On October 12, 2023, the Buffy fandom let out a collective sigh of relief combined with whooping joy. When Slayers: A Buffyverse Story dropped on Audible, many of us rushed to our devices, intent on listening to the new Audible Original. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BtVS) was my first real fandom, and I’ve been saying for years that Buffy’s legacy belongs to the screenwriters, performers, and comic book authors in the canon and expanded universes.
Slayers expands the Buffyverse beyond the titular protagonist, giving us old characters with new stories, an alternate universe that redefines characters, and a new slayer who gleefully embraces her role.
Where Does Slayers Fit Into the Buffyverse?
The good news is that if you’re new to the Buffyverse, Slayers is an entirely new experience, so you don’t need to go catch up on 144 episodes of TV. If you’re an OG fan, you’ll recognize some favorite characters and get to hear them living out every dream you had for them.
Without giving away any spoilers, Slayers takes place in 2013. The Hellmouth is still a hellmouthy cavern of destruction, and the new generation of slayers isn’t alone anymore.
In fact, some new slayers, like our plucky and delightful protagonist Indira, are Buffy fans, just like us. Indira is us, and we are Indira. Except, without the super strength and healing powers. Unlike Buffy, the reluctant heroine, Indira’s infectious excitement mirrors our own and brings a sense of rebirth to the property.
Meanwhile, we get to see some of our favorite characters—ones whose original iteration slighted them and us—become empowered. Again, keeping this a spoiler-free review, the only information I’ll give you is that Tara, Cordelia (not Cordy!), and Drusilla get the storylines, freedom, and agency we always wanted them to have.
For many of the long-time fans who’ve been disappointed by the toxicity of a former writer/creator/director, the project gives us something new to love, a Buffyverse story that gives us a rejuvenated love of our favorite characters while removing a lot of the “ick” left behind. When discussing the project at New York Comic Con, Amber Benson, writer/director and also the voice of Tara, was excited to “create a whole new Buffyverse” while making sure everyone “understood that we were trying to create something where everybody could feel happy about what we were doing.”
New Media, New Universe(s?)
Transmediation—the process of translating a work to a different medium—is nothing new for the Buffyverse. Some of the slayer stories were told in the comics, canonical yet extended beyond the TV show’s storylines.
A New Media
Slayers is not an audiobook. Audible refers to it as an “Audible Original podcast.” In keeping with this theme, it’s a lot more like a Welcome to Night Vale or an old radio show. You have multiple characters, voiced by different actors, following a scripted narrative.
The key to Slayers is that these actors know their characters insanely well. For example, Spike’s “bad boy punk” attitude traditionally relied on physicality, like leaning up against a wall smoking. In an audio translation, actor James Marsters had to draw on his theater training, explaining:
In the theater, your face is small. So your job, what you train for, is hanging words in the air in a certain rhythm, in a certain color. All the information about the story and character is in the voice.
Additionally, Charisma Carpenter (who knocks this iteration of Cordelia out of the park!) explained the valuable role that the directors played:
As an actor, you’re always sort of second guessing it, “I should have done it like this” or “that’s what that line sounded like.” But I think it was just really relying on the directors, Christopher Golden, Casey Wayland, Amber Benson who helped with, “how is this coming across?” “How am I occurring?” “Is it correct?” “Is it in line with what’s on the page? And your vision?” Having an incredibly trustworthy support group of fellow actors and directors to say, “I like this. This works. Keep going in that direction.” I was able to kind of find it.
In some cases, Slayers gives us multiple versions of a character, forcing the actors to stretch their muscles even more. Emma Caulfield Ford explained some of how she manages to give us more than one Anya/Anyanka:
It’s just keeping your voice warm. For one voice, I prepared something different for when we got to it. Then I was like, “Oh actually, can I just try this real quick?” It was ridiculous and wild and very hard on my voice. For this character, to put them together then come up to a higher register, it was a lot. It was exhausting and amazing. And I’m sweating like hot yoga when I’m doing it.
A New Universe(s?)
For anyone interested in Slayers, the first thing to know is that we are in a whole new world (cue yourself some Aladdin music here). We are being shown a whole new world, full of new experiences and characters reimagined.
Many fans have waited for Tara Maclay to finally have her moment, and Slayers gives this to us, even if it’s in a different way than we would have expected. When asked about having control over Tara’s narrative and empowering her, Amber Benson explained:
This Tara is an alternative universe Tara. A lot of the things that Tara did in other incarnations, things she might have experienced don’t apply. It gave us a freedom to ask, “what would Tara be like if she comes of age in this day and time and has these relationships?”
For Benson, this experience for her character was emotional, explaining
It makes me really emotional that like this character that maybe didn’t have the best ending in previous incarnations gets her due. It was really, really important to me that there is a goodness in her and a kindness and an empathy. I wanted to make sure that that was always the baseline because I know that for the fandom maintaining the integrity of who she is, as a person, was really, really important.
Without giving away any spoilers for people who haven’t listened to Slayers yet, keeping true to Tara while giving her the storylines she has is a narrative feat that drives both the character and the plot.
For Juliet Landau, Drusilla also gets to have a slightly more expansive storyline, one that no longer treats her as Spike’s accessory or damsel in distress. However, Dru remains the same constantly, emotionally tortured yet unhinged non-soul we love. Juliet explained that playing Drusilla is interesting:
She is a character that has a lot of trauma. So when you play a character like that, you need to balance it with humor. It’s part of your job as an actor that you step into that, and then you kind of go, “Okay, I’m going to leave that behind.” As a director and actor switching between that and going to the emotional place that’s really dark and heavy, you have to step back and be objective.
A New Legacy
If you’re a Buffy fan like me, you’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years chewing on your bottom lip and asking yourself, “How do I feel about this property knowing what I know now?” Over time, a new representation has shown us the flaws in the Buffy-Strong-Female-Heroine narrative. Slayers gives us truly dynamic, empowered women with agency, allowing us to take out our Sunnydale shirts again and wear them proudly.
In part, this refreshing empowered narrative comes from the young actress Laya DeLeon Hayes who plays Indira. Her infectious excitement and youth come through your speakers like a ray of light in an otherwise much darker Buffyverse. Meanwhile, Hayes explained what working with the other women was like:
Sometimes it can shift an entire experience, just having that understanding that comes from having another female in the booth. There were certain conversations that I thought I was able to have simply with Amber because there were things that she understood.
We have powerful female characters who have actual agency, making decisions, kicking butt, and taking names. As a 45-year-old woman, Carpenter’s approach to the darker and more powerful Cordelia sums up exactly what we’re getting in this Buffyverse that we never had before:
I feel at 53, that’s about where I’m at. I don’t want to be anywhere for more than two minutes if I don’t want to be there. I was kind of thinking of that for her. “We’ve got a job to do, business to take care of. There’s a mission to be done.”
Essentially, the new Buffyverse legacy is that no matter what age any of these female characters are, they’re giving off some definite No Fluffs Forties and Fifties vibes.
I don’t know about you, but I’m totally ready to head back to the Hellmouth and stay there for a while with that vibe.