Halloween and Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Part Three

Kicking off our Buffy Blog Series this week, in our exploration of Season Six, we have a previously unpublished Halloween post exploring third and final Halloween episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  This is the third part of Sheffield Gothic’s 2014 Buffy Halloween Series by co-organiser Mary Going (you can read part one here and part two here): yes, our blog may be haunted! As always, if you want to share your thoughts on Buffy and Halloween, or any of our previous posts, use the hashtag #BuffySlays20. 

The final episode in the trio of Halloween specials of Buffy the Vampire Slayeroccurs in the sixth and penultimate season.  This is the season that literally brings Buffy back from the dead, and the show itself is similarly resurrected onto a new TV channel, UPN, following a decision from WB not to renew the show.  

(Reactions to Season Six)

It is in this season that we are given the infamous musical episode ‘Once More With Feeling’ (we’ll get back to you on a Sheffield Gothic Musical) that inspired sing-along viewings and an album release.  However, this season also deals with a lot of darker themes.  Buffy becomes less metaphorical and more literal as it leaves behind childhood and moves more clearly into the realm of adulthood, addressing themes such as addiction, kleptomania, the consequences of misogyny, and death (and resurrection) are addressed.  Even mental illness is explored through the episode of ‘Normal Again’ as the very reality of the world of Sunnydale, that has become so familiar to Buffy and the viewer, is questioned.  As a result, the sixth season is often considered to be the darkest season of Buffy.

 I bet you say that to all the girls; ‘All the Way’ S06E06

So how does the final Halloween episode fit into a season that is undeniably so much darker in content that the previous seasons?  Moreover, how does this episode compare to the first and second Halloween specials?

This episode opens with a scene featuring the now obligatory Halloween costumes.  Giles has chosen a rather fetching blue Wizard costume; Xander is decked in the attire of a pirate; and Anya is dressed as an Angel.  Or more specifically a Charlie’s Angel, and the ex-Vengeance demon elaborates, this is a ‘special kind of angel called a Charlie.  We don’t have wings, we just skate around with perfect hair fighting crime.’

(Xander and Anya, dressed as a Pirate and Charlies’ Angel)

Not everyone in this scene, however, has donned a Halloween costume, and there is an immediate sense that Halloween has lost some of its charm for the Scoobies.  The scene is set in the Magic Box, a shop now owned by Giles following a brief spell of unemployment.  And at this busy commercial holiday, the Scoobies have been roped into help.  The shop itself is packed with customers and children Trick-or-Treating, all suitably adorned in Halloween attire.  For Buffy and her friends, though, they are there to serve customers, hand out sweets to the children, and restock the shelves.

Naturally, this is something that Buffy tries to get out of.  As we have discovered through the BTVS Halloween episodes, an informal rule exists in the supernatural world whereby on this night ‘supernatural threats give it a well-deserved rest.’  Buffy cunningly uses her experiences in which this rule is broken to offer to patrol instead of helping out at the shop. Yet contrary to her wishes, Giles reminds her that ‘if anything calamitous should happen, history suggests it’ll happen to one of us,’ and Buffy is stuck in her retail nightmare.

However, history does have a strange way of repeating itself, and as the episode unfolds the unspoken rule of Halloween is, of course, broken.  It is interesting to note the difference between the previous Halloween episodes and the way this rule is broken.  The violation of this all important rule is typically brought about by magic – first by Ethan Rayne casting a spell over the costumes sold in his shop, and then by the accidental summoning of the Fear demon Gachnar. However, in the final Halloween installment, it is a group of local vampires who choose to disregard traditional Halloween etiquette; not magic, but simply a rejection of societal customs.   

Perhaps here, then, is the crux of the episode: the notion of choices and responsibility.  This is also fundamental to the season as a whole, as it addresses the liminal area between childhood and adulthood.  Aptly titled ‘All the Way,’ this episode follows the Scoobies and their decisions, or their struggles, with the concept of commitment and following through with their decisions in a more adult context.  Xander publically reveals his engagement to Anya, and then wrestles with the reality of this decision.  Willow and Tara struggle with their differing ideals of magic and its use as it begins to impact their relationship (foregrounding Willow’s later addiction to magic).  Buffy herself is revealed to be adapting to, or failing to adapt to, her role as a parental figure to her sister Dawn in the wake of their mother’s death.

But central to BTVS as a series is figure of the teenage girl, and it is through Dawn that this is played out.  Questioning her lack of Halloween costume in the opening scene, Dawn responds to Anya by stating, ‘Like I’m six years old? Halloween’s so lame.’ As the episode progresses, it is clear to the viewer that the teenage Dawn is attempting to appear as grown up, as adult, as possible.   

Disregarding her assertion to Buffy that ‘I’m not gonna be roaming the streets,’ this is exactly what Dawn ends up doing.  Rather than staying over at her friend’s house, Dawn and her friend Janice instead meet up with some older boys.  The group proceeds to prank some local houses, including throwing eggs and letting the air out of car tires, before heading over to the woods in a stolen car.

(Dawn and the not-just-a-boy-actually-a-vampire Justin)

What Dawn and Janice do not know, however, is that these boys are vampires.  The viewer is made privy to private conversations between the boys, out of Dawn and Janice’s earshot, as Zack first asks Justin, ‘what about, uh, you know, going all the way?’  This euphemistically refers to sex and the ritual of losing virginity (and innocence), which can further be regarded as a progression from childhood to adulthood.  However, unlike your average teenage boys, the predatory nature of these boys is emphasized through their vampiric identity.

Another scene reveals, again only to the views, Justin’s vamp face. The group is invited into the house of an old man for some special Halloween treats, and under the guise of helping him in the kitchen Justin sucks his blood.  Running from the house, Justin exclaims to Zack ‘Dude, that guy was rank,’ to which Justin replies, ‘Bet a spritz of Dawn would wash that right out.  So what do you think? Lunchables? Or should we go all the way and turn ‘em?’

Here, the previous comment regarding ‘going all the way’ is transformed, or perhaps simply its latent and more sinister nature is revealed.  The vampire, and the act of drinking a person’s blood and turning them into vampires themselves, becomes a metaphor for sexual consent.  While it does of course have ramifications for sexual relationships of all ages, sexual consent and virginity are specifically considered here within the context of the teenage sphere, as teenagers begin to explore their own sexual identities amongst a backdrop of various social pressures. 

This theme is crucial to many early Gothic novels.  Again, we can look back to Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) where rape is a constant threat to Emily in the castle of Udolpho.  The threat of rape is, however, more explicitly portrayed through the Matthew Lewis’ The Monk (1796).  In this novel, the eponymous Monk exploits the disguise of his religious habit to seek out the heroine Antonia.  As his habit hides his true face (which we can compare to the vamp faces of Justin and Zack) he attempts to seduce and then rape Antonia, an act in which he is eventually successful.  

Returning to Sunnydale, Dawn and Janice are inevitably rescued by Buffy with the help of Giles, and Spike.  Giles interrupts Zack as he is biting Janice, and responds to the vampires retort of ‘Like you weren’t asking for it’ with the simple but powerful phrase, ‘I feel certain she wasn’t’ before staking the vampire.  Here, Giles is not only protecting a helpless victim, but he is also protecting her agency and ability to choose whether or not she is bitten, whether or not she is turned into a vampire, and whether or not she consents to sex.

Spike, too, gets involved in the fight.  Although a vampire himself, he berates the vampire gang for not following the rules of Halloween.  One vampire proudly states ‘Me and mine don’t follow no stinkin’ rules! We’re rebels!’ which seems to offend Spike’s vampiric pride.  Naturally, Spike quickly replies ‘No.  I’m a rebel.  You’re an idiot,’ and he then proceeds to kill the ‘rebel’ vampire with a crossbow. 

But again, like the episode itself, the focus within this scene is upon Dawn.  As her sister Buffy is fighting vampires alongside Giles and Spike, Dawn is left alone with Justin the vampire.  Physically pinning her to the ground, Justin attempts to pacify Dawn in an attempt to achieve his objective of ‘going all the way.’  Yet while Dawn agrees with Justin’s comment that ‘you like me too,’ her refusal to consent to his (sexual) desire is made clear as she stakes him.  In a way, Justin impales himself as he leans down to bite Dawn, who holds a stake in her hand, pointing upwards.  Nevertheless, the stake is undoubtedly in Dawn’s hands, and this understated act further reveals the key message of BTVS: women are not helpless victims to be killed off or raped: they can, and will, fight back.  

To return to the original question set out in my first post, what makes a series about a teenage girl come vampire slayer so enduring, the answer can be found here and in the previous Halloween episodes.  This is not a show simply about teenage girls, and this is also not a show simply about vampire slayers.  BTVScombines the two, as it is simultaneously a show about a teenage girl anda vampire slayer, meshing together the ordinary and the extraordinary, the natural and the supernatural, to create a show that continues to resonate with audiences today. 

Mary Going is a PhD researcher at the University of Sheffield researching the representation of Jewish figures in eighteenth and ninteenth century fiction, and she is also co-organiser of Sheffield Gothic. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer.