“BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” – Who Is To Blame in (7.19) “Empty Places”?
Nearly five years ago, an episode viewed by many ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” fans as controversial, aired during the show’s final season. The name of that episode was ”Empty Places”.
In this episode, the citizens of Sunnydale finally desert the town in masse after realizing that their chances of surviving the upcoming apocalypse might be non-existent. Even demons like Clem desert. Buffy, the Scoobies, Spike, Faith and the Potentials are still smarting from their defeat at the hands of Caleb in the previous episode, ”Dirty Girls” (7.18). To relieve the Potentials of their gloomy moods, Faith took them for one last night of fun at the Bronze, a local nightclub. The fun ended in near disaster, after an encounter with police. But when Buffy suggested that Caleb may be hiding something of great value in the vineyard – the scene of their last defeat – the Scoobies, the Potentials, Giles, Wood and Dawn finally turned their backs on her . . . and kicked her out of her own home.
I have found the general reaction to the characters’ actions in ”Empty Places” rather interesting. I realize that I should not be amazed, considering human nature. Yet, I am. There have been fans that came to the conclusion that all of the characters had reacted badly to the situation. These fans even managed to pinpoint on the characters’ fears and flaws that led to their individual decisions. But the majority of fans seem determined to place the blame of what happened on either Buffy or those who had rejected her. And especially in regard to the latter, many fans seemed to have vented their ire on a handful of characters.
Personally, I believe they were all at fault. To be honest, Buffy was not a good leader throughout Season Seven. This became painfully clear when she assumed leadership over the Potentials. Instead of resorting to the usual methods she had utilized when leading the Scoobies against the Big Bad at the end of the previous seasons – listening to her friends and considering their suggestions – Buffy resorted to acting like General von Summers by insisting that her views are correct, ignoring any advice given by others and viewing herself as the law, whose word should not be questioned. She painfully reminded me of the Watchers’ Council at their worst. Which should not surprise me, considering that her only guide on how to be a leader came from a Watcher. Her Watcher . . . namely one Rupert Giles.
Giles’ own actions before this episode had contributed a great deal to the schism between himself and Buffy. He was the one who had insisted that Buffy lead the Potentials. He was the one who had taught her to be a killer, instead of a leader. And when she failed to become an effective leader - no surprise there - he was the one who constantly complained about her ineffectiveness. And then to make matters worse, he betrayed her by trying to get Spike killed behind her back . . . and never expressed any remorse for his actions. Naturally this pissed off Buffy. But when she finally rejected his role as her authority figure, he became resentful and even more critical . . . and stabbed her in the back, again. And yet, the fans ended up expressing more hostility toward characters like the Potentials (especially Kennedy and Rona), Robin Wood, Dawn and the Scoobies than toward Giles. I guess as a long established authority figure, Giles was exempt from their hostility. Well, from the hostility of most fans. There are those who keep claiming that Giles had changed during Season 7. And there were those who condemned him as much as they condemned the others. By the way, I don't think that Giles had changed. I think that Buffy's view of him had.
The actions of others did not serve them very well. Both Willow and Xander seemed resentful of Buffy’s growing distance from them. Despite enjoying their friendship with her, both have demanded that she live up to her role as ”the Slayer” They wanted to put her on a pedestal, yet at the same time, they demanded that she stays as close to them as possible. Dawn’s own insecurites spawned by her encounter with the First in ”Conversations With Dead” has led her to wonder if Buffy cared more about being a Slayer than her. This insecurity has apparently led Dawn to finally reject Buffy’s role as authority figure in this episode. I am not saying that Dawn was wrong. She had every right to reject Buffy’s authority. Only, she did it by insisting that Buffy move out of the house . . . her sister’s house. I would not be surprised that Robin Wood still maintained a resentment against Buffy for choosing Spike – the vampire who had killed his mother in 1977 – over him. As for Faith . . . well, she never really rejected Buffy’s authority. She only questioned it.
But the characters who have received the greatest ire from many fans over what happened in this episode were the Potentials – especially Kennedy and Rona. A good number of them seemed to resent Rona for openly expressing doubt toward Buffy’s skills as a leader. And even more of them resented Kennedy for not being another Tara or Oz – in other words, another introvert for the already introverted Willow. But the single biggest criticism that the fans had laid at the Potentials’ feet was their decision to reject Buffy as their leader. For some reason, many seemed to harbor the view that they had no right to reject Buffy, let alone question her decisions. They seemed to believe that the Potentials should have blindly followed Buffy, regardless of how they had felt about her.
You know, I never fail to be amazed at how hypocritical people can be. Honestly. Take the relationship between Buffy and the Potentials in Season Seven for example. In the past seasons, Buffy continuous attempts to maintain a personal life and resist Giles' attempts to turn her into a single-minded Slayer drew cheers from the viewers. When she resisted and finally rejected the Watchers Council’s authority over her in Season Three’s ”Helpless”, the fans cheered. When she continuously questioned Maggie Walsh and the Initiative’s actions and encouraged boyfriend Riley Finn to do the same in Season Four, the fans cheered. When Buffy made it clear to the visiting members of the Watchers Council in Season Five’s ”Checkpoint” that they no longer have any power over her, the audiences cheered.
Then in Season Seven, Buffy became an authority figure. Actually, she became one following her mother’s death in late Season Five, when she became Dawn’s only guardian. But her interactions with the Potentials led her to become an authority figure on the same scale as Giles, Maggie Walsh and the Initiative and the Watchers Council. And like those before her, Buffy made some very questionable judgment calls – including her decision to attack Caleb at the local vineyard without any real reconnaissance. And like Buffy had in the past, the Potentials rejected their own authority figure in ”Dirty Girls”. But since their authority figure happened to be Buffy . . . many fans had condemned them for not blindly following her.
Apparently, it was okay for Buffy to resist or reject the authority figures she had faced. But when she became an authority figure - and not a very good one at that, many fans decided that ”no one” - especially the hated Potentials - had the right to resist or reject her. I hate to say this, but this could easily be construed as a bad case of double standards by those fans. That they would excuse or approve of Buffy rejecting authority figures, yet condemning those who would do the same to Buffy after she became an authority figure reeks of hypocrisy to me. And this is something I simply cannot agree with.