I'm in the middle of a casual rewatch of Buffy right now, and last night finally got to "Surprise" and "Innocence," the latter of which might be one of my favorite episodes of the series because of how well it speaks, specifically, to the female coming-of-age experience. These are the episodes in which (*spoilers*) Buffy and Angel finally sleep together, causing Angel to experience a moment of happiness and lose his soul. He reverts to Angelus and immediately sets about acting cruelly toward Buffy. She doesn't know, at first, that he's lost his soul, so when he tells her she "has a lot to learn" and explains his absence from bed in the morning as not wanting to be around "after that," she's confused and deeply hurt. It's a heartbreaking scene for anybody who's ever had a guy 180 on them and start treating them like dirt after they "gave it up."
But that's not the reason that this episode is so striking, for me. Later, after realizing that Angel has lost his soul, the Scoobies are trying to put together what might have caused the curse to lift. Buffy realizes, suddenly and powerfully, that the "moment of happiness" they're all speculating about came about because she and Angel slept together. She rushes out of the room with Giles (her older, male mentor) calling after her to come back, that they need to work. Willow, Buffy's best friend, takes control of the situation — "Giles, shut up." She's figured it out, she understands, and you can see the moment where she simultaneously is stunned and very, very sad for Buffy. "I can imagine what she's going through," says Giles sympathetically.
And Willow answers, "No, I don't think you can."
No, I don't think you can. That moment will always stick in my gut. It's so simple — on a literal level, Willow knows that Giles hasn't actually put the pieces together yet, and she has. But also, Giles is an authority figure, figuratively sort of the "father" of the group (the Watcher) and literally, a librarian, a school authority. But he has no idea what it is like to be a teenage girl, to live in a world where women can be made to feel dirty for "giving it up," where an act of love can be wielded as a weapon against you.
I love this show because it acts constantly to challenge the authority of the white-male perspective in storytelling, in truth-telling in general. Because the viewer has information that Giles doesn't, we're in the shoes of Buffy and Willow here, angry and sad. And again and again, the specifically female experience of young adulthood and maturity is respected as a powerful — both empowering and potentially devastating — particular experience. The show morphs and develops over its seven seasons, but it never loses this essential thread. It's why the show was so important to me in high school — arguably one of the texts most responsible for leading me to feminism.
At the level of the story, I'm also once again amazed at how well the show played the long game — so much foreshadowing about who these characters were becoming. This is a show with a lot of patience, and a lot of heart. Even knowing what was coming down the pipe with Buffy and Angel (and Spike) it was still deeply painful and sad to watch. Buffy beats Angel hand-to-hand at the end of the episode but isn't yet ready to kill him. "Give me time," she says.