Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Buffy Rewatch Week 3

1.7 Angel
1.8 I Robot, You Jane
1.9 The Puppet Show


(As always, if you're here to talk spoilers read this post first, then go to the next one for more spoilery goodness and a forum where you can post openly.)

This week I have a personal anecdote to share with you that actually blends into next week’s episode, “Nightmares.” See, when I was a kid I had this recurring nightmare (and daymare, in a way... I thought about it in the daytime, too) of this tiny African warrior chasing me through the halls. He was holding a knife in his hand and looked hideous. At night, if I woke up and had to go to the bathroom I'd call out for my parents to come and take me, rather than go to the bathroom, because I was convinced this thing lived under my bed and he was going to cut my ankles with his little knife. I had no idea where I’d gotten the idea from, and it haunted me for years. (I even had this image of a woman in a nightgown holding a knife and banging the floor with it. She had big teeth.)

Years later I was reading an interview with Joss Whedon and he was asked what had terrified him the most as a kid. He answered, “The African Zuni doll from Trilogy of Terror.” I will never forget the ice-cold feeling that washed over me as I read that line. African Zuni doll? Oh my god... was this thing I imagined all the time actually REAL?? He began talking about this doll chasing a woman played by Karen Black through an apartment. I tentatively googled what he’d just said. “African Zuni Doll Trilogy of Terror.” And then closed one eye as I hit ‘Enter.’ The image that suddenly popped up on my screen actually made my heart leap, and I covered my eyes with one hand as I desperately tried to close the browser. I was in my 20s, and the sight of the thing that had been the star of my nightmares for so many years was absolutely horrifying. I called my mom on the phone and asked if she ever remembered seeing a movie like this. I mean, how the hell would I have known about this? She said it sounded vaguely familiar. I checked on IMDb. It was a TV movie that aired in 1975, and now I’m thinking I was two years old at the time and my mom probably thought there was no way this toddler was taking in anything on the television, and she watched it with me in the room. And it became the stuff of my creepiest nightmares. (As a result, my kids are not allowed to watch anything not meant for kids... I don’t want African Zuni dolls living under THEIR beds at night!)

So no WONDER, I thought to myself, that the scene where Sid the ventriloquist dummy is quickly running around Buffy’s room gave me such a serious case of the wiggins the first time I saw it... Joss Whedon was probably going for the same effect as that doll! Later, he said in the DVD commentary for “Hush” that he wanted the Gentlemen in that episode to have the same effect on a generation as that Zuni doll. Thanks, Joss. Thanks a lot. ;)

(In preparing for this blog, by the way, I decided to steel myself and check it on YouTube... with the sound turned off. I watched it with one eye open and it was rather ridiculous, but ended with the female victim being taken over by the spirit of the doll, and she was sitting on the floor in a white nightgown banging the floor with a knife and had big teeth. :::shudder::: Even though I've made this giant leap to actually watch it, I couldn't bring myself to cut and paste it here... just google it and you'll see what I mean.)

OK! This week’s episodes are “Angel,” which is what *I* consider to be the first great episode of the series (I mentioned last week that many people point to “The Pack” as that ep, but I always loved the ones that go back and touch on the vampire history, and this one is brilliant); “I Robot, You Jane” (not so great), and “The Puppet Show.” I know a lot of people thought “The Puppet Show” was goofy, but I’ve always adored this episode, and thought Sid was awesome. “I Robot, You Jane,” on the other hand, is actually the very first episode I watched. My sister-in-law, who also got me into Xena, told me I had to watch BtVS. So I watched this ep, thought the show was crap, and stopped watching again. Then, when the show was in the middle of season 2, I went back and watched the first episode and was instantly hooked. Mental note: do NOT show new Buffy fans “I Robot, You Jane” as the entry episode.

As with last week’s blog post, my comments will follow those of this week’s guest post, and please stick around and read both before jumping down to the spoiler post below, which will simply contain my spoilery observations. For those rewatchers who don't care about spoilers, just highlight the parts of the guest's write-up to see the spoilery bits.

Our guest this week is none other than Matthew Pateman. I jokingly said in my original post about the contributors that I had no idea who he was, which was an inside joke for those who follow my blog and know about the joke rivalry between us. In fact, Prof P happens to be a very dear friend of mine. I first met him at the Arkansas Slayage conference in 2008, where we were both keynotes. He gave the opening keynote of the conference, in which he referred to my Buffy book, Bite Me, as seminal. And therefore I immediately knew he was the smartest person in the room. But then he gave this absolutely brilliant talk, and I suddenly didn’t like him anymore, because I had to follow him mere hours later. Thanks for raising the bar, my friend. He got a microphone for his talk... I had to deliver mine to a large banquet hall with no mike, over some cream pie. But I think we both did OK. We were put up in the same place and got to know each other, and continued chatting after leaving Arkansas, enough so that we managed to put together a half-hour banquet keynote for the 2010 conference. (My favourite part of that talk is here. Watch it and you'll see the source of our insults directed at each other.)

Despite all my ribbing (which I do here on the blog, whereas he does his in private and he is MUCH MEANER THAN I AM), I think he’s one of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever met, and I encourage all of you to pick up his book, The Aesthetics of Culture in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, especially if you’re a fan of the episode “Restless,” which he dissects over about 150 pages. (And yes, he’ll be handling our “Restless” rewatch week!) When he’s not writing up rewatch posts for my blog, Matthew is Professor of Contemporary Popular Aesthetics at Kingston University, London, UK. His publications and conference papers cover a range of topics including pop music, pornography and postmodernism; Julian Barnes, David Bowie and Buffy. A contemporary literature scholar, cultural theorist and TV and pop culture academic, he is currently writing articles about Firefly, Angel, and Jean Francois Lyotard, and is working on his book, Joss Whedon, due out with Manchester University Press before too much longer. He can be unbearably pompous. (I totally did not write that last line... he beat me to the punch! — Nik)

"This Crazy Whirligig of Fun":
"Angel," "I Robot, You Jane," and "The Puppet Show"
by Matthew Pateman


Perhaps the most noticeable thing about these early episodes is the quality of film stock. I had forgotten what the 16 mm film looked like but its grainy darkness oddly helps to set an aesthetic standard which is quite glorious. This, of course, is largely due to Michael Gershman’s astounding role as Director of Photography, and the way he produces depth in the frame from his use of coloured lighting. This, along with the directional light that is so prevalent means that Buffy is instantly recognisable and has a ‘look’ that is definitely a contributing aspect of its appeal. It is easy to forget this (and indeed, we ought to in some senses and just let the story do its thing), but part of season 1’s story-telling appeal is clearly a result of this need to find visual depth from an unforgiving medium. Added to this, the exceptional use of costume to denote mood / attitude / belonging is very neatly done.

Other visually noticeable elements are the thinness of the boys (Angel is one gaunt-looking young handsome chap), and the relative curvyness of Buffy: the reversal of these body images as the seasons unfold is a question for sociology and politics — but worth noting.

Anyway, enough general ramble. The episodes.

‘Angel’ remains a great hour of TV. Obviously, the purpose of this episode in narrative terms is to reveal that the mysterious handsome older guy on whom Buffy is crushing, is in fact a vampire whose soul has been reinstated as punishment by a Gipsy curse. The consequences of this are many and varied, but perhaps the most important in the immediacy of season one is that it translates a potentially unsettling ‘real’ relationship between a young teen and a clearly older man into a mythically dense and distancing one. We are less in the land of Humbert and Delores, and more with Dido and Aeneas — and this is vital in order for us to maintain any sympathy with Angel. An age difference of 10 years is yucky and disquieting; an age gap of a hundred is powerful myth and supernaturally romantic.

The episode draws gorgeous and brave attention to the age-gap aspect of the relationship via Darla and her Catholic schoolgirl outfit and overt self-sexualisation as a young girl. This is brilliant — and it is the first time the show has really engaged strongly with the darker worlds of sexuality that will come so to the fore in later seasons. The fetishy Darla is mirrored by the pain-play Darla, who encourages Angel to hurt with a wicked smile and glee in her eyes.

This level of kink is made even more problematic (in the most positive sense of that term) by the other great theme of this episode, which is family. This is not the emergent family of the Scooby gang, however, but the family of vampires where the Master is Father and his acolytes are his children. He mentions on three occasions how his ‘family’ is important. And this not only makes Angel and Darla worryingly incestuous as well as fetishistic and sadomasochistic, it expands the emotional universe of vampires beyond mere killing machines. This aspect is always slightly scruffy at the edges, but in general terms Buffy’s major vampires have personality and emotion. The importance of this is that it cuts to the heart of my earlier claim about Angel and Buffy. While the mythical element of their relationship slightly dampens our concern at its age-oriented implications, it does not allow for the attendant moral simplification that often myth presents.

Xander wants the morally simplified universe of myth to be true: Buffy kills vampires; Angel is a vampire; Buffy should kill him. But this simply hides his jealousy, erotic desires and inability to woo Buffy behind the carapace of ethical absolutes that myth may be thought to provide — but this show does not. Vampires (even un-ensouled ones) have feelings, exist as families, exhibit grief and loss. (Seasons later, Principal Wood hides behind the same mythic simplification; and Buffy herself nearly succumbs to it — ‘I am the Law’)

Vampires, too, also kill in cold blood and stage emotionally devastating scenes of death. Darla comes into Joyce’s house, bites her, places Joyce’s limp body in Angel’s grasp just as Buffy comes in. It is brilliant — slightly over-staged, but brilliant. And, in that great Buffy manner, almost the exact set-up is used 60 episodes later but to wonderful comic effect as a staggeringly unlikely set of incidents lead Xander to believe that Spike has attacked Anya in ‘Hush’. Two scenes, separated by three seasons, which act as emotional, generic and structural inversions of each other. Glorious. Also, of course, Darla’s set-up is itself a demonstration of her own rage, upset and sense of betrayal at Angel’s desertion. We may not sympathise with Darla, but it is hard to deny her her feelings. Nor is it easy to deny Buffy hers as she plaintively says ‘mum, mum’ down the phone in a chilling foreshadow of her heart-break in season five.

‘Angel’ is a great episode. As the kiss becomes the catalyst for Angel morphing into vamp face, and Buffy screams and screams, a whole history of thwarted love is being opened to us. But when Buffy tells her mother it was nothing, ‘I saw a shadow’, we also have the metaphysics of being, and questions of identity that will continue to be posed for the next seven seasons. It allows for the most one of the most important character and plot revelations in season 1, and does so in a fashion that deepens and strengthens the ethical and emotional sophistication of a show which has already (as Nikki and David Lavery have so excellently described) shown itself to be an fantastic home for great dialogue and acting.

No less good in terms of dialogue and thematic subtlety, but rather less well preserved in terms of age is ‘I Robot’. Far too heavy-handed in its predatory internet stalker metaphor; far too heavy-handed in its ‘boyfriends ruin friendship’ story; far too craven in its characterisation of the ‘jacked in’ borderline psycho Fritz; and just plain dated in terms of its explanations of ‘going binary on us’ and things happening ‘by modem’ there is still much to recommend this episode.

Most of what is good here comes from Jenny and Giles, and the writers’ willingness to provide us with a grown up sexual (or incipiently sexual) relationship that is . . . grown up. More than this though, is the way in which this relationship with its excellently delineated characters (acted to perfection by Head and LaMorte), create the platform from which genuinely important and continuingly prescient debates about knowledge, technology and modernity can be articulated.

The general theme about the ownership, control and dissemination of information is covered largely through the attempt to get the demon Moloch out of the internet, but it also occurs elsewhere most notably when Xander is able to identify the likely location of Moloch’s operations. He opines, ‘What, I can’t have information sometimes?’ to which Giles replies, ‘It’s somewhat unprecedented’. This tiny exchange acts as a warning to the viewer to remember that traditional sites of information may not always be the only source of gaining knowledge and this theme is amplified by Jenny’s and Giles’s debates.

Importantly, the debates are borne of character and personality. When Giles dismisses technology at one point, Jenny does not offer a reasoned counter-argument, she speaks as the person she is to the person he is, ‘Wrong and wrong, Snobby!’ She mocks his myopic view of modernity, ‘Bad old science made the magic go away?’, and she utterly flummoxes him when she announces she is a techno-pagan. His rigidly defined hierarchies of experience, knowledge, understanding and control are challenged deeply; yet his own arguments are powerful. Among the most powerful of all is his assertion that computers don’t smell and knowledge should be ‘smelly’ – the bodily, somatic aspect of knowledge; its textures, smells and feelings are important to Giles.

Moloch himself becomes interesting in this regard. A creature of the ‘ancient’ world beloved by Giles, let loose in the technology of the present. His desire is to ‘feel’ the knowledge in the fashion described by Giles. It is not that Jenny or Giles is right; what is wonderful, again, is that the argument is shown to be complex, on-going, open to dispute and likely to change.

The deeply un-subtle story does allow for great debates to take place, and gives us the beginnings of a great romance with a mismatched couple whose ultimate expression of difference must be Jenny’s retort to the uncomprehending Giles that her ear is not where she dangles her jewellery from.

One of the difficulties with season 1 is obviously trying to fit all the stories and characters together in a fashion that allows for development and progression, but also lets new viewers in without needing too much pre-knowledge. Perhaps it’s for this reason that Angel is absent from ‘I Robot’ and ‘The Puppet Show’, and Jenny disappears again for a while. But it’s a shame — really interesting relationships are left to flounder.

Luckily, different aspects can still keep us thrilled and happy, and ‘The Puppet Show’ does give us an opportunity to see a slightly different version of our heroes. And this change in perspective is brilliantly introduced in the opening shot, and the camera’s peculiar position. Located at roughly knee height, and moved as though hand-held, this is a unique shot in season 1 of Buffy (indeed any season, I think) and it serves to disorient and confuse. It is, it would seem, a point of view shot, but we do not know whose point of view, and the uncertainty persists for much of the episode. It is what allows the strong element of suspicion to fall on Sid the dummy, whose diminutive frame, smutty asides, and suspicious actions (to say nothing of being an animate dummy!) mark him out as a probable wrong ’un.

The narrative unfolding disabuses us of this initial set of assumptions and in so doing makes the literalisation of the puppet metaphor a thing of beauty. A puppet is, by definition, controlled by someone else. This idea is wonderfully presented in Angel’s season 5 episode ‘Smile Time’, but even here the sense of people being only puppets of fate (especially Buffy – subject to a prophecy she cannot control; embroiled in a relationship beyond her history) is excellently engaged with. Sid’s seeming autonomy is, in fact, simply the expression of a desire to fulfil a destiny and achieve the peace that death will bring (‘death is his gift,’ anyone?). The puppet seems to act as a barrier against fatalistic predetermination only to reintroduce it at the end of the episode. The ongoing struggle between self determination and fate is one of Buffy’s great dialogues (like that between modernity and myth; science and the supernatural; absolute and relative moralities) — and this is an excellent early example of how these ideas are so deftly engaged with.

The little cameo at the end, where Buffy, Xander and Willow present a small scene from Oedipus also — obviously — acts as coda to this theme of fate, as well as suggesting the cultural stretch of the show’s ambitions, and giving our crew a chance to show off their multi-valenced acting skills.

In addition, the episode offers us the new principal in all his hostile, pent-up, repressed glory and it gives us one of the first examples of the series self-reflexive delight. From episode one, Giles has necessarily, been exposition guy — telling us and the gang what’s going on and how to stop it. Here, the exposition scene falls to Sid in the first of many moments of expositional brilliance that find their high points (I would argue) in Giles’s singing in ‘Restless’ and the OHP gore-fest of ‘Hush’ — but even here the writers are aware of playing with the show’s own developing conventions.

These three episodes have little in common in terms of story, main character focus or even theme but they all, in different ways, deepen the Buffy format — film stock, lighting decisions, characterisation, debates about complicated, culturally significant issues that emanate from character interaction.

If ever I’d forgotten why I became so fanatical about this show so early on, this rewatch has amply reminded me. Thank you, Nikki!
***

And thank YOU, Matthew! And now, just to make this post even longer... my own thoughts.

Highlights:
• The Xander dance!! Oh how I love it.
• Xander to Cordy: “I don’t know what everyone’s talking about... that outfit doesn’t make you look like a hooker!” LOL!
• That Giles and Buffy fight scene always makes me laugh out loud: “I’m not fighting Friar Tuck.” Between Buffy being enamoured of the crossbow and Giles’s ridiculous pads, that scene is just brilliant.
• “Reconstruction began after construction... which was... shoddy, so they had to had to reconstruct.”
• Jenny vs. Giles is some of the best banter of season 1. Giles: “I’ll be back in the Middle Ages.” Jenny: “Did you ever leave?”
• Xander saying he could pose as an elderly Dutch woman and hang out in elderly Dutch chatrooms.
• “Right now a man in Beijing is transferring money into a Swiss bank account to take out a hit on the life of his mother. Good for him!”
• Pretty much every Snyder line in Puppet Show: “My predecessor, Mr. Flutie, may have gone in for all that touchy-feely stuff, but he was eaten.” “There are things that I will not tolerate: students loitering on campus, horrible murders with hearts being removed. And also smoking.” “I don’t get it... is it avant-garde?”
• Giles asking Cordy if there’s something wrong with her hair.
• Sid: “Look at you, you’re strong, athletic... limber... nuuuubile......... I’m back!”

Did You Notice?
• Buffy will always sense when Angel’s behind her...
• I love the dichotomy between Buffy’s complete lack of history knowledge and the fact that Angel lived through so much of it.
• It’s so strange to watch Willow with that ancient little hand-scanner. Also, I remember those, and they did NOT scan things as neatly as the show suggests they do. Talk about wonky pictures.
• The outdated references to the internet and computers in this episode always makes me laugh.
• I never understood what was with all the Nazi references in this episode – the kid’s name is Fritz, there’s another kid who loses his paper on the Third Reich, Moloch is this evil dictator... it was a strange underlying theme in the episode. And speaking of the kid losing his paper... holy ancient laptop, Batman!!
• Did you notice that no one gives a rat’s about Dave? Buffy finds him hanging there, goes back to the library and says, “So, this student we’ve all grown up with is dead. Anyway, anyone find anything in the research??” Does no one call the cops around here?
• Ugh, that background music is so cheeseball. Thank god for Christophe Beck, coming soon to save a soundtrack near you.
• Years ago, during the Earshot fiasco (more on that later), someone who worked on Buffy sent me a videotape of the dailies for this episode, and you can see how they would film the scenes over and over and over again from different angles. One of the scenes on the tape was the one of the three kids by the fountain talking at the end. Every time they’d cut, Alyson Hannigan would make these googly eyes or snort while the others would stay super-serious. (Have I mentioned how much I love her?)

Next week: We finish off season 1 with "Nightmares," "Out of Mind, Out of Sight," and "Prophecy Girl" with special guest commentators Jennifer K. Stuller and David Kociemba! Also, starting next week I'm going to have an archive post that I'll link to off the side of the page where I will archive all of these posts, so you'll have a one-click stop to find all of them.

51 comments:

Marebabe said...

Here’s an interesting thing. I get that “I Robot” ranks pretty low on some people's list of favorite episodes. But I must say, the other night when I watched it, I approached it feeling a little bit like I was doing homework, because there was a movie starting on TV that I sort of wanted to watch instead, but I HAD to complete this week’s Buffy assignment. But the opening minutes of “I Robot” so completely grabbed me, that I settled back, content to stay with the episode to see what happened next. No regrets for the old movie that I was missing right then. My point is that no other Buffy episode that I’ve seen so far had such a strong hook for me. So, I liked it.

Nikki, I was fascinated to read your account of your recurring nightmare based on “Trilogy of Terror”. I remember it well, because it was so intensely creepy and frightening. But when my husband and I watched “The Puppet Show”, we were laughing at the rapid patter of Sid’s scurrying feet, because it sounded just like Stewie Griffin running, on “Family Guy”. On further reflection, I realized that Buffy predates “Family Guy” by several years, so I now wonder if Seth MacFarlane was influenced by Sid when he was developing the character of Stewie. Because, if you’re familiar with Stewie at all, you know that he is evil right down to his black little heart! (We once wrote a fan letter to Stewie, and he wrote back, thanking us for our well-wishes. He concluded with: “When I rule the world, your death will be swift and painless. Burn in hell. ~Stewie.) So, dear Nikki, if you continue to be alarmed by Sid and/or Zuni dolls, you can substitute the sound and image of Stewie Griffin pattering across the floor, and turn your frown upside-down! I hope this helps. :)

And I loved the “avant garde” ending of “The Puppet Show”, as the credits rolled. It was sublimely goofy!

Marebabe said...

Oh, yeah. One other thing. In "Angel", when Joyce was bitten, I thought she was going to become a vampire because of the bite. But no one ever said anything about it. Did I miss something essential?

Lisa(until further notice) said...

@Marebabe: I'm not sure it's been mentioned yet on how one "becomes" a vampire, so I don't want to be the one to tell you as it may be considered spoilery. But I think it will be mentioned soon, just can't remember what episode. But Nikki will surely know that!

Nikki Stafford said...

Marebabe: Very funny idea indeed about Stewie! Sid's pitter-patter STILL freaks me out, but I adore Stewie. Interesting idea!

Also interesting is the fact that I liked I Robot more this time than I did a few years ago... probably because of the Jenny/Giles banter, which made me giggle with much delight.

Nikki Stafford said...

Ooh, and I also forgot to mention that despite thinking Jenny's retorts are hilarious, I'm with Giles on what he says about books. I'd forgotten about his response at the very end of the episode, and it's something I often say to people when I talk about why e-books will never be my favoured way of reading: they simply don't smell. They don't have that rich, wonderful, musty smell. You know when you go into a really old used bookstore with lots of newsprint mass market paperbacks? THAT smell. I have a kindle, and it sits on my side table next to the bed, completely covered in books, which I prefer reading.

Nikki Stafford said...

Re: vampires biting: I remember thinking the same thing, but yes, as Lisa mentions, there will soon be an explanation on what vampires do... basically they can bite and hurt you, or they can drain and kill you... or they can turn you. And that third one will be explained. ;)

Page48 said...

Buffy (and the rest of us) celebrates her 30th birthday tomorrow.

The timing is near perfect, since we've just watched "I, Robot..., You Jane". Serious trivia Buffs (and I'm not necessarily one of them) will no doubt already be aware of the differing birthdays showing up on Buffy's computerized school records in this episode, neither of which is January 19th. In addition, her status changes from sophomore to senior in the blink of an eye.

redeem147 said...

This week I took notes. :)

I enjoy re-watching Angel because the foreshadowing that he is a vampire is so strong, but could be missed the first time. In the special feature interview on the DVD Joss was surprised that everyone hadn't already figured it out.

Darla on the pool table being propelled by her guns seemed very John Woo to me. (No doves though.)

The web cam shot in I Robot reminded me of 2001. And look - the guy's name is Dave.

Okay, the rest of my comments are spoilery. :)

Page48 said...

Of course, had I read just a bit further, I would see that Nikki has Buffy's b-day covered. That's the trouble with trying to blog and keep up with "V" at the same time.

The last couple of Tuesdays I've found "V" difficult to focus on. I remember the days when I could watch TV without being all over the internet at the same time.

Nikki Stafford said...

Page48: YES!! I was ITCHING to mention the different birthday dates (and that neither is correct) but it's one thing I do remember covering in my book and I'm trying not to repeat anything in there. ;)

Sadly, I gave up on V. :(

Lisa(until further notice) said...

Who in their right mind would go into a locker room at Sunnydale High? Every time someone goes in there it is dark, dank and empty. It is also a place from which many don't make it out alive. HELLO...we're on the Hellmouth. My high school locker room had those awful fluorescent lights that showed everyone EVERYTHING.

AEC said...

I've enjoyed several of the previous episodes (like The Pack) but I *loved* Angel, that was a great episode. I did cringe when he turned into a vamp after kissing her. It made me think of the Twilight...

After Angel, I Robot was kind of a letdown. I really liked the Jenny character though, I hope we see more of her in the future.

Suzanne said...

I enjoyed "I Robot, You Jane" a lot more this time around than the first because of the interaction between Giles and Jenny. There is no doubt that the computer lingo was dated, making us laugh when we weren't supposed to be laughing, but I don't think this episode is awful as its reputation indicates. I guess it just shows that even at its worse, Buffy is better than most TV.

As for "Angel," no matter how many times I watch it, I still get swept away in the story. How can these kids (my daughter being one of them) waste their time on Bella and Edward when they could be watching the originals -- Buffy and Angel. ;)

Page48 said...

Cartoon characters adorn the front of many of the Scoobies' T-Shirts and sweaters here in the early going. Was that a thing in the 90's teen culture? Or was that just a BtVS thing?

@Nikki, trying to keep up with the people who spot minute details in shows like "Fringe" is what causes me to look for quirky things like birthday mixups when I rewatch a show like BtVS.

Cynthea said...

Matthew and Nikki--thank you for the insightful and enjoyable commentary. I especially appreciated what Matthew said about the lighting and camera angles--aspects that I had not noticed in these episodes even after numerous viewings.

Nikki Stafford said...

Page48: I find I'm watching the background and walls on Buffy far more than I used to, because of Lost! ;)

AEC: And remember, BtVS was using a vamp changing into his game face as a metaphor for a guy getting too excited, so to speak, LONG before Twilight ever existed.

And Suzanne, I'm with you... SO much better. And it has a strong heroine, not that floppity-flop mess that Bella is. ;)

Nikki Stafford said...

Cynthea: Thank you! I, too, enjoyed Matthew's production focus, which is also something I hadn't noticed (I mentioned to him that I thought there was something wrong with my DVDs and couldn't believe how dark and grainy it was!).

Page48 said...

Principal Snyder (along with a number of other Whedonverse types) showed up on "Warehouse 13" this season.

redeem147 said...

Wasn't the Oedipus ending restored for the DVDs but not in the original broadcast? I seem to remember reading that.

Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...

According to Whedon the Oedipus scene was only allowed to be shown once.

Lesley C said...

I had to go to a wine-and-dine event this evening. In preparation, I watched the episodes yesterday. How's that for fun homework?

Great guest post, Matthew. I especially loved the exploration of a younger female/older male relationship and the mythology that is invoked as soon as the age difference is greater than 100 years or so. Also, I'm glad you commented on the body shape contrast between Buffy and Angel. So many lead males are now supposed to be hunky and buff. (Though, in all fairness, Robert Pattinson looked pretty scrawny in "New Moon.")

I am officially in love with Angel. Vampire with a soul, who doesn't sparkle and looks as good as David Boreanaz? Be still my heart. I'll admit, I did not realize he was a vampire until the kiss. Oops. I figured he was a demon of some sort. What a heartbreaking scene for Buffy. And to later find him with her mom in his arms... ah. What a great episode.

"I, Robot" wasn't of the same caliber, true, but I did enjoy all the techno-talk associated with computers. And I LOVED the ending of that episode, as the gang sits around the fountain and contemplates his/her love life (and it's craziness). It was a cute recap of the season.

"Puppet" was okay. I was pretty creeped out by Sid the dummy (he, too, gave me the wiggins) so I had to watch part of it muted. But the ending of that episode! Bwah, ha, ha, ha, ha! Classic avant garde.

So, do they ever really address the inordinate amount of deaths at Sunnydale in the series? Why don't students look more worried? Wouldn't some consider transferring - or at least avoiding the locker room (see @Lisa)/costume room/principal's office - to avoid the higher-than-average chance you may die??

Oh, and I know this is fishing, but will we see more of Darla? She was mentioned in the comments as if she was familiar to several re-watchers but she didn't even make it into Season 2. Vampire reincarnation? Glad to hear I'll see more of Jenny, though.

Looking forward to finishing Season 1 next week!

whedongeek1 said...

Thank you, Matthew and Nikki, for yet another great week of the rewatch. Re: the opening shot -- it's here, too, where the audience gets the information that the murderer is NOT the kid with the brain tumor (since he's shown).

I, too, love Jenny and Giles' repartee -- and Giles' profession of a love of the sensory aspect of books. Reading on computer (or Kindle) just isn't the same... And LOL at the corkscrew!

Also -- when you started talking about your nightmare, Nikki, I knew *immediately* which film you would bring up! I always thought there were things under my bed reading to grab my ankles, too. Inappropriate as it is, though, I'm letting my 7 year old do the rewatch with me. My 12 year old is along for the ride, too. The younger will simply have to miss out on just what happens to Angel later on (avoiding spoilers here!).

Anonymous said...

Matthew here - just a quick one to say how much I'm enjoying the comments here and in the spoiler room. I'll comment more in more detail later, but for now: Witness Aria - that is the best Whedon-related nickname I have ever seen; to those who think I was unfairly antagonisitc to 'I Robot' - that's why Buffy is so great: a bad Buffy ep is still usaully a pretty good hour of TV in comparison to other shows (especially back in 97); and as for whether jenny carries on as a character... Oh yes.

Speak later.

David Kociemba said...

Actually, Nikki, little African warrior dolls stalking a woman in her home is the subject of a Richard Matheson short story, Amelia. And Marebabe's right, referencing the adaptation, Trilogy of Terror, starring Karen Black

David Kociemba said...

And I remember the story being much scarier.

Also, Phillip K. Dick did a story with army men coming to life too.

elrambo said...

Marebabe asked why Joyce doesn't become a vampire after Darla bites her. Buffy explained the vampirization process in "Welcome to the Hellmouth": "To make you a vampire they have to suck your blood. And then you have to suck their blood. It's like a whole big sucking thing. Mostly they're just gonna kill you." Of course, we haven't actually witnessed this process yet, just a couple results (e.g., Jesse), so it's not as clear as it will be later.

redeem147 said...

Speaking of show's from your childhood giving you the wiggins...

I watched something with my dad that left me terrified and hiding in the other room. Only years later did I discover it was Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...

Playing with genre...

In Angel Buffy plays with the romance of Hollywood cinema.

In "I Robot...You Jane Buffy does the evil robot theme (see 2001: A Space Odyssey) with a curve. Moloch, the evil robot, is a demon who ends up inside the digital world of the internet thanks to a mistake by Willow, Buffy, and Giles. Giles tells Willow to put the book in which Moloch is bound in Willow’s to be scanned pile.

In Puppet Show Buffy does the evil puppet motif but with a spin. The puppet who we at first think is “evil” is actually a good, if rather horny sort of guy (“once you go wood nothings as good” says puppet Sid) who seems to have stepped out of noir and walked into Buffy. Another motif Joss and Company play with in this episode is the talent show motif.

Mise-en-scene
Angel: Great use of sound: the eerie noises Joyce hears outside the house just before Darla appears at the door, the eerie swishy fast moving vampire sound, footsteps heard and seen on stairs, Angel’s disembodied voice at the Bronze. Great use of music: the eerie music heightens the horror as Joyce goes from door to door just before she lets Darla into the house. Great use of visuals: Darla’s eerie vamp face looking in the window of Buffy’s house just before she attacks Joyce blaming it on Angel, Angel coming out of the dark at the Bronze during the battle between him and Buffy, the strobe light effect at the Bronze. The sound, music, and visuals nicely ramp up the tensions in this episode.

I Robot...You Jane: Love the wonderful transition from the monks putting the book they have bound Moloch the Corrupter into a box and closing it and Buffy, some four hundred years later, opening that same box and taking the book out. Note the computer greens in Moloch’s tech central headquarters. Note the reds.

Puppet Show: The purplish almost black and white pov of the demon as he is about to kill Emily (the dancer). The fuzzy, wavy, and colour drained pov of Buffy as Sid is pins her under a chandelier and attacks her with a knife. Eerie visuals: Sid’s eyes, the way Sid looks at Buffy when Morgan puts him in the case, Snyder lurking in the shadows at several points during the episode. Snyder’s lurking and spying symbolizes something we will discover about Principal Snyder in season two. The wonderful scene where Xander, who has taken Morgan’s dummy Sid from a closet Mrs. Jackson, the history teacher, has put it in because Morgan is misbehaving with it, to the library. Xander puts Sid in a chair and turns his head to the right. Eventually Xander gets up to look something up in the dictionary. As Xander moves forward toward the screen we see Sid in the background. When Xander gets to the dictionary he physically blocks our view of Sid. When Xander moves back to his seat restoring our view of the seat Sid is sitting in Sid has disappeared. Nice old school horror technique. Sound: the sound of Sid’s fast moving and light feet in Buffy’s bedroom during his attempt to kill her in act one.

The Nazi, Greek, and Shakespeare references just keep on coming...

Efthymia said...

"Angel": The only non-spoilery comment I have on the episode is that, having watched Buffy years after it had finished, let alone began, Angel's identity was no secret, and it will always make me sad that the revelation wasn't a surprise to me.

"I Robot, You Jane": Yes, technology has waaay evolved since then, but I don't find it as dated as other people seem to. And Fritz's quote "The printed page is obsolete. Information isn't bound up anymore. It's an entity. The only reality is virtual. If you're not jacked in, you're not alive." seems a bit prophetical to me - we now live in a world of Facebook and Twitter and blogs and internet TV, where newspapers are a dying breed and e-books are looking to replace real books.
And I'm with Giles 100%: the smell of books is incomparable! Flipping the pages with your fingers... Ah...

"The Puppet Show": I don't know why they find it bizzare that Buffy thinks puppets are creepy. Who DOESN'T think puppets are creepy?!
I so love Principal Snyder! I adore him! "I hate kids" -who has worked with children and hasn't expressed that feeling occasionaly?

Anonymous said...

Matthew here (I really should try and dig out my old log-in name...)

Anyway, I’m really enjoying all the comments and observations, contributions debates, reminiscences and ideas – wonderful stuff. A few specific responses

The Stewie stuff nearly made me spit tea over my keyboard – brilliant¬!
Page48 – the birthday dates spot was great: thank you (even if Nikki is pretending she got in there first!)

Suzanne – absolutely: even the weakest of season one Buffy eps is at least as good most of the rest of TV in the US in 1997. And ‘I Robot’ isn’t all that weak – just a bit heavy-handed, and inevitably dated; some of the G and J dialogue is among the sharpest ever written for the show.

Lesley C – glad you liked the age stuff. I should point out, though, that I’m not a folklorist and I was just speculating about this show and this relationship rather than offering any agreed upon rule of mythology about age. Though I am now rather intrigued...

Lisa - The question about avoiding the locker room or leaving Sunnydale is a good one. It’s kind of addressed by Giles at the end of the pilot when he says ‘People have a tendency to rationalize what they can and forget what they can't’

Whedongeek1 – good call on the opening shot of ‘Puppet’: Thanks.

Ronald – some great production observations – very helpful: cheers!

redeem147 said...

Matthew, when you post you can click on 'Name/URL' and manually type in your name.

Prof P said...

Matthew here (I really should try and dig out my old log-in name...)

Anyway, I’m really enjoying all the comments and observations, contributions debates, reminiscences and ideas – wonderful stuff. A few specific responses

The Stewie stuff nearly made me spit tea over my keyboard – brilliant¬!
Page48 – the birthday dates spot was great: thank you (even if Nikki is pretending she got in there first!)

Suzanne – absolutely: even the weakest of season one Buffy eps is at least as good most of the rest of TV in the US in 1997. And ‘I Robot’ isn’t all that weak – just a bit heavy-handed, and inevitably dated; some of the G and J dialogue is among the sharpest ever written for the show.

Lesley C – glad you liked the age stuff. I should point out, though, that I’m not a folklorist and I was just speculating about this show and this relationship rather than offering any agreed upon rule of mythology about age. Though I am now rather intrigued...

Lisa - The question about avoiding the locker room or leaving Sunnydale is a good one. It’s kind of addressed by Giles at the end of the pilot when he says ‘People have a tendency to rationalize what they can and forget what they can't’

Whedongeek1 – good call on the opening shot of ‘Puppet’: Thanks.

Ronald – some great production observations – very helpful: cheers!

Redeem - thanks for the hint (may all lower cretins bnow before me...)

JS said...

I very much enjoyed Angel for all the reasons given. The nitpicker in me couldn't help but wonder why Buffy wore a sparkly shirt to a fight. The wardrobe choices for Buffy are questionable, and she has gratuitous wardrobe changes throughout.

I actually enjoyed Robot more than I thought I would, it was actually pretty creepy, and ignoring the technical references helped. But that creepiness was exceeded in The Puppet. The idea of sentient formerly inanimate objects are what make me afraid of the dark. Considering the limited special effects available to the show at that point, they still managed to make me scared.

I have cheated and watched ahead through the rest of the season. Can’t wait to discuss with you!

Mike_D said...

"I Robot You Jane" was the first Buffy episode I ever watched!! It was on during the day, and I watched it hungover during my senior year in college!

I got back into it when I was living in another state, and fell hard.

Mike_D said...

Oh, and I always had a running theory that Sid was turned by the Smile Time puppets back in the '30's when puppets looked like Charlie McCarthy and Howdy Doody.

Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...

possible paper topic: Buffy's wardrobe in seasons one and two. Who was dressing Buffy? Did SMG have much input on her wardrobe? Why was Buffy dressed in the way she was? Male demographic?

Stacy said...

Well, I for one, was genuiunely shocked that Angel was a vampire. I don't know what I thought he was, but never crossed my mind that he was a vampire.

I love the dialogue in all of these episodes. One line that made me giggle (and i'm sorry I can't remember which episode it was in)but Buffy was complaining about everyone staring at her and she turns around and is wearing a shirt with a shiny bullseye looking emblem on it.

Also, the shows are very intense for me. So, I may need to space them out over a few days instead of watching them all in one night.I couldn't sleep last night.

Nikki Stafford said...

Lesley C and Stacy: You have NO IDEA how excited I was to read there were people on here who were surprised to discover Angel was a vampire. How wonderful!! I didn't realize that could still be a surprise. You know, I would LOVE to watch Angel with an unsuspecting viewer and watch their reaction during the kiss scene. I'm hoping to do that with my daughter some day. ;)

verif word: Shishili: How Vampire Darla pronounces "Sicily."

Nikki Stafford said...

Mike_D: We entered on the same episode! I'm so happy we both came back to it. ;)

Nikki Stafford said...

redeem: Ron is right; I believe when it first aired the scene was there, but on subsequent airings they just ran the regular credits. (Luckily when I first watched Buffy it's because a viewer in the US had recorded it for me on the first showing.)

ShellRoth said...

The amazing thing about Buffy is that even the so called "bad episodes" keep getting better with each viewing. And I always catch things I never saw before.

By the way, in IRYJ, the line:

"If you're not jacked in, you're not alive." is from the iconic science fiction novel Neuromancer by William Gibson written in 1984.

Besides the obvious 2001 reference ala Dave, I bet there are lots more SciFi references that I just don't get.

I was also one of those fortunate enough to not know that Angel was a vampire!

Loving all your insightful comments.

Anne said...

Ronald Helfrich Jnr. said...

possible paper topic: Buffy's wardrobe in seasons one and two. Who was dressing Buffy? Did SMG have much input on her wardrobe? Why was Buffy dressed in the way she was? Male demographic?

I don't think she did, i read an interview once that in the later seasons she refused to put short skirts because she thought she had ugly knees, that is probably the reason she's always in pants after the first two seasons. Also, I think it was partly for the male demographics....Sorry I don't have the link though

EBethToThePowerOf? said...

ShellRoth--thanks for the line reference, I read Neuromancer about 5 years ago and couldn't remember where I had heard that before until you referenced it!

Re:wardrobe. Egads. It actually put me off the first season quite a bit, just how I thought, what kind of dress code does sunnydale High have, and why aren't they sending her home to change? Anne--interested info, although a bit depressing to know that SMG has body issues. I mean, if she doesn't like her legs there's not much hope for the rest of us. I guess we're not on TV for 22 hours a year for 7 years though, subjected to the level of scrutiny we are all engaging in here;)

redeem147 said...

e:wardrobe. Egads. It actually put me off the first season quite a bit, just how I thought, what kind of dress code does sunnydale High have, and why aren't they sending her home to change?

Apparently you didn't go to high school in the seventies. My leopard print jumper would have fit right in, length-wise.

We could have micro-mini skirts, though some girls were sent home for tank tops with bare shoulders.

pickwick said...

I'm another who liked I Robot You Jane much more this time round. I think at the time I first saw it there was still so much misinformation and scaremongering around about the internet, BTVS doing the same thing annoyed me. Now a decade or so later, that isn't so much a thing any more. And the tech now seems silly because it's dated, rather than silly because it's just silly.

David Kociemba said...

Regarding the film stock, I had a student do a lovely piece on how they shot Buffy. Her research found that for at least the first three seasons, Buffy shot on Panavision Platinum and GII Cameras, using mostly zoom lenses, with an aperture of between T2.8 and T4 most of the time. The film stock was mostly Vision 320T for the first 2 seasons, then switched to the cheaper Kodak EXR 5298 and 5293 for Seasons 3&4, and back to Vision 320T and 500T for Seasons 5&6. Differences include graininess (especially in low-light settings), sharpness, and depth of field.

David Kociemba said...

Regarding fashion choices:

Recall that patrolling for Buffy basically involves her presenting herself as bait in scary places. The costuming helps that. Also, her arc is about retaining her individuality to prevent losing herself in her public role and the fashion is a part of that. Also, you'll see an episode where form follows function in her clothing during the third season... and it's horrifying.

Regarding what the average Sunnydale citizen knows... the writers are very aware of that issue, so you should keep an eye out for it.

Blam said...


What a mixed bag of episodes! Not only do we have another mythology-heavy episode in "Angel" followed by a pair of truly odd MOTW efforts, but the episodes themselves are uneven in typical first-season fashion.

Matthew Pateman: A nice, considered writeup of the week's viewing... I'll try to keep my comments brief since just about everyone's moved on, though (despite having colossally failed to do so on Week 2).

An age difference of 10 years is yucky and disquieting; an age gap of a hundred is powerful myth and supernaturally romantic.

I dunno about that. When you're talking about a 16-year-old young woman, even one who mostly rises to the awesome mantle of responsibility placed on her shoulders, it's pretty creepy that someone who's been around for centuries would be courting her. She is special, yes, but not possessed of any wisdom of the ages through reincarnation or the like, and as even the season to date has proven she's still very much an adolescent in emotional conflict about her duties, her social life, etc.

... Master is Father and his acolytes are his children. He mentions on three occasions how his ‘family’ is important. And this not only makes Angel and Darla worryingly incestuous as well as fetishistic and sadomasochistic, it expands the emotional universe of vampires beyond mere killing machines.

Very interesting... We know that the vampires have a, um, social network, as well as something of a hierarchy what with "siring" and ancient beings like the Master, but I hadn't deeply considered the dichotomies you present.

Darla comes into Joyce’s house, bites her, places Joyce’s limp body in Angel’s grasp just as Buffy comes in. It is brilliant — slightly over-staged, but brilliant.

I honestly find it a brilliant plan, and of course in-story the characters aren't aware that they're, well, characters (although they're certainly pop-culture savvy), but as a viewer it's familiar to an eye-rolling extent (in the words of Rocket J. Squirrel, "Not that old trick again!").

We may not sympathise with Darla, but it is hard to deny her her feelings.

It's not her fault she has no soul.

Blam said...


Nikki: That Giles and Buffy fight scene always makes me laugh out loud: “I’m not fighting Friar Tuck.”

In addition to being funny on its own terms, even before she utters that line the mere sight of the bo staffs has me thinking of the classic "Robin Hood Daffy" short: "Parry! Parry! Thrust! Parry! Doiiinnggg!

Nikki: It’s so strange to watch Willow with that ancient little hand-scanner. Also, I remember those, and they did NOT scan things as neatly as the show suggests they do.

Well do I know this — especially if using it as an optical character reader, although I guess that's not the case here since no program would understand the language she's scanning (bringing up a possible ontological-linguistic debate on the iconography of early written language and its shift from concept-based hieroglyphs to "letters" as we think of them in terms of the phonetic building blocks of an alphabet).

VW: tatio — 1. Relative amount of one's skin covered by body art to the amount still free. 2. Jacques Tati's patio.

Blam said...


Efthymia: I don't find it as dated as other people seem to.

I don't either, or at least I don't find it as dated in some respects as I expected to, but I suspect that's partly because 1997 is longer ago than I think it is. 8^) As far as the computers are concerned, I'm starting to get fuzzy on what was usual or possible then; watching movies and TV at the time, I remember a lot of shouting "You can't do that!" — now I'm wondering, "Could you do that then?"

Efthymia: Who DOESN'T think puppets are creepy?!

No kidding! The Muppets are totally awesome, but ventriloquists' dummies and other hard-headed puppets or marionettes, like (brrr) Lady Elaine on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, are ultimate wiggins.


Anonymous said...

check out

chiropractic medical billing

for all your medical billing needs.