The Strange Case of Ben and Glory: Stevenson Re-imagined as a Buffyverse “Big Bad”

People are relatively easy to please when it concerns entertainment. The sensational topics which Victorian readers devoured and then relived in subsequent publications and theater adaptations are the same topics which today can inspire avid viewers to continue watching (and thus the networks renewing) long-running television shows. One such show is Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which focuses on Buffy Summers, a teenage girl chosen as the Vampire Slayer and tasked with protecting humanity through fighting (and eliminating) non-human threats, which include anything from the classic vampires and ghosts to goddesses and robots, with a wide variety of demons in the mixture as well. The fifth season of Buffy particularly demonstrates the common thread of entertainment through the characters of Ben Wilkinson and Glory, whose story offers a modern mirror for Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. While the similarities between these two works demonstrate that audiences’ core tastes have not altered significantly—we are still intrigued by hidden connections, secrets, and extreme characters—the morality apparent in each version’s closure has evolved in order to continue to affect their respective audiences correctly.

The fifth season of Buffy highlights a direct descendant of Mr. Hyde as its “Big Bad,” or main villain. In this iteration of Stevenson’s tale, the “inherently malign and villainous” Mr. Hyde becomes an actual being from a form of hell (Stevenson 1812). An exiled goddess from a hell dimension, Glory was imprisoned in the body of a mortal man (Ben Wilkinson) in order to prevent her from attempting to return, with either one or the other manifesting at one point in time. She shares several core attributes with Hyde, most notably her erratic mental state and self-absorption. Rob Cover describes Glory as “incoherence personified,” which correlates nearly exactly with the account of Hyde given in Jekyll’s “Full Statement of the Case,” in which he identifies that the “evil side of [his] nature . . . was less robust and less developed than the good which [he] had just deposed” (Cover, Stevenson 1810). Neither is depicted as rational or developed. While Hyde is rash and impulsive, created purely to allow “the unjust to go his way, delivered from the aspirations and remorse of his more upright twin,” Glory is often driven by fits of insanity, which arise from attempting to confine a goddess’s power within a mortal man’s body (Stevenson 1809). Both are also much more confident and self-absorbed and -motivated than their counterparts. As Clare Kramer, the actress who portrayed Glory in Buffy, recounted, “She was completely secure in herself, focused on what she wanted and dedicated to her cause” (“Interview with Clare Kramer”). Glory does not hesitate in pursuing what she wanted, and her only weakness, like Hyde, is her counterpart’s mortality. Similarly, Hyde is single-minded in pursuing the urges Jekyll had long suppressed, and (literally) tramples anything in his path; Jekyll recounts that as Hyde, “the pleasures I made haste to seek in my disguise were, as I have said, undignified” and “his [Hyde’s] every act and thought centered on self” (1812). Both are controlling, self-motivated, and relentless in pursuit of what they want.

Ben, the vessel in which Glory is imprisoned, is just as identifiable as a modern version of Dr. Jekyll. Both live their lives intentionally trying to atone for their counterparts’ crimes, mostly through feelings of guilt, rather due to a moral stand. Jekyll “would even make haste, where it was possible, to undo the evil done by Hyde,” and for example, pays off the family of the little girl Hyde trampled from his own account (Stevenson 1812, 1782). Ben enters into the healthcare profession, and specifically focuses on helping the patients admitted to the hospital’s mental ward as a result of Glory’s stealing their sanity to stabilize her own mind. Both, also, despite their efforts at keeping both of their “personalities” separate, are corrupted and their lives dismantled (to the point of death) by their counterparts. Jekyll from the beginning had recognized the duality of his own nature; this is, after all, what led to the creation of Hyde. But he notes in his “Full Statement of the Case,” “I was slowly losing hold of my original and better self, and becoming slowly incorporated with my second and worse” (Stevenson 1813). The longer Jekyll’s transformations continue, the harder it becomes to distinguish distinctly between himself and Hyde. In the case of Ben and Glory, the two begin to merge as it becomes harder for her to maintain her sanity. They are gradually able to recall each other’s thoughts and perceptions, and Glory begins to take over for longer periods of time; Ben eventually loses his job at the hospital due to the inordinate number of days Glory’s manifestation kept him from showing up. This corresponds with Jekyll’s growing isolation, as he alienates his friends, such as Dr. Lanyon and Mr. Utterson, and remains shut in his rooms attempting to find a way to control the transformations.

Both Ben and Jekyll were also offered opportunities for redemption, but their inability to satisfy the conditions ultimately led to their deaths. Ben is presented as the sympathetic counterpart to Glory, an apparent innocent, caught in the crossfire as her unwilling prison. This plays into the moral shift of the twentieth century, which saw that “since the 19702, Gothic fiction had been increasingly sympathetic in its depiction of monsters . . . and increasingly negative in its depiction of those who were so intolerant just to hunt them just for being what they were” (“Sleeping with the Enemy” 122). Buffy needed to offer Ben some opportunity for redemption, lest it be considered too absolute and dismissive and therefore lose the fan base keeping it on the air. However, Ben eventually rejects this redemption as he is corrupted by Glory, choosing to ally with her in order to avoid his own death. Jekyll, similarly, is presented with an opportunity for redemption, but though he chooses the correct path (unlike Ben) and attempts to reject Hyde and halt the transformations, the process has already gone on for too long and the transformations continue, getting increasingly out of his control. The deaths of both characters, then, occur as a direct result of this inability to separate themselves from their counterparts, because of which they lose practically all opportunity for redemption.

The depictions of these characters’ deaths are what best demonstrates the moral shift incorporated in the retelling of a classic story. A major motif of the gothic is its ambiguity—it resists closure, leaving the questions of guilt and free will up to the reader. Stevenson therefore leaves us with a character who might have realized the reality of his guilt and accepted his complicity in the situation, and taken his own life in return. Alternatively, Jekyll could be a character who is deprived of a continued opportunity for redemption by a malicious outside force, for it is just as plausible that Hyde, having become aware of Jekyll’s aversion and attempts to eliminate him, could have attempted to take revenge on Jekyll, similarly to how he murdered Sir Danvers Carew merely consumed with a “tempest of impatience” (Stevenson 1814). The ambiguous image of Hyde dead in Jekyll’s clothing, noted as a “self-destroyer,” would have been extremely effective in forcing Victorian audiences to think about and question the strict rules of morality in which they tried to live. Buffy contains, at least superficially, more closure in this case. Ben’s death is presented very matter-of-factly: it is explicitly stated that it is not only due to the probability of Glory’s resurfacing, but also his own complicity. Ben blatantly rejected the ultimate moral of this season of Buffy, that “selfless sacrifice was the answer to someone who destroys worlds for their own needs,” by allying with Glory in the name of self-preservation (Roz Kaveney). He thus leaves a much more complicit and antagonistic impression in his death than Jekyll does, who died with some possibility of redemption available if it was due to his own actions rather than Hyde’s.

What has changed is not the stories which are told, but the direct explication of their morality, which needs to be significantly more direct and explicit when dealing with modern audiences. This genre has evolved into one in which “damaged, dangerous men are attractive, redeemable figures rather than objects of disgust and hatred, and the heroine is to be applauded rather than condemned for having the courage to fall in love with the bad man” (“Sleeping with the Enemy” 129). In order to achieve the same goals—forcing the audience to think deeply about the morality of the case presented and even shocking them into the realization that maybe not everyone can, or should be, saved—the same story needs to be retold in a much more explicit manner in which the audience is not left to determine the morality on their own.

 

Works Cited:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Fifth Season. Prod. Joss Whedon. Warner Brothers, 2003. DVD.

Cover, Rob. “From Butler to Buffy: Notes towards a strategy for identity analysis in contemporary television narrative.” Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture 4.2 (2004): 34.

Kaveney, Roz. Reading the Vampire Slayer: The New, Updated, Unofficial Guide to Buffy and Angel. Rev. and Expanded 2nd ed. London: Tauris Parke Paperbacks, 2004. Print.

“Sleeping with the Enemy”. The Twilight of the Gothic?: Vampire Fiction and the Rise of the Paranormal Romance. 1st ed. University of Wales Press, 2014. 107–137. Web.

Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed. David Damrosch and Kevin J.H. Dettmar. 4th ed. New York: Pearson, 2010. Print.

(Image) Oshiro, Mark. “Mark Watches ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’: S05E21 – The Weight of the World.” Mark Watches. WordPress, 14 Jan. 2012. Web. 7.Dec. 2015.

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