Buffy The Vampire Slayer comic book spoilers follow.
To this day, fans still debate who Buffy should have ended up with. Spike, Angel, even Riley are possible contenders, but when it comes to the show's considerable queer fanbase, there's only one answer that makes any sense, and that's Faith.
Ok, we're kidding, sort of, BUT from the moment she and those leather jeans first flipped into Sunnydale, Eliza Dushku's slayer mesmerised Buffy and fans alike. At first, Faith made the "Chosen" life look easy, something which a more responsible Buffy resented and longed for in equal measure. Yet while Faith was free of regular Slayer responsibilities, she in turn envied Buffy's support system and somewhat "normal" life.
Although this connection grew more complicated as time went on, there was a time when things were "five by five" between the pair, and their mutual fascination with each other almost turned into something more.
Remember that iconic dance at The Bronze? Buffy and Faith were way more into each other than any of the boys gawking at them from the sidelines, and the physical intensity of this relationship carried over into many fight scenes too.
Whether this queer subtext was intentional or not, it's unlikely the writers could have developed it further back then, even if they'd wanted to. This was long before Willow met Tara, and even when that adorable pair fell in love, the network initially censored the physicality of their romance. Revealing that the show's lead is queer would have been absolutely unthinkable two decades ago.
Unsurprisingly then, Buffy herself was still portrayed as straight by the end of Buffy's seven-season run, which means her flirtation with Faith was just that, a flirtation. However, as diehard fans already know, Buffy's story continued long after UPN pulled the plug on the show, thanks to new Dark Horse Comics which extended her world far beyond the final episode of season seven.
Writer Drew Goddard discussed this transition with MTV a little while back, pointing out that "the stakes are different in that we have more freedom in comics".
This "freedom" developed Buffy's world in ways the show never could, killing off main characters while introducing new ideas that weren't restricted by the meagre budget of early 2000s TV. It also gave the writers a chance to finally expand on Buffy's fascination with Faith and explore if the Slayer could in fact be queer.
Series creator Joss Whedon told New York Times that this story line "evolved naturally" after he introduced a Japanese slayer called Satsu, one of nearly 2,000 activated in the TV finale. Satsu was written as an out lesbian from the get-go, and as "Season 8's" arc progressed, she grew closer to Buffy in ways that weren't strictly platonic.
The first big development in their relationship came when Buffy was put under a sleeping spell, and Satsu's "true love" kiss was the one that awakened her. At first, no-one knew who woke Buffy up, including the readers. But then the Slayer suddenly figured it out when she realised Satsu used cinnamon lip gloss, which Buffy had tasted upon awakening.
When she realised how Satsu felt, Buffy tried to warn her off, saying that it's risky to love someone like her: "People who love me tend to... oh, die... Sooner or later everybody realises there's something wrong ... something wrong with me, or around me."
But Buffy also pointed out how beautiful Satsu is, saying: "You're hot, you have great taste, you're a hell of a slayer, and you smell good." Mixed messages much? Satsu followed this up by asking Buffy if she's gay, to which the Slayer replied: "Not so you'd notice."
However, Satsu and the rest of the world did take notice not long after when she and Buffy woke up naked in bed together the next morning. One by one, the Scoobies all walked in on the pair accidentally, and then awkwardly took their leave.
In his aforementioned interview with MTV, writer Drew Goddard assumed that "most people's reactions will mirror" how Buffy's friends' reacted, "surprised at first, then intrigued as to what it all means".
Goddard added: "And then, well, then the dust will settle, and everyone will move on with their lives. I mean, at the end of the day, what's the big deal? Regardless of who is hopping in bed with whom, there are still vampires to slay and worlds to be saved."
In an ideal world, this kind of sexual exploration wouldn't be a "big deal", but back when this comic was published in 2008, it certainly was, and that still holds true today.
Buffy remains a role model to millions, particularly queer fans who see their struggles mirrored in her own. It's important then that these issues are explored with nuance and respect, particularly in light of how the show treated Tara and Willow.
So how did it all go down? While speaking to the New York Times, Whedon was quick to point out that Buffy isn't actually gay.
"We're not going to make her gay, nor are we going to take the next 50 issues explaining that she's not," he said. "She's young and experimenting, and did I mention open-minded? I wouldn't even call it a phase. It's just something that happens."
On the one hand, it's important to recognise this kind of fluidity, and Whedon's right to say Buffy isn't gay. To describe her purely in those terms would discount the genuine relationships she developed with men on the show. However, it's also a bit misleading to describe Buffy in terms of these binaries.
In a world of demons and vampires – not to mention the real world too – it shouldn't be much of a stretch to consider that people can be more than just gay or straight.
Satsu ended the relationship when she realised that Buffy is – and probably always will be – mostly interested in men, but the pair still shared a second night together before Satsu moved back to Japan. After that, Buffy rekindled her romance with Angel, and the pair had magic sex in the air, because honestly, why not?
The brevity of Buffy's queer romance has led some to believe that this was all just one big publicity stunt, and by returning to the world of the heteros, Buffy is actually reaffirming heteronormative ideals. It also doesn't help that Buffy asked Satsu to keep their relationship a secret, suggesting that she also has some internalised homophobia to work through.
The relative speed of this arc doesn't fare well when compared to the organic way Willow's sexuality gradually evolved over time. Perhaps that's why Buffy's straight and queer friends alike also call the relationship out as false. To them, she's still nothing more than a straight woman who's just experimenting and it could even be argued that Buffy used Satsu in a similar way to how she once used Spike.
That's not entirely fair, though. After the two Slayers slept together, Buffy worried that her "performance" wasn't up to par, saying: "Did I do something wrong?... I didn't do enough things! You did more things than me."
And when they slept together a second time, Satsu described their previous encounter as "one of the best nights of my life," to which Buffy agreed, saying "mine too." So while Buffy might be worried about people seeing her as queer, she clearly enjoys having sex with Satsu, and she wants to be good at it too. That doesn't exactly scream 0 on The Kinsey Scale.
So Buffy isn't a lesbian, that much is obvious, and describing her as bisexual might be a stretch too, but her queerness is undeniable. And just like Willow's portrayal on screen broke new ground, Buffy's own development in the comics that followed did so too, reframing the Slayer as a fluid, queer hero years before these binaries started to break down on mainstream TV.
It's just a shame no-one realised this earlier, or Faith could have been Buffy's "Chosen One" long before the Mayor showed up and made things awkward.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer seasons 1-7 are currently available on All 4 and Amazon Prime Video in the UK.
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