Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Jenny Calendar: A Retrospective

In addition to my previous apologies for sparse posting, I'd like to apologize for the fact that a very early draft of this post went up a couple of weeks ago. And by very early draft I mean rough notes. And by rough notes I mean a single rough note. The post was meant to be an empty placeholder just as a reminder to myself of its place in the schedule, but I accidentally scheduled it to automatically post. Oops.

This post is meant to be just a brief retrospective on the character of Jenny Calendar, something I thought it might be nice to do for a character on their "final" appearance. Some characters either die or leave the show and then return later as a dream, ghost, flashback, or some other cameo, and even though we're actually going to see the character at least one more time in at least one of these forms, I thought now seemed like the appropriate time to comment a bit on her place in the story and her exit from it.

"You think the realm of the mystical is limited to ancient texts and relics? That bad old science made the magic go away? The divine exists in cyberspace same as out here."

- Jenny Calendar, Buffy 1x08 - "I, Robot... You, Jane"

Aside from the Master (who was, I think, adequately eulogized in my Buffy season one wrap-up), Jenny Calendar is the first really significant character death. One of the most interesting things about her death is that it represents a deviation from the original plan in two important respects:

First, Jenny wasn't originally slated to die at all. The writers knew that when Angel turned bad he was going to have to kill someone the characters (and the audience) held dear, in order to adequately convey that he wasn't just pretending to be evil as part of some master plan, and that he wasn't just a little bit evil. For this reason, they decided to create a new character: a love interest for Willow named Oz. He'd basically be the sweetest and most likable guy imaginable, and then he'd get killed by Angel. However, it soon became apparent that Oz was a fun character to write, and that Seth Green was a fun actor to work with, and that audiences had taken to the character in such a way that proved he had more mileage than originally intended. And so he got a reprieve, and Jenny Calendar got the ax.

Second, the character wasn't originally conceived as having anything to do with the gypsies or the curse on Angel. She simply was what she claimed to be: a teacher who happenedto be a "technopagan" and a romantic interest for Giles. Whether her new back story was conceived as a way of making her a target for Angel, or decided before it was determined that she would die, and simply made us of, I don't know. It almost doesn't matter. I, for one, am never one to criticize a writer for making it up as they go, in fact, in this case it's kind of more impressive for how unplanned it was and how well the writers improvised to make it work.

Jenny's death is a very dark turn for the show and is a significant moment in its history, which is odd because it's not too terribly long before she's forgotten and never mentioned again. After watching all seven seasons of Buffy, it's easy to forget how integral a part of the show she was at one point, playing a key role in she show's first big finale, and driving a decent chunk of the action in the middle part of season two.

I think Jenny was a character with a lot of potential. Her initial identity as a lover of both technology and magic is really closely connected to one of the main themes of the show: the juxtaposition between the ancient and contemporary, the timeless and the timely. Buffy's flippant attitude toward the dark and the sacred provides a great example of how these forces (and their associated way of thinking) can be brought into conflict with one another, but Jenny offers an example of how they can be used in concert with one another, and her character could have been used to examine the tension between these two forces in greater detail over the course of the following seasons.

Instead, Jenny is killed off, for the purpose of proving a point: Angel is bad. Like, for serious. It's a pretty common storytelling technique, and sometimes it could be seen as lazy writing. It's a cheap way to raise tension, and it comes at the expense of a character that, to an invested audience, is worth a lot more than that. Here, though, Jenny is at least given an appropriate send-off that has meaning beyond that: she was killed while in the process of seeking her redemption. And so while the character might have had untapped potential, she was at the very least given a meaningful send-off.

1 comment:

  1. I'm watching Buffy for the first time, and have just watched the episode Passion from series 2. I am so upset that she has died. She was definitely one of my favourite characters, along with Willow. And Giles. And Cordelia. So I should be fine, but I'm still terribly sad. I don't want her to go.