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LadyGhosts of TV Past

Ladyghosts of TV Past: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, S2, E10 “What’s My Line, Part 2″

Good. ‘Cause I’ve had it. Spike is going down. You can attack me, you can send assassins after me . . . that’s just fine. But nobody messes with my boyfriend.

My friends, before we get into this week’s recap, we need to talk about Kendra.

 

There have been very few POC on the show up to this point ““ so few I believe that I can literally name them on one hand ““ there was a black musician student and a black English teacher in the episode “Out of Mind, Out of Sight.” There are occasional glimpses of Whitney from Bring It On as one of the popular girls in Cordelia’s clique. There’s an Asian woman in Spike’s vampire gang. And”¦ that’s it. Until Kendra shows up. I get that everything about Kendra is supposed to present itself in contrast to Buffy ““ she’s the single-minded, isolated Slayer. She’s supposed to represent what Buffy was meant to be, if Buffy weren’t so damn determined to have her own life. So the show went the shortcut route by literally making her everything Buffy was not ““ black, scholarly, traditional, respectful, narrow-minded, and non-American. It’s a decision that is almost palpable in this isolated context ““ almost, because I just can’t quite give the creators a pass on the blatant exoticism going on here —  that becomes increasingly problematic as the show goes on and we’re introduced to the two other prominent non-white Slayers. The First Slayer is a primeval hunter out of ancient Africa who shows up to represent both the source of Buffy’s power and the horror of what the Slayers really are. And there’s Nikki, the 1970s Slayer who is introduced in full Blacksploitation mode and whose jacket (hide) Spike wears throughout much of the series.

The discussion of race in the Buffyverse deserves its own post and will get one, but I can’t let this episode pass without mentioning how damning the treatment of race on the show seems to be. The creators obviously try to address this in season 7, where we see Slayers of all nationalities being called to power, most of whom are treated like average kids, as well as the introduction of Principal Wood. All of which is nice, but what about the prior six years?

We’ll revisit this topic again soon. In the meantime, I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on this issue.

We pick up in the middle of the Slayer stand-off.  Kendra has just declared she’s the Slayer. Buffy pushes for a truce claiming she’s the Slayer ““ and we know she is, because her name is in the title ““ until Kendra agrees to it. They immediately go visit Giles.

Kendra passes the smell test ““ she has a Watcher who Giles knows but not personally, she knows all the secret passwords, and she certainly believes she is who she says she is. Buffy passive-aggressively tries to defend the very turf she’s constantly bitching and moaning about with little asides. Until Giles points out that there couldn’t be a new Slayer unless the previous one had died.

Giles: Good Lord. You were dead, Buffy.
Buffy: I was only gone for a minute.
Giles: Clearly it doesn’t matter how long you were gone. You were physically dead, thus causing the activation of the– the next slayer.
Kendra: She died?
Buffy: Just a little.

No one seems to be looking on the upside of this new two-Slayer universe. It’s all downside and “this can’t be” and “woe is me, I died.” They’re not seeing the opportunities here! And neither does the Watcher Council.

Let’s be honest ““ the Watchers don’t seem like an entirely ethical organization. What was stopping them from creating their own army of Slayers? If they figure out that it’s the technical death (as opposed to the kind of death where you don’t get up from) that calls a new Slayer, why weren’t they killing and reviving Slayers left and right? They hardly seem to care about the actual Slayer, herself, since they just get a new one if things go wrong  – so this is a total missed opportunity on their part.

And for that matter, what’s with the shoddy record keeping? No one noticed another Slayer had been called except for her personal watcher? Did he not bother to report this to his higher-ups in the organization? Did his memo get held up in the steno pool? Why do I have so many questions?!

The Watcher Council is really a woefully undeveloped bit of the show universe.

Kendra reveals that she attacked Buffy because she assumed Buffy was a vampire. That’s because she saw Buffy kissing a vampire, which Willow angrily interjects Buffy would never do. Oh, except with Angel. Who is no longer Angelus, because he got himself a gypsy curse. Kendra lets it slip that she had run into Angel as well. The two Slayers take off to go rescue Angel from the rising sun.

Willie got there first, dragging Angel out of the barroom cage and into the sewers, where he sells our vampire to Spike. Angel is the key to the ritual that will restore Dru’s health.

 

This man is made of bugs.

Back at the Summers homestead, Cordelia is pawing through the wares of the world’s most uncharismatic cosmetic salesman. She’s supposed to be helping Xander look for Buffy ““ none of this would have worked in a world where cell phones were commonplace ““ and instead let one of the assassins into the house in exchange for a good deal on lipstick. The joke’s on her though, because the assassin melts into an aggressively evil pile of worms. Cordelia and Xander flee to the basement and protect themselves with a roll of duct tape.

 

All of this sounds really silly when you type it out.

But stick with me, because here’s the important part. During a bout of fast-paced, ’30s-style verbal sparring, Cordy and Xander suddenly kiss passionately to the swelling sounds of a romantic score. Cordy and Xander are on!

Then they decide to take their chances with the bug man to avoid doing it again. They flee the apparently empty house and get showered with a fall of worms, which is easily washed away with a garden hose. Ultimately, I’m unsure how a mealworms monster would kill you. Do they crawl into your ears and eat your brains? Do you get so freaked out trying to avoid the mass that you stumble into traffic and get by a car? Why does this episode have so many unanswered questions?!

After the gang confirms in the library, things move pretty quickly. The bug assassin is identified. Kendra’s watcher wants her to stay until Spike is taken care of. Buffy learns there’s a Slayer Handbook that Giles never gave her because he knew she needed a different approach to her destiny. Oz flirts with Willow (in the hallway, not in the library). And then, at career day, the last assassin is revealed as the redheaded police officer, who goes gun happy once she’d determined which high school kid Buffy is. Oz gets shot in the confusion and the assassin gets away.

Meanwhile, back at the lair, Spike has turned Angel over to Dru to amuse herself with as they wait for the moon to rise. Angel’s horrible torture of Drusilla and the slaughter of her human family had been revealed in an earlier episode. Now, with him at her mercy, she delights in reminding him what a monster he was.

Drusilla: My mother ate lemons. She said she loved the way they made her mouth tingle. Raw. Little Anne – her favorite was custard . . . Brandied pears . . .

Angel: Dru-

Drusilla: Shhhhhh. And pomegranates. They used to make her face and fingers all red. Remember little fingers? Little hands? Do you?

Angel: If I could- I-

Drusilla: Bite your tongue . . . They used to eat. Cake. And eggs. And honey. Until you came and ripped their throats out.

 

I have to ask if either of you girls has considered modeling. I got a friend with a camera, strictly high class nude work - art photographs, but naked.

The Slayers are waiting too. There’s tension between them ““ Kendra is Buffy’s replacement. As much as our girl says she doesn’t want to be the Chosen One, the idea of not being the Chosen One isn’t as great as she first thought. But they bicker about fighting styles instead ““ Kendra is technically proficient, but Buffy fights with passion, and she thinks that gives her an edge. It’s not just her passion though ““ Buffy is flexible, mentally, seeing opportunities and possibilities that the other Slayer misses. When the two go to hit up Willie for information again, Kendra can only think to beat the information out of him, because that’s what she does. She’s a weapon. She fights.  Buffy isn’t opposed to a little arm twisting, but she knows she can’t get information out of an unconscious man.

 

When Willie “volunteers” to take the Slayers to the church Spike is doing the ritual in, the girls are at each other’s throats again. Kendra wants to report back to her Watcher because that’s what she’s supposed to do ““ take information to her minder and get her marching orders like a good little soldier. Buffy doesn’t want to waste any time.

Buffy: I don’t take orders. I do things my way.

Kendra: No wonder you died.

They split up. Buffy crashes Spike’s party in time to see the ritual already begun, Dru and Angel pinned together with a knife through their hands while Angel’s energy gets transferred to his “child.” Their fight has hardly gotten going before Kendra shows up ““ two slayers, no waiting!

Its all mostly academic from here. Of course our girls beat the snot out of Spike and his crew of miscreants. Cordelia and Xander kill off the buggy assassin with the help of glue and tennis shoes. Willow stakes a vamp and Willie the snitch gets away. Buffy is able to free Angel before the ritual completes and stops Spike from fleeing with a well placed censer to the back of the skull. The old church starts to collapse around them, burying Dru and Spike under burning timber while the Scooby Gang escapes.

In the end, Buffy puts Kendra on a plane back to Jamaica. The two have come to an understanding, if not exactly a friendship.

The monkey is the only cookie animal that gets to wear clothes, you know that? You have the sweetest smile I've ever seen.

Oz and Willow walk down the hallway together, discussing the sartorial choices of animal crackers.

 

Dru digs Spike from under the rubble of the burned church and carries him out, in a neat reversal of their relationship. The ritual worked just swell.

Bonus Content: Eleanor Roosevelt on “What’s My Line.”

 

By [E] Slay Belle

Slay Belle is an editor and the new writer mentor here at Persephone Magazine, where she writes about pop culture, Buffy, and her extreme love of Lifetime movies. She is also the editor of powderroom.jezebel.com. You can follow her on Twitter, @SlayBelle or email her at slay@persephonemagazine.com.

She is awfully fond of unicorns and zombies, and will usually respond to any conversational volley that includes those topics.

19 replies on “Ladyghosts of TV Past: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, S2, E10 “What’s My Line, Part 2″”

Not really related to Buffy – but interesting to note in the white-washing of YA shows, my friends and I watch the new ABC Family shows by turning them into drinking games, and we were watching Pretty Little Liars. I recognized the love interest of one of the characters but couldn’t figure out where from. I said to my roommate, “she looks like Kendra, but that’s not possible.”

I looked it up, Bianca Lawson plaid Kendra in 1997, a character on Dawson’s Creek in 1999 and more recently has had roles on Secret Life of the American Teenager (where she played a 19 year old) and on Pretty Little Liars, where she played a 15/16 year old. She was born in 1979, making her 32 years old, still playing high school students. I mean, good for her, but producers really can’t find new actresses to fill these roles?

So this is going to be spoileriffic, I guess, but :

what always really confused me, is that Buffy dies for a minute and Kendra is called – why isn’t another Slayer called when she dies at the end of Season five?

I love Buffy to death, but when I started rewatching the show a few years ago, the whiteness was something that jumped out at me. Kendra only gets a couple of episodes before she dies, Olivia (Giles’ girlfriend) pops up from time to time but only to remind us that Giles had a life before Sunnydale, I think, and other than Nikki and the First Slayer the non-evil POC are quasi inexistent until season 7. It’s rather depressing.

Re: your first question (and spoilers ahoy for those who want to avoid them) – I think the idea, which I believe was later confirmed by Joss et al, was that the ‘line’ of Slayers had passed to Kendra after Buffy’s ‘death’ in S1. Hence Faith being called after Kendra dies – Buffy wasn’t the ‘real’ Slayer anymore. Had the whole situation not changed at the end of S7, Faith’s death would be what called the next Slayer, not Buffy’s.

I always reasoned that because she’d already dies, the line wouldn’t go through her anymore. It would go through Kendra and then through Faith. Once she died, the universe transferred the slayer inheritance line over to her supposed successor.

I think some of the inadvertent racism is the result of storytelling shorthand. When you’re dealing with characters (the prominent vampires) who are hundreds of years old and you want to present them to an American audience without having to get into a whole history lesson, you generally have to cull from western Europe. I mean, the Chinese slayer was cool, but I can’t be the only average-viewer type who’s a little fuzzy on what the Boxer Rebellion was about and when it happened.

I watched a little bit of Buffy during its original run, but I was, like, eleven when Season 2 was on, so I doubt I could think critically about race. I’m watching the series from beginning to end with my dad (it’s our post-college bonding thing) and, while I love so many things about the show, I find the treatment of race just inexcusably offensive.

*SPOILERS* for Seasons 3 and 4 ahead

You’ve already discussed Kendra, but I just wanted to add that the actress originally had a more subtle accent planned for the role. It was Joss and co that made her foreignize it more–I guess so people would REALLY get the fetishism.

In Season 3, we have Mr. Trick, the only black vampire to be more than fictional furniture. He is also the only one to mention the lack of black people in Sunnydale. And guess what? He’s evil! Only evil people think about racial issues.

Then there’s Forrest, Riley’s friend in Season 4. He quickly becomes possessive of Riley and quite misogynist, even becoming a monster at the end, whom Riley has to kill. Black people are monsters.

In my opinion, the worst offense is the First Slayer. She’s supposed to be Primal and Primitive, which basically made me want to throw up. And she doesn’t talk. That’s how animal-like she is. Just to round it off, Buffy ends the fight with her by DISSING HER HAIR. Yeah, because black women haven’t been under pressure about THAT ever.

I haven’t watched past the beginning of Season Six, but I have yet to come across a single black character who is not furniture or completely and disgustingly exoticized/primitivized. And, from what I’ve heard, Joss doesn’t have the greatest track record with race–see Firefly.

There are a couple of POC in the 7th season and (only) one person in season 6 that I can immediately remember. We revisit the First Slayer on a number of occasions throughout the series.

I mentioned in another comment that I think I’ll position the stand alone race essay in season 3 after we meet Mr. Trick because I find him so terribly problematic. I didn’t mention him in this post because I wanted to talk about the Slayers specifically here, but there’s no way you can discuss race in the Buffyverse without touching on Mr. Trick. (You reminded me of the other black vampire we meet, the one who serves the Anointed One, who I had completely forgotten about.)

I absolutely agree with most of your points. The only thing I’d quibble with is to say that most of the non-white characters we meet aren’t evil — there’s Kendra and the Boxer Rebellion Slayer, the First Slayer who I wouldn’t consider evil even though she’s aggressive towards Buffy, Nikki, Rona, Giles short-term girlfriend whose name is escaping me, and Principal Wood (you’ll meet him in season 7 — that’s not a spoiler) — but because there’s so few non-white characters at all, the ratio of the good to evil gets completely skewed. I don’t know if that’s better or worse. I’ll go with worse, because the character who are evil OR are so poorly portrayed are the ones that are the easiest to recall.

I wouldn’t ultimately call Forrest evil either, since for the most of the season he’s a normal (military) guy who gets turned evil by an explicitly white, explicitly patriarchal, explicitly evil military monster. But you’re absolutely right that having the black monster ‘put down’ by our corn-bread, milquetoast white hero is just awful. I’m going to have to pay closer attention to that story arc with your comments in mind.

If you’ve got links or recommendations to read, I’d love to hear them — I’ve previously heard in interviews that it wasn’t Joss or Marti (who was the writer who introduced Nikki as a character) who chose the accent but the dialog coach, who taught the actress an apparently specific accent that indicates where in Jamaica she’s supposed to be from. I certainly don’t know from accents at all; to me, it had always seemed to laughably broad, like a ‘hey, did you guys know she’s not American!’ gag. But dialects are obviously not my strong suit. (I also found the moment in this episode where Buffy mimics her accent to be tremendously offensive.)

I don’t know if you’ve watched the companion Angel series, but I don’t think that you’d find that the race issue really improves, despite the move to a major city setting (Los Angeles). We get a main character of color in the show who is a constant throughout the entire series, but given that he’s introduced as a member of a gang, its just out of the frying pan and into the fire. And you’ve obviously heard the large number of completely valid complaints about Firefly already.

Thank you so much for sharing your detailed and insightful observations. I appreciate it.

I agree that the First Slayer is really problematic. I think they must have realised it too, because she gets a bit of a re-think in S7, but then again the show falls into some of the same traps with the depiction of the men who created her.

I’d love to talk about Gunn in Angel as well. His introduction is terrible and I’d argue that the show never nailed his characterisation that well, especially compared to Wesley. Even his transformation in S5 has some pretty serious issues, given that it’s all set against the background of him wanting to become more than just the ‘muscle’ of the group (and then the lengths to which he goes to keep his new knowledge, with tragic consequences). Gunn is even denied that closure that we get with Wes at the end of the series – we know what his fate has to be (Illyria says as much), but we don’t get to see it and experience it.

I don’t know, I may not be making sense here, but the Gunn/Wesley comparison always bothers me. When Wes unknowingly betrays the group in S3, we see the consequences play out in his character for the whole rest of the show. His arc is coherent and his characterisation is deep and thoughtful. Gunn does basically the same thing in S5, gets stabbed, spends like two episodes in a hell dimension and then what? His character isn’t given nearly the same attention and care that Wesley’s is. Wesley is the incredibly fucked up, self-loathing white guy that all the white guys identify with, and Gunn is just a blank slate with whatever attributes happen to fit the plot at any given time. Grr.

Oh Drusilla! That speech you quote is what made me love her character, so good, so poetically insane! I really wish she had a longer run in the show, as much as I am coming to appreciate the “Good Spike” by the beginning of season 6, I long for the Big Bad and his Dru.
As for the Watcher’s Counsel stuff, maybe the vagueness is just there to give plausible deniability to any inconsistencies? I mean, why would there only be One Slayer active at any time in the world, what do the other slayers do until the One dies, just train and cool their heels? I think they must have paid the Slayer a salary of some kind, how else could Buffy have owned so many pairs of pleather pants?

I’ve found myself liking Dru a lot more this go around — and its not like this is my first rewatch! She always vaguely bugged me, but I’m finding her less One Dimensional Evil (Crazy Variety) and more compelling. I found that speech I quoted very affecting.

I have to assume the Watches don’t pay her, because why would she go work at the Doublemeat later on? She should have demanded a salary when she made the Council reinstate Giles’s wages! (For that matter, do the new slayers get paid? Do they have a union?)

I am going to be completely, ashamedly honest right now – I have never critically thought about Buffy, and I suppose the entire Whedonverse, in regards to how they deal with race. Now that you mention it, there are so many examples that I can’t believe I haven’t. I even own multiple books on academic Buffy studies, for goodness sakes! I am really looking forward to thinking and reading about this more thoroughly, Slay Belle. Why do I have such a blind spot when it comes to all things Joss?!?!?

SPOILER DISCUSSION. If you are new to the show, you might want to skip this post.

……..

Kendra always made me feel vaguely uncomfortable because she came across as the ‘token’ exotic black character – so much so that I uttered a groan when she came across my screen this time. I ended up shifting my view on her a bit after listening to the commentary on the DVDs (which is actually something I rarely do) and found my stance softening — but when you put her in a line up with The First Slayer and Nikki, it doesn’t play out very well for Whedon and co.

For my own part, I know that I am often blinded by the many ways in which this show is progressive and daring, and my own interests in feminism tends to give the show a glow of ‘Good job!’ that has the unfortunate side affect of throwing a shadow on the stuff they’re not so good on. I believe that Joss, in particular, is a progressive dude, but like all of us, sometimes we don’t notice where we perpetuate stereotypes.

I think if you look at the story of the two slayers and Spike and how they’re presented, Nikki in particular becomes very problematic. The Chinese Slayer is just that — a Slayer who happens to be Chinese and Spike happens to be in China during the Boxer Rebellion. When we see the story of Nikki, she’s dressed in a very specific way that conjures up a specific image (they’re obviously going for a Foxy Brown vibe) and there’s some chica-chica-wow-wow funk music in the background! I’m sure its supposed to be a tongue in cheek joke, but its not very funny when its played against the 1 of 5 significant characters of color on the show.

And then Nikki, the only black slayer we’ve seen, ends up being the only Slayer who has had a child? While she was an unwed teenager? It is just so problematic.

I’m still sorting through my ideas on this topic. I’ve already gotten my end-of-season 2 topic outlined, so I think I’m going to put the race discussion sometime in mid-season 3, after we meet Mr. Trick.

Bianca Lawson who plays Kendra was originally offered the role of Cordelia but turned it down due to other commitments and the Buffy creators were keen to incorporate her in another role. So the Buffy people actually offered a pretty important role, and one of a popular, mainstream kid to a black actress before Charisma Carpenter got the role.

I’m not saying that this means that the portrayal of race is totally unproblematic in Buffy or that once Lawson was cast as Kendra she wasn’t characterised a certain way, but an interesting point, perhaps, to add to the discussion which perhaps casts a slightly different light on why Bianca Lawson was cast as Kendra.

Did you know that there was recently a call for papers that examine race in the Whedon-verse? I don’t have much time to chat about it at the moment, but you reminded me. I wish I had thought to let you know about it earlier and you could have submitted something! Hopefully you already knew. :)

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