Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"It's a Lie": 3-ish Themes in an episode of Buffy

Studying the Enneagram is not the only hobby Mary Beth and I have in common; we are also watching the entire run of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on dvd. This post concerns the 3-sh themes in the 4th season episode "Superstar" (click here for a thorough synopsis), which aired in 2000.

As the episode opens, Buffy, Xander, Willow, and Anya are fighting vampires. When they discover there are five them, Buffy asserts that maybe she could take on two, but the others tell her that the remaining three would kill her. The gang decides they need help. As a viewer, I think this is odd, because Buffy has saved the world from much worse many times before.

The group goes to a mansion. Once inside, they approach a huge, intimidating desk. The chair behind the desk is turned way from the camera so we can't see the occupant. Buffy says something like, "We need your help." The chair turns, and we see that it's Jonathan, who is, basically, this dude that Buffy went to high school with, only now he's looking all James Bond suave/ Dr. Evil smug. He agrees to help.

They all meet up at Giles' place. Willow is on her laptop, studying an image of the crypt where the vampires stay. She is having trouble finding a good way for the gang to sneak in, but Jonathan immediately sees one, and it is agreed that he and Buffy will go to fight the vamps together. As the meeting adjourns, Jonathan passes a chessboard, moves a piece, and announces that he has checkmated Giles (again).

Jonathan and Buffy proceed to kick vampire butt. A vampire gets by Buffy, but Jonathan takes it out. Buffy is a little upset that one got by her, but Jonathan consoles her by telling her she did her best. Buffy expresses doubt, saying it didn't feel like her best at all. Then, paparazzi appear to take pictures of Jonathan, who is, apparently, a huge celebrity.

As the episode goes on, we see various pieces of evidence -- like a poster of Jonathan as a professional basketball player and Willow and Tara making a huge shrine to Jonathan -- that Jonathan is, in fact, simply the best human being, in all categories, that there is. Coincidentally, this was also my (as yet unrealized) childhood ambition. It also resonates strongly with Enneagram type 3, who at their best, "often become outstanding, a kind of human ideal, embodying widely admired qualities." (Riso and Hudson, Personality Types, 95) At their worst, of course, they only mimic these qualities by creating a false image.

Meanwhile, Buffy and Riley are having trouble in their relationship because Buffy is still upset that he slept with Faith (albeit when Faith was in Buffy's body.) Jonathan advises her to forgive him and says that she and Riley have a special relationship that is worth the hard work they will have to put into it. He goes on to say, "If you really want it, you can make anything happen." 3s are often described as "pragmatic and calculating... able to get what they want." (PT, 99) Later on, Jonathan will also advise Riley to make amends with Buffy by assuring her that she is the only one for him.

Back at initiative headquarters, the soldiers are being debriefed about their mission to destroy Adam. Jonathan is introduced as the group's new tactical consultant.

There is also a new monster in town. It has a strange symbol on its forehead and attacks a girl.

That night, at the Bronze, Jonathan is on stage, singing with a jazz band. Our heroes are there to watch the show, and they are enthralled. Xander accuses Anya of calling out Jonathan's name while they were having sex. Jonathan dedicates a song to Buffy and Riley. As they dance together, they sort of make up. Then, the girl who was attacked by the monster comes in and tells Jonathan what happened.

Everybody goes to Jonathan's mansion. There, the girl describes the monster and draws the symbol that was on its forehead. Seeing it, Jonathan dismisses the group's concern and compares the monster to a scared animal, assuring them that it's nothing to worry about. Buffy thinks she should patrol, but Jonathan says it's not necessary.

Next, we see Adam and one of his minions looking at several television monitors. Jonathan is on all of them, being fabulous in various capacities. Adam asks, "Who is that?" and the minion is like, "Are you kidding me?" and then Adam cuts right to the heart of everything, saying, "It's a lie." (Deceit is the passion, or sin, associated with type 3.)

Back at Jonathan's place, we see two blonde twins beckoning Jonathan to come to bed. While no one is trying to track down the monster, it attacks Tara. When Willow finds out, she is very confused because she had total faith in Jonathan, who said the monster wasn't dangerous. "But, Jonathan said it," she states.

Buffy drops by Xander's to look at his collection of Jonathan-themed comics and trading cards. Anya is there, reading Jonathan's autobiography. She is right at the part where he "invents the internet." This is a reference to a rather famous alleged lie/ exaggeration. Describing a 3's descent into unhealthy behaviors, Riso and Hudson write, "Threes begin to oversell themselves, making extraordinary claims about their achievements." (PT, 116) But, of course, in the world of this episode, to paraphrase Michael Jackson, the lie has become the truth.

When the group next meets at Giles' apartment, Buffy, putting her type 6 skepticism to good use (I see her as a type 6 reluctant hero, whereas this page types her as a 4), alleges that Jonathan is just a little too perfect. After all, he's better at slaying than she is, and she's the Slayer, and isn't that supposed to mean something? She also points out some logical flaws -- like, how could Jonathan have graduated from medical school while he was still in high school? As Riso and Hudson say of some Threes, "although they are desperate to convince themselves and others that they are outstanding, others may begin to sense that they are too good to be true: much of what they say about themselves just does not add up." (PT, 116)

To counter Buffy's remarks, Xander asserts that Jonathan is just perfect enough. Buffy asks if Giles has a Jonathan swimsuit calendar. When he produces it, the gang flips through it and sees that Jonathan's shoulder bears the same mark as the monster's forehead.

Just then, Jonathan arrives. He explains that there is a connection between him and the monster. He has fought it before and becomes confused in its presence. He had its mark put on his shoulder as a reminder not to underestimate it. Buffy and Jonathan agree to track down the monster together.

When they go, the rest of the gang looks up the symbol in one of their fabulous reference books. They find out that it is part of a spell that can be used to turn a person into "a paragon -- the best of everything, everyone's ideal."

The only caveat is that using the spell also creates a counterbalance -- "everyone's worst nightmare." That's what the monster is.

By this time, Buffy and Jonathan are searching a cave. Suddenly the monster jumps out at them and knocks Jonathan out.

Back at Giles' place, everyone is speculating about how the world would change if Buffy kills the monster and Jonathan returns to normal. Clearly, they are not wholeheartedly in favor of the change. Giles says that the only thing that would really change is Jonathan. The rest is real.

In truth, though, even though only Jonathan is any different from how things usually are, his change has changed everything for the worst. He has displaced everyone from their roles -- by being the smartest one, he has taken Willow's place as researcher and Giles' place as strategist. He has displaced Buffy as the natural leader of the group, destroying her confidence and stunting her potential. By being the most attractive man, he has eroded the intimacy between Xander and Anya. By being a paragon, he has brought about the worst kind of misplacement of faith -- in Xander, who misguidedly looks up to him, and in Willow, who trusts him so much that she doesn't protect her friend. But Jonathan doesn't really care who gets hurt; his lie that the monster was not a threat is a lie that is "far from insignificant, causing others enormous harm." (PT, 122)

When Jonathan comes to, he sees the monster starting to overpower Buffy. He rushes to help, but doesn't seem to be able to hurt it. Buffy asks Jonathan what she should do, but he says she is going to have to handle it by herself. She seems afraid, but manages to fight valiantly against the creature. The monster knocks Buffy down near the edge of an open pit and it seems like it's going to push her in, but Jonathan tackles it, and he and the monster fall in instead. Buffy grabs Jonathan's foot, saving him, but the monster falls to its death.

On campus, the next day, Buffy spots Jonathan, who is now back to normal. He says everyone seems to be forgetting about what happened, but some people are still mad. He reveals that, after his suicide attempt (a 3's narcissism is fueled by feelings of worthlessness), he met a kid in counseling who taught him how to do the spell. He says the kid really downplayed the evil monster part.

Buffy tells him that that's not the only reason people are angry with him. They didn't like "being sock puppets in his world," she says. People don't like being manipulated. They didn't like living a lie.

Jonathan counters, untruthfully, although he may really believe it, that they weren't sock puppets; they were friends. Here we see the unhealthy 3's difficulty with real relationships. As Riso and Hudson write in Personality Types, "Unhealthy Threes are unable... to have empathy for others. Because they do not see other people as real or as having value without reference to themselves, others become merely providers of attention and admiration, what are called 'narcissistic suppliers', as objects to be used to aggrandize themselves." We saw this tendency toward one-sided, shallow "relationships" in Jonathan also in his choice to have a sexual relationship with a pair of twins, rather than a real girlfriend, when he could presumably have any woman he wants.

Jonathan then remembers the bit of advice he gave Buffy about a relationship taking hard work, and he says that he thinks the advice was right. This shows growth for Jonathan, because it is in direct contrast to the 3's tendency to "begin to coast through life, relying on sex appeal and charm", and, as they become less healthy, to have "whatever energy they may have extended in cultivating relationships stop." (PT, 118)

And yes, I realize that Oz (pictured above) isn't even in this episode, but his was the only action figure I could readily locate. Plus, a little birdie (http://www.buffyguide.com/) tells me we haven't quite seen the last of him yet.


Rick said...

Wow, a great read! Extremely astute – for reasons you don’t even know about yet.

"…a 3's narcissism is fueled by feelings of worthlessness…"

"Unhealthy Threes are unable... to have empathy for others. Because they do not see other people as real or as having value without reference to themselves, others become merely providers of attention and admiration, what are called 'narcissistic suppliers', as objects to be used to aggrandize themselves."

This will get Jonathan in trouble again some day.

If nothing else, you’ve convinced me that understanding the Enneagram could help me write more interesting, complex, yet realistic characters.

Cindi said...

Cool! Judith Searle is a writer who applies the Enneagram to storytelling. She has some interesting articles on her website. The best one can be found at www.judithsearle.com/3.html. It concerns the correlation of story genres with e-gram types. She gives examples and "rules" of the genre, as well as qualities of protagonists of various types.
There is also a software program -- Character Pro (www.storyscribe.com/character-pro-software.php) -- that helps writers use the Enneagram to develop characters.
And don't worry; I have looked at very little of the Buffy guide. I referenced it to jog my memory about what happened in the "Superstar" episode and happened to notice that Oz appears in an upcoming episode, but that's all I know.

Mary Beth said...

One thing odd about the episode: after Jonathan and the monster were separated and he was back to normal Jonathan, he did not seem like a 3 anymore. I don't consider that odd within the world of Buffy; but it didn't make me think "Oh that Jonathan, he'll keep getting in trouble for these traits in later episodes."

Cindi, do you agree that he didn't act like a 3 anymore?

Cindi said...

Yeah; although he does sort of tell a lie -- about being friends -- in that brief scene. Can't say his personality really come across there at all.
I either didn't see or can't remember the previous episodes in which Jonathan was a significant character. It might be interesting to look back and see if he had any 3-ish tendencies earlier in the series.

Mary Beth said...

Another observation about the "Superstar" episode: I've observed the slipping of the veil and the dark side of the 3 coming out in real life, more than once. It is amazingly similar to going from paragon Jonathan to the monster.

rusnash said...

Great post with interesting insights on 3s. Like Mary Beth I have seen the scary side of the 3 personality. I've heard people praise BTVS before, but it aired at a time in my life when I had very little free time to sit in front of a TV. Then later, I didn't want to start in the middle. Now I realize I should get the DVDs!

Mary Beth said...

Buffy's a real mixed bag (the show not the character.) I've gotten into it by now, but part of what I like is just the regularity of watching every Monday with the group. It starts slow... Season 3 is way better than Seasons 1 and 2; Season 4 is way better than 3. Supposedly, 6 is the best, then 5, and they are what all this watching is building towards. There are those who say Season 3 is second only to Season 6, and already I say 4 is better than 3. In 4 they go to college ... is that a spoiler? I don't think so... and while they are sometimes still as emotional as they were in 3, I feel less like they're overreacting, because I found college anxiety-provoking myself. Cindi and I have noticed that Buffy is a show in which a problem occurs, the group tries to solve it, but instead of being about logically solving problems, it's about emotions, and the problem-solving takes a backseat, sometimes even to the point that the viewer doesn't understand what the "rules" (i.e. for dealing with a particular monster or supernatural situation) are or how the group figured out the solution. In other words, the show can be confusing... often things are not well explained, and just... continuity is sort of problematic.

There are people whose opinions I respect who think it's the BEST show that's ever aired. What I'm saying is that I am not one of them, but I do like it better than not.

It is my understanding that there is a sale somewhere where you can get the entire pack of 7 seasons for 90 dollars.

Unfortunately, your kids aren't old enough to watch it with you yet. The first season maybe, but mature themes emerge once they get into later high school and college, as you might imagine.