I’m the person who hates spoilers, mainly because they wreck a book or movie for me. I’m a stickler for experiencing something in the way that the creator intended (whether this is a smart or helpful habit is quite another question). In the case of, say, a TV show like Buffy or Angel that’s been off the air for years, keeping free of spoilers is nearly impossible nowadays. What’s fair game for spoilers? Everything, apparently.
Now, it’s pretty easy to spoof this dilemma (as Lore Sjoberg does very ably), but I definitely fall into the camp of people who like to experience a book or a movie or a show for myself first. As a completely contradictory tendency, I do read around to find out what show has buzz, or what movie was unexpectedly good, or so on. This is a dangerous activity if you’re trying to keep spoiler-free!
The various shows put together by Joss Whedon and friends were always high on the buzz-worthy list by people whose opinion I trusted (like here for example). But watching seven seasons of Buffy and five seasons of Angel seemed like a pretty tall order! Part of what prompted me to take the plunge was Firefly (see comments below). Another part was direct recommendations by friends who watched all the episodes in order and reported back favourably on the time well-spent.
So I set aside my dislike of vampire stories, and fired up episode 1 of season 1 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The first batch is shorter than a regular season, only 13 episodes, and it had a distinctly cheesy feel to it. The episodes reminded me a bit of early Stephen King, repurposing common horror myths, but this time with a snappy one-liner and a pop culture reference instead of a bleak small-town angle.
With that in mind, Season 2 of Buffy hit me pretty hard, in a I-can’t-believe-they-just-did-that impressed way. I had no idea about the Angel-related storyline that happens about halfway through the season (is that vague enough, you other anti-spoiler people?), and I was glad of that. In Season 1, the story twists were fairly basic – for example, if the evil ventriloquist’s dummy actually turned out to be a skilled demon slayer (The Puppet Show), it’s a small revelation. But by Season 2, the developments in the show started to have real emotional weight, and I savoured the moment much more when I could discover the future, so to speak, just as the characters were themselves.
As I watched more episodes of Buffy, I fell into line with nerdy conventional wisdom about the awesomeness of the show. One or two other big developments were shocks to me, the fate of one particular female character was spoiled by the “Previously on Buffy” clip from a future episode that I watched by accident, and for some reason, I knew all the details about the series finale.
I’m not sure how I found out about it, but oddly enough (and contradictorily enough), I’m glad that I did. My main reaction to the show, more so than enjoyment of the quips or appreciation of the intricacies of the Buffyverse lore and continuity, was always about how hard life as a slayer was, all day, every day, for Buffy. Moments of emotional peace were few and far between, and the show accumulated quite a body count as fighting evil took a toll on those around Buffy. What could possibly happen to Buffy to make up for all those years of battle? The closing moments of the show, while a small tally compared to years and years of unhappiness, were about as sweet a vindication as could be imagined.
In an unusual parallel, the only episode of Angel that I had seen before I started with Season 1 of that show was the series finale! When I happened to catch it on original broadcast, I really had no idea what was happening, but the closing moment stuck with me. Not as clever as the Buffy finale, but it fit quite well with the theme of the show. Generally speaking, spoilers for Angel didn’t bother me as much as for Buffy – I think it had to do with the way that the longer storylines in Angel struggled to find the same emotional impact as similar season-long arcs in Buffy, so knowing about the big reveal wasn’t as destructive.
So I’ve wrapped up both shows now, and with some amount of sadness I’ve joined all the other fans of the work of Whedon and co. in waiting to see what will happen next. Buffy Season 8, the new comic book series that officially continues Buffy’s story, has some interesting tidbits, but I find that it falls prey a little too easily to the comic-book habit of using the most arcane bits of backstory as key plot moments, much more so than even in the regular Buffy episodes on TV (see comments by Douglas Wolk, in his book Reading Comics, about how vasty universes of continuity in comics have become an out-of-control way of marking the line between a fan and a newbie). I haven’t had a chance to look at the similar Angel comic book project.
As I’ve mentioned, I was a Buffy and Angel newbie not that long ago. In fact, my first experience with a Joss Whedon show was Firefly – on DVD. I was lukewarm on the movie version, Serenity, but Firefly itself is still one of those standout experiences.