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April 11, 2003
by Daniel Erenberg

Most would think that Buffy The Vampire Slayer, which deals with death on an extremely regular basis, deals with it very lightly. The heroine has died and come back to life on two separate occasions. Angel, the hero and sometime villain of the first three years, was sent to a Hell dimension and returned to Earth four months later. Two episodes later, he was tormented but okay. In a recent episode of the spin-off Angel, the character of Charles Gunn was killed and, seconds later, brought back to life by Electro-Girl Gwen Raiden. Actors whose characters were killed have been brought back on numerous occasions. Forrest, in season four, was killed very passively and, seemingly, without much thought by Adam and, more importantly, the writers.

There have been cases where the deaths have caused serious repercussions. Buffy's second death caused her behavior patterns to be forever altered. Tara's death was avenged (perhaps, wrongly) by her girlfriend Willow.

Death is important to a show like Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The word Slayer is in the title, entailing death. The villains on this show don't survive. There is no Arkham Asylum for them to be shipped off to. Buffy doesn't have a code of honor like Spider-Man or Superman. Buffy kills. Buffy slays. She's like The Punisher of the demon world.

Joss Whedon has said in numerous interviews that no characters on his show are safe, something we've learned over many times with the deaths of Principal Flutie, Jenny Calendar, Larry, Snyder, Doyle, Forrest, Tara Maclay, and Jonathan Levinson. These are all characters that died quite unexpectedly over the course of seven seasons of the Buffyverse, something that seems quite reflective of the world that our resident Vampire Slayer lives in.

It is a world of deaths. It is a world where death is 'the gift'.

My favorite episode of Buffy, and certainly the most effecting, is 'The Body' which deals entirely with the immediate aftermath of a death. This was another unexpected death: the voice of reason on the show, and the only link to the 'real world', Joyce Summers, Buffy's mother.
At an Angel seminar at a Television Festival in Los Angeles's Museum of Television and Radio, Charisma Carpenter asked Mr. Whedon, 'Why didn't you close her eyes?' Joss replied: 'To make it worse'. It's the kind of realism that fans now expect to see on the underbelly of Buffy and Angel.

Joss also said something quite profound about this most remarkable of episodes to 'This is a rite of passage that people go through. That I went through myself. I lost my mother several years ago. I wanted to capture something much more abstract. A morbidly physical reality of death and grief, of that first few hours. Just the incomprehensibleness of it, and the different ways everybody deals with it. My whole cast was extraordinary. But I really thought people were going to hate it, because the whole point was, there's no catharsis. It was just, 'My mother is a dead body. And that's all'. But people actually did get a catharsis from it. A lot of people who have experienced loss said it helped them to deal with it or that it moved them. I was surprised by that'.

Joyce's was the most realist death in the history of the Buffyverse. But nothing is dealt with lightly. There were repercussions to even the most minor deaths. Gunn was dead for a few seconds during the Angel episode 'Ground State' and was revived by Gwen. However, this caused his girlfriend Fred to become so upset that he was on a self-destructive path, and planted the seeds for their breakup that, inevitably, will occur soon as Gunn slept with a de-electricized Gwen in 'Players'.

There wouldn't be a Buffy Season Six without Buffy Summers' death in the fifth season finale 'The Gift'. Now, some fans might scoff and ask whether that would be such a bad thing, but I don't have time to argue my opinion on that right now. I already have (see 'Oh Grow Up').
There are shows that deal with a death for a few episodes and move on. It happened in ER. It's happened in NYPD Blue. It's happened in a great many shows.

It's gotten to the point where I don't know what to believe about Joss Whedon's characters. Anyone could die in the Buffyverse. What holds true about death there also holds true in the Daniel Erenbergverse of which you all are a part. There was a point at the end of the Firefly (dearly departed, I loved you so. See 'You Can't Take The Sky From Me'), there is a moment where Captain Malcolm Reynolds locks Jayne in an open cargo bay and I truly thought that Jayne was a goner. Yes, he was a regular. But so was Doyle. So was Tara in the episode that she died.

Also, in the last episode of Buffy, 'Lies My Parents Told Me', written by Ultimate Drew Goddard and Seasoned Veteran David Fury, I was certain that Principal Robin Wood was going to die at the hand (and, more accurately, teeth) of Spike.

It's hard to tell whether the characters in the show that are constantly placed in life or death situations will live or die. This is the way it should be.

This line of surprising deaths on Mutant Enemy shows began in the second half of the very first episode ever of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Joss killed Jesse. He's always said that he wanted to put Eric Balfour, the actor that played Jesse, in the opening credits, as he would do four years later with Doyle on Angel, to throw viewers off the scent. Jesse was set up to be a regular and was brutally murdered. And isn't this how it is in life? In life, there are no regularities. At any moment, you could die. Like Joyce. Like Tara. Like Jesse. Like Buffy herself. Death exists in all of our futures.

On a lighter note, I'm considering writing a list next week. Anyone have any ideas? E-mail me.

Daniel Erenberg lives in a gothic-looking house in a suburb of Long Island shrouded by trees and darkness. His backyard is so overrun with shrubbery that he can't plant flowers in the soil. He's penned articles for numerous magazines (and a couple of websites for free). Currently, he's writing his first novel, entitled People That I've Long Since Forgotten. He's also written two plays, Little Room and Dystopia and a screenplay called Youth Or Consequence. He lives a fairly happy life alone and hankers constantly for the hour of eight P.M. to nine P.M. on Tuesday nights. You can contact Daniel on
Latest Comments

A very late contribution to this discussion.

It's possible to argue that Kendra was not called by Buffy's momentary drowning in the last episode of season 1.

In a PREVIOUS episode of that season, Buffy died and became a vampire. This was when the injured boy was causing nightmares to become real. REAL, as in changing the world, as in Buffy mustíve died to become a vampire to make sense in that episode.

So, Kendra might have been called earlier than is commonly thought.

Posted by: daryll on November 26, 2003 08:56 PM

I'm french. I'm fond of Buffy and I loved Tara.She died in "Seeing Red" and I think it's the more important and emotionally event of the Season #6.

Posted by: Aslan on April 29, 2003 03:11 PM

To clear up this whole slayer thing, think of it as a relay race. Buffy was originally running alone, carrying the slayer baton by herself. When she is (temporarily) killed by The Master at the end of season one, she passes the slayer baton to Kendra. Kendra is now technically The Slayer, even though Buffy lives and runs alongside her. When Kendra then dies at the end of season two at the hands of Drusilla, she passes the baton on to Faith. Therefore, when Buffy dies at the end of season five to save Dawn, no new slayer is called since Faith has the baton, and the line runs through her. Kill Buffy as many times as you like, you won't get another slayer until Faith dies and passes the baton on. Buffy's just there for the run.

Hope this helps!

Posted by: Rob on April 20, 2003 04:17 PM

Hey Phearlez,

Guess I did a lousy job of explaining, but what you said was really what I meant.

Buffy dies (if only for a few moments) in Season 1, so Kendra shows up in Season 2. Kendra dies, and Faith shows up in Season 3. Faith is still living (and hopefully will be for a long time as she's my fave) so there's no new slayer yet.

Just a long winded attempt to explain to Jennifer, why Buffy's 2nd death at the end of Season 5 didn't trigger a new slayer.


Posted by: Pete on April 17, 2003 02:33 AM

Hey Pete-

Faith was called after Kendra was killed by Drusilla in the second season so the 'there's already a living slayer' explanation doesn't hold up. Perhaps a new slayer is called when an old slayer died, as did Buffy briefly in the last episode of season 1 and as did Kendra (who wasn't quite so luck as to be revived), but only once?

Really, the reason is 'because the story arc didn't call for it' but if you're really in need of a consistent explanation you can use the 'only the first death' one.

Posted by: Phearlez on April 16, 2003 02:00 PM
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