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Date Posted: 10:46:20 02/06/08 Wed
Author: Sophist
Subject: Leadership and authority
In reply to: Trent 's message, "Who Is To Blame in "Empty Spaces" (7.19)?" on 19:27:41 02/05/08 Tue

Rather than analyze EP in isolation, I think it makes most sense to consider it in the context of the overall message of S7. Like all seasons, there is (IMO) a lesson which Buffy learns and which we (since we should be identifying with Buffy) are supposed to learn as well. She, and we, learn that lesson in the season finale every year.

What S7 does is focus on the original problem faced by the Slayer: that she alone can stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. The unique status of the Slayer always made Buffy uncomfortable, but a number of episodes in S7 highlighted this for us, notably CWDP, Touched, and Chosen.

Buffy reacted to the situation by accepting the responsibility which came with her uniqueness. She articulated that responsibility in Selfless: "It is always different! It's always complicated. And at some point, someone has to draw the line, and that is always going to be me. You get down on me for cutting myself off, but in the end the slayer is always cut off. There's no mystical guidebook. No all-knowing council. Human rules don't apply. There's only me. I am the law."

Note that both parts of the dilemma are expressed in this single quote. The Slayer is isolated, and yet the Slayer must make the decisions. I think this pretty well expresses what Buffy has been doing for a minimum of 3 years before Selfless (at least since Graduation Day). I'd say that she here expressed the unspoken assumptions which we all accepted up to this point in time.

What S7 does, I suggest, is challenge these assumptions. It says, in effect, that being the "one girl in all the world" is the wrong answer. She solves the dilemma in Chosen by sharing the Slayer power; she's no longer "the one". Both power and responsibility can now be shared.

Now let's go back to EP. If we see the season message as "concentrating power is wrong, sharing power is right", then we can see that both sides are wrong in EP. Buffy says, at one point -- and she's factually correct -- that "For 7 years, I've kept us safe by doing this - exactly this, making the hard decisions." But the whole point of S7 is that this is the wrong approach. Buffy needs to understand this error; the rebellion becomes the catalyst for her inspiration in Chosen.

But the rebels are wrong too. They didn't attack Buffy because she wasn't sharing her power. They attacked her in part because they wanted to share in the decision-making and in part because they disagreed with the specific tactical suggestion she made.

Both parts of the rebel argument are wrong too, and we're shown that they are wrong immediately in the very next episode (Touched). First, they can't function as equal leaders because they don't share equal power. They therefore end up appointing Faith as their new boss, and she tells them expressly that she's the same as the old boss: "Look, you guys, Iím not Buffy. Iím not the one whoís been on your asses all this time. But Iím not one of you
anymore, either. Iím your leader. Which means I go first
and I make the rules and the rest of you follow after me. Is
that clear? (beat) So Kennedy, back the hell off and let me
do my job, all right?"

This is the same principle we heard from Buffy in Selfless, and it seems right because it's the assumption we've all been accepting for so long. As long as there is "the" Slayer, the ultimate decision has to be hers. Everyone accepts this when Faith declares it because it seems indisputable within the context of what we all "know" to be the essential condition of the Slayer.

As for the tactical decision, Touched also shows us that Buffy was right all along: the key was in the vineyard. To emphasize both the failure of the leadership model and Buffy's correct tactical sense, Faith leads the Potentials into a trap.

It's important to understand, though, that the problem was not Faith herself, it was the whole structure of the Slayer situation. Buffy herself tells us this. She says it first to the Potentials ("You guys, it was a trap. Itís not her fault. That could have just as easily happened to me.") and then to Faith ("It wasnít your fault. ... You didnít blow it.").

So there's plenty of fault to share in EP. The way I see it, though, Buffy is "more" right. She at least took a position consistent with her behavior over the previous seasons and with the accepted mythology of the Slayer, and her tactical sense was proved correct. Her only "failure" lay in not yet having her moment of inspiration on how to change the world. Criticizing her for that strikes me as similar to criticizing Isaac Newton for "failing" to come up with his theory of gravity two years before he actually did. Inspiration comes when it comes.

The rebels had no real solution. They didn't want to follow Buffy's advice, but they found themselves trapped in the same situation except for a different name at the top of the firm resume. To make such a minor change at the cost of betraying Buffy seems much less defensible to me. The best we can say is that the rebellion of EP did prove to be the catalyst for the revolution in Chosen.

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