''Buffy''

Growing Pains

Uh-oh. The Scoobies find out parents aren't perfect. Buffy, Spike, and others learns some life lessons, says Rachel Lovinger, despite a few flaws in the storytelling

James Marsters, Buffy the Vampire Slayer | THE DARK SIDE Spike is forced to relive unpleasant childhood memories
Image credit: James Marsters: Michael Yarish
THE DARK SIDE Spike is forced to relive unpleasant childhood memories

Uh-oh. The Scoobies find out parents aren't perfect

''Buffy'''s creator, Joss Whedon, has been quoted as saying that the theme of the sixth season was ''growing up'' -- which still seems to apply to this seventh-season episode, when members of the Sunnydale crew learn that even adults have their childish setbacks to overcome. Could there be a more profound Rite of Passage than the moment when grown people realize that their parents aren't always the shining beacons of Truth, Strength, and Wisdom that they seemed to be?

Hitting the right theme, however, doesn't always make for a perfect episode. There's a lot of witty dialogue to keep things moving, some intense drama, and some amusing flashbacks to ''William the Bloody Awful Poet.'' But there are a lot of contradictions too. Sure, William was a mama's boy when he was alive, but that doesn't explain why he'd continue to feel human attachment to her even after becoming a creature of the night. How can a monster also be such a ''limp, sentimental fool''? And of course Giles is going to be concerned about the risk of having unstable Spike on his team. But is that enough to make Giles conspire to distract Buffy while Principal Wood enacts his selfish and self-righteous revenge fantasy?

And what about Buffy? Spike may be her ''strongest warrior,'' and she may even still be in love with him, but if she's now willing to sacrifice any one of her friends in the line of battle, she must accept the fact that Spike could be one of the casualties. It's clear, though, that she'd prefer to alienate Giles and let Wood die. Difficult decisions are called for, but this is not the choice that Giles expects her to make.

If you overlook the slightly artificial side of these conflicts, however, they ultimately support the main point of an episode that's fittingly titled ''Lies My Parents Told Me.'' For instance, Spike realizes that it was a demon wearing his mother's form who uttered the hateful words that have been haunting him. So, after all, it never was a reflection of how his real mother felt. He, in turn, forces Wood to recognize that his mother, Nikki the Vampire Slayer, was a loner who couldn't love him enough to choose him over her mission. In fact, Wood had been trying all his life to avenge the loss of a mother who was never really there for him. Harsh. And Buffy, in sharp contrast to her reaction when Giles first took off for England, finally acknowledges that she can no longer live in the shadow of her teacher/father figure. To allow herself to be a more effective team leader she contradicts him, overrules him, and literally shuts him out.

Does the recognition of the older generation's shortcomings mean that the upstarts have it all under control? Not necessarily. But it's now or never. Principal Wood may still turn out to be useful if he can grow up and get over the rejection he hears when a Slayer tells him -- for the second time in his life -- ''The mission is what matters.'' Meanwhile, Buffy and Spike have faced their childish insecurities and emerged on the side of adulthood.

What do you think of the episode's lessons about growing up?

Originally posted Mar 26, 2003