Fandom, forgive me because I have sinned: I only got down to re-watching the cult TV series that is Buffy The Vampire Slayer now, after binge-watching it for the first time at the age of 11. Now, nearly 14 years after its final season premiered on 24 September 2002, it's time for a re-evaluation, or better, a reminder of why Buffy is still one of the most brilliant shows out there.
I went into rewatching Buffy with the idea it would look dated at best, cheesy and 'crap horror' at worse. I thought I would not understand why I loved it or what scared me about it, like when you rewatch Jumanji as an adult and you can't really justify hiding under the cinema's seats out of fear when the monkeys came out. Needless to say, I was wrong.
Now that #Flawless, pop feminism and great role models like Emma Watson have made us all understand that we should all be feminists, it's worth remembering that Buffy was a badass feminist before it was cool. The only daughter (at least for a while) of a single mother who strived to give her a better life, Buffy took the weight of the whole world on her shoulders from the age of 15 and managed to go to school, make friends and date people (more of that later) in the process.
The fact that she was flawed, that she was a teenager, that she made countless mistakes in her personal life and in her journey as a slayer only added to the show. In the words of super-villain turned Scooby gang member Spike: "A slayer with family and friends. That sure as hell wasn't in the brochure." It was her flaws and the people she loved that made Buffy unbeatable.
I wonder how many teenage girls have to thank David Boreanaz's Angel for their sexual awakening - I sure as hell was one of them. But unlike many other shows, the men in Buffy weren't just about the eye candy. Her relationship are a portrayal of what it means to be a woman today. When Angel turns bad for instance he embodies all abusive relationship into one: the stalking, the mind games, the feeling of isolation and guilt, the fear for herself and her relatives that Buffy feels are scary enough without thinking he has fangs and a past as a homicidal maniac. And when the time to make a decision comes, we can all relate or at least sympathise with the heart-breaking reality of having to choose yourself and your wellbeing (or, in Buffy's case, world's) over the man you love.
Buffy and Angel's relationship was consuming and toxic, loving and exciting. Once again, in the words of Spike: "You're not friends. You'll never be friends. You'll be in love till it kills you both. You'll fight, and you'll shag, and you'll hate each other till it makes you quiver, but you'll never be friends. Love isn't brains, children, it's blood...blood screaming inside you to work its will."
But what about Buffy's relationship with Spike, initially a secondary character who then became everyone's favourite? Spike and Buffy were a flawed couple to begin with, in an intriguing bond that seemed to sink the slayer's self-esteem even further while bettering Spike so much he actually crossed to the good side. Spike was undoubtedly one of the show's best characters, showing how men, too, can be a "love's bitch" while still keeping their appeal.
In times when writers' choice of developing a gay main character still causes controversy, once again Buffy was way ahead of its time. When Willow starts a relationship with Tara, her character grows and becomes one of the most interesting in the series. Through Willow, Joss Whedon went beyond the gay best friend stereotype, writing an effortlessly cool character that shows you can be whatever you want to be. In Willow's case, a powerful witch AND gay AND Buffy's best friend.
Buffy didn't shun themes of depression and suicide. When the Scooby gang brings the slayer back from the dead, she comes back with a bleakness and with a longing to die, almost an apathy that resembles the darkness some of us face in our everyday lives.
Darkness is, of course, central to the series - but it's not always brought by the vampires. In I Robot, You Jane (season one), Willow becomes the victim of a demonic form of online grooming. In season five, misogyny and objectification of women come to life in the shape of April, Warren Meers' robot girlfriend he made for her to love him unconditionally, only to get bored of her and dump her. Warren comes back in season six, once again as misogyny personified: he hypnotises his ex girlfriend Katrina to be his sex slave, killing her when she rebels. Warren is the head of a very human, very dark, set of villains: the trio, made of three former Sunnydale High classmates now seeking revenge, sick of being their year's losers. They meet their end once Warren accidentally kills Willow's girlfriend, Tara, and ends up being flayed and incinerated by Buffy's best friend turned dark witch out of grief.
But even in the darkest times, Buffy always manages to find the light. Despite the strains in their relationship brought by lovers, secret envies and the ever-looming apocalypse, Buffy and her gang portray a developing friendship that accepts every flaw and every difference. Xander, basically Buffy's only friend without powers or unlimited knowledge (like Giles), proves to be the gang's glue, the one who watches and understands everything - a superpower in itself.
In the years since the first episodes of Buffy, the world of TV series has developed, changed and produced brilliant storylines. However, there is no doubt that Buffy should still be a high priority on your watchlist. And David Boreanaz and James Masters are still swoon-worthy. Just saying.