This is one of the show’s most unusual and original episodes. But while most of the BtVS episodes with an unusual format belong to its best (Hush, Restless, The Body, Once More, With Feeling, Conversations with Dead People), The Zeppo is, at the same time, a great episode and a very bad episode – depending on whether you look at in isolation or within the continuity of the show.( Read more... )
This isn’t one of the very best BtVS season 3 episodes, but it can be argued it’s one of the most important ones, for several reasons: it completely changes our views on the Council of Watchers; it irrevocably changes Giles’ status/relationship with them, and therefore represents a crucial moment in his arc; and it also deals with an issue that may be at the heart of the show’s themes: what would happen in Buffy lost her superstrength?
It’s also worth mentioning that this is the second episode in the show where Buffy is celebrating her birthday, and it’s continuing the tradition started by Surprise/Innocence that something terrible must happen on Buffy’s birthday.
Even though it’s developed into something much more complex than that; Buffy the Vampire Slayer was conceived as a story of empowerment that reverses the usual gender dynamic in horror fiction: a girl who would be the typical victim of monsters in most horror films is the one who kills monsters. But there’s one very legitimate criticism of BtVS’s premise: if your heroine must have superhuman physical strength to be empowered, well, how does that help the empowerment of real life women, who do not have any such powers, and are usually significantly physically weaker than men? What does it say about our idea of empowerment in general, if it requires a person to be incredibly physically strong, or more powerful than “normal” people, and if the empowerment must be reflected in kicking, punching and killing?
This is why I like the fact that Helpless temporarily takes away Buffy’s powers and puts her in the position more similar to that of most women. It shows her being threatened, powerless, scared; but ultimately, she is not helpless, she just has to dig deeper, puts herself in more danger, and make more of an effort to defeat the monster. Her first shock is when she loses her strength in the middle of a fight with a vampire. Now, I think Buffy should still be able to use her training and martial art skills to a point, even without strength; and she does just that, head-butting the vampire and provoking him to impale himself on her stake. But, since the shots Giles is giving her are also messing with her coordination, she seems to be increasingly unable to use her skills as well. Not to mention that Buffy is actually physically weaker than most females, since she’s very small and thin, her athleticism and dexterity is also hindered by the substances injected in her blood, and she needs time to adjust to the shock of such a huge change in strength level. When she tries to defend Cordelia from an asshole in school who was being very sexually aggressive with Cordelia and not taking ‘no’ for an answer, Buffy gets easily punched out – and in a reversal of roles, it’s Cordelia’s time to start protecting Buffy. It’s painful to watch Buffy too scared to even talk back to a group of assholes in the street who are making offensive sexual remarks at her, but it’s realistic that, without superpowers, she’d be terrified walking home alone at night and walking across several such men, as most women would be.
It’s then really satisfying when she manages to kill the villain of the episode, insane psycho vampire Zachary Kralik, ultimately by using her wits and – since he needs to take some kind of pills - tricking him into drinking them with holy water, which burns him inside. Now, this proof of Buffy’s intelligence, courage and resourcefulness is, in a way, something that was not necessary: we’ve seen Buffy use her intelligence and resourcefulness many times before, we’ve seen her courage, determination and responsibility. She used a clever trick to kill Luke, a vampire who was stronger than her, back in episode 1.02, and in most of the episodes she’s been the one to figure out what’s going on, even though Giles and Willow were the bookish ones, and therefore considered the clever ones by the characters in the show. Nevertheless, there are still fans who have this completely wrong idea that Buffy is a “dumb blonde” who relies just on her strength (and this is not far from how she’s written in the comics), so it’s good to have it confirmed that she can kick ass even without superstrength.
Another reason why this episode is important is because Buffy wasn’t always sure how she felt about being a Slayer and wished to be a “normal girl”. But here, she gets to be reminded what it’s like to be without Slayer powers, and she hates it. She’s not the same girl she was before she was called. It’s not just because she hates being personally powerless and having to be scared of various assholes – she also hates not being able to protect others.
An interesting ‘What if?’: what if Buffy had really lost her powers permanently, which she was scared would happen before she learned what was going on? I don’t think she would be able to go back to “normal life”, knowing what she knows about monsters, Hellmouth and forces of darkness, and having been used to fighting them. She could be training others, using her experience. She could also participate in monster-killing activities as a part of a group with other Scoobies: in the season 3 opener Anne, the non-superpowered Scoobies (Xander, non-wolf Oz, Willow who was not practicing magic, and briefly Cordelia) were doing relatively well killing ordinary vampires (they were supposedly killing 6 out of 10) during the summer when Buffy was in LA. Willow, at least, isn’t much physically stronger than non-superpowererd Buffy. It would be however much more effective if they had at least one superpowered person; I don’t know how Buffy would take being second fiddle to Angel, and she certainly would not like being second or third fiddle to Faith.
The Council of Watchers and Cruciamentum
There’s another way in which the metaphor of “Slayer powers = empowerment” has become more complicated and questionable as the show progressed: as this episode emphasizes, Slayers are teenage girls fighting a war, risking their lives and dying young, while being supervised, trained and controlled by a patriarchal organization made up of a bunch of traditionalist middle-aged and old people who mostly don’t have to risk their lives. Which is a lot like real life wars, if you replace “teenage girls” with “(mostly) teenage boys/young men”. Furthermore, the Council of Watchers pays salaries to their employees – but not to Slayers, who are given huge responsibilities and required to perform, but are given no wages: I suppose they’re given food and accommodation if they are separated from their families and raised by their Watchers, like Kendra, but others are expected to make a living however they can; Buffy, so far, at least hasn’t had problems with that, being from a middle-class family and living with her mother, but nobody seems to give a damn that Faith lives in some crappy motel room.
There’s an even darker aspect to the Council of Watchers, which we learn about in this episode: a traditional test/rite of passage for every Slayer on her 18th birthday, called the Cruciamentum (Latin for “torment”), which consists of taking the Slayer’s powers by secretly injecting her with muscle relaxants and adrenaline suppressors, and then locking her up in a building with a particularly dangerous and nasty vampire and expecting her to kill him without any help… and all that without even telling her beforehand.
Well, that’s obviously really messed up. And it also doesn’t make sense, if the idea is to test Slayer’s abilities and prove that she’s not just relying on strength – since tests are normally something you are told about and get a chance to prepare for. It looks more like “an archaic exercise in cruelty”, as Giles calls it. It’s often said that Slayers live short lives – I wonder what percentage of them die during the Cruciamentum. Which, again, is not beneficial to the “cause” since it means losing a more experienced Slayer and having to train a new, young, inexperienced one. Trying to make sense of it, fans have speculated that the real reason is the Council’s need to have an excuse to get rid of more mature Slayers who may have become too strong, experienced and independent. But that doesn’t explain the lack of interest the Council has otherwise shown for Buffy and Faith, who are both quite unconventional Slayers.
I’m not sure that the writers have really thought this one through, except as a plot device to create temporary conflict between Buffy and Giles, and permanent conflict between Giles and the Council. It’s also the point in the show where the Council of Watchers stops being an organization that doesn’t get involved in the story and serves as a butt of jokes, often referenced but never actually present, and becomes a much darker organization that’s often antagonistic to our heroes, and pretty much stands for “old-fashioned, patriarchal assholes” in the show.
One thing remains the same, though: they still seem really incompetent. More about that below.
Little Red Buffy and Big Bad Kralik
For the second episode in a row, the fairy tale references are explicit. This time it’s The Little Red Riding Hood – from Buffy wearing a red hooded cloak, to Zachary Kralik, the Big Bad Wolf figure, wrapping himself in Buffy’s cloak when he goes to kidnap her mother, and uttering lines directly referencing the fairy tale. Kralik kidnaps Joyce, leaves photos of himself and Joyce to threaten Buffy and lure her in, and Buffy goes inside the boardinghouse on her own (presumably out of fear he would kill Joyce if Buffy came with reinforcements) to save her mother. From that moment on, Helpless feels a lot like a slasher movie. It is one of the darkest episodes of the show, in the literal sense – the boardinghouse is poorly lit, and Kralik is hunting Buffy through the dark rooms and corridors. Buffy is closer to the classic slasher heroine here – without her superpowers, she is not super-confident as she usually is, she is the one who is physically much weaker and likely to be the victim; which is why this works even better than the rest of the show as the manifestation of Joss’ idea the show was based on: girl being chased by a monster, girl turning around and kicking the monster’s ass.
Kralik is one of the most terrifying MOW on BtVS, largely thanks to guest star Jeff Kober, who’s really great at playing villains and creepy guys. (He’ll come back in season 6 to play Rack – the recycling of the actor is a bit more acceptable since he’s constantly in vampface in this episode.) Vampires generally seem to be metaphors for evil people – serial killers, sexual predators, people who ruthlessly use others, psychopaths with no conscience – but with Kralik, it’s all doubled as he was also an insane serial killer when he was human. As with the Gorch brothers previously (though they were a much more humorous example), we get more evidence that evil psychopathic murderers, when turned into vampires, practically don’t change at all, just becoming immortal and super-strong versions of themselves. Kralik’s personality, insanity and serial killer MO seem to be things he has carried over from when he was human; he also seems to have retained a dependency on pills. It’s not clear if it’s physical or psychological – the latter would make more sense, since we already know mental illness is something a vampire retains from the time they were human (Drusilla was another example), but you would expect physical ailments to be made non-existent through vampire superpowers/physical status.
This is particularly interesting because of its ramifications to the mythology of the show, as it further disproves the idea that vampires are “nothing like the humans they were” or that “when you die, a demon sets shop in your body, and it walks and talks like you, but it’s not you”, which is supposed to be the official Watcher stance, but seems like the BS that is used in order to make it easier for people to kill vampires, especially those they knew as humans or who were even their loved ones. That was, for instance, what Giles told Xander in episode 1.02. of the show, to make it easier for him to stake Jesse (“remember, you’re not looking at your friend, you’re looking at the thing that killed him”), but in season 2, he was describing how dangerous and bad the Gorch brothers were by talking about the crimes they had committed when they were human. It seems that the Watchers themselves may be perfectly aware that line of thinking is BS. In fact, the Council seems to have picked Kralik specifically not just because he was so nasty, but because of his pill addiction, believing they would be able to control him that way. They’ve proven themselves to be really incompetent, underestimating Kralik and leaving just two guys to guard him, in two shifts – which practically means that he’s guarded by just one guy at a time, which leads to Kralik killing and turning one of them (Blair, played by Dominic Keating, aka Malcolm Reed from Star Trek: Enterprise), and making him free him, help him kill the other Council employee, and become his minion.
What’s especially interesting is that Kralik is a serial killer who murdered and ate his mother, who had abused him in horrible ways when he was a child, perhaps even castrating him. What he wants to do with Buffy is not just to kill her – but to turn her into a vampire, like himself, and let her kill and feed on her own mother. (In his own words: “I have a problem with mothers. I’m aware of that.” At least no one can deny that he’s a self-aware serial killer vampire.) The Big Bads of BtVS have often been an epitome of the dark side of some aspect of Buffy and the themes her arc was grappling with that season (this is most obvious with Faith, but we can also see it with the Master in season 1 – tradition and father issues, Spike, Drusilla and of course Angel in season 2 - romance/sexuality, the Mayor – community leader, or Glory – family/‘home’). In this light, it’s really interesting that this happens right after Gingerbread, the episode in which we saw Joyce act in a really disturbing way (granted, under the influence of a demon) and try to burn Buffy at the stake, telling her she’s a bad girl and a disappointment; and that Buffy is now fighting to save her mother, putting herself in grave danger going against him on her own with no superpowers. This Red Riding Hood does not need a Huntsman to save her – Giles does arrive in the end, but only to kill Blair; it’s after Buffy has already tricked Kralik into dying.
Buffy and Giles
This is the second of the two back-to-back episodes where Buffy is betrayed by a parent figure. In Gingerbread, it was her mother, here it is her father figure, Giles. In addition, Buffy is previously let down by her biological father, Hank: she was looking forward to spending the day going to an ice skating show with him, but he cancels it, to Buffy’s deep disappointment. Hank is not actually seen in the episode, and will be completely absent from her life for the rest of the series (except as a part of a vision/alternate reality in season 6 Normal Again).
The relationship between Buffy and Giles, and Giles’ conflicted feelings between the demands of his job and his desire to protect Buffy, are central to this episode. Considering how awful the Cruciamentum is, and that it requires Giles to deceive Buffy and take her powers without her knowledge, his betrayal seems really bad. Giles hasn’t always followed the Council’s rules and has always been willing to give Buffy leeway, so why does he obey the Council in this, the worst of all of their rules, even though he thinks it’s wrong and openly criticizes the ritual to the representative/senior authority figure of the Council, Travers? The crucial difference seems to be that the ritual is a test for the Watcher, too, rather than just for the Slayer (which Travers explicitly confirms): apparently, Watchers are required to be cold, unfeeling and ruthless with their Slayers, loyal to the Council rather than to the Slayer. Giles’ previous history and his close relationship with Buffy as well as her unconventional behavior have been probably put him under particularly close scrutiny. And this time Giles has an authority figure from the Council, Quentin Travers, right there to inspect his behavior and decide if he’s suitable for his job.
I don’t know if this is enough to justify Giles going through with deceiving Buffy and giving her shots to take her powers away for the ritual, but at least he does at least partially redeem himself later by admitting the truth to Buffy – only after he learns that Kralik has escaped, though. If it hadn’t been for Council’s extreme incompetence, which Giles could use to criticize them for, he may not have found the strength to make the decision to go against their orders. In his favor, he does feel really guilty. However, that doesn’t help Buffy see him more favorably, at first – she is shocked and rightfully feels betrayed. SMG is always great in poignant dramatic scenes, and she does some great acting in the scene where Giles comes clean, and Buffy is brought to tears: “You?! (…) You bastard! (…) Liar! (…) Who are you? How could you do this to me?” (I’ve always loved the fact that, while Buffy may be an action girl with witty lines, but she is also a heroine who cries for loss, grief and betrayal during big emotional moments.)
Although Giles does more to try to redeem himself, going into the building to help Buffy and killing vampire!Blair (which could also be seen as Giles metaphorically exorcizing his dark side, since Blair is a Council employee gone wrong who helped a vampire endanger a Slayer), what helps Buffy forgive Giles is that, in the end, the two of them present a united front against Quentin Travers. Giles tells it to Travers as it is when he points out that the Council is not “fighting the war”, as Travers claims: “You're waging a war. She's fighting it. There is a difference.” The real twist comes when Travers, after congratulating Buffy on passing the test and exhibiting courage and resourcefulness, announces that Giles has failed the test and will be fired because he cannot be impartial and clear-headed: “You have a father’s love for the child”. This is, ironically, what really helps mend the relationship between Giles and Buffy.
The perception of Giles and his status on the show has been quite contradictory: in season 1, he seemed to be the epitome of stuffy, old-fashioned, upper-middle-class Brit, but we’ve since gotten to see other layers to him, including his surprising Ripper past. In Buffy’s eyes he was “old and stuffy”, in Faith’s he is “young and cute” – especially compared to what she’d expect from a Watcher, for Quentin Travers – someone older, sterner and more traditional – Giles is too emotional and personally attached to be a satisfactory employee (while some fans have a problem with him being too detached and “Big Picture” guy), and Gwendoline Post was able (like Maggie Walsh will in season 4) to really get under his skin by criticizing his intellectual abilities and knowledge. From now on, Giles’ position will be even vaguer, since he’s not even employed by the Council anymore, but his status within the group will, at least for now, remain the same, due to the strong ties he’s formed with Buffy and the other Scoobies.
In the subsequent season 3 episodes, it seems that their relationship is, if anything, even stronger than before. Still, I wonder if everything has been fully forgotten or forgiven. At the start of season 3, in Dead Man’s Party, Giles was the only one who did not argue with Buffy or voice anger over her disappearance in the season 2, when she left Sunnydale to spend months in LA without telling anyone where she was. As Xander said in that episode: “You can’t just bury stuff, it will come right back to get you.” Giles and Buffy tend to do just that with the resentments against each other; Giles just once voices his anger at Buffy over harboring Angel (in 3.07. Revelations), reminding her that Angel had tortured him sadistically for hours in season 2, and accusing her of having no respect for him or his job; but even then, he can’t bring himself to bring up the death of Jenny Calendar. When the relationship between Buffy and her mentor broke down in a rather bad way in season 7 Lies My Parents Told Me, I wondered how much of it was due to buried resentments on both sides – Giles’ over everything that happened with Angel, including Buffy not being able to kill him in Innocence, Jenny’s death, and Buffy skipping town after sending Angel to hell; Buffy’s over the events of Helpless, and Giles’ abandonment in season 6.
Since Giles gets fired in this episode, another Watcher is to come to Sunnydale to replace him – a setup for the introduction of Wesley in two episodes time. Which makes me wonder, why the hell hasn’t the Council bothered to send someone when they learned of Faith’s Watcher’s death?
Speaking of Faith, it’s another episode without her, but this time at least a reason is provided why she’s not here - she is conveniently on “one of her walkabouts” – whatever these are. If Faith hadn’t gone rogue, she would have also gone on to be subjected to the Cruciamentum, but she would have known about it beforehand, which Slayers are not supposed to. It’s odd that the Council is not concerned about that. Then again, they don’t seem to be giving Faith much thought at all, until she kills Alan Finch later and starts giving everyone trouble.
The Bangel of it
The Buffy/Angel scenes are the weakest part of this episode. This is the point where it’s starting to be obvious that the writers didn’t really know what to do with Angel or the Bangel relationship in season 3, and that, instead of a well thought-out arc, it’s just threading water before Angel gets to leave in order to have his own show. Not that there haven’t been episodes that seriously dealt with the relationship in a poignant way, without ignoring what happened in season 2 or treating it as some abstract obstacle to the couple’s happiness (Beauty and the Beasts, Amends), but for most of the season, Buffy and Angel’s relationship is following the “a step forward, a step back” repetitive pattern of breaking up/telling each other it’s over because they can never be together (Lovers Walk) but then continuing as before a couple of episodes later, or Angel is just hovering in the background as Buffy’s supportive love interest who gets a scene or two where he and Buffy are either having some really cheesy scenes that are supposed to show sexual tension (the shirtless Tai Chi/training together in Band Candy and Revelations) or even cheesier scenes where Angel is giving Buffy an earnest/sensitive look and uttering the kind of lines that make little sense, but that a teenage girl in love would love to hear from her boyfriend.
Helpless features both kinds of scenes. The latter is especially bad: as Angel gives Buffy a birthday present – the book of Victorian poetry (specifically, it is “Sonnets from the Portuguese” by Elizabeth Barrett-Browning; I know just one poem from it, the most famous one, “How Do I Love Thee”, which is IMO corny as hell), which I guess is supposed to confirm his old-fashioned-cultured-guy cred, even though I don’t think the present is something Buffy would particularly enjoy; she asks him if he would like her if she wasn’t a Slayer, pointing out that she was a rather shallow girl before she was called. Angel reassures her that she was already a very special and amazing person even before she became a Slayer – and utters the worst lines in the episode:
Angel: I saw you before you became the Slayer.
Angel: I watched you, and I saw you called. It was a bright afternoon out in front of your school. You walked down the steps... and... and I loved you.
Angel: Because I could see your heart. You held it before you for everyone to see. And I worried that it would be bruised or torn. And more than anything in my life I wanted to keep it safe... to warm it with my own.
Dude, what?! Not only is this “love at first sight”, “I saw your heart right there on your face” thing complete nonsense in itself, but it also comes off as both phony and creepy, because we saw that scene in a flashback in season 2 – and what we saw was Angel watching the 15-year old Buffy sucking on a lollipop, gossiping with her friends, and being scared that she’s been caught shoplifting for lipstick. If he had said he fell in love with her afterwards for her strong, brave and mature beyond her years personality that he got to know, or that he felt natural empathy and connection when he saw how lonely and sad she felt as an outcast after she was called, or even if he had said: “I thought you were really hot and you kind of looked like Darla, so small and blonde and sassy” that would have made some sense (well, that last one wouldn’t have gone well with Buffy)… but this is utter BS.
But, on the positive side, it leads right into the best lines in the episode:
Buffy (overwhelmed): That's beautiful. (Hugs him; then frowns: ) Or taken literally, incredibly gross.
Angel: (grimacing) I was just thinking that, too.
So, if Bangel is descending into parody at this point, at least the writers were aware of it. The next episode, The Zeppo, will openly treat it as parody.
On the positive side, there’s some charming banter between the two (Angel commenting on Buffy’s lack of enthusiasm over her birthday present and referencing the Judge in Surprise: “So why did you seem more excited last year when you got a severed arm in a box?”) and a funny exchange in which Buffy teases Angel, referring to her planned quality time with her father: “Actually I do have a date. Older man. Very handsome. Likes it when I call him Daddy” (now, that sounds like something Faith would say while not referring to her father; and it’s also ironic since Angel is an older man who could be Buffy’s great-great-great…grandfather) and Angel has a very dorky moment in which he’s first startled, relieved: “Oh, your father…” and then concerned: “It is your father, right?” I’m not sure if that’s enough to make up for the silliness of Angel’s lines above.
Also on the positive side, the unresolved sexual tension between Buffy and Angel leads to some amusing phallic symbolism, with Buffy being full of energy and distracted during her training, and playing with and stroking a particularly long crystal!
Recurring characters introduced: Quentin Travers, senior Watcher, played by Harris Yulin (known to fans of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine for his amazing performance as Maritza from “Duet”), who will come back for one-off appearances in season 5 and season 7.
Ooh, kinky: It’s not the first, nor the last time we see that particularly evil and dangerous vampires exhibiting certain degrees of masochism, but Kralik takes it to the next level. Most vampires are terrified of a crucifix, not for any psychological or religious reasons, but because, in Buffyverse, it burns their skin. The Master showed his badassery and ability to face fear by holding a crucifix and tolerating the pain without flinching or screaming; Angel in the eponymous season 1 episode didn’t even notice the crucifix was burning him due to being wrapped up in kissing Buffy; Spike in season 7 Beneath Me in an extremely emotional scene will embrace a large crucifix without appearing to even notice the pain, for complex emotional reasons. Kralik, however? He just laughs when Buffy tries to scare him with one, grabs it and starts masturbating with it (or at least rubbing it against himself – of course, we don’t see the details, since the show was on WB).
Pop culture references: Buffy is once again compared to Superman – Xander refers to whatever took away Buffy’s powers as “Slayer Kryptonite”, which leads to a super-nerdy debate between him and Oz on different types of kryptonite, which I won’t even pretend to have been able to follow. There is also a lot of talk about ice skating (SMG is apparently a fan, which was incorporated into the story in season 2 Surprise as Buffy’s favorite hobby), something I know even less about. An ice skater is mentioned doing a version of “Carmen”, and Willow mentions “Snoopy on Ice”.
I almost lost hope I'd ever finish this rewatch... but I never give up on my projects, I just postpone them. It was just a matter of something making me get off my butt... or rather, making me get on my butt in front of my computer and forcing me to write. And finally, that something happened several months ago, when my dear friends and fellow Buffy fans on the Buffyforums.net forum started a collective Buffy rewatch, which I have been participating in, with each of us picking an episode, two or three each season to review, as a starting point for discussion.
If you want to join in, register, if you don't, you can lurk and read our reviews and discussions:
Buffy rewatch season 1: http://www.buffyforums.net/forums/
Buffy rewatch season 2: http://www.buffyforums.net/forums/
Buffy rewatch season 3: http://www.buffyforums.net/forums/
This has given me the boost to get back to Buffy, rewatch it from the beginning, and try to continue where I've left.
There's no need to write new reviews for the episodes I've already covered - for most of them, the new rewatch did not change my opinion significantly. You can find the review of the Buffy movie, "The Origin" comic, all season 1 and 2 episodes as well as season overviews, as well as the first 10 episodes of season 3, on my Livejournal under the "Buffy rewatch" tag, and most of them are also on Dreamwidth under the "Buffy rewatch" tag. You can also find them on TrekBBS forum on my rewatch thread: http://www.trekbbs.com/
I've also written several new and improved reviews for some of the season 2 and 3 episodes I've already reviewed here:
2.10 What's My Line, part 2 http://www.buffyforums.net/forums/
2.19 I Only Have Eyes For You http://www.buffyforums.net/forums/
2.22 Becoming, part 2 http://www.buffyforums.net/forums/
3.04 Beauty and the Beasts http://www.buffyforums.net/forums/
3.09 The Wish http://www.buffyforums.net/forums/
3.10 Amends http://www.buffyforums.net/
Now that I've caught up with where I was when I made this embarrassingly, shockingly long break, I intend to continue with my reviews. I've rewatched almost to the end of season 3, and I will be posting the reviews for the second part of Buffy (episodes 3.11 - 3.22) of season 3 over the next week or two. After that, I hope to settle into posting an episode review each week - a reasonably realistic schedule, and parallel with the Buffyforums group rewatch, which is also one episode a week. (Though I must say in advance that this may mean no episode for two weeks and then a couple in a row, for instance - since my job is such that I can have free time at times and then be terribly busy once I get the new translation task and a tight deadline - it's all unpredictable.)
Right - so, let's start, or rather continue, with episode 3.11.
I’m not entirely sure how I feel about Gingerbread. There are lots of things I really like about this episode, but there also some aspects of it that severely bug me. I think my opinion of the episode is still mostly positive, but I can see why it has quite a few haters.
Jane Espenson’s first episode of Buffy is a pretty effective and biting satire. Granted, its satirizing of the conservative elements of society, such as the associations of “concerned parents” intent on censorship, about mass hysteria and witch hunts (and in this case, it’s even literally a witch hunt), complete with bullying of the outcasts by some students, and violations of privacy through the raids of pupils’ lockers by the police in search of drugs (in this case, “witch” stuff), organized by the student-hating, disciplinarian principal Snyder, is not terribly original… but I’d be lying if I said it’s not still enjoyable to watch. (And you have to laugh when you hear that Joyce’s concerned parents’ organization is called MOO – Mothers Opposing the Occult – worst acronym ever?)
But this episode also brings up an issue that I don’t think I’ve seen often dealt with (and this is what I like best about the episode) – the phenomenon that nowadays the best way to manipulate the public through feelings of outrage and to cause irrational witch hunts is to use images of children –specifically, cute, angelic-looking, white, and, preferably, blonde children – which maximizes the outrage the public can feel about those who are alleged to have harmed them. (Recently, the excellent Danish film The Hunt also dealt with the irrational and terrifying behavior of a contemporary community when one of its members is falsely accused of sexually molesting children – on really flimsy evidence, which doesn’t prevent everyone from jumping to the conclusion that he’s guilty.) Buffy herself is, at first, as outraged as her mother and everyone else by the murder of the “children”, but later, seeing the community’s behavior, starts wondering why everyone is this outraged this one time, even though people are being killed every day, and delivers my favorite line in the episode when Angel tries to explain the reasons behind people’s behavior (referencing another recent victim):
Angel: They were children. Innocent. It makes a difference.
Buffy: And Mr. Sanderson from the bank had it coming?
Espenson drives the point home through her fun reinterpretation of the “Hansel and Gretel” fairy tale as a real life story which was really an example of an evil demon using an illusion to present himself as a couple of cute children, in order to cause mass hysteria in various communities, and make people turn on each other.
There’s also some harsh satire in the portrayal of Willow’s mother Sheila (who appears in the show for the first and the last time, though she will be mentioned later), a caricature of a “liberal” intellectual (probably a psychologist) whose abstract talk about adolescent behavior (apparently her area of expertise) is in sharp contrast to her complete neglect and lack of interest in her own daughter. (She takes several months to notice Willow’s change of hairstyle, and can’t get the name of Willow’s best friend right, constantly calling her “Bunny”.) Willow’s lack of self-esteem certainly becomes easier to understand once we’ve met Sheila.
But while Sheila is portrayed as straight-up bad mother, Joyce is a more complicated case. She really cares about Buffy, wants to be a part of her life, and feels frustrated because she’s excluded from a big part of Buffy’s life – slaying. It’s also understandable that Joyce doesn’t like the fact that her teenage daughter is risking her life every night. And in this episode, she makes an effort – a very brave, if also very ill-advised and clumsy effort – to get closer to Buffy and understand her better, by visiting her while Buffy is doing her Slayer duty. However, after Joyce reacts very strongly to finding what seem to be dead bodies of the two unknown children, and feels compelled to do something about it, her behavior starts becoming more and more disturbing. The first moment where Joyce crosses the line is already at the meeting of her new organization, presided by the Mayor (who has a very small role in the episode, but once more proves to be a skillful and charming populist), when she warns the other citizens that the town is not a good place and what “we have lost it” (who is “we”? Normal people?), and that “it belongs to the monsters and witches and Slayers.” She lumps her daughter, who’s fighting against evil, with the forces of evil. We later find out that she has probably been under the influence of the demon all along – and the influence was probably growing and making her act more and more irrationally; but the influence didn’t create those feelings in her, it seems to have only augmented them. It’s unclear how strong the demon’s influence is at this point; it’s evidently really strong a bit later, when we see that Joyce doesn’t blink twice at the fact that the two “dead kids” are talking to her and telling her what to do (and this seems to have been going on for a while). Despite the comedic tone of much of the episode, it becomes really dark by the time that Joyce, Sheila and a bunch of other parents are calmly and self-righteously preparing to burn Buffy, Willow and another witch (magic practitioner), Amy, at the stake – behaving as if they’re just grounding them or delivering some other regular form of punishment. The most disturbing moment is when Joyce tells Buffy, who’s tied up at the stake and begging her to stop doing it: “I wanted a normal, happy daughter. Instead I got a Slayer.” And you know that this is exactly how Joyce always feels, deep inside, even though she normally would not say it. (It becomes even more disturbing when you remember the “Have you tried not being a Slayer?” scene from the season 2 finale, which drew heavy parallels between Buffy revealing to her mother that she’s a Slayer, and a teenager coming out of the closet to their parent.)
The way Gingerbread portrays the dark side of parenting is quite ballsy. It’s suggesting that, for many, the care and protectiveness of abstract, dead, “perfect” children (who represent the ideal of the sweet and innocent Child – which is helped by the lack of any information about them) is a compensation for the failures to accept their real, flesh and blood, living, “imperfect”, “disobedient”, “abnormal” children, who get labelled as “bad”.
Now, onto the problems I have with this episode. For one thing, I find the premise – that there hasn’t been a child murder in Sunnydale for a long time, despite the extremely high mortality rates and the abundance of supernatural monsters (in addition to the human ones – there’s no reason to think that there’s less of them in Sunnydale compared to everywhere else) rather unrealistic. Buffy’s initial reaction is pretty naive – she asks Giles, with outrage, “Someone WITH A SOUL did this?!” Come on, Buffy – you’ve never heard of human serial killers, child molesters, child murderers?
Another, even bigger problem just how extreme the behavior of the parents gets – specifically Joyce, and the way it’s eventually brushed aside as just a result of the demon’s influence. I don’t know how to feel about Joyce’s characterization in this episode. On one hand, it’s good that the show was willing to reveal the dark side of Joyce’s middle class mom who wants a “normal” daughter and has trouble accepting her as she is… but I feel that they may have gone too far with it. Burning your daughter on a stake and talking about it as an acceptable and desirable parental punishment, while chatting casually about dinner plans… that’s going a little bit too far. Watching this makes me think - this is why it was often so hard to like Joyce, before the show did its best to make her more likable in season 5. I think it should have been made clearer to what extent she was responsible or not responsible for her actions, and, most importantly, there should have been a follow-up scene of Buffy and Joyce talking about it. Even The Pack in season 1 had more follow-up to the Hyena!Xander storyline. Here, Willow just says that Sheila will do the “selective memory thing” that Joyce used to when ignoring all the supernatural things that have happened. But what about Joyce and her actions? (Sheila’s actions would require more comments if it wasn’t obvious that we’re supposed to dislike her.) We get no comment on that whatsoever, in this or any subsequent episode.
Though it doesn’t have much to do with the overall plot of season 3 (Faith is not in it, the Mayor has just a cameo), the episode fits in this season since it’s another one that deals with the theme of Sunnydale community, which season 3 focuses on much more than the previous two.
There’s another continuity nod to Band Candy, with the continued awkwardness and embarrassment between Giles and Joyce; and some follow-up on the revelation about Willow/Xander, although Xander’s awkwardness is a little OTT in the episode (something that often happens in Espenson episodes in order to heighten the comedic effect). However, Xander and Oz teaming up to try and save Willow and Buffy probably means that they have made up and put the “clothes fluke” behind. Cordelia is on the fringes of the group, but starts slowly coming back to the fold when she teams up with Giles.
Cordelia asking Giles how many times he’s been knocked unconscious is a meta moment of the show acknowledging the silliness of this happening repeatedly. As Cordelia correctly points out, it wouldn't be surprising if he had brain damage by this point.
We find out that Willow has been doing a lot of magic lately – together with her new friends, Amy and Michael – a boy who is introduced in this episode, and will never be seen again in the show. Amy has now dyed her hair black and has a Gothic look, just like Michael. This is the first, and I believe the last time in the show that practicing magic is connected to the Goth subculture – which is used in the scene in the school where Michael is bullied and suspected of murder by a group of boys; a clear case of attacking someone just for being different. It’s not completely clear if the reason is just Michael’s practice of magic, or even his Goth look – or if it’s also because of his androgynous look. After all, Amy also practices magic and wears Goth clothes and makeup, but they are not attacking her.
Poor Amy – unlike Willow, she’s repeatedly portrayed as something of a screw-up when it comes to magic. In Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, her spell backfired; something even worse happens here, when she turns herself into a rat in order to escape the mob (it’s unclear if that was her intention, or if she wanted to turn the mob into rats) – and then there’s no one to turn her back into a human. (This is a call-back to her turning Buffy into a rat in BBB.) She will remain a rat for three years – until season 6 episode Smashed (with a brief change back and forth during season 4 Something Blue) – which is quite tragic, but will be treated as a running joke on the show.
Xander: Look, everyone expects me to mess up again. Like Oz. I see how he is around me. You know, that steely gaze... that pointed silence.
Buffy: 'Cause he's usually such a chatterbox.
Xander: No, but it's different now. It's more a verbal nonverbal. He speaks volumes with his eyes.
Xander: Wait, Hansel and Gretel? Breadcrumbs, ovens, gingerbread house?
Giles: Of course. It makes perfect sense.
Buffy: Yeah, it's all falling into place. Of course that place is nowhere near this place.
Buffy: Is she? Is Sunnydale any better than when I first came here? Okay, so I battle evil. But I don't really win. The bad keeps coming back and getting stronger. Like that kid in the story, the boy that stuck his finger in the duck.
Angel: Dike. (Buffy looks at him, shocked.) It's another word for dam.
Buffy: Oh. Okay, that story makes a lot more sense now.
Giles: We need to save Buffy from Hansel and Gretel.
Cordelia: Now, let's be clear. The brain damage happened *before* I hit you.
Cordelia (after seeing the demon in the form of the two cute little children morph into one huge, scary 7 foot demon) : Okay, I think I liked the two little ones more than the one big one.
Pop culture references: Apart from fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel and Jack and the Beanstalk, there’s also a reference to Apocalypse Now – by Snyder, who says “I love the smell of desperate librarian in the morning” (which is interesting, since Xander will have a dream about Snyder-as-Kurtz in season 4 finale Restless), as well as the 1960s TV show Mister Rogers: apparently, Sheila Rosenberg likes to discuss “the patriarchal bias” of that show with Willow, “with King Friday lording it over all the lesser puppets”. O-kay.
Destroying the English language: or, as I like to think, deconstructing it – Buffy says: “"My mom had said some things to me about being the slayer. That it's fruitless. No fruit for Buffy."
Foreshadowing: Angel (who has a one scene cameo in the episode) and Buffy have a nice conversation where he paraphrases what she told him in Amends: “There's a lot I don't understand. But I do know it's important to keep fighting. I learned that from you. (…) We never win. (…) Not completely. But that’s not why we fight. We do it because there are things worth fighting for. Those kids… their parents…” It resonates with the themes of AtS and Angel’s famous speech from season 2 of AtS: “If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do”, as well as the series finale of AtS.
Cordelia’s funny line to Giles: “One of these times, you’re gonna wake up in a coma!” becomes (unintentional) foreshadowing in hindsight, knowing what eventually happens to Cordelia on AtS.
So, I’ve finished my re-rewatch (!) of season 1. I expected it to go faster, but there were a lot of distractions – from unexpected work, to the fact that, well, it was hot summer weather and most days were being spent on a beach, and a lot of nights out in the city. My impressions were mostly the same as the last time, which is no surprise since the last rewatch was just over a year ago. I took notes of the few things I didn’t notice before or didn’t include in my previous reviews, but most of it were fun minor things, from fashion choices to various details to mistakes you only notice after you’ve watched the show a few times.
You can check my previously posted reviews and ratings (out of 5 stars):
1.01. Welcome to the Hellmouth (3.5)
1.02. The Harvest (2.5)
1.03. Witch (3)
1.04. Teacher’s Pet (1.5)
1.05. Never Kill a Boy on the First Date (3)
1.06. The Pack (3.5)
1.07. Angel (4)
1.08. I, Robot, You Jane (2)*
1.09. The Puppet Show (3)
1.10. Nightmares (4)
1.11. Out of Mind, Out of Sight (4)
1.12 Prophecy Girl (4.5)
Season 1 overview (3.21)*revised rating
( Read more... )
Finally, here's a couple of songs used in BtVS season 1. See you next when I re-rewatch the first 11 episodes of season 2.
Dashboard Prophets - "Ballad for Dead Friends" (from The Harvest)
I remember seeing the movie on TV a few years before I started watching the show, and finding it a mildly funny but average, not very good and mostly ordinary teen comedy that tried to poke fun at vampire movies. I was always struck by how different the show is to the movie. Rewatching it now, after a long time, my impressions are the same, only more negative, because I can now see how much potential it wasted. This becomes especially obvious when you compare it Joss Whedon’s original script, which is available online, and which I read last week for the first time. A much better movie could have been made from this, and one that would have been a lot more in the spirit with the TV show. On the other hand, if the movie had matched Joss’ intentions, maybe he wouldn’t have felt compelled to take his idea to the small screen... So maybe it’s better it worked out this way.
The movie was declared not canon by Joss, so nothing from it actually has any bearing on the show and the comics continuity, but Joss has never filmed another version of Buffy’s origin story.
I will also revisit the only canon version of Buffy’s origins is the 1999 Dark Horse comic The Origin, which gives a more faithful adaptation of Joss’ original script, much closer to the spirit of the show, and attempts to reconcile the story with the TV show continuity (including scenes based on the flashbacks from the show), since there are quite a few discontinuities between Joss’s script and the movie on one side, and the show on the other. Joss has said this about this comic:
I’ve noticed that Joss recycled some of his original ideas for Welcome to the Hellmouth/The Harvest: the way Buffy kills Amilyn, Lothos' main henchman, in the script (but not in the movie nor in The Origin), is very similar to the trick she plays on Luke in The Harvest. As far as the things that did make it to the movie go: there are also similarities such as Pike/Xander having to kill his best friend who's become a vampire; some of the original arguments between Buffy and Giles are a bit like those between Buffy and Merrick; Gary Murray the school counselor is a proto-Flutie; and Lothos is a bit like a mix between the Master and a non-ironic version of Dracula, with a bit of Luke's early rhetoric. We have vampires attacking the school on a big night again in School Hard.
I can’t remember, did anyone on the show ever use a pencil to stake a vampire? This is how Buffy finally manages to surprise and kill Lothos in the script version of their confrontation, after he’s cornered her in the school corridor; script direction says that there’s almost something like respect in his eyes as he’s turning to dust (and Lothos, up to that point, has been very contemptuous and dismissive of Buffy and other Slayers).
Differences between the movie and Joss’ original script
Joss Whedon wrote the original version of the script for Buffy when he was 25. According to this old article (linked today on Whedonesque – thanks, Whedonesque!), „The project began gathering steam last fall, when producer Rosenman "flipped over this weirdly funny script by a 25-year-old with red hair flowing down to his ass.“ “ (See evidence of the latter.)
The same article describes the Buffy movie as a mix between Wayne’s World, Heathers and Beverly Hills 90210. Well, that’s true - but only if you take out Heathers...
The script is well worth reading – it’s really not cheesy and campy the way the movie is, and it’s not a comedy: it’s much darker and it’s a horror/action teen drama with some humor in it. In other words, similar to the show. However, the people who made the movie obviously didn’t take the story seriously at all and figured it had to be a broad cheesy teenage comedy. You can see it as soon as the open narration about the Slayers starts – similar to the one in first 2 seasons of the show – delivered in a mocking, campy voice, while we see a brief scene of Kristy Swanson with a silly expression, in what is supposed to be one of her dreams about past Slayers. There are a lot of changes between this version of the script and what finally got filmed. But even when there were no changes in the dialogue – and in the majority of the scenes, they kept the original dialogue– the directorial choices, acting, music, choreography, even hairstyling and costumes, made all the difference.
Kristy Swanson isn't bad until you compare her to Sarah Michelle Gellar, she has no spunk and charisma and badassery that SMG so easily instills into the character. Swanson is physically much bigger, but tiny SMG is a much bigger presence in every other way. Luke Perry (Pike) is just being Luke Perry, i.e. has the same dull expression throughout. The worst of all is Donald Sutherland (Buffy’s first Watcher, Merrick), who looks bored throughout the movie, probably waiting to finish shooting the dumb teen movie and collect his paycheck – he even looks bored in his death scene!
The music is dreadful – the songs are all very mainstream, in a bad way (unlike the much more interesting choices on the show); the score is more 80s than 90s, and occasionally sounds like elevator music - especially in above mentioned Merrick’s death scene.
The movie removed almost everything that was even a little bit darker and more serious. Gone are the opening scenes from the script, showing some of the Slayers from the previous centuries, including the scenes of Lothos killing Slayers. Instead of being really scary, the vampires in the movie are just ridiculous. Lothos’ henchmen Amilyn, in particular, is quite scary in the script, but a complete joke and an OTT comedy character in the movie – he even gets a comedy protracted death that goes on and on. Script!Lothos is a truly intimidating figure (and a vampire who’s supposed to have killed several Slayers has to be!), but in the movie, despite being played by Rutger Hauer, a guy who knows how to be scary, even he is made into a bit of a joke. In one of the many eyeroll-worthy cheesy moments that the director/script doctors/whoever thought was a good idea to add, Lothos plays a violin to hypnotize Buffy (?!) and in another, he dies saying „Oops“.
But the worst of all is Buffy’s fight with the vampires outside the gym, which could have been great (and is in the comic), and which is described like this in the script:
Buffy is defending herself in an astounding blur of gymnasti
odd stake, she manages to scatter them enough to make a run for it.
...and in the movie, it looks like this: Kristy Swanson goes out of the gym, makes several somersaults for no reason at all and comes up against one of the vampires, and all the vampires stand in a circle and attack her one by one, waiting until she’s finished with the previous ones, like in the awful old martial arts movies. She also starts her fight with Lothos by making a few somersaults for absolutely no reason.
Ummm, our Father, Who art in Heaven,
duhmm... hallowed be Thy name.
Uhh, kingdom come, daily break, I
don't know. I don't even know if
you're religious. You probably
are. But you're dead, you know.
You're just totally dead. and...
She sits heavily on his grave.
... and I don't know what to do.
You were the one who... I don't
know if the training was over. I
don't even know if I passed. You're
so stupid! How could you be so
stupid? What am I supposed to do
without you? You son of a bitch!
She stops, looks down for a moment.
- Merrick’s death: in the movie, Lothos kills him because Buffy was too much in „thrall“ to react, and then dies in her arms. In the script, Buffy wasn’t even there until the end (and she never seems in much of a danger of being hypnotized by Lothos), as she was busy killing vampires in another place, and Merrick kills himself with a gun to prevent Lothos from turning him and using him against Buffy. (Although maybe this isn’t explained as much as it is in the comic.)
- The movie removes the dark moment when a bunch of students, including Buffy’s (ex) friend Kimberly, decide to practically throw Buffy to the vampires to save their own skin: since the vampires (many of them formerly students who were turned) were outside yelling „We want Buffy“, the students yell in panic that she should go out so the vampires could have her and leave them alone. What they didn’t realize is that the vampires are going to attack the gym anyway, breaking the windows. In the script, after the fight is over, Buffy silently walks away from the students who wanted to sacrifice her (with the exception of Pike, who was fiercely on her side, and a few others.)
- The script ends with: a news report about the attack (described as an attack of a gang of „crack-crazed gunmen“) that had a death toll of 12; followed by a scene showing Buffy’s ex-friends and ex-boyfriend gossiping about her and how „crazy“ she’s become; and a scene with Buffy and Pike going to an old castle – presumably to look for some old vampire to slay. The movie, on the other hand, ends with a protracted news report – which completely lacks the mention of any casualties, are we supposed to think that no students died? – followed by a bunch of stupid jokes (and then some more of Amilyn’s protracted death scene).
In their thorough mainstreaming of the script, they also removed pretty much everything that could have been consider somewhat edgy:
- Every single reference to teen sex (including a scene in which Buffy, while looking for vampires, finds her ex-boyfriend Jeffrey, who’s just dumped her, and his new date Jennifer, Buffy’s ex-friend, clumsily having sex in his ca);
- A few instances of bad language (but OK, that was to be expected);
- Coach’s speech before the game that happens to contain a casual reference to homosexuality („So I don't care about your minds. Maybe you're tired. Maybe you're worried about your grades. Maybe you dog just died or you've suddenly found that you're attracted to other men. I don't care!”
- Pike’s off-hand mention/joke that his guidance counselor mentioned prison as the possible future for him
- Pike and his friend Benny’s punk style looks. In the script, Pike is described as having spiked hair, a taste for long coats and black, and wearing Doc Martens, while his friend Benny has a shaved head, suspenders and also Doc Martens. In the movie, they are... Luke Perry and David Arquette looking like Luke Perry and David Arquette usually do, and not really visibly different than Buffy's boyfriend Jeffrey and the other jock guys. (Joss seems to like introducing punk-ish looking characters from time to time: Spike, Satsu and Simone in the comics.)
One of the small changes that particularly pissed me off is how they filmed the scene near the beginning of the movie which we first see Buffy kissing her boyfriend Jeffrey, and his friend Andy acts like a complete sexist ass and asks „Jeffrey, dude, can I borrow her?“ In the script – and the comic – she just normally comes up to Jeffrey and they kiss, while Andy and Jeffrey’s other friends and Buffy’s friends are standing near by. In the movie, she runs and leans into Jeffrey’s car to kiss him – he’s in the driving seat – not bothered that her butt is practically lying in Andy’s lap (since he’s in the front seat). I guess they just couldn’t show a high school boy being blatantly sexist without giving the audience the opportunity to say „Heh, it’s the bimbo’s fault for hanging her ass in front of his nose“?!
So, as we’ve established, the movie sucks big time. Nothing I haven’t known for years. The only difference is that, having read the script, I can vouch it really wasn’t Joss’ fault.
Now we’re going to take a look at the differences between the script/the movie on one hand, and the show on the other. While the huge difference in tone is all due to the execution and script changes, there are a few things that don’t match with the show because Joss later changed his mind. Of course, the discontinuity doesn’t matter, since neither the movie nor the script are canon.
Discontinuity between the movie/the script and canon
- Vampires don’t dust when staked – except, for some reason, Lothos (maybe because he’s 800 to 900 years old). This is something that Joss decided for the TV show, in order not to have Buffy leaving a bunch of dead bodies around.
- Vampires can float.
- Vampires don’t show in photos.
- Buffy doesn’t burn down the gym during the big showdown with the vampires.
- A lot is made of Buffy’s need to preserve her secret identity – Merrick insists that vampires mustn’t know who she is, or they would he hunting her rather than the other way round. Which, come to think of it, makes sense – but was completely different on the show, where every vampire and demon knew who she is and, with rare exceptions (like Spike or Mr. Trick and the participants of his Slayer Fest ’99), it only made most of them want to stay away from her. That’s actually one change that I’m not sure the show ever properly justified. It’s almost unbelievable that no vampire or demon ever targeted Buffy’s family and friends in order to get to her, except briefly Angelus (who nevertheless didn’t do much on that front). There is a reason why Bruce Wayne thinks he needs to wear the mask to protect those he loves. See my comments on The Origin.
- Buffy’s parents are portrayed as neglectful and almost always absent; her mom pays so little attention to her that she mis-remembers her boyfriend’s name. (This is more like the family background Willow has on the show – except that her parents are also stricter. Willow’s mother Sheila seems to constantly ignore her, and can’t properly remember the name of her best friend Buffy.
- (More in the script than in the movie) Buffy’s family also seems richer, more in Cordelia’s league (at least this is my impression – for instance, at one point she mentions a trust fund from her grandfather that she spent on shoes) than on the show, where they’re firmly middle-class types.
- (Script element; not mentioned in the movie, IIRC) Merrick says that the Watchers are all from one coven in a small English village. This is very different from the powerful (but really incompetent and stuck up their own arse) organization we first see in season 3.
- (Script element; not mentioned in the movie) Slayers have superpowers even before they are called: Buffy is mentioned to have had amazing gymnastic skills as a younger girl.
- (Script element; ignored or changed for movie) Script!Buffy is not a virgin. Her boyfriend Jeffrey is spending the night with her – he’s by her side when she wakes up from a nightmare; and during a school football game, one of the students starts talking to Merrick (and annoying the hell out of him) and gossiping about Buffy, saying that people are talking that „She’s had sex“. This was probably a part of Whedon’s idea to subvert the cliche of the blonde who dies in the alley – in movies, teenagers who have sex usually die. But this didn’t make it to the movie (Buffy is waking from her nightmare alone), I assume as a part of the overall removal of any reference to teen sex; and of course, it also isn’t in The Origin (where Buffy also wakes in her bed alone), for a different reason – because it would clash with canon, since canon!Buffy only lost her virginity in season 2.
- Merrick first approaches Buffy in the football field (script) or in the school gym (movie). In the flashback in Becoming I, he approaches her right in front of the school.
- Buffy is dating a school jock called Jeffrey, until he dumps her because she’s been busy with other things and he’s „got needs“in his own words (but she has other things to worry about, and has been falling for Pike anyway, so it’s no tragedy). But, in the flashback in Becoming I, Buffy is talking to her friends about a boy called Tyler and saying he’d have to beg her on his hands and knees to go with him to the dance... which he’s supposed to do after practice, so she’ll wait. (See my comments about The Origin below.)
Although it’s not discontinuity, I wonder why the show and later canon comics never mentioned Buffy dreaming about the lives of the previous Slayers. The only Slayers who seem to pop up in her dreams are the First Slayer and Faith. A lot more was made of the Slayer dream connection to the previous Slayers in Dana’s story in AtS Damage, in the Tales of the Slayers, in Fray, and in season 8 issue The Chain, but none of those are about Buffy. How interesting would it be if Buffy ever had Slayer dreams of being Nikki Wood, for instance?
And now let’s look at how this is resolved in The Origin.
This 3-part comic, written by Christopher Golden and Brereton based on Whedon’s script for the movie, restores most of Whedon’s original script, attempts (for the most part, successfully, though there are a few problematic spots) to reconcile it with the show canon, and – unlike the movie, is very close to the tone and spirit of the TV show.
I reviewed The Origin comic before, at the very beginning of my Buffy rewatch. A few words in addition to this:
The only big problem I have with the comic is with the artist drawing green, pointy-eared vampires. That aside, the art by Joe Bennett is very good. They obviously wanted to make a complete break with the movie, so none of the characters look like their movie counterparts. Of course, Buffy looks like Sarah Michelle Gellar rather than Kristy Swanson, Joyce and Hank look like they do on the show (in the movie, Buffy’s parents both have dark hair and look ridiculously tanned and a bit trashy) while Merrick looks like Richard Riehle, who played him in the show flashback. But the other characters, who never appeared on the show, are all given a new look: Pike has white hair and a goatee and doesn’t look like Luke Perry (in later, non-canon Dark Horse comics, he looked different and had brownish hair, but didn’t look like Perry either); Lothos has long red hair and looks nothing like Rutger Hauer; Jeffrey is blond, while movie Jeffrey was dark-haired, each one of Buffy’s friends has different hair color and hairstyle than their movie counterparts, etc.
I really like the way they portrayed Merrick in the comic – he is passionate, stern and determined, a very strong figure – completely different from Donald Sutherland’s bland, sleepwalking through the role version. Pike is also a lot more animated and likeable. The vampires are scary and the fights are well drawn.
The comic restores most of Joss’ best lines and moments from the script, and adds some new ones (Buffy: „Don’t think of me as late – think of me as time-impaired!“) though, unfortunately, they also added a really dumb joke (when Amilyn has his arm ripped off, he seems more concerned about his jacket – „This was real leather“). There’s also one screw-up: the inscription on the newly sired vampire reads „1972-1990“, even though it should be taking place in 1996. But this is nitpicking now.
Let’s see what the writers of the comic did about the continuity issues:
- Buffy burns the gym down. She does it because it’s the only way to kill a bunch of vampires that have attacked the school: she tricks them into the gym, locks the door with a bike chain and sets the gym on fire.
- Most of the aspects of the script that don’t fit with canon are left out.
- Merrick warning Buffy about her secret identity is still a part of the story, but Buffy basically says „Ah, screw that“ (not in those words) after Merrick’s death.
- A brief scene with Buffy’s parents is included here as well – and Buffy seems to be unsatisfied and to think that they aren’t spending enough time with her (which we only see in her bitter comment to herself that they’re „real quality timers“), but there are no moments of Joyce being clueless, and we don’t know if Buffy’s parents are really neglectful, or if Buffy is seeing her parents as more neglectful than they really are. On the show, it was established that the problem with her parents was that they didn’t get along and argued a lot for years – but never that they ignored Buffy.
- The scenes from the Becoming I flashback are included: Merrick approaching Buffy in front of the school, and their conversation is word for word taken from the show.
- The Tyler/Jeffrey issue: they tried to solve this, and I’m not sure if it works. To reconcile it, they changed the dialogue for a part of Buffy’s conversation with her friends. She says she got over Tyler long time ago, and one of the girls adds that nobody would pick Tyler over Jeffrey anyway, and it’s Jeffrey that Buffy says she is waiting for after the practice, not Tyler. But this creates a bit of discontinuity with the show, what about that? There is a way to fanwank it:
- The entire comic is framed as Buffy’s narration – so one could say that her memory may not be entirely accurate. (Maybe she and Jeffrey were over before she met Merrick, but she conflated two different timelines and thought he was still her boyfriend and that it was the night of the vampire attack that they broke up.) Buffy is telling Xander and Willow about her days in Hemery High and how she became a Slayer.
- The last LA scenes we see are taken from the script, but with some changes: Buffy’s gossiping ex-friends mention that she was expelled from school. We also see Buffy and Pike going to the castle. However, it’s actually a castle in Las Vegas – a change I don’t like, since it’s just Dark Horse’s blatant attempt to set up one of their later (non-canon) comics, Viva Las Buffy, which is about the adventures of Buffy and Pike in Las Vegas.
The comic doesn’t explain what happened to Pike and why he and Buffy went separate ways; when Xander asks Buffy about it (he even says that Pike seemed like a good match, which is really unlike season 2 Xander! Though I guess he might have said it just because he’d prefer anyone to Angel - and Pike does seem like a guy Xander might like),
she just says it’s a story for another time.
Pike was clearly created as something of a Whedonian perfect guy – he’s the only teenage boy in the movie/script/comic who isn’t sexist (Pike’s friend Benny is just as bad in that regard as the jocks Andy and a rather good fighter for someone with no superpowers, he has no problem accepting Buffy’s strength and leadership – in fact, he accepts it and likes it much more readily than Buffy herself, which is a source of strife for a while. (Canon says nothing about the reasons why he and Buffy split, but in the comic Viva Las Buffy, he leaves because he realizes he’s just a liability for Buffy. In another non-canon comic, Note from the Underground, he finds Buffy in Sunnydale a few years later, he helps her but is confused with all the things that have happened to Buffy since, and ends up telling her friends stories about Buffy’s LA past.)
In my earlier review, I gave the comic 3-, which might have been too harsh – I now think it’s closer to 3.5. One thing I really like about this early Buffy story is that the Slayer was still clearly portrayed as the underdog.The feelings that the Slayers were up against the odds was much stronger in the script and The Origin, when the vampires were not established as being weaker than Slayers. This kind of got lost as the show increasingly started making the Slayers look like almost invincible, unbeatable superwomen (culminating in the utterly ridiculous „Troll Hammer“ moment in season 5) that almost all vampires (except for trill seekers) run from, which doesn’t fit with the idea that they all die very young. And, it also takes something away from Buffy’s heroism and the gravity of her story, IMO, if her task is portrayed as not being incredibly difficult and dangerous.
Amends is an episode that was really necessary in season 3. Since Angel's mysterious return from hell, Buffy and Angel have both been avoiding the elephant in the room - Angel’s crimes in season 2, and the question what could have brought him back. This is a very dark, intense and emotional episode about guilt, forgiveness and redemption, and a great character study of Angel (setting him up as an interesting protagonist for a spinoff). The climax of the episode – Buffy trying to convince Angel not to commit suicide – has great acting but a mix of great and weak writing. However, what keeps this episode from being a classic is that it has the corniest ending of a BtVS episode ever: the MYSTICAL CHRISTMAS SNOW that convinces Angel his life is worth something.
Now, since this is the show’s only Christmas episode, this was, in a way, to be expected. But I could do without the divine (?) intervention, which takes away from the humanism of the show, and I’d rather not have Touched by an Angel (!) in my BtVS.
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Incidentally, I'd love to know which five factions of Spuffy shippers she thinks there are, and would ask her if I could. I also wonder if the "vast majority" of Spuffy shippers really identify with Spike rather than Buffy? A poll would be interesting, but I'm not sure where the best place to conduct it would be.
Anyway, here are some things I agree with in that essay, and some that I disagree with. I think her view of the relationship as a "gender-flipped one" in which Buffy is in control is oversimplified and doesn't quite match how I see it. It's not that she's not right - it's that this is just a part of the complexity of the dynamic. There are some ways in which their gender roles are flipped - and some ways in which they are not. Spike does play the male version of the femme fatale (homme fatale?), but I can tell you many ways in which Spike also plays some classic masculine roles, from admirer/courtly lover to stalker/pursuer to aggressive male seducer to reformed beast/bad boy. Likewise for the roles that Buffy plays. The closest to how I see it is what an academic essay on Spuffy said - they don't flip gender roles, they share gender roles. I don't think anyone was "in control" of the relationship, especially not in season 6 which was a constant struggle. I know the view expressed in this essay, it's the view of many female Spuffy shippers who identify with Spike and not with Buffy. But I don't share it and it misses a lot of the complexity of the relationship. Which is what makes it all the more interesting. I'm not interested in the same old story with genders just flipped, or in stories where one person is in control and the other one is a "bottom" (kind of funny in the context).
I particularly disagree with her summary of Buffy/Angel. Her view is, again, one I know, since it tends to be the view of female fans of Spike who dislike Angel and Bangel. You might know I'm not fond of Bangel anymore and haven't been for a long time (to put it mildly), but I find this view, again, oversimplified, and it doesn't match how I see it:
The trope is older/experienced guy, powerful, knowledgable, wealthy and a control freak with either a dark secret, a dark past, or an abusive childhood - seduces younger girl, who is less experienced, and not wealthy and who saves him or heals him in some way. It's a partriachial trope for a patriachial world. Examples? Stefan/Elena, Angel/Buffy, Christian Grey/Anatasia, Edward/Bella, Dracula/Mina, Mr. Rochester/Jane Eyre, Cordelia/Angel, Fred/Wesely, Fred/Gunn, Echo/ What'shisname who played Helo (Ballard?) there are others. It's an old trope. I'm not belittling the trope. I liked it at one point. It's popular for a reason. I like to call it the Beauty and the Beast complex. It sort of goes back to that fairy tale, I think. Very popular with the 18-24 set. Also for some reason with successful career women and mothers in their 40s, if Shades of Grey is any indication.
( Thought on Bangel be here )
Some people think this episode is overrated, because it’s a standalone that isn’t directly connected to the main arc of season 3, and because 2/3 of it are AU events that none of the characters remember (except Anya). I disagree: the purpose of the episode is for us to see what Sunnydale would have been like without Buffy, and what Buffy would be like if she didn’t have friends and ties to the world. The Wish shows a Sunnydale as a hellish dystopia, a town ruled and terrorized by vampires, and much darker versions of the characters we know. This is actually very relevant to the season – one of its main themes are community and ties between people – and to the show as a whole.
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This season so far has been rather lackluster, but this episode is a big improvement. It used the magical trick for making everything more exciting: Spike is back - if just for one episode. It's a very funny episode that first introduces us to Pathetic!Drunk!Spike, but it’s also the episode with a lot of relationship pain. Spike comes back to Sunnydale, moping over his breakup with Drusilla, wreaks havoc, (un)intentionally makes Scoobies reveal some things to each other, starts feeling better about himself and leaves everyone unhappy. The love quadrangle finally gets a resolution, which is a real relief – and much as I dislike this storyline, it’s rather well resolved.
The title is actually Lovers Walk, not Lover’s Walk. See the original script. According to Wikipedia, „the introduction to Rhonda Wilcox's Why Buffy Matters says, "the script apparently does not carry an apostrophe, by the way--making for a short, sad, declarative sentence for a title."
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The last episode was Jane Espenson’s debut, and this one is Doug Petrie’s – which rounds up the list of core writers that were on the staff until the finale (Whedon, Noxon, Fury, Espenson, Petrie), with the exception of David Greenwalt, who left at the end of season 3 to run the Angel spinoff. It’s an average but important episode - it moves the plot forward by having the Scoobies learn that Angel is back, and has some long overdue character confrontations – even if it doesn’t really resolve anything when it comes to the conflict between Buffy and Xander over Angel, for instance. The other plot is about Faith’s new Watcher, Gwendolyn Post, who continues Faith’s bad luck with Watchers and destroys her already weak ability to trust people. The title likely refers to both the revelation about Angel, the revelation about Post, and the apocalyptic nature of the power that Post would’ve gotten through the MacGuffin called the Glove of Myhneghon, which the Scoobies destroy at the end. (“Apocalypse” = “Revelation”.)
But maybe the most interesting revelation in this episode is that there are 12 cemeteries in Sunnydale (!). Which, come to think of it, isn’t surprising considering the mortality rate. How bad was it when they did not have a Slayer?
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There’s just one problem: the premise of the episode (i.e. the explanation why they’re acting like that) is stupid and doesn’t make sense.
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Bad things: or rather, just one but a huge one. It’s the beginning of what is possibly my least favorite storyline in the entire show, and the one I’d most like to remove from canon, which is not just because I’ve always hated it, but because I’ve never found it convincing. And I had to endure it for 3 more episodes after this one.
Neutral things: the other thing that the plot is about is the competition for the Homecoming Queen, one of those American high school traditions that I just don’t get. They really have official popularity contests in schools? Creepy. And what is a Homecoming Queen, anyway? On the other hand, the episode derives some fun from the silliness of it all. It’s also an opportunity to have Buffy and Cordy square off and deal with their issues with each other, but for this purpose, Cordy’s characterization and their dynamic have been reverted to what they were like at the end of season 1.
All in all, an average episode by BtVS standards.
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This episode is hated in some quarters, but I think it’s better than most people give it credit for. It s a dark episode that deals with themes of the monster/man duality, which are some of the themes running through the entire show. A popular complaint about the episode is that it’s preachy with its message about abusive relationships, but I don’t think that’s fair. The story about Pete and Debbie is a textbook example of an abusive man and his battered female partner (and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, BtVS has had lots of stories mirroring real life) but this is not a Lifetime movie – Pete/Debbie serves as a compare and contrast to the much more complicated Angel/Buffy relationship (just as the Oz/Willow relationships does, on the other side. The episode asks the questions, but the resolution and any messages we may get from it about Buffy’s own life and Buffy/Angel are very ambiguous. And it has an ending that people might see as darkly romantic and even cheesy, but that on this latest rewatch feels deliberately unresolved and unsettling.
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For once, the title actually says exactly what it’s about, naming the three recurring characters introduced in this episode – Buffy’s new love interest (of sorts), Scott Hope; the new vampire antagonist, Mr Trick; and one that this episode is really remembered by – Faith, soon to become one of my favorite characters on the show and one of the most popular characters in the fandom at large.
There’s also some obvious play on words with the title, but I don’t know if it’s supposed to be deep and meaningful or if it just sounds good as a pun on “faith, hope and love” or whatever it’s usually supposed to be. Are the names of the characters supposed to have a deeper meaning? Mr. Trick obviously has the most appropriate name, since a) he’s a tricky fellow, and 2) his entire role on the show is the kind of narrative trick that the show already did with Spike in season 2. But if Scott Hope was named that way because he is supposed to represent “hope” for Buffy to move on… that’s a poor hope indeed. As for Faith… I’ve always wondered why exactly she was named that way. Joss once said that her name was ironic because “she is one of the most faithless characters on the show”. Was she supposed to represent someone who, at first, seems to have “faith” in herself and in Slaying? Which she really doesn’t, as we learn later. Another irony, maybe?
There are three narrative threads in the episode, that more of less come together: Buffy finally starting to cope with sending Angel to hell, and at the same time trying to “move on” by dating a rather bland guy at school, urged on by her friends; a new group of vampires who arrive to town, and whose boss has the intention of killing “the Slayer” (except that, as we soon learn, it’s not the one we think it is); and the Scoobies meeting the other new Slayer, Faith, activated a few months earlier when Kendra died.
Oh, and then zombies crash the party. Yes, this is the first zombie episode of the show. We’ve had vampires, werewolves, witches, a robot, an invisible person, a mummy, a Frankenstein’s monster, body snatchers (Bad Eggs), so it figures we had to have zombies at some point.
Funniest moment of the episode: when in the middle of the big argument Xander says “You can’t just bury stuff Buffy. It’ll come right back up to get you” and we cut right to the zombies. So, I guess zombies are the metaphor for unresolved problems and consequences of being in denial.
The main plot involves some Nigerian mask that Joyce has brought from her gallery, which turns the dead person who wears it into the demon that even the zombies are scared of. Or something. It’s a rather silly plot, but the episode is not so bad, since it’s not so much about the supernatural plot but about the relationships between Buffy and her family and friends, and it has a lot of good dialogue.
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There are two separate threads in the episode, and their tone is so different they feel like they barely belong to the same episode. One plays like a comedy and is a look at how Buffy’s friends, family and the people at the Sunnydale High are starting the new school year without Buffy. The other is a drama about what happens to Buffy in L.A. – where she’s been working as a waitress, living in a rented apartment and going by the name of “Anne” (which is her middle name) – that makes her reclaim her identity as Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, and decide to go back to Sunnydale. It’s one of the storylines that shows Buffy starting in a place of vulnerability and despair and then showing her strength and becoming the hero again.
Is this the BtVS episode that feels most like social commentary or what? Homeless people wondering the streets, saying “I am no one”? Villains posing as a religious organization and recruiting vulnerable young people? Ruthless industrial system using people as slaves, obliterating their identities, chewing them and spitting them out when they’re of no use to it? Buffy starting a rebellion and fighting oppression with hammer and… sickle?
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There's one thing that is certain: it's a horrific, traumatizing scenario - ( read it under the spoiler tags. )
But awful, traumatizing things have happened in BtVS before, since season 1. Which is why I'm not on principle against the storyline. But it's the attitude in some corners of the fandom that has been making me furious. It hurts when some people are completely, aggressively dismissive and keep insisting that it's really not that bad at all, don't make a big deal out of it. ( Read how the fandom and some of the staff has been making me see red. )
Where I differ from most people on both sides on the fence is that I don't think that Whedon and Dark Horse are necessarily unaware of the consent issues. ( These are my current views. )
WARNING: Spoilers for the first 2 seasons of True Blood; small spoilers for The Vampire Diaries (mostly season 1), mild spoiler for season 3 of Being Human UK (nothing related to the main characters os big arcs).
I'd appreciate if you didn't reveal spoilers for episodes of True Blood after 3.1, except to generally tell me if my conclusions still hold for the rest of the show. My views of the show have changed quite a bit since season 1.
I think that TB is becoming my least favorite representation of vampires in recent fiction, bar Twilight. Sure, a lot of fiction gets to mix its vampire metaphors and those metaphors aren't perfect (BtVS and AtS did it, Being Human does it) but I think they're all over the place in True Blood and it's become really problematic.
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As a season finale, it’s one of the best. It perfectly resolves so many storylines from season 2: Buffy’ s strained relationship with her mother, Snyder’s attempts to find a reason to expel Buffy, Willow’s relationships with Xander and Oz, the Spike/Dru/Angel triangle, the B/A romance and the “Angel loses his soul” story; and in the best tradition of bittersweet Whedon finales, it manages to have Buffy defeat the Big Bad and stop an apocalypse, but leaves her emotionally devastated.
Throughout the episode, things just keep going wrong for Buffy, with just an occasional break. First cops want to arrest her for Kendra’s murder and she has to run away, then she finds out that Willow is in hospital with a serious head injury, and that Giles is kidnapped; Snyder uses the opportunity to expel her from school, and later her mother tells her not to come back home, all while she has an apocalypse to stop. If episodes like Prophecy Girl and School Hard were about Buffy surviving because of her connections to family and friends, this one is about coming to the point when you only have yourself to rely on. As foreshadowed by Whistler’s voiceover in part 1, this is where she finds out who she is. And that’s someone who never gives up and keeps fighting, even in the most desperate situation:
Whistler: In the end, you’re all you’ve got.
Buffy: I have nothing left to lose.
Whisler: Wrong, kid. You’ve got one more thing.
Angel(us): No weapons, no friends, no hope. Take all that away, and what is left?
Buffy (stopping his sword with her bare hand): Me.
To make things all the harder for her, she’s put in the position where she has to kill the man she loves to save the world (well, sort of, since Angel gets sucked into hell, but doesn’t actually die). But the emotional cost is too high, and the season 2 finale ends in both triumph and despair, as Buffy runs away from her life, trying to become someone else.
For an episode with so much pain and drama, it also has an amazing amount of humor, sometimes even at the same time. There are two scenes (Buffy and Spike coming up with the lie that they’re in a band, and Joyce and Spike trying to make small talk) that I would rank among the funniest in the show. There’s self-mocking humor even in show’s ending credits this time, as the Mutant Enemy monster doesn’t growl “URGH-ARGH” but whines “Ooh I need a hug!”
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