|Buffy the Vampire Slayer|
written and illustrated by Robert Delaney
|"Things have really
sucked lately. That's all gonna change."|
|Buffy Summers, Grave|
It sure has. The seventh season has gotten off to a great start. I'm going to try and write these reviews one at a time as they're broadcast instead of all at once over the summer like I did last season. Of course this means that I won't have the benefit of hindsight or any sense of the yet to unfold Big Picture to make my analysis look really intelligent and insightful. We'll also get to see how much I'll be able to really embarrass myself with completely wrong speculations about where things are going.
Let the nitpicking begin!
Last season, as part of my story arc rant, I spoke about the importance of delight in experiencing a series (or any work of art). And I'm thrilled to say that this episode delighted in almost every scene: from the vampire getting stuck after all that dramatic buildup in the beginning (classic Buffy), to the dreading of an impending doom that turns out to be the first day of school (am I the only one who still gets a sick feeling in his stomach toward the end of August even though I've been out of school for years?), to the outstanding music score, to all the surprise guest appearances at the end.
Buffy's "It's about Power" speech in the beginning wasn't really relevant to that particular situation. Power is usually defined as the ability to exercise control over something. Vampires are dangerous and can kill you, but we've never seen one using that as a threat to control people, nor has the slayer used her strength to control a vampire. Of course, I can overlook this because the real reason for the line was to serve as an architectural link to the last line of the episode, bookending it beautifully. Also, Buffy's point about the danger inherent in mistakenly believing that you have power when you really don't is very important. Look what happened to Maggie Walsh when she thought that she could control demons and vampires. Buffy's a tough teacher too: letting Dawn get bit as part of the lesson. I'm assuming that there was considerable time spent in the training room before Buffy brought Dawn out for a field test.
I was able to breathe a sigh of relief over the way Willow is now being handled. She was consumed with guilt over what she did and has to deal with everyone still being afraid of her. There was a new sincerity present in her and even a little touch of the recovering addict. After all my "I hate Willow" ranting last season, I actually felt sorry for her and started to like her again. I guess I'm just a big softy. I'm glad that she won't be turning away from magic - even though she isn't happy about it - and she seems to have found some proper mentors to help her (I wonder if "Harkness" is a reference to the witch/nanny in Marvel Comics). She also seems to be finally delving into the spiritual aspects of magic, but I think they repeated the phrase, "It's all connected", a few times too many. Let's hope that the producers can come up with something a little more profound than that in future episodes as they show her training. Unfortunately, she was still using magic to impose her will on the universe. When she made the flower bloom, and Giles said, "That doesn't belong there", I at first thought that he was reprimanding her for tampering with Nature rather than just speaking of geography.
Dawn's obligatory introduction of herself to the class was both clever and funny while still being humble, and we could see the other students starting to be really impressed. She was about thirty seconds away from becoming the queen of the freshman class, able to wield the kind of power that even Cordelia never could have dreamed of because she would had have a brain to go along with the beauty and popularity. Then Buffy burst into the room, and Dawn was officially branded "the weird girl", a label that was permanently solidified by the pencil zombie (Buffy lost her cool status on the first day of school pretty much the same way). I could picture one of the other girls saying, "Excuse me. I have to go call everyone that I've ever met right now". And now that she's an outcast, a new Scooby Gang seems to be forming around her consisting of the other outcasts, Kit and Carlos, also echoing the events in Welcome to the Hellmouth. I wonder if the producers are grooming them to be Buffy: The Next Generation now that the current cast is getting so long in the tooth. We live in a youth obsessed culture where twenty-five is practically over the hill (today Mabeline, tomorrow Depends). Also, this season's cast finally has more of an ethnic presence than previous seasons.
Dawn's teacher, Mr Lohengrin, seemed nice, caring, and easygoing, with a good sense of humor. I guess that means he's dead meat. I wonder what the new librarian is like. They could have some fun contrasting her/him with Giles. I don't know what to make of Principal Wood. He seemed nice too, but he also seemed to be a bit too interested in Buffy (not that way; get your mind out of the gutter), knew too much about her, and always seemed to be around whenever she wanted to sneak through the hallways. Of course this might just be good security; most schools frown on having unauthorized people wandering around. However, his interest might have been because he had been planning to offer her the job right from the start. Maybe he did some research to find former troubled students who somehow managed to not end up dead or in jail. In a town like Sunnydale, Buffy was probably one of the few.
At first I thought that Wood was planning to offer Buffy a job as a teacher and was glad when he didn't because she doesn't meet any of the certification requirements, although the series did play pretty loose with the rules when it came to Giles. I'm not familiar with the regulations in California, but, here in New York, school librarians must be certified as teachers (by taking a core curriculum and passing some tests) in addition to having a graduate degree in Library Science and must be either American citizens or in the process of obtaining citizenship. Since Giles never showed any actual interest in interacting with students, it seems unlikely that he bothered with the education courses, and the Watchers Council made it clear that he wasn't a citizen. Anyway, I guess Buffy's position could be described as a volunteer mentor or something similar to the Big Sisters program. This does present another possible career option for her. If her three jobs - mentor, slayer, and Doublemeat Palace - allow her the time to go back to college, she could consider majoring in counseling or education.
We got some more details about Anya. I had been wondering if her status as a vengeance demon meant that she was now one of the bad guys and if the Scoobies would remain friendly with her or if they'd have to confront her about the whole doing evil to people thing. I liked that her heart really wasn't into hurting people anymore. Xander has risen to a supervisory position in the construction company. Who'd've thunk that he'd end up the most grown up and successful of the group.
Spike! Just as I was starting to reconcile myself to the slight disappointment that, in an otherwise perfect episode, the season premier wasn't going to let us know what was going on with him, he suddenly showed up in a most unexpected place. Now that his soul was back, the Spike personality was gone, but he didn't seem to be William either. This was a good example of a series not doing what I wanted them to do but coming up with something unexpected that also looked really interesting. His becoming so psychologically messed up by the return of his soul was consistent with what we've seen before: Angel remained messed up for a hundred years when he got his soul back, and Buffy was messed up for one year after going through a similar experience. Of course, she had been dead for only a few months and had gotten some help from her friends while Angel had no one, and Spike seemed to be getting help from the worst person possible.
Was the Being to whom he was talking - who will presumably be the Big Bad this season - the same Being who gave him his soul back at the end of the last season? If not, how did Spike hook up with him, and how did he end up in the school basement? What did his "[I've] always been here" statement mean? The Big Bad seemed to indicate that Spike was part in his plans. At the moment, Spike seemed to be playing a Renfield-like role of insane henchman, but I'm wondering which side he will eventually end up on. Some of his incoherent babblings contained references to slates, caning, and other things that would go on in a nineteenth century schoolhouse, indicating that at least some of William's personality must have been present. The Master later referred to Spike's "trying to do what's right". What did he try? The cockeyed optimist in me is hoping that he'll prove to be a hero. Perhaps the season might end with Buffy about to be killed and William giving up his soul so that the Spike personality can reassert itself to save her.
This brings up the issue of how Spike feels about Buffy now. He said that he had a speech prepared. Was this to declare his love for her or his hatred, or was it to warn her about what the Big Bad was planning? Was that the "trying to do what's right"? The way Spike casually backed away when Buffy was being attacked by the ghosts made me think at first that he was working with them and wanted her to be hurt, but then I realized that his disinterest was another symptom of his disassociated mental state. Buffy should have picked up on his "Duck" warning; she's picked up on much more obscure hints in Seeing Red and Older and Far Away. She also didn't notice his "just the three of us" comment. At first I thought that it meant that Dawn was with them but later realized that he was referring to the Big Bad's presence. And what did he try to cut out: his soul, the chip, his broken heart? He later told the Big Bad that Buffy wouldn't understand. Understand what?
Because this episode was packed so full and needed to accomplish so many things: introducing new characters, reintroducing the old ones, and setting arcs in motion, it didn't bother me at all that the main storyline with the ghosts (I would have said Manifest Spirits, but that would be too much trouble to type each time) wasn't all that interesting. It would have been better if Buffy did start to feel guilty about all the people she had failed to save, but her immediate concern was for Dawn, and she spent so much time in a state of emotional torment last season that I'd hate to have to watch her go through even more this season. Let's hope that the producers limit her problems to physical danger and the end of the world this year. The ghost plotline did raise a few questions though. Where did the talisman come from? How did Spike know what was going on and how to stop it? Were they being controlled by the Big Bad, or was their presence a just a coincidence? Who did summon them? Since they were seeking vengeance and could be stopped by the talisman being destroyed, was there a vengeance demon involved? I'm also wondering if they were being played by actors whom we saw die in earlier episodes. It would have been a nice touch if they were.
And what can I say about the parade of villains in the final scene that could possibly express how absolutely delightful it was? I'll bet that I'm not the only one who kept rewinding the vcr to watch it over and over again. It was a pure gift from the producers to the fans because who else but long time viewers would even recognize all of them? And we're lucky that all the actors were available to shoot it.
When Warren appeared, I was in a total state of shock. How could that be? Then he morphed into Glory, and I was even more surprised, although it did make sense of Warren's being there. I always believed that Glory wasn't permanently dead, and she could probably take on any form she wanted (actually, the Internet Movie Database had spoiled me that she would be appearing this season, but now I'm wondering if this was her whole appearance or if she'll be back). It was when Glory morphed into Adam that I realized that this was one Being manifesting in many forms. Then came the Mayor and Drusilla as we counted backward through six seasons of Big Bads until, finally, the Master appeared. I can't explain why, but his appearance, accompanied by his "right back to the beginning" line, struck me as the single most frightening moment in the entire series. This portends really bad things for Buffy and the world which portends really good things for us watching at home. I also have to praise the quality of the writing in this scene. The distinctly different speech pattern (or idiolect) given to each villain could serve in a textbook as a superb example of exposing a character through dialog.
Of course, there are always questions being raised, and foremost among them are: what was Buffy's image doing mixed in there, and, if the parade of Evil was actually counting backwards to the oldest Evil of them all, why did it lead to her? Could it have something to do with the First Slayer who seemed much more frightening than she did heroic? Given that each villain had their personality intact, were they being actually resurrected rather than merely imitated, or have they always been nothing more than physical manifestations of this One Evil behind them all? (Speaking of manifestations: all of them except Drusilla could be described as manifest spirits seeking vengeance for their deaths at Buffy's hands). And just who is this Big Bad? Throughout the episode, we were given hints like "something older than the old ones is rising" and "going right back to the beginning - not the bang, not the Word - the true beginning". This probably refers to the Big Bang - the scientific creation of the universe - and the opening line of the Gospel of John which describes the theological creation of the universe with "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Way back in the third season episode, Amends, we were introduced to an entity claiming to be the First Evil, who manifested in different forms, but we were then left hanging. Perhaps the series is finally picking up on that plot thread. Could the First Evil be another name for Satan?
And what does that woman in Istanbul have to do with any of this?
Uh oh, after such a great beginning last week, they're starting to backslide into things that I didn't like in the sixth season. I didn't like seeing Buffy and Spike beating up on each other again, especially since there was no valid reason for it to happen. Anya certainly didn't need Buffy to fight Spike for her. She's a demon, which means that she's probably much more powerful than Spike is, and Buffy knew that. And I certainly didn't like all the invoking of the rape incident. Its occurrence in Seeing Red was a bad execution of an even worse idea, as I explained last season, but, being a magnanimous person, I was perfectly willing to pretend that it never happened if the producers were willing to come to their senses and pretend the same thing, just like I was willing to pretend that Conner's birth and the whole Holtz storyline never happened on Angel. They let me down in both cases.
When Spike showed up at Buffy's house, suddenly so calm and rational after being so messed up earlier, I immediately assumed that he was really the Big Bad in Spike's form. He wasn't behaving like William, but he wasn't behaving like Spike either. There was less attitude, more confidence and maturity, and a softer accent than we've ever seen in him before. But when Anya sensed the presence of a soul, I got confused because it meant that he really must have been Spike/William after all, and I didn't like that they had made him get better so quickly after being so messed up earlier in the episode. When he and Buffy were fighting, his personality suddenly became much more Spikelike, complete with a thicker accent. But then Spike seemed to be genuinely shocked when he killed Ronnie. The chip seems to still be working too, but Spike clearly screamed in horror at what he had done and then in pain from the chip. Abruptly, his personality switched back to being messed up, and he screamed at a voice he was hearing in his head. Then the Spike personality came back.
It was at this point that I remembered Spike's "just the three of us in here" comment from the last episode. I had thought that he was referring to Buffy, himself, and the Big Bad, but what if Buffy wasn't one of those three? Maybe William, Spike, and the Big Bad are inhabiting the same body. Perhaps the Big Bad did not have a physical presence (yet) and needed a physical body to inhabit. The William personality was all messed up from being resouled; the Big Bad personality was confident and mature with less of an accent; and the Spike personality would be mostly suppressed as Angelus is in Angel. In fact, was the Spike personality we saw in this episode really Spike or the Big Bad pretending to be Spike? It was likely that the Big Bad personality sadistically gave up control of the body the moment before Ronnie was killed just so that the William personality would have to suffer through the experience. Spike was William again in the church, and his babbled statements like "now everybody's in here talking" started to make sense. "Everyone" could have referred to Spike's victims, "him" referred to the Spike personality; and "it, the other, the thing beneath" referred to the Big Bad. Back in my review of Seeing Red, I even suggested multiple personalities as the only possible rationalization for Spike's behavior.
Spike also said a surprising thing. He said that he intentionally went to get his soul back "to be a kind of man" that Buffy could love and echoes her insults like "[I'm] beneath you". This contradicted everything that I interpreted from the last few episodes of the last season. I was under the impression that when he told the demon to "make me like I was, so she can get what she deserves", that he meant "take out my chip so I go back to being an evil killer who can destroy her and everyone she loves" but that the demon had misinterpreted him to mean (either out of malice or a special knowledge of what was really in Spike's heart) "give me my soul back, so I can be the kind of man that she deserves", meaning that the resouling came as a total surprise. During the church scene, Buffy was both frightened by his behavior and horrified to learn that he had done it for her. She wasn't really responsible for all of the suffering he was now going through, but she was to blame because she did torment him - physically, verbally, and emotionally - throughout the last season. In the past, various Scoobies have often accused Spike of being a stalker, but his current condition has actually given him the potential to become one because he's now mentally deranged in addition to being even more obsessed with Buffy than ever. This combination actually makes him more of a threat to Buffy than he was even before he was chipped. He no longer thinks rationally and has no concern for his own well being (as shown on the cross). This whole scene was the first time that Spike was ever truly frightening. The situation has become very complicated and will be a real test of Buffy's compassion as we see how she deals with it. Now that she knows that Spike is, at the very least, mentally ill, she can't just let him run around unsupervised where he'll be a danger to both others and himself. She could respond by staking him, having him committed to a mental hospital (assuming that they take vampires, and in a place like Sunnydale, where groups like Spellcasters Anonymous exist, they probably do), taking responsibility for looking after him herself, or finding someone else to look after him. Angel would be most logical choice for this because, not only does he have a history with Spike, but he is also the only person in the world who can relate to what it's like to be a vampire with a soul. Unfortunately, Angel is on another network now, and crossovers are not allowed, so Buffy is being prevented from doing the most sensible thing she could do. It will be interesting to see where the series goes with this, but I'm pretty sure that it won't be pleasant to watch, either because we'll be seeing our beloved characters suffering horribly or because we'll be seeing the producers really screwing up the story potential of these ideas. Starting last season, the biggest problem with this series has become that I've started spending so much time worrying about the outcome that I'm unable to enjoy the episodes as they happen.
On some other fronts, I didn't like that Willow was planning to leave England so soon - and after such a promising buildup last episode too <sigh>. We didn't get to see what she was learning (or if she was learning) or any of the training that a proper witch/Wiccan was supposed to get. I hope that this wasn't the extent of her quest for redemption. Willow was worried that the others might not be willing to accept her back, which seems rather unfounded. Anya might be the only one not willing to welcome her.
We got a better sense of what Buffy's job description will be - kind of like those people who volunteer to answer phones for those crisis hotlines that teenagers can call when they have problems and need to talk to someone other than an authority figure or peer - except she'll have office visits and be getting paid. Perhaps they should have shown her working under the supervision of the guidance counselor and receiving some kind of orientation from her/him, rather than reporting directly to the principal.
Dawn slipped back into her "I'm the center of the universe" attitude when she found out that Buffy hadn't told her about Spike's return as if Buffy had done that to intentionally hurt her. She also needs to work on her intimidation skills. Any threat that needs as much explaining as that one did really doesn't come across as very threatening and certainly not as "unbelievably scary".
Have I left anything out? Oh right, the story. In these first two episodes, the main story was less interesting than the arc stuff, making me kind of resent the episode for wasting so much time when they could be moving the Big Picture along. On the other hand, if the arc doesn't eventually pay off, the arc stuff will be seen as wasting time that could have been spent making the main story more compelling. A bright spot was when Nancy was trying to work out the soap opera details of who has slept with whom. (I didn't notice the glance between Xander and Spike the first time I watched.) It was also amusing to find out that Anya was behind it, to see her "at work" and the way the Scoobies confronted her, and to learn that she has a quota. Apparently, she's given into the "peer pressure" from the other demons to start doing evil again. This also raises the question as to whether there are any consequences to the person who makes a wish to a vengeance demon. In exchange for having their wish granted do they lose their soul or something even if they don't realize it at the time? That would seem like the demony thing to do. Otherwise I'd have to agree with Halfrek when she characterized herself as meting out justice, not vengeance - only that's what angels do, not demons. Also, it was a tad clichéd when Nancy didn't let go of the leash when she was being dragged. Unless a person is making an effort to hold on tight, a sudden yank like that would pull the leash out of her hand. And the way that the worm demon was shown burrowing through the ground evoked a more comical image than it did a horrific one ("Maybe I should have made that left turn in Albuquerque"), not to mention its similarity to the monsters in the Tremors movies. Finally, like I was wondering about the ghosts last episode, was the worm demon part of the Big Bad's activities or an independent event. It seemed that Anya was directly responsible, but the woman in Germany seemed to be warning about it when she said, "From beneath you, it devours" (and the Run Lola Run reference went right past me until it was pointed out). Maybe all these unrelated events will eventually fit together like a puzzle who's picture can only be perceived after it's finished. Spike did say, "It makes you and me look like itty bitty puzzle pieces". Spike and Anya are both foretelling doom now.
Willow left England without finishing her training, and we still didn't get to see any of it. If we choose to follow through with last season's addiction metaphor, it's important to note that addicts who leave their treatment programs without completing them have not really been cured. Why would Giles say that it was "really important" for Willow to leave early? I would have thought that it would have been more important for her to finish, and, as far as Giles knew, there was no crisis brewing in Sunnydale that might have needed her presence. A scene between Giles and the mentioned-but-never-shown Ms. Harkness debating these issues might have made things clearer, especially since Giles later reversed his position and said that he should have known that she wasn't ready. It seemed that the only reason the producers made Willow leave was to get her back with the other characters so that they wouldn't have to shoot on location in England anymore. This seems to be another instance of "real world" events influencing "on screen" events without bothering to come up with valid on screen explanations, just as when Giles decided to leave America. When I'd first seen that they'd taken the trouble to go on location to England - and I am only assuming that they actually did go on location, so this entire rant may be entirely unfounded - I thought that they might be transitioning into the opening of The Watcher spinoff series which would have had Willow guest starring in the first few episodes to help pull in viewers (although rumors say that that series has been postponed for a while which might explain the abrupt change in direction - more "real world" influences). Anyway, the outcome of this episode made it obvious that Willow had learned absolutely nothing from her experiences last season or her time in England. In essence, her situation has been reset back to what it was after Something Blue in season four with her accidental "My Will Be Done" spell on the Scoobies. She's still irresponsible; how long will it be before she goes back to being reckless and arrogant? In fact, now that she's casting spells unconsciously, she's probably more of a threat than she was last season. Xander was able to talk her down because she knew what she was doing. How can they stop her from doing things that she's not even aware of? Interestingly, however, this is exactly the kind of situation that they'll face with Spike in a few episodes.
Speaking of Spike, Buffy has decided to deal with his situation by doing absolutely nothing which is, of course, the worst possible way of dealing with it - although it is perfectly in character for her to deal with difficult situations by running away from them. Despite this total lack of concern for him, she didn't hesitate for a moment to go to him for help when she needed it, a pattern that she started in the fifth season ("Get out of my life you filthy scum! I hate you! Now please protect my mother and sister for me!"). She even insensitively referred to him as the "crazy vampire" when he was still undoubtedly close enough to hear her and be hurt by it. This behavior is actually working against her own best interests because, if she were paying closer attention to his problems (not returning his love or anything like that - just paying attention), she might be able to notice the Big Bad hovering around him before It was ready to be noticed. Xander was really mean to Spike too, but at least he was being consistent. It was a nice touch that the scene in the basement repeated the symbolism of Spike standing at the edge of the shadow - with that line separating him from Buffy - that we saw in last season's After Life and As You Were.
As for the main story, it took me a little while to figure out what was going on. My first thought was that Willow was somehow "out of phase" with the rest of the world, but, if that were so, then she wouldn't have been able to interact with anyone instead of just not with the Scoobies. I didn't figure it out until the basement scene. Buffy was a little quick to jump to the conclusion that Willow was responsible for the skinless corpse. Willow always had a strong motivation before trying to kill someone - Glory's attack against Tara, Warren's murder of Tara, Dawn's constant whining - and here, there just didn't seem to be one. Dawn's enthusiasm for gory details, as well as her obvious enjoyment of research to the point of wanting to create a database, reminded me a bit of Giles - except the database part, but that's probably because she's younger and more open to new ideas. I'd always wondered why the Watcher's Council had never bothered to do this, although we did see Giles make an attempt way back in I Robot, You Jane with disastrous results. I liked the Anya and Willow scenes. These two have never interacted very much in the past even though Willow was the first of the inner circle of Scoobies to have dealings with her. It could be interesting to see where their relationship - platonic or otherwise - goes. Buffy namedropped Clem; I hope that this means we'll be seeing him again. And the graffiti guy got what he deserved.
The Gnarl demon - oops, I mean Gnarl - had one of the best demon costumes/makeup that we've ever seen on the series (I suppose the worst was the demon in Normal Again, whose costume absolutely screamed, "We're short on cash this week"), and need I even mention the ick factor of the scene where he ate Willow's skin? Dawn was wrong, however, when she called him a parasite as he was clearly a predator. This was the second time that one of the characters proudly misused an uncommon word without its seeming to be an intentional malapropism on the writer's part. The first was Anya's misuse of "pastiche" in Once More With Feeling. This doesn't seem to mean anything plotwise, so I guess I'm just showing off my fancy book larnin'. And I loved Anya's comment during the living room scene with the paralyzed Dawn. Just as I was starting to be bothered that the entire scene was becoming inappropriately comic during such a serious situation, she went and said, "Wouldn't it be tragic if you were here being kind of silly with your comically paralyzed sister while Willow was dying?" It actually made me be willing to ignore the fact that Dawn was able to move her tongue and talk even though her mouth, jaw, and everything else was paralyzed. Maybe Gnarl likes to hear his victims scream and whimper as he eats them.
On the unfortunate side, the way Gnarl appeared and spoke reminded me a little bit too much of Gollum in Lord of the Rings, or at least the Ralph Bakshi version of him (although, if I recall correctly, the people-eating aspect of him was only in The Hobbit, wasn't it?). This makes two episodes in a row with a familiar looking monster. Buffy has a long history of taking well-known monsters like mummies and possessed ventriloquist dummies and putting its own unique twist on them, but here we're getting the well-known monsters without the twists. Also, the whole concept of Willow accidentally casting a spell on the Scoobies calls to mind the plot of Something Blue. I'm just mentioning these things for now. If I were to get really nitpicky, I'd also mention that Spike's comment, "I'm insane; what's his excuse?" comes from an old joke with the punchline, "I'm crazy, not stupid". There were, however, several really good - and original - lines too: in addition to Anya's "comically paralyzed", there was Buffy's "I gotta get a job where I don't get called right away for this stuff" and Xander's "Dank and dark. I was hoping it would be dank and dark".
Hmmm, there was no woman being killed in the beginning. I'd assumed that we'd see the hooded men kill one in each episode, getting closer and closer to Sunnydale, until finally came after Buffy.
As I said earlier, another problem with story arcs in a series is that they can make us resent the main plot of an episode and anything not directly connected to the arc that we're so desperate to know more about. On the second viewing of this episode, I realized that I would have liked it a great deal if I hadn't been more concerned with what was going on with Spike. Once again, Buffy went to Spike for help even though she acknowledged that his seeing her tended to worsen his condition. Despite this awareness she showed no interest in helping him - just in exploiting him again and again whenever it suited her needs - and even getting impatient and angry with him for being mentally ill. It seemed that the purpose of the early episodes last season was to make us hate Willow; this season they seem to be trying to make us hate Buffy. Since Willow ultimately became the Big Bad last season, does that mean that Buffy will become the Big Bad by the end of this season? The parade of villains in Lessons did ultimately lead back to her.
In spite of all this, Spike still showed up for a climactic rescue, and it was very interesting that his madness made him not care that the chip was hurting him for attacking humans. This makes sense since aversion therapy and classical conditioning would likely work only on a properly functioning brain. This gives Spike the potential to be almost as dangerous as if he had no chip. At the end, Cassie said to him, "She'll tell you. Someday she'll tell you." Who is this she, and what will she tell Spike? Will Buffy tell Spike that she loves him? Or will she tell him that she forgives him for trying to hurt/rape her? Spike may actually need the latter more. Or is this just what the producers want us to think, and there is an entirely different "she" being spoken of.
Speaking of Cassie, it was interesting to note that, when I was watching this episode for the second time, I had completely forgotten that Cassie died at the end, although I suppose that this says more about my denial mechanisms than it does the episode. Anyway, in Greek mythology a woman named Cassandra had the gift of prophecy but was also cursed so that no one would ever believe her when she tried to warn them about the things she saw. Here, Cassie told Buffy that she would try to help Cassie to survive but wouldn't be able to. Buffy didn't believe her and thought that she had successfully defied the prophecy until Cassie died anyway of a heart condition. Perhaps the function of this episode in the arc may have been to show Buffy that prophecies cannot be averted. This would be particularly discouraging to her at a time when many prophecies of impending doom were coming to her from many sources and tend to make her outlook as bleak as possible. Of course, way back in the first season's Prophecy Girl, Buffy did manage to find a loophole in another irrefutable prophecy of doom.
The recovering English Major in me can't help but point out that the line in Cassie's poem about her never having the opportunity to lose her virginity: "But dirt waits for no woman, and coins will buy no time. I hear the chatter of the bugs. It's they alone will feast," is a much more serious echo of Andrew Marvell's humorous lines in To His Coy Mistress:
There was another discussion about power in this episode, following up on the theme raised in Lessons but which I complained didn't really fit the given context. I was expecting this discussion to tie in with that one and make more sense of it, especially since they now seemed to be taking the time to define their terms. Lets see: the more power one has, the less control one has over what the power will do; while the more control one has, the less power there will be to accompany it.... No, that doesn't really relate to the earlier discussions, but it does sound like an issue that could become important later on.
I can't help but wonder exactly what Buffy's work schedule is between her counseling, Doublemeat Palace, and slaying. She seems to be spending the entire school day (9:00-3:00?) at Sunnydale High. Is she still working at Doublemeat? The funeral parlor scene at the beginning of the episode missed an opportunity for a joke. Since Buffy has died twice, she could have made a Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood reference by saying, "That's the most uncomfortable coffin I've ever been in" or, at least, some other reference to her previous coffin experience. And maybe Buffy should go out on a date with that student who was hitting on her. If she had let Jonathan take her to the prom back in the third season, maybe all of the sixth season badness wouldn't have happened to her <G>.
The series seems to be treating Willow's evil actions last season as a "Jekyll and Hyde" transformation that she couldn't control rather than as a normal person being corrupted by power and giving into the dark side. Unfortunately, this makes Willow less accountable for her actions and, therefore, less likely to achieve any legitimate redemption. There's another thing about their portrayal of her that has been bothering me for a long time: why would a smart and skillful hacker like Willow be using a Mac in this day and age? Shouldn't she be a devout Linux user who constantly complains about Microsoft and considers Mac users to be beneath contempt?* I've been seeing an awful lot of Macs on many television shows lately. Is there some kind of payoff or product placement going on, or is it just that production designers like the pretty colors? Or maybe arty people like production designers have experiences only with Macs in their own lives and don't know anything about hacker culture. If I give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe Willow deleted the Mac's operating system and installed her own. The displays on her screen certainly don't look familiar. [*Addendum: It's just been pointed out to me that the latest generation of the Mac OS has become the in thing among cutting edge hackers, so Willow's use of a Mac does make sense - but I'm willing to bet that the producers didn't know this.]
The "police detective show" aspects of this episode, as Buffy tried to figure out who the potential murderer was, were a little weak. She was jumping to conclusions that made her much too hostile to each of the suspects - not to mention way too judgmental toward Cassie's dad before she had any real facts - and she was very lucky that her hunch about that guy with the coins did turn out to be correct, considering the way she way she threatened him, again without any information that would hold up in court. A second season episode suggested that she might be suited for a career in law enforcement, and I expanded on that last season, but I now take it all back. It looks like Buffy would be the kind of cop who would have beaten up Rodney King. And why would a doctor send Cassie's medical records to a nonprofessional like Buffy? Shouldn't that kind of information be confidential?
Finally, the boys' ritual and its motivation - sacrificing girls to raise a demon who will make them rich - was very reminiscent of the second season episode, Reptile Boy. Again, I'm just mentioning it for now, but this is a bad sign for the future of Buffy.
This was the first really good episode since the season opener. When Spike was talking to Buffy in the basement, and she was being all compassionate and reasonable, I was shocked they were suddenly making her do what I thought she should have been doing all along. Have they actually been reading my reviews? But this was such an abrupt turnaround in her behavior that it didn't make any sense. That was when I realized that she must have been a hallucination. Or could she have been the Big Bad once again impersonating Buffy? That got me thinking: could the parade of villains that we saw in Lessons actually have been nothing more than a hallucination that Spike was having and that I've been making too much out of it? Maybe there is no Big Bad with/possessing him after all (but I kind of doubt it). Then the real, uncompassionate, Buffy came in and made an ambiguous statement about the basement "killing him" (echoing her statement last season about her relationship with him killing her). Is it me, or is Buffy starting to become more and more like the dark, no-nonsense Buffy we saw in the alternate reality of The Wish? Then the scene ended just as it seemed that they were finally going to start dealing with the Spike issues that they had been ignoring.
I was all prepared to get really annoyed again at the lack of Spikiness in the episode, but the producers made up for it by finally dealing with all the Anya issues that I'd also been complaining about since last season. In the "over my head" department: I didn't get why the Scandinavian scenes had that scratched, old movie look to them. Clearly they were going for some kind of effect or joke, but I'm not sure what. Shooting them in an atmospheric, black and white, Ingmar Bergman style would have seemed like a more obvious choice. Also, the musical flashback to the "lost scene" from Once More with Feeling, showing Anya in happier times, was a poignant eulogy when we thought that Anya was dead. However, since they immediately showed us that she wasn't dead after all, it came across more as pointless emotional manipulation. It actually made me feel cheated that she wasn't dead. Upon reading comments about this episode on the internet, however, I realized that I had missed the whole point of the episode: to show that Anya had always defined herself by her relationships with others - Olaf, D'Hoffryn, Xander - and the role that she played in their lives rather than bothering to develop an identity of her own. Now it all makes a lot of sense. If they had shown the episode's title on screen, it would have been much clearer. An interesting twist that they might have explored is that we don't have any real confirmation that Olaf actually was cheating on Anya. Maybe she was just being paranoid and possessive because of her fear of losing the center of her universe, and everything that happened to her for the past 1100 years was for nothing.
For a minute, it looked like we were also going to get an explanation for Anya's bunnyphobia, but then we didn't. We did get an explanation for her obsessive capitalism. When she saw how badly her communistic ideals were misused, she must have jumped to the opposite extreme. This tendency to embrace the extremes of any "ism" that catches her fancy makes sense in the context of what we just learned about her. Also, I can't help but wonder what D'Hoffryn planning to say when Anya interrupted him with her desire to take back what she had done. What kind of arrangement had Willow made with him? And what does Willow now owe him? And, finally, I guess we'll never find out now whether Halfrek and Cecily were the same person. Maybe the scene where she and Spike recognized each other in Older and Far Away was not intended to be anything more than an inside joke for people who pay close attention to casting.
There were only a few minor things in the episode that I was unhappy with. Philistine that I am, I hate subtitles. Why would they use subtitles in the Scandinavian scenes? The scene in Russia wasn't in Russian, so they can't claim that they were doing it for authenticity. It was amusing, however, that everyone in Anya's village had the same odd way of phrasing things that she has. Or was that meant to be a parody of badly translated foreign movies? More seriously, when Willow found the woman sobbing, I thought that she was going to tell Willow that she had been gang raped by the fraternity. What else are we supposed to think when we find a sobbing woman in a frat house? Compared to that expectation, the real story provoked a "was that all?" response from me. Summoning a vengeance demon to kill them all would be an appropriate reaction to the rape scenario, not the real one - cruel as it was - but I suspect that Anya showed up right away to encourage the overreaction. Unfortunately, Anya's turnaround meant that the guys got off without any punishment at all unless they were allowed to remember what happened.
Buffy said that the Slayer doesn't have an all knowing council to offer her guidance. While the Watcher's Council is not "all knowing", they do supposedly exist for the sole purpose of providing the Slayer with guidance, and they probably would have told Buffy to kill Anya much sooner - and there is a Slayer Guidebook which Buffy ignores that might contain a chapter entitled, "What To Do When One of Your Friends Turns Evil". Buffy's "I am the law" line was used out of context. It's usually preceded by another character making a statement about what the law says that she can or cannot do which is then cut short by "I am the law". Without the proper buildup, it doesn't have the same effect. Since the line is a cliché anyway (I've used it myself), Buffy could have had an alternate line like, "There are no human laws or courts that can deal with this. I have no choice but to be judge, jury, and executioner." Of course, the concluding phrase of that is a cliché too.
Willow was confident in her use of magic, but I didn't like that, when she used it, her dark side popped out in the Jekyll and Hyde approach that I've been complaining about. It just occurred to me that Willow's arc last season was essentially a replay of the "Dark Phoenix" storyline in X-Men but with a more superficial buildup and a less satisfying conclusion (and I still haven't forgiven Marvel for bringing Jean Grey back to life). However, it was good to see that Willow actually is capable of learning from her mistakes: she performed the spell in the bathroom this week instead of on the livingroom carpet.
So it was the basement that was making Spike insane and not the process of being re-souled or being possessed by the Big Bad. His personality even seemed to be all Spike with no William or anything else (he was actually kind of dull throughout the episode). As I complained last season, this series consistently spends a lot of time building up a plot points that don't go anywhere, such as the whole "Buffy came back wrong", "Dawn's a kleptomaniac", and Angel's "Cordelia became a Higher Being" arcs. If I try to remain optimistic, I can suspect that Spike was acting so normal because he was being controlled by the Big Bad in part of a plot to infiltrate the Scoobies. At least Buffy is starting to do something about Spike, and it does set the stage for some wackiness as Xander and Spike try to share an apartment without driving each other crazy, except, of course, they already did this a couple of years ago when Spike moved in with Giles.
D'Hoffryn has made an odd turnaround about Anya. After lecturing her about going for the pain instead of a quick, merciful kill, he sent an assassin after her rather than coming up with cruel ways to make her life miserable. Dawn continued to destroy her reputation by embarrassing herself in front of the cheerleaders who are presumably all the cool/popular girls in the school. And, getting totally superficial, I think that Dawn looks better with her usual straight hair rather than the curly hair she had in the Bronze, but Buffy's hair was the nicest we've ever seen it.
I guess I've put off saying this long enough: this was the most disappointing episode of the season so far and ranks right down there with the worst episodes of last season. The use of the Theme from A Summer Place when Dawn first beheld R.J. seemed unimaginatively clichéd, and Dawn fell in love way too fast and too intensely to be at all believable. It wasn't until she pushed that boy down the stairs that I began to suspect that there was a love spell at work and that the music was being used for comical purposes. It's interesting to note that my opinion of the series has fallen so low that I'm automatically assuming that clichés and inexplicable behavior are the results of bad writing rather than pieces of a big picture that has yet to be revealed. It seems that I'm no longer willing to give them the benefit of the doubt about anything anymore. I spent too much time last season hoping that everything would come together by the end only to be somewhat disappointed. At least Buffy was portrayed as smart enough to sense that Dawn was lying to the principal about the "accident" even if she wasn't portrayed as smart enough to pursue the matter with her.
The whole flow of the plot spun itself out rather tediously until the last quarter when all four women were in love with the boy. Unfortunately, this was the third time that they've done a story about Buffy falling under a love spell with comic results (Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered and Something Blue). And just how far did she and R.J. get on that desk? Still, the scenes with Buffy and Spike outside the principal's window and Willow attempting to cast a sex change spell were pretty funny, not to mention Anya's "Oh damn!" when she realized that she had just given Willow that idea. But I'm now officially declaring that the producers have just used their one permitted comic episode for the season. So we better not see another one.
It was disappointing that both R.J. and his brother seemed to be unaware of the jacket's magic power and never learned what was going on. Even Anya declared that the lack of background information about the jacket "bites". This was the second time this season that she pointed out a problem with the script (the first was her "comically paralyzed" line in Same Time, Same Place) which raises the question: if the producers know that there are problems in the script, why don't they fix them instead of having a character comment about them on screen? They did this in last season's Normal Again too when the doctor admitted that the Trio were pathetic villains.
It has, of late, become very trendy for people to talk about a television series "jumping the shark" and to cite all sorts of irrelevant examples that don't really relate to the show's quality. But some incontrovertible "shark jumps" are when a series starts repeating itself, borrowing ideas from other sources, and relying too heavily on gimmicks and comedy at the expense of both the characters' and the series' integrity. Overall, I'm starting to become convinced that this should be the last season of Buffy. There are few things more depressing than a series that has outlived its producers' creativity and just keeps on going and going because there's still money to be milked from it (Hercules, Xena, All in the Family, Married with Children, etc., etc.). As with the ordeal of watching a beloved friend die from cancer, there comes a point when you stop wishing for a recovery and start wishing for death to come soon so that both his and your suffering will finally end. A wise producer knows when to pull the plug, and Buffy already seems to be more than a little bit past that point. I can only hope that what they've got planned for this season's finale will be good enough to enable the series to end on a high note.
The main purpose of this episode was to set the stage for coming events regarding the Big Bad's activities. It was a really promising start, but, as I said earlier, they've lost all the benefit of the doubt, so I'm withholding judgement until after I've seen what's coming. If necessary, I'll retroactively lavish the raves upon it that it deserves. When Warren appeared, I first began to suspect that both he and Cassie (and later Joyce) were really the Big Bad. It was very satisfying at the end when my suspicions were confirmed. Ideally, a series should surprise me by exceeding my expectations about where it's going, but, after over a year of speculating stuff so much better than what we were eventually given, I'm reduced to being thrilled when the outcome is completely predictable.
As for Holden, shouldn't vampires be just a little bit disoriented when they first rise? Holden seemed to have his premorbid personality completely intact while, at the same time, was both fully aware of and comfortable with his new role as evil bloodsucker. They got some nice humor out of it, but still... Unless... Since all the other dead people that the cast had conversations with were likely manifestations of the Big Bad, could it be that Holden was really the Big Bad trying to mess with Buffy's head just as he had with Willow's and Dawn's? Holden did come across as much smarter and more self-controlled than the usual vampire. But will Buffy, Willow, and Dawn be smart enough to believe nothing that they were told? In either case, Buffy finally acknowledged that she treated Spike very badly last season. Could this be the turning point in how she treats him this season?
And speaking of Spike, I just don't know what to say. If the other characters had seen him bite that woman, it would be easy to dismiss both it and Holden's statement as more of the Big Bad's deceptions. But, since there seemed to be no one around to see the attack, it would be hard to interpret it as being anything other than genuine. Maybe all the "Spike is still evil" people are right after all, and we "Spike can be redeemed" people are wrong, but I don't see any interesting place that the series can go with this. The one ray of hope was that there was no sign of the chip activating. They established in Help that the pain is no longer a deterrent to his hurting people, but we could still see him feeling it - which we didn't here.
When the Big Bad "went too far" and revealed his true self to Willow it seemed that he was committing an error. If Willow had been allowed to believe that she was really talking to Cassie, she might have also believed Cassie's warning that she had to give up magic so that she wouldn't destroy everyone. Now she knows that this information is unreliable. But would the Big Bad commit an error like that? Maybe the "error" was part of his real plan to "reverse psychology" Willow because he wants her to keep using magic for some as yet unrevealed purpose. By the by, while I've been an Azura Skye fan ever since Zoe, Duncan, Jack, and Jane, it really should have been Tara's ghost appearing directly to Willow instead - imagine the horror of seeing Tara's face warp like that - but internet rumors suggested that there were "real world" reasons that prevented this from happening. Still, it would have been nice if there were a better on screen reason why the Big Bad couldn't appear as Tara. Wouldn't it be cool if it were because the real Tara's ghost had the power to prevent him from using her image and will be playing some role later on in the season when Willow finally earns the right to see her?
It was good see Jonathan and Andrew again. I really liked Jonathan's speech about his missing high school and still caring about the people he both liked and disliked. He's grown into a much more gracious and forgiving person than I am, and this episode was his finest moment in the series - so I guess we all know what that means. Sob. (And was this evil Danzathar that Jonathan mentioned the name of the Big Bad or just a red herring?)
When things started going weird for Dawn, she was on the phone with Kit, which was the first mention of her we've had since the first episode. Will she and Carlos be putting in another appearance?
The movement in a promising direction continues. It turned out that Willow was smart enough to not trust anything that the "ghosts" said last week. Unfortunately, it looked like Dawn wasn't. This could get pretty whiny if she spends the rest of the season not trusting Buffy. Even if "Joyce" were telling Dawn the truth about Buffy not choosing her, Dawn has little cause to be worried. Buffy already chose Dawn's life over her own once before, and, as Wesley completely failed to grasp over on Angel, prophecies are notoriously deceptive. Maybe "not choosing" Dawn will be the right thing to do when the context of that choice is revealed.
We finally got some more details about what is going on with Spike, and we don't have to give up on him yet. He seemed very sincere when he was looking for the missing woman, reacting to the vampire in the Bronze, and calling Buffy with his fear that he had done some very bad things. I'd also like to think that he was telling the truth when he spoke of his remorse for his past vampire activities. Once again, he said that his intention last season was to get his soul back. Did I completely misinterpret those scenes, or is he engaging in a bit of revisionist history? Or maybe he had some unconscious motivations behind the surface ones that we saw. In either case, Buffy was finally behaving more reasonably toward him too. It seems that the psychological breakthrough that she made during her therapy session with Holden last episode is starting to take hold. In spite of all this, they nevertheless managed to generate a nice creepy moment when Spike caught Anya going through his things, and we were still uncertain enough about him to be unsure as to how he was going to react - kind of like that scene toward the end of Suspiria where the woman was trying to sneak up on the sleeping witch. Finally, when the Big Bad's plan failed (this time, at least - Mwha Ha Ha Ha!), he abandoned Spike, and Spike returned to the confused, babbling state that we saw him in earlier this season. Also, I'm kind of assuming that when the Big Bad is in control, he has the ability to suppress Spike's chip because it didn't activate when Spike bit that woman, but it did activate when he hit Xander.
The plot thread of the hooded men killing women has been picked up. They've reached England and are about to get Giles' attention.
I don't have too much to say about this one. Things seem to be continuing to progress well, and it's much more fun to complain than it is to praise. The conversions between Buffy and Spike were very good although the blood drinking was very icky (what? no cup and straw this time?), and I loved it when Willow offered to kill Anya. This was also the most fun Andrew has ever been since he first appeared, especially the scene with him and Willow trying to out-threaten each other with comic-booky dialog (it's a good thing she knows how to speak fluent geek) and the scene with Xander and Anya playing "good cop, bad cop" - although, at the moment, I'm unclear as to whether Andrew escaped during the fight or if he's still inside Buffy's house. The scene of Andrew trying to buy blood was a frequently repeated retread of a joke in one of Woody Allen's early films where Allen was trying to buy a porno magazine. In fact, Allen may have lifted it from one of Lenny Bruce's even earlier stand-up routines where a kid was trying to buy airplane glue with the intention of using it to get high.
On the successfully avoiding the overused line side of things, the episode resisted the temptation to have the principal say "Too much information" when Dawn described Buffy's symptoms. But it looks like he just might be one of the bad guys after all. Hey, maybe this was the real reason why Spike stopped Buffy from killing him back in Him: they're both working for the Big Bad <g>. The only problem with this is that Buffy has already done the evil principal in league with the bad guy thing back in the third season, and this would be yet another example of the show repeating itself. Maybe he just doesn't want the bad publicity from dead bodies turning up on his watch.
The hooded men have reached Buffy, and it has been confirmed that they're working for the Big Bad and that the Big Bad is indeed the First Evil. Of course, we all figured that out in this season's first episode, so I wonder why they even bothered to build a mystery about it. They could have spent these last nine episodes exploring who the First Evil is, where he comes from, what he wants, why he has chosen this time, and other philosophical and theological issues raised by his existence. They did the same thing last season where we knew right from the beginning that Willow would become the Big Bad, and they insisted on wasting so much time with the Trio and musicals when they could have been developing that arc better.
Could those women being hunted in the earlier episodes have been working for the Watcher's Council? Travers mentioned that the First Evil was destroying their operatives. Consensus on the internet seems to be that they were potential slayers. Later, when they cut from the interior of the Watcher Headquarters to the exterior shot of a building exploding, my first impression was that we were seeing some other building explode. For some reason, my first thought was that it was the building in which we had last seen Giles. On second thought, it does make more plot sense if it were the Watcher HQ instead. I rolled back the videotape and noticed that they chose to use a different angle of the building for the explosion shot than they did in the earlier establishing shot. This was an odd directorial choice given that this was the first time that we had ever seen this building. Anyway, it was pretty ironic that the first time we ever saw the Watchers Council actually mobilizing to do something useful they got destroyed before they actually could, but it would have been fun to see them in action helping Buffy.
As an unrelated aside: right during one of Travers' important lines, the picture and sound dropped out for a moment so that I couldn't hear it. I was prepared to ask about this in the Usenet group, when a little browsing revealed that the question had already been asked and answered. So far this season, almost every single episode has had some kind of broadcast problem like this. Enterprise has had them too, and, since these are the only UPN shows I watch, there may be even more. I could understand if this were happening at some little local station, but we're talking about the New York City station here. One would think that the technical crew at a station in the nation's largest market would have its act together, or, at least, heads would have rolled after the first occurrence. Now that I think about it, they also broadcast several episodes of Babylon 5 during its original run with no sound at all. (Technically, however, they're supposed to be a New Jersey station, but they pretty much ignore the New Jersey community and focus their attention on New York City instead because that's where the big money is.)
The First Evil referred to the creature he was summoning as a "real vampire". Way back in the pilot, Giles explained that the last demon to leave the world mixed its blood with a human to create the first vampire. Could this be that vampire? Or is it that demon? The first time I watched this episode, I mistakenly assumed that it was the First Evil himself, but now I'm pretty sure I was wrong about that. Normally, at this point, I would launch into a rant about having to sit through reruns after a cliffhanger, but the reruns are giving me a chance to catch up on these reviews.
We didn't find out if Giles was killed at the end of the last episode, but I'm kind of assuming that he wasn't. Could it be that he is now ... (cue music) ... The Last Watcher? (cue promo for upcoming series)
So the women being killed at the beginning of the earlier episodes were potential slayers. That hadn't occurred to me when I first saw those scenes even though it did seem to occur to everyone else on the internet. I can be so slow sometimes. Anyway, I've always wondered exactly how the whole "Slayer Program" worked. Kendra was taken away from her family and trained from an early age, but what would have happened if she hadn't been chosen? Would that mean that she had given up her family and wasted her childhood for nothing, or would she have been sent on missions by the Watchers anyway because, even without superpowers, her training still would have made her useful in the fight against evil? If it's the latter, then there really isn't "one girl in all the world" as we were told each week but an army of girls with one superpowered slayer to lead them. This would actually make a bit more sense of another thing I was wondering: the whole Slayer Program seems to be pretty ineffective. Despite Buffy's best efforts, a lot of people in Sunnydale have still died, and she never made any effort to fight evil elsewhere in the world. All a vampire would need to do would be to stay out of Sunnydale, and he'd be free to cause as much harm as he wished - unless slayers usually get killed so quickly that the baddies would never know where she might turn up. In this episode, Giles said something that did shed a little light on these questions: he specifically referred to the Slayer as the Hellmouth's guardian and said that a balance could not be maintained if there were no more slayers. Perhaps the First Slayer was created specifically to guard the Hellmouth - with all of her other evil fighting being secondary - and has some sort of as yet unrevealed connection to the First Evil (who said in an earlier episode that he had become tired of a mere balance). This "connection" could also explain why the First Evil took on Buffy's form during the parade of villains in the premier. Giles said that they know practically nothing about the First Evil; how much do they know about the First Slayer? Finally, why would there be no more slayers if Buffy, Faith, and these three women were killed? We've never been given the impression that slayer potential was genetic - unless Buffy's dad has some family secrets because Joyce certainly seemed clueless. Instead I had the totally unfounded impression that the "mystical forces of the universe" selected a girl to be the slayer for their own reasons.
When Buffy was trying to climb out of that hole, I couldn't figure out why Giles didn't help her. I even got an almost sinister vibe when we saw him silhouetted by the sun. That got me thinking: when we last saw Giles before this episode, he was about to get his head cut off by one of the hooded men. I think we all assumed that this was just a cliffhanger and that Giles wasn't really dead. Then we were left hanging for a couple of episodes before he turned up safe and sound here. However, I find it rather odd that, not only did we not get to see how Giles escaped, but he didn't even bother to mention the incident when he explained about the Watchers and potential slayers being killed; we didn't even see any clips of it in the flashbacks. Giles did explain that the First Evil can appear only as dead people (and it turns out that I was right about the First Evil not having a physical presence). Could it be that Giles didn't escape, that he really is dead, and that this person we were watching was actually the First Evil in disguise? Wouldn't that be a horrible shock. On the other hand, we did see the First Evil appear as Buffy who is still alive, and there are still plans to do a Giles spinoff series. Maybe the real Giles is being held prisoner somewhere. Or maybe they're misdirecting us into thinking that Giles is the First Evil when the First Evil has actually disguised itself as one of the potential slayers after having put a spell on Giles to make him forget being captured and avoid helping Buffy too much. And why didn't Buffy ask him why he just wandered away while she was in a potentially dangerous situation?
I really liked Buffy's
speech at the end with its concluding, "There is only one thing
on this earth more powerful than evil, and that's us." This recalls
Buffy's "who has the power" lesson to Dawn back in
Lessons, but Dawn's big mistake there
was in thinking that she had the power when she really didn't, and she
ended up getting bit. Despite the brave words, Buffy and Company
don't seem to have the power to make good on her threats unless she
brings in Riley, the commandos, Angel, his gang, Faith, and every
other good or semi-good guy we've ever seen in the series' previous
seasons - which would be ultra cool (the appearance of Buffy's army
in Graduation was one of the high points of the series). But
this is unlikely to happen - except perhaps Faith, who was
name-dropped this episode. On the third viewing of this episode, I finally
picked up on Giles' mention of other potential slayers besides
three two still being alive and on their way to Sunnydale.
Perhaps they will be Buffy's
army in the final showdown. (And is the apocalypse they're facing over
on Angel in anyway related to this apocalypse? The Fray
comic book said that a twenty-first century slayer and her friends
wiped out all supernatural evil in the world - for a few centuries
at least - which would make a great series finale for Buffy this
year. But where would that leave Angel if they're planning
to have that series continue?)
As for the scenes with Spike, I've been a redemptionist from the beginning, but Conversations with Dead People started making me have my doubts and taking more seriously all the "Spike is evil" people. I now officially apologize to Spike for ever doubting him. When Drusilla said, "What makes you think you'll ever be any good at all in the world?", I absolutely loved his reply, "She does, because she believes in me". And Drusilla isn't as much fun without the disorganized speech pattern, but, of course, that wasn't the real Drusilla. I didn't like when Drusilla/First Evil showed anger over Spike's betrayal and refusal to repent. A Being of Absolute Power wouldn't lose their cool or even bother with something as petty as anger and revenge but, instead, would be more concerned with the big picture. The behavior we saw here was more typical of an Absolute Power Wannabe like Glory. And what was the point of holding Spike underwater since vampires don't need to breathe - unless that was holy water, but we didn't see any smoke, and it wasn't affecting the Turok-Han either. However, since the Turok-Han predates Christianity, would he be affected by religious symbols? He was immune to the stake but avoided the sun.
The Turok-Han doesn't seem to have a great deal of personality either, nor does the First Evil for that matter. I prefer the villain/devil/evil to be a character with personality and motivation - even if that motivation is just a desire to do pure evil - than to be an abstract disembodied force. I found the Omen movies to all be big disappointments because Satan was always represented by scary music and a bird sitting nearby, rather than actually being portrayed on screen so that we could get to know him - or at least that writer's vision of him - and perhaps have our preconceptions of his role in the universe challenged. So far only novels and comics seem to be willing to do this. As far as I know, The Prophecy and Dogma were the first films to directly portray devils and angels with a deconstruction of their theological implications, while both Buffy and Angel seem to be afraid of dealing head on with how Satan and God fit into their cosmologies - if they do fit in at all - and instead merely flirt with these concepts through surrogate entities like the First Evil and the Powers That Be. Perhaps the producers or network are afraid of offending people. The Turok-Han also didn't seem to be as big of a threat as he should have been. He was stronger and a better fighter than Buffy, but she was fighting him one on one rather than using strategy or teamwork or a rocket launcher. And why didn't he kill Buffy when he had the chance? Drusilla seemed to be answering that question when she told Spike that he was still alive "because I wish it", but this seemed to be a rather classic and clichéd villain reason rather than a legitimate one. I hope that there will be a specific reason why the First Evil needs Buffy to be alive, possibly because she plays some role in his master plan or the aforementioned "connection". Otherwise, he desperately needs to check out the rules for the Evil Overlord. (#13 says "I will be secure in my superiority. Therefore, I will feel no need to prove it by leaving clues in the form of riddles or leaving my weaker enemies alive to show they pose no threat.")
I'm starting to wonder about Buffy's dream visions of Joyce. Are they just dreams? Are they the First Evil? Or are they really Joyce? Buffy does have the power of precognitive dreams, but the vision wasn't talking the way we might expect Joyce to. But it wasn't talking entirely the way we'd expect the First Evil too either. All this calls into question exactly what it was that Dawn saw in Conversations with Dead People. Supporting the idea that both Joyce and Giles were the First Evil is that they both emphasized the point that Buffy should go to sleep, but then Joyce directly contradicted herself by saying that Buffy needed to wake up. Was that just Xander's voice intruding on Buffy's dream, or was it something more significant? It called to mind the oft-repeated line in Dune that "the sleeper must awaken" which in turn was inspired by the Buddhist idea that a fully enlightened person is referred to as an "Awakened One" - the literal translation of the word "Buddha". Upon second listening to Joyce's words with this in mind, a lot of her cryptic statements almost seemed to hint at some hidden wisdom that needed to be understood. Could there be some as yet unrevealed third party at work here trying to make contact with both Buffy and Dawn?
Willow said, "You only make me stronger" when she made contact with the First Evil, but the way she said it seemed to be more like a frightened warning than a frightening threat. The First Evil would be pleased that they were unintentionally making him stronger and would have no reason to warn them. So just who was the "me" who was speaking through Willow, and why doesn't it want to be stronger? Could it be Willow herself or Willow's dark side that was becoming stronger by making contact with the First Evil? Or something else entirely? Also, Willow showed a great deal of concern that all of the books belonging to the Watcher's Council had been destroyed. Perhaps that made her feel even more guilty about when she destroyed all the books that Giles had left behind in America last season.
The principal's dislike of "evil movies" seemed to be voicing what Fundamentalist Christian critics of shows like Buffy say - or would say if they were clever enough to come up with a well-reasoned argument. Maybe the producers shouldn't have given them this one to use. On the other hand, there is a bit of truth in his point about how watching gratuitous evil can affect us. I certainly feel that my life has been forever diminished by seeing the heavily promoted "surprise" in this season's premier of ER. In either case, his speech didn't really sound like the opinions of a villain, and his statement about liking mysteries also seemed to hint at some hidden wisdom. I still don't know what to make of him.
Some random fun moments: watching Dawn and Anya abuse Andrew; his speech about a "redemptive struggle of epic redemption" which seemed to spoof all of the "Spike's Redemption" threads on the internet; his other line, "I went over to the Dark Side, but just to pick up a few things"; Xander and Andrew "nerding out" together about comics with Xander abruptly remembering to act like a tough guy; and the potential slayer taking notes during Giles explanation. Buffy never did anything like that.
While writing this review, I turned on the closed captioning in order to get the correct spelling of "Turok-Han" and didn't bother to turn it off. When Giles and Willow were talking about Buffy's injuries, the dialog in the captioning was completely different from what we were hearing. The captions made her condition seem much worse:
Giles: Uh, her ribs are smashed. She should be hospitalized immediately.compared to what we heard:
Willow: Could she die?
Giles: Despite her healing abilities, I believe so. I won't lie to you. I - I don't know what to do in a situation like this because there has never been a situation like this ... which means we are back at square one.
Giles: We could make plans, as we always do, but the truth is ... Buffy was our plan. There is no backup.Maybe, at the last minute, the producers thought they were being a little too bleak and rerecorded the dialog.
Willow: Giles, she looks bad.
Giles: She does. I'm afraid there may be internal bleeding.
Willow: What does that mean? Will she...
Giles: Die? I don't think so. I - I don't know.
Willow: But what do we do if she can't fight, if she can't beat this thing?
Giles: We're back at square one.
I once again loved the scene with Andrew and Dawn as well as every other scene that he was in. Who would have thought last season that he would emerge as such an enjoyable character? He even had the good taste to find The Phantom Menace boring, so he can't be the total geek that we've been led to believe. (It would be fun if one of the potential slayers becomes his first girlfriend - waitaminute - I just remembered that he might be gay, so nevermind.) In fact, the sharp characterization of Andrew is a reminder of how far the other characters have fallen. Back in the early seasons, Buffy, Giles, Willow, and Xander were very distinctly drawn characters to the point that, while reading the scripts, I could tell which character was speaking just by the phrasing of the dialog without needing to look at the names. Unfortunately, this can no longer be said of the current episodes as the characters have gradually blurred more toward the "normal", each losing their eccentric individualities in the process. The same thing happened with Tara, only faster. She started out as a girl who was so painfully shy that she could barely speak in front of others without stuttering. Shortly before she died (grrrrrr), she was hanging out with groups of friends and casually making sarcastic remarks at Spike. Over on Angel, it took only a few episodes for Fred to lose her charmingly disorganized speech pattern. I suppose that some people might try to justify these developments as being character growth, but it is not a worthwhile development if they all grow into the same character. At this rate, by the end of the season, Andrew will probably be married and have 2.3 children, a white picket fence, and a puppy.
I finally figured something out. The statement that the First Evil can manifest only as dead people is holding true after all despite his appearance as Buffy because Buffy did die (twice). Dopey old me again - although I was smart enough to quickly figure out that he can appear as Drusilla because a vampire is technically a dead person. I had also successfully guessed that one of the potential slayers would turn out to be the First in disguise. I really disliked Eve right from the moment we first saw her, and, while I would like to attribute this to my keen sense of perception, it was probably more due to my prejudice against southern accents. However, the First would have had to have been one of the three girls who arrived with Giles in order to satisfy the questions raised by the last episode. As things stand, those Giles issues still remain open.
The constant whining by the Potentials got on my nerves pretty quickly. They made Dawn seem positively stoic in comparison. (Hmmm, Dawn is starting to come across like a sensible, reasonable, mature human being. It must be one of the signs of that impending apocalypse.) It would have been nice if Buffy had stopped their whining by hitting them with the truth, saying something like, "You have three choices. You can leave now and get killed by the Bringers. You can leave now and get killed later when the First destroys every living thing on this planet. Or you can stay here and help me find a way to stop that from happening." Also, the presence of so many Potentials might clutter the final half of the season with a lot of extra characters that could take time away from the Spike, Willow, and Anya issues that still need to be dealt with.
Buffy said that she needed to find something that could hurt the First. This might be hopelessly corny thinking on my part, but, since we're dealing with archetypal Evil here, might the most effective weapon against Evil be Love? Unfortunately, no one on the show is in love with anyone else anymore. Even Spike's love for Buffy has transformed into something more like goddess worship, and, of course, Buffy never loved him at all although she has finally grown to care about his well being.
Beljoxa's Eye didn't tell us anything new about the First, unfortunately, but it did reveal that Buffy's resurrection was responsible for enabling the First to make his move. This may explain why the parade of villains in Lessons led back to Buffy as being the "beginning". It also gave us new insight into last season's After Life when the Being who had accidentally been brought back with Buffy furiously accused the Scoobies of doing something horrible and tried to kill both Buffy and them. If it had succeeded, maybe this would have prevented the First from being able to take advantage of the situation. Maybe that Being wasn't evil after all but actually trying to save the world. I also wonder if it could have been this Being who was speaking through Willow in Bring on the Night? Willow did mention the incident again in this episode but seemed certain that whatever had flowed through her was pure evil. Of course, maybe I'm making too much out of one line.
I have a little quibble with the way they showed Buffy arriving at "Thunderdome". She was standing with her arms folded and with the same confident facial expression that we saw the First use when he impersonated Buffy in the final shot of Lessons (and in the opening credits each week). Upon seeing this, my very first thought was that we weren't seeing Buffy but the First coming to watch the slaughter, which I'm pretty sure now is not what the producers intended me to think. It distracted me away from what should been a more powerful moment as Buffy launched her first real offensive against the First. If the producers hadn't felt the need to withhold Buffy's plan from the audience and then interrupt the fight with a flashback explaining it, things would have been clearer. Earlier on, however, I did notice that Xander seemed to lose focus for a moment during the table discussion and guessed that this would become significant later on.
Buffy then made her speech about being the thing that monsters have nightmares about, but, when the fight started, she and the Turok-Han (who is effected by holy water and, presumably, other religious artifacts after all) seemed to be pretty evenly matched. She did eventually win, but I don't think that monsters would have nightmares about someone who is just a little bit better than they are in one-on-one combat, especially since there are so many other variables that can enter into a fight such as additional combatants, weapons, traps, or strategy. Her victory really wasn't certain or definitive enough to inspire a great deal of hope in all of those who witnessed it. In the past fights, Buffy has also been portrayed as being pretty evenly matched with regular vampires like Angelus and Spike which kind of calls into question the actual value of even having a slayer. If the events in Fray are to be taken canonically, the ancient Watchers cast a spell that created the First Slayer, but why would they create a slayer who is only a little bit better than the adversaries she'd be fighting, especially since she'd be outnumbered by hundreds (thousands? millions?) to one? Some people have suggested that the First Slayer was a pre-existing force that was harnessed by the Watchers rather than created, so perhaps they didn't have much control over how powerful it would be, but this just seems to be another one of those things in the series that doesn't hold up to close examination. We've seen well trained regular humans hold their own against vampires such as when the Scoobies went patrolling in Buffy's place at the beginning of the third season. Modern weapons technology is also tipping the balance toward regular humans since Riley's commandos seem to be doing a lot of good in remote regions.
There was a missed opportunity in that scene too. When things were looking bad for Buffy, and the Potentials said, "It's killing her; we have to do something", I thought that this was going to be the moment when the girls would instinctively rise to the occasion, leap into the fight to save Buffy, kill the Turok-Han, and realize that their hearts do indeed bear the stuff of which Slayers are made. We would then find out that this was Buffy's true plan all along ("Here endith the lesson"). But it didn't happen that way. [Addendum: I've been criticized here by someone saying that the Potentials' lack of slayer powers would make them unable to do anything against the Turok-Han. But season three's Helpless stated that all slayers have been required to face a vampire without superpowers as a rite of passage. This could have been the Potential's rite of passage. In Helpless, Buffy was as frightened as the Potentials were here, but, when the vampire captured her mother, Buffy found the courage to do what needed to be done and defeated the vampire by outsmarting it rather than outfighting it. She could stand to remember that now.]
Buffy's rescue of Spike from the First's lair was a bit anticlimactic. Even with the Turok-Han dead, I would have expected there to be minions guarding the place that she would have to fight her way through. They wouldn't have been much of an obstacle to her, of course, but they should have been there. Why would the First just let her walk in and take Spike? I suppose that letting her take Spike could be serving part of his master plan, but this should have been explicitly stated in order to prevent us from questioning his competence. I think that the threat factor of the First has been seriously diminished by both this and the Turok-Han's much too easy defeat.
In fact, over the past week, I had already decided that I was starting to grow bored with the First Evil as a worthy villain. I've already ranted about the whole "disembodied force of pure evil" thing, and the series doesn't seem to be doing anything to make him any more fun to watch or at least any more interesting watch. The lack of new information from Beljoxa's Eye was particularly disappointing. In all fairness, it occurred to me this week that J.R.R Tolkien was also guilty of having a "disembodied force" villain in Lord of the Rings, but Tolkien had two points in his favor: he was the first writer to deal with fantasy/mythology/demons/etc in such a big way, so the clichés hadn't been invented yet - although I suppose that we can argue that John Milton actually did it three hundred years earlier in Paradise Lost (even having the good sense to bring Satan on stage as a character). Secondly, everything else in LoTR is so rich that I really didn't care that the primary villain himself was little more than a MacGuffin to get the story started. This raises another problem that I've noticed with Buffy: the producers seem to be unaware that they are not creating this series in a vacuum. The territory they are covering has already been explored by many others such as Tolkien, H.P. Lovecraft, and Neil Gaiman (Sandman), and we in the audience can't help but make comparisons. There is nothing wrong with having similarities to another work. But if you are going to do something that evokes the imagery of what has come before, you have the obligation to at least attempt to add your own improvements. It doesn't really matter who does it first; all that matters is who does it best. Very few of Shakespeare's plays do not have significant elements that were not stolen from other people's work, but his versions were so much better than the originals that this "plagiarist" is deified while his sources like Arthur Brooke (Romeo and Juliet) and Thomas Lodge (As You Like It) are virtually forgotten. While the mythologies of Tolkien and Gaiman become more impressive the more closely we scrutinize them, revealing a considerable depth of knowledge, research, and attention to continuity (or at least successful retcons) on the parts of their creators, the same scrutiny applied to the Buffyverse tends to reveal cracks in the foundation, continuity glitches that require considerable fanwanking, and a whole "making it up as we go along" attitude on the part of the producers. (I'm not really familiar with Lovecraft's mythology beyond its basic premise - which seems to have inspired Giles' creation story in the first season - so I can't discuss how that relates to this topic in any meaningful way.)
Finally, Anya once again spoke for a lot of the viewers when she said that "the world would've been better off if Buffy had just stayed dead". There are more than a few of us who feel that it would have been better if series had ended with the fifth season when we still took an unequivocal joy in each episode. We could have then spent many years happily watching the reruns and dvds without having our feelings about the entire series poisoned by the memory of these last two seasons whose bright spots - and there were many of them - have been far overshadowed by an even greater number of disappointments.
Before I start this review, I have an open message to UPN and Mutant Enemy that they should look into what their affiliate stations are doing with their programs. I think that the stations may be editing them down in order to sell a few extra unauthorized commercials. When my local station was broadcasting this episode, the scene where the Potentials fought the vampire was missing. This completely ruined the climax of the episode. It had to be the local station's fault, right? I mean, the producers couldn't possibly be stupid enough to spend so many episodes portraying the Potentials as just so many useless whiners - to the point where the audience is starting to root for the Bringers to kill them - and then just skip over the scene where they finally prove their mettle and come to the realization that maybe they can pull off an ultimate victory after all, could they? (And boy do I wish that I wasn't joking here). The only rational explanation for that scene being deemed unnecessary would be that Amanda is the only one of the Potentials who will ultimately prove important to the big picture and that all the others are just a bunch of anonymous red shirts to be killed off one by one. Amanda did rise to the occasion when the crisis hit the way the other Potentials had so often failed to do. Of course, this would raise the question of why the series spent so much time introducing them when they could have spent that same time introducing Amanda.
I'll have to admit that I didn't remember Amanda from her earlier appearance this season, but the sharp-eyed folks on the internet don't miss a thing. It was amusing when Buffy started bringing up all of her Spike issues while counseling her. Later, when Amanda first told Dawn her story about the vampire hitting its head and being trapped in a classroom, I didn't really believe her and thought that this a set-up for a trap, but, on second viewing - and given the later revelation that she was a Potential - it was perfectly believable that she could evade a vampire, so never mind this whole sentence. Although, <nitpick> how was Amanda able to lock the vampire inside the classroom? Wouldn't the lock be designed to prevent people from entering from the outside rather than exiting from the inside? (I had the same question back in Gingerbread when Willow's mom locked her inside her bedroom. What kind of suburban house nowadays would have bedroom doors that lock from the outside?) </nitpick> Fortunately, the producers were careful enough to show chains on the main exit doors of the school to explain why Dawn and Amanda couldn't get out.
Buffy's lesson plan of locking the Potentials in with a vampire - paralleling both Dawn's experience this episode and Buffy's experience in Helpless - vindicated some comments I made about Showtime. In that episode, I thought that Buffy's plan was to let the Potentials think that the Turok-Han was defeating her in the hope that their instincts would take over, and they would leap into the fray to save her. A couple of them looked like they actually wanted to do this, but the other Scoobies stopped them. I felt a moment of disappointment as the same thing happened again here when Spike stopped a Potential who clearly wanted to help Buffy fight the vampire. Of course, Buffy didn't need any help here. This was the most confident that we've ever seen her. She was toying with the vampire like those expert swordsmen in the old swashbucklers, not even breaking a sweat as she casually continued her lecture. And I absolutely loved the cross cutting between the two fights as Buffy's voice narrated Dawn's actions.
And while I loved seeing Clem again - despite the scary face joke that was stolen from Beetlejuice - the scene at the demon bar wasn't really that necessary. It just kept milking the same "fish out of water" joke, and the time recovered by trimming it could have been used to show the Potentials fighting the vampire. Nor was I very happy with the post-fight scene that we did get to see in which the Potentials giggled like schoolgirls who had just gone through a cool experience. When Buffy fought her first vampire, she found the experience to be so traumatic that she had a nervous breakdown and ended up in a mental hospital - and she didn't even have the threat of the First hanging over her head. Either somebody is not paying attention to their recently retconned continuity, or these girls have the "potential" to be much bolder slayers that Buffy could ever be.
I liked when Andrew stopped the yelling between Xander and the Potentials. It was almost like he was shouting, "Mommy, Daddy, please don't fight." He's starting to grow up a little, and a lot of his comments were much more useful than the others were giving him credit for - like when he expressed a wish that people could wriggle out of their skins like snakes which could be read as his desire for change, rebirth, and redemption (many cultures have revered the snake for this reason; it was the Judeo-Christian culture that cast it as evil). I also particularly liked his comment about being chosen to be a Potential: "It's almost like this metaphor for womanhood, isn't it? The sort of flowering that happens when a girl realizes that she's part of a fertile heritage stretching back to Eve." If Giles had said that, everyone would have been impressed. I always thought that one of the early themes of Buffy was that of change and growing up. Being transformed into a vampire represented the teenagers' fear of being transformed into an adult and being forced to do morally abhorrent things to survive like spending the rest of their lives working every day at a job that they hate. (I'm reminded of my favorite line in The Breakfast Club, "When you become an adult, your soul dies".) The high school was on the mouth of Hell where the principal's primary role was to prepare the teenagers' souls to be fed to that demon of adulthood. Maybe one of the problems with the series is that it no longer has this guiding metaphor, and I wonder if the fact that Buffy is now working for the school means anything. Is she there to help the younger people or destroy them? But getting back to Andrew, Buffy was also correct when she described him as picking up evil's flavor when he gets near it. His biggest character flaw is that he's a born follower with no backbone or convictions of his own, but this trait can also make him a kind of mirror in which other characters can see themselves reflected.
Anya won my heart again when she said, "I never got that", in reference to Buffy and Dawn sharing the same blood. I'd always wanted a little more explanation about that too. My interpretation had been that the monks took some of Buffy's genetic material, sent it back in time fifteen years along with the Key, and made Joyce pregnant with it, causing the last fifteen years of history to be rewritten. But that sounds too science fictiony and not mystical enough.
I was pleased that they finally picked up on the Dawn-as-potential-slayer idea that they'd been flirting with since the end of last season. I did notice the early scenes of Dawn looking like she desperately wanted to be part of the chosen group and wondered if that were leading somewhere. Dawn was, however, incredibly stupid to sneak out alone when she knew that the Bringers were out there looking for her. She did the same thing during the fifth season when Glory was also looking for her. And although the producers did play fair while misdirecting us into thinking that Dawn was the new Potential - the way the ball of light crashed into her instead of surrounding her with a glow as Willow had said that it would had immediately struck me as odd - I was preparing to rant about my disappointment anyway. But then the wonderful scene at the end between Dawn and Xander washed away those feelings (the scene was actually foreshadowed earlier when everyone was discussing Dawn's future behind her back, and Xander was the only one to defend her). Between this and his ability to reach Willow last season, Dawn was right when she said that he had developed the "superpowers" of compassion and insight. Now that I think about it, he's the only character who's successfully transformed into a mature adult - and not just because he has a job, but because all the others are still living from moment to moment and clinging to their individual pains. He now seems to see a much bigger picture than they do. Xander's come a long way from Band Candy where the "immature and irresponsible" spell had no effect on him because he already possessed the extremes of that behavior - or even last season where he was so dishonest about his own feelings that he ended up running away from his own wedding. He's kind of become the heart of the group.
Dawn's ability to fight the vampire so effectively for so long kind of reminds me, in a weird way, of the movie, Dumbo (SPOILERS for Dumbo!). Believing that she was a Potential gave Dawn the ability to fight the vampire just like believing in the magic feather gave Dumbo the ability to fly, but, when Dumbo lost the magic feather, he learned the lesson that his true power came not from magic but from having faith in himself and his natural abilities. The Potentials need to learn that being a Slayer is not about having superpowers but about having that courage of heart to do what needs to be done regardless of the risk or consequences. We have seen plenty of non-superpowered people - Giles, Xander, early Willow, Oz, Cordelia, Wesley, Gunn, Riley, and more - make significant contributions to staving off the Darkness. I just rewatched Graduation Day on the season three DVD where Buffy assembled an army of non-superpowered people who successfully fought off the Big Bad and its minions.
Getting really nitpicky: Dawn said that vampires don't hold back because of pain. Umm ... doesn't that discount three seasons worth of Spike's behavior where he changed his whole lifestyle because of pain from the chip? Speaking of which, why didn't the chip activate when he attacked the Potentials during the lesson? My first answer was that the chip reacts to his intentions, and he had no intention of hurting them, but one of the girls did say that he hurt her arm. Another little nitpick would be that the classroom in which Dawn was fighting the vampire had a California state flag instead of an American flag. I'm guessing that, given the current political environment, the producers were concerned that some people might be offended that an American flag was being treated in a disrespectful manner. Or maybe they were worried that some people might be offended that the Righteous Glory of the American Flag wasn't shown to instantly smite any evil that crossed its path. Or maybe they were just worried that it would be too similar to Logan's Run. And aren't most flag poles made out of metal nowadays?
Finally, apropos of nothing: it just occurred to me that we haven't heard anyone make reference to the phrase, "From beneath you it devours", in quite a while. We still don't know what it means or how it will become relevant later on. And the season three DVD also reminded me that Amends, the episode that introduced the First, also showed a Higher Power intervening to save Angel's life when the First had driven him to despair and suicide. What was that Power? God? And will it intervene again? Or was it just meant to be a sentimental, Christmassy ending that we shouldn't read too much into?
There was a really unfortunate double meaning in the climactic scene when Willow repeated Warren's line, "You think you can just do that to me? That I'd let you get away with it?" On the one hand, it was a reenactment of what Warren had said in Seeing Red, but, on the other, "do that" could also refer to Kennedy's kiss which was responsible for transforming Willow into the "psycho killer lesbian" stereotype. Willow's outrage - with lines like "It was your fault, slut; you tricked me" and "offering it up to whoever's there, tricking me into kissing you" was like that of a militantly heterosexual woman who had been forced into participating in Kennedy's "perversions". Then, when she pointed the gun and said, "I'll make it stop", she implied that killing the lesbian would restore her to "decency" and protect all the other decent women from the danger of being similarly corrupted. This all ties in with concerns that I had last season with the way in which Tara had been killed. If she had been shot after going shopping or attending classes or playing video games or almost anything else, it would have carried no political subtext. But to kill her off immediately after spending the night with Willow made her death look like punishment for committing such "deviant" sexual acts. I don't think that there's a conspiracy here or that the producers are intentionally trying to condemn homosexual lifestyles. They're just unconsciously reflecting attitudes that already permeate our culture. But, in casually portraying these attitudes without question and in such a subtextual manner, they are, intentionally or not, both validating and reinforcing these attitudes in all people who, consciously or not, already possess them, thus guaranteeing that society's anti-gay sentiment (and even violence) will continue. In fact - now that I'm waxing paranoid - before it was even revealed that Willow was gay, the third season's Dopplegangland, portrayed VampWillow as being bisexual as a means of driving home the point about how "evil" she was. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine did the same thing with the Evil Kira from the evil parallel universe. All this doesn't mean that the episodes should get up on a soapbox and make pleas for tolerance because that invariably results in didactically bad art (*cough* Enterprise's "Stigma" *cough*), but the real social responsibility of the artist is to be aware of what they are saying and to produce only work that they are willing to defend from those who would criticize or misuse it. To respond to these criticisms by saying, "Well, we didn't intend for it to be interpreted that way", is not a defense (especially if they proceed to do the exact same thing again the following season). It's irresponsible and dangerous. As the saying goes, if you're not going to help someone, at least try not to hurt them.
They did manage to make up for this a little bit by having a second kiss set things right. I'm a sucker for almost any story about the redemptive power of Love, and this would have been pretty romantic if it hadn't been for the fact that Willow and Kennedy are nowhere near in love yet. They're still in the "Kennedy's flirting / Willow's cautious" phase, and I'm not even so sure that there should be a relationship between the two of them. I think it's still too soon for Willow to get serious with someone else because this episode was the first time that she really started to mourn for Tara. When Tara first died, Willow was too busy going all veiny and evil to feel the genuine grief that we finally saw here, and then she went right into her recovery program which also must have kept her very busy (and which she never finished). There was a brief scene of mourning at Tara's grave, but if Kennedy moves too fast, she could end up being the band-aid that Willow's uses to get through this rough time and then discards when she feels better (or maybe I've just been spending too much time listening to radio psychologists).
Kennedy said that one of the things she liked about Willow was the way she speaks, but her dialog hasn't been as charmingly distinctive lately as it once had been (even so, Adam Busch did a great job of capturing Alyson Hannigan's face and vocal inflection when he said "Aquaman Underoos" but not so much so in other scenes; if the dialog had been written more Willowy, his job would have been much easier). I didn't like the line Kennedy was given about magic. Since she has actually seen vampires and demons and accepted her role as a Potential Slayer, it would not be rational for her to dismiss magic as "fairy tale crap". In the Buffyverse, magic is as real as science, so it is the skeptic who is acting foolishly, not the believer. And on a completely insignificant note: I never noticed that Alyson has freckles, either on the show, American Pie, or in any of the photos I've seen of her. Maybe they're only noticeable if you see her in person.
We also got a little bit of information about how Willow's mother feels about her being a lesbian but nothing about her father's reaction. For no particular reason, I have, of late, been wondering about him. We know that Willow comes from a Jewish family and that her father was so devout that he forbade her from watching A Charlie Brown Christmas and would be very upset at the thought of her having a cross on her wall. I wonder how he feels about the whole witchcraft, Wicca, Hecate, Diana, Osirus thing - not to mention the homosexuality. I wonder if one of the reasons why Willow started living at Buffy's house is that her father threw her out and cut off her financial support.
On two occasions in the episode, Willow tried to deal with her situation by running away from everyone. How many times do I have to criticize the characters for doing this? Will they ever learn? And I'm not sure that I completely buy Willow's statement about secret government organizations not putting up websites full of details about what they're doing. While it may be the first accurate thing about the internet and computers every portrayed on the series, the "rules" of the Buffyverse have clearly established that every written text or piece of information ever conceived by mankind from the beginning of time - no matter how esoteric or arcane - can be quickly found in any search engine. It's kind of like cheating for them to conveniently shut off this capability when the plot requires it.
Last season, during a previous rant about Willow, I discussed a crucial seen in Hush that first made me realize that Willow was turning evil. I praised the Wicca group for emphasizing the spiritual aspects and the helping of others, and I condemned Willow for seeing Wicca as nothing more than a means for obtaining power. I feel really vindicated by the group's appearance here. They seem to have all matured - unlike Willow - and did eventually move on to learning how to cast spells after they learned the foundation points of "peace, strength, compassion, and hope". It was disappointing to note that Willow still behaved condescendingly toward them. She desperately needs to learn what they have to teach.
I'd been hoping all season that we'd be seeing Amy again and was delightfully surprised where she finally showed up. I would have enjoyed the surprise even more if the "Previously on Buffy" sequence hadn't contained a major spoiler that she would be somewhere in this episode. I make a point of never watching any of the promos that air all week for this very reason. Watching the episode once it starts should be safe. Anyway, seeing Amy on the path to redemption here gave me mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was pleased that she wanted to better herself, but, on the other, I was disappointed that her transformation had been so abrupt and had happened off screen, denying us the opportunity to watch it. I'd like to see a good Amy eventually, but I'd like to have some more fun watching the evil Amy first - although she's not really evil, just really pissed at Willow for forgetting about trying to cure the rat spell for so many years. Of course, we quickly found out that Amy was only pretending to be reformed. It was particularly interesting to note the way in which Amy said, "Oops", when she realized that she had accidentally blown her cover. This was the exact same thing that the First did as Cassie and Eve when those covers were blown. She also brought up the phrase, "It's about Power", that set the First's plans in motion way back in Lessons. Could Amy be working with the First or even be the First in disguise? How would Amy know about the Potentials? Either she's been spying on Willow, or the First has been supplying her with information. Despite her being the bad guy, all the things that she said in her criticisms of Willow were pretty valid. She didn't even mention the rat thing, however, so maybe I'm overestimating its importance to her motivation. I really hope that this wasn't a one-shot appearance because I'd still like to see a big showdown between her and Willow. Amy's a much more interesting villain than the First, and this episode added even more backstory to her. Last season, I was kind of hoping that she and Warren would become partners in crime.
And speaking of the "Previously on Buffy" sequence, each time they show Warren getting his skin ripped off, it gets a little bit less impressive. It's no longer as shockingly gory as our first brief glimpse of it led us to believe, nor is it even particularly realistic looking - probably due to a combination of network standards and budget limitations for special effects.
We also got to see how to do a low budget version of "wacky Potential Slayer hijinks" this week in which no actors had to paid for actually appearing on screen, but it may a bad sign that - after such a big introduction last week - Amanda doesn't even get mentioned while she was not appearing. Also, I'm still wondering why both Xander and Spike are so annoyed by having a bunch of attractive young women running around the house. Shouldn't that be more like a fantasy come true? And the way that Xander gets hostile whenever he accidentally shows a little bit of his nerdy self is starting to seem a bit more psychotic than amusing. The way he said "loser" was actually a bit creepy. He's starting to become like one of those guys who are in denial about being gay and make themselves feel better by beating up on out homosexuals. Embrace your inner geek Xander.
It looks like Buffy has just gotten the army that she needs to do battle with the First. The Commandos' arrival and willingness to help gave me the first cause for optimism about the ultimate outcome of events because I'd be more willing to put faith in them than in what we've seen of the Potentials so far. I hope that they'll be sticking around (and there better be a darn good reason if they don't). I wonder why Riley wasn't with them and if he'll be showing up later. Since I'm assuming that we're winding down to the series finale, I'd like to see every supporting character that we've ever met put in an appearance before the end. But, for now, Buffy has a really big decision to make as to whether or not Spike's chip should be removed. I'd be tempted to let them take it out because, if Spike is to continue down the road to redemption, he has to be given his free will back. He can't rely on the chip to continue functioning as an artificial conscience. On the other hand, and to quote Jurassic Park II, taking the chip out could prove to be "the worst idea in the long, sad history of bad ideas" if Spike's strength of character is found to be wanting. It would be safer to leave the chip in because Buffy was very wrong when she said that it was the lack of a soul that made Spike a monster. There are many people with souls who are far worse monsters.
Finally, the Giles issues first raised in Bring on the Night have, at long last, been picked up, and it seems that Giles is not the First in disguise after all. But this still leaves us with the questions: How did Giles escape the Bringer with the ax? Why didn't he mention the incident to Buffy? Why didn't he help Buffy get out of the hole when the Turok-Han was after her? Why didn't he touch anything or anyone (a detail that, once again, everyone on the internet except me noticed right away)? And why did the Bringers allow Robson to survive? We better get some good answers to these in the next episode. It has been suggested that the whole "Giles is the First" thing was planted there solely to misdirect those people who obsess way too much over every little detail (I don't think any of us do this, but I've heard that such people exist) and that all of the "clues" didn't really mean anything. But the purpose of misdirection is to misdirect us away from a surprise that is coming (as they did so brilliantly in the second season when we were misdirected into thinking that Kendra was an assassin hired to kill Buffy and then hit with the surprise that she was actually a slayer sent to help Buffy). They cannot misdirect us into thinking that a surprise is coming and then not give us one. The most obvious surprise would have been that Giles was dead and that the First was impersonating him. Since this has seemingly been eliminated, they're now obligated to come up with something even better to satisfactorily answer these questions. Maybe Robson is the First trying to make the Scoobies distrust Giles. Maybe the real Giles is someplace else and is unaware that someone is impersonating him in Sunnydale. Maybe everyone is wrong about the First being able to impersonate only dead people and not being able to touch anything. Or, hopefully, something better than anything I can imagine here. We'll have to wait and see. (One thing I'm not waiting to see is the Giles/Andrew slash fic that the "overly familiar touching" scene will inevitably inspire).
Oh dear. It looks like the producers think they can misdirect us into thinking that a surprise is coming and then not give us one. How far they've fallen since the glory days of the earlier seasons. Of all the things they could have done to resolve the Giles questions, this was the worst possible choice. Of course, not all the questions were answered, were they? We now know how Giles escaped the ax - and it wasn't a very interesting escape, given that they made us wait six weeks (plus rerun breaks) to see it - as well as how Robson survived. But we still don't know why Giles never bothered to mention this earlier or why he chose to abandon Buffy to the mercy of the Turok-Han back in Bring on the Night. There are still some commenters on the newsgroup who are clinging to the hope that there is something as yet unrevealed going on here that will eventually give us satisfactory answers. But I'm certain that there isn't and that this whole incident just joins the growing ranks of dangled plot threads that go nowhere that I've complained about so many times before. While a small part of me would love to be forced to eat these words by the end of the season, the major part of me has completely given up on the series. I hate leaving things unfinished, so I'll continue writing these reviews until the bitter end, but they're no longer serving their purpose. I started writing them last season for the cathartic effect of getting all of these gripes out of my system, but the producers just keep piling on more and more things to complain about. To even raise the "Giles is the First" issue last episode, when they had no intention of following through with it, shows nothing but contempt for the viewer. If they had left it alone, then I would have had no one but myself to blame for the disappointment because it would have meant that I had been reading too much into insignificant details or unfairly condemning the producers for not doing the things that I had been anticipating. But their raising of this issue means that I had not been overinterpreting. They put out the bait, and I fell for it. There are other series, like Enterprise, that totally suck, but this is because their creators have no talent or are just targeting their shows to an extremely unsophisticated demographic. There's no malice there. But the Buffy staff seems to be intentionally trying to piss off as many people as possible. Joss Whedon, Marti Noxon, and any other names that I bother to remember from this series have now officially joined my list of warning signs for things that I should avoid watching. (Addendum: I just got some bad news: the Internet Movie Database has just announced that the series will be returning for another season with Eliza Dushku as the Slayer. While an opportunity to see Eliza in anything is always a treat, this announcement, if true, means that we no longer even have a decent finale to look forward to at the end of the season. The producers will likely remain true to form - leaving plenty of character issues unresolved, only to not resolve them next season either - probably ending the season with a cliffhanger that will guarantee that no satisfaction will be delivered. I'm certainly not going to put myself through this for another year). Finally, and to beat a dead horse on this issue, the scene where Spike tackled Giles and then said that he forgot about the incorporeality seemed more a contrivance to make a joke and reveal that Spike was chipless than a believable flow of events.
Speaking of Spike's chip, last episode, I spent part of a paragraph morally agonizing over what choice Buffy should make. It was a big disappointment that we didn't get to see Buffy morally agonizing over what choice she should make. Earlier in the season, I complained about how unsympathetic Buffy was being toward Spike and was later pleased when she started helping him, but there's a big difference between deciding to have faith in someone and being completely blinded by that faith. I've been a staunch redemptionist from the beginning, but I would have liked to have seen Buffy be just a little bit uncertain. She's completely wrong about a soul automatically making someone a good person, just as she was wrong about the lack of a soul automatically making someone a bad person. I am, however, willing to accept that Spike could recover from the brain surgery so quickly because we've seen him do so twice in the fourth season.
The most interesting thing about the episode would be the revelations about Principal Wood. This was the proper way to do misdirection: they misdirected us into thinking that he was evil and then hit us with the surprise that he's actually the son of the slayer whom Spike killed. Okay, so it wasn't a big surprise because A: they've already done the Evil Principal thing, and it would have been terrible for them to repeat themselves - although they have repeated themselves many times this season (including Xander's girl trouble this episode) - and B: someone on the newsgroup was clever enough to speculate this exact scenario months ago (take a bow). Still, as I've said earlier, it's better for things to play out in a predictable manner that meets our expectations than to play out in a disappointing - or even incompetent - manner that falls far short of our expectations. Gone are the days when they could routinely exceed our expectations. Of course, this still leaves us to wonder why Wood secretly buried Jonathan rather than calling the authorities. But it does make sense of Buffy's "counseling" job which now turns out to be a pretend position after all.
Anyway, there are some interesting parallels between Wood's situation and Shakespeare's Hamlet. In that play, the ghost of Hamlet's father appeared to him and told Hamlet that he was murdered by someone who was right under Hamlet's nose and demanded that Hamlet avenge his death. Hamlet was then faced with the questions: Was this really my father's ghost or a demon in my father's form, and was the information he gave me reliable or a deception to trick me into killing an innocent person? He then spent a sizeable chunk of the play trying to find the answers to these questions before choosing a course of action. He remained indecisive for too long, resulting in tragedy for himself and everyone around him. Wood seemed to be aware right away that he was talking to the First but also seemed to accept the truth of what the First was telling him (I'm actually shocked that they revealed that Spike was the killer right away instead of making us wait six weeks before they finally revealed what we would have all figured out long before). It will be interesting to see what Wood does next. Spike's having to deal with the consequences of his past will be absolutely essential if he is ever to achieve redemption, but there are plenty of opportunities for the producers to screw it up. The last thing I'd want to see would be a replay of the Holtz situation from Angel which was one of the things that made me give up on that show long before I gave up on Buffy (the other was Connor). What Holtz (and apparently the producers) never realized was that he needed to forgive Angel much more than Angel needed to be forgiven by him. By clinging to his hatred, even in his death, he damned his own soul and didn't succeed in doing much more than inconveniencing Angel. A much better handling of the same idea was the Callisto arc in Xena: Warrior Princess, for, while Xena's later seasons were irredeemably awful in a manner much more offensive than anything Buffy has yet achieved (although it's getting there) and contained several episodes that were completely clueless as to how Callisto should be portrayed, it did manage to conclude the arc with the two characters arriving at a point of mutual forgiveness and redemption as Xena became Callisto's mother (whom Xena had killed), and Callisto became Xena's child (whom Callisto had killed). If only Xena's producers had been wise enough to end the series with that episode.
Andrew faced the first real test on his road to redemption (that word's coming up a lot, isn't it?) and passed with flying colors. When the First appeared as the dead <*sob*> Jonathan, I was really worried that Andrew was going to start "picking up Evil's flavor" again, but, when he started pumping the First for information, I breathed a big sigh of relief. Then, when we saw that the other Scoobies were listening, the relief turned to an all too rare moment of delight because it meant that Andrew must have gone right to them for help - something none of the other characters have been willing to do for the past two seasons and which has been the direct cause of most of their problems. If he was being sincere when he said that he was planning to turn himself into the police after the First was defeated, one might even be able to make an argument that Andrew has now achieved a position of moral superiority to the others. I also admire him for taking the time to read the instruction manual for the microwave oven. The First Evil is apparently responsible for making people skip the instructions and ending up having problems with "intuitive" systems that are not so intuitive. This may be the first direct connection that we've seen between the First and Microsoft. I'm a bit unclear as to whether other people were able to hear the First's conversation with Andrew. Willow reacted immediately when the First asked Andrew if he was wearing a wire (but why would she respond by taking her headphones off right when Andrew would need someone listening in on him the most?). But, a few moments later, when the First started "broadcasting" his voice to everyone, she announced that she heard something as if she were hearing his voice for the first time. Also, the First's omnipotence must be severely doubted if someone like Andrew can outsmart him, even if it was for only a few moments.
As for Xander's girl troubles, he didn't notice a major hint that she was evil: when he explained what he had done to Anya, she took his side rather than condemn him as any decent person would have done. Unfortunately, the stunt casting of Ashanti (I assume that she's somebody famous, but I guess I'm just too old to know who she is) as Lissa made it impossible to avoid spoilers. TV Guide's "Best of the Sweep's" article came right out and said that she plays a vampire whom Xander dates before I could look away (although I think she actually turned out to be a demon or something instead). So the abrupt transition from his doing well on the date to hanging over the seal didn't have the comic effect that was undoubtedly intended. Willow's confusing of the two very different signals from Xander seemed just as contrived for the sake of a joke as Spike's earlier convenient forgetfulness. The concluding attempt at humor, where Xander considered becoming gay only to be warned that he'd likely attract male demons was milked for way too long. The weapon of choice for the humorist should be the rapier, not the sledge hammer. Buffy used to be very good at quickly fired jokes that had subtlety and style rather than clumsy jokes that beat their subject to death.
Lissa did, however, establish that more Turok-Hans can be raised. I'd been wondering about that. If just one can almost kill Buffy, wouldn't the logical next move be to raise several? Rather than sending the Bringers to hunt down the Potentials, the First should have instructed them to gather enough sacrificial victims to raise an army of Turok-Han's. Then Buffy and the Potentials wouldn't have stood a chance (the Borg never thought of this either and kept sending one cube to attack Earth). Also, since it didn't take much of Xander's blood to start opening the seal, why wasn't all of Jonathan's blood enough? Perhaps most of Jonathan's blood went toward "priming the pump" so that it could be opened for that first time, and subsequent times would require less. Also (again), is Lissa working for the First, pursuing her own agenda, or just a one shot character for this episode? She didn't seem to even know who Buffy was. Since we're now in the second half of the season, it would probably be better to focus on dealing with the existing characters and their unresolved issues (there sure are a lot of them) than to be introducing new characters.
There was a bit of exploration into Anya's feelings for Xander and Buffy's feelings for Spike. I'm not sure where the former should go because Anya and Xander were never a real relationship, and I'm even less sure where the latter should go because Buffy and Spike have just been so twisted (from S&M perversions to idealized goddess worship). It would probably be best if Spike were to spend a few years learning who he is now that he has a soul and no chip before he tries to begin a relationship with anyone.
I liked when Giles scolded everyone for making jokes and allowing themselves to be distracted by frivolities when they should be focusing on that matter at hand ("It's time to get serious"). The producers certainly need to listen to this reprimand too, especially since they had Giles behaving comically throughout the episode with his flashcards and inability to speak with Chao-Ahn. I wonder if her appearance here was a response to fan criticism that all the potentials spoke English.
On the internet front: it was not surprising that Willow wasn't able to find anything about Wood in Google, nor should that be considered suspicious. Unless someone has chosen to post their resume or biography on a webpage (and most don't) or has accomplished something that attracted enough media attention to have articles written about them on news and magazine sites (and most don't), there wouldn't be any information about them on the world wide web. And even if there were, only a small fraction of the web pages that exist manage to find their way into any particular search engine.
Buffy's forgetting to bring her cellphone with her is starting to become the equivalent or Star Trek's frequently malfunctioning transporters: a contrivance to prevent the situation from being too easily resolved. And, finally, since none of the Commandos appeared in this episode, does this mean that they won't be sticking around to help Buffy stop the First from conquering or destroying the world (or whatever his ultimate plan is)? Wouldn't this be the exact kind of thing that their Special Forces Operation was created for?
There was nothing that particularly offended me about this episode, so I guess that makes it one of the best episodes of the season - except that there was nothing about it that particularly pleased me either. This may end up being a short review (then again, it may not). The shadow puppet sequence was effective, but I suppose I could nitpick a couple of points such as: how did Xander immediately know that those items were supposed to be puppets, and how did he know which puppet to display during each part of Dawn's narration?
The First managed to talk Chloe into committing suicide - kind of like Hannibal Lecter did to one of the prisoners in Silence of the Lambs. So, umm, which one was Chloe? The Potentials all sort of blur together in my mind so that I just tend to think of them as the gay one, the Black one, the Asian one, Amanda, and the rest (sounds like the opening song to Gilligan's Island or the cast of the newest Star Trek series). The only reason that Amanda stands out is because a whole episode was dedicated to introducing her before she was relegated back to the anonymous ranks, and the gay one, Kennedy, stands out more for her role as Willow's girlfriend than as an individual on her own. I wonder if we're even supposed to care about them as individuals or if their sole function is to be expendable redshirts that will be killed off one by one. I certainly didn't feel anything for the death of Chloe or the first one to be killed when she panicked and ran (what was her name?) or the one with the Southern accent (who actually died before we even met her). And, while I can understand why Buffy gave Chloe a secret burial because she doesn't have time to deal with the police, wouldn't Chloe have a family who would want a proper funeral or at least to be told that she was dead?
I liked the scene of the Potentials training in the backyard. For a moment, it looked like the preparations for facing the First were actually making progress until the script ruined the mood with some obvious humor. But has it been established anywhere that Kennedy has the martial arts background that would qualify her for training the others, or has she been "promoted" to that position simply because she's now dating one of the inner circle players? Actually, training the potentials would have been the perfect role for Riley or the other commandos to be performing if only they felt that the battle with ultimate evil was something worth getting involved in - but I guess that I'm once again beating a dead horse by even mentioning it. And where does Kennedy get off telling Spike that her training makes her better qualified to face that demon than he is? Somebody seems to think that she has already earned inner circle status. It was good that Spike didn't rise to the taunt. This episode put a lot of energy into portraying Kennedy as arrogantly as possible. I realize that I just complained that the Potentials were not being given distinguishing character traits, so perhaps I should be more specific. They should be given sympathetic or likeable traits so that we'll be rooting for them not to be killed. Maybe the producers were really overplaying the cocksure attitude just to build her up for a bigger fall when she got her first real taste of the magic that she thought would be so cool. She seemed pretty freaked out by it at the end.
At the beginning, when we heard Buffy's voice say, "This may mean more than you think", as they cut to a shot of Buffy and Wood together, for one brief shining moment I thought that Wood had just told Buffy about his encounter with the First. Alas, it was not to be, and Wood has just proven himself to be a true Scooby who insists on keeping his inner demons and agenda to himself even though this could end up seriously jeopardizing both himself and everyone else at some key moment. We can say the same thing about Chloe for suffering in silence until she killed herself. Buffy wasn't really kidding when she called Andrew "the brains of our operation". He went right to the others when the First contacted him rather than trying to deal with it on his own which makes him the smartest person in the house. And creating the "Big Board" (a Dr. Strangelove reference) is probably the most useful thing that anyone has done so far.
When Buffy asked Anya why she was there, Anya came up with the clever line about providing "much needed sarcasm", but she has also been verbalizing the criticisms many of us have had of various plot points, including: wasting time with a "comically paralyzed sister while Willow was dying", not getting the "Buffy and Dawn share the same blood" thing, "the world would have been better off if Buffy had just stayed dead", and her reference to Buffy's "everyone sucks but me speech" this episode. It seems that she's there to let us know that the producers are fully aware of everything that they're doing wrong but insist on doing anyway. I've said earlier that she has grown into one of my favorite characters this season, but her behavior here showed a lot of backsliding to the third season where she abandoned everyone to face the Mayor's Ascension without her because she didn't want to risk herself. What happened to the person who volunteered to risk herself against EvilWillow last season when the others were telling her to run? She did ultimately help out, but still...
Buffy really needs to work on her personnel management skills. The First has been advancing his plans at a very leisurely pace yet has still managed to achieve many victories toward demoralizing everyone, while Buffy has spent the same time criticizing, ridiculing efforts to contribute (like Andrew's), and being all doom and gloom girl. If this were the Battle of Agincourt, her Saint Crispin's Day speech would be something like: "Most of you are gonna die horribly; now get in there and fight". Xander and the others were perfectly justified in everything that they said in response to her open hostility to everyone this episode. She was way out of line in everything she said - especially to Spike (she seems to have returned to her sixth season bipolar love/hate of him). In fact, if she had actually been the First impersonating Buffy, she couldn't possibly have said anything more harmful to their cause than she did here (and why hasn't the First tried this?). Maybe Giles was right way back in The Harvest when he observed Buffy's attitude toward her responsibilities and said. "The world is doomed". They need leadership. They need a plan (besides the Big Board). And Buffy really doesn't seem to be the person who can provide either (surprisingly, Dawn has been starting to display leadership skills this season and Xander has become the grownup of the group). Her cavalier and disrespectful approach to being the Chosen One for the past seven years is starting to bear consequences.
I'm assuming that the "Shadow Men" that Buffy encountered were the First Watchers, and, in keeping with the theme of this season, they made references to "power" and going "back to the beginning" (and did I mention how much I hate that they used subtitles to do it?). It was bold of Buffy to leap into the portal to face them, but then she started to backslide. Earlier in the episode, her dream vision convinced her that she didn't have enough power to defeat the First Evil, but, when the First Watchers started to get a bit scary, she said that she had plenty of power and didn't need any more. This all raises the question of whether Buffy should be resisting them or cooperating with them. She seemed absolutely certain that they were trying to do something bad to her, but we really don't have enough information to share her certainty. On the one hand, the First Watchers have been pretty ruthless in conscripting young girls against their will and infusing them with the spirit of a demon, but, on the other, their actions did successfully protect the world from evil for thousands of years. Was she right to reject them, or should she be more respectful of Slayer traditions? It would have been nice if she had been a even little bit uncertain. Sometimes these things require a leap of faith. She made that leap of faith when she entered the portal and made another by trusting that the Scoobies would figure out how to bring her back. Maybe she needs to make one more. Or maybe it was the hubristic meddling of the First Watchers that set in motion the forces that would one day enable to First Evil to overthrow the Balance and seize control of the world (like in The Dark Crystal). In that scenario, the only way to end the eternal conflict between Good and Evil would be to shatter the Slayer tradition and create a new path. Of course, this is all pure speculation on my part because none of these ideas were actually raised in any of the episodes. Buffy was simply certain that she was doing the right thing. It was only after the First Watchers gave her the vision of the Turok-Han army that the uncertainty crept in, but then it was too late. (She did the same thing with the Watchers in season five when she got all self-righteous on them and confidently told them off, only to lose that confidence when they let her know what she was really up against). I wonder if she received some part of the power from the uncompleted ritual. She was a little vague when Willow asked her if she had turned down the power. She did say that she didn't like the "loophole" that came with it. Shouldn't she have said the "catch" or the "price"? A loophole usually refers to a means of escaping the consequences or obligations of a contract or law. Is this significant or just a writer's mistake? What is the catch, price, or loophole?
And speaking of the vision of the Turok-Han army (and I was right about there being one - take a bow me), the shot of them from a camera rapidly pulling back through their vast host brought to mind a comparable shot in The Two Towers. Unfortunately, it was the single worst shot in The Two Towers. In this otherwise superbly and innovatively directed film, Peter Jackson - for some reason - chose to copy a shot that Terry Gilliam had used in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (for all I know, it may have even earlier antecedents than that). It's a minor quibble, but it did distract me out of the moment while I was watching the film and the episode. Since I have now seen this shot three times, I formally forbid any other director from using it ever again. Getting back to the Turok-Han threat itself: the easiest thing to do would be to bury the seal, cover it with concrete, or even blow up the school again to cover it with tons of rubble. That way, the First wouldn't be able to get to it. Will they think of this? Will we be given a reason why it wouldn't work. Are there other seals elsewhere that can summon Turok-Hans?
I think hell just froze over. They actually dealt with an issue that needed to be dealt with instead of leaving it as a plot hole. The episode actually mentioned that our heroes have tried to bury the seal but that it kept getting uncovered - either by minions or mystical forces - and then focused on their efforts to permanently close it. I wonder if this means that the threat of the Turok-Han army is gone or if the First has another method to raise it. This army was the only sign that we were given that the First actually had a plan, so we're now back to wondering what, if anything, he wants to do. And it was a bit puzzling why Buffy told Wood that the army contained hundreds of Turok-Hans instead of saying thousands or even millions. While hundreds would still be able to cause massive amounts of death and destruction, it almost felt like this episode was trying to backslide on the seriousness of the threat implied by the ending of the last episode.
As for the main thrust of the episode, I can see what the writer was trying to accomplish, but I'm still pretty undecided as to whether or not it worked - hence the delay in writing this review (not that I've been particularly punctual before). Overall, I'm very pleased that they were actually trying to do something both unusual and meaningful here as opposed to most of the other episodes which absolutely reeked of a "let's cash the check and go home early" attitude. What we have here is an uneasy blend of a Walter Mitty-like fantasy life, a Rashomon-like retelling of past events, a parody of Real World-like realty shows, creepiness, action, and emotionally gut-wrenching scenes that combine to give us insight into Andrew's character and his feelings/denial about what he did. Some people have also compared this episode to The Blair Witch Project, and, while there really aren't any similarities other than the presence of a video camera, there is one line in that film that is also very relevant to Andrew's behavior here. As Heather looked through the camera, she commented that she finally understood why the other guy spent most of the time watching their situation through the camera rather than looking directly at it: that the camera made the whole thing seem less real and, therefore, less frightening.
I really loved the idea that tears of remorse would close the seal. It was a moment worthy of the glory days of this series, but, unfortunately, we've already passed way beyond the too little too late point. In the moments before I realized what was going on, I felt that Buffy's behavior - saying mean things and planning to kill Andrew - was really out of line. Notice that I said "out of line" and not "out of character" because she has become so harsh, negative, cynical, and hopeless this season that her behavior seemed perfectly in character. The seventh season Buffy makes the self-destructive sixth season Buffy seem positively cheerful. I was almost shocked when she showed a little compassion afterward. Andrew's behavior, on the other hand, was very impressive. Frightened as he was at the thought of dying - or even bleeding - he accepted his fate as necessary for his redemption and didn't try to weasel out of it. The only real flaw in Andrew's reasoning, as well as Buffy's (and the producer's), is in believing that redemption is a destination that can be arrived at rather than a road that must be traveled on. If someone has committed some major transgression (like Andrew, Spike, Angel, Willow, and Anya have), they can't ever arrive at a point where they can say, "I am now redeemed", unless they are in the process of giving up they're lives in a noble cause after a sufficient period of noble deeds. In Andrew's case, a life for a life would have been enough, and Buffy was actually pretty lucky that Andrew didn't choose that moment to grow a backbone and say, "Yes, I gladly give my life to redeem my sins and stop the Seal". However, Andrew's epilogue video seems to indicate that an unexpected side effect of Buffy's tactic is that forcing him to face the reality of his actions seems to have actually caused some character growth, including the beginnings of that backbone. It was particularly telling when he shut off the camera as he realized that it no longer had the power to shield him from the reality of the situation. I hope that the series will be following through with this growth rather than sending him back to being merely the geeky comic relief - although I've been really really loving the geeky comic relief all season - so the producers are running the risk of making me unhappy either way.
As for the contents of Buffy's statements to Andrew, I'm not sure how to take them. Did she really believe them, or was she just saying things that she knew would provoke the desired response? While I'd like to think it was the latter, I kind of think that they do represent her actual opinions. But she was wrong when she said that life isn't a story. James M. Barrie wrote:
"The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story and writes another; and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he had hoped to make it."Life may not be a story with a happy ending. It's often tragic and even more often pointless, but it's still a story, and Andrew's constant narrating was his effort to make his story mean something important, even if that required rewriting the truth. Buffy was also incorrect when she said that Andrew was using stories so that no one would be responsible for their actions because they were following a script. On the contrary, Andrew was writing a script that made everyone else responsible for his actions. Buffy could have said something like, "Life isn't a faerie tale where good always triumphs", but this would not have addressed the issue of Andrew's self-narrating storytelling which was clearly intended to be the central idea of the episode. Perhaps she could have taken a different approach by accusing his storytelling of making him an observer of life rather than a participant, a dreamer rather than a doer, a supporting character in other people's lives rather than the main character of his own life. This could have then led her to calling him a non-entity and an insignificant follower who's so desperate for his moment of glory that he'll let himself be talked into killing his only friend. Then she could dangle him over the pit and offer him a moment of glorious redemption where he offers up his life to save the world.
Another problem that I had with Buffy's speech was that she seemed to believe that she was saying something very important and insightful and profound, but she really wasn't. I kept waiting for her to expand on her "life isn't a story" premise and explain her philosophy of life to counter Andrew's. As it stands, I'm tempted to compare this to the scene in Man of La Mancha where the Duke tells Cervantes that "a man must come to terms with life as it is", and Cervantes counters by saying that one should see life not as it is but as it ought to be. One could almost argue that Andrew espouses this quixotic philosophy of shining idealism and making the world a better place, while the closest thing to a philosophy that we've ever heard from Buffy is "Life is short. Seize the moment because tomorrow you might be dead". Throughout this season, Buffy has certainly been repeating the "tomorrow you might be dead" part often enough, but we haven't seen her doing anything about seizing the moment. Back in Bring on the Night, Buffy spoke of taking the offensive in this war, but she's still fighting entirely reactive battles. Her philosophy seems to have shifted to "Lets give up all hope because tomorrow we're all gonna be dead", while Andrew is at least trying to do something constructive by making the video and putting together all the information they have about the First so far. He also joined Anya as a spokesperson for the viewer when he commented on how long and boring Buffy's speeches were (although he should have also said pessimistic, critical, and demoralizing too). Again I must ask the producers: if you know that it sucks, why are you doing it?
All this discussion about Andrew raises an important question. Why is Andrew the most interesting character on the show? Shouldn't the most interesting character on the show be Buffy? Or Willow? Or Giles? Or Xander? Or Dawn? Or even Anya, who had been showing the most development since the end of last season and had a wonderful showcase in Selfless. Unfortunately, the value of that episode has been completely undermined by the episodes that have followed it in which Anya has shown no further remorse for her career as a demon and has made no further progress toward redemption.
Speaking of Anya and redemption (I'm glad you brought it up), there seems to be a sexual double standard at work in the series when it comes to characters facing the consequences of their actions. Let's compare Anya with Spike: Spike did not choose to become a vampire; Anya chose to become a vengeance demon. While still evil, Spike helped Buffy stop Acathla from transforming the world into a hellish place; while still evil Anya transformed the world into a hellish place. Spike was evil for a hundred years before turning good; Anya was evil for a thousand years before turning good. Spike stood by Buffy during Glory's attempted apocalypse; Anya ran away during the Mayor's attempted apocalypse. Spike was hated by Xander; Anya was dated by Xander. Spike shows remorse for his hundred years of evil and seeks redemption; Anya shows no remorse for her thousand years of evil and feels that no efforts toward redemption are necessary. Yet many fans and characters still show hostility toward Spike while they happily accept Anya - or at least happily ignore her. The same kind of comparison can be made between Andrew and Willow: Andrew dabbled with magic and turned to the dark side; Willow dabbled with magic and turned to the dark side. Andrew harassed Buffy; Willow tried to kill Buffy. Andrew killed Jonathan and was an accessory in the death of Katrina; Willow killed Warren, killed Rack, and threatened to kill Dawn. Andrew stole a diamond; Willow attempted to destroy the world. Andrew regrets his actions, insists that he's good now, and often speaks of seeking redemption; Willow regrets her actions, fears that she may repeat them, and feels that no efforts toward redemption are necessary. Yet Andrew is disliked and belittled by all the characters while Willow is loved and accepted by everyone.
I've also got some comments about Andrew's video. In his Masterpiece Theatre fantasy of what his finished video looked like, why did he cough on the pipe rather than maintaining the sophisticated facade? He would cough in reality, not the fantasy, so the joke confused me for a while into thinking that we were seeing actual finished footage rather than Andrew's imagination - making me wonder why the footage of him in the basement with his diagram looked so lame in comparison. The out of sequence cutting back and forth between the Andrew-Anya bathroom scene and the Andrew-Buffy graveyard scene was a bit confusing too (it worked better on the second viewing though). It was interesting that Anya said, "balance is important; people don't always take that into account", which could be a reference to the First's statement in Lessons that he was tired of the Balance, as well as the revelation in Showtime that Buffy's resurrection upset some kind of cosmic balance (the show hasn't really dealt yet with whether Buffy should be trying to destroy the First or restore the Balance). I liked the scene in the kitchen where we all-too-briefly got to see the characters on videotape instead of film. The image quality of video makes things seem more real than the too-beautiful-to-be-real image quality of film - even when it's not using slow motion and wind - and it made me feel like Willow, Dawn, and the others were real people rather than fictional characters. And I don't think there's any doubt left about Andrew's sexuality. Aside from his taste for Zima, there's the way his camera lingered on the Shirtless Spike® and ignored the "hot lesbo action" between Willow and Kennedy - not to mention his role-playing of Anya's lines while rewatching her tender moment with Xander.
We got some closure there on the breakup of Anya and Xander. The scenes between them were all really good until the bed scene. Not only did it fall under the category of "inappropriately timed sex", but it was also too reminiscent of the big Wesley-Cordelia kiss/breakup in the third season - although I'll reserve final judgement until we see how they interact in the following episodes.
I loved the moment with the girl starting to turn invisible (referencing the first season episode, Out of Mind, Out of Sight) although she was much too beautiful too have been ignored by everyone - as well as when the little piggy ran by in the basement, but both raise the issue of whom the series is being produced for. Whenever a fan complains about a continuity glitch or something similar, the usual reply is that the series is produced for the general public who don't care about such things and that the hard-core fans who spend massive amounts of time analyzing every little detail on the internet are an insignificantly small group of no-life losers. But then along comes a scene like this or the parade of villains in Lessons or complicated story arcs that can't be appreciated unless one is a hard-core fan analyzing every little detail on the internet. I think somebody is trying to play on both sides of the net.
Speaking of continuity, when Wood was possessed by the Seal, the accusatory things he said reminded me of the demon that possessed everyone in After Life. The revelations in Showtime also brought this demon to mind, but I could be overinterpreting its significance. The scene with Spike being taped by Andrew, acting all menacing and then happily doing a retake, might have been the fulfillment of one of the dream visions in season five's Restless in which we saw Spike striking poses for people with cameras. I also noticed the quick shot of the "Cheese Guy" in Andrew's and Jonathan's nightmare. I usually don't pick up on things like that. The two references to Restless here might mean something. That episode also showed Spike dressed like Giles and being trained by him. I wonder if this means that Spike will be one of the founders of the new Watcher's Council.
I was very disappointed that the Mexico flashback didn't tell us much that we didn't already know. When Andrew and Jonathan made their first appearance this season, Jonathan gave us the impression that he had uncovered some vital information about the First that he wanted to tell Buffy. I was hoping that we were finally going to get some of that much-needed background.
The directing of the scene where Wood attacked Spike was a bit unclear. The angle from which we were watching made it look like Spike had reached his arm out to hit Wood without looking at him. When we cut back to them again, I was confused as to why they weren't fighting or yelling or, at least, angry with each other. I had to play the scene back in slow motion to see that Wood had actually been jumped by one of the possessed students.
An undealt-with ethical issue was raised when we saw that the Seal had possessed several students and made them cut up their eyes like those of the Bringers. I had always assumed that the Bringers were a cult of people who had chosen to worship the First and do its bidding, so it was ok for Buffy to kill them. If they were involuntary minions like those students, the situation becomes much more complicated. Buffy should find a way to free them instead of kill them. However, it's probable that the First can possess only those people who are near the open Seal, so Buffy doesn't need to worry about this. I also thought that it was inappropriate for the episode to go for a laugh when that student exploded.
Taken on its own, this was actually a very good episode, but, since the producers have insisted on doing a story arc, they've also put all of their eggs into one basket, and entire season has to be judged as a single unit as if it were one long movie. The worst movie in the world might still have one or two good scenes in it somewhere - like Eugene Levy's scenes in American Pie (sorry, Alyson) - but the cumulative score of this season is still depressingly low. In fact, as we entered into the rerun cycle after this episode, I couldn't even work up the motivation to watch any of these episodes again. That's a really bad sign. Even if all of the remaining episodes are absolutely brilliant, it will still likely be too little too late, especially considering all of the ill will that this season inherited from the previous one. If I were to be perfectly honest, this season might actually be a little bit better than that one, but the big difference is that the sixth season had five years worth of goodwill going in that they had to burn through before I got annoyed. This one didn't have that advantage. On the positive side: the official word has come out that this will be the last season of Buffy after all. All I can do is hope that we get a good final episode and that the threatened spinoff series doesn't happen, or, if it does happen, that it doesn't feature any characters from this series so that I won't feel the misplaced loyalty to watch it. The other possibility would be for it to have a completely new creative team behind it because Joss Whedon seems to have completely lost the magic touch. I've been really disappointed with Buffy these past two years, but I've felt that Angel was even worse, and Firefly was completely stillborn.
This episode provided more ammunition for those people who hold the redemptionist position regarding Spike. He was portrayed as being unique among vampires in that he retained much more of his human personality after being sired, such as his love of flowery, melodramatic language ("I am no longer bound to this mortal coil; I have become a creature of the night, a vampire") and, more importantly, his love of his mother. This directly contradicted Giles' comment about VampJesse in The Harvest: "Jesse is dead.... You're not looking at your friend. You're looking at the thing that killed him" and Buffy's comment about siring in Lie to Me: "You die, and a demon sets up shop in your old house. It walks and talks and remembers your life, but it's not you." The episode seemed to strongly imply that Spike still was William - which may explain why we didn't see the same dramatic personality change in the resouled Spike that we saw between the resouled and unsouled Angel. It's either this, or the series is being inconsistent. Spike's mom behaved much more like the usual vampire, wanting only to do evil and retaining no love for Spike who ultimately stated that VampMom was not his real mother but a demon in her body. The only other unique case seems to be Darla when she was resurrected as a human, presumably with a human soul. She retained her evil vampire personality and wanted to be revamped as quickly as possible so that she could get back to wreaking havoc - kind of blowing to hell Buffy's "Soul=Good" hypothesis - unless Wolfram&Hart's machinations were tampering with the natural order of things.
Giles drew a parallel between the current Spike dilemma and the time that Buffy refused to kill Dawn even though doing so would have saved the world from Glory - with Buffy even admitting that she might be willing to act differently today. But the two situations aren't really comparable. In the fifth season, we knew for a fact that Dawn's death (or Ben's death, for that matter) was guaranteed to thwart all of Glory's plans. In the current situation, we don't know that killing Spike will stop the First. We don't know if Spike is an essential part of the First's plan or just a nonessential accessory (the way the Turok-Han now seems to be). We still don't know what the First's plan is. We don't even know if the First has a plan or what he wants to accomplish. It will be something evil, no doubt - but does he want to destroy the world? Or destroy the human race? Or enslave the human race? Or bring about Hell on earth? Or end the Slayer line so that thousands of little Evils can roam the world unchecked? Or storm the gates of Heaven and seize the throne of God? This is the seventeenth episode for gosh sakes. There should have been a little bit of exposition by now. All we've still got to go on is his vague statement early in the season about being "tired of the balance".
It would be nice if Buffy and Giles were arguing about these issues and trying to find some answers rather than automatically dismissing each others' points of view and choosing to remain ignorant of the true nature of the threat that they are supposed to be dealing with. Information is the most valuable weapon in any war. Maybe Giles was doing the right thing when he conspired behind Buffy's back to have Spiked killed. Maybe Giles was doing the wrong thing. There is still the issue of all those prophecies about a "vampire with a soul" who will play a major role in the battle against Evil and be rewarded by becoming human again. We've always assumed that they were referring to Angel, but they now may apply to Spike instead. Maybe the real reason that the First has been manipulating Spike has been to trick Buffy and the Scoobies into killing him in order to thwart that prophecy because Spike is the only one who is capable of stopping the First. Maybe the real reason that the First has been manipulating Spike has been to cause this exact kind of rift between Buffy and the Scoobies as they argue about what to do with Spike, conspire against each other, betray each other, and lose all trust in each other - thus rendering them powerless to organize any meaningful assault against him. Maybe, in trying to kill Spike, Giles was doing exactly what the First wanted him to do and prompted Buffy into doing exactly what the First wanted her to do (although I no longer have faith that the writers are capable of coming up with something this clever). And as for Buffy's faith in Spike, there's a big difference between believing in him and being completely blinded by that belief. I think that it's ok for Buffy to keep Spike around, but she should also be a lot more worried than she is and be taking plenty of precautions.
I just glossed over an important development a moment ago, and I still don't know what to say about it. Buffy rejected Giles. Buffy ... rejected ... Giles. I'm speechless. I think I should go back and watch Tara get shot in a few times. It would be downright cheerful in comparison. It's just so wrong on so many levels - not that he has been particularly useful for anything this season, but, theoretically, he's the only one with any kind of real knowledge of all this supernatural stuff. She needs him, but her arrogant self-righteousness made her reject him just as it made her reject the help that the First Watchers were trying to give her in Get It Done. While it is true that Giles behaved very ruthlessly here, it was also his ruthless murder of Ben that has saved Buffy (and the world) from ever having to deal with Glory again. On a more personal level, Giles has always been her surrogate father which makes her rejection of him even more painful to watch. It does, however, make sense of something in the series that hasn't made sense in a long time: Buffy's attitude toward her real father. The last time we actually saw Hank way back in the first season, he seemed like a nice guy who had a good relationship with Buffy, and she often spoke of the good times that they had together. However, for the past few years, Buffy has been speaking of him as a worthless, deadbeat dad whom she refused to have anything to do with. A lot of people have commented on this unexplained change in attitude, but it's now starting to make sense. Maybe we haven't been hearing both sides of the story. Maybe, when Hank missed that one birthday, Buffy went just as self-righteous on him as she did on Giles here, and it was her choice to never see him again.
Anyway, Giles was smart enough to figure out Wood's true identity, and I liked that he was also smart enough to immediately realize the potential conflict of interest problems. And I really loved Giles rant about the condition of modern libraries. I had even briefly commented (back in my review of Lessons) that I was hoping to get a scene like this. For an all too brief moment, we got to see the old Giles again: the one we first fell in love with. His line, "Knowledge comes from crafted bindings and pages, Buffy, not ones and zeros", calls to mind his earlier comments in I Robot, You Jane:
"Well, I still prefer a good book.... These musty old books have a great deal more to say than any of your fabulous web pages.... Smell is the most powerful memory trigger there is. A certain flower or a whiff of smoke can bring up experiences long forgotten. Books smell - musty and rich. Knowledge gained from a computer has no texture, no context. It's there and then it's gone. If it's to last, the getting of knowledge should be tangible. It should be smelly."
As a librarian myself, I had always viewed Buffy as being the show about a heroic librarian who did battle with the forces of darkness (and the cute girl who hung around with him). Giles even made the cover of American Libraries [30(8):44-47, Sept 1999, reprinted here]. When Giles stopped being a librarian in the fourth season, I was a bit disappointed, but, as the years passed, I began to think that it was a good thing that he left the profession when he did because seeing what was happening to it now would break his heart (we throw away entire dumpsters full of books each week). Ironically, Buffy is partially responsible for this happening. There's a public misconception that everything ever published is available on the internet - making libraries unnecessary - and Buffy has happily encouraged it. Unfortunately, politicians, administrators, and other policy makers are influenced by this attitude when it the time comes to allocate budgets and physical resources to libraries.
Another thing that I absolutely must comment on is when Buffy said, "The other day, I gave an inspirational speech to the telephone repairman". Umm, wouldn't it more helpful if she were giving inspirational speeches to the Potentials instead? So far, the only thing that she has been telling them is that the fight is hopeless and that they're all going to die. The inspirational speech that she did manage to give in Bring on the Night seems to have been an aberration. Perhaps the serious blow to the head she received from the Turok-Han disorientated her and caused her to mistake the girls for telephone repairmen.
There were lots of Oedipal overtones in this episode. First Wood told Buffy (his potential romantic interest) that she reminded him of his mother, and, later, we saw William being perhaps a bit too attached to his own mother, followed by VampMom getting way too sexually suggestive with Spike. Also on the mother front: Nicky's responsibilities as a Slayer prevented her from doing anything as normal as being a proper mother to Wood - just as Buffy is prevented from having a normal job or social life - so, technically, Wood lost his mother to Spike long before Spike actually killed her - or even met her. It would be psychologically interesting if the show explored the possibility that Wood's hatred of vampires stems more from the fact that their very existence robbed him of his childhood and mother's love than it does from their actual murder of her. It was also interesting when Spike said, "That's the rub, isn't it", a line that is, of course, derived from Hamlet's famous soliloquy - as is the "mortal coil" line quoted above - further supporting the "Wood as Hamlet" allegory that I mentioned in my review of First Date. The complicated mother issues and revenge plot ended badly for Hamlet too.
How was Wood able to beat Spike so badly during the early part of the fight? A normal human - even a well trained one - should have been killed by a berserker Spike pretty quickly. Did those gauntlet thingies that he put on have magic powers that gave him super strength? If so, why would he take them off before he finished killing Spike? Or maybe Spike was in so much emotional turmoil over his past that he was barely aware of what was happening in the present. Either way, we were left hanging as to what Wood will do next. Will he continue trying to kill Spike? Will he take his ball and go home, leaving the others to fight the First without him? Will he join with the First in order to kill Spike even if it means destroying the world too? Or will he be mature enough to put aside the revenge thing until after he has helped to defeat the First, learning a valuable lesson in the process? (Why do I get the feeling that it won't be the latter?) I would really like to see some follow-up scenes between Wood and Spike. (Hey, I just noticed something: "spikes" can be made out of "wood", and this encounter was an important moment in the "making" of a new Spike).
Some random thoughts: Giles said that it was unlikely that the First had simply forgotten that he had Spike available to him as a weapon, but, given how incompetent everyone on both sides of this conflict has been behaving, it actually could be very likely. And it was a tad disappointing to have it confirmed that the First's control over Spike was merely the result of conventional hypnotism/brainwashing rather than supernatural forces. On the other hand, I liked Anya's rapid backpedal when she started criticizing Buffy for forgiving the evil deeds committed by formally evil people, but I'd still like to see her put some effort into earning some redemption (broken record broken record broken record). And it was a nice pun when Spike said, "Sorry, I'm not much for self-reflection". Finally, I'm not sure if this is a continuity flub or not, but Drusilla seemed to be planning to go off alone with Spike and was annoyed at the thought of a third person coming with them. I was under the impression that Drusilla was hanging around with Angelus and Darla at that time. Spike joined up with the three of them, and it was several decades later that Spike and Drusilla set off on their own.
This episode introduced Caleb, who is quickly becoming Buffy's scariest villain ever. Even Glory, the Mayor, and the Master had a little bit too much comedy floating around them to become as frightening as this. He's certainly the first good villain that we've seen in the last two years. Last season's EvilWillow arc had potential, but the producers wasted so much time with the Trio's antics and Buffy's kinky sex that they never developed it as properly as they could have - shutting it down in Wrecked and then cramming way too much into the last couple of episodes. This year, the Turok-Han threat went nowhere, and I've already complained several times about what an uninteresting villain the First was shaping up to be. In fact, the juxtaposition of Caleb and the First here only served to demonstrate exactly how uninteresting the First really is. The colorful preacher upstaged him in every scene.
But isn't it a little too late to be introducing a new character? Once again, I find myself saying that the main point of an episode seems to be to set up future events, but, at episode eighteen, shouldn't we be long past the setup portion of the season and well into the development portion? There are only four episodes left until the series finale. By now, all of the players should be in place, and most of the plans on both sides should have been revealed as the producers start ramping things up for the mind blowing climax. As things stand, we still seem to be a long way away from that climax. The season would have been better off if this episode had come much sooner - maybe sixth or seventh.
A lot of backstory about Caleb was implied, and I'm hoping that we get more information. I get the impression that he's human - not a demon - so I'm wondering where the strength and invulnerability are coming from. I don't think they're coming from the First, or why wouldn't he have bestowed it upon the Bringers as well? And Caleb seemed even stronger than the Turok-Han. We did find out that Caleb was behind organizing the Bringers to kill all the Potentials and Watchers. This could be a possible weakness that the Scoobies can exploit. Such global activities by a physical person - not to mention all of his earlier crimes that he referred to - were likely to have left a trail of evidence, and, in following that trail, the Scoobies might be able to uncover information about the First's nature and intentions. It was interesting when Caleb said, "Satan is a little man". I've been wondering since the beginning what the relationship between the First and Satan might be or if the First might actually be Satan. Perhaps this comment is meant to indicate that the First is a much higher power that predates even the Devil himself, who is just one of the countless evil wannabes (and where does Jasmine fit into all this?). And portraying the evil, psycho-killer Caleb as a devout bible-spouting Christian goes a little way toward making up for all of the right wing propaganda that we've been seeing in earlier episodes (concerning the evils of Wicca and lesbianism), but just a little. There's still a possibility that Caleb's behavior was not intended to be an attack on the Christian Right but - given the aforementioned propaganda - an expression of the producers' actual views.
Caleb sent Buffy the message that he had something that belonged to her. Someone on the internet commented that it must have been her brain because she acted so stupidly here (I wish that I had thought of that). Buffy made this exact same mistake way back in the first season's Prophecy Girl where she blindly marched right into the Master's lair and unintentionally brought about the very event that she was trying to stop. Here, everyone warned her against it, but she refused to listen and was particularly harsh on Giles. Earlier, she told Wood, "I don't have time for your vendetta, but I need you in this fight. I want you on my side", but she didn't follow her own advice. She allowed her vendetta against Giles to lead to disaster. She could not have done more harm even if she had been working for the First - a possibility that I haven't fully discounted yet. And, when the battle was going so badly, it was Spike, not Buffy, who was sensible enough to sound a retreat. I'm beginning to think that the war against the First would go much better if the Scoobies got rid of Buffy. This shouldn't be too difficult to accomplish because, if Buffy remains true to form, this will be the part of the season where she either goes catatonic or runs away (and I swear that I came up with this thought before I saw the next episode).
Xander demonstrated the proper way to do an inspirational speech: he acknowledged the danger and the fear but kept the message positive:
"Let me tell you something about Buffy.... I've been through more battles with Buffy than you all can ever imagine. She's stopped everything that's ever come up against her. She's laid down her life, literally, to protect the people around her. This girl has died two times, and she's still standing. You're scared. That's smart. You've got questions. You should. But you doubt her motives - you think Buffy's all about the kill - then you take the little bus to battle. I've seen her heart - and, this time, not literally - and I'm telling you right now she cares more about your lives than you will ever know. You've gotta trust her. She's earned it."
Even in his dream, Xander said, "Buffy knows what she's doing. She's not going to send you into battle until she's sure you're ready for action." It's a shame that his trust in her was completely misplaced. Nevertheless, it was a really great scene for Xander, and I completely forgot that, in this series, a really great scene means that the character is doomed (I did not need to see that - I did not need to see that). Just before Caleb plucked out Xander's eye, he said, "You're the one who sees everything, aren't you?" I get the feeling that this was a reference to the Xander's other great scene at the end of Potential where Dawn praised his insight. How would Caleb know about that scene, and how much more about everyone does he know? It can also be interpreted that Xander's getting his eye plucked out was his punishment for having impure thoughts about the Potentials. Matthew (5:28-29) says: "whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee", although Xander had his left eye plucked out. Now that I think about it, earlier in the season, Showtime portrayed a giant, all seeing, disembodied eye. I wonder if there's a connection here. I'm reminded of the Norse legend of Odin who sacrificed an eye in order to gain knowledge. Will Beljoxa's Eye replace Xander's lost eye?
Dawn's open hostility to Faith was a little unjustified. After all, Spike, Willow, Andrew, and even Giles are also "tried to kill your sister types" who are nevertheless living in the Summer's house (and just how is Buffy affording all this?). In all fairness, we have no idea what actually might have gone down between Dawn and Faith in the now altered history, but the scene made Dawn come across unsympathetically, especially given that there were no explanations or further interactions between them. The confrontation had the same awkwardness as her attempt to threaten Spike back in Beneath You. Buffy's hostility toward Faith didn't work much better. Certainly, Buffy has plenty of reasons to dislike her, but those of us who have been watching Angel have seen a much more sympathetic portrayal of her than Buffy has. I had the same problem with Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country; it ignored the fact that Star Trek: The Next Generation had been showing a different side of the Klingons, with Worf being one of the most popular characters. Thus the ugly racism displayed by Kirk and the other TOS characters toward the Klingons - though justified from their point of view - made them seem unsympathetic from the audience's point of view. Conversely, the scene where Faith and Spike were punching each other out gave me flashbacks to the sixth season's sexual tension between Buffy and Spike. Somebody should have warned Faith that Spike considers that kind of stuff to be foreplay. Come to think of it, Faith has always considered that kind of stuff to be foreplay too. They have a lot more in common besides the whole "formally evil, seeking redemption" thing, and there was certainly a lot of electricity crackling in their later scene together.
I've got mixed feelings about Andrew's narration about Faith. This was the first major scene with him since the events in Storytelling, and it seemed to indicate that he had learned nothing from that experience (one of the Potentials even said as much). On the one hand, this makes him a typical Scooby, but, on the other, I would have liked to have seen some follow-up to that final shot in Storytelling that really seemed to indicate that he was doing some serious soul searching. It was, however, amusing to watch and was probably intended to serve as comedy relief to put us off of our guard for the events that would come later (but where was the gold emblem that should have been on the Vulcan's shirt?). Also, when Andrew dramatically concluded with, "She's a killer, never forget that", one of the Potentials could have said, "But you're a killer too". He was, however, absolutely right about Godzilla. The real Godzilla is a superhero monster who defends Earth from evil monsters, not a big dumb lizard who could be killed by Matthew Broderick - although I seem to be the only person in the world who actually liked the Emmerich/Devlin film (better than Independence Day but not better than Stargate). Interestingly, the episode ended with Caleb telling a story and saying, "I have found and truly believe that there's nothing so bad it cannot be made better with a story". This was exactly what Andrew was doing in Storytelling and being condemned for doing it. The significant difference was that Andrew was obsessed with denying the truth in order to portray events as positively as possible and create the best possible world, while Caleb denies the truth in order to portray events as negatively as possible and create the worst possible world. I'm not sure what that connection means yet.
I really hated the way the fight scene was directed. The shaky, handheld camera and extremely fast editing made the events very hard to follow. I've adamantly refused to watch Witchblade and Mutant X because of this "music video" cinematography in their first episodes, and I've noticed it creeping into Buffy and Angel lately. Also, the "Previously on Buffy" segments are getting pretty long and complicated. I wonder how much sense the recap actually makes or how helpful it is to people who haven't been watching from the beginning.
The Potential with the Cockney accent (I still don't know their names) expressed concerns about encountering creatures with tentacles. I might be way overinterpreting here (not that I haven't done such a thing before), but I wonder if this is an homage to an old science fiction movie called, The Terrornauts, in which a Cockney cleaning lady also frequently expressed concerns about encountering creatures with tentacles. And am I the only one who noticed that the Potentials first major battle took place in a "whine" cellar? Sorry, I couldn't resist.
Finally, on a semi-related note, I recently stumbled across a paper on the Center for Strategic and International Studies' website. [Cordesman, Anthony H. "Biological Warfare and the Buffy Paradigm". Washington, DC : Center for Strategic and International Studies, September 29, 2001.] In it, the author compares the current threat of bioterrorism with the threats presented on Buffy. Among the points he makes are:
"What expertise there is consists largely of bad or uncertain advice and old, flawed, and confusing technical data.
"Arcane knowledge is always inadequate and fails to predict, detect, and properly characterize the threat.
"It is never clear whether the threat is internal, from an individual, or from an outside organization.
"The more certain and deterministic an expert is at the start, the more wrong they turn out to be in practice."
That last observation particularly applies to Buffy in this episode. Cordesman goes on to compare the government's policies with the Scoobies' behavior:
"The characters in Buffy constantly try to create unrealistic plans and models, and live in a world where they never really face the level of uncertainty they must deal with. They do not live in a world of total denial, but they do seek predictability and certainty to a degree that never corresponds to the problems they face. In short, they behave as if they could create and live with the kind of strategy and doctrine that is typically developed by the US joint chiefs, ... but our chances of really being much better than Buffy are simply not that great - at least until we have a much clear picture of what kind of biological attacks actually materialize, how effective they really are, and how biotechnology evolves over the coming decades."
And this is a from guy whose job is to analyze strategy, so I better cut this review short and go buy some duct tape right now.
Now this is the right way to do a Buffy episode: it was the perfect combination of humor, horror, angst, tragedy, character interaction, clever lines, and surprises that we had grown to expect from Buffy during its glory days of the first five seasons. Unfortunately, we're already long past the point where I'd have said, "too little, too late", but at least there is now hope that the series can go off on a high note even if it won't be enough to wash away the bad taste of the last two seasons.
Last week, I speculated that Caleb could be the weak link in the First's effort to remain mysterious because his activities were likely to have left a trail, and this episode has followed through on that. Oddly however, Buffy chose to begin her research about Caleb by looking for incidents in California rather than using his obvious southern accent as a clue. If they could identify which southern dialect he was speaking - and perhaps a Potential from the South could have recognized it - they could have used it to pinpoint where he was originally from which would likely be where he began his evil activities. Of course, a significant location in the South couldn't be reached by Spike and Andrew as quickly as one in California, so it was pretty lucky that the first actual clue about the First just happened to be nearby. At first, I was surprised that Spike could read Greek, but then I got to thinking that his upper class Victorian education might have included classical languages, so I'll let that point slide. The inscription, "It is not for thee; it is for her alone to wield", seems to be referring to some sort of weapon, and the "her" is presumably Buffy. I found this revelation to be a bit disappointing. After spending eighteen episodes being repeatedly told that the First was so unstoppable that the Scoobies haven't even bothered to try to find a way to stop him, a superweapon that can defeat him was suddenly dropped into their laps by shear luck. I found that to be just a little too convenient.
But, upon giving the matter some more thought, other possibilities began to suggest themselves. Perhaps the weapon is not meant to be wielded against the First by the Slayer who will use it to destroy him. Instead, perhaps, it is meant to be wielded on behalf of the First by his Chosen One who will use it to bring about the final apocalypse. Perhaps the reason why Caleb was so angered by the inscription was that he wanted to be that Chosen One and was outraged that the prophecy told him that, instead, Buffy was destined to do it. This could explain several things: why the parade of villains in Lessons led back to Buffy, the final image of which is shown at the end of the opening credits each week; why the Turok-Han left the beaten and unconscious Buffy alive in Bring on the Night when he had the perfect opportunity to kill her - just as Caleb did in this episode (these may not be instances of typical supervillain overconfidence, after all); and the often-implied, mysterious connection that exists between Buffy and the First (another sign of which was portrayed here when Buffy had a sore throat, and the First's image of her had a sore throat too <G>). In this episode, Caleb told Buffy that she was going to be a part of "the great sweeping tide of change" that was coming, and, later, when the First asked Caleb if he had lain the proper groundwork, Caleb replied, "I reckon she got the message, even if she doesn't know it yet." This weapon could have been what he was really referring to when he told Buffy that he had something that belonged to her.
It was so painful watching Xander and Willow trying to make with the brave front and cheerful wisecracks yet failing so miserably. However - and this makes me sound like a really horrible person - I can't shake the feeling that the show is making too big a deal out of his injury. Both Willow and Buffy have landed in the hospital with injuries as serious as Xander's, and several of the Potentials have broken bones - not to mention the time that Cordelia was impaled (and all the people who have been killed) - but the series has never put so much effort into emphasizing the tragedy of the injury as it has here. The only real difference this time is that the injury resulted in a facial disfigurement instead of a scar that could be conveniently hidden under the clothing.
Anya's and Andrew's presentation to the Potentials about the
Turok-Hans was fun (as was every scene with Andrew - I like the
cheeseburger HotPockets best, myself, but I've never had one of those
onion flowers). However, it left me with a couple of questions: Anya
stated that the Turok-Hans can be killed with a
but that they aren't effected by holy water. This seems to be the
opposite of what we had been led to believe in
Bring on the Night and
Showtime where the stake was harmless,
but holy water in the eye did blind it. The stake thing can be
rationalized by saying that Buffy hadn't driven it hard enough to
penetrate the Turok-Han's extra strong sternum, but the holy water
thing is more problematic. Was this a continuity error, or was Anya
wrong? Did the Potentials know that she was wrong, or will her
mistake further endanger them? Was she wrong on purpose, or did her
demon contacts feed her disinformation?
Buffy had a brilliant insight in realizing that there was something important in the vineyard that the Bringers were protecting - I hadn't thought of that - but she was, of course, as wrong about wanting everyone to charge in after it as she was last week when the same action led to disaster. Hasn't she ever heard of reconnaissance and intelligence gathering or even learning from mistakes? When the others voiced an opposing opinion to her plan, finally turning against her (kudos to Anya), she refused to listen to them and said that "democracies don't win battles". So ... I guess World War II doesn't count - or World War I or the Civil War or the Revolutionary War or even the recent conflict in Iraq (although in the latter case, one can argue that we were no longer a democracy when we won that, and I'm sooo tempted to draw a political analogy to Buffy's insistence that they all have to be together behind her in this war). She then went on to talk about the virtues of dictatorship and to praise how her own leadership had saved the world time and again.
Um ... since when has Buffy ever actually been the leader of this group? No one has ever been identified as formally holding that position, but, if anyone could be considered to be the leader here, it would be Giles. It was he who had the background training, he who did the research into each new threat, and he who figured out what needed to be done to deal with it. In fact, it was when Giles stopped leading and went back to England in the sixth season that everybody's life started to fall apart: Willow became an evil crack addict; Anya became a demon; and Buffy became a total psycho-bitch. If he hadn't returned at the end of the season, the world would very likely have been destroyed. Buffy even went so far as to say that she was in charge because she was the Slayer, but, in all of the traditional Watcher-Slayer relationships, the Watcher was always in total charge, and the Slayer always did what she was told to do. Of course, putting Faith in charge would be almost as big a mistake as leaving Buffy in charge because Faith has had absolutely no experience with leadership, teamwork, or fighting a Big Bad, and her fieldtrip to the Bronze showed that her judgement isn't any better than Buffy's (there are still Bringers out there who want to kill the Potentials). If, for some reason, we can't have Giles in charge, my next choices would be Willow and then Spike because Xander and Anya are both followers; Wood is still too much of a wildcard; and Andrew would be ridiculous. If crossovers were allowed, I'd call Angel or Wesley (or even Riley).
Regardless of who was chosen to lead, Buffy's self-righteous "if it's not me, I won't play" attitude was absolutely appalling and was used as her excuse to, once again, run away when things get rough. Way back in my review of Help, I suggested that the flow of events were making me start to hate Buffy. I assumed that this was a sign that the producers were not thinking things through and had no idea what the implications of what they were doing were, but now it all seems to have been planned out. However, I certainly question the wisdom of intentionally making the audience hate the main character of a series, so this still might be a sign that the producers are completely out of control.
It was nice to see Clem again. And, when Willow was doing the mind control spell on the police, I could tell that they were just dying to make a Star Wars reference ("You don't need to see his identification; he can go about his business; move along"). Faith's behavior when she was first confronted by the police was a bit strange. She knew that she was a wanted fugitive, so the sensible thing for her to do would have been to either try to escape or to explain. Instead, she just stood there and acted cocky. What did she think that would accomplish? And, once again, I'm going to complain about the fast editing and shaky camera during a fight scene.
Uh oh, the high note promised by the last episode may not be coming after all. Most of this episode had a "lull before the storm" quality, but I'd really like to have seen the storm itself starting by now. Everybody had sex. Buffy both ran away and went catatonic (a new personal best!). Everybody had sex. Buffy also returned to the felonious behavior she displayed in last season's Gone when she stole that house. Everybody had sex. Faith and Spike pointlessly punched out each other - a behavior I that was already sick of way back in Beneath You. Everybody had sex. They felt the need to bring up the rape attempt one more time. And did I mention that everybody had sex? A lot of the worst elements of the sixth season are resurfacing.
The scene between Buffy and Spike was interesting. It was almost as if they had reversed positions from where they were at the beginning of the season when Spike was the basket case hiding in the basement, and Buffy was trying to pull him out. Buffy finally came to a realization about her major character flaw - after only seven years - when she said, "I've always cut myself off. Being the Slayer made me different, but it's my fault I stayed that way. People are always trying to connect to me, but I just slip away." The scene also reopened the possibility of a relationship between Buffy and Spike.
Faith actually came up with a good idea when she suggested capturing a Bringer to pump for information, but why did the series wait until the twentieth episode for our heroes first start coming up with ideas? Up until now, the only thing they've done is sit around talking about how hopeless the situation is and waiting to be attacked. The producers should have introduced this idea much sooner. Regardless, Faith's decision to attack the arsenal was just as stupid as Buffy's desire to attack the vineyard in the previous two episodes (actually, on first viewing, I got the impression that the arsenal was at the vineyard). Buffy wanted to act on a hunch while Faith waited for that hunch to be confirmed, but Faith was still rushing in just as blindly as Buffy wanted to. She didn't have a plan or any information about the enemy's defenses, numbers, or destructive capacity - although she did look at some maps first.
The Bringer said that they were building weapons for the coming war, but a war requires there to be an opposing army. As far as we know, there is no force to oppose the First other than Buffy and Company, and - despite Buffy's brave speech in Bring on the Night - the Scoobies certainly haven't become an army that the First would need an arsenal to fight. Can there be other players who have yet to enter the field? And why the hell did Giles kill the Bringer while he was still revealing useful information? The only explanation that I can think of is that Giles actually is working for the First, after all, but the producers seemed to have abandoned that idea a long time ago. However, it was Giles who pointed Faith to the location where the trap was waiting.
I loved Dawn's delivery of "There's a translation of it?" as well as when Faith told Kennedy off. Kennedy has had that coming for a long time. And what can I say about how delightful it was to see the Mayor again? This was also the first time that we saw the First trying to turn someone against Buffy since he appeared to Dawn in Conversations with Dead People, although I'm still not certain as to whether or not that really was the First or Joyce or someone else. In addition, the Mayor said that he was not merely the First manifesting as the Mayor, but also the Mayor himself. Assuming that he was telling the truth - and we have absolutely no reason to actually assume that - what are the implications when we see the First manifesting as Buffy? FirstBuffy does seem to be "tainted" with elements of Buffy's personality - cracking jokes, being uncertain, and longing to "feel" - that make him seem a whole lot less menacing.
The joke about playing "I Spy my Little Eye" in an almost empty room made another appearance. The first time I saw it was on a British series called The Goodies, the second was on Babylon 5 with Franklin and Marcus, and now here with Spike and Andrew. I now formally forbid anyone from using it again. And I really hated the shaky, handheld camera in the opening scene (and every additional "group conference" scene). When a director insists on calling attention to his/her own artifice like that, it distracts us away from the characters that we should be paying attention to and constantly reminds us that what we are watching is fake. If the director did this only because the writer called for it in the script, then the writer should stop trying to do the director's job. And before some smart@$$ says, "What about Baz Luhrmann or the Coen brothers?", these directors take their camerawork to such an extreme and in such creative ways - not just shaking the camera - that it almost becomes the film's raison d'etre. Films like Raising Arizona certainly would have been less interesting without it. Anyway, getting back to the content of those scenes (see how distracted I just was?), if these are the people in whose hands the fate of the world rests, the world is doomed.
As the episode ended, Buffy was about to acquire the mysterious weapon - complete with some Sword in the Stone imagery - but is this a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?
We're getting some pretty mixed signals about that weapon. When it was first introduced in Empty Places, two episodes ago, the obvious interpretation was that it was forged by the forces of Good for Buffy to wield against the First. But then I came up with the alternative theory - and presented evidence from throughout the season - that the scythe could have been forged by the forces of Evil to destroy the world (possibly by corrupting its bearer) and that Buffy might have been playing right into the First's hands by trying to acquire it. Now, I'm all confused. Last episode, the First - who is coming across as less and less threatening by the minute - seemed worried that Buffy might get a hold of it, so maybe it is Good after all. But, this episode, the First told Caleb to let Buffy leave with it, which supported the Evil hypothesis. The First had the Bringers working to remove it from the stone (although it wasn't clear that this was what they were doing until after the fact), which made no sense at all. Even if the scythe could be used for both good or evil, the prophecy said that Buffy alone could wield it - assuming that the "she" that it referred to was Buffy - so it would be useless to anyone but her. And if Buffy is destined to use it for evil, she would be along soon enough to pull it out herself. If Buffy is destined to use it for good, then the last thing the First should want to do is pull it out for her because this would just make her job easier. Perhaps the First was intending to hide it somewhere, but the more effective thing to do would be to put up guards, mystical barriers, or even physical barriers like filling the room with quick drying concrete so that nobody could get to it, and then it wouldn't matter that Buffy knew exactly where it was. Later on, we actually did see Caleb wielding the scythe several times even though the inscription specifically told him that he couldn't. In fact, it has been bothering me quite a bit that so many people have been holding it. If the scythe is truly an enchanted weapon intended only for Slayers, then no one else should be able to lift it or even touch it. Buffy then further complicated matters when she expressed the belief that it had a function other than merely being a weapon. What might that function be?
Willow went looking for information about the scythe on the internet (see my previous rants under The Killer in Me, First Date, and Lies My Parents Told Me). If I were the First, I'd put up a whole bunch of webpages with wrong information which would ensure that Buffy never got anywhere near me but would always get right into any trap I might set for her. Anyway, against all odds, Willow did find a page with link to a page about the scythe and then didn't bother to click on it. Now here comes the really tricky part: when Giles said that the symbol appeared in carvings around the world, Willow asked, "Carvings like you'd have on a pagan temple?" to which Giles replied, "Go back. See what else we can find out about this temple. The scythe is a symbol of death. Let's see where these pagans buried their dead." Um ... What temple? Which pagans? They both seemed to be referring to specific ones, but there also seems to be a few steps missing from the thought progression that led them to their conclusions. A few weeks ago there was a South Park episode that showed a character going through a ridiculously incoherent stream-of-consciousness progression to the correct answer, and Giles seems to have done the same thing here.
Later, it was presumably he who told Buffy that the scythe had been forged in "a tomb on unconsecrated ground" which would tend to point us back to the "scythe is evil" hypothesis because, surely, a good weapon would have been forged on consecrated ground (ow, my head is hurting). And before you chime in with "It's a PreChristian, pagan weapon, so, of course, the ground was unconsecrated!", the fact that the ground has remained unconsecrated means that the Christian world is ignorant of it, wants nothing to do with it, or is even afraid of it - all of which either point to evil or else imply that the ultimate power against evil lies in the pagan world rather than the modern Christian or secular worlds, an idea that goes against everything that we have ever seen in the series. There was also a great deal of contempt in Giles' voice when he said "pagans". Anyway, Buffy went looking for the tomb in the familiar graveyard, but graveyards are usually consecrated ground (ow, ow, ow). How did she know to go to this graveyard? And how did she know it was that particular tomb? And is that the same pyramid tomb that we've been seeing since the beginning of the series? It's a shame that nobody ever decided to thoroughly explore the graveyard after the first few times that they found something weird there.
The Woman - speaking of the scythe in a scene whose tone was very reminiscent of the knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - provided us with a great deal of background exposition with very few words:
"We forged it in secrecy, and kept it hidden from the Shadow Men ... and they became the Watchers, and the Watchers watched the Slayers, but we were watching them.... It was put to use right here to kill the last pure demon that walked upon the earth. The rest were already driven under. And then there were men here, and then there were monks, and then there was a town, and now there was you."
When Buffy asked how it was possible that nobody knew any of this, I was tempted to say, "Because the writers just thought of it last week" (sorry, I couldn't resist). So let's try to expand on these details. The Woman's order, the Guardians, predated the existence of the Watchers. Somehow, possibly by the Guardians themselves, the demons were driven from the world, and the Guardians killed the last demon in a place that would one day become Sunnydale. This may explain why the Hellmouth is located in Sunnydale and why all the evil creatures tend to be attracted to it. Perhaps the Hellmouth was the point through which all the demons departed. It certainly seems to be the point through which they always want to return. At first, I thought that this contradicted the story that Giles told in The Harvest, but he said that "the last demon to leave this reality" created the first vampire, not the just last demon. The Guardians seemed to have had a bad relationship with the Watchers and never told them about the existence of the Hellmouth and what it was for. Giles first found out about it from Buffy, who found out about it from Angel, who, presumably, found out about it from the Master, who was trying to open it. But what was the source of this bad relationship? Perhaps the Shadow Men were driven by a masculine impulse to bring order to the world by controlling it while the Guardians were driven by a more feminine impulse to live in harmony with the world. Perhaps the Guardians were actually the True Slayers, but the Shadow Men magically stole the superpowers from these True Slayers and infused them into a girl to create a new lineage of Slayers whom they could control. But, in order to do this, they called upon dark, demonic forces that they also believed that they could control - possibly even the First, himself - thus creating the link between the First and the Slayer that has been suggested all season. They then kept the Slayer isolated from everyone but her own Watcher so that she could never be influenced by the Guardians or anyone else. Maybe this is why Buffy and Faith tend to isolate themselves from others; that instinct could be part of the spell that made them Slayers. The Shadow Men were forced to use a girl rather than taking on the power themselves because the power was feminine in origin. Meanwhile, the Guardians had no choice but to wait for the coming of a Slayer who would have the strength to renounce the Watchers and return to her true people, reclaiming her true heritage and the weapon that comes with it.
So this episode definitely seemed to be pointing us toward the "scythe is good" hypothesis, but this only confused me further. All of the scenes that I pointed to as evidence for its being evil now no longer make sense unless they were just plot holes or bad writing or have as yet unrevealed alternative explanations. Storywise, it was also tremendously disappointing that the producers would spend the entire season constantly emphasizing how hopelessly unstoppable the First is and then conveniently drop a superweapon into Buffy's lap at the last minute without her even having to do so much as ask for it. The producers just pulled the exact same stunt over on Angel when Jasmine was defeated in only one episode simply by having the hero say, "Rumpelstiltskin". If the scythe is good, it should have been much more difficult to acquire. Time should have been spent discovering its existence, and then there should have been a multi-episode arc where they went on a quest to find it while the First's minions continually tried to stop them. Since the Potentials have - so far - proven to be a completely useless plot element, deleting them from the season would have freed up plenty of time to do this. However, the Woman also told Buffy that "this is a powerful weapon, but you already have weapons". What could these weapons be? I'm tempted to speculate that they are Buffy's friends and the love that they bear for each other. Since the First is incorporeal, it is these other "weapons" that may prove to be more valuable. In fact, and in a disappointing contradiction to everything that the season seems to be intending, the scythe does not actually seem to be behaving like a superweapon after all. While it did enable Buffy to dust multiple Turok-Hans within a few moments - something that had been seemingly impossible earlier - when she was fighting Caleb, it didn't seem to be any more useful against him than any normal weapon would have been.
Getting back to the Potentials, and to be perfectly honest, the first time that I had ever heard of the concept of Potentials was in the Usenet discussion group, and I had assumed that it was just a bad idea that some fan had come up with and other fans had accepted. After all, the premise of this series is "Into each generation, a chosen one is born - one girl in all the world" not "one girl in all the world and the thousands trained to replace her the moment she falls". My impression was that when one slayer dies, another is born - that's what "generation" means. I was appalled when this season revealed that Potentials were canonical and became more appalled as nothing was done with them to convince me that they were a good idea. A wonderful thing almost happened this episode when the Potentials began to stand their ground to face the Turok-Han. After ten episodes of nothing but whining, bad attitudes, and screw-ups, this looked like the moment where they would finally rise to the occasion and prove their mettle. Or ... then again ... maybe they wouldn't. Aren't these girls ever going to do anything to justify the effort that Buffy has put into them or the time that we've put into watching them (I discussed a similar missed opportunity back in my review of Showtime)? Wasn't the whole point of this series to subvert the stereotype of the screaming, helpless girl? However, the "Buffy to the rescue" scene was pretty cool.
There was some growing dissent between Caleb and the First, who are starting to behave more like bickering partners than an acolyte and his deity. This would make sense only if the "evil scythe" hypothesis is correct, and the First has abandoned Caleb in favor of Buffy as his true acolyte, but then why would the First bother to continue giving Caleb power (ow, ow, ow)? In either case, the bickering and clever banter are really diminishing how fearsome they both appear. In fact, the whole concept of the First manifesting in Buffy's image is not really working out so well. FirstBuffy just does not come across as very intimidating, especially when she resorts to sarcasm. On a side note, when the First "entered" Caleb to boost his power, Caleb's eyes went all black in a very familiar Willowlike way. Could the First actually have been the source of Willow's power all along? Both here and in the previous episode, Willow expressed a concern about turning evil again if she used a lot of magic and, therefore, was very reluctant to use it even if her friends were in danger. I wonder if this is a foreshadowing of coming events.
We did, however, finally get some information about what the First's ultimate goal is when he said, "When this is all over, and our armies spring forth, and our will sweeps the world, I will be able to enter every man, woman, and child on this earth." I'm interpreting this to mean that his intention is not to destroy the world or the human race or to bring about hell on earth with demons rampaging over everything but to possess every person so that every person will be evil with no balancing goodness anywhere - pretty much the same thing that Jasmine accomplished on Angel a lot faster simply by appearing on television. Also, was the First using the royal "we", or does he actually consider Caleb to be a partner after all? He did say that he was planning to make Caleb a god, but Caleb doesn't seem to be the frolicking in a field of flowers type.
Buffy looked genuinely hurt when Spike said - obviously lying for what he thought was her sake - that the previous evening had been no big deal. They then went on to have the "significant discussion" about what they mean to each other. While Buffy wasn't wholly committal, she did acknowledge how important he had become to her and that he had no need to fear that she might hurt him. It turned out that he really is "the wind beneath her wings". So, after all of this, why did Buffy unhesitatingly give Angel such a passionate kiss? And isn't Angel supposed to be in love with Cordelia now? I gotta agree with the First's comment about that, but certainly I hope that Spike doesn't let us down in the last inning. I had been wanting to see a scene with Spike and Angel ever since last season, but, seeing how there's only one episode left, there doesn't really seem to be time to deal with it.
Angel's arrival would have been a wonderful moment - just like Giles' surprise arrival at the end of Two to Go last year - except that the TV Guide spoiled the surprise for me. I never read their episode summaries, but I do check to see if the episode is a rerun, so I couldn't help but see David Boreanaz's name. Therefore, there was no squeal of delight this year. Anyway, and getting really picky, why would one punch from Angel knock Caleb down when Buffy, Spike, and Faith hitting him together couldn't budge him? Of course, had it been otherwise, we wouldn't have had that pause in the action in which Buffy and Angel could greet each other. I have mixed feelings about the lines, "Ah, one of those things you have to finish yourself?" "Really kinda is" because the single finest moment in the entire run of Firefly was the exchange, "Don't help him - he needs to do this himself" "No I don't, shoot him".
When Xander chloroformed Dawn, it was pretty easy to figure out that the mission that Buffy must have given him was to get Dawn away to a safe place, but it was also pretty easy to figure out that Dawn was not going to take that lying down. Anya and Andrew showed more chemistry together than Anya and Xander ever did. They are both self-centered, socially dysfunctional misfits who are always saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and getting easily distracted from the matter at hand (wheelchair fight!). Unfortunately, there are some sexual preference issues that might get in the way of anything developing there. Also, Anya's blunt negativity really isn't funny anymore. Even she should have been able to be more sensitive than she was in front of the wounded Potentials. And if the First is using conventional weapons like bombs, then Buffy should be allowed to use that rocket launcher. Finally, and least importantly, what are Jaffa cakes? Are they an English thing or a California thing? I don't think that we have them here in New York.
So, in conclusion, it looks like the ultimate confrontation between Good and Evil will be taking place entirely in one episode. That means that there are eight months and twenty-one episodes worth of expectations that have been built up. Throw in the fact that this is not just the season finale but the series finale, and there's an awful lot riding on those forty-five minutes. Hopefully, Good will win and with minimal attrition, but there are also still several outstanding questions that need to be answered. What is the exact connection between Buffy - or Buffy's resurrection - and the First? What was all that "right back to the beginning" talk in Lessons and the frequent discussions about power? What was the meaning of "From beneath you, it devours" that was repeated so many times? Was it simply a reference to the Hellmouth, or was it something else? What about when Joyce told Dawn that "Buffy will not choose you" in Conversations with Dead People as well as her dream appearances to Buffy in Bring on the Night? Was she really the First, or was she something else? What did the First Watchers mean in Get It Done when they told Buffy that she was the "last guardian of the Hellmouth"? What about the scene in that same episode where Willow made contact with the First and said, "You only make me stronger"? Will Willow do anything to earn redemption for her actions last season? Will the Potentials ever do anything useful at all? What is the other function of the scythe? What is the other weapon that Buffy already possesses? And, finally, because this will be the series finale, I would love for it to have a strong sentimental component with remembrances of times past and fallen friends as well as surprise visits by surviving friends - and enemies - like Oz, Cordelia, Wesley, Whistler, Amy, Harmony, Marcie, Doc and other supporting characters. Angel was a good start, but I want it all.
Buffy the Vampire
Slayer's Influence On Baby Names
Here's some completely useless trivia ... I mean ... an important analysis of the popular media's impact on American culture. The Social Security Administration website lists the top thousand names given to babies each year. The Census Bureau website lists the top 4275 female and 1219 male names belonging to people of any age as of the 1990 census. I checked the major characters' names to see if Buffy has had an impact. Keep in mind that the series premiered in 1997.
The following names might be attributed directly to the show, or maybe Joss had noticed that they were just starting to become popular and chose to give them to the characters:
These names already existed in the top thousand and increased in popularity:
These names already existed in the top thousand but decreased in popularity:
These names were not in the top thousand between 1990 and 2001:
More of Robert's Reviews
Internet Movie Database Entry
The Sunnydale Slayers : Detailed summaries and lively discussions
Buffy Guide : A Buffy encyclopedia with annotations, plots, cast, quotes, reviews, etc.
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