Loving Buffy The Vampire Slayer Is Complicated

Much like Buffy's love for Angel (or Spike), my love for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" has become somewhat complicated. "Buffy" is the show that feels like home to me. I've loved it for more than half my life and can quote the majority of dialogue across its 144 episodes. Watching "Buffy" in tandem with its spin-off "Angel" is something I've forced on pretty much everyone I've ever dated — whatever, they all ended up huge fans! There have also been some truly dark times in my life that "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" helped me to survive. I know I'm not alone in this; "Buffy" means so much to so many ... which is why it's so disheartening to learn that the set was such a toxic place to work.

It's easy to underestimate just how revolutionary "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" was at the time of its release. Growing up in the '90s, there weren't many heroines on TV to cling to and Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) became a beacon for many of us. Buffy carried the weight of the world on her tiny shoulders, and it was a weight she couldn't always bear gracefully. "Chosen One" or not, she was still a teenage girl just trying to survive the battleground that is high school. Seriously, has there ever been a more apt metaphor than high school as hell?

It hurts to consider that for some working on the show, their place of employment was similarly hellish. "Buffy" creator Joss Whedon has been accused of creating an intolerable work environment by multiple people who have worked with him over the years, allegations which he only recently responded to after quite a long period of silence. The most disappointing aspect of the recent New York Magazine interview with Whedon is how little responsibility he takes for his actions. After remaining quiet for so long, there was hope that he could partially redeem himself by, at the very least, apologizing. However, there is little that could be even remotely construed as accountability — just Whedon calling Ray Fisher "a bad actor," claiming Gal Gadot misunderstood him because English isn't her first language, and explaining that the extent of his misbehavior with Charisma Carpenter was him being "not mannerly."

Nothing will ever make me stop loving "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." It will never mean any less to me, or even be diminished by Whedon's involvement. But that doesn't mean his downfall hasn't caused me to rethink certain aspects of the series. Much like in real life, love in the Buffyverse isn't always pretty. Just about every character was consumed by it and Buffy herself loved more than one monstrous creature throughout the show's seven seasons.

What Has Joss Whedon Been Accused Of?

In the '90s and early aughts, Whedon's feminist credentials seemed unshakable. After all, the idea for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" was born of wanting to give power to the petite blond who so often died at the beginning of many horror movies. Whedon succeeded in that, and Buffy Summers became the feminist icon of a generation. However, as Whedon's projects continued to evolve, viewers began to notice that not all aspects of his particular brand of feminism had aged all that gracefully, and indeed, featured some rather troubling patterns of women undergoing immense trauma in order to maintain or reclaim their strength. "Dollhouse" in particular, caused fans to begin taking a closer look at what Whedon was really trying to say, and these feelings only increased with his treatment of Black Widow in "Avengers: Age of Ultron" and the leaked script for the 2004 Wonder Woman movie that, thankfully, was never made.

Whedon's true fall from grace began with an article his ex-wife Kai Cole wrote that was published on The Wrap. Cole called him a "hypocrite preaching feminist ideals" and claimed he'd had multiple affairs throughout their marriage with actresses, co-workers, and fans. This piece was given new context in 2020, when Ray Fisher, who played Cyborg in "Justice League" came forward with his own complaints against Whedon. The actor tweeted that Whedon's "on-set treatment of the cast and crew of Justice League was gross, abusive, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable." This led to a back-and-forth between Fisher and Warner Bros that still hasn't been completely resolved.

Fisher wasn't the only one who cited negative experiences with Whedon. "Buffy" stunt coordinator Jeff Pruitt and his wife Sophia Crawford (Gellar's stunt double) had issues with the auteur as well (via Metro), claiming he threatened their careers. A similar allegation was made by Gal Gadot, who also had trouble with Whedon on the set of "Justice League." Spike actor James Marsters came forward as well to reveal Whedon's rather disturbing reaction to his character's popularity.

One of Fisher's most ardent supporters was Charisma Carpenter, who portrayed mean-girl-turned-hero Cordelia Chase on "Buffy" and "Angel." Fans of the shows had long wondered what actually went on behind the scenes that caused writers to ruin Cordelia's character before unceremoniously killing her off. Many surmised it had something to do with the actress' pregnancy, but no one likely would've guessed how upsetting the truth actually was. Carpenter came forward in 2021 with a long Twitter post about how "casually cruel" Whedon could be, detailing his horrendous treatment of her after learning of her pregnancy.

From there, the support poured in, with Amber Benson (who played Tara), describing the "Buffy" set as a "toxic environment" and Michelle Trachtenberg (who portrayed Dawn), calling Whedon's behavior towards her inappropriate and saying there was an onset rule that he was not to be left alone with her — she was a teenager at the time of filming. Many others involved in the show came forward to stand with Carpenter as well, with Sarah Michelle Gellar stating, "While I am proud to have my name associated with Buffy Summers, I don't want to be forever associated with the name Joss Whedon." It's a sentiment fans can surely identify with.

Love In The Buffyverse

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" may be perfect to me, but of course, when viewed through a 2022 lens it does have some rather glaring flaws. Considering what we know about Whedon and how deeply his personal ideas about feminism are buried in the heart of the show, it is difficult to untangle one from the other. It's also hard to reconcile the many positive things the series had to say with what was going on behind the scenes. There's some poetic resonance, then, in the fact that "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" itself focused quite a bit on the complexities of loving someone who is flawed, or even monstrous.

Just look at Buffy's own love life. Her most epic romance was with vampire-with-a-soul Angel (David Boreanaz). Angel transformed into a literal monster after he and Buffy slept together for the first time. He became the show's most personal and harrowing Big Bad (season 2 finale "Becoming Part 2" still makes me cry every time). I remember desperately trying to extricate myself from my own toxic relationship in high school, and feeling like if Buffy could move on, so could I. Sure, she had to kill her boyfriend to save the world, see him resurrected, and give their romance another try before truly accepting it was doomed — but hey, love isn't easy.

Buffy was understandably devastated by her break-up with Angel and hoped to simplify things after he left town by settling down with what she thought was a nice, "normal" guy. Riley (Mark Blucas) served as her rebound, and while he was far from perfect, perhaps his greatest flaw was how boring he was — even being part of a secret government agency couldn't spice him up. We may have been sad for Buffy when Riley left, but most fans weren't unhappy to see "Captain Cardboard" helicopter out of Sunnydale.

After that, we've got another vampire, this time a soulless one, and though Buffy was only using Spike (James Marsters) initially, both she and viewers forgot just how monstrous he truly was until "Seeing Red" reminded us all — a narrative decision that still doesn't sit right with many fans. Spike was both ensouled and redeemed eventually, but their romance was complicated, to say the least. Whether it's dating the kind person we hate ourselves for not loving, or sleeping with someone we shouldn't, I'm sure a lot of people can relate to Buffy's romantic troubles in those seasons.

It's Okay To Love Something Flawed

Buffy is hardly the only example, and she also isn't the only complex female character in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." While many viewers saw themselves in the Slayer, others related more to Willow (Alyson Hannigan), Cordelia, or Anya (Emma Caulfield), all of whom had incredible arcs across the series — though much of Cordelia's growth happened on "Angel." And Buffy wasn't the only one who dated someone monstrous. Remember when Willow fell in love with Oz (Seth Green), the lead guitarist in Dingoes Ate My Baby, who also happened to be a werewolf? Even the sweetest person in the world has an inner beast that can take them over.

The show's healthiest relationship was definitely Willow and Tara, but even that grew toxic at a certain point, thanks to the former's addiction spiraling out of control. Of course, Tara didn't stop loving her because of it and they were reunited once Willow was in a better place. Well, we all know how that shining light amid the show's darkest season ended and fans still haven't recovered — it's a decision season 6 showrunner Martin Noxon has come to regret (via Vulture). After such a devastating and seemingly senseless loss, it was easy to understand why a grieving Willow attempted to destroy the entire world, but in the end, it was the love of a friend that pulled her back from the brink. Willow did terrible things, but not one of her friends abandoned her.

Then there's Anya, a former vengeance demon who made the choice to become one again, a decision that certainly led to some problems, but the Scoobies still accepted her back into the fold. Speaking of Anya, both she and Cordelia dated Xander (Nicholas Brendon), who could be pretty terrible across the board. Xander's flaws may not have been ballooned into monstrous metaphors, but in the years since the show aired, many viewers have found his defects to be far more insidious.

Teens weren't the only ones with drama. Things didn't go too well for Buffy's Watcher either. Sadly, Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) didn't get to experience much romantic love throughout the series, but he still loved Jenny (Robia LaMorte) even after learning she'd been spying on the Scoobies from the beginning — yet another story with a tragic ending. And sadly, things never worked out between him and Olivia (Phina Oruche).

There are plenty of other examples as well. Like all human beings, the characters on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" — including our titular slayer — were flawed, which is what made them so relatable. Considering all the awful things these characters did over the course of seven seasons, it seems like perhaps they could've shown a bit more compassion for Faith (Eliza Dushku). Yeah, I know everyone was wide-eyed and innocent back then, but seriously, no one could've offered her a spare bedroom when she was staying in that dingy motel?

Much like these relationships, my feelings towards "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" have grown increasingly complicated. I love it so much that sometimes it's difficult for me to see the show's shortcomings. The series is overwhelmingly white (emblematic of a larger problem of the time), and thankfully, feminism has evolved quite a bit beyond Whedon's definition of it. Many of the issues that later became more prevalent in his work were still present in "Buffy," though much of it was buried in subtext. This doesn't negate the importance of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or alter what the series means to me. After all, isn't much of what defines love seeing someone's flaws and loving them despite those defects?

Moving On

I don't need "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" to be perfect in order to love it. I can't justify the actions of its creator, nor can I divorce him entirely from the show's origins, or even deny that he was a driving force in what made it so great. However, it's also important to remember that the series had an immensely talented writers room, many of whom have gone onto incredibly successful careers, including Marti Noxon, Jane Espensen, Rebecca X (credited as Rebecca Rand Kirshner), and Drew Goddard. That's not to mention the actors, directors, makeup artists, stunt performers, and other creatives who all shaped "Buffy" into the remarkable show that it was. There are many moving parts here that all deserve to share the praise and when it comes to Buffy Summers herself, most of that credit goes to Sarah Michelle Gellar, whose career-defining performance is what ultimately made Buffy who she is.

Much like Harry Potter fans have had to reckon with the troubling realizations about J.K. Rowling, fans of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" are also looking to separate the art from the artist. Whedon seems so intent on continuing to dig this hole that he's failed to notice it's already swallowed him up completely. Let him keep digging. Perhaps there's really no need to try to exorcise his memory from a series he's so inextricably linked to. It is possible for me to still love the show without ignoring the harm done. However, it still pains me to think about what some of those who worked on the series experienced, especially when they created something that means so much to me.

While certain elements of the show may be rightfully reexamined, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" was still incredibly groundbreaking for its time. The series left the television landscape forever changed and no one can lessen that impact, not even Joss Whedon. No one is perfect, and the higher the pedestal, the further the fall. This is not to say Whedon is a victim in all this, simply to suggest that fans never really knew him at all. He's not the one who matters in this equation anyway. At this point, it seems safe to say that "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" belongs to the fans.