An Obsession With a Vampire Slayer

A war will end on Tuesday night. Humanity will be saved, evil will be vanquished (again). Left standing will be a girl, the chosen one, who will go on fighting darkness — only we won't be around to watch.

Welcome to the closing chapter of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer saga. After seven years — a feared apocalypse averted at the end of each one — Buffy the Weekly Television Show will be no more.

I've been hooked on television shows before — Carol Burnett as a kid, Dynasty and Melrose Place in my soapy young adult moments, Friends now — but nothing hooked me like Buffy. The exploits of the Slayer and her gang of buddies, aka the Scoobies, became an obsession.

All around me is evidence of my Buffy fixation. The brilliant Buffy musical episode soundtrack is on the stereo, the Buffy videogame is in my X-Box, just waiting for me to complete the final level. There are assorted videotapes, the first three seasons of DVDs, a 12-inch Buffy doll with a crossbow perched on my refrigerator (at Christmas, she becomes the angel on my tree), assorted comic books, and a lunchbox a friend gave me this year for my birthday. My 39th birthday.

What is it about this stake-thrusting, butt-kicking, quip-making "supergirl" that has made me long for Tuesday nights?

The simple answer is that Buffy consistently was one of the best-written programs on network television. It mixed on-the-edge suspense, witty dialogue and heartbreaking drama in one show, often at the same time. Sometimes I've felt like a hostage to the show, but I'm actually more like a "guestage" (to quote from my new favorite character, Andrew).

From the Ashes

Buffy began life as a 1992 feature film that was critically drubbed. Her creator, Joss Whedon, also didn't like the final product and he succeeded in recrafting his vision for then-TV newcomer, The WB. The premise didn't change in the transition: One teenage girl in all the world is chosen by the "powers that be" to protect the world from vampires and demons.

TV critics loved the show — one noted years ago that it was one of the few shows he and his teenage daughter could watch and enjoy together. Family-values groups hated it — too violent, too sexual, too gay, too pagan and all too of it early in the evening for their tastes.

For me, the show, which moved to UPN two years ago, became so much more than a demon-of-the-week fantasy fest.

With Buffy's fights and her choices, it became about responsibility, sacrifice, tolerance and respect. This was a story about one girl who was just trying to grow up as she was burdened with saving the world. Isn't that how it often feels like when a teen transitions into becoming an adult?

Slayer Girl to Slayer Woman

"Nothing's ever simple anymore," a young (Season Two) Buffy says to Rupert Giles, the "watcher" who guides her training, as she waits to stake a one-time friend who has been turned into a vampire. "I'm constantly trying to work it out. Who to love or hate. Who to trust. It's just, like, the more I know, the more confused I get."

Buffy asks Giles for answers, but knowing she probably won't like the answer, she asks him to lie.

"Yes, it's terribly simple," Giles says. "The good guys are always stalwart and true, the bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and, uh, we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies, and everybody lives happily ever after."

"Liar," Buffy says.

Buffy in Season Seven no longer has illusions of innocence. She's had to kill countless baddies. She's a high-school graduate who dropped out of college when her mother died. She's had complicated love relationships, mostly with vampires. She's come to the rescue when her friends have made bad choices. She's even died to save the world (and wasn't too happy to be brought back to life to fight again).

"I'm beyond tired. I'm beyond scared. I'm standing on the mouth of hell, and it is gonna swallow me whole," Buffy tells a ragtag army of her friends and potential slayers who are fighting the First Evil, the final season's "big bad" that wants to bring about this year's apocalypse.

"From now on, we won't just face our worst fears, we will seek them out," Buffy says. "There is only one thing on this earth more powerful than evil, and that's us."