Throughout the entire run of the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer appeared on the surface as a traditional conflict between good and evil, but subversive elements lurked below the surface. On first look Buffy Summers appears to be continuing an ongoing battle of good and evil that has raged since the birth of humanity. Buffy is the Slayer the one girl chosen to be imbued with power to fight against the forces of darkness. She is guided by the Watchers council an organization that gathers knowledge of the supernatural and directs the Slayers fight against evil. This view suggests that there is a definite good and evil with easily distinguishable sides and the cosmic battle is something that can be easily understood. However, the shows final season deals with uncovering new revelations about the source of the Slayers power and the people that are supposedly her allies. This leads to a rejection of the cosmic battle, the realization that those originally suggested to be forces for good are as corrupt as the evil they oppose and a new understanding of the Slayers role in the battle against darkness. One of the main ways season 7 goes about showing the flaws in the supposed forces of light is by highlighting the similarities the institutions that supposedly serve good share with the character of Caleb the main servant of evil.

The character of Caleb serves as an important foil against which to consider the actions of the Watcher’s council. By looking at the similarities between this character of pure evil and the Council it is shown that they never have been true servants of the greater good but rather they have simply been greedy men out to serve their own self interests. Caleb is a servant of the First Evil who nevertheless adopts the dress of a preacher and makes constant reference to biblical passages. Caleb represents misogyny and patriarchy and he in a way serves as the perfect opposite number for Buffy who had her powers forced on her while he gained his through union with the First Evil. However, while Caleb is undoubtedly evil and Buffy clearly good the battle lines do not remain as clear after that. Caleb is depicted as an over the top character to contrast his similarities with the Watchers who this season establishes as having never been associated with any true good at all.

The Shadow Men pictured above are responsible for the creation of the Slayer and they set the pattern for their decedents, the Watcher’s Council. The Shadow Men and the council oppose demons and the First Evil, but they are not good, they are merely another force out to gather their own power. When Buffy seeks out the shadow men for knowledge on how to fight the First, they chain her and attempt to force demonic energy upon her stating that they cannot give her knowledge only power. They are dismissive of Buffy’s complaints noting that the First Slayer did not talk so much. It is made clear that from the beginning the process of creating a slayer has been non consensual involving the violating of a young girl to be used as a pawn against the forces of darkness for selfish motives.

This Watchers Council followed in the footsteps of the Shadow Men. Throughout the millennia they claim to be instructing the Slayers in the fight against evil when in fact they are simply making use of the girls for their own purposes. We see the Council’s idea of a well trained Slayer in season 2 when we are introduced to the Slayer Kendra. Through her we see what the council desires in a Slayer, a girl who obeys without question and is chided by Buffy for her lack of individuality. The Council’s idea of a proper Slayer is reminiscent of the First Slayer who was produced by the Shadow Men. Both Slayers have the personality and independence trained out of them and are used merely as tools for the council to use against demonic enemies. Buffy’s independent nature is in opposition to the Council’s wishes and their interaction with her frequently centers around trying to get her to bend to their will to be used as a weapon.

The Council refused to save Buffy’s ally and lover Angel in season 3 after he was poisoned and dying. On its own this could be attributed to the council being totally rigid on matters of protocol, after all Angel is a vampire and the stated purpose of the council is to fight against his kind. However, combined with their actions in the episode Helpless a different picture emerges. In this episode the council uses a needle to physically invade Buffy’s body and remove her powers without her consent. They justify this as part of a traditional test to prove her worthiness. The fact the council feels it has a right to do whatever it wants to the Slayer echoes the way the Shadow Men violated the First Slayer for their own ends to use her as a weapon and now the council does the same once again violating the Slayer for their own purposes, justifying it in the name of tradition. The leader of the council justifies the actions they take against Buffy under the excuse of “fighting a war,” To which Buffy’s watcher Giles retorts “You are waging a war. She’s fighting it.” The fact the Watchers council does not recognize this important difference simply reinforces the idea they see Buffy as a tool to be used for their purposes.

The Councils attitude persists into its final appearance as they prepare to fight The First Evil. This scene once again confirms all the things we have already been show about the council. We find out that they have knowledge about the First Evil they have not yet shared with Buffy, even though The First is active on the Helllmouth she guards. The councils leader, Quentin Travers, gathers his troops together in a war room and the imagery of is reminiscent of Dr. Evil or a James Bond villain. Travers also references W. E. Henleys poem Invictus, which has often been identified with British imperialism. The conclusion of his speech is tied in with biblical morality as he quotes: Proverbs 24:6: For by wise counsel [Council], you shall make your war. During the entire meeting Travers does not reference Buffy by her title of Slayer or by her name but simply as the girl from Sunnydale, attempting to reduce her importance and exert his authority. Shortly after this the council is destroyed by a hidden bomb.

Caleb represents obvious evil he also provides a clear mirror to the Shadow Men and Watchers council. The obvious misogyny, patriarchy and twisting of morality and religious teachings towards evil shown by Caleb it is a darker reflection of the Watchers showing that they are part of the same evil as Caleb. Through comparison with Caleb the Watcher’s flaws are brought front and center and we see from the beginning they have never been a force representing good, merely their own selfishness.

Season 7 is a literal battle against evil as Buffy and her allies contend with the First Evil which seeks to destroy humanity. However it also subverts the classic idea of the cosmic battle of good and evil at the same time. In season 7 the Watchers and the Shadow Men before them are shown to be just as corrupt and flawed as the evil they oppose. The creation of the slayer was founded on the violation of a young girl so the Shadow Men could have a puppet to protect them against the forces of darkness. This changes our perspective on the whole series of Buffy. The Slayers have indeed been fighting the forces of darkness for millennia but the power that created them and the authority they have been serving under had no connection to the divine simply rooted in selfishness and a desire for power. The idea of a cosmic battle and the forces of the light stands revealed as a sham. With these new revelations the origin of the Slayer no longer has any connection to the divine as might have been assumed by her title of “Chosen One” as Buffy says about the Shadow Men they are just men and what they did was wrong. This leads to a breaking of the pattern, Buffy and her friend Willow devise a plan to share the Slayer power with all potential candidates. This sharing of power is a rejection of past systems of suppression. No longer is there one girl chosen to be the slayer now there are thousands. The final episode rejects all right for an individuals to give out power and maintain absolute control. Indeed it is only when Buffy realizes she cannot be an absolute leader and must share her power that she is able to achieve success. The fact that the misogynistic villain chosen to represent the evil and corruption is cloaked as a preacher is not without importance. In this defiance of the past, Buffy is breaking away from all the things used to oppress and bind the slayers and symbolically women in general. Caleb represents the worst of patriarchy and male abuse not just in institution but specifically in the church.

These final episodes reveal the slayers power is demonic in nature; undermine the authority of those who were supposed to be in charge of the forces of good and change the nature of the slayer line. These actions are the final dissolution of the pretense that there is some greater cosmic purpose. The First Evil is defeated not by some cosmic rival force for good, but rather by Buffy sharing her power with others. The original imparting of the slayer power was an act of evil so it is only fitting that in order to defeat the being that is all evil this mistake must be undone. It all comes down to power, In the past this power was misused by those who sought to further their own ambitions, but in spreading the power Buffy has broken free from that. She overcomes the evil that created the slayer line and then overcomes the First Evil as an entity. This is an example of Joss Whedons humanist beliefs as Buffy seizes power and uses it to do good. However this does further suggest the absence of divinity from the world of Buffy, as this cosmic change is done entirely by human agents making use of power that is demonic in origin. Religion is a source of oppression and evil. The source of the Slayers power was demonic power used by selfish men and the thousands of year struggle of the slayers has been the manipulation of a corrupt organization. Ultimately this season seems to reinforce earlier lessons there s only power, to be used for good or bad.

The sources I used for this section of the site were
Kevin K. Durand”Are You Ready to Finish This?”: The Battle against the Patriarchal Forces of Darkness
and
Wilcox, Rhonda.2005. Why Buffy matters : the art of Buffy the vampire slayer. I.B. Tauris.

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