I have been waiting for months for Halloween to roll around again so I could post this. I mean, when else are you going to post a Buffy fan-theory, eh?
And, as it happens, today marks two years since I first began this blog. Time flies when you’re having fun! 🙂
Joss Whedon really became a household name among us geeks and nerds and such with the production of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as well as its spinoff, Angel. Though the franchise became more refined in later seasons, we were all hooked from minute one. And let’s be honest: a huge part of that was the villains. Whedon and his team were great at villainy! (mwahahah!)
The first season’s “big bad,” the Master, really set the stage for all the rest, ya know? He was strong, smart, and had a certain evil charisma about him. I think my favorite moment with him was when he had three failed minions kneeling before him, and he tells his protege, “Their deaths would give me little pleasure. …sometimes a little is enough.” And he kills them (yes, technically Darla did that, but you know what I mean).
The conflict of that first season revolved around trying to keep the Master from getting free from his inter-dimensional imprisonment. He tried to open the Hellmouth back in the 1930’s, but there was an untimely earthquake that threw things off. He failed and was trapped in a cavern by an unseen barrier.
…or so we’re told, at least.
What if that’s not how it happened?
When we hear this story the first time, you can’t help thinking, “Wow, that sure was nice for the humans, having that quake hit at exactly the right moment.” But it remains unclear exactly how the quake stopped the Master. Did it shift the Hellmouth’s position a fraction of an inch? Did it surprise him and throw him off balance, interrupting whatever ceremony he was performing? How did moving, inanimate earth create a mystical barrier? There is no explanation.
And I think, perhaps, that’s because the Master was never stopped by a quake at all.
The big clue here is the quakes themselves. There’s three in particular: one in the backstory that we don’t see, but which “somehow” influenced the Hellmouth, and two others we do see in the series, which don’t do any such thing. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite.
The first quake is in the first season’s finale “Prophecy Girl.” While everyone else is frightened and getting tossed around, the Master is nothing short of exultant. He welcomes the quake with gleeful adulation as a portent of his imminent victory. Which begs the question, if it were a quake that originally trapped him, then why is he so happy about this one? It’s like Superman being glad to find a pile of kryptonite. If the last one really did throw such a wrench into his plans, then why doesn’t he hate earthquakes in general? I certainly would.
Further, not only is the Master strong, he is knowledgeable too. He’s clearly been expecting this quake, so why didn’t he expect the last one? Something about this just does not add up.
Then, when he gets free, he opens the Hellmouth, but the earth is not shaking then. In fact, out of the several times that the Hellmouth is opened, the Earth has never quaked while it was open, or while it was still opening.
It quakes just before it opens.
Not during. Not after. Before.
Of course, that could be just an aberration, right?
Except for how it happened like that twice.
For our second Buffy earthquake, we fast forward all the way to about halfway through the fourth season, the episode “Doomed.” The quake hits, and Buffy herself is panicking because of certain associations – she did, you know, die shortly after the last one – fearing the end of the world. Interesting, that is exactly what is happening. A one-off trio of demons appears just after the quake, collecting ingredients for a sacrificial ceremony to open the Hellmouth.
That’s two out of two known earthquakes which precede the Hellmouth opening.
Now, there are a few times across the seasons where it has opened and we haven’t had any such quake. I can only speculate that the Hellmouth may open without necessarily having a quake precede it, but quakes sometimes herald its opening, perhaps when it’s going to be open particularly wide for an extended period of time. Either way, the point still stands: the two quakes we see come before the Hellmouth opens, so why not the one we don’t see? Even more, no matter how you look at it, earthquakes do not stop the Hellmouth from opening. Not ever.
Which means, by extension, that the story of the Master being foiled and trapped by one is exactly that: a story. A clever, deliberate bending of truths to hide what really happened.
…so what happened?
Going back to the beginning again, we see the Master, desperate to escape from a mystical barrier. It was always unlikely for that barrier to be caused by something natural, and since the earthquake has been eliminated from possibility, one can safely say it had to be unnatural. The barrier didn’t just go up on its own, it was put there. So either the Master, strong and knowledgeable, goofed up and accidentally imprisoned himself… or someone else stepped in.
But who? Who could do such a thing, and how? And why? I mean, obviously, most people do not desire the end of the world, but to go to the lengths of imprisoning an ancient, powerful being and then hiding your involvement with the earthquake story… well, that’s quite a bit of effort to put in. You would need to have tremendous mystical power of your own and the ability to cover up the truth.
Who could and would do all of that?
Well, the potential answer may surprise you. (unless, of course, you remember the title of this article…)
This is a character who all the Buffy fans know and remember. We are very familiar with him, but not as anything like a heroic figure. Of course, Joss Whedon’s villains can prove surprisingly useful at times, ya know?
This is also a villain who we’ve never seen any sort of connection between him and the Master. But there’s a rather lot of past events which we don’t actually see. That’s what makes it fun to theorize! 🙂
And I think we can all agree that this fellow has both the mystic mojo to stand against the Master as well as the connections needed to craft whatever story he pleases for the masses to believe.
So who does the world have to thank for the Master’s decades-long imprisonment beneath Sunnydale, postponing the end of the world?
This guy, the man who runs the city and has from the beginning, the third season’s big bad: Mayor Richard Wilkins III.
You might be thinking, “Whaaaaat?! How can that be possible?!”
Well, to answer that question…
When we watch the show from start to finish, we see the nasties, we meet the mayor, he does bad things, he becomes a giant monster, he dies. And that’s basically it. He’s a bad guy, he does bad things, he dies. But there’s arguably much more depth to him than that. So, let’s start at the end and work our way backwards through a few key moments…
First, in season four, in the episode “This Year’s Girl,” is the mayor’s posthumous appearance on a videotape for Faith. He opens by saying, if she’s watching it, he’s dead, and “our noble campaign to bring order to the town of Sunnydale has failed.” Or maybe he’s still alive, they won, and right now he’s being looked up at by a bunch of kids in a mixture of “fear and wonder.”
That’s some fairly interesting phrasing for a villain, especially one from Buffy. Most of them are evil and know they are evil and do things in the name of evil, etc. A number of them mean to flat out end the world, or they’re out for power, that sort of thing. For Mayor Wilkins, a man who tends to be quite frank and honest with his inner circle and his enemies alike, to say his goals are to bring order to a chaotic place, and that he imagines children looking up to him after his success, would suggest that he actually considers himself the hero of this story.
Hm, those are some interesting details, aren’t they?
Rewind a bit, back to the third season, in the episode “Enemies.” This is when Faith is revealing her duplicity, how she works for the mayor. As she has Buffy chained up, she brags about the mayor’s upcoming Ascension. That’s when he turns into a giant monster, imitating a true demon of the ancient world. There’s a ceremony to be completed, very involved and prolonged in the setup. As Faith says of Sunnydale, “He built this town for demons to feed off of, and come graduation day, he’s getting paid.”
Of course, heroes sometimes have to do very bold, unusual, unorthodox things, right? Things that go against the grain, seem counter-intuitive? Sometimes make terrible choices and horrible sacrifices? But it’s all for the greater good, eh?
More to the point, this figure with grand goals has a concrete plan, and he’s highly invested in its success. It makes all the sense in the world, then, for him to watch out for his interests, which means watching out for Sunnydale as a whole.
Step back again, just another couple of episodes, to “Bad Girls.” Here, we have a demon, Balthazar, who shows up only for the one episode, but is still an awesome villain. He and his followers came to the Sunnydale area a long time ago, but were driven out. The word was that Balthazar had been killed about a century earlier, after an unfortunate confrontation with a certain sorcerer, namely the mayor. He survived though, and in a truly miserable state, having been reduced to little more than an immobile tub of lard in a thoroughly-sagging suit of skin
That example shows us a few things. 1) Mayor Wilkins has defended Sunnydale at the expense of terrible, powerful demons before. 2) He has done so and remained anonymous. He’s very good at that. Before stepping in himself, it is not uncommon for him to pit his enemies against each other. 3) He has limits, such as when he failed to kill Balthazar, but those enemies he cannot see dead are left in a state of helpless, imprisoned misery. Sound familiar? Sort of like an immortal undead lord being forever imprisoned behind a mystical barrier?
Oh, one more tidbit from this episode: when the mayor performs a ritual that begins his ascension, the earth shakes. It only seems to be in his exact location, but it still trembles. Now isn’t that an interesting little detail?
There a number of other bits and pieces, but for the brevity’s sake, just two more.
Early in the third season, in the episode “Band Candy.” We see here, the mayor uses proxies to create chaos and offer sacrifices to demons. Faith mentioned demons feeding off the town, but it’s not just some blanket feeding. There are special demons he has to keep sated for his ascension to work. This would explain why he defends the town as a whole, in order to keep the sacrifices coming. If the entire town, let alone the entire world, is dead, then his plans are pretty well screwed.
And one episode earlier, “Homecoming.” When the vampire Spike comes breezing back into town, the mayor and his assistant are discussing cover ups past and present. Not only are they covering up Spike’s current homicidal activities, but they apparently had their hands all over the situation throughout the second season, yet no one knew. This was at the very heart of what Buffy and her friends were dealing with, and none of them even so much as suspected an outside influence. Whatever story Wilkins wants told gets told, and whatever he wants to be buried, gets buried. It’s that simple.
So now we can start to fill in the blanks of what really happened when the Master tried to open the Hellmouth. He comes onto the Sunnydale scene, leaving bodies in his wake, expecting to unleash the end of days, but ignorant of who’s really running the local scene. Wilkins sees this, knows the portents, like, say, an earthquake, and what it means. If the Hellmouth is opened as the Master intends, then his plans are sunk. Even in the best-case scenario, if he still manages to become a demon, he’ll just be another giant monster, among many. And who can enjoy the order he intends to bring if everyone is dead anyway? So, the Master is a threat.
At this moment in time, there’s no easy cat’s paw he can call on, no slayer or anything like that, so he takes a direct approach. The Master begins his ceremony, and the Mayor meddles. Perhaps the earth shakes a bit, perhaps Wilkins manages to avoid being seen as he brings the Master’s work crashing down around him. Either way, the vampire lord is locked away where he can’t cause any trouble for the foreseeable future. A little creative storytelling, and the world above is oblivious to what nearly happened, while the world below believes it was just an earthquake that made things go awry.
And the next time the master gets uppity, several decades later, as it happens… there is a slayer in town. No need to come out of the shadows. In fact, better to stay within them. The mayor can’t draw attention to himself, after all. He’s a sorcerer over a hundred years old, with blood on his hands and a plan to become a demon and spill more blood. That’s just the sort of person for whom it is worth going to great lengths to hide their involvement in local history. If the slayer or the watchers or any number of people found out… he’d be dead meat.
And that is why the story became, “The Master was stopped by an earthquake.”
So what do you think? Does my little theory hold water? Or am I off my rocker? 😉