On Buffy the Vampire Slayer

A World Without Shrimp

By Margaret L. Carter

“Alternate realities are neat,” declares Anya in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “Superstar” (4-17). Apparently the creators of the series agree, for the malleable nature of “reality” proves to be one of the Buffyverse’s central themes. Anya reminds us of the infinite variety of possible worlds and the great differences that seemingly minor changes can produce: “You could, uh, have a world without shrimp. Or with, you know, nothing but shrimp” (“Superstar,” 4-17). Or Buffy could inhabit a world with or without a younger sister. The advent of Dawn at the end of the first episode of season five sharply draws the viewer’s attention to the fluidity of this fictional universe. The transformation of the Buffyverse by the sudden appearance of Dawn (“sudden” to the audience, not to the characters, who “know” Buffy has always had a sister) highlights the importance of the “alternate reality” theme in this series. Most television programs imitate the presumed stability of the primary world, the “real” world we live in. At most, the average series may feature an occasional fantasy sequence or It’s a Wonderful Life pastiche. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in contrast, presents several alternate reality episodes that produce major dislocations of the world as the characters know it. This recurring motif infects the Buffyverse with a fundamental instability. The introduction of a younger sister retroactively transforms Buffy’s entire family history. Cordelia wishes into existence (or possibly just reveals) a timeline in which Buffy never moved to Sunnydale. Jonathan works a spell  …

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