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Buffy 3.12. Helpless thoughts
Along similar lines to the previous post. F-locked for now. Also really overlong.

So in Gingerbread, Buffy’s relationship with her mother is tested, and as a result of mob groupthink and demon possession, her mother nearly kills her as part of her plan to take care of her daughter and solve her problems for her. Giles was a key to Buffy’s salvation in that episode. It makes sense, then that the episode which follows is about Giles’ failure. Where Joyce overprotects her daughter and threatens to snuff who her daughter really is out in an attempt to protect her image of her daughter, Giles, under the Council’s orders, drugs Buffy in anticipation of a plan to throw her into the lion’s den, putting her into a scenario for which her odds of survival are extremely low. It is a polar opposite of the problem with Joyce: the difference between smothering (Joyce) and abandonment (Giles). Joyce tries to protect Buffy from monsters and impedes Buffy’s ability to fight them; Giles tries to push Buffy into fighting monsters. Both strategies have some value in moderation—it’s important for a parent or mentor to both want to protect one’s child from danger, and to get this child to face danger. In excess, both are horrifying. Buffy’s attempting to slot Giles into the role of her own father comes up in this episode, obviously, and in some senses what Giles does here (or almost does) is reminiscent of Buffy’s father abandoning her to live her own life completely free of him. However, unlike Hank, Giles continues to care for Buffy and continues to remain a part of her life in an active way; it’s just that his way of showing it is badly distorted by his Council indoctrination.

After a brief interlude focusing on Xander, Buffy will rebel for real in Bad Girls before finding herself shocked by what happened in the Consequences morning after. These episodes are directly linked to events here; it is Wesley’s presence that ignites Faith’s further rebellion which brings Buffy into it, and I think that Buffy’s full-tilt desire to join with Faith is directly related to both of her parent figures’ betrayals here. Maggie talked about this back in the notes project, and also pointed out that Band Candy foreshadowed the back-to-back betrayals. I think that these tie in both with the season’s overall themes of authority in various forms, and with the season’s arc for Buffy, which largely consists of Buffy trying to find meaning in those around her by trying on various philosophies and ideas from them, doing her own version of Lilly/Anne’s transformation in the season premiere. Buffy tries recovering her inner Cordelia, finding meaning in being with Angel, connecting to Joyce and Giles, teaming up with Faith, considering leaving town entirely, and all of these fail in some way or another before she finds herself standing more or less as her own boss, dedicated to staying in Sunnydale as the creator of her own story.

As with Gingerbread, I want to start by talking about the fairy tale that forms much of the episode’s spine, and the one that Kralik wants to act out directly: Little Red Riding Hood.


There are four major players in the story: Little Red Riding Hood, the Woodsman, the Wolf, and Red’s grandmother. The equivalents in this episode are more or less Buffy as Red, Joyce as the grandmother, Kralik as the wolf, and Giles as the Huntsman. I feel like this story is well known enough that I don’t need to elaborate, but in brief, the story I think is being referenced is this: Little Red Riding Hood is on her way to see her grandmother, whom she’s going to bring food. She dawdles a little on the way, where she encounters a scary Big Bad Wolf. The Wolf learns of Red’s plan to go to her grandmother’s, and steals away to Red’s grandmother’s house, kills the grandmother and then wears her clothes, so as to be able to trick Red into getting close. Red enters; why, what big eyes her grandmother has! etc., culminating in Red noting her grandmother’s large teeth. There are different versions here, but one common one is that Red is eaten by the Wolf, and then the Woodsman (usually male) comes in and cuts Red out and saves her.

Kralik’s setting this story up eventually involves him kidnapping Joyce and using her as bait, which is a pretty direct way of telling the story. However, Kralik also has fun with the story, inverting it in various ways; he dresses up in the red outfit himself, the wolf luring the “grandmother” by pretending to be red instead of the reverse. The statement that he is going to turn Buffy into a monster who will eat Joyce—which is an interesting inversion of the idea of the wolf-in-grandmother’s-clothes who destroys the girl Giles enters at the last minute and saves Buffy from Blair, the Watcher who was turned by Kralik. But ultimately it’s Buffy who saves herself, here. One of the paradoxes that I want to discuss is the way in which the episode plays with and complicates that central myth, and the important question of what that means.


LRRH itself, as a story, is often interpreted as a coming of age tale. The Wikipedia entry on LRRH indicates, citing “Interpreting Little Red Riding Hood Psychoanalytically” by Alan Dundes (which I’m not about to go track down for the sake of this entry), “The tale has been interpreted as a puberty rite, stemming from a prehistoric origin (sometimes an origin stemming from a previous matriarchal era). The girl, leaving home, enters a liminal state and by going through the acts of the tale, is transformed into an adult woman by the act of coming out of the wolf's belly.” Stephen Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods (and Whedon has always been very public about how big a fan he is of Sondheim) references the sexual undertones of the story pretty explicitly, where Red says she was “excited, well, excited and scared”; the Wolf can be seen as the terror of male sexuality encroaching on the innocent woman. I’m sure I’ve read someone interpreting Red’s…Redness as being representative of blood and thus of puberty, as well. For an example of the wolf = sexual predator depiction, check out Tex Avery’s Little Red Riding Hood cartoons as an example.

The connection to Buffy’s eighteenth birthday and her transition into adulthood are obvious. And in that sense the episode does actually function. The substory of Buffy vs. Kralik actually happens more or less unimpeded. This is interesting in and of itself. The Cruciamentum passes more or less normally enough to meet Quentin’s satisfaction. And I think in that sense we can say that the mythological rite of passage is complete. The rules change partway through, but basically Buffy fights Kralik without Buffy slayer powers and kills her all herself. Buffy becomes her own saviour, and goes through a horrifying ordeal of figurative death/rebirth from which she comes through stronger.

I do think that she does come through stronger. The episode complicates this in interesting ways, partly because, of course, in order to go through this horrifying ordeal Buffy has to lose some of her trust in Giles. But setting that aside, Buffy learns something which she hadn’t known before. A few things of note:

Sex, family and the slayer: What did Buffy say in CWDP? “See, this is what I hate about you vampires. Sex and death and love and pain—it's all the same damn thing to you.” The teaser, first a Buffy/Angel scene and then a Buffy/Giles one, sets up some pretty weird dynamics that resonate through the whole episode. First of all, we get Buffy and Angel fighting as a pretty clear way of staving off their intense sexual feelings, with the double entendres being obvious enough for the characters to mention. “Satisfied?” Buffy asks. “Not quite the word I’d use,” says Angel. Ew get a mansion you two! Wait they did. This sets us up for the Buffy/Faith team-fighting-shippiness in Bad Girls (Doug Petrie being the most intense Buffy/Faith slasher on staff, methinks) and in general the weird way the Buffy/Angel/Faith dynamics are sort of sexual/fighting in all directions, with Enemies also starting with a reminder of how big a toll not being able to have sex has on those two. Buffy mentions to Giles in the second scene, after she puts down the “vibratory” stones she’s been fondling, how she wants to go out to patrol because she’s got so much pent-up energy. So Buffy’s ability to fight is linked to her sex drive pretty strongly here. The other thing that happens in the Buffy/Angel scene is this curious exchange:

Buffy: Right, birthday. Um, actually, I, I do have a thing.
Angel: Oh, a thing. (trying to be cool) A date?
Buffy: (nods) Nice attempt at casual. Actually, I do have a date. (steps closer) Older man. Very handsome. He likes it when I call him 'Daddy'.
Angel: (smiles) Huh, your father. (frowns) It is your father, right?
Well, they said it, I didn’t! Maybe this line could be taken in a less Freudian way, but this episode also features a vampire whose Oedipal issues rival Spike’s. That said, you know, I think that this is a bit of a tease by the writers rather than any kind of statement that Buffy’s actually got a literal Electra Complex. What this exchange suggests, though, is the way in which Buffy’s issues with men actually involve a) father figures (Hank and Giles), b) lovers, and c) vampires, all of whom on some level have somewhat similar roles in her heart—she has “dates” with fathers and lovers and vamps, and as she moves from childhood to adulthood she moves from her father (or father figure) being the most important male figure in her life to her male lover being the most important one. And also there’s Xander, whose role in her life is to debate Kryptonite and to fail to open jars. Well, more on him next week!

Anyway, Buffy’s “yearly tradition” with her father was notably one which was totally skipped over last year, where she spent the year indulging in her physical self with Angel and that turned out disastrous. The gifts she got that year from the men in her life were Angel’s “surprise” (yikes) and, more happily, phallic, male-coded power given to her by Xander (“best present ever”) and compassion and understanding from Giles. Here’s a theory: with Buffy’s relationship with Angel being what it is, and with her slayerhood having trashed her relationship with her mother last week, albeit through supernatural effects, Buffy wants to retreat to a simpler time in her life, in which she was a little girl. Ice skating is Buffy’s innocent, safe place, with her father. And then, as we see, she even wants to slot Giles into this role, as father to her innocent, childlike, pre-sexual, maybe pre-slayer self.

Angel mentions having seen Buffy when she was called, and we’re thus reminded of that shock. Buffy has already been through something like the initiation she goes through in this episode, but she is reinitiated here, partly, I suspect, because after her desire in season two to reach for what adulthood meant, Buffy is a little bit tempted at this stage to retreat and hang onto parts of her childhood, and thus has to go through the painful process of being re-initiated into sexual maturity and strength.

The Benefits of Slayerhood. Buffy is so used to having slayer powers all the time that she is unaware of what life is like without them. Buffy very frequently, and understandably, rebels against her calling. But it takes losing her powers for her to recognize what life would be like without them. She walks the streets desperately afraid, unable to respond when she’s harassed. She has no protection. And she has a less clear sense of meaning in her life. As she says to Angel, she used to be something like Spordelia. In some senses, Helpless is a kind of weird wish fulfilment fantasy that turns into a nightmare in a way that connects to Cordelia’s wish fulfilment fantasy not long ago in The Wish. Instead of Cordelia’s direct, literal wish, we have Buffy’s pining for some of the simplicity of a childhood which has somewhat tragically passed her by. Unlike Cordelia, Buffy, frustrated though she is with her powers, recognizes pretty much immediately that she doesn’t *actually* want to go back to her pre-powers self. As painful as it is for Buffy to be the slayer, it would be much more painful if she weren't the slayer.

What She Learns. The main time in which we saw Buffy really, *really* scared during the TV series was the Master. The Master was a figure who so terrified her that he actually did to some extent remove Buffy’s powers; he could mind control her to a degree, and so Buffy was helpless. Her bravery in Prophesy Girl was going to face the Master even though she thought she would likely die, and she did, ultimately, die; the resurrection that resulted is what gave her the new strength. Buffy has been scared since, but very rarely has her strength been the cause of her fear. The second season arc was all about Buffy’s emotional vulnerability to Angel rather than her physical vulnerability; she and he were nearly equally matched but Buffy the stronger, and the season ended with Buffy acting the full part of the warrior and stabbing him with a sword. I don’t want to say that Buffy only relies on her strength, which is not the case, but there is an overall pattern of Buffy’s physical strength being the thing Buffy ends up turning to; the biggest struggles of Buffy’s are not so much physical, but of how to marshal her internal energies to use that strength, as in Anne, where what it takes is for Buffy to find her inner slayer again to fight back against the forces of hell. These struggles are certainly heroic, but the physical strength is still a factor.

What distinguishes Helpless from, say, Prophesy Girl, is that Buffy knows that she lacks the physical strength to win the combat with Kralik on physical terms, yet also is unwilling to die the way she did in PG. It’s not that she’s not *risking* it; she certainly is. But I think she walked into the Master’s lair with some sense that it would be, in the grand scheme of things, “okay” if she perished fighting the Master; she has no such weird, paradoxical comfort here, since her death would not accomplish anything: she doesn’t have the comfort of believing that her death would save the world, but her death would only just end with her mother’s death, too. She’s already faced down death, but now she’s facing the possibility of death AND failure, which I think is harder. Normally, Buffy can channel some of her fear and anger into combat strength, just like she channels some of her sex drives into it; here, she has to just keep herself under control and keep her mind sharp and unclouded, wait for the proper opportunity, and strike. I think that it’s easier in some ways to convert fear directly into action, as in combat, than it is to overcome fear and still execute a plan coolly and calmly, and that remarkable inner strength Buffy shows here is a newish development.
Buffy has always been a smart investigator and strategist; her trick on Kralik with the holy water reminds me a little of her trick on Luke with the sunrise statement back in The Harvest, except here it’s more carefully modulated to Kralik’s particular weak spots. But I think here we get a sense of Buffy recognizing that she needs not just to use those skills in a spontaneous creative explosion like in The Harvest or the like, but of actually planning those out. I think Buffy’s much more practiced at spontaneous than planned creative planning, and so this experience does teach her that she has those skills and can call them off. I think this makes sense for where she is in her story and affects how things will progress from here. It’s notable that while Buffy plays the willing sacrificial lamb and then Master-killer in PG and the swordfighting warrior/killer in Becoming, in Graduation Day there are three major actions Buffy undertakes—fighting/stabbing Faith, giving herself and her blood to Angel, and being the general in the battle against the Mayor—only one follows the slayer-as-warrior-alone pattern, and that’s the attack on Faith which is largely the wrong course of action. In the fight with the Mayor, Buffy does most (though not all) of the planning, and doesn’t end up touching the Mayor in the final combat, though she still uses her slayer skill to give him a merry, high-speed chase.

The price of this lesson is that Buffy is traumatized from the experience, finds it harder to trust people, and, mostly, that she might have died. Joyce might have died. This was a risk which she did not sign up for. It’s rather obvious, I think, that the possibility that there may have been some good ends achieved, leading to Buffy’s greater sense of self and emancipation from the Council, does not justify the means. But I think the power of the fairy tale/myth suggests that these initiation rites maybe do have some power, and something is lost in a world that doesn’t present them. Without actually seriously confronting and conquering fear of death or at least great loss, one cannot grow stronger, but this confrontation only has meaning if there is a real possibility of loss, and then, what, do the people who fail don’t deserve to pass? The fate of the slayer who fails the Cruciamentum is left somewhat unexamined, and in some senses that fate is the bigger horror in the episode.

Trust No One. Just as an aside, I do think it’s a shame that Buffy doesn’t try to contact any of her friends when she goes after Kralik. We know that Faith’s AWOL at the moment from Buffy mentioning it early on, and we know why she doesn’t trust Giles. But still, Willow, Xander, Cordelia and Oz maybe could have been helpful here, especially because they actually have more experience fighting vampires without slayer strength than Buffy does. And, obviously, there is Angel, with his super-strength. I think that it’s a combination of a few things; Buffy is ultimately a bit of a lonely warrior when it comes down to it. And I think she may intuit—correctly—that Kralik really does want her to come alone. What would Kralik have done had Buffy come in with her posse in tow? It is maybe the right call to just go in, but I think it is another indication of some of Buffy’s habit to clamp down and trust no one but herself when everything is on the line, especially when her family is what she stands to lose.

In any case, part of the effect of the Cruciamentum—which leads us into the next section!—is to wreck Buffy’s trust of the Council in general, and to do significant damage to her trust for Giles in particular. This allows her to start doing her own leading and planning, as I mentioned above. It ends the period of wishing for a father to take care of her in a childlike way. It is a significant break from childhood and entrance into adulthood. She loses two fathers in one episode—her own father basically disappearing from her life, and her father figure betraying her. However, and I will talk about this more later, Giles’ rejection of and rejection from the Council suggests the possibility of a renewed relationship between her and him. Giles’ connection to authority has been severed, and this places Giles in some sense as adrift as Buffy. That Giles is something of a victim of the Council too doesn’t escape Buffy’s notice, and the possibility of forming a new relationship as something like equals (or with Giles as a support figure rather than a parent figure) is left open.


Cruciamentum Overview. The Cruciamentum itself is designed to force a concentration between Red and the Big Bad Wolf, with no outside interference, in and of itself. As it happens, it’s Kralik who involves Joyce-as-“grandmother,” and Giles gets involved only at the last moment. Keep that in mind for now. But still, a little analysis. I actually forget where I first read this interpretation of the tale—I am reasonably sure I didn’t come up with it, but I can’t quite place it. The two female characters in the story—Red and her grandmother—are passive, at the beginning and end of a woman’s lifetime. The two men are active—the hero and the monster—who both have tremendous strength in contrast to the women’s apparent weakness. And so one can say that the Male Hero in this story, the Woodsman, exists only because Red gets eaten; if Red doesn’t get eaten, then he has no role in the story at all. If it weren’t for the Male Villain/Molester represented by the Wolf, then it would be a story about two women getting along and eating snacks peacefully, in which there is no role for a Traditionally Manly Man. This actually matches up with some feminist social criticism that the Male Saviour of Women and the Male Destroyer Of Women are not so unrelated: the wolf, the Bad Man who is out to hurt women, serves as justification for the Male Hero to be the saviour of, and protector of, the women, and thus to make themselves seem important and indispensable. If the Wolf did not actually exist, either equality between the sexes would have to exist, or men who want to bolster their narrative of Male Heroes who need to exist to save Weak Women would have to invent him.

This puts me in mind of what Buffy ends up saying to Quentin Travers, and the Council as a whole, in Checkpoint:

You guys didn’t come all the way from England to determine whether or not I was good enough to be let back in. You came to beg me to let you back in. To give your jobs, your lives some semblance of meaning.
The ostensible purpose of a Watcher is to train the slayer for combat, to guide and protect her, and throw her into the field. The Watchers Council then alternates between viewing the slayer as their instrument, and identifying themselves as an important and essential support mechanism for the slayer. On the micro level, Giles flounders badly once he realizes that he is no longer needed by Buffy—because, of course, he has no role in the world if he’s not the Watcher to Buffy, especially since he has lost much of the things in his life that have given it meaning otherwise.

The Cruciamentum is ultimately a paradox. If we trust Quentin, it seems as if it is designed to improve a slayer, to make her more independent and to be able to function without her Watcher. However, the Council does not actually want the slayer to be so independent that she no longer needs a Watcher. In particular, when they replace Giles, they do so with Wesley, who tries to lay down the Council law more strongly than Giles did. Wesley’s inexperience in either combat or in dealing with teenage girls almost makes me wonder if the Council really *wanted* Buffy to break from the Council, but I think it’s more a sign of the Council’s cluelessness in general. (And obviously, Wesley actually IS very smart, a skilled researcher, and has real potential as a leader and field marshal—just potential that is untapped.) There is a prominent fan theory that the real purpose of the Cruciamentum is just to weed out slayers in general at a relatively young age, by putting them in a scenario where they are very likely to be killed. I think this is possible, though I don’t think that even Quentin would consciously believe this—Quentin seems to believe his own PR. That the Council fires Giles for acting independently demonstrates, I think, that what they want is not *really* independent thinking at all. And from Checkpoint and Never Leave Me we see how much Quentin et al. really do want to be seen as essential to the slayer, even though they hide this, perhaps even from themselves.

Here’s what I think the real desire is: the Council wants slayers who both fight all their battles for them, and who are also extremely loyal. Slayers who come to view themselves as invincible would start to question the Council. Slayers who live too long would start to view themselves as invincible. Slayers who fail to test themselves or their limits are no real use to the Council at all. So, slayers who fail the Cruciamentum are not particularly good warriors for The Cause, and are thus weeded out. Slayers who pass the Cruciamentum may, like Buffy, develop an independent streak as a result of the ordeal, and feel betrayed by the Council. But the Council can always, as they ultimately do with Buffy, cut off a slayer whose independent streak threatens their control. What may happen instead, in most cases, is that the slayer’s ability to pass the Cruciamentum does *not* actually give the slayer a strong sense of her own independent power and that she has outgrown the Council—though it does have the side effect of allowing for the Council to justify giving even less support. What it would do in these cases, perhaps, is to traumatize the slayer and then convince the slayer that this trauma was “for her own good,” leading to a Stockholm Syndrome-esque attachment to her Watcher, the way children can more closely attached to abusive parents. The experience reminds the slayers of their ultimate vulnerability and, at least subconsciously, reminds them that their powers are on some level something the Council can take away at any time. This makes them both more superficially independent and better fighters, AND might make them more indebted to the Council. The Council, in thrusting the slayers into this horrible situation, get to frame their action as for the slayer’s own good, and then the slayer is in some sense actually indebted to the Council for putting them through the ordeal which transforms them.

All this being said, then, it’s worth noting that if the vampires and demons did not exist, the slayer would have no monsters to fight and thus would have no need of the Council’s support. As we see in the series, Buffy, ultimately, has a wide enough skill set to be able to function in the world even if demons stopped existing; she struggles to balance work and home life and slaying, especially in season six, but she is capable of being both quasi-mother figure, and of working in the world in non-slaying capacities, as a service worker or, better, as high school counselor. Buffy doesn’t always remember that she doesn’t need the monsters to function, but at times she does remember it. Giles has no role in a world with no monsters, or where monsters can be easily dealt with by others—which is something we see often. He needs those monsters, in order to be useful to Buffy. And without Buffy, Giles is pretty much just watching Passions, just as the Council is just watching Masterpiece Theatre. The Council represents the patriarchal idea that men need to exist in order to protect others, primarily women, from monsters, and as such it needs those monsters in order to function, and is adrift without them. It also, beyond gender relations, suggests the way Upper Classes, governments, etc. feel the need to emphasize their own importance to the lower classes, soldiers, etc. who serve them. The existence of vampires gives a (flimsy) justification for the Council's excesses in the same way that the existence of terrorist threats can lead to, say, governments pushing forward greater plans to spy on and oppress their own people "for their own good," and so are in some sense essential. (For a fictional example, in 1984 think the role of enemy empires Eurasia and/or Eastasia, or Goldstein the spy who may or may not actually exist, which are used to justify the increasing elimination of freedoms within the tyrannical Oceania.)

Now, for the most part, there *are* monsters in the world, and that means that many of the real world analogues to the Council—spymasters, high-ranking military officers, government agencies, bureaucracies of all sorts—do have some kind of purpose and meaning in the world. If there stopped being evil, they might have to disband and get “real jobs,” but it doesn’t seem as if evil is going to end any time soon. Still, I think this episode gets at some of those contradictions in organizations of this sort, and in the general idea of Male Heroes as protectors/advisors. In order to apply their test to Buffy, they actually have to bring in a vampire and set him loose on her. It’s as if the Woodsman really did set the Wolf up to go chasing after Red so that he could save her—or, in this case, so that Red could save herself and the Woodsman could *still* take the credit for it.

I don’t know if the Council would think of the Cruciamentum ritual in terms of fairy tales the way Kralik very clearly does. I don’t think so; they don’t seem to have that kind of imagination. But I think that they recognize the power of ritual and narrative as a way of conferring lessons. The Watchers and Kralik share this trait: they recognize that life is a story, and if they are careful they can control the parameters of the story and thus what lesson is imparted to the “hero” of this story they are engineering.

The Council’s Treatment of Buffy and Kralik. There is something else pretty neat in the way the Council deals with Buffy and Kralik. There are hints throughout the series that the slayer is closer to the demons she fights than is generally thought or known, culminating in Get It Done officially revealing that the Shadowmen, the original Watchers, actually made the slayer deliberately in order to fight their battles for them, and infused her with demon energy. And so a slayer is part demon. That demon—frightening, hard to control—is part of the reason why modern Watchers exist in the first place, because a rogue slayer really *is* incredibly dangerous, as we see this season with Faith, just as any human given a huge amount of power and something of a killer instinct is going to be extremely dangerous. I think the demon, among other things, can represent the killer instinct that soldiers need to maintain and nurture in order to be effective fighters, but which becomes devastating if left unchecked in civilian life; the Council’s inability to take responsibility for Faith, and their fear of Buffy, is partially one of governments washing their hands of responsibility for the soldiers they themselves have created (and no longer need). Part of the function of a Watcher is to be able to fight and slay their own charges, or at least the impulses within their charges which are dangerous. This is part of the subtext of Giles going after and wanting to kill Angel in Passion and *especially* Spike in LMPTM. (One could even say that the Woodsman cutting Red out of the Wolf’s stomach is a similar image of men using violence to find the “good woman” inside the monster.) The manipulation inherent in the Cruciamentum is one which ultimately, at least in the short-term, robs slayers of their power and thus of the demon within.

This manifests within this episode in the fact that parallels are drawn, I suspect deliberately, between the way the Council treats Buffy and the way they treat Kralik. Kralik and Buffy are paralleled in general, Kralik seeming to see Buffy as something of a kindred spirit, a reflection of his own mother issues. That Kralik’s mother issues centre on his mother removing her power because she felt powerless herself, and the implication that she may have castrated him (his reference to what she did with the scissors), is a parodic reflection of what Giles does to Buffy in this episode, removing her power (and remember how sex and strength are linked throughout the ep) as a result of his inability to find the mental resources to stand up to the Council for what he knows is right. The biggest parallels are in the way the Council treats them, though. They assign the Watcher Blair to Kralik, and Blair is expected to keep Kralik in restraints and to feed him drugs to make him function. The drug addiction is one way they keep Kralik under control. Blair drugs Kralik just as Giles drugs Buffy; the drugs allow Kralik more or less to function and to be a better monster (better wolf) for the fight, whereas the drugs force Buffy more or less into a worse slayer (more helpless Red). The point, essentially, is that the Council attempts to control the two of them. Most of the time, they want a strong slayer and a weak vampire, so it’s convenient that Kralik is so crazy he can barely function and goes into spasms of constant pain, and Buffy has the demon essence from Watcher ancestors to make her super-strong; in order to push this Red/Wolf myth they are peddling, they use drugs to reverse their usual states.

Of course, the danger is that the Council can’t actually control their own people! Giles and Blair, around the midpoint of the episode, suddenly switch allegiance to their charge. Giles’ infection by Buffy’s goodness and love leads to him coming clean about his treatment of her and siding totally with Buffy. Blair gets sired by Kralik—coming too close to Kralik to be able to stop him!—and then becomes a vampire, totally on Blair’s side. This little taste gives some idea of why the Council fires Giles: of course they don’t want their Watcher being too badly infected by his charge, look at what happens to Blair who got too close to the vampire he was caring for! It’s somehow appropriate that Giles ends up killing Blair at the last moment; his role in the story is not to save Red from the Wolf, but to slay the dark Woodsman who finds himself on the side of the Wolf.

So we see here both that the Council sees slayers in not very different terms from the way they see vampires; and, further, an example of the way in which vampires are as necessary for the Council to continue functioning and proving its importance as slayers are.

Giles. The episode has gotten flak from some critics (Maggie, for instance) for pushing Giles into betraying Buffy without much background. After all, Buffy is terribly weakened and could even die in the days leading up to the Cruciamentum proper. I think it is true that Giles is remarkably callous. But still, Giles is a traditionalist; he’s been indoctrinated into this ritual for his entire time on the Council. And as we see in the series, Giles accepts the contradictory, nonsensical assumptions that underpin the Council all the time, except when he’s feeling rebellious for largely personal reasons. Why does the Watcher get paid and the Slayer have to work pro bono? Why is there a whole Council for Watchers, and yet the field Watcher overseeing the Slayer is largely treated as a second-class citizen, even though this is surely the only truly “important” job if we believe the Council’s own press about themselves? We have Quentin’s argument, which reduces to the idea that if Buffy is worthy she will survive, and Giles would be insulting Buffy by *not* putting her through this horrible ideal. And we’ve already gotten hints about this type of thing earlier in the season. Quentin’s argument to manipulate Giles is not dissimilar to the way Gwen Post makes Giles feel frustrated and unable to control his Slayer, which makes Giles feel like less of a professional and a man.

I do think that there is some distinct possibility that Buffy’s keeping Angel a secret from him still smarts. Angel did kill Jenny and tortured him; and while this is not Buffy’s fault, that Buffy hid Angel’s return from Giles is a decision that Buffy made that hurt him. However, I don’t think the Cruciamentum is a vengeful act. I think the relationship here is that Giles’ sense of injury at Buffy’s betrayal may convince him that Buffy is no longer under his control, and that is both a poor reflection on him and may also lead to Buffy being killed if Giles doesn’t fall back on the Council tradition. I think this also is a mind-game that protects Giles from seriously considering the possibility that Buffy might die; he perceives it on some level, of course, but for one thing Giles' training means that he always, on some level, knows that Buffy might die, and always has to ignore it, and for another the ritualistic nature of what happens is so ingrained in Giles that it's difficult for him to fully appreciate the risks. It's been normalized to him for his entire Watcher life, no doubt, and Quentin has assured him that Buffy will definitely pass, since she is worthy. It's only when Kralik escapes that Giles suddenly switches teams, goes looking for Buffy to protect her and tells her what he's done -- because that was not a part of the plan. It hardly matters that Kralik is just as much or more of a threat to Buffy within the designated parameters of the Cruciamentum than he is as a free agent; he has been indoctrinated into the plan, and the revelation that the plan is something that even the Council can't control properly shatters Giles' confidence in the Council and allows his human concern for Buffy to take over.

In terms of the long arc of the series, we find that Giles’ behaviour here more or less matches up to his strategy all the time. There is a pattern of Giles abandoning Buffy (or to an extent the Scoobies as group) to “fight her own battles” because he needs to let her go, and then attempting to seize control again when Buffy does something he doesn’t like. Sometimes this is relatively low-key; in season four, Giles sort of abandons Buffy to fight her fight in The Freshman, instantly regrets it, and then spends the rest of the season upset that Buffy doesn’t want him around anymore. He ditches first the gang as a whole and then later Buffy in particular in season six, and returns first to yell and then to violently restrain Willow for how she dealt with his absence; this is a case in which, as in Helpless, Giles seems to acknowledge, by the end of the season, that his throwing the others in the deep end of the pool was a mistake (“I shouldn’t have left”). In season seven, once again, he tries to push Buffy to be a general and then insists that the decisions she make as general are wrong and goes behind her back to kill Spike to teach her a lesson. Underneath all his layers of desire for Control, and his somewhat extreme belief that people should be able to fend for themselves without help even if the situation is a deadly one in which it’s unreasonable to actually expect functioning without help, Giles actually does care very much about Buffy (and cares, I think, about the others too, though to a lesser extent). He wants to be useful to her, and he wants to prepare her for life so that she doesn’t need to rely on him. In moderation, these are great traits of a teacher and father figure, but his inability to settle on which of those two roles he wants and his tendency toward extremism in either case sometimes inhibit him from being the positive force in Buffy’s life that he would like to be and often is.

Ultimately, Giles does rebel against the Council’s orders to a degree even early on, even as he follows them. The problem, I think, is at least partly that Giles’ rebellious streak is at least a little bit tied up with his Ripper persona, which he associates with hedonism and chaos. His entry into the Council effectively “saved” him from that Ripper lifestyle, and so it’s hard for him to trust his instincts when they lead him into conflict with the Council. On some level he identifies with Buffy, and also does to her what the Council did to him—indoctrination. It’s noteworthy, of course, that this identification on some level blinds Giles to the fact that they are still different. As much as the Council manipulates and belittles Giles in order to control him, he still is given higher status and greater security than Buffy. Giles’ failure is an unwillingness to listen to his instincts and emotional reactions earlier; by the time he does, and informs Buffy of what’s happened to her, the Council’s restraints on Kralik have already failed and she remains In Danger. He eventually goes to save her, and does save her from Blair (as well as from the attack from Kralik in the streets), his double who finds himself tangling with the monster. That Giles does act to save Buffy, and that he loses his status within the Council is enough to convince Buffy that Giles cares for her, and for her to let Giles back into her life, with the Council itself (later becomes represented by Wesley) becomes the target of her anger.


The work of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy involves interrogating tropes of fairy tales, myths, and horror movies, more and more as time goes on, culminating perhaps in Dollhouse and The Cabin in the Woods. And so I think it’s worth noting that this episode both owes something to slasher horror movies even more than most episodes up to this point, and also that I suspect that this episode was written at least on some level as a bit of a fix on the series’ feminism. If women are admirable only because of their supernatural physical strength, what does this mean for most women? And so Buffy is placed through an initiation ritual, passes, and we find ourselves warmed by her heroism; our identification with Buffy demonstrates that all women, and indeed all people, are able to be internally strong even without superpowers. And Buffy is, in the end, only a fictional character, so it’s hard to get too worked up about what she has to go through. At the same time, that the episode emphasizes both the Council and Kralik as being some kind of storytellers, pushing Buffy to go through this initiation myth/rite, actually aligns them with the writers. Is the idea that a fictional character must suffer and must face a situation in which she might genuinely die in order to “test” and “prove” her heroism on some level an indication that we think the same is true in real life? Is the desire for violent stories about fighting and overcoming adversity a sign of some kind of bloodlust on the part of the viewers and producers? I don’t really think so, but I think it’s not easy to dismiss it entirely, and I think some degree of ambivalence is justified by the story.


There’s a song by Sam Sham and the Pharaohs entitled Lil’ Red Riding Hood, which is from the point of view of the Wolf who himself chooses to protect Red from other Wolves…like him. The song suggests how close the male companion, protector and exploiter/destroyer roles can be in these tropes, and I think that the lyrics suggest things that are relevant to Giles, Xander, Spike and Riley, but IMO *especially* Angel, all of whom I think struggle between their genuine desire to help Buffy and be good for her, either as mentor or as helper, and their desire to possess her and even hurt her. This is taking up too much space already, so I'll just link here.

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I'm a bit ashamed that I can't think of anything meaningful to add in my comment... But I can't leave without letting you know that I absolutely loved your analysis.

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