Buffy getting an abortion: Joss Whedon on the big decision -- EXCLUSIVE
Any fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer can tell you that its titular heroine has faced her fair share of trials and turmoil that forced the young woman to make some very grown up decisions. But in the latest issue of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9 comic series — which chronicles Buffy’s life in San Francisco after she destroyed the seed of all magic on earth at the end of the Season 8 comic — Buffy Summers will face perhaps the toughest decision she’s ever had. SPOILER ALERT for those who would rather read about it in the issue itself, “On Your Own, Part 1,” out in stores today. Seriously, what you’re about to read is one heckuva spoiler:
Buffy is getting an abortion.
Last month’s issue, “Slayer, Interrupted,” ended with Buffy discovering she’s pregnant, and in this month’s issue (the sixth in the Season 9 series), she turns to the person who best knows what it means for a Slayer to have a child: Robin Wood (played by D.B. Woodside on the TV series), the grown son of the late Slayer Nikki Wood. By the end of the issue, Buffy comes to the conclusion that she cannot have a baby. The decision was so important for Buffy creator and Season 9 exec producer Joss Whedon, that he took time off from finishing his post-production directing duties on The Avengers to talk with EW about the issue.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When and why did you decide that Buffy would become pregnant?
JOSS WHEDON: When I was first working out season 9, and deciding what it was about — deciding it was going to be about this period in her life, when she is surrounded by people who are getting their lives together, and she is still at this stage when she is completely in, as [the first issues] are titled, “Freefall.” She’s been freed from the responsibilities she’s had in season 8 and all through the TV show, but then has no idea who she is or what she’s doing. [In] that early twentysomething search for identity, where you’re making the decisions that are going to eventually choose your path, [becoming pregnant] seemed to be a really important and not uncommon part of that period in your life.
Did you always know that she would be getting an abortion, or did you ever contemplate the notion that she would keep the baby?
No. I think strongly that teen pregnancy and young people having babies when they are not emotionally, financially, or otherwise equipped to take care of them, is kind of glorified in our media right now. You know, things like Secret Life [of an American Teenager] and Juno and Knocked Up — even if they pretend to deal with abortion, the movies don’t even say the word “abortion.” It’s something that over a third of American women are going to decide to have to do in their lives. But people are so terrified that no one will discuss the reality of it — not no one, but very few popular entertainments, even when they say they’re dealing with this issue, they don’t, and won’t. It’s frustrating to me.
I don’t think Buffy should have a baby. I don’t think Buffy can take care of a baby. I agree with Buffy. It’s a very difficult decision for her, but she made a decision that so many people make and it’s such a hot button issue with Planned Parenthood under constant threat and attack right now. A woman’s right to choose is under attack as much as it’s ever been, and that’s a terrible and dangerous thing for this country. I don’t usually get soap box-y with this, but the thing about Buffy is all she’s going through is what women go through, and what nobody making a speech, holding up a placard, or making a movie is willing to say.
Obviously, you couldn’t have known that Planned Parenthood would be so in the news when this issue of the comic was in the works, but I imagine you must have known this development would spark some strong debate?
Yeah, I suppose. But there’s nothing wrong with debate. I didn’t do it as a sensationalist move. I did it as what seemed like a natural part of Buffy’s life. And obviously there will be complications to the whole storyline that could only happen in the Buffyverse. But it’s not about what happens, it’s about that moment of decision, and just articulating what so many people are not saying, but so many are thinking.
Do you know who the father is?
I know everything about it, but will tell you nothing. Except, like I said, it’s going to end up being a storyline that is rooted in the Buffyverse. I’m not going to turn the comic book into something other than what it is. The whole thing isn’t going to be, well, normal. There’s not going to be a lot of “normal” going on, but hopefully there’s a certain amount of “relatable.” We’re going to pursue what this storyline means, but not in a way people are going to expect.
Yeah, I can’t imagine this plotline is going to play out like an afterschool special or a Lifetime movie.
But I did want to ask about the way she got pregnant — at the party in the first issue of Buffy Season 9, after Buffy became black-out drunk. Her behavior at that party has already bothered some fans, and to learn she got pregnant there, and doesn’t know by whom, will bother some fans even more, especially those who want Buffy to be, well, more responsible.
I think that first of all that they should wait until they have all the facts and they’ll learn stuff that they didn’t know before. They should find out what happened before they completely judge her. But at the same time, this is also about the time in your life when you do things that are irresponsible, or that you want to hold yourself to account for. She’s a person living her life, she’s not running for president — actually, I think those guys have a lot of sex. [Chuckles] She’s not living under a microscope. Well, she is, because we’re all watching her, but she doesn’t know that. And she’s going make some wrong decisions. I’m not going to turn it into a Season 6 wrong-decision-athon, but at the same time irresponsible and impulsive behavior may occur in your 20s. Consult a doctor.
Finally, what’s it been like to be off making fancy blockbusters and have the day-to-day-ness of this comic be more out of your hands than ever?
Well, it’s frustrating only in the sense that these stories are important to me, and I want to be a part of them. But I laid out the season very specifically with [writer] Andrew [Chambliss], and he’s done an amazing job of moving the story and keeping the voices [true]. And this particular issue, I was very watchful of. But in general, I know that when I walk away, they’re getting it done really well. That’s the good news. My only probably is that I wish I could be at the party more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When did you know Buffy would be getting pregnant?
ANDREW CHAMBLISS: That was something that Joss had always kind of set out from the beginning of conceiving season 9. It was definitely something we were building towards from day one, the first issue of the season where she’s got the crazy party and blacks out at it. It was always something Joss wanted to do. In the season, where we’re really trying to push Buffy back to dealing with real world issues that are getting in the way of her slaying, and also where she is in her life, it seems like this is what we should make the core of the jumping off point for the season.
How did you come to that decision? The seasons have generally been marking posts for Buffy’s development in her life. Was it a big life moment Buffy was going to have to tackle?
Yeah, that was kind of the idea. Just looking at the intention of the season where magic has disappeared, and it’s kind of Buffy asking herself, “Do I have a life after slaying? I spend so much time saving the world and dealing with these huge supernatural things, what’s my life like if I have to deal with these real things?” Getting pregnant seems like one of the things Buffy can’t run away from, as easily as she can run away from a relationship or something like that.
What’s it like to have Joss hand you the reins while he goes off to make big blockbuster movies?
It’s been an incredibly gratifying experience. I love Buffy. It’s part of the reason that I became interested in writing. It’s a lot of fun. I’d worked with Joss on Dollhouse, and there were Buffy alum [writing and working] on Dollhouse. Just to hear them talk about that world, part of me was always like, “I wish I could have been a part of that.” So getting that opportunity now is a dream come true.
What’s working relationship with Joss?
Before we started working on the season, Joss’ house had a big Buffy writers summit. A bunch of Buffy writers came – [comic editor] Scott Allie and the Dark Horse team came down, Cristos Gage who’s writing on [spin-off comic] Angel and Faith came as well, and we just had a great brainstorming session, talking about all of the different things it would be cool to do in the season. Taking all of those ideas, Joss and I have had many email exchanges back and forth, and of course phone calls. He’s really involved in laying out the map of the season, and we’re going to take everything and then from there I just go in and do the more detailed work. Generally, it’s been sending him drafts over email, and he’ll weigh in along with Dark Horse.
Does he tweak any dialogue? “Xander would say it more this way?”
Generally he’s been focused more on the story issues. When I’m writing, I’m having episodes of Buffy on in the background to get the voices of the characters down. Joss’s input is more [on] the story side, making sure the arcs are on track. But yeah, he will throw out a line, because I’ve come to realize, Buffy, more than anything else Joss does, is so much Joss. He can nail that voice better than anyone else can.
At the writers summit, did abortion topic come up?
I don’t think we spoke too much about it there, but as we were getting issues in and approaching the pregnancy reveal, that’s when we started talking about what Buffy would do with that. Joss basically wanted to face it head on, and not shy away from it in any way. I think at the summit we might have come up with doing the Nikki Wood flashbacks to try to serve as a counterpoint to where Buffy is, because Nikki’s the only other slayer who has ever faced this issue.
I asked this of Joss too: You couldn’t have known that Planned Parenthood would be so in the news when this issue of the comic was in the works, but I imagine you must have known this development would spark some strong debate?
Yes, for sure. It’s not a topic that anyone takes lightly. There are such a wide spectrum of opinions, and we knew that there would be debate around it. I think the thing, when we were making the story, was to make sure we weren’t doing a story just for the sake of being controversial, or trying to get attention. It really is trying to go someplace that a girl in Buffy’s position would go, and the questions she’d have to ask herself.
So to borrow a line from the show, “Where do we go from here?” How far reaching will the ramifications be?
We’re not talking about it on a super-specific level just because I don’t want to spoil too much of the next couple of issues, but there’s definitely a huge anchor point for Buffy mentally going through the rest of the season. You think, what are the things in her life that are possible, and what are the things in her life that are difficult, both being the Slayer, but also being a twentysomething girl who has pretty much put her entire life on hold ever since she’s been in high school. Thinking about this as placing the seed of that question of making her realize, “Whoa, whoa, there are so many things I never thought about.” This is kind of the first thing.
What has your favorite thing to write?
I’ve got to say, Spike has become one of my favorite things to write. It kind of came as a surprise to me, but he’s such a complicated character, and in some ways can be so selfish, but in other ways he’s probably one of the most unselfish characters in the series. I think in issue 6, that’s kind of what it’s all about — Spike coming to the realization that he still harbors feelings for Buffy, but then realizing in order to be the person he wants to be for Buffy, he can’t even tell her that. That’s definitely been fun to play around with, with his feelings for her. Unrequited love is always more fun than requited love.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer