An Academic's Sojourn Through Communication
When Buffy Season 9 Issue 6 came out, I applauded it. I even wrote a whole essay on why I think the story and Buffy’s decision worked. I defended Buffy’s decision to get an abortion as it reflected the struggle modern women have to balance family and career, and I defended Whedon’s decision to have this decision become the centerpiece for an entire issue of this comic book series based on the need for having such serious portrayals of this topic in our popular and public discourse.
Then Issue 7 was released in March. I did not read it until this past week, so I’m behind the game on this one. Technically, I did not read it until after Issue 8 had been released. So, yeah, definitely behind the game.
Because of how much I supported what happened in Issue 6, what happened in Issue 7, and was explained in Issue 8, came as quite a big shock. We’re talking major twist, the kind that feels like someone just twisted a book in two.
So, Spoiler Alert.
Back in Issue 6, Buffy decides to get an abortion, believing she got pregnant at a party where she was drunk beyond drunk. At the end of the issue, she elicits Spike’s help in securing an abortion. It was, in my opinion, a touching scene, and it led to some fans speculating if Spike was the father, if this meant a rekindling of the Spuffy romance, and so forth. Of course, it also angered other fans, those who do not like the concept of abortions and felt she had a duty to carry the child to term. Again, I covered all of that in my Clearance Bin Review article.
Issue 7 begins with Buffy leaving her roommates, without telling them, and moving into Spike’s insect-crewed space ship. Spike has arranged for the procedure, and Buffy says that she needs to do it, because it will be the one thing she doesn’t mess up. We again are treated to the tension of Spuffy romance, where Spike moons over Buffy and Buffy laments the need for a “normal life”.
The story rolls on, with the return of Cop-Who-Would-Be-Buffy’s-Man and the baddies du jour, the zompires. The appearance of these characters are little more than moves, story elements designed to forward the plot by ramping up the Spuffy tension and leading to the twist. Just when it seems the Buffy and Spike will kiss, Buffy is attacked by a zompire and loses her arm.
But instead of shedding blood, she shoots sparks.
That’s right, Buffy fans, it is the return of the Buffybot.
Which means that Buffy is not pregnant. Which means she could not have gotten an abortion. Which means that her pregnancy scare was mental only.
The story continues in Issue 8 when Buffy and Spike track down Andrew and learn all of what happened. Andrew, who had looted Warren’s lab, used technology he thought would keep Buffy, flesh and blood Buffy, safe from the Big Bad at the time. He resurrected the Buffybot, and used a device Warren (at some time…) built that allowed Andrew to put Buffy’s mind into the Buffybot. Buffybot then went on to think she was real Buffy, and some malfunctions Andrew had not foreseen led her to believe she was pregnant. Meanwhile, real Buffy was living in a suburban paradise, in what is apparently the type of “normal life” Buffy has always envisioned.
Of course, the issue doesn’t end happily: real Buffy is abducted, and the partner of Cop-Who-Would-Be-Buffy’s-Man has been turned by the zompires. Thus, the story goes on, and May’s Issue 9 will no doubt find Buffybot going to the rescue of real Buffy.
But the whole pregnancy and abortion thing?
On the one hand, it feels like one big “made-you-look-gotcha-just-kidding!”. The gravitas of the issue and decision have been undermined by a rather contrived twist. I mean, Andrew just happened to find the technology to make the switch work — and just when did Andrew get that good at technology? It felt very convenient to have him come in, deus ex machina style, with a way to replace real Buffy. And that convenience and contrivance is what, in my opinion, undermines the seriousness of how the issue of abortion was dealt with in Issue 6. My reaction of WTF! to the reveal of the Buffybot in Issue 7 was enhanced when reading Issue 8, where the shock gave way to eye-rolling.
Adam Reisinger, in his review of Issue 8, put it better when he said:
OK, so we now know that Buffy was switched into Buffybot 10.0 during the party, which means everything that came afterwards — the pregnancy, the “who’s the dad” speculation, the abortion decision — didn’t really matter. And by that I mean it was consquence free. Which makes me wonder what exactly we’re supposed to take from the first seven issues of Season 9. Because of this revelation, we’re in a way rebooting this season a third of the way through. Obviously this was the plan all along, but it feels cheap, like we’ve wasted our emotional investment in the previous issues.
In the sense that it feels like our emotions have been toyed with, I completely agree with him. I cheered on Buffy and Whedon alike for what happened in Issue 6. I felt it was a gutsy move, and it addressed an topic that, unbeknowst to them when writing the issue, had again become such a social, cultural and political sore spot in the country. But to have her not be her, to take away the pregnancy and the abortion with one zompire bite, feels like it cheapens what was done in Issue 6: that our reactions to it no longer matters because, hey, only kidding!
But, on the other hand, in Issue 6, Buffy did not know she was the Buffybot — she thought she was dealing with a situation with her flesh-and-blood body that was going to drastically alter her life. Her mental and emotional anguish over the decision, and how she reached out to the people around her, were out of genuine concern that she had again messed up and now she had to be a responsible adult in how she dealt with it. Even Spike, in Issue 8, makes this clear to Andrew that what he did was put her mind through tremendous anguish. Although her body might not have been real, her struggle and her decision were.
And, as Whedon does love the metaphor, perhaps that is what is most important: the mental and emotional turmoil that accompanies an unplanned pregnancy and the decision about whether or not to abort it. Even if it wasn’t real, whenever her mind gets placed back in her real body, it’s going to be an experience that leaves with her, that shapes who she is and what she does. Perhaps what is most important isn’t the actual act of the abortion, because it happens and then is done — it is the experience of the struggle and the turmoil that linger and shape what a woman does throughout the rest of her life that matters the most.
So, Issues 7 and 8 — grr, argh! I can see what you maybe are trying to say, but at the same time, you just gave all those who didn’t like the idea of an abortion a way to say aha!, see, I knew Whedon wouldn’t go through with it. So while there may be people that “get” the metaphor, there are also going to be those who see the decision to go with the Buffybot as vindication for their anti-abortion position. And that’s why I’m all grr-argh! about what has happened.