‘Buffy’: Fifteen Years of Passion

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Sarah Michelle Gellar portrays Buffy Summers.

As of February 24 of this year, Jenny Calendar has been dead for 15 years.

The character, portrayed by actress Robia LaMorte, appeared on Buffy the Vampire Slayer in a recurring role for the show’s first two seasons.

The show started airing on the WB network in March of 1997 as a mid-season replacement for Savannah.  Actress Sarah Michelle Gellar, who was cast as the titular character, was stoked to be given her first big role.  Meanwhile, her friends were trying to make her feel better about being cast on a mid-season replacement based on an unsuccessful teen comedy released five years prior by telling her that she’ll get cast in a better role next year.  Gellar ultimately had the last laugh, as the show went on to last seven seasons, gain a cult following, and become one of the biggest and most praised television series of all time.

Series creator, executive producer, and writer Joss Whedon first used the idea of a teenage girl destined to slay vampires and ward off demons in his script for the 1992 film of the same name.  After the film director turned his script, originally intended to be dark and scary, into a teen comedy, Whedon saw the TV show as an opportunity to bring his original idea to life, and this time, do things the way he wanted.

The show became popular among casual viewers and media critics alike.  Set in the fictitious town of Sunnydale, California, it centered around Buffy Summers, an average teenage girl who moves to town after discovering she’s the vampire slayer, a girl chosen from each generation to defend society against vampires and demons.  She struggles to balance life as a high school student and life as the slayer.  The show is also known for launching careers of big stars, such as Alyson Hannigan (How I Met Your Mother and American Pie), Seth Green (Family Guy, Austin Powers, and Robot Chicken), and David Boreanaz (Angel and Bones).

Aside from that, Buffy is praised for having great writing.  The show is set up to be a mix of serialized and chapter format.  Rather than being an ongoing storyline from episode to episode, or having each episode just have its own individual plot, the show utilizes both.  The characters often fight off new villains each episode (dubbed ‘Monster of the Week’ episodes), while still retaining a season-long story arc that progresses with each episode and involves a more threatening villain, often referred to as the “big bad.”  This type of format is very popular in today’s television.

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The main cast of season 2.

Each episode is set up to relate metaphorically to what Buffy and other characters are going through.  In “The Witch,” a teenage girl’s mother literally tries to relive her high school glory days through her daughter by switching bodies with her.  In “Out of Mind, Out of Sight,” a girl literally turns invisible after being ignored by her peers.  In “Ted,” Buffy’s mother’s boyfriend, seen as sort of a stepfather figure, turns out to literally be a “heartless machine.”  These metaphors are present throughout the whole series, but very apparent throughout the first few seasons.  Sunnydale High School is located on top of a hellmouth, making use of the phrase “High school is hell.”

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Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Angel (David Boreanaz).

During my rewatch of the show, I find that, while the first season is okay, it’s the second season that really gets things going.  As opposed to season one, which had 12 episodes, season two’s 22 episodes allow it to tell a more compelling story and for the characters to really develop, while they remained mostly static in the season before.  By this time, Buffy has started a romance with vampire Angel (David Boreanaz).  That’s right.  There was a romance portraying vampire and human long before Twilight.  Angel is two centuries old.  After killing and torturing a village of gypsies, they plotted revenge by returning his soul, ultimately making him feel guilt over his horrendous behavior.  He often warns Buffy of impending danger and sometimes comes to her rescue.

Main characters Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Xander (Nicholas Brendon) both start relationships after growing tired of waiting on others.  Even Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), Buffy’s watcher and school librarian, starts a relationship with computer science teacher and technopagen Jenny Calendar.  She, along with teenage mean girl Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter), takes on a more prominent role this season by being more incorporated into the group.  Seth Green’s character, Oz, is eventually introduced mid-season and becomes more involved with the group over time.  He goes on to be revealed as a werewolf, adding to the diversity of the characters and their storylines.

Going back to the metaphors, this season takes a dramatic turn when Buffy and Angel decide to make love.  The common idea that you lose your innocence while doing so is showcased in this episode.  It’s title is even “Innocence.”  The result is Angel losing his soul and returning to his former demonic self.  Buffy is heartbroken, exemplifying a typical teenage girl who has sex with a boy and realizes that he’s not exactly who she thought he was.  Angel is portrayed as a villain for the rest of the season, and several episode later, audiences were shocked when he killed Jenny Calendar in “Passion.”

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Angel (David Boreanaz) right before he kills Jenny Calendar (Robia LaMorte) in “Passion.”

Whedon’s idea behind killing Jenny is to show the audience that no one is safe.  Death, like in real life, is very real and can come very unexpectedly.  This is the first time that a recurring or main character has been killed off the show.  Several more characters would follow Jenny’s fate later on.  Audiences were shocked as they watched Angel snap Jenny’s neck.  It happened very quickly and caught many off guard.  Whedon would go on to become particularly infamous for killing many of his main characters throughout his career as a writer and director.  While many, even to this day, are upset by Jenny Calendar’s death, it definitely did more good than harm.  It placed Buffy on a more real level.  “Passion” would later be cited by many as one of the best and most emotional TV episodes of the series, as well as all time.  Over fifteen years later, the episode still stands the test of time, becoming a model for later television series to follow.

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