Season six is my favorite season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I like the dark themes, and I like seeing Willow grow up and mature as a result of her grief. (I also like the musical episode.) Recently, I was talking over Buffy when my friend, Bitch contributor Emily Manuel, reminded me about the surprising musical accompaniment to that season’s final moments. This is the moment when Xander Harris forgives Willow Rosenberg, and Sarah McLachlan’s “Prayer of St. Francis” plays in the background (lyrics):
Listen to the entire song here (with my apologies for the stupid graphics in the video):
The Christian imagery in this moment is almost over the top. Willow, if you remember, is bent on destroying the world in her anger over Tara’s murder. She has become addicted to the dark arts, and she is determined to take everyone to hell with her.
Xander begins by telling her how much he loves her. At first, she willfully resists, asking, “Is that the master plan? You’re going to stop me by telling me you love me?” But Xander is steadfast in his commitment, offering compassion above all else. She is beloved; she is free to return to the fold just as she is:
I know you’re in pain. I can’t imagine the pain you’re in. And I know you’re about to do something apocalyptically (glancing back at the statue) evil and stupid, and hey, I still want to hang. You’re Willow.
Not only this, but he reminds her of his presence in the beginning of her life and proceeds to offer his own:
First day of kindergarten. You cried because you broke the yellow crayon, and you were too afraid to tell anyone. You’ve come pretty far, ending the world, not a terrific notion. But the thing is? Yeah. I love you. I loved crayon-breaky Willow and I love … scary veiny Willow. So if I’m going out, it’s here. If you wanna kill the world? Well, then start with me. I’ve earned that.
In this moment, Xander is a savior figure. He repeats, “I love you,” over and over until she breaks down crying. More specifically, Willow Rosenberg, the Jewish character on the show, breaks down crying in the arms of Xander, the carpenter.
She has been weighed down by sin. She is one of the lost sheep of the Gospel parable. Xander literally goes to the ends of the earth to recover her salvation, and she finally breaks down in tears, ready to repent of her misdeeds and surrender to his grace.
This is not only Christian imagery, but evangelical Christian conversion imagery. As Willow collapses in defeat, “The Prayer of St. Francis” softly begins to play: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…/Where there is hatred, let me show love/Where there is injury, pardon/…where there is despair, hope…” So, Xander restores hope, grace and love to Willow, the lost sheep.
This might be the most explicitly Christian moment in the show, and it’s surprising in a secular series with a humanist impulse that dabbles primarily in other spiritual mythologies. There are other moments in the show that cast a very negative light on Christianity.
See, for example, the witch burnings that nearly take place in the episode “Gingerbread,” in which overzealous religious fervor (and a spell cast by the evil spirits of Hansel and Gretel) nearly destroy Sunnydale. Then, of course, there is the fundamentalist preacher, Caleb, who emerges in Season seven as the “big bad.”
I’m not entirely sure what to make of this moment between Xander and Willow, except that it is strange and unusual in the context of Buffy.
Lately, I have noticed Christian songs playing in the background of various secular shows. The Bravermans of NBC’s Parenthood, are very straightforward about the fact that they are not religious. But in this week’s episode, the hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul” plays in the background as Christina contentedly surveys the bustling, happy family.
Any examples that you have noticed recently?