Exaggeration and Blank Verse
An Interpretation Of Fred
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Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel the Series

"Over The Rainbow" to "Carpe Noctem": The Broken Girl
In Pylea, Fred lives by her wits. She's clinging to sanity, fighting for bare survival. When she gets back to the Earth dimension with the gang, she spends the offscreen summer and the first few episodes of s3 readjusting. She clings to the Angel Investigations crew for stability as she tries to remember how to do this whole human thing and fit in in this glittering world. (Sorry, couldn't resist.) Just a small example is the scene at the beginning of "That Vision Thing":

GUNN: Ah, I-I don't mean to rush you back into the twenty first century, but how about using some chopsticks. Or a fork, maybe. (offers her a fork) You remember forks, don't you?
FRED: Sure. Who could forget? Fork, pitch fork, fork it over, fork in the road - one I'm not ready to take yet.


In moments of stress and high pressure, such as the seige of Caritas in "That Old Gang Of Mine," she reverts to a fight-or-flight response, lashing out like a cornered animal if she can't get away.

But Fred doesn't want to have to fight anymore. She plays the damsel in distress to make the others prove that they'll protect her, which in turn proves to herself that she's safe. Her crush on Angel for the first few episodes of s3 plays back to this; he's the one who saved her from the monster in Pylea, she can see that he's the leader of the others and the Champion. She fixates on the most visible point of safety. Over the course of 3.1-3.4, she sees more of how the group functions together, and that everyone is a "protector" of some sort. By the time Cordy talks to her in "Carpe Noctem" about Angel's emotional unavailability, she's ready to let go of her fixation. Also, the behavior of Marcus-in-Angel's-body removed him a step or two from the paragon status she'd given him.

Her extra smack to Marcus-Angel's head at the end of the episode is a combination of the animalistic lashing-out-under-stress, a little bit of revenge for his treatment of her, and simple eagerness to please her protectors- after all, Wesley did say to be careful with him even if he was unconscious!

Transition 1: "Fredless"
In this episode, she initially goes into self-protective flight (animalistic response again). When forced to confront reality in the form of her parents, her next choice is to retreat to the protected safety of childhood by going home with them. However, as her "humanity" and sanity have returned to her in the safe zone of the hotel, her pride in her own intellect returns as well. She solves the puzzle of the hive demons and returns to help her new friends out of a loyalty that she probably didn't even realize was there until that point. She stays because she's found a place where her otherworldy experiences make her useful and special, but also where she feels protected. The AI gang may not need her, but she can feel useful and use her intelligence and experiences in LA with them as she wouldn't be able to by going into denial and returning to Texas.

"Billy" to "Waiting In The Wings": Pulling Herself Together
She's moved forward enough from insanity to be considered a full person again and made the large decision to be a part of the team. Her life is now about more than just survival. But she's still dealing with five years of isolation and terror. She still wants the others to prove that they'll keep her safe; essentially, she "tests" their feelings for her by allowing herself to be helpless in the face of danger. Of course, since she was never trained as a fighter like the others were, it's not entirely an act. But as she shows in "Billy," she can work protect herself if she has to with a creativity that she simply chooses not to utilize in other situations.

She doesn't want to have to protect herself. In her mind, fighting for her own survival and taking care of herself equals Pylea. Being strong and standing alone equals using her Pylean experiences- reaching for the darkness of those years inside of her.

As she regains her footing in the Earth dimension, she can gradually begin to combine her survival instincts with her returning confidence and the opportunities of this new (and old), "safe" world- as she says herself in "Billy":

FRED: You were right about me liking dark places to hide in. But you forgot I also like to build things.

The contraption she puts together to knock out Wesley takes a synthesis of her Pylean survive-at-any cost mentality, her awareness of the materials available to her on Earth, and her physics training.

She's part of the team now, and friends with the others, but deep down she still protects herself first and evaluates her relationships based on their status as a threat to her safety and equillibrium. Just as "Carpe Noctem" caused her to take a step back from Angel, after "Billy" she steps back from Wesley. Because she knows it wasn't their minds threatening her emotional and physical safety, she can easily remain friends with them. But since their bodies threatened her, by her deeply ingrained evaluation, they are no longer suitable romantic prospects.

Of course, Gunn threatens her in "Billy" as well, but since she has figured out the cause of the transformation before he "changes," she can more easily rationalize it. Also, he orders her to neutralize him as a threat and provides the means to do it, thereby protecting her again, even from himself. By "Waiting In The Wings," this unconscious evaluation of Gunn as the only safe and suitable prospect blossoms into genuine affection and attraction.

To summarize Fred to this point: Fred is not weak, but uses apparent weakness as a tool to evaluate others' readiness to protect her. In this manipulation of others to ensure her own physical and emotional safety, the other Buffyverse character she resembles most is not Willow, whom she's often compared to, but Drusilla.

She's probably been doing this, in one form or another, her entire life; speaking from experience, as a skinny, gawky, young-looking girl, people do things for you if you act helpless, and in fact even if you don't. It's really not any more of a stretch from "Here, little lady, let me carry that bag of dog food for you" to "Let me kill the guy threatening you even though you already have a crossbow to his throat" than it is from "High school is tough and we all feel alone" to "The school is built on a Hellmouth and you're One Girl In All The World."

"Couplet" to "Slouching Towards Bethlehem": Moving On
She never completely lacked confidence; when Gunn "rejects" her in "Double or Nothing" by saying they're breaking up because of her, her response is a shocked "What's wrong with me?" But with a stable role and authentic relationships that prove non-illusory*, she is able to move forward into a new phase of self. Pylea still shapes her, but no longer defines her. The summer between "Tomorrow" and "Deep Down," in which she and Gunn fight side by side, run AI, and raise Connor by default, causes her to step up and gain confidence in herself as a person, a woman, and a warrior for the good, not simply an ex-mad-cow-slave.

Transition #2: "Supersymmetry"
As in "Fredless," she is forced to confront the slavery and savagery she's trying to leave behind. In confronting it here she gives in to it, and her rejection of Gunn after this episode is thus based on many layers of inner conflict and anger. She is angry at him for having a darkness she didn't think he possessed, angry at herself for still having darkness in her after more than a year home, angry at him for trying to protect her in exactly the way she'd previously encouraged him to, and angry at herself for encouraging the protectiveness and "infecting" the one purely good man she'd found with her darkness. Given time and space, they might've been able to heal this and move into a new phase of the relationship by seeing each other as equally flawed, more mature individuals than in their previous conceptions, but the rapid collapse of events into apocalypse prevents any discussion or healing until it's too late.

"Spin the Bottle" to "Peace Out": Reconciling Old and New
As s4 spins out of control, Fred struggles to find a balance between the fight-tooth-and-nail cow from Pylea and the new woman, now that she's been forced to admit that both exist in her. At times, she is furious with herself for not having the old animal reflexes, as when she fails to shoot Angelus in "Release":

FRED: Because he let me. Why not? All the little mouse could do was squeak at him.

At other times in the season, she goes back to letting others rescue her, but not as often now. The constant assaults on her equillibrium- Wesley's return, her attraction to him as someone equally dark whose darkness isn't "her fault," the uncertainty of the apocalypse, Angelus, Cordelia- send her into a self-protective search for a "cave" (she remains at the Hyperion, guarding home base, far more often than the others throughout the arc) and a protector (another element of her attraction to Wesley, until the revelation of his relationship with Lilah marks him as "unsafe" again). She wants a protector not because she's weak, but because she sees the exercise of her own strength as corrupted and undesirable. It's not a stereotypical search for a "handsome man" to "save [her] from the monsters," either; her eager reactions to the arrivals of Faith and Willow suggest that she would be perfectly happy to have either of them step into the role as well.

"Shiny Happy People" and "The Magic Bullet" are, of course, her chances to step out solo and save the day. As always, when she's cornered and alone, she reaches for the steel of her survival instinct and comes up swinging. By this point, though, she's able to combine it with her intense, Earth-dimension-grown intellect. For example, when hiding in the hole with the finger-munching demon in "Magic Bullet," she has her axe at the ready but wants to sit still and think:

FRED: Shut up! I'm trying to figure some stuff out.

She works the problem through until she comes up with the blood theory, but is still able to take the demon in a fight. She's putting it all together, which even Angel can see when he takes a moment to look:

ANGEL: You did the right thing, Fred. It took a lot of courage. It must've been hard for you.
FRED: (crying) I'm sorry. I've been so alone and scared. I'm not like you, not a champion.
ANGEL: Everything I see says different.


It's interesting, however, that Fred's reaction to "saving" her friends (and their reactions to "being saved") is not joy but anguish at being pulled out of "the body Jasmine." Once more the exercise of her strength brings not reward or satisfaction but a sense that she has done something bad.

In "Sacrifice" she takes up a weapon and charges with Wesley, Lorne, and Gun; the point is that while when she is needed she fights well and without hesitation, if given a choice between physical fighting and letting someone else fight for her, she'll choose the latter. She was never trained as a warrior, after all- never defended the streets with a crew or went to the Watcher's Academy. Her taining, and her core of strength and self, is in her mind.

"Home" to "A Hole In The World": Self of Preference
The move to Wolfram & Hart allows her to play to this strength. The corporate world is much like the protective womb of academia she was ripped out of by the portal to Pylea. She is able to move back towards her true sense of herself (her real comfort zone) as a thinker, not a fighter.

She still has the confidence gained from her experiences of s3 and s4, but prefers not to use the skills. She puts on "girlier" clothes and works from her laboratory. The message that could've come from this, if not for the unfortunate absence of any other major female character to complement and balance it, is that while anyone can be a part of the physical fight, not everyone wants to or has to. It's just as heroic and acceptable to fight on the brainy side. She still can pick up a weapon if she must (see "Lineage," "Smile Time," and "A Hole In The World") but prefers not to.

In the quest to make s5 a season of stand-alones and deal with the Spike/Angel dynamic, the creators largely failed to create episodes that dug deeply into any character other than those two. (The only exceptions I can think of are "Lineage," "Harm's Way," and perhaps "Life of the Party.") They also largely gave up on running dual plots or subplots within an episode to give other characteres exposure (for excellent examples of this technique, see "Players" or "Guise Will Be Guise," to name just two). As a result, the s5 impression of Fred is a fragmented one of a woman happily and competently doing a job that covers a broad (and improbable) range of disciplines. She turns more fully to her intellectual side but retains the relationships and attitude her time as "a soldier" gave her.

The return to her emotional/intellectual comfort zone allows her to exercise a more emotional role, as shown by her sympathy for Spike and Harmony.** This emotional openness plays into the role that the rest of the remaining AI gang is eager to have her fill- that of a "heart replacement" for Cordelia. They want a symbol to love and fight for; her step back from the fight and newly emphasized "femininity" of wardrobe and behavior makes it easy for them to put her into that role for their own psychological comfort, whether she wants it or is even aware of it.

The idea that she may simply be unaware of her new role to them is underscored by her question to Wesley in "A Hole In The World":

FRED: Would you have loved me?

Her budding relationship with him is another sign that she's found a new emotional "safety" and a role that is fulfilling to herself. She's no longer bound by the old structures of one flaw or mistake making someone "unsafe" for her; she has enough confidence and strength to make and maintain her own equillibrium.

"A Hole In The World," her final bow, shows how far Fred has come; instead of hiding under the bed when trouble comes, she goes to her lab and wants to fight it; instead of being the group's puppy seeking protection, she counts herself as a full member.

FRED: My boys. I walk with heroes. Think about that.

She walks with heroes, not behind them.

She is not a saint, any more than Wesley or Cordelia or Angel himself is a saint. She can be arrogant and overly proud of her intellect; indifferent or willfully blind to the feelings of others; and she places her own physical and emotional safety first, with no qualms about manipulating others to preserve it. These things come from a logical place within the character. They make her flawed, make her rounded, make her Fred.

And at the end of "A Hole In The World" she leaves us, taking all her funny goofy sexy brilliance away, and Illyria steps in. Illyria, who's only around for seven episodes, but could inspire an essay just as absurdly long as this one, if not more so.

But that's for another keyboard and another day.


* Wesley's late-s3 banishment would seem to contradict this stability, but Fred is the only one who seems able to see that he genuinely thought he was doing the right thing and break her ties to him with kindness. She still does break them, because greater safety is found by remaining in the group equillibrium than joining him in isolation, but she shows more sympathy for him and acknowledgement of their bond than Gunn, who sees betrayal as the ultimate crime, or Angel, who is after all the wronged party in the context.

** She has no long-running animosity to vampires like Wesley and Gunn; the first one she met was Angel, after all, which makes it easy for her to relate to them emotionally, as "people." This is an aspect of Fred's experience with the supernatural that deserves exploration.

All quotes from the Buffy Dialogue Database.

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