When I got my book contract last year, I followed my good friend’s advice (awesome romance writer Jenna Sutton) and took the time to celebrate. She told me it’s easy to let the moment pass, as you care for the people in your life or check off the boxes on your to-do list (which always grows, no matter how much you check off), and then you look back later and think, Why didn’t I celebrate that when it happened?
So what did I do to celebrate one of the most important achievements in my life? I couldn’t get a sitter, which meant no fancy restaurant or party with friends. Instead I stayed in, popped open a bottle of champagne, and put on one of my favorite shows.
You might not be able to read the tiny little type on the DVDs, but yes, I watched Buffy. And Hamster McHamsterson had to join the fun, so I gave him an apple slice. Champagne is bad for hamsters, apparently.
Let me make it clear that I don’t write Buffy-style stories, with all their glorious camp; I write young adult fiction that ends up on the more serious and dread-filled end of the horror spectrum. But with all the celebration choices I had inside my house, including the 300 DVD’s on my husband’s bookshelves (he has a bit of a problem), I chose Buffy.
I can’t remember exactly which episode I watched that night, but it was one of the good ones, the celebrated ones, probably “Hush,” if I had to guess. Absolutely not season two, episode 20. In short, there’s no director’s commentary on the disk for “Go Fish,” and people generally don’t talk about it a lot. It is, however, the only episode I can think of that fits the theme of my blog—water monsters—so here goes.
Buffy didn’t have to fight in the water much. She is more of a land hero, although she occasionally walks through ankle deep water in the sewers. And before the die hard fans correct me, she did die by drowning at the end of Season One, but a land vampire holding Buffy’s head underwater in a shallow pool does not a water monster make.
The Buffy episode “Go Fish” gives us not one water beast, but four, as the top ranking members of the Sunnydale High swim team succumb to the experimental drug of an overambitious coach. The whole episode is really a metaphor for the dangers of athlete pressure and privilege, but hey, let’s ignore the creepy undertones and subtext and just talk about the monster.
This monster design isn’t anything special–it’s an actor in a basic monster suit, coated with something black and shiny, and decorated with head fins some catfish whiskers. Oh, and they have claws, so I guess that’s scary. (Warning: at the end of this post, there’s a really gross GIF of Wentworth Miller transforming).
We find out later, in one of those puzzling confessions the villain makes just before he tries to kill the hero, that the swim coach used some old secret Soviet experiments to improve athlete performance. The formula involves some fish DNA, but if not administered correctly, can change you from champion swimmer to a hideous “creature from the blue lagoon” (Cordelia’s words, not mine). I can see the writers of Buffy sitting in their conference room together, tapping pencils and staring at the ceiling, then one of them shrugging and saying, “Mako shark DNA is cool, but what else can we add. Hmm. How about Tarpon? Yeah!”
It’s fun. It’s campy. It’s Buffy.
But this not-so-great episode reminded me of why I like Buffy in the first place. Joss Whedon and the other writers on the show understand that campy horror like this can make light of our very real fears in a way that makes them more manageable. It’s one of the reason the show has so many devotees.
In May I’m going to have an actual book on a shelf (!), and it makes me think about the effect authors have on young people. Will our books affect them positively? Will they make them feel less alone? Will our books give them a mirror in which they’ll see themselves? These are all important questions, but sometimes we just need season two episode 20, because it reminds us to take ourselves a little less seriously.
So Buffy monster makers, your creature from the blue lagoon wasn’t very good, but I raise my glass, and my daughter’s hamster, and say thanks for helping me celebrate like it’s the last night before the mayor turns into a big demon and eats everyone at graduation prom episode. Your show is the coolest.