Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Spoilers: Through to the end of Season Seven
Website: Familiar Oddities
Thanks to angisageek, airawyn and niennah for reading this through before I posted it here.
A lot of people seem to begin these type of essays by confessing just how intimidated they are at the entire prospect, and who am I to break with tradition? The thing is the reasons for my concerns are a little different from the norm. While there have been many wonderful posts discussing the glories of many, many different characters, most of these have been about people who generally get at least to appear in the credits. Foolish ol' me, however, signed up to convert you all to the wonders of a minor character who only ever appeared in three episodes, and didn't always have the biggest part in those.
Let's start by answering those standard questions of journalistic practice – who, what, when, where and why.
The first four are easy enough. Katrina Silber (played by Amelinda Embry) appeared on three episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in Seasons 5 and 6, starting off as the current and progressing to late ex- girlfriend of technogeek Warren Mears. She, like him, was an engineering student and they met at Dutton. She broke up with him after almost being killed by his obsessive robot ex-girlfriend (I Was Made To Love You), returned to Sunnydale only to be hypnotised, almost raped and actually killed (Dead Things) and showed up one last brief time to summoned from the dead as part of Willow's great revenge scheme against Warren for having killed her girlfriend (Villains).
The why might prove a touch tougher to explain.
So I'm going to circle around the issue, and outline briefly just how I came to be Livejournal's current champion of Katrina. To tell the truth, it wasn't an immediate attraction. I liked the character well enough when I first saw her, but I hadn't yet gained the level of fannish obsessiveness to fall hard for such a minor character. Besides, I hadn't really been in the Buffy fandom for a while.
It was Dead Things that brought me back. The episode showcased such a dark, twisted relationship built on desperate need and even more desperate lies that I couldn't help but fall for it. I'm talking, of course, of Warren/Andrew and so I found myself actively participating in the fandom for the first time, writing fics and meeting lots of people who shared my OTP. Problem was, I couldn't for the life of me write it. It took me a while to figure out why but the fact was I couldn't write a Warren that wasn't in love with Katrina. And that's the angle from which I first started analysing and eventually adoring the character, first in relation to Warren and then on her own merits.
This may sound rambling, but it's actually a pretty good analogy for Katrina's indirect effect on the entire series. Without her, Chosen could never have taken place. Without her, the First Evil would probably have won. Don't believe me? Well, look at this way. I've seen it said in a few places that Willow would never have been able to perform the spell that empowered all the Slayers if she hadn't gone all dark and veiny at the end of Season Six. Willow's bad magic beatdown would not have taken place if Warren hadn't gone and killed Tara. Warren's psychotic breakdown wouldn't have happened if he hadn't met, fallen for, got dumped by and eventually killed Katrina. Ergo, Katrina is the most influential character on BtVS. Case closed, hope you enjoyed the essay.
…Okay, it's possible that I might be slightly overextending my case a tad. Nonetheless, Katrina even in absentia exerted quite an influence over Season Six, and not just in relation to Warren. But since it makes such a nice segue let's talk about him anyway.
It's fair to say that Katrina had a huge impact on Warren's life. Her appearance on the show is connected to him to such an extent that Buffy simply had to learn just who the corpse she found in Dead Things was to realise that Warren was the killer. Though we don't get to see their relationship in great detail, the strong passions it evoked in both suggests an intensity that was kept off-screen. I find it hard to believe that Katrina would have such a viscerally hostile reaction to someone for whom she never really cared, and Warren's obsession was obvious.
I'm always surprised by those who point to Warren's relationship with Katrina as evidence that he prefers more submissive women, where I always see the message of IWMTLY as closer to the opposite. He admits there he was drawn to her unpredictability, to the challenge that she represents. He may attempt to order her around, but it's an act of desperation to prevent her finding out information that may cause her to leave him. Besides Katrina proves herself to be equally assertive, refusing to back down over her boyfriend's assertions. And don't forget the only time we ever see her looking relaxed and happy is when she's sent him off to get her drink!
Joking aside, it's hard to deeply analyse the nature of Katrina and Warren's relationship, as we only really get to see it after it's reached its moment of breakdown. They're sniping at each other, jostling for power. Yet their intent is not yet to hurt each other but to save their relationship – one tries deceit, while the other is driven to find out exactly what's going on. This antagonistic behaviour can be seen as a mirror to the way they probably acted in happier times. Warren tells Buffy that Katrina "was always giving him a hard time" before they started dating, and it's unlikely that this stopped when things changed between them. It's a standard of romance going all the way back to Beatrice and Benedict, the couple that tease and taunt and desperately care for each other. If you can accept that, at least on Katrina's side, it helps create a portrait of her as someone sarcastic, playful and highly emotional.
Let's go back to that initial moment of tension we're shown between Warren and Katrina. As noted above, Katrina pursues the truth at all costs. She applies the same standards to others as she does to herself. Katrina is a truth-teller. She speaks as she finds, and she says what she feels with no holding back. This honest, demanding nature probably makes life around her difficult for others. Quite frankly, she can be a bitch. Yet her attitude on the show has always been justified, with her targets being her evasive boyfriend, two girls who have unwarranted interest in her boyfriend, her cheating boyfriend, a random guy hitting on her with an extremely cheesy line who turns out to be her sleazy ex-boyfriend, three guys who tried to make her their sex slave, her attempted rapist ex-boyfriend… the list goes on (I may have missed some bitching at Warren in there at some point).
Besides, at this point in the show I was practically screaming at the Scoobies to just talk to each other for once. After all these months of people nobly or not-so-nobly hiding how they really feel, it came as a relief to see a character who had no such inhibitions. Not like Anya who speaks out because she doesn't quite know the rules of conversation, but because screw the rules, some things need to be said. Here was one girl that just wasn't going to sit back and take it anymore.
It is this uncompromising nature that draws me to Katrina. In a season that gave so many examples of women hurting themselves and others she shines out like a beacon. Not to say that she would have done better in their circumstances, just that her appearance provides a refreshing contrast. Her example is one of the most clear-cut in a show whose characters were growing increasingly morally ambiguous. What exactly did Katrina do wrong? Date the wrong guy perhaps, but as soon as she realised it she was out of there. She did what she had to do, without hesitation, without equivocation. Buffy suffered intense depression; Willow became addicted to power and dark magic; Dawn tried to attract attention through kleptomania; Anya spent the season obsessed with her eventually abandoned wedding. As all around her the female characters are falling apart, Katrina stands out as strong and self-assured.
She still dies though. There's the tragedy of it. Katrina did everything right, everything she could be reasonably expected to do and none of it made a difference. Whether you want to put that down to fate, unlucky coincidence or the nature of Warren's psychoses doesn't lessen the disturbing nature of watching this vibrant, forceful woman just stop being.
The story of Katrina is a tragedy, perhaps all based on one fateful decision she made about that cute guy in her engineering seminar. That works. And yet, somehow it doesn’t seem to tell the whole story. I called this essay "Beaten, Never Broken" for a reason. Despite everything she undergoes during her time on the show, Katrina displays an extraordinary resilience. Almost choked to death by a superstrong yet perky fembot, she recovers in time to yell at her boyfriend and dump him. Unexpectedly meeting up with him one night, she retains her composure long enough to make all his attempts at reconciliation futile. Coming to in time to prevent him raping her, she is not only able to give the Trio a well-deserved smackdown but pragmatic enough to see her need to run and call the police despite her obvious distress. Even called back after death, her spectre is weak and weeping as might be expected, but hard-headed and cruelly vengeful. Regardless of her actual fate, Katrina has the mentality of a survivor. She does what she has to do to get by.
Of course, what she would have done once she returned to the privacy of her own room is never shown. Cry, scream, throw things, curl up in a foetal position and not move for hours? All are equally likely, and it's up to each person to figure out what works best for them. That's the joy of writing minor characters – there's so much room for interpretation. There's an argument for most ways of seeing her. Whether she's Cordelia with greater technological aptitude or an ugly duckling who never quite figured out when she made swan, it's all up to you.
The downside, however, is there is limited canon to work with, especially with Katrina's untimely death. While most writers of Katrina fic have chosen to focus on her early life and relationship with Warren, another option (and generally the one I go for) to write Alternate Universe either changing the world completely or finding minor change to canon that would prevent Dead Things from occurring in precisely the same way. The other major issue is because there's a small group of writers writing from not the greatest amount of information, it can lead to a tendency to rely on fanon. Although again, because of the minute amount of stories featuring Katrina this hasn't really become too noticeable a problem as of yet.
Stories that feature Katrina on her own are hard to find, so the selection that follow are mostly Warren/Katrina.
airawyns Sex With Robots stories focus mainly on a possible Warren-Tucker friendship, but I love the way she portrays Katrina in Scenes From An Italian Restaurant and to a lesser extent in its sequel Revenge of the Nerd.
Magnetic Trains and Barbie Dolls by niennah is a retelling of canon from Katrina's perspective. A Katrina that in some ways is very different from my own, but wonderful nonetheless and an absolutely killer ending.
Too Much Technology by fabricatedvoice describes the relationship between Warren and Katrina, from their first meeting to just before IWMTLY is set. Sweet and funny, and made poignant by the reader's knowledge of just what happens next.
My het OTP of intense randomness is Tucker/Katrina (Tucker being Andrew's brother, appearing on-screen in Season Three's The Prom - I told you it was random), and packmentality is the only person I've convinced into writing it for me. Familiar is dark, twisted and very hot.
I dislike reccing my own work, but since there is a distinct lack of Katrina fic with little Warren or with any femmeslash (*waves tiny Katrina/Amy OTP flag*) here's a link to Soft Places which is a Fred/Katrina AU.
Katrina may only be a minor character, but deep down she's another version of the very heart of the show: a independent-minded girl who speaks out for what's right, and gets less than she she deserved.