The Near Occasion of Plot

I’m going to take a big chunk out of my backblog by brain-dumping all my recent thoughts on Buffy. The older backblog item concerns the eternal topic of Why I Hate Volvo Boy. It’s not just his boxy build anymore.

Angel, in his lurky first-season incarnation, represents everything I disliked about the X-Files. XF fans can be divided into two camps - the Government Conspiracy people, and the Fat-Sucking Vampire (a.k.a. Monster Episode) people. I’m a monster episode girl. In Buffy, I don’t mind a charismatic monster that plays for a whole season, like the Mayor or Glory - it’s not arcs qua arcs that I dislike.

The Government Conspiracy style of writing, by no means limited to XF, makes the motions of a plot without actually having any fixed content. Writing is not a process of accretion, and a show does not end well if all it can do for itself is recap the various disconnected bits (pox? bees???). There is no connection, no cause-and-effect. Government Conspiracy writing is the form of plot wihout the substance.

Likewise, when Angel leaves Buffy, or Buffy leaves Riley, or Oz leaves Willow, or Xander leaves Anya, with no better motive than Joss made me do it, you have not a plot but a soap opera in which characters are pushed around for no adequately explained reason. People like Angel and Cigarrette Smoking Man aren’t characters - they’re angst ex machina. This is exactly was Nick Lowe was talking about in his article when he pointed out authors who “smuggle the Plot itself into the story disguised as one of the characters. Naturally, it tends not to look like most of the other characters, chiefly on account of its omnipresence and lack of physical body.” The Government Conspiracy is everywhere.

So bad episodes make much more sense that way, when you consider that the Plot made Oz run off to Tibet to find himself, or that Xander got cold Plot and left Anya at the altar. Angel’s main purpose in lurking around Buffy was to keep her up to date on the Plot. Whenever Chris Carter had a bad week, we got the Plot trying to infect everyone with pox using bees, or Scully getting kidnapped and impregnated by the Plot, or CSM trying to convince Mulder to join the Plot.

I’m still angry at the Plot for making Xander leave Anya. Xander, for all his silliness, never struck me as a cad or a coward. That he had visions of Anya as a hoary old shrew is just not sufficient excuse. It must have been the Plot, which is to say, Joss. However, if you’re still working from a rational basis, you see Anyanka’s troubles of last week and wonder what she did to deserve all this. The implication, with the flashback to her singing on Xander’s recliner, is that Anya’s mistake was wanting to devote her life to Xander. Really, she should have run off to Tibet or LA or South America like everyone else. Obviously a career isn’t the answer here - Anyanka had a very successful career before Xander, and a second one during Xander.

It’s one thing to make Buffy unhappy for legitimate plot reasons - it’s not easy being the Slayer and having to kill your friends. It’s another matter to go gunning for Anya and Xander. That’s plain authorial cruelty and caprice, punishing two characters not for being in the wrong place at the wrong time like Willow and the late Tara but simply for being in love and wanting to get married. Breaking up X/A was more unnatural than any vampires, demons or giant snakes.

Final gripe: Buffy could be a bit nicer to Spike now that he’s insane. Being the Slayer doesn’t give you a pass on common decency. After all, it was the Plot that made him attack her last season - it certainly wasn’t good characterization.

4 Responses to “The Near Occasion of Plot”

  1. Veronica Says:

    Xander didn’t leave Anya because of the whole hoary old shrew issue, but because he saw himself killing her with a frying pan - note the meaningful look he gave his drunken, abusive father after the fake vision of the future.

  2. mike Says:

    I thought it was pretty clear, if not explicit enough, that Xander left Anya because he saw himself becoming his father and his father’s marriage, and he didn’t want to do that to Anya. He loved her too much to trap her in a hate-filled marriage.

    It’s not “right,” however, that he hasn’t explained this to anyone since then. That’s just not fair to viewers or to the character of Xander.

  3. Jemima Says:

    Don’t pull my chain, Veronica, that Xander was trying to save Anya from a skillety death.

    As for saving Anya from a hate-filled marriage, I don’t buy it. They didn’t have a hate-filled relationship. The way to save your wife from a bad marriage is to (1) behave better than that, or (2) divorce her. Leaving her at the altar is not a solution, especially not to a problem that doesn’t exist yet.

    Xander didn’t do it for Anya, nor did he do it for himself (which would have at least been reasonable). He did it for Joss.

  4. Monkey! Says:

    I’m not a Buffy watcher, but after your correlation to the X-Files there, I understand exactly what you mean. I hardly even watched the last season because of all the crap with the new characters and all the Plot infecting everything. Definitely a monster episode girl. These execs need to realize that we don’t want our favorite shows to piss us off, unsurprisingly. Grrr.