From the Bleeding Heart of Fandom: A Buffy Confab with Dana Cameron, Charlaine Harris, and Toni L. P. Kelner

Early Days: Season 1 with Xander, Buffy, Willow, and Giles. TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer ran from 1997-2003, for 7 seasons and 150 episodes.

This fannish confab about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with Dana Cameron, Charlaine Harris, and Toni L.P. Kelner, is gleefully offered in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of Mystery Writers of America.

 

Did you watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer from the very beginning?  If not, what lured you in?

Charlaine: I had seen the original movie. (It pales in comparison to the show, but it has its moments.) So I was ready to love the show. My husband liked Buffy just as much as I did, though possibly for different reasons. We both felt that Buffy was a great role model in a lot of ways: she was strong and brave, she spoke her mind, and she tried to do what was right, not what was popular. Though Buffy was pretty, she never traded on that; in fact, no one could be less flirtatious than Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar). I’d never met anyone like her, and I always wanted to! No matter what happened to Buffy Summers, she regained her strength. She would rally! We had her back! Well, us and the Scooby gang.

Toni: Yes and no. I saw the original awful movie, but didn’t get into the TV show until the second or third season, when the ads sucked me in.

Dana: Not until Season 2 or 3; I'd seen the movie and thought it had something. Wasn't sure what. I was flipping past an action scene, paused, and thought “What would make it really cool is if one of them said X (in response to whatever was happening).” And then someone said X!  I knew then it was a totally different kind of show and was hooked. 

 

Which was your favorite episode?

Charlaine: Who can forget “Hush?” Or the musical episode? Or the episode where Buffy and Spike (James Marsters) had sex that shook the building? Hand me a fan! But there was something to like in every episode.

Toni: “Hush,” because it’s such a tour de force. BtVS was is known for terrific dialog, and yet here's an amazing episode with almost no dialog at all. Plus the Gentlemen, the villains du jour, creep me out.

Dana: Gah, just one? “The Gift” was complicated, heart-wrenching, and bleak.  “Hush” is exquisite, creepy with moments of great humor. I adore “The Wish” for Anya (Emma Caulfield), but mostly leather-clad vampire Evil Willow (Alyson Hannigan)! But the series finale, “Chosen,” was everything I loved about Buffy and the series all rolled into one.  All the beats, all the feels.

In "Hush," BtVS 4.10, The Gentlemen steal everyone’s voices, so Joss Whedon wrote only 17 minutes of dialog for the 44-minute episode.

 

Did you think there were weaker seasons? When you thought the show wasn't so strong, why did you keep watching?

Charlaine: Of course, the show had its ups and downs, its season where its direction didn’t resonate with me or wasn’t as clear. But the wonderful writing always carried it through. You never knew when you’d hear a line so funny you’d laugh out loud, or an analogy so apt you’d nod in recognition. I think if Joss Whedon had chosen to put Buffy to work in a chicken processing plant (instead of the fast-food place, Doublemeat Palace), I would have watched the show. But I’m mighty glad he didn’t.

Toni: I wasn’t crazy about Seasons 6 and 7 overall, but the high points of those seasons were so darned good! That’s what kept me watching—knowing that better shows would come.

Dana: I got impatient watching the “monster of the week” eps, and many of the Trio or Slayerette eps, but even those had real moments. Overall, the series was too good to completely leave, and I knew it could find its footing!

 

Buffy was aided in her quests by friends and associates, the Scooby Gang. Who's your favorite?

Dana:  I had a real thing for Oz (Seth Green), and was devastated when he left. But if it comes down to it, I majorly identified with Willow—watch the world go to Hell when the quiet, good girl goes bad! And Giles (Anthony Stewart Head)—he could have been such a caricature of a grown-up and a librarian, but the balance of his decency with his Ripper and Watcher pasts was awesome.

Toni: If I count Giles as a Scooby, he was my favorite, a perfect mix of strength vs. weakness and of knowledge vs. confusion. Otherwise, I’d pick Xander (Nicholas Brendon) for similar reasons. Both characters were amazing comic foils, too.

Charlaine: I always identified with Willow the most, though Xander had his moments. Willow was nerdy, Willow was not as overtly lovely as Buffy, and Willow was really confused about her place in the world. I was solidly behind Willow until she became addicted to the power of her own witchcraft. I couldn’t go there with her, and that made me sad. But Xander, who always wanted to be brave and strong so he would look good to Buffy, gave up so much to stay in her orbit.

Buffy’s Willow and Oz: Scoobies, gingers, doomed…?

 

A perennial argument among the show’s fans is: Spike or Angel? Who was better for Buffy, or who was just better? Who did you prefer?

Toni: I go back and forth a lot, but as Buffy matured and Angel (David Boreanaz) got more of a sense of humor, they made a great couple. So when Angel shows up in Season 7, they’re just about perfect. That being said, I could watch James Marsters as Spike all day long.

Charlaine: I stand in the happy middle on the Angel/Spike spectrum. As long as Buffy’s happy, I’m happy. A girl has needs. Because he knew her, Spike was elevated. And I think Angel was too. After all, has he EVER been off television since then?

Dana: Riley (Marc Blucas) appreciated Buffy, and would have been the best for her if she had reciprocated his love. Angel will always be the love of her life, and vice versa, and they can never be together: Perfect. Buffy and Spike taught each other hard lessons and there's real attraction in that (quite apart from the earthyquakey sex).

Spike versus Angel: Decisions, decisions…

 

On the other side of the fight, who was your favorite villain, whether in a particular episode or a season’s Big Bad?

Dana: Angelus in “Passion” and Spike with Dru (Juliet Landau). I loved Adam (George Hertzberg), and Glory (Clare Kramer) embodied the willfulness, vanity, self-absorption one associates with old-school gods. Or toddlers. But it was always the Mayor (Harry Groener) for me.  His chipper, civic attitude never contradicted his ancient evil. 

Toni: Spike was great fun, particularly when combined with Drusilla. And Angelus—the bad Angel—was one of the scariest villains I’ve ever seen, though Caleb (Nathan Fillion) came close.

Charlaine: Weirdly, I liked Glory. She was like a stereotypical head cheerleader to the nth degree. She was beautiful, selfish, and didn’t care at all about the feelings of others, even those of the minions who served her devotedly. When I read the news story recently about the high school girl who urged her friend to commit suicide, I thought of Glory.

Glory was a goddess bad enough to be exiled from a hell dimension.

 

Though not a traditional mystery show, several Buffy story arcs and episodes included mystery plots. Which is your favorite?

Toni:  I liked a lot of the plot twists with the First Evil in Season 7. As far as a particular episode, I loved “The Replacement,” in which a demon creates a faux Xander, and the real one has to convince his friends of his identity. I also liked “Same Time, Same Place.”

Dana:  While I wasn't a huge fan of the Evil Trio eps of Season 6, I did appreciate that magic-free Willow could still use detective work, tracking them down via paint-scrapings and computer searches, in “Gone.”

BtVS "Gone" 5.03: Helpful to have a real (evil) twin brother for occasions like this.

 

What do you think is the true theme of Buffy?

Dana: Everyone's got a strength. Not all these strengths are the same, but you put them all together and POW! You can change the world.

Charlaine: Being different can be glorious. It isn’t comfortable and won’t ensure you an easy life, but people carry their own difference within them and they should let their flags fly. 

Toni: No matter what your superpower may be, you will live by two truths. One: you’re stronger with true friends and family. Two: you have to make your own choices and live with the consequences.

 

What has watching Buffy done for you?

Toni: As a viewer, the show continues to give me hours of enjoyment. As a person, I’ve had great discussions about the show with so many people. As a writer, I hope that it’s made me craft better dialog and stories that combine horror, humor, and suspense.

Charlaine: It’s led to some discussions that I think benefited me and gave me great entertainment. Buffy struggles with her fate, and with being different, and with trying to reconcile her fate with her normal wish to be happy, and that really rang a lot of bells with me. It was good to acknowledge some of the things that had affected me in my own life. And I know that as a writer, I learned some valuable lessons about story arcs, dialog, and writing humor.

Dana:  I met extraordinary people via a Buffy discussion list. The characters and situations in BtVS were so well drawn and complex, and there was so much to think about, that those discussions built a real community. I treasure that and hope some of that complexity found its way into my work. 

Buffy may have had to stand alone with her choices at times, but her fans still have each other.

 

What's still important about Buffy?

Toni: The power of the outsider! I also love the way BtVS shows different strengths: Buffy gets her powers, but keeps growing; Willow learns magic, and has to learn control; Giles leads from behind, and has to defy authority; Xander grows into himself, even though he has no powers; Spike is redeeemed.

Dana: It taught us about empowerment, especially in the casting-off of long-held (and culturally reinforced) false beliefs. It's about feminism in the way that few shows are. BtVS is about doing what you know is right, even in the face of friends' expectations, parents and teachers in denial, corrupt politicians, and demon hordes, and believing that if you do, eventually, the world will be a better place.

Charlaine: BtVS changed the world. Not too many television series can claim that, but I think it’s perfectly legitimate to claim that it did. And all its messages were important ones. The big claims BtVS made: High school is NOT the happiest time of your life, not even if you’re a Cordelia. High school is hell. Women as are tough as men, if not tougher. Women can fight. Mothers will love their daughters no matter what. Lesbian women are still ordinary (or extraordinary) people who simply happen to be lesbians. One person can change the world. A lot.


Dana Cameron disputes the widely-held assertion that she is “not even as evil as non-evil Willow.”  Buffy the Vampire Slayer made her want to write bigger adventures and even more crazy fight scenes, with archaeology.  Her latest Fangborn novel is Hellbender.

Charlaine Harris is old enough to have watched Buffy on television every week. She loved every episode, from the best to the worst. She has written many books in wide-ranging genres, and she’s watched a lot of television since. But BtVS is still the best.

Not only has Toni L.P. Kelner watched every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer multiple times, but she’s shown the entire series to both daughters as they became old enough to appreciate it. Though she would love to have Buffy’s fighting ability or Willow’s magical powers, she fears she’s more like Xander, though she hopes to grow into a Giles. She writes mysteries under her own name and as Leigh Perry, and her latest books feature an ambulatory skeleton and an adjunct English professor. Together, they fight crime.

Comments

  1. Terrie Farley Moran

    Three of my favorite authors talking about a classic tv series. It doesn’t get better than this as a read-along with my Saturday morning coffee.

  2. Robin Burcell

    What fun reading this! I loved Buffy and friends! My kind of heroine.

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