Buffy The Vampire Slayer TV Stills
Buffy taught me about self-love, resilience and defying expectations (Picture: Online USA)

Buffy slumps on the floor defeated, as a recently-turned-evil Angel stands over her holding a sword.

‘No weapons, no friends, no hope. Take all that away and what’s left?’ he smugly says before moving the sword at her with force.

Before it could hurt her, Buffy’s hands dart up and stop the sword, inches from her face. She looks up at Angel and says: ‘Me.’

I felt a surge of pride and energy run through me when I first watched this scene as a teenager and I could feel all the girls around the world screaming in joy as I did. As she proceeded to defeat Angel, in my mind, she was defeating the patriarchy.

Buffy taught me about self-love, resilience and defying expectations. So when I heard about the new podcast Slayers: A Buffyverse Story, I felt a similar surge of energy run through me.

From the moment I first started watching the show at the age of 13, I loved all the different universes this show created – in comic books, video games and spin-offs, so I couldn’t wait to see what this podcast had to offer.

But when I read more about it, something didn’t feel right. Spike, the trickster vampire, is the main character in a new story arc, where Buffy never existed and he babysits a new potential slayer. 

My mind instantly went back to Season 6, episode 19 – entitled Seeing Red – where we see a desperate and lustful Spike attack Buffy in her bathroom, and attempt to rape her. My body tensed up and I felt the urge to look away. But I couldn’t – I grimaced in disgust.

Sharan Dhaliwal at home when she was younger
When I watched Buffy, I was empowered to be strong and fight for what I believed in (Picture: Sharan Dhaliwal)
Nicholas Brendon, Anthony Stewart Head, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Charisma Carpenter, Alyson Hannigan in a promotional photo for Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
Buffy taught me about self-love, resilience and defying expectations (Picture: James Sorenson/20th Century Fox TV/Kobal/Shutterstock)

To me, since that moment, Spike became someone capable of – and willing to – rape a woman. But throughout the rest of the show, a redemption arc is played out for him, forcing us to forgive him for his previous crimes, including his attack on Buffy.

The show changed for me from that episode, and for its viewers – many noticed the following and final season wasn’t as strong as the others. Plot holes filled the episodes, as well as the introduction of new characters with little to no development. Spike became the focus again.

The biggest problem was that Spike’s attempted rape on Buffy was not properly addressed – the audience, survivors, women – we all deserved a resolution, not an acquittal. Especially for young viewers – many who inform themselves on what is right or wrong from the ethics of their favourite shows.

The actor who plays Spike, James Marsters, has spoken about the scene, saying he recalls it was actually a female writer who added that in from her own experience of throwing herself at her ex. The intention, he claims, was for people to stop rooting for him and Buffy, but it didn’t work.

The thing is, I was 18 when that episode aired. And I remember the sharp intake of breath at the start of the scene and the long exhale that left my body minutes later. At that age, many women have already experienced abuse.

With Spike leading the new podcast – he has seemingly been exonerated of these crimes (Picture: Albert L. Ortega/WireImage)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a statement about the strength of all women. And then by Season 6, the show lost its way.

We often see instances in the media, portraying men as so passionately abusive – either physically or emotionally. These men are considered mysterious and brooding – they are the Christian Slater as JD in Heathers of the world. One minute they are eyeing you up in class, the next they’re blowing up a school.

Passengers, the 2016 sci-fi film about Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence in space – turns out she’s trapped there by him, but it’s a love story. And then we have Beauty and the Beast  – a story of a monster who kidnaps someone – a woman trying to save her dad – until she falls in love with him. It’s one of the most well known love stories.

We have been exposed to normalising abuse of women on TV, but we rarely give the women redemption. The women or the viewers.

And now, with Spike leading the new podcast – he has seemingly been exonerated of these crimes – of his attempted rape, and we are to accept that.

Sharan Dhaliwal at home when she was younger. Sharan is sitting/kneeling on the floor by a coffee table, eating a meal. Someone behind her is using a desktop computer. There is a sofa to the left of the picture and a lamp with the corner of a fireplace behind it to the right.
Buffy taught me that I didn’t have to do what was expected of me (Picture: Sharan Dhaliwal)

I’m torn about whether to listen to the new podcast. I love all universes and as a Buffy fan, I’m eager to hear Cordelia’s character come back to life. To listen to Anya make loud thoughtless statements, and Giles mumble his response in the form of an elongated sigh.

But it’s difficult for me to go on this journey alongside a character who I’m supposed to accept as an attempted rapist. I’m not sure I can.

When I watched Buffy as a young impressionable girl, I was empowered to be strong and fight for what I believed in. I was glued to the screen, watching this protagonist defy all expectations and kick ass. 

I had low self-esteem and mental health issues when growing up as a British Indian girl, with no representation on TV outside of Bollywood. But something about this white girl drop-kicking the tyranny of the establishment, called to me in a way I never expected.

I didn’t have a crush on the mysterious, brooding Angel (it was Faith for me), because Buffy taught me that I didn’t have to do what was expected of me.

I would want the same for young people now. Although we have more feminist art in the world – such as Hidden Figures, Barbie and Mad Max: Fury Road – we also have a lot of people discrediting the feminist movement. We have division and exclusion of trans women, we have men on forums discussing how to kill women.

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We need something to give us strength again, just like Buffy gave to me when I was a young girl.

It would have been interesting to have a podcast from Anya’s character, or from Cordelia’s – I will never get enough of her. Maybe a new Slayer could lead the story. 

The thing is, Spike is and always will be a character in Buffy, but without him taking responsibility and being charged for the crime he committed – either in the new podcast, or any universe – we are telling women to let it go. And that, I’m not OK with.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing jess.austin@metro.co.uk

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