The Prom (Buffy, Season Three, Ep 20)


This is the episode in which Hell Hounds with a taste for the well-dressed are unleashed on Buffy’s senior prom classmates.  It is also the episode in which Joyce tells Angel that he must break up with Buffy, and do what she cannot.  While he does appear in time to have the last dance with Buffy, this is good-bye to the Buffy-Angel romance in Sunnydale.

Before the last dance, and before Joyce’s talk, if I recall correctly, was the dream-sequence scene which will be the focus of today’s diagnosis.  The context of the dream is the heart-rending decision which needs to be made between the two of them; the actual content of the dream sees Buffy explode into flames.

Clearly, the heart organ, being a fire-phase organ, is implicated.  However, I would like to suggest two other options.

First, dreams can have diagnostic significance in Chinese medicine, as elucidated by the Yellow Emperor in the Su Wen, and elaborated upon in the Jia Yi Jing (scroll 6, chapter 8).   Dreams of fire indicate an exuberance of both yin and yang; they are not anchored.  Dreams of smoke and fire, and hills indicate something going on with the Heart or Small Intestine, that is, with the fire-phase related organs.  (Technically, in the Jia Yi Jing, counterflow qi invading the small intestine would give rise to dreams of crowded streets and cities.)  In relation to the correspondence with fire-phase organs, I would extend the diagnostic possibilities to include the vessels (controlled by the Heart); the thick fluids and sweat (administered by the SI and HT); and also to the actual pathogen of fire itself.

Fire as a pathogen can affect the Heart, Stomach, Liver, Lungs, and Skin, and give rise to ‘fire toxins’.  Given the context of the dream, I would diagnose fire harassing the Heart.  Heart fire is often drained via the Small Intestine channel, or through the SI and Bladder.

Ying-spring points are recommended by the Nan Jing to treat fire conditions, so I would think of SI-2 being a good point to treat; to make the connexion to the Heart more explicit, I might add the luo point of the SI channel, SI-7 to the treatment.  I would not bloodlet the luo point, since I am using it in its capacity as a connecting point between the Heart and Small Intestine.  This gives a simple two point combination treatment to address the fire component.  However, it does not address the underlying factors, nor does it strengthen the most likely places the pathogen would move to after the Heart.

From the Heart, fire could move to the Lungs, which are very susceptible to dryness and heat.  After heartbreak, some people experience a period of dryness and numbness.  One could also argue this post-heartbreak experience is due to sadness and grief, which can weaken the Lung and make metal susceptible to illness.  In Buffy’s case, augmenting fluids, especially thin fluids in the case of the Lung, but also the water element more generally, would be recommended.

Taking a primary meridian perspective, rather than the previous three burners or physiological perpective, what follows the HT and SI channel in sequence is the Bladder and Kidney pair of channels.  Being water-phase related channels, one might think of tonifying them to build up fluids, extinguish fire, and arrest the progression of the pathogen.  A little bit of rest and darkness after a break up is often a good thing.  Points to think about would be KD-10, a water point on a water channel.  BL-40, which connects to Ming-Men, BL-23, may also be a good point to use.  In combination with the SI points mentioned above, it may be able to draw fire back to their source in the Kidneys, much like the herbal combination Huang Lian and Rou Gui.  I would not, in this case, use KD-2, since the KD are not experiencing a fire pathology as of yet, but I might consider tonfying KD-3 or BL-62.  Regardless, the treatment principle is to ensure that Kidney qi remains firm or stable.

With regard to herbs in general, Zhi Zi is a good heart fire herb, and treats a feeling of oppression in the chest, near the xiphoid process and the mu-point of the Heart.  In fact, one way to tell if zhi zhi should be added to a formula is to palpate that area; if tenderness is elicited, zhi zi could be added with good effect.  Buffy experienced chest oppression in this episode, reflective of her acute heartbreak.  (Regarding heartbreak, I might also think of the Pericardium, in its role as ‘Heart Protector’, and therefore add Dan Shen, and Xuan Fu Hua).  The resulting base formula is thus:  Dan Shen, to invigorate blood and supplement the PC and HT; Xuan Fu Hua, which descends, and treats the Lungs as well as the Heart; and Zhi Zi, to clear the fire.  Wu Wei Zi could be used to maintain the stability of Kidney qi and Lung qi both.

If the Lungs are thought to be in particular danger, I would also augment the three herbs with Huang Qin and Sha Shen.  Huang Qin is both tonifying for the Upper Warmer and it clears heat.  Sha Shen is moist and nourishes the Lungs; since HT fire can easily be transmitted to the LU, drying the fluids of the UW, Bei Sha Shen would be my chosen variety.

The other formula I might suggest would be Huang Lian E Jiao Tang, which treats kidneys, clears lungs, and descends fire.  The ingredients are huang lian, e jia, huang qin, bai shao, and ji zi huang (egg yolk).  This is a very tonifying formula, and if yin seems to be abundant (it has been so long since I’ve watched this episode, I cannot comment on the yin status of Angel and Buffy), then perhaps the simple but effective Jiao Tai Wan (ten parts huang lian to one part rou gui), as mentioned above, would suffice.

The second alternative I would suggest, and the one I would favour most, is to look at the Chong Mai.  The pathway of the Chong Mai follows that of the Kidney channel on the abdomen, and it disperses into the chest or heart (in men, it also continues and disperses onto the face, giving rise to facial hair).  As such, a different treatment strategy would be to stabilise the Chong Mai.  Treating the Chong Mai would serve the purpose of reigning in both yin and yang, as the initial dream diagnosis would require; but having its origin in the kidneys, stabilising the Chong would secure Kidney qi, as the previous treatment strategies mentioned.

Several herbs could serve this purpose, chief among them being Lu Rong.  Lu Rong tonifies the Du Mai, but also stabilises the Ren and Chong Mai.  Gui Ban seems to have its primary effect on the Ren Mai, and thus I would not consider it as a primary herb.  However, in the formula Gu Jing Wan, gui ban is used as the chief herb.  The formula clears heat and nourishes yin.  The formula typically treats continuous menstrual bleeding, or “gushing and trickling disorder”.  The ingredients, as provided by Zhu Dan-Xi, are prepared gui ban, dry fried bai shao, dry fried huang qin, dry fried huang bai, chun pi, and xiang fu.  In our current case, chun pi can be eliminated, since it focuses on astringing blood.  

The formula Shou Tai Wan, usually used to stablise the fetus in case of threatened miscarriage, relies less on animal ingredients, but its signs and symptoms have little to do with heat.  Nevertheless, for reference, the herbs in that formula are two parts tu si zi, and one part each of sang ji sheng, xu duan, and e jiao (this last being an animal product).  Interestingly, e jiao does clear the lungs, in addition to its role in stopping bleeding.

The point prescription I would use in this case would be:

Sp-4 to open the chong mai

KD-12, whose alternate name is ‘Yin Gate’

KD-14 is named after the stars which appear around prom time, between May 21 and June 4.  It treats accumulations of all sorts, though not fire.  Nonetheless, it might be interesting to consider this point. KD-15, Huang Shu relates to the area below the heart, and thus would be considered if KD-14 is not chosen.

KD-21, named ‘Dark Gate’, which in this particular instance I would relate to the mysterious process of love, heartbreak, life choices, and the unknown that comes with past loss and future potential.

PC-6 could be added to close the sequence, though I don’t consider this necessary.

As always, this post is meant for informational and entertainment purposes only.  If you feel you could benefit from Chinese medicine, please seek a qualified practitioner.  I am happy to provide references in MA, NY, FL, VT, CA, and in Oxfordshire, UK.

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