What Would Buffy Do?- A Book Review

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To say that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a unique show that ended up changing my life forever would be an understatement. Much like how the Doctor from Doctor Who has two hearts, I have two great loves in my life: My Catholic faith and my obsession with fandoms, especially Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So imagine my surprise when I found out that a book like this one existed.

What Would Buffy Do: The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide is a collection of essays by Jana Reiss, a Mormon writer who specializes in writing things relating to religion and spirituality. It really boggles the mind that a show like Buffy, created by well-renowned atheist Joss Whedon, would have spiritual and religious themes that would lead to a Mormon writing essays on it, among other things.

The essays in Spiritual Guide are split into three sections: Personal Spirituality, “Companions on the Journey” (Interpersonal aspects of spirituality), and “Saving the World” (broad spiritual themes).  The essays in the first section are the most accessible to understand. “Be a Hero, Even When You’d Rather Go to the Mall” looks into the theme of self-sacrifice, using the characters of Buffy, Angel, and Xander as examples. This essay ties self-sacrifice with the Buddhist concept of the bodhisattva, “beings who are more concerned with the welfare of others.”  Although it includes the prayer of St. Francis as a quote (the same prayer also used in the end of the Buffy season 6 finale “Grave”), it neglects to mention the Christian aspect of agape and altruism, especially this verse from John 15:13 “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

“Change Makes us Human” looks into how vampires were originally conceived in the show: as metaphors for the selfish tendencies we have and the obstacles we have to deal with in the process of growing up. Spike is used as an example of this inability to change. In the episode “School Hard, Angel confronts Spike, saying “Things change.” Spike replies “Not us! Not demons!” The essay goes on to show how Spike becomes one of the most dynamic characters in the show, starting with the fact that Spike was the vampire with the most humanity. He cared for Drusilla for over a century and it’s through love (his love for Dawn and Buffy) that compels Spike to get his soul. Willow, Xander, and Giles’s character arcs are also examined.  What makes Buffy unique is that how slowly the show changes and evolves and the characters (and the audience) are forced to adapt and adjust to the change.

One aspect of change that this book looks into is death, examined in the essay “Death is Our Gift.” Death is shown as  something to be feared initially in Buffy and gave rise to the running joke of Joss Whedon killing off everyone the fans love. However, the darkness that death brings is one of the themes in season six. Sarah Michelle Gellar said that she felt uncomfortable with Buffy’s story arc in season six as it didn’t feel like the character she knew and loved. Marti Noxon, one of the writers and producers, called seas on six Buffy’s “Dark Night of the Soul.” Sadly, that’s the only mention of the Dark Night of the Soul in this entire book.

There is an essay on darkness in the third section of the book entitled “Taming the Darkness Within Ourselves,” but it looks into darkness from a more thematic and psychological perspective and not a spiritual one. Given that Spiritual Guide was published in 2004 and Mother Teresa’s struggles with her interior darkness wouldn’t be published until 2007, it’s somewhat understandable why the idea of spiritual darkness wasn’t fully examined in this book. The essay on humor “The ‘Monster Sarcasm Rally,'” also neglects to examine the ties between humor and faith. Then again, humor and religion have only recently shown to go hand in hand.

This book is a wonderful read as far as examining the various themes and the complexity of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the spiritual roots are soaking in shallow water, probably so that the book would be accessible to a general audience. I would love to see a follow-up to this book, some kind of anthology with essays from people of all denominations. On the other hand, maybe it’s a good thing that this book has me asking more questions than answers, leaving me wanting to dig deeper and continue down the path towards integrating my favorite show with my belief system.

In the last episode of Buffy, “Chosen,” the power of the Slayer is given to every girl in the world and ends with Dawn asking Buffy “What do we do now?” When I finished watching the show for the first time, I was left wanting more and eventually found a community of fellow fans who love Buffy. To my surprise, these friends are also people whom I can discuss my Catholic faith with openly. I think the Vampire Slayer Spiritual Guide serves a similar purpose. It’s not meant to give straightforward answers, but to act as a conversation piece for people like me who have both faith and fandoms in their lives. It might be a good way to introduce the show to those who wouldn’t watch something with horror and modern themes.

Tl;dr: Read this book and have a good discussion with your fellow philosophy and theology majors. And then watch Buffy. It will make you laugh, cry, and change your life forever.

In Defense of the "Strong Independent Woman"

 

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I never thought there would come the day where I would disagree with Bishop Robert Barron on anything, but his latest article about the “You Go Girl” culture made me uneasy.

While I agree that parents in television, particularly dads, are usually portrayed as stupid at best and abusive at worst, I don’t agree with Bishop Robert Barron’s perspective that males are being made to appear weak in order to make women look stronger.

My friend Emily A. said

Men write these characters. In fact, I would claim that these are not elevations of women so much as parodies of both the male AND female characters.
These women aren’t smart, they are smart-asses. They are insufferably naggy women with impossible standards who don’t trust their spouse. And time and time again, the husband seems to prove them right.
The buffoon father is actually a stereotype perpetuated *by men* who want less responsibility.

Additionally, there is something to be said for stereotypes/archetypes: they exist because they *resonate* with people. Stereotypes are merely a compilation of common factors within a certain group. While they fail as a blanket statement, they are not altogether fictitious.
I think Father Barron is mixing up the concept of a caricature and a stereotype. They aren’t equivalent.

At the end of the day, though, we are all humans with failures, husband and wife alike. And we tolerate the worst on the bad days and sometimes have trouble recognizing and celebrating the best on good days. That’s human nature. It’s easier to laugh at those failings embodied in a character than dwell on them and get depressed.

I believe that when Bishop Robert Barron describes the “all conquering female,”  he is thinking of the “Mary Sue.” The best definition I can give of a “Mary Sue” is one I got from video blogger Tommy Oliver (no relation to the Power Rangers): “A character so perfect that they are never challenged by the events of the narrative.” Bella Swan from Twilight is a perfect example of a Mary Sue because the worst problem she ever had to deal with, according to her perspective, is when Edward Cullen dumped her in New Moon. She deals with having a baby and taking down an evil band of vampires way too easily and she gets rewarded for essentially doing nothing of substance. She gets the boyfriend she wanted, the perfect baby, a lavish lifestyle, and immortality, but she never earned or overcame anything in order to get those things.

Rey from The Force Awakens was cited as an example of the “all conquering female,” but she’s not a good example of what Bishop Barron is thinking about. It’s true that Rey is often mistaken for a Mary Sue because of how she was able to use the Force so easily. However, it’s shown throughout the movie that she has her own challenges and weaknesses to overcome. She fights toe-to-toe with Kylo Ren and also has to overcome her fears of abandoning her life in Jakku to become a Jedi. The male characters in The Force Awakens stand on equal ground with Rey. Finn especially is considered a deuteragonist because the movie focuses just as much on his character growth as it does Rey’s.

I think Bishop Robert Barron is trying to advocate for better role models for men in the movies and TV shows we watch. I think that the potential for good role models expands beyond Sully and Deepwater Horizon. Captain America, while not perfect, is a role model for any man because he’s willing to do anything for the ones that he loves.  The Flash has a few good male role models as well, including three characters who are fathers: Joe West, Henry Allen, and Harrison Wells from Earth 2. Barry Allen is also a good role model for young men because while he makes his share of mistakes, he does his best to learn from them in order to become a better person.

While I agree that women have been portrayed as weak in the past, the task of trying to make women strong and independent have led to a whole new kind of female stereotype: The Broken Bird. To quote the Nostalgia Critic:

“Women in the media for so long were always the emotional support, the damsels, the smiling pretty faces, so in the 90’s, there was a desperate need to change that. Oh, not by making them unpretty, we wouldn’t do that, but we suddenly made them cold, bitter, confrontational, and overly strong, to go out of their way to show that they’re not those old emotional stereotypes, and instead make way for new emotional stereotypes. For you see, in every 90’s film, the woman behind this strong independent wall that won’t let everybody in,  is a sad little bunny rabbit that will eventually let down her defences and reveal a tragic backstory. So you see, she wasn’t a strong, confident worker just because she was a strong, confident worker. Deep down she just wants to be held like any other fragile woman. Oh, I don’t want to think! I just want to be loved!”

In other words, the “strong, independent woman” in a lot of movies and TV still needs all her problems solved by having a man in her life. To quote my friend Mary: “Closed off? Man will open you up. Insecure? Man will make you feel better. Lonely? Man got you covered.”

There’s one example in my life of a wonderful, strong, female heroine that doesn’t sacrifice her femininity in order to be badass. And the men in her life aren’t made weaker in order for her to be stronger. Ironically, she was created by someone who loved the atheist philosophers Sartre and Nietzsche.

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I can’t imagine my life without Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The overall theme of the show is dealing with things that come with growing up and becoming an adult. While Buffy, may appear to be a good example of what Bishop Robert Barron is talking about, she is actually a great example of a well written strong female character. She is strong, but she has her moments of vulnerability. She defeats evil on a weekly basis, but she also has friends and family that she loves unconditionally. She’s a force for good, but she also makes some mistakes that she has to learn from. And no male character is made weaker so that she can be stronger. All of Buffy’s male enemies were formidable opponents. Giles, Buffy’s mentor and father figure, contributed his intellect and wisdom. Xander, in spite of his flaws, was a young man with a good heart and has saved the day a couple times. And Spike goes through a lot of changes that kept his character interesting and complex without sacrificing his own strength and charisma.

I think that strong, female characters can be created without the women needing a man or without a man becoming weak at her expense. Men and women, fictional or nonfictional, need to be treated as equals. To quote my friend Jillian:

Male characters, particularly father types, shoud not be dumbed down to make way for “strong independent female”? But should female characters be written to be the worst qualities of men in order to be strong/independent (unless it’s some kind of well fleshed out redemption arc)? Heck no. Is it possible to have a realistic strong female character alongside a realistic non-dumbed-down male character? Yes, and there are a plethora of examples. Should we stop fighting for fair treatment of and well written female characters in movies/comics/tv because some male characters are written poorly? No, because the former does not cause the latter.

Tl;dr: Strong female characters are not the cause of the bumbling dad/emasculated male character.

The Adventures of Supergirl: A Recap

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The beginning of the second season picks up where the first season left off, with Supergirl and Martian Manhunter discovering a mysterious pod from Krypton. Supergirl looks inside and discovers a Kryptonian man inside. After discovering this mysterious Kryptonian, J’onn takes Supergirl to a new DEO facility, with some jokes at the old base from the first season. This is the first indicator of the network jump. Since the show films in Vancouver as opposed to Los Angeles, it makes sense that some locations would change as well. It also explains why Lucy Lane, who joined up with the DEO last season, is nowhere to be seen in this episode.

Kara returns to work the following morning and discusses her new promotion with her boss, Cat Grant. At first, Kara thinks her ideal career would be marketing because she got that result from an online quiz. Cat, of course, ain’t buying it.

Kara is given some time off (48 hours to be exact) to figure out what career she wants, but she spends some of that time on her first date with James Olsen. However, the date gets interrupted by breaking news of a spacecraft called the Venture crashing into Earth. Supergirl goes to save it, but this time, she’s not alone. Her cousin, Superman (played by Tyler Hoechlin), also arrives to help. Once they land the Venture on the ground, the two of them revel in the moment of working together for the first time. Supergirl then proceeds to tease her cousin in front of a few civilians who were biking along the way.

When the SuperCousins arrive at the DEO, everyone reacts as if, to quote my brother, “the President just came in.” Winn goes into total fanboy mode. The only one who greeted Superman in a less than friendly demeanor is J’onn and Alex takes notice. The SuperCousins examine the mysterious Kryptonian, but not much information is given aside from the fact that he’s around their age. Then they decide, along with Martian Manhunter, to investigate why the Venture almost crash-landed, starting with Clark doing some work at CatCo.

It is hilarious to see the usually unflappable Cat Grant falling all over herself for Clark. What’s even more hilarious is how Clark is totally aware of said crush. Thankfully, he’s perfectly happy with Lois Lane. Kara gets a call and tells Clark that one of the passengers who was supposed to be on the Venture was Lena Luthor, Lex Luthor’s sister.

We cut to a mysterious underground lair where a man named Corben tests out a drone weapon. He kills the man selling him the drone and gets a call from someone who works for the Luthors. Meanwhile, the SuperCousins investigate Lena Luthor (played by Katie McGrath aka Morgana LeFay from Merlin). She tells them that she’s planning on renaming the company to try and restore the company’s reputation and get it out of Luthor’s menacing shadow. She gives them information on the part of the Venture that exploded since it was created by a subsidiary of LutherCorp.

After investigating LutherCorp, Clark and Kara take a walk out on the street. Kara asks him for advice because her life feels out of balance while Clark seems to have it all. He tells her that she’ll figure things out eventually.

Back at the DEO, Alex finds out that J’onn and Superman had a falling out after they found a meteor made entirely out of Kryptonite. J’onn made the decision to keep it. Superman did not agree with it. Winn gets information that indicates Lena was targeted in the Venture crash. The show cuts to Lena on a helicopter, surrounded by attack drones.

Corben, speaking through the drones, gives the SuperCousins an ultimatum of either letting him kill Lena or have his attack drones let loose on the city. Thankfully, the two of them are able to work together. Supergirl saves Lena from the helicopter while Superman took care of the drones that were let loose onto the city.

Kara returns to work and has another talk with Cat, who tells her that starting a new chapter in life means becoming a new version of yourself. She tells Kara to keep taking risks, to take the plunge, so to speak.

At the DEO, Winn examines the drone and forensics links the drone to Corben. Martian Manhunter and Superman have a talk after Alex’s prompting. They discuss J’onn keeping the Kryptonite.

Kara walks with Lena to the press conference announcing the LuthorCorp rebranding. Alex and James are in the crowd, keeping an eye on things. Suddenly, the whole plaza is riddled with explosions, including one at the LutherCorp building. The SuperCousins keep the building from falling while Alex fights off Corben, who is dressed as a police officer. Supergirl goes to fix the building, with some information that J’onn and Winn provide her.

The action in this scene is top notch, with Alex fighting off Corben and Supergirl using her laser vision to weld some I-beams onto a broken column. Once that’s done, she comes to her sister’s rescue, only for Lena to shoot Corben.

Things settle down at the newly made L-Corp with Lena congratulating Clark on his article and complimenting Kara on her investigative skills. This prompts Kara to return to CatCorp with her decision as to what she wants to do: she decides to be a field reporter. Cat congratulates Kara on her decision and then shows Kara the resume she submitted. Cat had a feeling that Kara would eventually become a reporter because of the kind of person Kara is.

There’s also some foreshadowing in this scene that implies that Cat might retire or change her job somehow. This is because Calista Flockhart is now a recurring cast member as opposed to a member of the main cast due to her refusal to move away from Los Angeles. I’m glad that she still wants to be a part of this show in spite of the distance between LA and Vancouver, and I hope I can still see as much of Cat as possible in this season.

Meanwhile, Winn joins up with the DEO since he can do more than just IT work there. Kara and Clark have another rapport where Clark decides on staying in National City for a little longer to help Kara out and reconnect with the stuff he misses about Krypton. Then they go on to save the day, up, up, and away.

The episode ends with Corben in some kind of dark laboratory in Cadmus with a woman injecting him with something that turns him into Metallo. It’s clear that Cadmus Labs, or whatever they’re called here, will be the Big Bad for this season.

This episode centers on Kara trying to figure out what she wants to do with her civilian life, given that she has finally hit her stride as Supergirl. Cat advises her that she needs to figure out her career beyond an internet search. I know that Cat’s speeches can be a bit overbearing at times, but I related to what she told Kara in this instance. Like Kara, I feel stuck in life and there are times in life when I don’t really know what I want. Trying new things, such as going to cons, and meeting new people helped me with understanding my vocation.

Clark Kent’s establishing scene was pitch-perfect, showing Clark as the mild-mannered reporter who answers to a very demanding Perry White. They cast a wonderful actor for the role because he’s able to carry that mild-mannered demeanor while having a totally different air when he becomes Superman. It’s so weird for me to say this, but I like Tyler when he’s Clark rather than as Superman. He’s way cuter being the clumsy adorkable reporter. I just hope that he doesn’t stay for the whole season. I want the season to focus on Kara standing on her own as Supergirl and it’ll be hard to do that when she finds herself under Superman’s shadow.

Another subplot in this episode focused Kara’s relationship with James Olsen. I know that I was really rooting for them last season, but I only wanted James to be with Kara because my first priority was that Kara would be happy. (Translation: I shipped them, but they were not my OTP.) I was essentially happy with any guy she wanted to be with, which was why I never shipped her with Winn. I still think that while Kara and James could’ve taken things slow while Kara got used to her new job, I’m glad they broke things off amicably. Mostly because the guy I really ship her with exists in another show. You might know him. He’s the fastest man alive, totally adorkable, and perfect for Kara given how they teamed up before.

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Yeah, I ship Superflash. Save the hate for tumblr. I don’t care!

This episode gets a 9/10. Season 2 is off to a great start!

History is Happening in Manhattan: The Beauty of the Tony Awards

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“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts.”-William Shakespeare, Ask You Like It

Musicals, to me, are like a love affair. For as long as I can remember, I have been in love with musicals. In spite of all the tragedy and internet debate, I still looked forward to the Tony awards.

Now I know that award shows can get political and the Tonys are no different. But I stand by what James Corden said:

But as my pastor said today in his homily during Daily Mass, we can only overcme evil with good and be loving in the face of hatred. I don’t agree with all the political stuff being talked about. I just want to remind everyone that in spite of everything, there is always good happening in this world.

On with the show!

Everyone on Broadway knew that Hamilton was basically the selling point, the darling, so it’s no surprise that the show opened with a Hamilton-style introduction of James Corden.

However, the real opening number was a beautiful, inspiring song about how theater inspires people to go into acting.  There’s a magic to theater that can’t be completely captured in film or television and the quick changes in this number shows a little glimpse of that magic. And yeah, I was listing off every single musical he referenced. The Doctor would be proud of you, Craig.

Corden described the Tonys in his opening monologue as “The Oscars, but with diversity.” There were more than a few shots taken at Trump and their support for a certain presidential nominee wasn’t exactly subtle either. She was senator of New York, after all. But I love that actors of every age and race was nominated for a major award.

As of now, my latest musical love affair is with Hamilton, which had a record-breaking 16 Tony nominations. Due to multiple actors being nominated in the same categories, the musical could only win a total of 13 possible awards. They ended up winning 11, including Best Musical. So before I get to squeeing over that, I want to give attention to the other shows that performed that night. Warning, though, I am very sick with a case of Hamilaria, so forgive all the Hamilton puns I’ll be making throughout this blog post.

The first musical number performed featured the cast of School of Rock: The Musical. I admit that I was kind of skeptical about this adaptation, but watching the performance opened my mind to the idea.”You’re In The Band” shows Dewey assembling his rock band, with the kids getting more excited as the song got more bombastic. I love that the kids played their instruments live (although I’m not sure where the electrical instruments are plugged into). It’s a very-high energy performance that I hope inspires future kids to try and take a shot.

The next number was from Shuffle Along, a musical about the making of a Broadway show in the 1920s. The performance featured a lot of beautiful tap dancing that had me considering taking lessons. Audra McDonald’s voice was as gorgeous as always. The melody of the song and all those tap dancers stirred up pure, undiluted joy in my heart.

She Loves Me, nominated for Best Revival, had a performance that starred Jane Krakowski from The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Zachary Levi from Tangled and Laura Benanti aka Alura and Aunt Astra on Supergirl. This musical won the Tony for best set design and I totally get why. I also have to give Jane props for dancing her heart in the first song. She’s absolutely adorable! Zachary Levi is utterly charming, too. But Laura Benanti totally clinched her performance. Never have I ever heard anyone sing so passionately about vanilla ice cream! The romantic comedy role she’s playing is such a huge contrast from her serious role on Supergirl and her role as the Baroness in the NBC live showing of The Sound of Music. I absolutely love it!

Another musical nominated for Best Revival was Fiddler on the Roof. James Corden showed Josh Groban playing Tevye at the age of 17. Josh Groban took it with great stride. (Your face needs to stop, it’s so cute!) The cast of Fiddler performed “Sunrise, Sunset” and the huge wedding reception dance number. You can really see how much work they put into it.

The musical I knew the least about was Bright StarBright Star is a musical set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina during the 40s with flashbacks to the 20s. The play is written by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell. It was definitely an interesting performance, but I’m not sure if it’s for me.

Two other musicals nominated for Best Revival were The Color Purple and Spring AwakeningThe Color Purple‘s song was perfectly apropos because they sang about how “The Good Lord Works In Mysterious Ways.” It reminded the audience that in spite of the bad things that happen, God will always come through. Then Cynthia Ervio sings a beautiful solo about gratitude and accepting yourself. It’s no wonder that it won Best Revival.

In contrast, Spring Awakening was performed by a cast of deaf teenagers from the Deaf West Theatre. The songs were performed with singers, but most of the actors “sung” the lyrics in American Sign Language. I liked the concept of this revival because, as Marlee Matlin described it, the story of Spring Awakening is “a cautionary tale of lust and longing teenagers and the adults who refuse to hear them.” The musical is skeptical and confusing, much like adolescence is, and this revival shows that even people who can’t hear have a voice.

My dad, who is a huge fan of Gloria Estefan loved the performance from the cast of On Your Feet. He told me that Ana Villafane went to the same high school as Gloria Estefan. The resemblance between Ana and Gloria is very uncanny! Emilio Esetefan, Gloria’s husband, also announced that everyone in the cast is here in the country legally, papers and all. Gloria and Ana had a vivacious performance

Out of all the original musicals nominated this year, though, Waitress was the one that caught my eye the most. I already knew Jessie Mueller from her role of Carole King in Beautiful. The number started with “Opening Up” and ended with a goosebump-inducing rendition of “She Used to Be Mine” featuring Sara Bareilles (who wrote the score and songs for this musical) and Jessie Mueller. The song reminds me of the worst years of my life, when I thought I lost myself. Also, I want Jesse Mueller to be Sara Bareilles in some future biopic.

Now, while musicals were the main feature of the night, a few plays caught my attention. Eclipsed looks into the lives of captive sex slaves living through the Liberian civil war. The Father, a play centering on a man with dementia, stars Frank Langella from Frost/Nixon. King Charles III intrigued me because it’s inspired by Shakespearean tragedy but mixes it with speculative fiction as to what kind of king Prince Charles might be. Other notable plays are the revivals of two Arthur Miller plays: The Crucible and A View from The Bridge. I was also familiar with Noises Off because my college did a production of that during my first year. A View From the Bridge won Best Revival and The Humans (a play set in WWII) won Best Play.

And now, to my favorite parts. Namely, the parts where Hamilton won most of the things! (11/13 ain’t bad as far as I’m concerned.)

It didn’t surprise that Daveed Diggs won Best Featured Actor. I loved Renee Elise Goldsberry‘s acceptance speech. I had no idea that she struggled to have children and I’m so happy that she has two kids now and values them enough to save them for last in her speech. Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s tear-jerking sonnet as he accepted his Tony for Best Score made me want to give him a hug. Thomas Kail, the director of Hamilton, won Best Direction of A Musical. I tweeted: “Thomas, that was a real nice declaration.” The surprise of the night, though, was Leslie Odom Jr. winning the Tony for Leading Actor in a Musical for his performance of Aaron Burr.

Then, of course, were the wonderful performances from the cast. The first one, aside from the opening, was a performance of “History Has Its Eyes On You” and “Yorktown.”

Angelhamilfan on tumblr pointed out something interesting about this performance:

I feel like people are missing something really key that happened in the 2016 Tonys performance.

Lin changed one word. But that’s all it took to change the meaning of the performance and the Tonys.

“Weapon with my hands.”

They didn’t just take out the muskets to show solidarity, Lin is trying to teach us that what we do, say and write will change perspective for generations to come. He’s showing us how we don’t need a gun or violence to fight for what we believe in. Like Alexander, we have our hands. Our writing. Our words are immortalized when we write, no matter who takes us away. The massacre in Orlando has devastated our country, but why stay silent? Why give them what they want and silence ourselves? We need to make something that is immortalized. Teach generations that come that you can take away our loved ones, but you can NEVER take our words.

It’s the message of the Schuyler Sisters in the closing number that I love the most, though: “Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.” In spite of all the bad things that are happening, we are lucky to be alive right now. We are blessed.

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

nope this did not happen

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.

Top 5 Supergirl Episodes (Season 1)

supergirl

I. Love. Supergirl. So. Frickin. Much. No, the show isn’t perfect. The pacing can be a bit too quick at times, some emotional scenes are heavy-handed and the more cynical critics out there will probably argue that there aren’t really any original plotlines. “It’s just Supergirl given Superman’s stories,” they say.

The thing about an adaptation, though, is that the best ones can stand on their own without the need of knowing all that there is to know about the source material. What makes Supergirl work is the emotional drive that’s within every episode and all the dynamic, endearing characters. I’ve waxed poetic on how I felt about the characters in a previous post, so since the first season has ended, I’m gonna list off my Top 5 favorite episodes of Supergirl.

WARNING: SPOILERS ENSUE

5. Strange Visitor From Another Planet

When I think back to when I knew this show was starting to get off the ground, I think about this episode. It centers on J’onn J’onzz as he not only has to deal with anti-alien Senator Miranda Crane and the possibility of General Lane taking over the DEO, but he also has to confront the White Martian, an extraterrestrial species from Mars that killed all the Green Martians except for J’onn. What’s scary about the White Martian is that it can take the form of any person.  In this case, it takes the form on Senator Crane, on a mission to destroy the last Son of Mars once and for all.

My friend Cordelia lovingly refers to Martian Manhunter as a “telepathic marshmallow” in the sense that underneath the rough exterior, J’onn is a real softie. While we don’t get to see much of J’onn’s soft side, a crucial part of his backstory gets revealed in this episode. The reason why he’s so willing to protect Alex and Kara is because he had two daughters of his own on Mars.

But the best parts of the episode center on Supergirl. Not only was she able to rescue the real Senator Crane, but she was able to stop Martian Manhunter from killing the White Martian. And both of them were done without her using her powers. Instead, she appeals to the better nature of both Crane and J’onzz. Supergirl’s resolve to do the right thing without resorting to violence softens Senator Crane’s heart and gets the DEO another prisoner. The best thing about the episode, though, is that the bond between J’onn, Alex, and Kara became stronger than ever.

4. Falling

There’s always going to be at least one episode in a series where the protagonist goes evil for a day. Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Season 2 opener “When She Was Bad” showed Buffy acting like a b-i-t-c-h because of her unresolved issues that lingered from defeating the Master in Season 1. In Smallville, Clark would fall under the influence of Red Kryptonite, which would cause him to act in the most selfish manner possible. Unfortunately, the same would come for Supergirl in this episode

While saving a team of firefighters, Kara gets infected from Red Kryptonite that was stuck on the roof of the burning building. Like in Smallville, Kara’s most selfish instincts come to the surface. She acts like a petulant teenager and dresses up for work like she’s gonna walk onto a runway instead of the very preppy, sweet looks that Kara is normally associated with. I have to give the wardrobe department points for not dressing Kara up like a Playboy Bunny. Just because you act like a skank doesn’t mean you dress like one!

One good thing that came from Kara’s bad girl attitude is that the equally bratty Siobhan Smythe gets fired for trying to sell a story undermining Supergirl to the Daily Planet. But other than that, Kara’s bad girl attitude completely destroys everyone’s faith in Supergirl, especially towards the end when Supergirl essentially turns into her Aunt Astra. I hated seeing her act out against Cat, cause chaos in National City, and forcing J’onn to expose himself as Martian Manhunter. It hurt me more that National City stopped lauding Supergirl as their hero (from the girl throwing away her homemade costume to the firemen taking down their sign).

But what makes this episode different from the other two shows is that Kara’s actions aren’t easily forgiven. She is held accountable by Cat and the people of National City. In Buffy and Smallville, the heroics of the main characters are always done in secret. Buffy’s bad actions are easily forgiven by her friends and Clark’s actions under the influence of Red K are swept under the rug. The characters, as heroic as they are, aren’t forced to deal with the fallout caused by their mistakes. Kara, on the other hand, spends a few episode picking up the pieces and I like that for a while, she has to atone and make things right again. It feels a lot more realistic.

3. World’s Finest

Somebody in Heaven must have connections with the show’s creators because as soon as I heard that there would be a Supergirl/Flash crossover, I was immediately hyped up. Watching the crossover after Superman vs Batman felt like a big sigh of relief because Supergirl and the Flash got along as soon as they met and they worked well together as a team, even if they had a bit of a rough start in battling Livewire and Silver Banshee. (And yes, I totally ship Kara/Barry and want some kind of infinite crisis to happen so that these two adorable baby dorks can be together again. Shut up!)

The pacing in this episode is a bit too fast and there wasn’t enough scenes of Kara as Supergirl and Barry as the Flash actually doing well in a fight together. If anything, this should’ve been a two-parter. But for what it’s worth, it’s still an emotionally compelling crossover.

One reason why I loved it is because the more experienced Barry is the only one who understands Supergirl’s issues. Supergirl is desperate to redeem herself after the Red K incident, but Barry knows that finding forgiveness takes time. So it’s majorly heartwarming when, after Supergirl gets zapped unconscious while saving a helicopter from Livewire, that the people of National City rally to protect Supergirl. Then, as an added bonus, the firemen that Supergirl saved earlier hose Livewire down. If I had it my way, it would’ve been a cool Han Solo kind of moment so that Flash and Supergirl can make the finishing move, but again, this episode had major pacing issues.

In spite of the episode’s flaws, “World’s Finest” is just a lot of fun to watch. It’s awesome that CBS and the CW were willing to work with each other to allow this to happen. The chemistry that Barry has with everyone is just perfect and I hope that there will be more opportunities for the Girl of Steel to meet the Scarlet Speedster again.

(Seriously, you two. JUST KISS ALREADY!)

2. Better Angels

The finale of this show was SO CLOSE to perfect. The reason why I put this episode at number 2 is that I really had to suspend my disbelief for a few things. While it’s understandable that Superman can’t overshadow his cousin, it would’ve made sense to have at least seen his face once, especially since Kara needed all the help she could get in destroying Fort Rozz. Also, how was Alex able to fly Kara’s pod?

But that’s neither here nor there. Overall, this episode is the perfect example of what I look for in a TV show. As I’ve said before, the reason I love Supergirl so much is because it promotes hope. I am tired of post-apocalyptic dystopias like The 100 Divergent Bone Maze Games. I am tired of heroes who isolate themselves in the name of keeping everyone safe. Supergirl shows that having friends does not make you weak or put those you love in certain peril. As Kara said “Love bonds us all.”

I knew that this show had stolen my heart the minute Supergirl said this speech to National City:

People of National City. This is Supergirl and I hope you can hear me. We have been attacked. Mothers and fathers, friends and neighbors, children, everyone, suddenly stopped by a force of evil as great as this world has ever known. Your attacker has sought to take your free will, your individuality, your spirit. Everything that makes you who you are. When facing an attack like this, it’s easy to feel hopeless. We retreat, we lose our strength, lose our self. I know. I lost everything when I was young. When I first landed on this planet, I was sad and alone. But I found out that there is so much love in this world out there for the taking, and you, the people of National City, you helped me. You let me be who I’m meant to be. You gave me back to myself. You made me stronger than I ever thought possible, and I love you for that. Now, in each and every one of you, there is a light, a spirit, that cannot be snuffed out. That won’t give up. I need your help again. I need you to hope.

Hope. That you can remember that you can all be heroes. Hope. That when faced with an enemy determined to destroy your spirit, you will fight back and thrive. Hope. That those who once may have shunned you will, in a moment of crisis, come to your aid. Hope. That you will see the faces of those you love and perhaps those you lost. 

The rest of the episode was suspenseful. I felt like I was watching Buffy’s “Prophecy Girl” again because both episodes center on a blonde protagonist going on a suicide mission to take down the ultimate Big Bad only to not end up dead. But as I said before, Supergirl never really has to fight alone.

Other awesome things to note are the epic fight, Kara lifting Fort Rozz into space all by herself, Alex saving her adoptive sister, Kara’s promotion, and the adorableness that is J’onn J’onzz in an apron.

But since the renewal for Season 2 is still up in the air, the finale had to go and sequel hook. For crying out loud, can you not writers?!

 

1.For the Girl Who Has Everything

This is my favorite episode of the season for a lot of reasons. One, it’s a standalone episode with a clean ending and no cliffhangers. Secondly, it’s one of the few adaptations of one of the most famous Superman comic storylines “For the Man Who Has Everything” by Alan Moore. But the reason I love this episode the most is because of the emotional stakes. Kara is literally given everything she ever wanted, deluded by the Black Mercy into thinking she’s still on Krypton and that her family (including Aunt Astra and a young Kal-El) are all with her.

It’s up to Alex to save her sister from the Black Mercy. And the way that it all goes down is heartbreaking and yet resonates as so true. Life is painful and yet, when we work past the pain, we can find happiness that goes beyond just getting whatever we want on a silver platter.

The biggest thing, though, was that this episode inspired me to write. Any episode where I want to write something as good as what I saw (as opposed to “I can write better than that”) is definitely doing its job.

 

So. CBS. Renew Supergirl already. If not, CW, get Supergirl on and get her back with Flash ASAP!

I have no idea how I’m gonna handle this summer without this show. *sigh* Back to Netflix!

Batman vs Superman: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (With Amy Salazar)

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I’ve been a fan of superheroes since I was a kid. I always held superheroes up to a certain standard. While I allow certain levels of cynicism and angst when it comes to Batman, I don’t particularly like it when it applies to Superman. Given how Man of Steel and The Dark Knight Rises left a bad taste in my mouth, I went into Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice with low expectations. Even though it was not as bad as I thought it would be, I still find it to be an overall disappointment in terms of story and characterization. Thomas Aquinas defines evil as having a lack of good, so since I didn’t find Dawn of Justice a complete letdown, I want to go over the good, the bad and the ugly of this movie. Thankfully, I don’t have to do this alone. My friend Amy Salazar from California is also going to give her two cents on this film. (Her stuff will be written in blue.)

I once dated a guy who everyone warned me was, “off-putting, pretentious and simply no fun.” Wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt, I dated him anyway. “What could possibly go wrong?” Well…If there’s one thing that this person and Batman v. Superman have in common, it’s that they both made me want to throw myself in front of a truck. Moral of the story: If everyone warns you that something is going to be bad, they’re probably right.

Prior to the film’s release, I readily defended BvS to my friends who had already decided that they hated the idea. The trailer actually looked promising to me. Rivalry stories are one of my favorite narratives, so I couldn’t wait to be able to explore the ideological divide between the virtuous Last Son of Krypton and the morally-gray Bat of Gotham. Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor had the potential to either be a comedic (which, if well-written, can be very enjoyable to watch) or gradually evolve from a harmless weirdo to a sinister foe. Those two hopes alone is what got me to go to an 11:30 am screening of Batman v. Superman.

One hot dog, a bag of Welch’s fruit snacks and a Coke slushie later (to fight off the boredom), I was so disengaged that I turned to my friend and asked, “Am I still alive and watching a movie or have I died and am currently waiting for God’s final verdict?”

The Good

Ben Affleck brings a seasoned, burnt-out Bruce Wayne/Batman. I actually did like how when the robber points a gun at Martha Wayne, the gun catches her pearls. That was a pretty intense camera shot. Putting the destruction of Metropolis through Bruce Wayne’s perspective was an excellent narrative choice. It gave me hope that Bruce/Batman would be the film’s emotional center and the one to guide us through the story. Sadly, that was not the case.

Jeremy Irons and Ben Affleck do have pretty good chemistry. I love Jeremy Irons’ sardonic humor delivered in his epic voice. Any time Affleck and Irons were on screen, I was able to care about what was happening.

Gal Gadot definitely looks the part of Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. While the writing of the Wonder Woman role is haphazard, Ms. Gadot does carry her character as a mysterious woman who belongs to a higher social standing quite well.

I’ll give credit where credit is due. Most of the female characters in this movie are actually the most interesting characters. Gal Godot’s version of Wonder Woman plays off like a Bond Girl at first, charming Bruce Wayne while trying to get something back from Alexander Luthor. When she finally made her appearance as Wonder Woman, the people in the theatre and I applauded. She fit in naturally, working with Batman and Superman to take down the real villain of the movie, Doomsday.

I also liked Alexander’s right hand woman, Mercy, played by Tao Okamoto. She’s a good variation of Luthor’s sidekick Tess Mercer and it’s awesome to see Asians play a prominent role in mainstream cinema. I also liked Holly Hunter as Senator Finch. To me, she represented the audience who wanted to know where they stood with this darker version of Superman who is willing to kill and doesn’t take into account the collateral damage that results from his actions.

I agree with Amy about Jeremy Irons’ performance as Alfred and the how Ben Affleck’s perspective of the Battle of Metropolis actually brought something unique to the story. And Ben Affleck was not as bad a Batman as I thought he would be, but I still would’ve chosen another actor for the role.

The Bad

The least developed character, aside from Superman, is Lois Lane. Like in Man of Steel, she doesn’t do much in this movie outside of her designated role as Superman’s girlfriend. I also didn’t like the characterization of the Kents in this movie, especially Martha Kent who tells Superman that he doesn’t owe the world anything. I get that the “Great power, great responsibility” trope has probably been overused, but there needs to be some way to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys. Batman’s use of firearms felt out of character, given that one of Batman’s central character points is that he never uses guns.

But by far, my least favorite part of the movie is Alexander Luthor, Jr. I refuse to call him Lex Luthor because he doesn’t embody any of the qualities of previous Lex Luthors such as the ones from Smallville or Superman The Animated Series. Jesse Eisenberg plays him more like a mad scientist and a straw atheist and plays the character of Alexander Luthor in a completely over the top manner instead of the more subtle but sinister characterization of the real Lex Luthor.

Jesse Eisenberg’s overacting combined with painfully obvious poor direction makes his performance cringe-worthy at best and insufferable at worst. If this had been a Batman v. Joker origin story of how the Joker became, well, the Joker, then I would have had no issue with Eisenberg, but we already had a better Joker through the late Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight.

At some point, there’s a scene where Bruce/Batman has a dream where he is overcome and taken into custody by Superman Nazis (they have Nazi-esque armbands that have the Superman symbol). We see a chained Bruce looking up and seeing Superman, who approaches him and rips off his [Batman’s] mask. This scene was the straw that broke the camel’s back and prompted me to give up on the film entirely.

What should have been a powerful scene ends up being a weird sequence with plenty of style and no substance. Typically, when a main protagonist has a nightmare about being captured by another character, the implication is that the protagonist is haunted by said character. This usually occurs in a story about rivals or if one character is being pursued by another. This scene upset me because Batman and Superman’s “rivalry” is completely botched. There is no exploration of their differences. Batman and Superman are two angst-filled, bruiting dudes whose only difference is that one wears all black and the other wears a red and blue. Because of this, the dream sequence has no impact and is boring action scene.

Also, I don’t know if anyone else caught this, but Doomsday’s lighting effects seemed seizure inducing to me. I don’t have eye problems, but his lighting effects made my eyes water. There are quite a few camera choices in the third act that made me concerned that someone in my theater was going to have a seizure. My last complaint is that this movie has more endings than Return of the King! The epilogue goes on for an eternity.

The Ugly

While the movie teased at the future Justice League members, the fact that Wonder Woman didn’t get much of a role in the overall movie and the implication that the Justice League is created from the ashes of Superman’s death feels very pandering. Too little, too late, DC.

The other thing I hated most about this movie is the underlying anti-religious themes. The overblowing parallels between Superman and Christ are still prominent in this film, particularly the fact that Superman died saving metropolis and it’s implied at the end of the movie that he will rise from the dead.

Alexander plays the role of the Straw Atheist, determined to defame Superman at any cost. Say what you will about Maxwell Lord in Supergirl, but his motivations are at least understandable. The entire Batman/Superman conflict hangs on the audience believing that Batman, the world’s greatest detective, could fall for Alexander’s clearly over-the-top schemes. I’m not buying it!

I have no flippin’ idea what this movie was about. Yes, things do happen, but there’s no central plot. I guess one could make the argument that the filmmakers were attempting to connect the plethora of storylines, but if that is the case, then their efforts backfired. Instead of interconnecting smoothly, the plot points feel jumbled and convoluted.
There’s a scene that shows a portrait of Saint Michael defeating Lucifer that has been turned upside down so that it looks like Michael is the one who is falling. If you’re a fan of Saint Michael, this might not sit well with you.

As stated before, I hated Eisenberg’s version of Lex because he makes real-life atheists look bad. I have friends who are atheists and I have never once heard any of them say, “Devils don’t come from Hell beneath us; they come from the sky.” Seriously, who talks like that?

Batman v. Superman’s frenetic editing, zero focus and a grossly-neglected rivalry between the titular characters tried my patience and led me to the brink of going back to the snack bar to further drown my sorrows.

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Amy Salazar is also known as Catholic Girl Bloggin’ (CGB for short). She reviews movies, writes biographies about Saints, and posts about pro-life and animals rights. She is also slightly obsessed with Star Wars, puppies and fangirling over Padre Pio.
Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice is copyright to DC Comics and Warner Bros. Images relating to the movie are used for editorial purposes only.

My Vampiric Spirit, Confession, and Conversion

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Author note: This is a guest post written by my friend Kristin from Austin and edited by me. Kristin will be received into the Catholic Church on Holy Saturday.  Please pray for her and all others who will be coming Home.

At the time I encountered Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I was fresh out of college, having laid aside my checkered Protestant past for a relativistic agnosticism layered in a pleasant self-deception.  I figured, if any action helped me out within the simple constraint of “not committing murder”, it was certainly without reproach, and I could still consider myself a “good person”.  Then, a pivotal episode in Buffy Season 7’s “Beneath You” tilted my worldview enough to make me uncomfortable—uncomfortable enough to eventually become a Catholic.

In the closing scene of the episode, Spike and Buffy are in an empty, lovely, moonlit church together, and Buffy is concerned that Spike has lost his sanity. Up until this point, the rakish ne’er-do-well vampire was forced by an implanted chip in his brain to do no harm to Buffy Summers, leading him to try and do good out of his love for the Slayer. Unfortunately, his attempts at being good were also mixed in with his complicated, tumultuous affair with Buffy throughout the latter half of Season 6, culminating in him attempting to rape Buffy in “Seeing Red.” His shock at what he was about to do led to him going on a quest to receive his soul so that he can be the man he thinks Buffy deserves. Now ensouled, Spike is uncomfortably, completely conscious and guilt-ridden over his innumerable sins. I realized that there was something true there being spoken about sin and the need for redemption.

It would take me several more years to make my way to the Catholic Church and the lesson I gained from watching “Beneath You” was a crucial reason to why I was becoming Catholic. However, I didn’t fully understand the importance of this scene until I went to my first Confession to prepare for receiving the rest of the Sacraments at Easter. For some inexplicable reason, I found myself terrified of this sacrament.

We are born vampires due to original sin.  Like vampires, we are driven into the black night of our sins and transgressions, subconsciously terrified of being burned alive by the pure light of Christ. Like vampires, we’re driven away from pain and toward hedonistic pleasure, largely propelled by the forces of fear, anger, hate, lust, and greed. We live entirely for ourselves and see others only as a source of food for us—emotional affirmation, physical pleasure, and social recognition—and we’d best eat them before we’re consumed ourselves. We drive our greedy jaws into others without a thought, a care, or a twinge of remorse, and suck them dry, all in a desire to quench our endless thirst, our neverending desire to fill the emptiness within ourselves with something.

In the midst of all this, the deep terribleness of the human heart, Christ the Slayer wants to kill our vampiric selves and ensoul us, which He does so well through the Sacraments. He calls us out of the darkness, and He watches us as we pathetically stagger out from the shadows, crouching, cringing away from the Light.

I spent my first Confession, sitting in very comfortable chair in a cheery, bright, well-lit office, feeling with every fiber of my being that I was about to go up in smoke as I rattled off my list of sins before the priest. And go up in smoke, my ego did. Like the newly ensouled Spike, I stumbled around, slowly realizing for the first time the depths of what I’ve done to Christ and Christ in others. My scarred heart, rife with manipulation, greed, carelessness, and selfishness, was laid bare before me in the harsh Light, no longer fancied up by the clever illumination of the night.

The priest gave me my penance, a single Our Father, and instructed me to meditate on the mercy of God. Not only did I meditate, I was sucker-punched by this overwhelming Divine Mercy toward me.  The emptiness inside of me was filled with the infinite waters that gushed from His Sacred Heart. It’ll be a lifelong process of torching my ego, repairing my heart, and fighting for my soul. I know that even after I am received into the Church, I’ll be in Confession again and again.  But like Spike at the end of “Beneath You,” I embrace the Cross which burns away my sins, and ask “Can we rest?”

Though the episode doesn’t answer the question, Saint Augustine does: “For You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.”

We can rest, brothers and sisters, in the arms of our Lord. As we celebrate Good Friday, let us hide ourselves in His wounds and fill ourselves with the endless fountain of His love and mercy.

Author’s note: If you want to know more about how the theme of forgiveness is seen in the Buffyverse, check out my post from last year.

The Nature of Forgiveness in Buffy

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The nature of forgiveness in Buffy-verse is complicated to say the least. Angel gets a whole spinoff dedicated to him trying to atone for his actions, but one reason I have issues with Angel is because the nature of forgiveness is very much an absent thing in Angel. Angel embraces this existentialist belief that goes along the lines of “If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do” and he never forgives himself for his past actions nor do the members of his team forgive other members for their actions easily.

In Buffy, people are judged as good or bad by whether or not they have a soul. Unfortunately, most of the members of what the fandom calls “The Scooby Gang” are forgiven for their actions without the need of penance or atonement. And yet the nature of forgiveness is a lot more prevalent in Buffy even if some characters are forgiven too easily. Of course, some fans have yet to forgive the characters because they got off too easily and it says a lot about the show that whether or not these characters deserve forgiveness is still being debated to this day.

The best example of how forgiveness applies to Buffy is shown in Seasons 6 and 7, specifically Willow’s story arc and the entire Spike/Buffy arc throughout Seasons 6 and 7.

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Willow Rosenberg started out as the shy, adorable nerdy girl but developed confidence in herself through practicing magic. However, that confidence turned into arrogance and a dependence on magic in Season 6. It got to the point that her desire for control and the high that she got from magic ruined her relationship with Tara. In “Smashed,” she hangs out with a witch named Amy who enables her addiction and makes it even worse in the following episode “Wrecked.”

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Incidentally, “Smashed” and “Wrecked” are also the episodes where Buffy begins her affair with Spike. To say that their relationship from this point on is a beautiful disaster of epic proportions is an understatement. But honestly, if loving them is wrong, I don’t wanna be right! The nature of the Spuffy relationship is complicated at best and outright abusive at worst, on both sides. On the one hand, you could argue that Buffy needed Spike because she’s suffered major abandonment issues, has major depression from returning from the dead, and sees Spike as the only one who understands her needs, but won’t put their relationship out in the open because of what her friends may think. On the other hand, Spike told Buffy that she “came back wrong” and told her that she belonged in the dark with him, and letting her use him because he’s “love’s bitch.”

Some interpret the relationship as a metaphor for self harm, which is most obviously seen in “Dead Things,” in which Buffy beats Spike up to a pulp and says “There is nothing good or clean in you. You are dead inside. You can’t feel anything real.” She tells him that he doesn’t have a soul and that she can never be his girl, but what she says about being dead inside and not being able to feel anything applies more to herself. In my honest opinion, the relationship between Spike and Buffy was complicated and awful during Season 6 and I will at least say that the show goes out of its way to try and convince the audience of the wrongness of both of their actions.

The two story arcs eventually come to a head in what I feel is the most divisive episode in the entire fandom. Just thinking of this episode honestly breaks my heart into a million pieces. Like St. Thomas Aquinas, I judge evil as having a lack of good and my least favorite Buffy episodes are ranked by how little “good” they have in them. “Seeing Red” comes really close to topping the list, if not for “Empty Places” which completely lacks any good moments whatsoever.

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There are two moments in “Seeing Red” that break my heart. The one that divides the fandom is the infamous bathroom scene in which Spike attempts to rape Buffy and Buffy fights him off, telling him “Ask me why I could never love you.”

hate this scene. But it’s not for the obvious attempted rape like you would think. It’s why that scene was written and the aftermath of this scene in the fandom. Buffy had every right to fight back, choosing to not harm herself or hate herself the way she did before. Spike also immediately realized the wrongness of what he did and leaves.

The reason I bring this particular scene up is because it reminds me of Saint Maria Goretti who also fought for her life when Alessandro attempted to rape her and ended up killing her instead. Too many people pay too much attention to the fact that Maria refused to give her virginity over to Alessandro and forget that she made an effort in fighting for her life. When I attended the veneration of her relics, the priest giving the homily pointed out that Alessandro left the room after stabbing her nine times and and rendering her unconscious. Maria regained consciousness and dragged herself to the door to open the latch and scream for help. Unfortunately, Alessandro heard her opening the latch and proceeded to stab her five more times. The damage that Maria suffered from these stab wounds would be what killed her, even after surgeons tried to fix the damages.

One scene from “Seeing Red” also involves the death of an innocent woman, except the cause of death is honestly implausible and impossible by rule of simple physics. I’m talking, of course, of Tara Maclay.

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Tara Maclay should not have died the way she did. But that is a complaint for another blog post.  Tara’s death would lead to Willow’s dark side becoming unleashed.

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In the season finale “Grave,” both Buffy and Willow finally begin to start healing. In this episode, Buffy and Dawn end up falling into a large underground grave, facing off against an army of undead things. Buffy panics, but it’s not until she sees Dawn fighting that she gains the will to fight again.

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Meanwhile, Xander faces off against Willow, who is on the brink of destroying the world, driven by the dark magics she is channeling and the rage and grief she has over Tara’s death.

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This is where the power of forgiveness starts showing. Xander is able to get to Willow to stop her rampage not by fighting her, but by telling her how much he loves her, even when she’s in her Dark Willow state. The “broken crayon” speech is one of my favorite Xander moments because Willow finally comes face to face with unconditional love that she doesn’t want to receive. And yet Xander’s willingness to get hurt if it means helping Willow get back to normal leads Willow to break down and cry.

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Buffy and Willow have finally begun to heal from the hurt that’s inside of them. But the episode doesn’t end with a sigh of relief.

When I was watching these episodes for the first time, I wondered where Spike was. There were scenes that show him going through a lot of trials and battles and most of the audience, including me, assumed he was trying to get the chip out of his head. Instead…

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Spike is given his soul back. Dear God, I did NOT see that coming and I was spoiled about the fact that Spike got ensouled sometime between Seasons 6 and 7. I honestly assumed he would be cursed with it. But to go through trials in order to regain his moral compass back?! How can you not see the parallels between that and the Sacrament of Penance?!

When Spike returns in Season 7, Buffy finds him in a chapel on a cemetery, dealing with the burden of his past actions. When Buffy realizes that he has his soul, she asks him why.

He replies, “Why does a man do what he mustn’t? For her. To be hers. To be the kind of man who would nev— (looks away) to be a kind of man.”

He approaches the cross at the front of the chapel and embraces it as he says “She shall look on him with forgiveness, and everybody will forgive and love. He will be loved. So everything’s OK, right? Can—can we rest now? Buffy…can we rest?”

Spike literally embraces his cross so that he can be worthy of Buffy’s love again. I seriously can’t even.

The reason why “Seeing Red” isn’t my #1 least favorite episode is because good things surprisingly came out of it. For one thing, James Marsters decided to put in his contract that he would never do a rape scene in anything he’s in after that episode, which is majorly amazing considering he always chooses to play the bad guy. It’s still a difficult thing for him to talk about to this day. It also led to Spike seeking atonement for his actions. Eventually, Buffy forgives him in what is, in my honest opinion, my favorite Spuffy moment in the entire show: the scene from “Touched” where Buffy tells Spike to stay with her in the abandoned house and they fall asleep in each other’s arms.

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What I really hate about the scene is that a good chunk of the fandom sees what Spike did as unforgivable. Willow eventually learns to forgive herself in Season 7 and she’s still a beloved character. Xander is easily forgiven for his actions even though he never got to atone for them. Angel is easily forgiven in spite of the fact that he let the majority of the lawyers of Wolfram and Hart be murdered by Darla and Drusilla. Why is it that Spike isn’t forgiven in the eyes of his haters?

Honestly, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t hate Spike. There are things that I hate that I can’t rationalize or give a good explanation for. I’m just saying that if we can’t forgive fictional characters for their actions and believe that they have atoned for their wrongdoings, how can we forgive people who do those things in real life?

It’s very telling that the most hated villain in all of Buffy isn’t Spike or Angelus or Glory or the Mayor or the Master. The most hated villains in Buffy are Warren Mears and The First Evil. The First Evil is hated mostly because it’s all talk and no action. But Warren? Warren is a human being. He isn’t a vampire or a hell god or a human who chose to become a demon. He is the most real villain of the entire season. He should have been easily taken care of, but Buffy and the Scoobies were too drenched in depression to deal with him properly. The reason Warren gets hated is because even though he’s a human, he murders his girlfriend, accidentally kills Tara, and shoots Buffy in cold blood, all without a single ounce of remorse.

We tend to treat people who do the things Warren did in a similar way. We hate them without giving them a chance for mercy or forgiveness. And believe me, I hate certain characters on Buffy and other shows to the point that I kill them in fanfictions. But here’s the thing, I can draw the line between fiction and reality. My friend Ian Miller says “I think if you care enough about a fictional character to defend them, you should care enough about a fictional character to treat them like a real person. If you act as yourself, you’re removing that distance, and thus the motives are functionally identical to if they were real.” Whenever I kill off characters in fiction, I do so with emotional distance. 

I still feel anger towards Warren for killing Tara and for Riley and Angelus because they represent the pain that tormented me. But last night, I chose to forgive those who hurt me. And it was an amazing, wonderful experience. I may never see those who’ve hurt me nor will I ever know if they are truly sorry, but I feel like I’ve moved on past the pain and feel released from the power that my enemies have had over me. I don’t know if it’ll be safe to be in the same room with them, but I know that right now, I can think about them without feeling any hurt. So hopefully, I can learn to forgive the characters I hate as well and give them a different karmic retribution that doesn’t end with them being tortured. I also hope that those who hate Spike for whatever reasons can learn to forgive him as well.

Besides that, Spike and Buffy are now having a happy mature relationship in the Season 10 comics, so in the immortal immature words of Nelson Muntz from The Simpsons:

Screenshots are copyright to Mutant Enemy and 20th Century Fox and are used for editorial purposes only.