Copyright 2008 by Gary L. Pullman
In the “What’s My Line, Part I” episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s second season, Kendra Young debuts as a second slayer. Neither Buffy Summers, the “real slayer,” as her friend Willow Rosenberg calls her, nor Buffy’s Watcher, Rupert Giles, knows of Kendra’s existence before her Watcher, Sam Zabuto, sends her to Buffy’s hometown, aware that “a very dark power is about to rise in Sunnydale.” Kendra also appears in the second part of the episode and in a third episode. “Becoming, Part I,” of the same season. She’s a foil to Buffy, and, as such, she highlights Buffy’s traits, but, at the same time, reveals both Buffy’s flaws and foibles and her own, suggesting that neither is the ideal slayer and that neither of them is more effective in the slayer’s role than the other.
Buffy and Kendra are evenly matched in age, strength, stamina, agility, speed, and fighting prowess, and both are adept in the use of weapons, wooden stakes and otherwise (although Kendra has trouble with a crossbow, destroying “an evil lamp”). Otherwise, the two slayers couldn’t be less alike.
Kendra takes orders from her Watcher; Buffy prefers to do things her way. Kendra reads her Slayer’s Handbook and conducts her own research concerning vampires, demons, and other monsters. Buffy lets others do the book learning. Kendra evaluates others on the bases of her studies and what she has been taught. Buffy judges others on the bases of her own experience and beliefs. Kendra has no friends, is not allowed to date, and was taken from her family at such a young age that she doesn’t remember them other than as images in photographs. Buffy is surrounded by friends who call themselves “The Scooby Gang” or “The Scoobies,” lives with her mother, and has a vampire boyfriend, Angel. Kendra is serious and single-minded about her duties as a slayer, whereas Buffy seems to be casual about her slayer’s responsibilities. Kendra is rational, Buffy romantic. Kendra believes in taking a deliberate, rational, and logical approach to slaying. Buffy says her emotions are “total assets” that empower her. While Kendra defers to men, Buffy is a modern, liberated young woman. Kendra considers her calling to be a slayer a privilege and an honor as well as a duty, but Buffy would rather lead a “normal” life.
Which of them makes the more effective slayer? Concerning Kendra’s death at the hands of the mesmerizing vampire Drusilla, who orders Kendra to look into her eyes so that she can hypnotize her, Jana Riess contends, in What Would Buffy Do: The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide, that Kendra’s willingness to follow orders without question leads to her death. However, as Kendra herself tells Buffy, when Buffy says “I don’t take orders; I do things my way,” “No wonder you died.” Buffy may act with autonomy and independence, but she is also headstrong at times and rash, and it may be argued that these traits led to her own death in her fight against The Master, at the end of the series’ first season. It seems that the show’s writers, in positing Buffy and Kendra as opposites, suggest that neither of them is the ideal, or more effective slayer, because each is too extreme and dogmatic, in her own way, insisting that hers is the better--indeed, the only true--way to discharge her duties as the slayer. The ideal slayer, the show implies, lies somewhere between these two extremes. Kendra is too dependent; Buffy, too self-reliant. Kendra is too academic; Buffy, too pragmatic. Kendra is too theoretical; Buffy, too empirical. Kendra is too staid and reserved; Buffy, too garrulous and affable. Kendra is insensitive; Buffy is oversensitive. Kendra is straightforward and honest; Buffy, although dutiful, pretends to be carefree. Kendra is too repressed; Buffy is too uninhibited. Kendra allows men to subjugate her; Buffy tends to be disrespectful and rude to men. Kendra is willing to sacrifice herself for the sake of her calling; Buffy is willing merely to do her duty. Neither is the ideal slayer, and neither is the more effective slayer, for each lacks balance. Both are too extreme in their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.
The writers intimate that the ideal slayer is the one who is self-reliant but also accepts assistance from others; participates in research rather than leaving it to others; has friends, including a boyfriend, if she likes, without letting her friendships interfere with her duties; understands that, as sacred as her calling as a slayer may be, it is no more hallowed than her family; uses both her learning and her own experience to evaluate situations and to judge others; takes her duties seriously and is not afraid to let others see how earnest she is about her role as a slayer; is neither overly repressed nor too unrestrained; interacts with men with respect but as an equal; and is willing to make sacrifices but also seeks to enjoy a personal life to the extent that it is possible to do so without shirking her responsibilities. Neither Kendra nor Buffy occupies the position between opposing extremes that Aristotle referred to as the “golden mean.” Therefore, they both show tremendous promise and potential, but neither is as effective a slayer as she could be were she the ideal slayer.
Since the ideal slayer doesn’t exist except as an ideal, one might conclude that both Buffy and Kendra are all that they can be--themselves--and, as such, are the most effective slayers that they can be. Kendra calls herself “the vampire slayer,” as does Buffy, and both are right: they are each a slayer and the most effective slayer that they, as themselves, with all their faults and strengths, can be. That’s all they have to offer. As it turns out, all they have to offer is both never sufficient and, at the same time, paradoxically, always enough.