From the vault-- Buffyverse
Posted on 12 March, 2019 by Administrator
I really dislike the fandom interpretation that the First Slayer (referred to in tie-in materials as Sineya, so I’ll go with that) is nothing but a brutish, racist stereotype of Darkest Africa. To, she’s probably the third or fourth most compelling character, despite a large cast of characters who have much more screentime. And I didn’t know why until I noticed this: Everyone criticizes her for the exact same things that make communication with autism hard.
Sineya isn’t “too dumb” to speak, as I’ve seen claimed. She’s able to communicate complex and haunting details about her personality and experiences to Buffy in “Restless,” notwithstanding that she has to find an unconventional method of doing so (using Buffy’s concept of Tara as an intermediary). The truth is that she is periodically separated from her normal capacity to speak. In "Get It Done," she offers important advice on dealing with the First Evil. How much of her difficulty communicating derives from her demonic alterations and how much from social expectations laid on her by the proto-Watchers is uncertain, but it certainly isn’t from a lack of intelligence. Note that Giles says he can defeat her with his intellect... only to be scalped by her a few seconds later.
At the same time, she’s unable or unwilling to use her face to express subtle and complex emotions (although, of course, she gets a beautiful monologue through dream!Tara), the result (impetus behind?) of her thick mud mask. Her body language is rigid, her arms held out and her fingers stiffened in the way that not only shows her animosity, but also reveals a person who can’t escape the tension of the moment. The progression of Buffy’s meeting with Sineya in 4x22 with her increased dedication to “hunting” in 5x01 hints that Sineya, except for her isolation, has the same capacity as Buffy for complicated and dark and heroic impulses. How does Sineya handle her attraction to vampires? Does she keep trophies of her kills? Did she plan her skull-like face paint, her talon-like fingernail growth, the rags that show how far she is from a society where people care for the trappings of status? Does anyone think of her as a woman, rather than an overgrown and troublesome murder-child?
They probably don't, for understandable reasons. Everyone is less interested in dealing with Sineya’s prehistoric emotional issues than with trying to stop the next apocalypse. But the complexities of her personality are all there. The fact that no one in-universe has the time and patience to unravel them (and perhaps that she doesn’t want anyone to know her that well) doesn’t mean they don’t exist in the text.
Sineya’s isolation comes with a price: People who succeed at creating bonds have a source of strength that she doesn’t. There’s no idealization of her shortcomings, no attempt to argue that “neurotypicals” or “immortally influenced” people, or whatever the going term is, aren’t sick. She needs relationships, and she doesn’t have them, and she’s weaker for that– even though, thanks to her brilliant and unconventional use of her own demonic power, she’s able to defeat any one of the Scoobies, despite being literally dead.
Now, I’m not saying that Sineya is actually, technically autistic. I detest attempts to shoehorn disabilities that evidence suggests are not universal into every single context. In the case of autism in particular, there is overwhelming evidence that condition per se (not just a few personality traits) results from immune dysfunctions created or, at least, made vastly more common by modern alterations to the human microbiome– changes which would not have existed for thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of years after Sineya’s Calling.
Nonetheless, I feel a pull toward Sineya, a character with deep feelings and great determination, inexpressive of the nuances of her thoughts and feelings, and either unable or forbidden to engage in more than sporadic, stilted conversation with others. The evidence points to a rich, if painful, mental world– but it’s one that none of the others ever sees.