psychoanalyzing buffy: suicide and sacrifice
This is an excerpt from a paper I wrote for my Critical Theory class at Georgetown University. As this is a pretty long paper, I have been posting it in segments. Part One of this paper can be found here.
Season Five is a difficult emotional battleground for Buffy, one that ultimately leads to her self-sacrificing suicidal leap in the final episode.
Jacques Lacan writes that life often consists of attempts to satisfy one’s desire — a feeling of true oneness that perhaps recaptures the closeness between mother and child in the womb — but that that desire can never be met. At some point, when that realization sets in, death is almost preferable.
There is no other way of conceiving the indestructibility of unconscious desire — in the absence of a need which, when forbidden satisfaction, does not sicken and die, even if it means the destruction of the organism itself. (FOOTNOTE)
By the end of Season Five, Buffy has reached that point. Leading up to the finale, “The Gift,” Buffy has suffered a series of losses that she has had little control over: her boyfriend, Riley, has left her to rejoin the Army; her mother, Joyce, has died of an aneurism; she and her friends have fled Sunnydale to hide from Glory because Buffy has lost confidence in her Slayer abilities to win the day; and Glory has kidnapped her sister, Dawn, and begun the bloodletting ritual to open the portal to a hell dimension.
Many of Buffy’s troubles are a result of her struggles to balance her various “others”: her self-empowerment and inability to be the “normal girl” that Riley wanted; her failure to be the hero / protector when it came to saving her mother and her sister; her “duty” as the hero to save her friends and family from death; her Slayer job to save the world; her own desire to find an identity that doesn’t involve being the hero / Slayer. Buffy’s inability to defeat Glory, a god, combined with all of Buffy’s personal losses, could signify that even God is against her. Facing the end of the world and her failure to achieve most of her desires, she chooses death — the ultimate expression of her job function as Slayer.
Freud writes that melancholia — depression — is a narcissistic neurosis, and that suicide attempts can be an attempt both to punish oneself and to make a statement to others:
A melancholic’s propensity to suicide is also made more intelligible if we consider that the patient?s embitterment strikes with a single blow at his own ego and at the loved and hated object. (FOOTNOTE)
Buffy is battle-weary and full of self-reproach. She both resents the limitations her Slayer duties have placed on her life and hates herself for being unable to save everyone. In death, she can both be the hero and end her struggle. Her decision made, she’s at peace.
BUFFY: Dawn listen to me. Listen. I love you. I’ll always love you. But this is the work I have to do. Tell Giles I… I figured it out. And I’m okay. Give my love to my friends. You have to take care of them now — you have to take care of each other. You have to be strong. Dawn. The hardest thing in this world is to live in it. Be brave. Live. For me. (FOOTNOTE)
The ritual ordeal is, in a way, Dawn’s own passage to adulthood, from the blood running down her legs from the cuts on her abdomen (visually evoking a girl’s first menstruation), to the blood opening up a gateway to pain and horror (the hell of adult life). Buffy, in her parting words, is urging Dawn, a “woman” now, to take up a nurturing role with the rest of the family.