Buffy the Vampire Slayer and domestic violence: Did they get it right?
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003) was a groundbreaking tv show in many ways. Attempting to challenge stereotypes of women and invite us to explore life, relationships and inner demons through metaphors (some veiled, some not so much), it allowed us to reconsider what we know of teen horror. Joss Whedon, writer, creator and executive producer developed the show with the intention of subverting our expectations of the female character – what would happen if the typical blonde teenage girl wasn’t so typical? Buffy the Vampire Slayer changed things, and its cult following is not a surprise. Throughout its seven TV seasons (season 8 in your comic book stores now!) it explored issues of relationships, bullying, conflict with parents, internet stalking, sexual assault, popularity, sex, mental illness, addiction, suicide, murder, child abuse, obsession, abuse of power and domestic violence. This is a look at the first of three episodes that explore domestic violence - Ted Season 2 Episode 11, Beauty and The Beasts Season 3 Episode 4, and Dead Things Season 6 Episode 13.
Ted Season 2, Episode 11
A new guy on the scene
The episode starts with Buffy’s mother Joyce getting back on the dating scene and meeting a guy called Ted. When we meet Ted appears, we already know Buffy’s slayer senses are tingling. She is instantly suspicious of him, but those around her claim that it’s her ‘parental issues’ playing out. Ted wins everyone over with food, charm and free computer programs. Buffy isn’t so sure though, and when Ted threatens to "slap that smart mouth" of hers, she’s certain that Ted is not an ideal partner for her mum. Buffy tries to tell her mum that he threatened her, but Joyce already knows the story – Ted’s version – and doesn’t believe Buffy. When Buffy finally get’s her friends on side, they start investigating.
Alarm bells ringing
While checking out his workplace, Buffy discovers a photo on Ted’s desk, a photo of her mother that has been folded over to hide Buffy. Buffy’s alarm bells are ringing, which is something she has learned to trust. Later that night, Buffy heads out on patrol and takes her frustrations out on the evil undead. Upon arriving home, she discovers Ted in her bedroom. He’s been reading her diary and threatens to have her institutionalized, calling her delusional. He says that if she doesn’t do everything he says, he’s going to tell her mother everything that it says in her diary. When Buffy tries to get the diary back, Ted hits her. Thrilled to finally have a reason to wail on him, Buffy lets loose. She attacks Ted and when he falls down the stairs, he dies. Buffy killed him. When Buffy arrives at school the next day, everyone is looking at her and whispering as she walks by. Buffy’s sense of shame increases, and as the day goes by she becomes increasingly distressed. Meanwhile, her friends are still investigating. They know that Buffy wouldn’t have killed Ted if he was entirely on the up and up. They look for a criminal record or history of domestic violence, but they find nothing. Willow the ever-thinker, turns her suspicions on the cookies that Ted baked and discovers that they contain Dematorin, which is a substance that 'keeps you all mellow and compliant'. This is handy as it allowed Ted to manipulate his way in to Joyce’s life and develop a level of power and control over her. It also meant that he was able to present as a charming and well regarded man. We know that perpetrators of domestic violence rarely share their abusive behaviors with anyone outside the relationship, which makes it harder for women to speak out about the violence for fear of not being believed. This isn’t the end of the story though, because this is Sunnydale and Sunnydale is home of the Hell Mouth, the centre of mystical convergence and what not. Ted comes back (of course he does) and he’s mad. He initially confronts Buffy and wants her to apologise for killing him. Buffy refuses and Ted, declaring that he "doesn’t like being disobeyed", knocks Buffy out and locks her in her room. He heads down stairs and tells Joyce that it’s a miracle that came back to life. He instantly starts making plans to take Joyce away, busting out with quotes like:
- "You don’t have to worry about anything, Daddy’s here"
- "Don’t I always tell you what to do? and
- "I don’t take orders from women’.
Joyce begins to notice that something’s not ok. She begins to resist him, and he knocks her out. As he’s trying to drag her out the front door, Buffy intervenes – with a baseball bat. One smack to the head reveals that Ted is robot (of course!). Ted gets up and declares, "I don’t stand for that kind of malarkey in my house" to which Buffy responds (in classic Slayer fashion), “This house is MINE” and then delivers the fatal blow. Meanwhile, we learn that Ted’s home is a 1950s shrine (driving it home that Ted’s ideas about women are outdated) and his closet holds the bodies of his previous 4 wives. .
Did they get it right?
What this episode tells us about domestic violence is that men employ tactics of manipulation (spiked cookies) to gain power and control over women. With Ted, it began with attempting to win over Joyce’s friends and family, and then socially isolate her. He made decisions for Joyce, removing agency from her. He physically assaulted both Joyce and her daughter and made significant threats to Buffy on several occasions. He presented as charming and he had a good job. By all accounts, he was a stand up guy. Except that he wasn’t. He had murdered his previous 4 wives and Joyce was heading for the same fate. We know that women’s lives are at great risk when they are in an abusive relationship, and here was a man who held on to antiquated ideals of women’s roles. Joyce didn’t know that Ted was a robot, but we’re left with the sense that she will be looking over her shoulder for some time. This episode does well in showing us how abusive men erode women’s lives and how quickly violence can escalate. Feminists have for many years spoken about imposed gender roles - that males are conditioned and sanctioned by a patriarchal society with a sense of entitlement over women. Ted is a very good example of someone who has been programmed as a misogynist, literally. Buffy the Vampire Slayer has very astutely hit the nail on the head.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Ted on Wikipedia
- Are you happy? Violence and abuse
- Stories and advice about surviving domestic violence
Buffy the Vampire Slayer title card from Wikipedia under Fair Use