It’s after the death of Ben (the symbol of false hopes that medicine can cheat death) and Glory (the selfish, grasping longing for immortality) that Buffy can look into the void below and run toward her death, unafraid, and unafraid of living her life fully trapped by her fear of death.  Of course, she still has some living to do—and how to reembrace life after having embraced death presents its own set of challenges (and with its own insanity metaphors).


Such a powerful meta. Thank you for sharing it.
In many ways Ben is like the professionists in "A Cabin in the Woods".
[SPOILER]
They normalize death and horror hiding the whole thing in a cage, because otherwise people would know about what is underneath the Earth. The doctors, or what the hell they are in the movie, provide a solution that is based on deception [/SPOILER]
And Glory, yes, like death is ruthless.
Your words about death makes me think about Memoirs of Hadrian, when the princeps tries to imagine Antinous' agony and death. It's such a powerful and vivid passage in Youcernar's masterpiece and it's really something that smashed our little brains on the ground.

Ooh, I really like your point about Cabin --

[SPOILER]
I think Ben, unlike the people in Cabin, sees himself as pretty much innocent, and he's also (mostly) right, until the end of the story -- he doesn't create any of these situations; he just hides them. That is different from the Cabin people, whose job it is to create these scenarios. But they are, I guess, the rational mind trying to appease The Gods, who are like Glory, so that is pretty similar -- they are maybe just more honest about it than Ben, who still kind of wants to be a good guy (just not badly enough) does. [/SPOILER]

Your words about death makes me think about Memoirs of Hadrian, when the princeps tries to imagine Antinous' agony and death. It's such a powerful and vivid passage in Youcernar's masterpiece and it's really something that smashed our little brains on the ground.

I will try to keep that in mind if I ever read it!

This was simply... great.

I have so many thoughts, it's hard to know where to begin at the moment. I will say that I found myself agreeing so much that it frightened me (and I do think that the medical/expert anti-authority themes of S5 lives very closely to the sociological/scholar anti-authority themes of S4 that I just wrote about in my response to you on my monomyth post).

I really want to re-read this again and let it soak in before I try to cobble together a response, though (and maybe even rewatch a few episodes). I do wonder about how you think the Ben/Glory entity fits in with my theory of the Superego/Id monster of "Atonement with the Father", because I suspect that they fit together extremely well.

I definitely think that I wouldn't have been able to write that without talking with you about the s4 stuff (and a bit of the s5 stuff) yesterday re: your monomyth post. I do think that Ben as temptation probably plays into all this -- he is even more so than Riley a temptation to believe there is easy answers. And then I also don't think I would have written this if there hadn't been a rather unhappy (if two-generations removed) personal thing that suddenly brought it all into perfect focus. I have read a little about the medicine themes in s5 before (I couldn't point to the source), but nothing that really made total sense to me, though I wouldn't be surprised if something has stuck.

I reread this (http://www.atpobtvs.com/existentialscoobies/fictionary/e010929A-DED.shtml) a few months ago which I don't think has much overlap with this -- though it emphasized, when talking about Ben and Glory, the line "the right combination of drugs" which I think hits a big thing. I remember someone mentioning how Ben and Glory being the same represented how "medicine and religion were two sides of the same coin," which might be the thing that started the seed of me thinking about what Ben being a doctor might mean, even though I don't think the statement itself is all that meaningful (though if someone knows the context in which it was said, I might be wrong)!

I am also reasonably sure I owe my interpretation of Glory to numerous other sources that I again can't quite grasp. One reason I would make a terrible social sciences academic is that I'd never be able to cite properly -- not through a desire to steal but through a faulty memory.

...though it emphasized, when talking about Ben and Glory, the line "the right combination of drugs" which I think hits a big thing.

Yes. And another really big thing which you hit on is the little meta-conversation Spike has with the gang: "Ben IS Glory". In other words "authority IS authority", whether that authority wields a degree or thumps a bible (I was just talking with Emmie on our myth thread about how this anti-authoritarian game also plays out in Season Four, only that time with academic authority as its target).

Something else you've said really struck me, both for its sheer brilliance and your decision to bold it:
In order to protect himself and protect the aesthetics of the medical community, Ben is literally killing patients in order to normalize their deaths, in order to make their deaths seem reassuring rather than terrifying.

Yes! You know, I'm not such a big fan of the Chris Nolan "Batman" franchise, but there were a few strokes of brilliance in the second one, and a handful of great scenes. The best might have been the one where Heath Ledger's Joker is standing in a hospital(!), holding the district attorney's gun to his own forehead as he describes his own anti-authoritarian worldview:

"You know what I've noticed? Nobody panics when things go "according to plan." Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it's all "part of the plan". But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds!"

What the character is noticing in that scene I think is remarkably similar to what Ben is *doing* throughout Season 5. Like you said, he is primarily there to comfort by providing people the illusion of order, even if its an orderly death. The writers even tip their hand in his gas station scene with Dawn and Giles, when for a moment we think Ben might have poison in his needle, and act as an Angel of Death by killing Dawn. Ben/Glory is the manifestation of the real, chaotic world masked by the illusion of an orderly, synthetic one.

That said, the notion that Glory's plan to "go home" will send the world into tumbling into chaos is an interesting one, because it suggests that there is at least *some* sort of order to be upset in the first place, and that it's worth preserving at any cost -- or, at least as far as Giles is concerned it is. Notably, Buffy won't pay *any* price (Dawn) to preserve that order (or illusion of order). Which actually goes to the heart of who "Dawn" is, I think.


Edited at 2013-02-09 03:23 pm (UTC)

I really loved the comment and had started on a response but then LJ ate it. Anyway, this past week has not left me with the time to respond, which is too bad because there is a lot to discuss!

OK, sorry for the delays. (Has it been 12 days? Man!)

I love the point about "authority IS authority" very much, and I think that hits the nail on the head. The question then is whether the show argues, and whether, indeed, the show *should* argue a default anti-authoritarian stance. Certainly, this is also the season of the Watchers Council's revisit in Checkpoint, the Knights of Byzantium, etc. But I note, too, that Giles' laxness in running the Magic Box is called into question, both by Lydia in Checkpoint, and by the fact that he sold Glory an item necessary to her. It's not actually as if Giles et al. could have stopped her in that moment, to be frank. One *could* argue though that the problem is still a top-down organizational structure. Giles, well-intentioned though he is, runs the Magic Box and hoards the decision-making power to himself for the most part, though he does open it up to Anya over the course of the season and cedes it to her entirely in early s6. By putting the key decisions on himself, though, he prevents others from contributing important information -- such as Anya does when she sees the receipts.

Most interesting to me is the question of *Buffy's* authority. In Spiral, she kills people, albeit in self- and Dawn- and her surrogate family's defense. In The Gift, she tells her friends, "The ritual starts, we all die. And I'll kill anyone who comes near Dawn." This is very dark -- she is telling the people going into battle with her, preemptively, that she is going to kill them (and implicitly, that she doesn't trust them without the threat of force). How much is it appropriate to use one's authority -- by being called as a slayer, by having the strength & skill, by having had years of moral instruction in the fire of the Hellmouth -- over other people? Especially in a situation like this, where it seems as if it will be a zero-sum game.

Buffy's intuitive leap on the tower is the thing that saves her from having to carry out her threat, or from watching the world be brought down. But while it resolves the issue of whether or not Buffy is at heart a killer, it does not resolve the question of whether Buffy's authority is wholly justified compared to the negative examples of authority we see. The series ends with her ending the top-down organizational structure, ending her authority without reducing her personal power, which seems to be the way to resolve it all.

I agree with you about the Nolan Batman movies, though I really enjoyed The Dark Knight when I saw it in theatres, and the moment you cite is a great one. And I recognize that in myself. As long as there is a plan, as long as there is some script to follow, we feel relatively safe -- things are as they should be. We know that extreme inhumanity can get normalized very quickly if it's in a time where the whole of society is structured around it -- people accepted slavery, subjugation of women, persecution of racial/religious minorities generally, all the time, because it was normalized by society. "Normal" is the key -- well, not The Key, but you know -- it is easy and seductive to believe in

And once that is shattered, all hell breaks loose.

On the last point, it is interesting to consider how much that's true. I do think that some kind of version of "normal," or at least some kind of social system. If nothing else, we need a language to communicate with each other, right, if we're not to be alone? And we see what happens when chaotic Warren's bullet flies through and kills Tara. At the end of season six, Buffy says, "the human world has rules for dealing with people like him," and seems to mean it.

One *could* argue though that the problem is still a top-down organizational structure. Giles, well-intentioned though he is, runs the Magic Box and hoards the decision-making power to himself for the most part, though he does open it up to Anya over the course of the season and cedes it to her entirely in early s6. By putting the key decisions on himself, though, he prevents others from contributing important information

Paging General Buffy in S7. (Your post inspired some thoughts, so forgive me for meandering a bit here.) It makes sense that when Giles returns that season, his attempts to counsel Buffy fails - or rather succeeds all to well in ways that nearly destroy all of them. On that note we could probably compare the destruction of the Magic Box to the "destruction" of Buffy's house, represented by her ejection from it, as Mark Fields describes on his episode notes (re: Dawn's role in EP specifically.)

So Giles goes away from SD in S6, away from a completely destroyed Magic Box but taking with him a "destroyed", or at least deeply damaged Willow (again, magic), while leaving behind a less-obviously damaged Buffy and Xander, trusting them to be strong enough to "repair" themselves. The time in England helps to repair Willow but she isn't "rebuilt"; Giles sends her back to SD an undone project. And there's positives in that: by sending Willow on he is acknowledging on some level his limits in helping her, that Willow herself must finish the project of "rebuilding Willow". And by extension he trusts Buffy and Xander, the Hand and the Carpenter, to help finish the job; so, delegation. To the good, right?

But as he and Buffy never come to terms to directly deal with the fallout of Giles leaving in S6, the project is nonetheless compromised. Giles trusts Buffy - but only so far. (the reasons are complicated of course and run much deeper than any single reason; I am simplifying of necessity here.)

And he can only provide so much guidance. He can tell Buffy how to be a general but he cannot model it to her, cannot show her how to be a general; unlike Riley Finn, who is in an organization with a hierarchy, with models for how to "be" a soldier, even if his superiors (and the organization overall) abuse that power or use it to questionable ends. And I don't think this is irrelevant to your point: the Initiative may be the only model Buffy has for being a general and how "the military" operates, but she fails to check her perceptions or is too rigid to accept the few corrections offered her. ("Twinkies and kisses? Also peachy motivational tools.")

The lack of structure and her faulty model for military organization, plus the failure of herself, Giles and the Scoobies to fully examine their own assumptions and truly connect to one another as a team and a family, all exacerbate the situation and contribute to the "perfect storm" of EP. (A storm which end up injuring Faith the most, physically at least, when she is reluctantly thrust into the "eye of the hurricane".)

FYI, I hadn't read your conversation with suncloud downthread about your mom when I wrote about "women as caregivers" so I hope I didn't say anything too sensitive or offense.

This is brilliant, thank you. I find myself wanting to quote huge swaths of it, but I'll just blather on in my usual style;

It’s not anti-doctor. What it is anti-, is the idea that medical authorities are offering guarantees. That doctors can do something better than reduce the chance of death. That doctors have their own Book of Thoth that can protect and warn against the inevitable.

Yep. There's a reason The Doctor is the name of a superhero. Doctors - at least medical doctors, anyone else caught using their doctor's title in fiction is promptly laughed at - represent safety. They're a guard against illness, but we tend to expect them to be a guard against death. (They turn up in horror movies too, they make great villains precisely because we want to trust them - as played with in both "Killed By Death" and "As You Were".) S5 flirts briefly with Buffy/Ben (and non-sexual Dawn/Ben) - we're partly supposed to key into it partly because Ben is a handsome doctor and therefore, by story-telling shorthand informed by a million sitcom jokes about women wanting doctors, a romantic interest by default. Which, to tie back to your point, is not only a diversion - which Buffy realises, and has no idea how right she is - but would in fact be a trap, as the cut to Glory listening to Ben's answering machine shows ("She dumped us?"). (Has anyone ever written Ben/Buffy fanfic with Buffy waking up next to Glory? Why not?) Ben, obsessed with Glory, is Glory.

And so Ben is the modern face on Glory; he is the space occupied by Glory when she is not active. And that identity is designed to use medicine to placate fears. In the context of death, it’s the suggestion that you don’t have to worry yourself—you or your parents are in good hands.

YES. We like authorities - we want there to be someone who steps in and has all the answers, who takes responsibility of the things we can't face so we don't have to. (Viz the mirror effect between Giles' speech to Buffy at the end of "Lie To Me" and Dr Isaacs' (imagined) "I have to lie to make you feel better" in "The Body".)

In order to protect himself and protect the aesthetics of the medical community, Ben is literally killing patients in order to normalize their deaths, in order to make their deaths seem reassuring rather than terrifying.

Yep. We create myths and superheroes to ward off... not necessarily death, but the pointlessness of death. (Buffy The Vampire Slayer fighting a vampire next to Joyce's corpse, and achieveing absolutely nothing by it.) Ben the almost-doctor can't cure them, but he can give a good explanation for why they must die - give their deaths meaning rather than let them live (to him) meaningless lives. Myths require martyrs, too; whether martyrs require myths is slightly more ambiguous, but the martyrs usually don't hang around to complain. (Would Buffy be a hero if not for the people killed by the Monster Of The Week before she can get to it?)

There is no right combination of drugs to push Glory down: you have to fight her on her turn, morally, philosophically, existentially. You know—with Troll Hammers and Dagon Spheres. (And robots!)

Or, in the case of Willow and Tara, by clear thinking. The first thing that really hurts Glory is restoring the part of Tara's mind that Glory has held captive. (In a way, you could probably look for some aspect of Whedon's atheism/existentialism here; a struggle to escape the Sky Bully that failed (Glory was deposed as a god, remember, and is also generally portrayed as a, well, not very respect-worthy god, who still cannot be defeated in simple combat - a walking metaphor for lack of a faith that everyone around you takes for granted), which leaves you having to find meaning in some other way. (Massively oversimplified.))

Anyway, in the end, all the troll hammers and dagon spheres and magic and countermyths in the world don't kill Glory. Buffy can beat her down enough to carry on with her life; leaving it to Giles to kill the man who failed to keep Glory in check, who put everything he had into that and only that, and wound up doing it solely to save himself.

Etc etc. Great meta.

Thank you! Sorry for the delay in response.

Yep. There's a reason The Doctor is the name of a superhero.

Right -- and that is pretty much all we need to know about someone to understand how we're supposed to respond to them, at least initially.

Doctors - at least medical doctors, anyone else caught using their doctor's title in fiction is promptly laughed at - represent safety. They're a guard against illness, but we tend to expect them to be a guard against death. (They turn up in horror movies too, they make great villains precisely because we want to trust them - as played with in both "Killed By Death" and "As You Were".)

Plus, there are shows surrounding doctors. Probably the only people who are on a similar level to doctors are firefighters, in terms of people who both have tremendous power and who are expected to use that power for unambiguous good. Police and military and spy organizations have the right to kill people under certain circumstances.

I'm reminded of that M*A*S*H episode where Hawkeye gives a reckless general unnecessary surgery, removing his appendix, to keep him from sending more people to the front for a few days, and B.J. was (understandably) horrified. It would be unethical regardless, but it would still, I think, be less shocking if a soldier or spy or cop temporarily hurt someone to save untold lives, because *they are expected to kill people to save a greater number anyway*. Doctors are expected to be defined by the Hippocratic Oath and outside potential moral ambiguity. (I'm a big fan of M*A*S*H, and part of the reason I think it worked well is that it used "doctors" whom we are expected to see as, and who can see themselves as, an unambiguous, nondestructive good as an entry point into talking about the inevitable destruction of war.)

S5 flirts briefly with Buffy/Ben (and non-sexual Dawn/Ben) - we're partly supposed to key into it partly because Ben is a handsome doctor and therefore, by story-telling shorthand informed by a million sitcom jokes about women wanting doctors, a romantic interest by default. Which, to tie back to your point, is not only a diversion - which Buffy realises, and has no idea how right she is - but would in fact be a trap, as the cut to Glory listening to Ben's answering machine shows ("She dumped us?"). (Has anyone ever written Ben/Buffy fanfic with Buffy waking up next to Glory? Why not?) Ben, obsessed with Glory, is Glory.

I would love to see that fic. Though, why bother having Buffy "wake up to discover"? Has anyone written Ben becoming Glory *during*? (well, anyway...)

YES. We like authorities - we want there to be someone who steps in and has all the answers, who takes responsibility of the things we can't face so we don't have to. (Viz the mirror effect between Giles' speech to Buffy at the end of "Lie To Me" and Dr Isaacs' (imagined) "I have to lie to make you feel better" in "The Body".)

Oooh. Yes, we do. And authorities aren't/can't be *bad* because human knowledge does have to be divided at some point; we can't all be equally responsible for everything, even though the converse, that we have no responsibility, is too seductive too. Someone has pointed out that "The Body," like, really, most Joss episodes (I mean, most episodes of the show, but Joss' headline episodes especially so), plays with the "story/lie" things a lot -- c.f. Dawn's friend going on about how their bee-yotch frienemy has to "turn everything into a story"

Ben the almost-doctor can't cure them, but he can give a good explanation for why they must die - give their deaths meaning rather than let them live (to him) meaningless lives. Myths require martyrs, too; whether martyrs require myths is slightly more ambiguous, but the martyrs usually don't hang around to complain.

Right -- though it's an explanation that ends up going to no one but Ben himself, and Glory, and his/Glory's minions. (They are Glory's, but they call him Sir and grovel before him.) Making them martyrs in *his own cause* of "cleaning up Glory's mess."

This actually reminds me of something I was reading recently (though I can't speak to the veracity of this -- it was just an article about an Iraq War vet and not a, you know, reliable document), and I don't mean to Godwin's law this (and don't think that Ben is on this level), about the psychology of S.S. officers -- in that the way they managed to cope with the guilt of killing people and doing horrific things was by turning the guilt around into self-pity and identifying themselves as victims and martyrs. Rather than "this is what I have done," "how horrible it is that I have to witness/do this."

(Would Buffy be a hero if not for the people killed by the Monster Of The Week before she can get to it?)

Right, and that's part of the tricky thing about the show -- in order for there to be real emotional catharsis for the audience, there has to be real loss, or the threat of real loss. Meanwhile, no one wants to hear about the person who did their job in a way that led to no one getting hurt or even being threatened with getting hurt.

Or, in the case of Willow and Tara, by clear thinking. The first thing that really hurts Glory is restoring the part of Tara's mind that Glory has held captive. (In a way, you could probably look for some aspect of Whedon's atheism/existentialism here; a struggle to escape the Sky Bully that failed (Glory was deposed as a god, remember, and is also generally portrayed as a, well, not very respect-worthy god, who still cannot be defeated in simple combat - a walking metaphor for lack of a faith that everyone around you takes for granted), which leaves you having to find meaning in some other way. (Massively oversimplified.))

That's particularly interesting in the context of "Family" and Tara's being trapped by the belief that she's a demon, and nearly getting everyone around her killed by doing a spell that left them unable to see the demons Glory sent after them.... I mean, the reason I think it's related is that the Maclays did seem to be a (fairly clumsy) religious stereotype, demonizing female power and sexuality and keeping Amy Adams trapped away rather than letting her go free and get Oscar nods. Tara as the target for Glory's attack might have to do with susceptibility, due to her past. (Riley's the one guy who went to church, but he's out of town already.)

But anyway, right, so Willow reaches in and takes back the part of Tara's brain that has been snatched by the Sky Bully so that she can be whole again, and Glory is weakened by no longer having ownership of her followers who are crazy and building towers for her. (It's noteworthy that Willow, the one who used to "play doctor" (with stethoscopes), is twice (for Buffy and Tara) the one to fulfill the quasi-medical role that Ben doesn't. In TWOTW, what Willow provides is some comfort, but comfort rooted in the truth and with limits. Dawn's not dead yet and Buffy shouldn't beat herself up, but Dawn WILL be dead -- which is a good contrast to that Ben moment re: Joyce in Listening to Fear.)

However, it's also complicated by the fact that (within this framework) it's only the "Devout" (who have had parts of their brains snatched) who can see the Key and recognize it for what it is. Having one step in the supernatural and what it codes for makes you insane before the Glory/Ben walls finally come down, but it also allows you to see some truths that the secular world can't. (Or something.)


Anyway, in the end, all the troll hammers and dagon spheres and magic and countermyths in the world don't kill Glory. Buffy can beat her down enough to carry on with her life; leaving it to Giles to kill the man who failed to keep Glory in check, who put everything he had into that and only that, and wound up doing it solely to save himself.

Right. With no more Ben to cover her up and thus enable her, there is no more Glory. But there is still death -- which goes beyond the fear that accompanies it.

Brilliant, bracing and timely (I've been dealing with the medical profession quite a bit myself this year, so a lot of this resonanted with me) I've printed this out so I can read and respond to in a coherent fashion (hopefully beginning of next week). I'm curious to see how Willow/Tara fit in with this meta overall - I thought Tara's mindsuck by Glory and Willow having to care for her fit beautifully into the themes of the failures/limits of the medical system as well as the end-of-life and caretaker issues also represented by Joyce's illness that season.

Thanks! And I hadn't given the care much thought -- partly because Tara's insanity is so temporary that I focus more on the fact that it gets cured than the fact that there was a brief time where it wasn't clear that it would be, during which the couple did play out as a relationship in which Willow becomes primary caregiver (and even caregiver while literally on the run from a God).

a relationship in which Willow becomes primary caregiver (and even caregiver while literally on the run from a God).

1) I think that's actually an important point on a number of levels, or in any case it's something I noticed. To stay with the medical side of things as they mirror RL issues, Buffy and Willow reflect the fact that the bulk of the "caregiving" burden falls on the shoulders of women, be it family members in the home, or nurses, aides and physical therapy assistants in hospitals and nursing homes. Male family members (husbands etc) can meanwhile be likened to doctors, who are overwhelmingly male (although this is changing) and pop in and out. It's the women who administer the pills, change the sheets, and - to be very blunt - clean up the puss and poop. This applies not just to ill parents/adults, but of course small children as well. (Mothers/teachers and fathers/administrators.)

So Buffy takes a "leave of absence" from college to look after her mother (which turns out to be permanent), and Willow takes care of Tara rather than leave her in the hospital, although it's not clear how she affords to do; we are left to assume she is still financially dependent on her parents.

And of course there's the cultural assumption that women simply ARE caretakers that it's hard sometimes to realize how pervasive this is. I am not excluding btw the fact that Buffy and Willow genuinely love Joyce and Tara, just that it's complicated by other factors.This is not to say the women in these instances are mere "victims"; they volunteer to do so, just as a lot women do in RL, but also as in RL there are not a lot of options either: Hank is out of the picture, we see no other relatives; and Tara's family has presumably disowned her.

This brings up economic reasons, which the show doesn't really touch except by implication until S6, that hospital and nursing home bills are astronomical. I don't think it's an accident btw that Buffy and Willow are coded in S5 at least as "middle class" while a lot of the mental patients strapped down in the ward are coded "working class", explicitly so in the case of the janitor or the "homeless crazy guy" who frightens Dawn at the beginning of the season. The janitor and Glory's various victims reflect another RL trend, which is the fact that the medical system overburdened to the point of collapse; Ben specifically hangs a lantern on this fact verbally at one point, using language very similar to that which I've heard from my S.O., who is a PTA in a nursing home.

(Con't.)

2) Something very interesting about this meta and the season itself is that they don't divide mental and physical health into opposites, or disregard mental health as a red-headed stepchild at best, the way our current system does. (I noted in response to suncloud below some of my experiences with antidepressants and the lack of testing, guidance etc: I could add the difficulty in getting reliable mental health treatment, the lack of options in the community, the attitude that it's something that the sufferer just "needs to get over" with a little willpower, when there are powerful chemical/hormonal, physical and genetic contributors in most instances.)

In contrast, Tara being mindwiped (going mad) and Joyce being diagnosed with a brain tumor (and not, say, breast cancer) are paralleled to one another; within the show itself, the suffering of Tara and Glory's other victims are no less real than Joyce's plight, but doctors (on the show and RL) are far less equipped to handle the suffering of Tara than of Joyce, or so it seems on the surface. For Joyce there are x-rays and tests, CAT scans, an operation and a private room; there are carefully scripted assurances that everything will be fine and Buffy needn't worry.

For Tara there is an xray, meds to keep her "manageable" ("keeps her pretty mellow") and then release to Willow, an untrained caregiver. For Glory's other victims it's even worse: meds and leather straps in an over-crowded ward. (And we are back to the issue of class issues and access to care in my previous post.) The doctors have nothing beyond a sop to offer Willow; The human mind, is "not exactly well-explored territory".

So Buffy is discouraged from doing anything, from helping, at least immediately, or in any other way but as a "passive" caregiver, as you noted above; (unpaid) the Hand is instructed/encouraged to stand down by the paid, professional Hand, as it were. (Just as Maggie, representing the Initiative, were sceptical of Buffy as the Slayer and then tried to eliminate her in S4.) Whereas Willow, Spiritus, takes matters into her own hands because she has received no such assurances, has no reason to believe the doctors can do anything; and Buffy has not found a way to kill Glory.

This dynamic is a double-edged sword: Buffy has no tools with which to help her mom (getting a second opinion is never explored or raised), and is discouraged from doing so by the doctors (including Ben), as happens in RL; whereas WIllow empowers herself as an "advocate" and healer for both Tara and Buffy (TWoTW). But there's also the other side of that; most likely there is nothing Buffy could have done to save Joyce from dying; getting home a half hour earlier may still have been futile if Joyce died instantaneously.

Willow's success in S5 as "healer" emboldens her to go further; if she can bring Buffy and Tara back to their "right minds" when the doctors cannot, it's only a (relatively) small step to being able to bring Buffy literally back to life in Bargaining. The over-confidence and arrogance of the doctors in S5, whether genuine or a false mask (do doctors really believe their own scripts, or do they become the script in the repetition?), transfers to Willow in S6 as she "plays God", just as doctors and western are often described as doing.

BTW - my earlier apology regarding anything I wrote that might be construed as offensive was meant to be here, not upthread.

This is fantastic. I especially love the end:


Both textually and thematically, it is the imminence of the ritual that breaks down the Ben/Glory barriers; Dawn’s death cannot be ignored, cannot but be contemplated, and suddenly Glory can’t be hidden behind gentle Ben. It’s after the death of Ben (the symbol of false hopes that medicine can cheat death) and Glory (the selfish, grasping longing for immortality) that Buffy can look into the void below and run toward her death, unafraid, and unafraid of living her life fully trapped by her fear of death.

[eta] And so after reading your meta and your discussion with lostboy on his LJ with the Ben/Glory/Buffy of it all and the idea of Buffy's refusal to return. I realized that in Season 6, Buffy is like Glory, each suffering the loss of what they feel is their native land -- heaven and hell. They both feel disconnected from their bodies, incomplete, hemmed in, mentally unbalanced, self-destructive. The chief difference being that Buffy self-directs her hatred, except when she unleashes it on Spike, whereas Glory considers everyone beneath her so she can unleash it on everyone (disguising her insecurities, playing out the inferiority complex that presents as overcompensating superiority).



Edited at 2013-02-09 08:19 am (UTC)

YES. There are a lot of Glory/Buffy parallels everywhere (and Buffy/Ben, I think, and Dawn/Glory, Dawn/Ben, Willow/Glory...) but there is a lot about season six Buffy that is like Glory.

Brilliant, powerful post. Your point about how doctors use their weight as an authority figure to comfort, to impress on patients' families to not worry is well-taken. By contrast, Willow's provision of medical care makes her stand out as a total novice because she has zero poker face and talks openly about her fears:

With bleeding Giles:
[I]WILLOW: Buffy!
Buffy runs over to where Willow is standing over Giles.
BUFFY: Will, how is he?
Willow has her hands on Giles's wound. Shot of Giles's face, still sweaty with blood coming out of his mouth.
BUFFY: Will?
WILLOW: I-I think I slowed the bleeding, but... [/I]

With Coma Buffy:
[I]ANYA VOICEOVER: You sure you know what you're doing?
Cut to inside. Willow is taking candles out of a small leather bag and putting them on the table.
WILLOW: I think so. (pause) I don't know. It's ... not exactly well-explored territory, but ... I gotta try.[/I]

With Brain Sucked Tara numerous times- Willow doubting Tara can ever be cured in [I]Tough Love[/I] or predicting that her brain could possibly explode in curing Tara in [I]The Gift[/I].

There is some sort of evolution/devolution in S6 when Willow can put on a poker face that she knows how to resurrect Buffy or cure her from death but because this is a new poker face, Willow's Doctor Mask occasionally slips and of course, she gets blowback from the folks in the waiting room that expect a comforting doctor.

[I]WILLOW: No! She's not broken! She's just .... disoriented from being ... tormented in some hell dimension. Probably tortured and ... It's like, we don't even know how much time has passed there for her, uh, possibly years. That's not something you just get over. Oh my God. What if she never gets over it?
ANYA: And you think of this now?[/I]

[I]In Listening to Fear we learn that Ben has summoned a Queller (from spaaaaace!) to kill the crazy people, in an effort to erase the evidence of Glory’s handiwork. No one misses the crazy people. Who knows what caused their dementia, but they are a lost cause anyway, and the earlier the pattern that the crazy people just die is established, the sooner it’ll be normalized and become an accepted part of society: it’s just one of those things that happened. No need to worry about it. And it’s clear here that Ben is working in Glory’s interest, ultimately, though he doesn’t want to be and is even trying to undermine her: removing the evidence that Glory exists reduces the chance that people will become aware of her and start to arm themselves for her attack[/I]

Hmmm, Ben is sort of working in both his interest and in Glory's interest.

As you said, crazy people can alert authorities that something is very wrong which could prompt a witch hunt that could endanger Ben.

On the other hand, I'm not sure if Ben knows that crazy people can see the Key or that crazy people feel moved to help Glory. Theoretically the more crazy people Glory creates to wander around, the more likely they will wander around where Glory is and alert her to the Key. Which is exactly what Crazy!Tara did. And Crazy People had been calling Dawn the Key on the streets since [I]The Real Me[/I].

Either way, it's summoning the Queller is an act of self-preservation for Ben. Stop a witch-hunt of Glory that could lead to Ben's doorstep or stop crazy people to alerting Glory to the Key which Ben had considered a death sentence until Glory promised him immortality in WOTW.

Thanks! More later this weekend (hopefully) -- but what I can say quickly is just to clarify that I agree Ben is acting in his own best interests. I was more pointing out that his interests align very well with Glory's. In order to preserve himself, Ben usually ends up acting in Glory's best interests even as he defines himself in opposition to her. (Not always -- but often.)

Sure, I know that you were arguing that Ben acts in his own interest. I guess I was (kind of repetitively after you) road-mapping Ben's Prisoner's Dilemma, as in both the the game theory concept and Ben's status as a prisoner of Glory. ;-)

lol on the double meaning, priceless. It is a nice Game Theory problem.

Anyway, what was the point? oh right Willow is awesome :). No, but seriously, she is the one who gets to do the most medically healing things this season, which is an interesting choice.

I think it’s pretty likely that he went into medicine the better to suppress Glory with. He was looking for “the right combination of drugs” to push her down, erase her, deny her existence. It didn’t take, of course. There is no right combination of drugs to push Glory down: you have to fight her on her turn, morally, philosophically, existentially. You know—with Troll Hammers and Dagon Spheres.

oooh, I like this a lot. I'm going to be thinking about this metaphor for a while.

Yay! I have read some things about the Dagon Sphere before, like that they represent fertility (Dagon was a god(dess?) of fertility or something?) which ties in with the death/birth/etc. cycles in some weird way that I don't really get.

Love this, thank you for sharing. There isn't enough meta about Ben.

Thanks, and there really isn't.

And the meta is back! This post is awesome, seriously. Glory is so perpetually fascinating to me, and this post helped me understand why.

<3

It’s after the death of Ben (the symbol of false hopes that medicine can cheat death) and Glory (the selfish, grasping longing for immortality) that Buffy can look into the void below and run toward her death, unafraid, and unafraid of living her life fully trapped by her fear of death.

This meta is magnificent, and makes me much more interested in both Glory AND Ben.

Best of luck with the upsetting stuff.

Thanks, for both complimenting the meta and wishing me luck with the RL stuff. :)

I'm delighted that you wrote meta about Ben (who is a character that is (understandably) neglected by fandom), and this is particularly interesting meta.

This is insightful and fascinating.

Thank you for posting.


ETA: I find it particularly interesting because I was taught, growing up, that the medical establishment can never be trusted. My mother taught Lamaze - childbirth preparation - classes for 35 years, from 1966-2001. She was part of the movement in the 1960s and 70s and 80s that questioned the idea that doctors should simply be trusted; she pushed for patients' rights to make their own decisions. (This movement changed the practice of medicine a lot, for the better; it used to be that if there were several different treatment options the doctor simply chose the one that he - it was, of course, always a he! - thought best - now it's assumed that if there are different options, it is the patient's decision. That is a GOOD change, IMHO. My mother, though, would say that things have not changed enough - that doctors still have too much authority. She thinks that we ought to see doctors as we see auto mechanics: someone with specialized knowledge that we don't have, but someone who also has their own agenda and biases - someone we should use as a consultant as we make our decisions, not someone we should simply believe without question.) As a Lamaze teacher, my mother's goal was to teach her students to ask questions, to stand up to the doctor's authority - not necessarily to have a "natural" childbirth (my mother thinks the pressure on women to have a "natural" birth can be just as destructive as the pressure from doctors to submit to medical intervention) - she wanted the women in her classes to make choices that were right for them in their particular circumstances. She wanted to empower her students so that they could talk to doctors with as much power as Buffy had with the Watchers Council at the end of "Checkpoint." She taught me, growing up, to always question doctors, do my own research, think for myself, and think of doctors as one source of possibly useful information, not as all-knowing gods. Despite her teaching, I went on antidepressants on doctors' advice when I was 19, and I've been regretting it ever since. There's no evidence that they have ever helped me, at all (they can be helpful, some of the time, to some people - but the pharmaceutical industry and the medical profession which is in the pocket of the pharmaceutical industry grossly exaggerates their effectiveness and grossly understates their dangers). I tried to go off in 2005, and had a horrific withdrawal, had to go back on, and am still on them - afraid to try going off again because of fear of withdrawal, but don't think that I am actually getting any benefit from being on them.

My own, personal experience with doctors is that I have never in my adult life been to a doctor who made things better. I am grateful for my childhood medical care, but as an adult, every time I have gone to a doctor - they've made the situation worse, and not made it better. I am, a bit, anti-doctor, I suppose...




Edited at 2013-02-18 01:54 am (UTC)

Thank you, and thank you for commenting :)

Thanks for sharing your experiences. I have had some bad experiences with antidepressants as well -- or, I feel like I still don't know exactly how I'd characterize my experience. I went on antidepressants in 2005 and have largely been on them ever since. I don't think that I've had tremendous benefits but it's hard to know (emotional states are not easy to compare); partly, I think my life has changed so much that there isn't an easy way to contextualize the change. I have wanted to go off them for a long time, but something always gets in the way, and I fairly frequently have flip-outs of some kind of another when I do go off them, though I am not actually sure that it's not coincidental.

I just found out, for example, that one of the antidepressants I'm taking as of a few months ago has apparently led to people who drink alcohol while taking it having blackouts and even psychotic breaks where they had to be physically restrained. I don't drink very often, and when I do it's in very small amounts -- but even so, it's frightening that this is a possibility that's on the table. Come to think of it, I think I did have a lot to drink at a friend's wedding and I forget whether I was taking these at the time or not. Nothing bad happened -- but I'm realizing now that something could have. Which, it's probably best not to worry about *that* obviously. It's just a minor point, I suppose -- that there are so many things that are poorly understood about these things.

In addition to the above -- I have a very, very hard time reading about mental health medication. I don't know why. It makes me feel nauseous and light-headed to read about anything relating to brain chemistry.

Right now, my grandmother is undergoing some care in a nursing home, and there are big, big problems with the medical care she's being given (or not given, as the case may be). I am not particularly close with her. My mother is close with her though their dynamic is complicated. It's really wearing her down. But I can't really deal with it when my mom talks about it, and it's difficult because it's an unpleasant combination of a lot of different things -- discomfort that the world is not as it should be, genuine concern about my grandmother, the expectation that that will happen to my mom in a generation, expectation that that will happen to *me* in two generations, anger on my mom's behalf, a selfish desire just to not have to hear about upsetting things and to get out of these conversations, guilt over not wanting to hear more about it, guilt over not being more concerned about others.

(my mother thinks the pressure on women to have a "natural" birth can be just as destructive as the pressure from doctors to submit to medical intervention)

That's a wonderful thing and I respect your mother a lot for that, because I've run into the opposite view far too often. I tend to rely on alternative medicine whenever I can;taking algae, supplements and homeopathy, etc helped my lupus tremendously and got me off the painkillers (1800mg of ibuprofin a day at the worst point); I've found a skilled acupuncturist, etc; but I also have found help in temporary use of antidepressants, and I take anti-convulsants every day for my epilepsy. No alternative form has helped my seizures. I see medicine as a toolbox, and you have to use the right tool for the right job. A lot of people I've run into who espouse "alternative medicine" are absolutely anti-western medicine; I've been advised and even scolded against going to traditional doctors, ever. I've also been told that alternative medicine is quackery and got the brunt of someone's rage for not choosing an operation that she herself did. In either case, the "form" of medicine may differ but the either/or "paradigm" is exactly the same.

That said, I agree with you as to the horrors and abuses of western medicine but more so of the "industrialization" and "corporatization" of care in the US. It took years to get my epilepsy or lupus diagnosed; and the care I've gotten is very "uneven", specifically with regard to how mental health is disregarded or held as something separate from "physical health" (as if the brain were not a bodily organ just as the kidneys or heart). The antidepressants helped but there were never any blood tests to see if I ought to take them, no rigorous psychological tests etc; any benefits were based on my own observations and I basically monitored it myself (and received a higher dose when I asked for it); nor was there any guidance for easing off, leading me to basically go off it cold turkey.

And when I was recently diagnosed with "Stage Zero cancer" (i,e, abnormal cells that had not formed a tumor but increase the possibility that I will do so) I had to fight, almost literally, and insist over and over that it was my choice not to have an operation or radiation at this time. I had to repeat, over and over, that this is MY body, MY life, and the choice is in my hands ultimately, not the doctors'.

However, some of this is somewhat emotional, RL-y stuff which I found out about today. None of it is specific enough that I feel like I’m sharing anything too personal. OTOH, it is emotional enough that I am really not guaranteeing I reply to all comments. It is what it is.

I'm so sorry.

*Hugs*


I apologize for filling up your box with long replies btw; I've had difficulty putting my thoughts together. My sympathies for your mother as she goes through this.

Ben is killing patients; and then the high mortality rate can become a justification not to be concerned when an individual one dies. In order to protect himself and protect the aesthetics of the medical community, Ben is literally killing patients in order to normalize their deaths, in order to make their deaths seem reassuring rather than terrifying.

That really is a chilling thought; and as I hadn't done a true S5 rewatch, it's easy to forget that Dawn and Tara are not the only victims of Glory/Ben that season. It's a mistake that's easy to make in RL - we tend to be most concerned with our loved ones and seeing beyond our immediate circle may take some prodding. And it happens in-show as well, as Buffy narrow-focuses on Joyce and Dawn, though for understandable reasons. (As she had done previously with Angel.) It's as difficult to conceptualize the world and everyone else in it, as it is to wrap our minds around the concept of death; not surprisingly it's Giles who is the advocate for "this sorry world".

The irony as regarding Ben is that suicide is the most logical and unselfish act he could have committed, and brought Glory to an end. It's an act that is considered almost taboo in our culture (there is no hari-kari in the west; if a priest in the US set himself on fire to protest war we would assume he was already insane to have done so.) Life is supposed to be preserved above all else, even at the expense of a suffering patient; it was once a sin and the taint still lingers; at best it's often seen as a form of cowardice, that the person was not "strong" enough to overcome their difficulties.

But the "lifeforce", the instinct to live, to survive, is greater than any other instinct IMO; otherwise suicides would be legion. People struggle to survive in droughts, floods, during wars and holocosts, in the most impossible situations and against impossible odds. And so Ben is no different in that respect and is even understandable until the eleventh hour, even as his situation is more extreme than RL except in cases of severe mental illness (schizophrenia, MPD etc).

And Ben prefigures Warren to a degree: the man who becomes a monster, the human with a soul who fails to use his moral compass. I remember watching S5 and not being completely convinced of the Ben's change of heart; it seemed sudden but it makes much more sense reading this meta, thinking that as Ben seeped into Glory, Glory had been "infecting" Ben all season long. Perhaps it was a matter of presentation? (You convey it more elegantly.)

I can't help having some sympathy for Glory despite her destructiveness, perhaps not unlike my sympathy for pre-soul Spike. She's like Cordy and Hemery High Buffy ramped up the the nth degree, but also a selfish child who just wants to go home, the child who has not yet developed sympathy/empathy, the ability to conceptualize outside of "me, myself"; she's a sociopath, "developmentally disabled"; we can't hold her to human rules and morality (can we?), and she rejects it as it begins to seep into her through Ben (and is she even capable of it?) Apropos of nothing, is Glory a dry run for Illyria?

Of course, she still has some living to do—and how to reembrace life after having embraced death presents its own set of challenges (and with its own insanity metaphors).

Indeed. It's ironic that Glory is trapped in Ben's body and dies there, on the earth she despises, while Buffy goes in her stead to the realm beyond that Glory had so desperately sought. And like a greek bearing gifts, Buffy not only brings a literal demon back with her in S6, but a metaphorical one in her depression, as if "infected" with a bit of Glory's "madness". But Willow will mirror Glory as well, later in the season, as Dark Willow, not only in her mindwipe spells but also in nearly killing Dawn. (I do plan on writing some meta on that. It's insanely complicated.) One of the things I love about the show is how the seasons "bleed" into one another in service of the journey.




But it’s consistent with a pattern of Ben: he uses deception to placate Buffy (and others) into believing that a real problem, whether it be Glory, the string of crazy people in her wake, or Joyce’s upcoming death (though Ben is not actually aware of the last one), is not a real problem. Don’t sweat it, no need to prepare (though, it’s not as if preparation is possible): your problem is in good hands

Right. In this context it's interesting that Joyce intuits that Dawn is not her daughter - she "knows" this to be true without knowing how or why. (Demonstrating again that (much of) Buffy's intuition doesn't come from being the Slayer, it comes from Buffy Summers. The doctors/WC can't provide the intuition (unconscious mind), they can only provide the knowledge (conscious mind). ) Joyce is on the edge of death in that moment, although she doesn't know it; existing in the shadowy region between life and death, her intuition slips pasts the careful controls of the conscious mind. At the end of the season Buffy will intuit how to save Dawn only after the portal between the worlds (conscious/unconscious, life/death) is opened (with extra dragons; as opposed to Joyce's yucky, scary puss-covered demon. Alas, poor Joyce.)

It's a replay (or yet another repeat) of consistent tension throughout the show between intuition/"knowing" (the subconscious mind) and "knowledge", the conscious mind, (gleaned either first hand through experience or second-hand through books etc.) The institutions, through their representatives, shut down "knowing" with their carefully-controlled knowledge (pieced out on a need to know basis), and thus maintain the illusion that they can control patients, families, Slayers, Hellgods, death itself. Buffy, Giles, the SG, are at their weakest, fractured from one another, when different sides veer too hard in one direction or the other, when they stand too fixedly at one pole thinking that they are in opposition, rather than being open to what the other side has to offer.

(The fact that Spike, an undead vampire, is the one who is there with Dawn when she learns the truth about herself is surely significant as well but outside the scope of this meta and something I haven't really parsed out yet for myself.)

Thanks for these comments -- I really appreciate them. However, I have spent the last few days in a kind of depressed haze from reading too many upsetting Buffyverse posts [well, that is one contributing factor] so...I have decided to take March off from anything Buffyverse related. At least, I am going to try to -- my willpower is famously weak.

Yikes, I hope I haven't contributed to that! I do understand, though, because I've certainly been there. (Not just on the buffyverse, either, alas.) And I certainly don't mean for you to feel obligated to answer, just thoughts your meta inspired. (I thought several times to simply do meta on my own journal, but your meta inspired these thoughts so - I guess there isn't a "protocol" per se, even though I am always rather worried, perhaps irrationally, about "following protocol, but I've also had a recent "bruising" of my own, so....)

I hope your time away is a balm. I was once a moderator on a fan forum/board in another fandom, and my friend who still runs the board said from day one that if being a part of it wasn't fun anymore, feel free to walk away, because in her mind being a "fan" should be fun. Of course we know the reality of fandom works a bit differently but it's good advice nonetheless.

It's not you. Mostly it's my personal, not-fandom life, but to the extent that it's fandom it's -- well, there's a bunch of issues. I'd say more but it's hard for me to get into it. Sorry about your recent bruising.

Eh, I'll survive just fine, but thank you. I'm thinking of starting a "safe space for S7" series because there's things I really do love about the season - actually there's all sorts of things I love about the series esp the later seasons as a whole but sometimes I think that the complaints still dominate the conversations, and there are conversations I just do not have the time and energy to get into. And I'm as guilty of that as anyone (at least when it comes to certain subjects) and I really need to curb that about myself.

I hope your mom is holding up ok?


I do think that it becomes too hard to carry on conversations when the complaints basically dominate those conversations. Love may be stronger than hate, but it's...also kind of fragile. And I have a really hard time forgetting the complaints -- even the ones that contradict other complaints.

I do/did like season seven a lot, despite its flaws -- and really, I think that left to my own devices I wouldn't care about its flaws for the most part. Somehow knowing that the story disappointed so many people so much is overwhelming sometimes. People absolutely should have the space to register their complaints/disappointment; I just have no idea how best to coexist with that. [I don't want to get into specifics because hiatus!]

things are rough for my mom. I hope she'll be okay.

Love may be stronger than hate, but it's...also kind of fragile.

Well I've heard the saying "hate is not the opposite of love, indifference is." And I can attest to that - you don't love or hate if you don't care to begin with. I can believe that. Same energy, different manifestations. (If you'll forgive the sloppy metaphor.)

And I have a really hard time forgetting the complaints -- even the ones that contradict other complaints.

Particularly when it's about something we do take personally. (I've also come to skip over remarks from certain people when I know where they stand on certain issues is very much different from my own opinion, but every once in a while I stumble on an unexpected upraised nail and - OUCH. And then I have to withdraw. )

think that left to my own devices I wouldn't care about its flaws for the most part. Somehow knowing that the story disappointed so many people so much is overwhelming sometimes

The more complaints I read the more defensive I feel of it, but I've been appreciating it more on it's own anyway, and lostboy_lj's monomyth meta and Mark Fields meta posts on his blog have helped my appreciation greatly.

I just have no idea how best to coexist with that.

*nods*

I hope your mom will be all right.

And now we return to our regularly scheduled hiatus.

yeah. I mostly really like Mark Field's posts, but it was really hard for me reading his s6 ones because of Willow issues (since his take is that the addiction metaphor ruins her whole story, Two to Go is a trainwreck, etc.). not getting into that more except that those are really close to the issues that make me unsure if I can keep being in fandom. one of my close fandom friends said more than once that she can never care about Willow ever again because of how badly they screwed up her story. I "don't agree," in the sense that that wasn't my experience watching, but it's -- hard to get that out of my head, and maybe can't. I think I might be on my way out of fandom. but maybe things will get better with some time away.

so, yeah. hiatus.

Edited at 2013-03-02 09:51 pm (UTC)

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