Captain America: Civil War—Avengers, Disassembled

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Warning: Spoilers and feels ensue.

I was not ready to see this movie. All the fun and games from the first Avengers film have gone completely out the window.  Like Buffy Season 6, I knew this movie was going to hurt. And it did. A lot. But it hurt in a good way. The same way that a good tragedy hurts. Because in the end, that’s what Captain America: Civil War is—a tragedy.

I don’t want to go too much into the plot. What I will tell you is that the trailers and TV spots for Civil War are really clever in their misdirection. Don’t go into the movie thinking that you know what’s gonna happen. You will be shocked in the most genuine manner possible.

There are two major conflicts in this movie. The first conflict is this: The Avengers are divided on where they stand on what is called the Sokovia Accords, which registers the Avengers as a UN task force in order to hold the heroes accountable for the collateral damage they cause worldwide. Yes, in spite of the fact that the Avengers went out of their way to cause as little collateral damage as possible, a lot of people still died along the way and most people are blaming the Avengers for it, especially when Scarlet Witch accidentally kills dozens of Wakandans while doing a job with Captain America and company in Lagos, Nigeria.

Now one would expect, given the previous movies up to this point, that Captain America would be all for signing the Accords while Iron Man would be distrusting of the government. However, the events of  Iron Man 3 and The Winter Soldier have led to Tony being in favor of the Accords as a way to try and get some kind of accountability for everyone and Steve wanting the right to choose the battles he fights as opposed to using his abilities to further some politician’s agenda.

Both sides have a point. On the one hand, the heroes do need to be held accountable for their actions. On the other hand, the heroes shouldn’t be used as pawns for government organizations. Both Tony and Steve have very questionable actions throughout the movie as well. Tony reminds me of Angel from Buffy and Angel, trying to atone for his actions by doing what he thinks is best for everyone else whether they agree with him or not, but unlike Angel, Tony is doing so out of genuine grief and PTSD issues and not just from a curse. He’s also willing to admit when he is wrong. Of course, that doesn’t help any by the time Act 3 comes around. But we’ll get to that later. On the other hand, you can argue that Captain America is way too forgiving of Bucky, who killed hundreds of people under the influence of HYDRA’s brainwashing. (Reminds me of Buffy’s treatment of Spike during Season 7.) However, Bucky wants to atone for the things he did as The Winter Soldier and is making an effort to remember the things he did. Unfortunately, he gets implicated in a couple of terrorist attacks, forcing Captain to assemble a team to help him keep Bucky safe. On the other hand, Iron Man assembles his own team to get Captain America and his crew to side with the Accords.

This leads to the huge battle in a Germany airport that’s shown in basically every trailer. The teams are divided thusly:

Anti-Accords (Team Captain America):
Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans)
Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan)
Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie)
Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner)
Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen)
Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd)
Pro-Accords (Team Iron Man):
Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.)
Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson)
The Vision (Paul Bettany)
James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle)
T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman)
Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland)

The most surprising characters in the movie are actually Black Panther and Spider-Man. Spider-Man is the picture definition of “adorkable” in this movie. With the latest reboot coming around soon, Peter Parker is back to being a teenage kid with an insanely hot aunt (played by the seriously-does-not-look 51-year-old Marisa Tomei) who received his spider powers about six months before the events of the movie started. In contrast, T’Challa is a diplomat and the new king of Wakanda. He’s also a very powerful, experienced fighter in contrast to Peter.

A lot of Peter’s life (from what is seen in the movie) feels the most authentic compared to the previous film incarnations because he’s in way over his head. He provides a lot of humor to this very serious movie. It makes sense that he’s the most chatty of the heroes because he’s just getting into the hero scene. Spider-Man is used to exchanging witty banter with his enemies, but the other Avengers (even his fellow teammates) found his chatter a bit excessive. He also makes the other Avengers feel very old when he drops pop culture references. However, in the end, Spider-Man is just an extended cameo compared to the other new kid on the block.

Black Panther joins up with Iron Man with vengeance towards The Winter Soldier on his mind. What surprised me the most about Panther, however, is that while he is awesome at kicking ass, he’s also very wise. Towards the end of the movie, he confronts the true villain of the movie, Zemo, and realizes that everything has been stirred into motion by the cycle of revenge. He doesn’t kill Zemo and refuses to let Zemo kill himself. That is the closest thing to the Catholic version of justice that I’ve seen in this movie.

It’s during the third act that you realize that things are never gonna be the same. Without giving it away, Tony and Steve come to an impasse in terms of Bucky and the fight scene is as awesome as it is heartbreaking. The Captain America and Iron Man we knew are completely gone. What’s worse is that Hawkeye and Ant-Man have become fugitives and can’t return to their families. I feel especially bad for Scarlet Witch because she reminds me a lot of Willow, a powerful witch trying to figure out how to use her powers for the greater good. (Not to mention I totally ship her and Vision, but that is something I will save for Tumblr.)

Now while this movie is awesome, I have a couple of minor complaints. The first of which is that the villain isn’t really that involved in the movie. I barely even remember Zemo’s name and face. I understand his motivations, but in all honesty, he acts more like Eris, the sower of discord, in the sense that his only purpose in the movie is to sow the seeds that will cause the Avengers to turn against each other. The reason I compare this movie to Buffy Season 6 is that, in both cases, the villain was someone the heroes could’ve easily defeated if it wasn’t for the fact that the heroes have become their own worst enemy. I really want Zemo to get some kind of punishment for tearing the Avengers apart.

The other minor complaint I have is the “romance” between Sharon Carter and Steve Rogers. I’m not gonna jump on the Tumblr Bandwagon and be all “Steve is gay for Bucky/Tony,” but Steve barely had any development with Sharon. They flirted in The Winter Soldier and bonded at Peggy’s funeral, but that’s all the scenes they had together. For crying out loud, Steve had more chemistry with Black Widow than Sharon!

Aside from that, though, this movie is definitely worth seeing. If you are as invested in these characters as I am, be ready to cry. You also have to be familiar with the previous movies in order to really understand this one. This movie is gonna hurt, but there’s still hope that things will get better down the line.

Why Seeing Red Is The Worst Episode of Buffy: Defending Spike Part 1

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This is the first of a series of essays anonymously defending the character of Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer written by my friend Scholastica and edited by me. To this day, the fandom is divided about whether Spike was better as a villain or as an anti-hero, whether Buffy and Spike really loved each other or not, and especially about what is called “the bathroom incident” or “the attempted rape scene” in the Season 6 episode Seeing Red. There are mentions of abusive relationships, sexual violence, and other uncomfortable “trigger warning phrases” throughout this series of essays. However, Scholastica and I feel that these things need to be said because we both love Buffy, the titular character, and the character of Spike. So please read these essays with an open mind. Civil discussions are welcome, but keep in mind I moderate comments here.  You have been warned.

 


One of the most controversial plot lines of Season Six of
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the torrid and abusive affair that springs up between the newly-resurrected titular hero of the series and the soulless but chipped vampire Spike.  The half-season story arc involves violent and secretive sex between the two characters, angry verbal spats, and one brutal scene in an empty alley.  All of this ugliness culminates in the horrific bathroom scene of Seeing Red, in which Spike attempts to assault Buffy.  In the aftermath of this painful scene, Spike journeys to Africa, and audiences are led to believe he is trying to remove his chip so that he can return to being the Big Bad.  Instead, the vampire undergoes strenuous trials and ends the season by regaining his soul.

Internet commentary reveals that Seeing Red is one of the most divisive episodes of the show.  Former fans of the character often find themselves unable to forgive Spike’s actions.  For the vampire’s detractors, the attempted rape is proof that his love for Buffy was never real.  “Spuffy” shippers who continue to love Spike after Seeing Red are sometimes accused of justifying or dismissing rape.  Now, I have no intention of excusing Spike’s actions in Seeing Red.  He attempts to rape Buffy and needs to undergo penance.  I believe he does. However, the episode does not change how I feel about him or his relationship with Buffy.  This essay, the first in a series that defends Spike as a character, explains why.

Before beginning, however, I would like to put forward a disclaimer:  I view Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a practicing Catholic.  I do not mention this fact because I am trying to convert anyone or dreg up controversial Church teachings, so I would politely ask that no one troll this essay or the next ones about subjects they do not address.  I realize that Joss Whedon is an atheist and that, like most shows on television in the twenty-first century, the bulk of the romantic relationships depicted on Buffy are illicit by Catholic standards.  I happen to believe that Christians should still engage with art that disagrees with their worldview, and the wonderful thing about the Slayerverse is that it brings up all sorts of fascinating moral and philosophical issues that viewers from diverse backgrounds will likely interpret differently.  I bring up my own religious background mainly because it would be impossible for me to address such topics as the nature of love and morality, free will, ensoulment, and redemption without drawing openly upon the Thomistic philosophical tradition that undergirds so much of my Catholic faith.

Ironically, these issues are much easier to explore in rockier relationships than in easy-going ones, making Spike and Buffy’s romantic entanglement a perfect avenue.  The “Spuffy” relationship exemplifies in many ways the increasingly complex moral universe of the show itself. Throughout seasons Two through Four of Buffy, all soulless vampires were claimed to be incapable of moral good.  By Season Five, this assumption no longer seems set in stone.  Moreover, as the series progresses, it portrays more and more human villains.  By the end of Season Six, even the heroes are shown making serious moral mistakes.

Set against the backdrop of this increasing moral complexity, the attempted rape in Seeing Red seems like an awkward late-series attempt to restore the paradigms set up in the early seasons of Buffy.  For the past two seasons, the writers themselves have appeared unsure how to treat the “monster” who wants to be a man for his beloved.  The bathroom scene is apparently their answer to the question of whether or not Spike can be good without the oft-mentioned soul.  Unfortunately, it does not really accomplish this task because the scene itself feels forced and unnatural.  Like many viewers, I consider the attempted rape to be borderline character assassination of Spike.  Not only do I object to the way it is presented on the show, I also believe that it does not fit with what has been slowly established about Spike’s background and personality through the past seasons.  Thus, for the rest of this essay, I will explore my manifold objections to the scene.

 

Objection #1: The Scene is Unnecessary to Advance the Narrative

This objection is actually the least bothersome for me because I do understand the sort of hero’s journey the writers were trying to tell:  A beloved character hits rock bottom and commits the most heinous sin the show’s feminist universe can imagine.  It should be unforgivable, but the possibility of forgiveness is raised nonetheless.  Confronted with his own interior ugliness, the character goes on a quest to redeem himself.  Most of the psychological force of this narrative is blunted because the writers were also trying to trick viewers into thinking Spike was on his way to Africa to remove the chip.  Nevertheless, it would make for a good story if it were not for the other objections on my list.  The point of this objection is not that the story they were trying to tell is lacking in cathartic satisfaction.  Rather, it is that it was not the only way to spur Spike towards redemption.  The beauty of fiction is that writers have an infinite number of ways to get characters from point A to point B, and while not all stories are equally compelling, there were plenty of other options for Spike that could have served just as well.

For instance, there were a number of Spike lovers who would have preferred a soulless redemption for the vampire.  I actually have a lot of sympathy for this position.  This may surprise some readers, given that Catholics are generally pretty big on souls, but I think it makes a lot of narrative sense.  Because I plan on delving into the issue of vampire souls in more depth in my next two essays, I would prefer not to spend too much time discussing it here.  Suffice to say that I believe the soul canon in Slayerverse is sufficiently murky that a soulless redemption could have been believable.  Moreover, a good portion of Spike’s appeal is due to his ability to defy the apparent norms of vampire metaphysics, and a soulless redemption would have seemed like a natural extension of this aspect of his character.  I am not saying this is my preferred solution, but it would have been a plausible option.

The general impression I have gotten from fans who prefer soulless redemption is that a lot of their objections to Spike’s ensoulment have to do with the heavy effect it has on his character.  Whatever else the acquisition of a vampire’s soul may bring, it does seem pretty intertwined with feelings of intense guilt. While I do consider contrition a necessary component of redemption, I can also understand why advocates of soulless redemption dislike the guilt-fest.  In Season Seven, the newly-souled Spike is put through a tremendous among of physical and mental suffering, retreating in the first half of the season to a dank basement where his insanity is given full play.  He comes dangerously close to being transformed from a fun-loving punk rocker to a brooder like Angel, Buffy’s first vampire lover.  I’ll admit that I loved seeing Spike get his taste for a good fight (and his awesome coat) back in Get it Done.  With or without his soul, I prefer to see the sort of penitence that fits his personality, not Angel’s.

For me, the real advantage of a soulless redemption arc, however, is less about avoiding all the Angel-style broodiness and more about how the other characters react to the change.  For so much of Season Six, Buffy and the Scoobies justify their mistreatment of Spike by citing his presumed soullessness.  One of the unfortunate side effects of him getting his soul back is that it allows Buffy to change her opinion of him without having to confront the past cruelty she inflicted upon him.  While she does admit in one scene of Never Leave Me that his changes began before his ensoulment, she does not really dwell on his pre-soul moral growth.  Instead, whenever she addresses his detractors in Season Seven, her defense of him always begins with “It’s different now.  He has a soul.”  The soul comes across less as a requirement for morality than something all the cool kids have to have in order to please their peers.

Despite these considerations, I do have a slight preference for souled redemption because the quest to regain his soul works very nicely with the chivalric tropes I believe underline Spike’s character.  However, I still dislike using attempted rape as the catalyst for this soul quest, when there were a number of other ways to push Spike to embark upon it.  For instance, our boy could have continued to backslide into lesser crimes, much like the ones he committed in Season Five.  Such a narrative would make his decision to seek a soul the result of the realization that his good intentions were not enough without a moral compass.  Instead of reversing all the moral progress that has been made, his soul quest would be the natural culmination of the previous season’s character arc.  Alternatively, he could have sought the soul after the brutal beating Buffy gives him in Dead Things, either as an effort to understand her pain or to prove her harsh assessment of him wrong.  He could also have sought it after her rejection of him in As You Were, in order to be considered worthy of a continued relationship with the Chosen One.  He could even have sought it after the painful post-Anya scene in Entropy, when he seems so depressed that he almost welcomes death at Xander’s hands.  Any of these options would have seemed more in character with Spike in Season Six.  Regardless of what alternative one prefers, the point is that there were many ways of getting him to that cave in Africa without the bathroom scene.

Objection #2: It is only partially true that Buffy is responsible for stopping Spike

This is another relatively minor point, but one I cannot help making.  Technically, yes, the whole horrible scene ends because Buffy gives Spike a good kick that brings him up short.  Personally, I would have liked to see Spike stop himself (barring, of course, completely eliminating the scene altogether).  However, I suspect that the writers ended it the way they did in order to show a woman successfully fighting off a potential rapist, and I think that is a worthy enough message to send to female viewers that ultimately I accept the need for Buffy’s kick on those grounds.  A woman should never assume that words alone will end an assault and victims should fight back.  However, I will point out that Buffy’s kick might only have halted the attack temporarily.  She does not kill him or incapacitate him in any way.  Nor does she immediately try to escape.  If he had truly wanted to rape Buffy, the kick might only have given him a moment’s hesitation before he tried again.  In fact, I suspect that many real-life rapists might actually become more enraged by the kick.  Spike is clearly horrified.  So while her actions do (rightfully) halt the attack, I think it should be taken into consideration that the vampire is not evil enough to try again.  This does NOT remove his responsibility for the original attempt and I am not trying to argue that he should be given credit for not continuing his attack.  What I am saying is that perhaps it should give us pause that plenty of souled human males would have gone back for a second round of struggling.  I think this reveals something about his understanding of the situation and his intentions, which I will explore in a later objection.

Objection #3: The scene feels out of character for Spike at this point.

I actually think that it is out of character for him at every point in his personal evolution, but especially so by Season Six.  I am not saying that their relationship is a particularly healthy one or that Spike’s evil inclinations are fully in the rearview mirror.  What I am saying is that raping the woman he loves no longer seems like something he would try to do, if it ever had been part of him to begin with.  I found his attempted rape out of character for at least three reasons: 1) the scene does not fit with how sex has been connected to violence in their relationship up to this point 2) the scene provides no plausible motive for the attempted rape that fits either Spike’s personality or his relationship to Buffy and 3) the scene ignores the character development that has happened through the past two seasons.

All The Small Things

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“Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
    we are the clay, and you are our potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.” – Isaiah 64:8

For the past few years, I’ve gotten used to big changes. This year, however, has seen a lot of little changes. I’m not posting everyday on Instagram. I’ve been writing more poetry than prose. I went on a weekend trip to Dallas where all I did was wander around the local Arboretum.

It always seems like my life has been this song playing constantly on loop:

 

I’ve been working and waiting for whatever comes next. Something I didn’t learn until recently, though, is that life goes on even while you’re waiting.

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I have a mourning dove nesting in my backyard that I’ve named Genevieve. She’s been there for almost a month now. Her babies hatched sometime last week and it’ll be about another month before the birds start leaving the nest. I’ve also made some new friends and got to know a few saints. I didn’t write a 50,000 word novel, but I started working on a fantasy/horror series that took me straight out of my comfort zone in terms of writing. And if I combine all the work I did towards that with the poetry I wrote last month, I’m pretty sure that I wrote way more thank 50K in one month. I didn’t write a poem-a-day, but I am proud of the poems that I ended up writing.

I know that all of these things don’t seem like a lot, but if there’s anything I learned from spring, it’s that a lot of little things add up to a lot over time. When you plant seeds in a garden, they don’t grow into flowers right away. Gardens take a lot of work and time. In a similar way, I feel as though all the little changes I’ve been experiencing have been like God making tiny changes in my soul, the same way that a sculptor chips away at marble or a potter making tiny dents into clay.

In other words, life for me lately has been all about all the small things. Pennies in a jar or drops in the bucket that have slowly been filling up over time. What it’ll all add up to is yet to be seen.

If you feel like nothing big has been happening in your life, I recommend keeping a daily gratitude journal. In The Gospel of Happiness, Christopher Kazor recommends focusing on something different each day when it comes to gratitude. According to the book, Mondays are dedicated to thinking about ways in which we’ve received gifts from others and how might respond in gratitude. Tuesdays are meant to recall a good that is going to end soon. On Wednesday, we consider our blessings through the perspective of “what if they never existed?” Thursdays are devoted to considerting to whom we are grateful for and for what. Fridays are dedicated to writing about times in which something bad eventually led to something good.

I also recommend praying the Examen. There are many ways to pray the Examen, one of which I outline in my “Gratitude” Bible Study. I also recommend reading Leah Libresco’s Arriving At Amen which also has another Examen variation.

Moral of the story: Don’t overlook the little things in your life. They’re gonna add up to a lot sooner or later.