In this essay, Erma Petrova argues that, whereas the first seasons of Buffy focused on external threats that sought to corrupt the order of the world, the later seasons shifted the threat towards the internal – the result being that the show’s main characters embraced a side of themselves that was also evil, irrational, or dangerous. The Slayer is the one who must maintain the difference between good and evil and makes sure that good doesn’t become evil. At the same time, she is the most ambiguous one, the one who is ready to cut all ties with family and friends and kill people she loves, if necessary. The requirement that she know exactly which side she must stay on (regardless of where those she loves are) gives her the responsibility to keep the other “other” at all costs even at the cost of becoming an “other” herself. Paradoxically, she protects the line that separates good from evil by crossing it and by becoming more and more “other.”
While the first seasons of Buffy are structured around an external threat seeking to corrupt the order of the world, later the source of the threat becomes increasingly internal, and the characters must embrace a side of themselves which is evil, irrational, or dangerous. When Giles kills an arguably innocent Ben, he does not suffer the moral ambiguity that Willow encounters when she kills a guilty Warren. Willow has to deal with an evil internal to her in a way Giles does not, and this apparent discrepancy is the result of a general evolution of the series, rather than a double standard.
The murder f Ben is comparable to the murder of Warren, even though Ben is mostly innocent and Warren is mostly guilty. They are both human, and their deaths are necessary to stop further evil. Even though Ben cohabits the same body with the hell god Glory, he, as an independent being, is innocent of Glory’s actions, as the Scoobies uniformly agree: “What about Ben? He can be killed, right? I mean, I know he’s an innocent, but, you know, not, like ‘Dawn’ innocent. We could kill… a regular guy… (no we couldn’t) God.” Even the script directions (“no we couldn’t”) suggest that the way Xander delivers these lines should emphasize the moral impossibility of killing Ben as a way of stopping Glory. Being Glory is to Ben what being the Key is to Dawn: it could make him “other” but it cannot make him either good or bad on Glory’s behalf. It is true that Ben is guilty of other things — he summons the demon who kills (or merely finishes off) Glory’s brain sucked victims; and, in “Listening to Fear,” there is even a real chance that Joyce might get killed because of him (an event which Buffy prevents from happening).
It is also true that Ben betrays Dawn and humanity in general by selling his soul to Glory and agreeing to help her in exchange for his life (or, rather, his immortality). But the Scooby gang doesn’t know about any of these things and, even though Dawn obviously knows that Ben is a weak and, by virtue of the circumstances, treacherous human being because of his weakness, Giles certainly has no knowledge of any of Ben’s immoral actions when he kills him. Giles is acting on the assumption that Ben is completely innocent but powerless to stop Glory, should she ever wish to return for purposes of payback. Giles realizes that something needs to be done and that whoever does it will be incurring feelings of guilt — otherwise he would have left Buffy to do it. By saving her from the act of murder, Giles acknowledges the moral ambiguity of the act itself, the (apparent) innocence of Ben, and the inevitability of guilt for whoever happens to do what, in Giles’ view, has to be done. (Similarly, he would have killed Dawn, if he had to). But, we notice, feelings of guilt never come, and the ambiguity of this act never surfaces (script directions describe Giles during/after the murder this way: “Giles’ expression never changes”). Giles objectifies the evil — it is not in him, but he is merely the carrier, the means for an act which must be done, one way or another.
In contrast, when Willow kills Warren, a situation uncannily similar (i.e., a Scooby killing a human) results in entirely different moral consequences. Warren also, presumably, deserves to be killed, and, one way or another, somebody will have to do it. But the series makes sure we understand that there are restrictions to who can do it and that Willow is not morally eligible for it. In the case of Ben, anyone could be allowed to kill him (if we agree that he has to be killed), and the only requirement is that the “killer” is in fact physically capable of doing it and ready to take the responsibility for the act (similarly, when Giles realizes that Dawn may have to be killed, he knows that he cannot physically do it (because either Glory or Buffy would stop him), so he appeals to Buffy to see what has to be done). In the case of Warren, on the other hand, even though Willow is more than willing to take the responsibility and to perform the act (with great creativity), this is not enough anymore.
She needs a different kind of authority, the authority of not having chosen this solution. If the murder had been forced on her as the only way to protect Tara (and in time to protect her), then Willow would have had the right to take a life. In the case of Ben, Giles is aware of the fact that there is no one else to kill him (the police are not capable to grasping the danger he represents, and Buffy is not ready to take the responsibility). In the case of Warren, there are multiple options for killing and/or arresting the “bad guy,” and Willow is not in a situation (e.g., self-defense) which compels her to do it herself. We are shown that, if other options are available, one should not take the responsibility for violence oneself. And the series presents us more and more often with situations where other options are in fact available, which places on the shoulders of the characters the responsibility not to choose them; e.g., Willow has the option to kill or not to kill Warren; Buffy, in her dream vision of the mental hospital in “Normal Again,” has the option to kill or not kill her friends (both options seem acceptable to her), and even Spike, who can hardly be said to have any choice at all in the matter, somehow manages to discover more than one option (soul or not soul).
Multiple options in themselves are initially seen as a good thing: while “The Gift” begins with the grim prospect of Buffy either killing Dawn or destroying humanity, the gang works together to find another solution, and by the end of the episode new options have been found, foreshadowing both the availability of multiple choices without a right answer (both killing Dawn to save humanity and letting humanity be destroyed by not killing Dawn can seem like the right choice), and the self destructive solutions which all of the characters will eventually choose in season six (beginning with Buffy giving up her life at the very end of season five — an option that was not the preferred or even foreseen result of the search for new options, options which everyone was desperate to find).
While the series doesn’t really give us any choice in Giles’ murder of Ben, it increasingly centres on the complexity of situations where a choice is waiting to be made, and it is not immediately clear which course of action is the right one. In the case of Willow, it is conceivable to say that the action she chooses (killing Warren) is the right one, but there is something wrong about her being the one to choose it, or about this murder being a matter of choice at all. There is a sense in which the murder could only be justified if there weren’t any other options to choose from. (If the Slayer kills demons, it’s because no one else can; we could even say that the Slayer is the name for not having any other choice but to kill, which is what upgrades the killing to “slaying”; a Slayer would not be possible in a world where the normal human authorities are capable of doing her job.)
After working so hard to increase the number of options available to them, the characters still end up choosing the most self destructive one. The expansion of the range of available choices puts the emphasis on the character who has to choose. We don’t know what the character will do. The good is not That Which Buffy Chooses, and the bad is not always that which Buffy fights. It is no longer the case that the character will necessarily choose the right action: the moment the right action becomes a matter of choice, it is no longer something that “always” happens.
The measure of good and evil in Buffy is choice. We cannot say that Giles is evil when he kills Ben, because he doesn’t seem to have any choice about it. Choice is the difference between Buffy’s attitude toward Dawn when we first meet Dawn (Joyce has to force Buffy to take care of her sister: "Buffy? If you’re going out, why don’t you take you sister with you?” [“Buffy vs. Dracula”]), and Buffy warning everyone that she will take care of Dawn no matter what (“I’ll kill anyone who comes near Dawn” [“The Gift”]). In any other hero narrative, Buffy would have been faced with a situation where she must save Dawn at all costs, and her heroism would come from her determination to do what she has to do (cf. Giles and Ben); in other words, she would have no choice but to save Dawn.
In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, however, this is not enough to make a “good guy,” and the heroine is in fact faced with the opposite situation: she does not have a choice but to kill Dawn in order to save the world, but, even though she is not given any other options, somehow she manages to choose an other option. In other words, while the standard hero does what he must, Buffy does what seems the right thing to do even if this is not available as an option at all and all the options are “wrong”:
I sacrificed Angel to save the world. I loved him so much… but I knew. What was right. I don’t have that any more. I don’t understand. I don’t know how to live in this world, if these are the choices, if everything’s just stripped away then I don’t see the point (“The Gift”).
Buffy clearly does not want to choose any of the options given to her (option 1: kill Dawn; option 2: destroy the world). However, we can argue, against her own words, that she knows what’s right: for example, she knows that it is not right for Dawn to suffer “for something she has no control over? (“Spiral”).
The problem is not that Buffy doesn’t know what’s right but that what she thinks is right is rarely the same as what “must” be done (if we define what “must” be done as the closest thing to what is “right” that can be done, without actually being the right thing). As Giles says to Ben before he kills him, Buffy even knows that [that she must kill Ben/Glory, just as she knows she must kill Dawn], and still she wouldn’t take a human life. Because she’s a hero, you see. She’s not like us.” In these words, Giles redefines heroism for us as being able not to do what must be done, which is the opposite of the standard hero definition found in most narratives (a definition parodied in “Smashed,” where Andrew, desperate to save the action figure Spike is threatening to behead, solemnly acquiesces to Warren’s plan with the rhetorically inflated “Do what you need to do”).
Choice is what happens to Buffy when she grows up, partly with the help of Faith, who opens up all the “other” options of what the slayer can be. Faith shows Buffy that there are options, and that one can choose the wrong ones which, ironically, also frees the slayer from choosing them, because, if the slayer can do anything she wants, then she is not forced to do things that are evil. While Faith wants to shows Buffy that she doesn’t have to be “good,” Buffy tries to convince Faith that she doesn’t have to be “bad.” Neither of them is entirely stuck in her own moral space, and each of them gets a taste of the other’s world view — Faith is a “good girl" for a while, imitating Buffy, and then Buffy is a “bad girl" for a while, trying out the "darker side” of slayers. Their development is very much symmetrical — Faith doesn’t go on with the being good experiment for any longer than Buffy experiments with being irresponsible and Faith-like. Their mutual understanding and role- playing culminate in “Who Are You,” where they occupy each other’s bodies for a while.
Significantly, none of Buffy’s friends, including her boyfriend Riley, can distinguish between the two; it is conceivable to the characters that Buffy might behave like Faith in “Who Are You” because she did behave like Faith in "Bad Girls.” The recognition that there is something wrong with Buffy in “Who Are You” comes in fact from an outsider, Tara, who hasn’t even met Buffy before. This suggests that there is something objectively wrong with Buffy’s occupying another body in general, but not that there is something wrong about Buffy being Faith, specifically; or, more precisely, the fact that Faith-in-Buffy-body is different from both Faith and Buffy (in that her spiritual aura doesn’t match her body) is not proof that Buffy-in-one-piece is essentially different from Faith in one piece or at least the Scoobies cannot distinguish between them, and what Tara is able to distinguish is someone in one piece from someone not in one piece, but not Buffy from Faith. Tara’s detection of the body/spirit discrepancy does not mean that either Buffy or Faith is “bad,” but that there is something Frankenstein-like and wrong about mixing their body and soul parts. But this doesn’t mean that Faith in Buffy-body is noticeably “worse” than Buffy, or that Buffy in Faith-body is noticeably “better” than Faith (in fact, Buffy-in-Faith-body lays quite a few punches on people in order to escape from the Council bloodhounds in “Who Are You,” just as Faith kicks some butt in her escape from Wesley and his attendant Council muscle in “Consequences”).
The symmetry of this moral battle between the two slayers comes to show 1) that Buffy can be as bad as Faith, that sometimes she is tempted to ("Bad Girls”), and that when she really seems to be (i.e., Faith-in-Buffy-body in “Who Are You”), her friends wouldn’t even notice the difference; and 2) Buffy is no more good than Faith is evil: Buffy is never perfect in her actions (especially in season six), and Faith is never entirely free of moral conscience: she not only accept the demands of rehabilitation (on Angel), but, even before her rehabilitation has begun, saves Buffy’s life in “Consequences” (GILES: “Faith saved you?” BUFFY: “She could have left me there to die, Giles. But she didn’t”). Both Buffy and Faith acknowledge and imitate the other side: e.g., Buffy trying out Faith’s definition of “slayer” when they’re breaking into the store in "Bad Girls”: “Want, take, have. I’m getting it”; and Faith practicing (and mocking) her Buffy lines in the mirror in “Who Are You”: “You can’t do that…. Because it’s wrong.”
However, it seems that Buffy has a deeper commitment to the “dark side” than Faith does to the “good side” (at least while on Buffy). On a number of occasions Buffy internalizes evil or darkness, so much so that it can be described less as an occasional dark prank (e.g., Buffy’s slow dance with Xander in “When She Was Bad”), and more as an ongoing, deeper state of mind: her darkness is not an imitation of what she’s not but a search for what she is. Buffy actively seeks and receives help from Spike on many occasions, but most notably in “Fool for Love,” where she takes lessons in slayage from the killer of slayers. Spike and Dru are the only vampires we know to have killed slayers (if we don’t count the very brief murder of Buffy by the Master), and Spike has killed more than Dru; if the slayer is to have an arch enemy, Spike would be a good choice. And yet, because of that, he is also a good choice for a sort of a mentor for the slayer, showing her her weaknesses and strengths, giving her inside tips about how to fight evil (and, by extension, him). In effect, he is coaching his worst enemy on how she can defeat him. This encounter is equally destructive for both of them, and equally necessary.
Buffy’s positive interaction with evil is foreshadowed earlier in season five in Buffy’s encounter with Dracula. Dracula’s sales pitch, his appeal to Buffy is not that she can get closer to evil, but that she can get closer to herself, gain a deeper understanding of what a slayer is. The slayer always contains the possibility for evil, an evil she must understand before she can kill. Like Spike, Dracula teaches Buffy something about her own nature: “There is so much I have to teach you. About your history, your power… ” The connection between the Slayer and the Evil she “hunts” (as Dracula puts it) dates back to ancient times, as we see in the ambiguous figure of the First Slayer, who is good in relation to evil but also evil in relation to good (i.e., evil to the Scoobies she threatens to kill). Dracula encourages this ambiguity and plays on the slayer’s killer instinct: instead of getting a taste of her, Dracula wants her to get a taste of him, reversing the normal tendency of evil to consume the good and offering the good (in the face of Buffy) the opportunity to consume the evil:
a little taste… I didn’t mean for me…. All these years, fighting us — your power so near to our own — and you’ve never once wanted to know what it is we fight for? Never even a taste?
It is interesting that Buffy’s (rather weak) rejection of Dracula’s argument is "I don’t… need to know… “; in other words, she is not saying that she won’t learn anything from him about herself, but that she doesn’t want to learn. To taste is to know, and the taste of a vampire leads to the forbidden knowledge of the “dark side” (“Smashed”).
It is not accidental that a human can become a vampire only if he returns the vampire’s gesture and drinks from the evil that drained his body. To be bitten is to be a victim of evil; to bite is to be the evil itself. Buffy bites Dracula. In doing that she acquires the forbidden knowledge of evil which would both jeopardize her “good” nature and help her distinguish between good and evil by acquiring knowledge of both. Normally, in the Buffyverse, people drink from vampires only when they’re on the verge of death, so they don’t have much choice: for them, to drink means to live (or, to be undead is the only way not to be dead). Conversely, Buffy is not forced to drink in self-defense; she drinks, we could say, in self-offense, since she is nowhere near death and she bites into the dark side without being forced to (both literally in Buffy vs. Dracula” and metaphorically in other episodes, such as “Smashed”).
If we take Buffy’s susceptibility to Dracula’s hypnosis as symbolic of her inability to distinguish between good and evil (she does not recognize Dracula as evil while she is under his influence), her taste of evil opens her eyes to this distinction. The forbidden knowledge is a knowledge that allows her to be good without being innocent, to choose good while also knowing that she is equally able to choose evil; in other words, being good is defined as having the ability to choose evil and yet not choosing it. To choose evil before tasting it would be impossible (because this would not be a real choice); both choosing evil and rejecting evil require the taste of evil. (This goes for Willow’s destructive magic as well: in her case, being good without being innocent means learning to control the magic she knows she has (season seven), rather than avoiding magic at all costs (season six); it would be impossible to distinguish between good magic and evil magic by avoiding all magic.)
Conversely, characters who externalize or avoid their dark side rather than internalizing and trying to understand it tend to leave the series: e.g., Oz, who expels his wolf side, discovers that a no-wolf Oz is incompatible with Willow (being with Willow prompts intense emotions which bring back the wolf in him), and Riley, who gets the chip out of his body, turns out to be too “good” for Buffy, a goodness she mocks because it is based on innocence: “Is that regulation or something? You have to do those [exercises] every single morning?… And then you have your perfectly balanced breakfast and call your mother” (‘New Moon Rising”). While all characters start out as Riley – good by default (the state of default being the state of innocence) – they all “grow up” over time and learn to be “good” by learning about evil: “You think you know. What you are, what’s to come… you haven’t even begun…. Find it… the darkness…. Find your true nature” (Buffy vs. Dracula).
Just as Buffy’s "true nature” is, to a certain extent, self-destructive (after all, "death is [her] gift” [“Intervention”]), Spike’s nature also leads him along a self-destructive path. When Spike asks Angel, “Don’t you ever get tired of fights you know you’re gonna win?” (“Fool for Love”), he shows a resistance to pre-determined choices, a resistance similar to Buffy’s death wish, which can be seen as a resistance toward the impossibility of losing the battle with evil (after all, Buffy can never lose unless, on some level, she wants to [“Fool for Love”]). To have no choice but to win is another manifestation of the moral determinism we saw Buffy reject.
Spike rejects it too. If he wins, he wants to win despite the option of losing, not in its absence. He must pick fights he can, realistically, lose, and after having killed two slayers, killing a slayer is not the new challenge he is looking for. But not killing a slayer is (“I knew the only thing better than killing a slayer would be [doing a slayer]” [“Smashed”]). Again, as with Buffy, we see a rejection of what Spike must do (kill the slayer) in favor of what would be seemingly impossible for him to do (not kill the slayer). As an evil creature, Spike would be perfectly justified in killing Buffy (the way Buffy would be justified in letting Dawn die in “The Gift”). But this justification bordering on predetermination is not enough, since there is no choice involved. Spike doesn’t like being predictable: “I hate being obvious. All fangy and *grrr.* (shrugs) Takes all the mystery out.” (“The Initiative”).
If the Slayer doesn’t want to be merely a killer as an instrument of goodness, Spike doesn’t want to be a killer as an instrument of darkness. He does not enjoy being used by either Angel or Adam as an instrument to help them carry out their dark plans, even though the promised rewards of impending doom are considerable (and in both cases he switches sides at the last moment and helps the “good guys” instead). Spike is not prepared to follow somebody else’s orders (e.g., the Anointed One’s), even if they may ultimately lead to much relished destruction. Darkness is not good enough, if it’s not his own. Being evil on somebody else’s behalf is not a proposition that can tempt Spike, and he does not labor slavishly to bring any apocalypses if there’s nothing in it for him. He would do either good or evil, whichever is more interesting or lucrative. But Spike is never completely evil (even at his most evil, he is very much in love with Dru) and never completely good (he continually reminds everyone that he is still evil not only by his words (“Can’t any one of your damn little Scooby club at least try to remember that 1 hate you all?” [“This Year’s Girl”]), but also by his actions (“As You Were,” “Seeing Red”). Just as Spike refuses to be good just because he cannot be evil, he refuses to be evil just because he can.
The development of Spike is also based on the increasing (and constantly sought) possibility of choice: the chip does not exactly leave him without a choice to be bad (as we saw in “The Yoko Factor,” he can do a lot of damage by using his brain rather than his fangs), yet the chip introduces, however subtly, the additional possibility of being good. However, Spike is able to see the “good” side even before the chip, for example in his reaction to Kendra’s death in “Becoming,” part 2: “SPIKE (genuinely proud): Dru bagged a slayer? She didn’t tell me! Good for her! (off Buffy’s look) Well, not from your perspective, I suppose…”
Even before the chip, Spike is marginally capable of seeing the other’s point of view, even if it’s only to get said “other” to cooperate with him. He realizes that his evil sometimes needs the help of the “good” to achieve its aims: e.g., in order to save Dru (evil) he needs to save Giles (good); this is very similar to Buffy’s discovery that she sometimes needs a taste of evil in order to defeat it. At first, being civil, tolerant, or polite is for Spike what being mean is for Buffy in “When She Was Bad” — an acquired taste of the “other” side before it’s fully acquired, a forced imitation which mimics the external gestures and words of the other without really understanding or internalizing them. Later, Spike’s actions become more purposeful and reminiscent of the way Buffy and Angel “act evil” in Enemies” in order to fool Faith and thwart the Mayor’s evil plans: in Spike’s version, he “acts” good in “The Yoko Factor” to thwart the Scoobies’ plans.
Over time, the internalization of the “other” side becomes deeper; just as Buffy gradually internalizes the darkness she fights, Spike internalizes the good he fights. Not only does he “train” the slayer how to kill vampires, adopting her point of view against his own, but he also feels her pain over and above his own (the ending of “Fool for Love”), incorporates her into his dreams (“Out of My Mind”), personifies her guilt “Dead Things”), and, eventually, internalizes her definitions of good and evil by getting a soul (“Grave”). By getting the point of view of Spike, we see that the “dark” side can be recursively defined as the “other” side, so that for Spike, the “dark side” is everything “good.” The fight he doesn’t know he can win is the fight against his own tendency to be “good” — goodness is his own dark side, and fighting it is a risky business. Just as Buffy is drawn to the dark side in the face of Spike, Spike notices with annoyance and then despair (“God, no. Please, no.” [“Out of My Mind”]) that he is drawn to his dark side (in the face of Buffy), and, more than that, that he is in love with the dark side:
Because this… this thing with you — it’s wrong! I know it! Not a complete idiot! (gesturing to his heart) You think I like having you here?! Destroying everything that was me until all that’s left is you in a dead shell (“Crush”).
If the dark side is defined as the “other” side (dark by virtue of being other), we see that the characters gradually become more what they’re not, recognizing and claiming their respective “others,” rather than renouncing them. We know, of course, that to be good Spike must not be forced into it (just as, to be evil, Giles must kill without being forced to and for purposes other than saving the world). We know that Buffy refuses to recognize the lack of choice when she is told to kill Dawn — it is made clear to us that she must save the world/kill Dawn because she is “good,” but she refuses to be “good” at this price and publicly apologizes to her friends for letting them die: “I’m sorry. I love you all, but I’m sorry” (“The Gift”). Much like Buffy, Spike refuses to recognize that he is cornered in a similar way — in his case, trapped into being evil.
In both cases, the choice of anything that is “other” seems impossible, and yet both Buffy and Spike refuse to acknowledge the absence of an “other” option and somehow seem to choose that nonexistent “other” by creating it, conjuring up new moral choices like some kind of metaphorical thaumogenesis. The characters realize that they cannot be either good or evil without having an option to be and do the other (in all the senses). Having the choice to do evil as a requirement for the good is clearly a post lapsarian point of view, but the presence of demons in this series tells us that a pre lapsarian reality, where one can do good without tasting evil, is no longer possible in the Buffyverse. While vampires are looked down upon by other demons (as Giles explains, “Demons have no empathy for species other than their own. In fact, most consider vampires abominations mixing with human blood and all” [“Where the Wild Things Are”]), even demons are not pure evil: “You’ve never seen a demon,” Anya says to Buffy. “All the demons that walk the earth are tainted, are human hybrids, like vampires” (“Graduation Day,” part 1). (And if we want to cite post ascension Mayor as an example of pure evil, we should remember that even in this form, he still has feelings for Faith.)
In the same way, there is nothing purely good either. Even though we naturally expect that going back in time might bring us closer to pure forms of both good and evil (after all, if demons have been contaminated, there must have been a time when they weren’t), this is not entirely the case. We see that ambiguity lurks even at the dawn of time Dawn herself, the embodiment of one of the oldest “good” forces in the Buffyverse, is revealed to be an ancient power which is neither good nor evil on its own, and the First Slayer inhabits a similarly ambiguous moral space, since she is neither absolutely good (she tries to kill the Scoobies), nor absolutely evil (well, she’s a slayer, one of the good guys, or possibly the first “good guy”). The beginning of the “good” is shrouded in ambiguity, and the First Slayer describes herself as a spooky amoral force: “I am destruction. Absolute. Alone.” (“Restless”). Moreover, this description is enough for Buffy to deduce that she is talking to a slayer (BUFFY (realizing): "The Slayer.”), as if these words really capture the essence of the slayer and Buffy only needs one tiny bit of logic to derive “slayer” from “destruction.”
It seems that time was post lapsarian from the beginning: good and evil cannot be found in pure forms in the Buffyverse, no matter how deep we dig. Evil is always corrupted good (a vampire is a human victim bitten by a vampire) and good is always knowledgeable of evil, like Buffy, or atoning for evil, like Angel, or at the very least potentially corruptible good can always be bitten, and the more innocent it is, the greater the chance of corruption. If the Slayer is, indeed, the name for having no option but to kill evil (that “nice, non judgemental way to, you know, kill” (“Pangs”) never quite presents itself), Buffy refuses even this superior, noble, but still amoral job description. She outgrows even the slayer role to give it a moral responsibility. The fact that she quits the Council (as well as, on a much smaller scale, the Initiative), comes to show that she is not prepared to follow the “official” rules which exempt her from personal responsibility. (As Travers says in “Checkpoint” “The Council fights evil. The Slayer is the instrument with which we fight.”) This is what Buffy wants to get away from. When she kills, she wants to take the responsibility, to do it with the knowledge that she is right, not with the knowledge that she, as the chosen one, doesn’t have a choice; she wants to be less chosen and more choosing.
Hence the difference between a killer and a slayer the tool which the Council wants is basically a killer. In this sense, the Council sees in Buffy exactly what Dracula does just as a vampire can’t help but kill, the slayer as a Council tool can’t help but carry out their orders, Initiative style (conversely, we know that Buffy obeys only those orders she “was gonna do anyway” [“This Year’s Girl”]). Here is the difference between Buffy and Riley, for example Buffy refuses to follow orders blindly, whereas, even when Riley quits the Initiative, he does it because he is now following what Buffy tells him to do, which is stop following what the Initiative tells him to do:
BUFFY: You seem a little… somewhere else. Anything I can do?
RILEY: Give me an order. That’s what I do, isn’t it? Follow orders?
BUFFY: Don’t have to.
RILEY: You sure about that?
BUFFY: It’s an order. (“This Year’s Girl”)
If Buffy’s relationship with the Council were that of a Riley to an Initiative, she would have been properly called a “killer,” a specific tool for a certain kind of violence, very specialized and blindly unerring. And conversely, the possibility to err is a symptom of sight; by distinguishing a “slayer” from a “killer,” Buffy renounces the blind loyalty the council demands from her in favor of the possibility to choose, and to err (i.e., choose evil).
The self-awareness, the need to claim responsibility for both the good and the "less good” (“Smashed”) actions, is a need which goes beyond that of the slayer as such. Buffy would have been able to do her job very well without bothering to know why she does what she does; the only thing she really needs to know is how to kill. When Faith is temporarily “good” in imitation of Buffy, she can do what is right without exactly knowing why, for the simple reason that “good” is occasionally fashionable, easier, or temporarily useful for some other purpose. If Faith had continued this way, there is no reason to suspect that she would not have been a good slayer. The slayer, seen as a tool, a “killer,” is not expected to overdo the self-awareness bit. But Buffy surpasses all traditional definitions of the council and other slayers and watchers about what a slayer should be: “The slayer doesn’t walk in the world…. No… friends… just the kill… we are… alone” (“Restless”). It is safe to say that she is not what anyone would have suspected, and she may very well be the one to introduce the definition of “slayer” as different from “killer.” (BUFFY: “I prefer the term ‘Slayer.’ ‘Killer’ just sounds so…” DRACULA: “Naked?”).
Season six articulates more self-consciously this complicated interaction with evil, the recognition of evil as an integral part of fighting evil. It presents us with a Buffy who does things which are wrong (not according to some conservative Watchers’ Council but according to her own definitions of right and wrong), even though she is not herself “wrong” ("Dead Things”). The acknowledgment that the slayer (by virtue of being human, not by virtue of being a slayer) can do bad things without being evil shapes the whole season. This reinforces the margin between doing evil things (e.g., Giles killing Ben) and being evil. While season five shows that one can be evil without doing anything evil (e.g.Spike-with-chip: “What? That chip in your head? That’s not change. That’s just holding you back. You’re like a serial killer in prison!” [“Crush”]), season six has Buffy, Willow, and Giles doing “bad” things without being themselves evil (or not so much).
Season six features the realization of the inside-ness of evil. The monsters, originally carriers of evil and disruptors of order, in fact, become the anchors of order, as Buffy needs them to ground herself in the external world: she needs the outside threat of the monster in "’Normal Again” to come back to reality, and the demon in “After Life” to bring her out of the apathy and unwillingness to cope with life. While usually it is the external threat that redeems the internal capacity for evil (the internalized evil is worth it if it is required in order to fight an external threat e.g., in “Enemies”), in the absence of an external threat the internalized evil becomes unjustified (e.g., Buffy’s behaviour in season six would have been justified if there were something objectively “wrong” with her). And unjustified means chosen: when Buffy uses Spike and keeps secrets from her friends in (most of) season six, she does so without being forced to and despite other options (such as, well, not doing these filings). Doing “bad” things is simply easier (killing her friends in “Normal Again” seems so much easier than facing reality) and temporarily “convenient” (which is what Buffy calls Spike in “Wrecked”). It is no longer the case that only one abnormally rebellious slayer (Faith) can do wrong; now we see that the slayer, any slayer, must understand and taste evil (and, conversely, it would be difficult to argue that Faith, who does evil things, really understands evil). The understanding of evil is not part of the slayer’s job, but of herself (the Council certainly doesn’t want Buffy going around tasting evil, even if it’s a soul-having one). But tasting evil doesn’t bring her closer to evil as much as closer to herself.
The Slayer is the one who must maintain the difference between good and evil and make sure that good doesn’t become evil (e.g., that vampires don’t turn humans into vampires): “at some point someone has to draw the line, and that is always going to be me. You get down on me for cutting myself off, but in the end the slayer is always cut off" (“Selfless”). At the same time, she is the most ambiguous one, the one who is ready to cut all ties with family and friends and kill people she loves, if necessary (e.g., Angel). The requirement that she know exactly which side she must stay on (regardless of where those she loves are) gives her the responsibility to keep the other "other" at all costs — even at the cost of becoming an “other” herself. This would be the moral equivalent of dying to save lives in “The Gift" — in this case, crossing over to the dark side in order to prevent others from doing it. Paradoxically, she protects the line which separates good from evil by crossing it, by becoming more and more “other.”
[Buffy scripts from http://www.studiesinwords.de/]