2.5 Reptile Boy
First of all, thanks for all the very kind comments about my daughter's Very Dramatic performance of "I've Got a Theory." I've got many more videos where that one came from... maybe one day I'll post some of them. :)
And here we are… we’ve finally reached that moment in the Great Buffy Rewatch that I’ve been looking forward to — the week where it starts to get really good. By week 9 (the March 1 week) it’ll go from really good to spectacular, but for those first-timers out there, I hope you loved “Halloween” as much as I did. What a glorious episode.
Now, it was preceded, of course, by the unfortunately named “Inca Mummy Girl” and “Reptile Boy,” both episodes that had that monster-of-the-week feel — the first drawing a parallel between Buffy sacrificing her life for the good of mankind and a similar sacrificial virgin thousands of years earlier who was killed for the good of her people… and the second being a metaphor for how frat boys are a bunch of pigs who are ruled by a penis (that second one was a wee bit less subtle).
But Halloween is where everything turned. I squealed with delight when we saw the first moment of “Ripper,” and I hoped that the newbies sitting at home were thinking, “Wait… WHAT?” I would have loved to have seen your faces. Who is this Ripper? Wait til next week to find out more…
• Inca: Buffy: “Have you ever done an exchange program?” Xander: “My dad tried to send me to some Armenians once; does that count?”
• “What he lacks in smarts he makes up for in lack of smarts.”
• Giles: “You are the Chosen One.” Buffy: “Just once I’d like to be the overlooked one.”
• Devon: “What does a girl have to do to impress you?” Oz: “Well, it involves a feather boa and the theme to A Summer Place.”
• Xander to Buffy in her overalls: “And where are you from? The country of white trash?”
• Willow’s Eskimo outfit (complete with spear!) has me giggling every time she’s on screen. Alyson Hannigan has never been cuter. From staring at the cheese to that befuddled and wide-eyed look on her face, it’s not just Oz who fell in love with her… he’ll have to fight me for her first.
• Buffy to Giles: “One of these days you’ll have to get a grown-up car!”
• Reptile Boy: I LOVED the Scoobs watching the Bollywood movies, and the fact that Willow could follow everything. I used to watch them all the time, even though I had no idea what was actually going on in any of them.
• Cordy: “Oh Buffy, it’s like we’re sisters! With really different hair!”
• Willow unleashing on Giles and Angel: “And YOU! You’re gonna live forever and you don’t have time for a cup of coffee??” These are the episodes where we begin to see Willow come into her own.
• Willow: “Some guy’s attacking Buffy with a sword! Also there’s a really big snake!”
• Halloween: Buffy: “Gee, I would love to sign up. But I recently developed carpal tunnel and can tragically no longer hold a flashlight.”
• Two classic Cordy lines: First when she calls Angel a “Care Bear with fangs,” and then her line, “When it comes to dating, I’m the Slayer!”
• Buffy fainting when she sees the monster.
• "She couldn't have dressed up like Xena?" Haha!!! One of my all-time favourite lines (mostly because the first time I watched this episode, my Xena book — my first book — was still at the printer, and I was a massive fan of the show).
• Giles's reaction when Willow walks through the wall. I backed that up and watched it a few times. Never ceases to slay me.
• Buffy asking Angel if he has a musket, haha!!
• Ripper beating the hell out of Ethan. YES!
• Buffy to Spike: “Hi, honey. I’m home.” CLONK!
Did You Notice?
• Inca: I’m only just noticing this now, but Buffy’s eyebrows have been tweezed to a fraction of their season 1 size. It’s completely changed her face.
• Now, while I’m not out to demonize her, I must say that it’s when Joyce is embarrassing her daughter in front of other people that I don’t like her as much. I didn’t like her talking to this stranger in their house going on about how beautiful she was and why couldn’t she take her daughter out with her and teach her a thing or two? It just bugged me.
• Reptile: Don’t you love how it took hours to do the investigation of the frat boys, the trial, and the conviction? Wow, the justice system moves swiftly in Sunnydale… and the victims don’t even have to be questioned by the police!
• Halloween: Again, watch how Joss undermines the baddie at the beginning of the episode: The Big Bad is so menacing he can’t even remember to charge the batteries when they’re low for his all-important video.
• When Oz tells Cordelia she’s like a great big cat (I don’t know why that line makes me laugh every time, but it does) look on the locker behind her, and you’ll see a big WP sticker. Rumour among the Buffy fans throughout the series was that the recurring WP sticker was short for “Willow Power.”
• Ethan leaves a note for Ripper that says, “Be Seeing You,” a reference to the late 60s TV show, The Prisoner (a show often referenced on Lost.
And now it is my very happy pleasure to introduce you to Christopher Lockett. Despite him being an assistant professor at Memorial University in Newfoundland for the past five and a half years, I didn’t actually meet him at Slayage. Chris and I first met when we were both taking our Masters degree in English Lit at the University of Toronto. We were in the same Victorian Literature and Gender course and we both arrived early one day. As we sat outside the classroom on the bench, I made some comment to him about the class, he laughed and answered with a line from The Simpsons. I looked up, responded with another line from The Simpsons… and a long friendship was born predicated on pop culture, literature, Monty Python (any British humour, really), and Buffy. And Lost, and The Wire, and Deadwood… OK, on a lot of stuff. He went on to do his PhD at UWO (which is where I’d done my undergrad) and becoming a director of various Shakespearean plays before moving out to the Rock to become a prof. I went on to write companion guides to TV shows. Each of us was envious of the other’s job.
He is currently at work on a book on HBO’s vision of America (he wrote an essay on HBO's "Rome" that appears in the Journal of Film and Television that is pictured here), and writes a regular column at FlowTV.org as well as a personal blog, An Ontarian in Newfoundland. He vows to come to Ontario to visit me more often.
Read to the end of Chris’s excellent analysis of this week’s episodes (with a focus on Halloween, natch) for a fun vampire-themed activity on his blog! There are a few spoilers ahead, so be prepared for white, but I’ll repost the full spoiler-filled post on the spoiler forum below if you’d like to read it without the white space, and with one crucial picture (warning: it’s a spoiler if you haven’t watched Angel Season 2).
By Christopher Lockett
That being said, I must confess that returning to early Buffy is a bit of an odd experience. There is an element, rewatching the early episodes, of datedness. When I first became a fan, the show was something of a revelation — basically, that a high school-based drama (that involved vampires, no less) could be so cheekily and unapologetically smart and well-written, not something that exactly proliferated on the tube at the time. The X-Files was one of its only contemporaries, really, at least in terms of possessing irreverent self-aware humour that at once set the show apart and tipped a wink to the viewers, even as it addressed pretty weighty themes and issues. Then came The West Wing, and then my inauguration into the HBO-centered “quality TV” revolution. I have in the past few years been working on a series of articles about HBO, and thus am frequently immersed in Deadwood or The Wire or The Sopranos. All of which means that when I return to early Buffy, I have an impossible standard in my head — it is not fair to measure Buffy by the yardstick of The Wire, for the simple reason that those series pioneering the unmapped territory of intelligent and indeed intellectual television back in the mid-late 90s didn’t have the freedom to do whatever the hell they wanted.
(As an aside: if I were a high-ranking producer at HBO or AMC or Showtime, I would be backing a Brinks truck up to Joss Whedon’s house, unlocking it, and leaving a note that said “Fuck Fox. Do whatever you like. We’ll air it.” Why hasn’t this happened?)
I was a late convert to the Whedonverse, only really getting into the show mid-season three (in my defense, I was in the early stages of my PhD and didn’t have cable at the time). When I had the opportunity to go back and watch the first two seasons from the beginning, the experience was a little incongruous: the show really did not, in my opinion, hit its stride until midway through season two, when it started to depart more confidently from the somewhat simplistic allegories of Monster=Adolescent Development. So when I saw the roster of episodes that Nikki posted, I leapt on these three because they do an excellent job of highlighting this transition. “Inca Mummy Girl” and “Reptile Boy,” as indicated by their very titles, exhibit the tendency toward allegorizing elements of teenage life by way of the supernatural, the former paralleling Buffy’s feelings of exclusion and difference with the titular Inca mummy girl, and the latter refiguring the sexual predations of frat boys on teenage girls with ritual sacrifice. Which is not to say that these are bad episodes, necessarily, though both harp a little overmuch on the theme of Buffy the put-upon slayer who really just wants some “normal” girl time. This theme is never far from the center of the Buffy narrative arc, but on returning to the earlier episodes one finds it repeated with rather tiresome frequency.
Conversely, “Halloween” is an episode that is thematically very complex and plays some interesting games with questions of identity and desire and the subjective self. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that we have Spike and Drusilla featured rather prominently, or that we are introduced to Giles’ erstwhile nemesis Ethan Rayne—having the conjunction of such villains with the identity-game of Halloween makes for all sorts of potential goodness, and Joss Whedon certainly rises to the challenge.
Basically, this is an episode that operates as a series of inversions: everyone (or most everyone) becomes the person they think they want to be, by way of Ethan Rayne’s spell that turns everyone into their costume. Buffy, possessed of the idea that Angel would be more into her if she were more like the aristocratic women of his youth, dresses as a noblewoman; Willow attempts to be sexy, but chickens out at the last moment and hides herself in a ghost costume; and Xander, who suffers the humiliation of being rescued from a bully by Buffy, dresses as a soldier. It’s worth noting that in this episode the triadic friendship of Buffy-Willow-Xander, so crucial to the series as a whole, is flipped, with Willow as the pivot point. Buffy becomes the helpless, fainting eighteenth-century damsel versus Xander’s no-nonsense hypercompetent soldier. It is Willow, of course, who figures out the source of the curse, in the process having to shed the obscuring shroud of her ghost costume and become (relatively) unselfconscious about her original, skimpy “costume” — which Buffy had harangued her to wear:
Buffy: It's just ... You're never gonna get noticed if you keep hiding! You're missing the whole point of Halloween.
Willow: Free candy?
Buffy: It's "come as you aren't" night! The perfect chance for a girl to get sexy and wild, with no repercussions.
Willow: Oh, I don't get wild. Wild on me equals spaz.
Later on, Buffy describes Halloween as “the night that Not-You is you … but not you.” Which really works as a neat summary of this episode’s theme: personal identity is put into play in truly elemental fashion by Ethan Rayne’s curse: all three of the series’ best friends become the “not-you” they are all chasing at the start of the episode, with varying results.
Xander’s transformation is the most straightforward. Though in season four he deliberately dresses as James Bond on Halloween in case they all get transformed into their costumes, he does pretty well in this episode (and it stands him in good stead in episode 2.14, when he liberates a rocket launcher from the local army base). His quasi-helplessness at the beginning of the episode, when Buffy has to rescue him from a bully, is salved by his transformation into a soldier while Buffy herself shrieks and runs from cars, and in her simpering state sees him as a better protector than Angel. To a certain extent, this episode presages Xander's future role in the Scoobies, best summed up when Buffy defends his role to the Watcher’s Council in season five as having logged more “field time” than any of the watchers. Xander whispers to Willow that that is “Riley speak,” but really it reflects the role he discovers in this episode, as Buffy’s loyal soldier.
Willow’s transformation anticipates her evolution into a sexual being. Though this is not actually realized until the consummation of her relationship with Oz in the finale of season three, it does mark a break from her (undeserved!) status to date as Buffy’s frumpy friend. There is an essay to be written on Willow’s sexual development (actually, I’m probably showing my ignorance here — it occurs to me that there are probably several), especially taking into consideration the Anya-based alternative reality in which she and Xander are vampires. But here for the first time we see Willow as possessing sexual agency, even if she does not herself — capped at the end of the episode with Oz noticing her as she crosses the street in front of his van, having shucked her obscuring ghost costume.
And yet in Willow’s un-substantial being, there is a troubling of her sexualized ensemble, as she is not afforded the choice of covering up with her costume, but must walk about in the outfit she ultimately did not want to display. Her choice at the end of the episode to leave the ghost costume behind is an empowering choice — but one she did not have previously.
Finally, Buffy’s desire to embody an archaic femininity is ironically almost catastrophic, allowing Spike to very nearly bag his third slayer. But I say “ironic,” because we see the original of the model for her “noblewoman,” sketched in the Watcher Diary she and Willow filch from Giles’ office, appear some time later in Angel 2.07.
[go to the spoiler forum below to see the photo that should be posted here]
As has been remarked here previously, Darla’s later return and her narrative significance on Angel makes her brief appearance in season one of Buffy both pregnant and poignant. I cannot of course know if the figure sketched in the Watcher Diary was intended to be Darla, but the fact that her first encounter with Angel in flashback on Angel so perfectly matches the image Buffy tries to replicate speaks at the very least to a very shrewd writer/director (good on ya, Tim Minear!). Further, it means that we retrospectively look at Buffy’s desire to emulate the aesthetic of a woman she imagines Angel would be interested in with a somewhat more critical eye. At the end of the episode, Angel dismisses the noblewomen of his youth, saying “They were just incredibly dull. Simpering morons, the lot of them. I always wished I could meet someone ... exciting. Interesting.” Let’s take a moment and think about that, shall we? Starting with the fact that we now know Angel was a working class Irish lout who wouldn’t have gotten within three city blocks of an actual noblewoman (so perhaps this description he offers Buffy is from his experiences as a vampire?). More importantly, this seems a bit of Angel protesting too much: seeing as how his pre-vamp Irish lout found someone exciting and interesting in the person of Darla. Hence, Buffy’s desire in this episode to embody an aristocratic femininity based on her perusal of the Watcher Diary in the hopes that it would “interest” Angel is actually quite astute, if for all the wrong reasons. And I suppose that’s a good thing: it would have been a very different episode if Ethan Rayne’s curse had turned her not into a “simpering moron,” but Darla.
In an episode all about identity, the most surprising, and satisfying moment is our realization that Giles isn’t quite the buttoned-down stuffed shirt we have thus far seen. “Halloween” is the first episode in which we first meet the Ripper, Giles’ younger self, the occult-obsessed badass conjured here by Ethan Rayne. On watching this episode again, I felt a twinge of regret that he sends Willow away as soon as he sees Rayne—though we meet the Ripper here, it will be some time before Buffy &co. come to appreciate his badass side. But really, that makes his epic beat-down of Ethan even more priceless. While we see his young charges realizing (ambivalently) the identities they desire, we see Giles confronted with the one he has tried so hard to leave behind him.
By way of conclusion … I am grateful for the excuse to return to these early episodes of Buffy. It is easy to forget how innovative Joss’ vision was—and how smart many of the episodes of this series (and his others) are. Halloween, some theorists might be inclined to tell us, is all about drag. About the performance of identity. What I love about the Whedonverse is how it takes that complex of desire and grafts the transformative magic of fantasy on it.
Thank you, Chris! And I wanted to add that if you go here on Christopher’s blog, you’ll find the vampire cage matches, which began last summer, and then halted at a very crucial moment…
Here, in Chris’s words, is how it began: "The cage matches started when I took a bunch of my students out for drinks after the exam, and they took turns ripping into Twilight. I speculated on who would win in a fight between Edward Cullen and Spike (the answer is obvious), and one of them said "Hey, you should write that!" At the time, an online SF magazine was staging fantasy cage matches to the death between the heroes of SF and fantasy novels, so I borrowed that model and did it with vampires. It stalled at the semifinals for various reasons, and so has been on hiatus for some time ... but I've been wanted to finish it off for a while, and this seems like a great time to kick start it again!"
So, who would win in a cage match between Spike and Angel, or Eric Northman and Blade? (Please let’s get Spike and Eric in a cage together… with me included?) Go here to join in the fun and vote.
Next week: The lovely and talented Cynthea Masson writes about Lie to Me and The Dark Age. And Ripper is back…