Joss Whedon has said that every mystical problem in Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a metaphor for something that could happen in everyday life. Let’s look at some of the obvious and not so obvious metaphors within the show.
High School Is Hell
The first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is called “Welcome to the Hellmouth”, and the first scene takes place in a high school. We later learn that the Hellmouth refers to the fact that Sunnydale, CA sits on a literal mouth of Hell that happens to have an energy that draws supernatural creatures to it. But the fact remains that the majority of the next three seasons and the final season take place in a high school campus.
Throughout the show, we see many scenarios that revolve around normal high school life. Given everything that Buffy goes through, this definitely lays credence to the popular school of thought that “High school will be the worst years of your life.”
It is interesting how much foresight the Buffy writing team had into the dangers that computers would be in the future. Before the term “catfish” was applied to cyber misrepresentation, Willow was being catfished by a demon in the first season episode “I Robot, You Jane”. This story is exactly what happens to many people today — they meet someone online, find something to talk about, and the person falls head over heels for someone they have never met. Sadly what sometimes happens is that when they do meet their online lover in person, they’re nothing more than a frog — or a demon if you live in Sunnydale.
Boy You Love Turns Evil
We were all shocked and heartbroken when Angel lost his soul after he and Buffy slept together for the first, and inevitably last, time. Later, in college, Buffy encounters an eerily similar situation, only with a mortal boy, Parker Abrams. She believes they have a wonderful connection, and in the episode “The Harsh Light of Day”, they sleep together. However, the next morning, Parker’s personality instantly changed. Buffy confides in Willow, asking “Does this always happen? Sleep with a guy, and he goes all evil?”
Unfortunately, this does happen from time to time. After getting what they want out of a person, some do change their personality — or rather, they find out that they were being manipulated all along. Some learn from the mistake and become more selective about the people they spend their time with. But there are others, like Buffy, who have to learn the lesson a few times before it finally sinks in.
We all had a little fun during the season five episode “The Replacement” where there were two Xanders. It was even kind of nifty learning that Nicholas Brendon has an identical twin brother who stood in for the scenes that involved both Xanders on one screen. But the actual point of the episode does address a very serious real life issue. Xander split into two completely different people, but at the core, they were still both Xander.
The episode demonstrates how life can get so difficult and we can get so caught up in a lack of self-worth that we can feel as though we are two different people.
Alcohol Is Bad
In the season four episode “Beer Bad”, a magically enhanced beer causes everyone that drinks it to revert to a Neanderthal-like state. Well, it’s all there in the episode name, isn’t it? Beer is bad. The symbolism in this episode is downright hysterical. But Cave-Buffy punching Parker is truly a sight to behold.
The sad thing is that in the real world, beer doesn’t even need magic to make us act out of character, and, of course, too much of anything is usually a bad thing.
Drugs Are Bad Too
No one missed the implications of Willow’s magick use in season six. It is undeniably a metaphor for drug use and addiction. Willow’s use of magick turns into a way to make her days go by easier, she gets high on large doses of it, and she makes decisions she normally never would. When Tara challenges her to go without magick for just a day, she couldn’t do it. And, just like in real life, Willow’s addiction came with extreme consequences: people got hurt, relationships got destroyed, people could no longer trust her.
Joss Whedon and his amazing team of writers did a phenomenal job portraying depression and its effects — not just on the person suffering through it, but on their family as well. When Buffy comes back from the dead, she experiences sensory overload and a massive change in personality. She barely sleeps, she forgets to eat, and describes herself as feeling numb. The show explained it by informing viewers that when she died, she hadn’t gone to Hell, as the Scoobies assumed, but rather to Heaven. Nothing compares to what she experienced there.
In the real world, depression doesn’t have to be set off by something as jarring as being thrown out of Heaven. You can be living a perfectly ordinary life, and it can still hit you like a ton of bricks. But Buffy’s symptoms and how she deals with them was a beautiful example.
There is a reason that the writers and producers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer have gone on to be involved in dozens of other successful projects — they are amazing at what they do. Even in a show about a girl that slays vampires while doing her homework, they made it completely relatable to life, even a full decade after the show’s grand finale.