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March 28 2014

The Banality Of The First Evil. "Sarah (Bunting) and John (Ramos) [ formerly of TWOP ] revisit their issues with Buffy's biggest bad, and wonder what might have been if Joss Whedon hadn't had 184 other plates in the air."

Their discussion references an earlier podcast on the same site.

Evil's always sort of banal.

Rule the classroom/city/continent/planet/solar system/galaxy/universe.

What does that even mean? Then what do you do? What's the point?

:-D What really matters isn't what evil does because basically, evil is just no fun. What matters is how we respond to it.
All they seem to do is insult everyone associated with the show. They totally lost me when she called Firefly stupid. Also, using Ryan Murphy as a good example of a showrunner is insane.
They seem to have a very deep knowledge of how the fight between good and evil works in real life, and how Buffy was unrealistic with regards to the source of power. I wonder where that comes from.
American Horror Story is banal. I think I can qualify that statement by stating that it plays on basic fears, lusts, desires.

You know what? Most entertainment is banal if you deconstruct it.

Nausea by Sartre is basically just a book about a dude who suffers from depression and has taken too many drugs and tries to deal with life. Which is banal for very many people. Still a very good book.
Re: their criticism of the First Evil being that the show featured no First Good to counterbalance it -- instead of seeing it as an omission or error on Whedon's part, I read it as an intentional decision. The world has a whole lot of evil. Always has. More evil than good, but good keeps fighting back anyway. The First Evil is all the scarier because there's no First Good to even things out. That's why the Slayer is so important!

I suppose you could count the Guardians as the First Good. But I don't think you need to in order for the story to make sense.
So they don't like it. That's about all I got out of that.

I have no idea who these people are and I'm wondering why I am supposed to care? Because mostly that was just painful to read.
What their criticisms show me is that they fail to appreciate how brilliant the unconventionality of the show was...it is GREAT that on the show they have a first evil without a (clear) first good to balance it out! It is GREAT that Joss did his 'religion's not my bag' thing in writing the show. But I can see how certain people with strong religious perspectives might be bothered by it. Yet I don't think the show was exactly 'anti-religious' either.I DO think the show was (perhaps somewhat unselfconsciously?) existentialist, but existentialism can go either way, of course (i.e. there are both religious and atheist existentialists). IF the show had had a clear first good, then it would have failed to be so wonderfully existentialist. [When I say 'unselfconsciously' I don't mean anything negative...I just suspect that some of the writers are probably so naturally existentialist in their own outlook, they don't have to consciously think about injecting it into the show too much. Although given the amount of thought Joss gives to the topic in the commentary to Firefly's 'Objects in Space' perhaps it is more self-conscious than it seems. On Buffy the 'existentialism' seems very unforced and natural. ]
I laugh at how I use present tense in talking about the writing on the show in the last post. I guess that means the show still lives for me.
I didn't think the First Evil worked all that well as a villain myself, but I can barely follow their criticisms. I'm particularly puzzled by their claim that the concept of Potentials is invalidated by Kendra. Without the concept of Potentials, Kendra's story makes no sense at all. Her parents gave her to Sam Zabuto when she was a kid, for Pete's sake. How's that supposed to work without the concept of identifiable Potentials?
What might have been if Joss Whedon hadn't had 184 other plates in the air?

Season 7 would have been a lot better.

IMHO.
I enjoyed the snark of it. They got off a few zingers ("S7 is a hate crime," "The First Muppet") and some of the problems they had with the First Evil are similar to the problems I had with it. The biggest problem, which they didn't discuss, was that the writers never came up with a convincing reason for the First to hold its fire when it had an army of ubervamps ready to go. Thousands of ubervamps are massing inside the Hellmouth and they are not attacking because why?
barzai, the writing *exists* in the present, so it makes sense to talk about it in present tense. Reviews of movies and books and records and performances are all in the present tense, even though the work has stopped :)
Have these people not watched ANGEL? There are 'forces of good' (The Powers That Be) to counterbalance the forces of evil, but they are much more passive than the forces of evil. Also, Earth was (and arguably still is) a hell universe in BUFFY/ANGEL, so yes there is going to be more evil than good.
Not that I agree with them, but Angel should have no bearing on Buffy if they're discussing Buffy entirely on its own merits.
I always thought that the miracle snow and not sun today in California in Amends sugested that there may be a first good that works in a very different way than the first evil, but is still there. In other words, the first good aint gonna come down with angel wings hued in blue and white with a smile. But the first evil was still defeated... wasnt it?

I wonder from whom and where it took the inspiration from... Wonder scyte out of nowhere? Nice little destroy you all collar coming from a spin off out of nowhere? Of course it may be just narrative convenience, but i wouldnt think that someones suggestion that the first good works in subtle ways trough you and is the isnpiration for good as the first evil is for bad would be wrong. Makes the writers look better too. ;)
ImmaDeker, I completely disagree. Buffy and Angel are two halves of the same coin and share a mythology. You can't discuss the Buffyverse mythology without taking both shows into account. As Darkness pointed out, there are multiple instances in Buffy where it is implied that The Powers That Be were involved in events.
No.

They should not have to watch an entirely different show to be able to criticize something. If their complaint is "a story arc built around the concept of ultimate evil lacks an ultimate good to give the conflict grand, cosmic balance," or whatever, you can't say "Yeah well they exist they're just in another story."

That misses the entire point. It doesn't matter if the Powers That Be exist in the Buffyverse, because the complaint is that they're not made relevant in the story told in the show's final 22 episodes.

The Powers That Be have essentially nothing to do with the final season of Buffy. This didn't bother ME, because I happen to greatly enjoy the First Evil and it's among my favorite villains (right under Adam, my top pick), but you're acting like people have never watched only ONE of these shows. I've had friends who only saw Angel, as an example. If they criticized something about the work done in ANGEL, I can't say "Well this thing happened in Buffy."

Works stand on their own regardless of inter-connectivity.
Lots of stuff to quibble with in this. Kendra quite obviously plays into the Potential structure. I could see their missing it entirely, but interpreting it as the exact reverse of what is shown is very damning. And most of the crosses used are plain, not crucifixes, so babbling about Catholic imagery is basically ignorant, except for the holy water - maybe. (I'm disregarding communion wafers since they were only shown once.)

As to TPTB, I agree works *should* stand on their own, even though Buffy herself talked about the Powers as if she was quite familiar with the idea in "IWRY." and, as the seasons unfolded, the diea of TPTB as the opposite of The first becam kinda-sorta tenuous, to say the least.

Most tV shwos traditonally had little to with religon, so just ebcause _BtVS_ deal with supernatural things doesn't necessarily require a real delving into religion. Imean, Bwitched didn't, to use a far-fetched example. One of my many quibbles with Supernatural is the decision to "go there" in its plots.
Did one of those people say they skipped Lies My Parents Told Me (and Get It Done, from the sound of it)? IMO the conflict in that episode is one of the best uses of The First. As a Big Bad, it was most interesting when it wreaked havoc by bringing out the worst in the people it affected. That's where I think the season lost its impact, when they started focusing more and more on its minions who could do physical damage, making The First look ineffective and making you forget why it was scary in the first place.

That internal struggle is also why I don't get their complaint that there was no 'First Good'. There kind of is 'Good' in the Buffyverse, and that's in people's souls. As someone who's not religious, I don't see a need for there always being external manifestations of good and evil. It's all just people. (And this article's idea that a story that ignores religion does so out of the ignorance of the writer is...odd.)
These authors don't say "I wish we had seen The Powers That Be more in Season 7." They specifically say there is no deity/deities of good in BUFFY, and that simply isn't true. Just because BUFFY doesn't directly acknowledge The Powers That Be doesn't mean they aren't a part of the show. BUFFY and ANGEL share a world and mythology, and therefore it is impossible to distance one show from the other when discussing the mythology of the Buffyverse (which is what these authors are doing by saying there is no major force for good in BUFFY).

[ edited by libradude on 2014-03-29 03:44 ]
I wouldn't say the PTB are a "major force of good." At best, I would say they're morally ambiguous interested more in maintaining a 'balance' rather than being an embodiment of good the way the First is a living incarnation of evil. They can also be corrupted (see Jasmine) and were accused of being pretty indifferent. They helped Angel do good, at times, but even their methods were questionable (how many people died as a result of bearing the visions?) and they didn't lift a finger to stop Jasmine's master plan. Whereas, the First is pure evil in its totality and not remotely ambiguous in any way. We really didn't have any creature that embodied good in such a clear-cut and "pure" way.

Not that I think we needed a "First Good." I rather like the idea of there being a force for evil whereas the goodness comes from people's hearts. My issues with The First was that it lacked a personality of its own which made it less memorable than other Big Bads. And whilst it could have been an excellent way to bring back memorable villains and dead characters the writers really failed to exploit its full potential. For example, why not appear as Spike just as Buffy's about to take a bath, dressed exactly as he was back in Seeing Red, as a way of really terrorizing her? Or appear as Kendra to Buffy and/or The Potentials as a reminder of their mortality? Why did we never see Glory or The Master again outside of Lessons? I'm aware that money and scheduling conflicts could have prevented some of these things but if that's true than maybe The First wasn't such a great idea in the first place.
"the First is pure evil in its totality and not remotely ambiguous in any way." I disagree, as The First Evil says: "It's not about right, not about wrong... it's about power." The main goal of The First Evil is to obtain a corporeal human body (which it perceives as true power). The evil deeds it inflicts are ultimately to achieve that rather humanistic goal. Yes, The First Evil is clearly on the evil spectrum, but its motives are more complex than simply doing evil things because it can.

Also, the Scoobies question the validity of there even truely BEING a 'First Evil' throughout season 7. For all we know, The First Evil could simply be a powerful demon or remnant of a formerly powerful demon. Even though The First Evil claims to be the original evil force in the hearts of every human being, that fact is never proven. The villains in Buffy are always over-exaggerating their power and influence.

BUFFY: It claimed to be the Original Evil, the one that came before anything else.
ANYA: Please, how many times have I heard that line in my demon days? "I'm so rotten, they don't even have a word for it. I'm bad. Baddy bad bad bad. Does it make you horny?"

[ edited by libradude on 2014-03-29 05:20 ]
Well, no. The Scoobies don't question the validity of The First evil "throughout" S7. It comes up only in Bring on the Night and Giles quickly puts a stop to any speculation on The First;

GILES
The First is unlike anything we've
faced before. There's evil, and then
there's the thing that made evil...
The source.

BUFFY
And that's what this claims to be?

GILES
That's what it is.


It's also stated in Amends as well;

GILES
These letters contain references to a, a, an ancient power known
as The First.

BUFFY
First what?

GILES
Evil. Absolute evil, older than man, than demons. It could have
had the power to bring Angel back.


That, combined with what The First says, leaves little room for ambiguity about The First's origins/nature. I mean, I 'spose you could ignore that if you choose to but since it's never questioned in the show again and there's zero evidence to the contrary, I tend to take it at face value. There's little point in pretending that the characters are wrong if it's never addressed in the series and adds nothing to the overall story.

Not to mention that The First's grand scheme actually tends to back up what it claims to be. In order to be corporeal the scales need to be tipped and evil needs to overwhelmingly spread across the earth. Since it's entire being depends on evil (hence why they can never defeat it completely as evil will always exist) I'd say it's pretty unanimous that's what it is made up of.
Again, the goal of The First Evil is POWER. Power is neither inherently good or evil. And the fact that it wants a human body shows it's much more human driven emotionally (aka NOT pure evil). There are also clear signs of The First getting angry and frustrated (also human emotions- evil has no emotion). Also, who do you think writes those books The Scoobies get information from? Watchers, other humans, etc. Information about The First Evil in books is almost no doubt over-exaggerated and potentially outright wrong since no one knows almost anything about it.

If you want to take information at face value in the Buffyverse, that's your call, but you're missing out on some pretty interesting discussions by not analyzing things deeper.
"evil has no emotion"

...says who?
We're getting into a pretty philosophical gray area, but to me true evil is the lack of conscience. It is destruction for the sake of destruction. Pure evil is devoid of humanity. Human emotions like rage, anger, etc. are influenced by evil, but they still come from a very humanistic place.

If The First Evil truly is what it claims to be (pure, unadulterated evil), it would have no motive other than utter destruction. Instead, its motives are much more grounded in human emotions like jealousy, envy, anger, etc.
To me, destruction is just a process, it can be for good or for ill. To make it evil, you have to add malice; there has to be a desire to cause pain.
If you believe that The First Evil is the root of all evil in The Buffyverse (I don't personally), that means humans are not inherently evil. It means The First has twisted their emotions to become the human version of 'evil.' However, all emotions still come from a very human-driven place. They are influenced by evil, yes, but they are not pure evil. In my opinion, pure evil itself is devoid of humanity and human emotions (which The First Evil is not).
While I don't think evil can have a "root", I don't agree that "all emotions still come from a very human-driven place". We know that nonhumans have emotions. Many species mourn their dead. Some even have funerary rituals. I've seen lots of joy, anxiety, jealousy, fear and anger in canine and feline patients in 18 years of work as a veterinary nurse.

I don't think that evil can exist without emotion. Otherwise, are natural disasters pure evil? They're destruction for it's own sake with no conscience or emotion.
I agree that evil does not have a 'root.' The word 'evil' is just a term humans created to describe undesired emotions and actions. That's why the concept of a 'First Evil'/'root of all evil' always seemed kind of silly to me (even in the context of the fictional Buffyverse). That's also why I don't think The First Evil truly is 'The First Evil.' I think it's simply a powerful entity that likes to over-exaggerate its power and influence.
If you want to take information at face value in the Buffyverse, that's your call, but you're missing out on some pretty interesting discussions by not analyzing things deeper.

What I choose to analyse is the ambiguity of the character's emotions, actions and relationships with one another. And I like to think I look at them pretty deeply, thanks. What I will take at face value is basic origin stories, mcguffins and phlebotinum as they’re clearly just plot devices to move the story forward. As I said, when it's repeated on several occasions that The First is the root of all evil I take that as fact the same way I take it as fact Glory was a former hell god who ruled over a dimension. I mean, sure, Giles' books could have been wrong but if they were and the writers intended for them to be wrong then I'm sure it would have been addressed in the text and the benefited the story in some way. But it wasn't and it didn't which leads me to believe that The First is exactly what it says on the tin.

You're free to disregard what is said about The First just like I could hypothetically disregard that Glory really was a hell god at all. Maybe she was just a demon with delusions of being a god. I mean, the books could have been wrong, right? But I don't know how it'd make S5 any better and I have zero evidence to support my theory. To be fair, you said it yourself that you simply just don't like the concept of The First so you're choosing to believe Giles and his sources were wrong. Which is fine. That's your prerogative. But why not just leave it at that instead of pretending the characters questioned The First's true nature "throughout S7" when they didn't or that I'm not looking "deep" enough to see the truth in the text?

[ edited by vampmogs on 2014-03-30 02:28 ]
I find it interesting how much faith you put in The Watchers Council and their works. That organization is shown to be pompous and quite incompetent throughout the series. Those qualities alone should make you question the validity of their writings. Also, The First Evil has been around for a very long time. People have no doubt made up lots of conflicting myths and stories about The First in an attempt to explain its origins, but that doesn't make them true or valid sources. The First has probably influenced those stories as well to make itself seem more intimidating- it is very manipulative.

And by the way, I do think a very good case could be made for Glory not actually being a 'God.' She was clearly a powerful 'creature'(possibly demon) from a hell dimension, but she was only a 'God' because her followers deemed her to be one by worshiping her.

You say all the evidence points to The First Evil being the root of all evil. I say there is no worthwhile evidence to support that claim. And I know there are at least a few other times throughout Season 7 where this idea is briefly explored. I would have to go back and find those instances, but I specifically remember Willow showing doubts about The First Evil's power/influence along with Anya.

[ edited by libradude on 2014-03-30 03:05 ]

[ edited by libradude on 2014-03-30 03:06 ]
Well I'm afraid we'll just have to agree to disagree. It's all about how one approaches the story. At some point I think you have to take some basic things as fact otherwise you might as well ignore the story entirely. Glory being a God or The First being the root of evil are two of those things, IMO.

You say all the evidence points to The First Evil being the root of all evil. I say there is no worthwhile evidence to support that claim

And I say there's as much evidence to support that claim as there is any other piece of phlebotinum or bad guy info which we're excepted to take at face value in the series. Why stop here? Maybe Giles' books were wrong and Buffy wasn't facing Der Kindestod in Killed By Death? Maybe it wasn't a M'Fashnik demon in Flooded? And I suppose it wasn't the mask of Ovu Mobani in Dead Man's Party after all. At the end of the day all of that info came just from Giles' books so by your logic it's probably incorrect. If you want to believe that by all means you can but, again, I don't see how it adds anything the story. And I frankly, don't see why the writers bother even writing scripts if chunks of them are dismissed entirely.

And I might also add that it's presumptuous to assume all of Giles' books were written by Watchers/The Council. Not only would that be very unlikely but on numerous occasions texts have been referenced as have being written by someone else (Teacher's Pet, What's My Line, Revelations etc)
I only brought up The Watcher's Council because you mentioned Glory. They were the ones who said she was a 'God.' I'm aware not all of the books he reads come from The Watcher's Council. I don't personally believe the books are always correct (that is the nature of myths and lore).

One of the main reasons BUFFY continues to be so popular is because the writing, characters, and storylines are often intentionally ambiguous and make you think. People have built careers exploring and debating the Buffyverse, so I'm just encouraging you to be open to exploring alternate theories and not accepting things at face value (your words-not mine). Like you said, I think we will have to agree to disagree on this for now.

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