Updated: Sep 30, 2020
I have watched the ending of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, season five, many, many times. The epic sacrifice Buffy makes by jumping to her death was -- and still is -- devastating. I have also seen the Alien franchise multiple times (though definitely not to the same extent), and it was not until recently that I realized the incredible parallels between Buffy and Ellen Ripley, two Warrior Women in horror.
Originally they both started as regular women, living their lives. Buffy was a high school student and her only cares in the world were parents, boys, and school work. Ripley was a Warrant Officer on space ships with a daughter, doing her job to get paid and get back home. At this point they aren’t at all exceptional - they are “normal”, female humans.
Then, both are thrust into this new, darker and more dangerous life without any warning or choice. Now they must fight for survival and protect the world from evil. They not only have to fight for their lives, but to avoid penetration: Buffy from vampires, and Ripley from facehuggers and the Xenomorphs. They will be nonconsensually penetrated, violated, and changed if allowed to fall victim to the monsters of their stories.
Although Buffy does develop superhuman abilities, like strength, she develops and hones her pre-existing subconscious abilities - cunning, intuition, problem-solving and courage. I believe Ripley had these as well, which made her transition into a Warrior Woman an easy one. They are both tenacious, morally good women and by being forced into leadership roles these qualities are not only emphasized but fully realized. Buffy and Ripley face incredible, terrifying odds and are regularly victorious. They try to manage friendships and romantic relationships despite the challenges they present, including the need to protect these loved ones.
Along with monsters, both women are fighting against an overarching oppressive system. Buffy is tied to the Watcher’s Council, run mainly by men, and once you visit season seven you discover the incredibly disturbing origin of the Slayer. As per the book, Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion, the origin of the Slayer is “a perfect example of structural and systematic female oppression and was created as an act of spiritual, psychological and demonic rape by the Shadow Men. Only young women were targeted to become Slayers, presumably because they are easier to control. They are also slated to disproportionately bear the cost of fighting evil. Most Slayers are killed before their 18th birthday. In return for preventing apocalypses, the best she can expect is a dramatically shortened life expectancy”. They wanted young women to do the dirty work for them, be their protectors. They preyed upon their impressionable age and their willingness to help others. The Shadow Men didn’t want to take on this destiny themselves, perhaps out of fear or arrogance. Ripley is regularly surrounded by people, but mainly men. They all continuously die while she survives. She has the strength, determination, and mental fortitude to defeat the Xenomorphs and the oppressive system, unlike anyone else - just like the Slayer. Both have extraordinary courage, integrity and the desire to help for the greater good.
Ripley and Buffy have to fight scientific or pseudo-scientific industries that test on monsters or supernatural beings. They also see these women as expendable (explicitly stated by Weyland-Yutani to Ash, the droid betrayer, in Alien “crew expendable”). In season five, Buffy fights against the Initiative and Professor Walsh tries to kill her because she threatens her experiment, whereas Weyland-Yutani desperately seeks the Alien Queen inside of Ripley in Alien 3. The extraction of the Alien Queen would most likely be fatal. Buffy fights both the patriarchy through the Watcher's Council that wants to police her every move and decision. She rebels in season three after the test of her abilities in the episode “Helpless” and starts her path to eventually quitting the Council. The same applies to Ripley when it comes to the oppressive systems of Weyland-Yutani and United Military Systems. These agencies want to control what Ripley does and, eventually, what she does with her own body. Ripley and Buffy both desire bodily autonomy and this only truly happens in the most tragic of ways.
After years (and for Ripley hundreds of years) of this fight, they finally take full control of their lives; they make a complete and selfless decision, but also an empowering one: to die. Their deaths are incredibly similar, even if they come with different subtexts. As per Raz Greenberg in the book Joss Whedon The Complete Companion, Ripley jumps back-first into the molten liquid in a crucifixion-style pose which is reminiscent of the religious undertones of Alien 3. She jumps passively, unwillingly dying but accepting that her death needs to happen to keep the Corporation from obtaining the Alien Queen within her. Ellen Ripley is so tired. From experiencing horrific creatures, witnessing death and destruction, and not to mention the deaths of Newt and Hicks, she is done with this life. Buffy, on the other hand, jumps headfirst into the multi-dimensional portal to close it. She actively and willingly dies. It’s seen as “an act of struggle”. It was time to put an end to this fight, once and for all. Buffy is relieved; like Ripley, she is tired and done with life, and happily ends everything to save the world and, most importantly, her sister Dawn. By choosing to die instead of giving in to the darkness, Amy Taubin (Invading bodies: Aliens 3 and the trilogy) states that “the hero guarantees her transformation from woman to myth.” In death, these women become legends.
Unfortunately, Buffy and Ripley are forcefully resurrected. This takes away all meaning and purpose to their deaths - deaths they had chosen. These weren’t acts of violence but of self-sacrifice. They are brought back into a world of death and violence, to yet again face the evils they wanted to be removed from. They are dropped back into a world that hasn’t changed and they will have to step back into the role of Protector, of the Warrior Woman, to save those they love and the world. Once resurrected, both go through a period of true apathy and indifference. They struggle to “fit” back into this life as changed women. Ripley carries alien DNA and Buffy has been magically altered. Both are no longer 100% human. Is Ripley more alien than human? Is Buffy more of a demon now? They have fears of how to reintegrate into society, feelings of misdirection and uncertainty. This can sometimes make our protagonists apathetic and unrelatable, but I weep for them.
Although they have help defeating evil, in the end, they are alone. The Warrior Woman is always alone. They have been through emotionally devastating ordeals, and life-threatening, horrific experiences, and have only themselves for true comfort to carry on in their newfound lives. No one will fully understand them and their plight. At the end of season seven in Buffy, and the end of Alien: Resurrection, Ripley’s and Buffy’s fates are finally open - what they choose to do now is thankfully up to them.