2.8 The Dark Age
This week’s episodes (only two… I gave you a break!) indicate the point where the series begins to turn to the far more serious and heartbreaking. Just as Buffy was weirded out around Angel when he prematurely fangulated in front of her, now Jenny is weirded out around Giles and backs away as he moves to her at the end of “The Dark Age.” “Lie to Me” is an episode where Ford (yes, that was Max from Roswell before he was Max), a boy who is dying of brain cancer, decides he wants immortality at any cost, not realizing the personal cost would be enormous. While Buffy tries to stop him, this isn’t her usual, “You don’t get it… these people are BAD” speech, because in doing so she discovers that he’s dying, and she’s heartbroken over it. The end of the episode has always made me cry (though, sadly, there will be another graveyard scene featuring Buffy and Giles later this season that will make me cry much harder) because of the beauty and simplicity of it. Giles lies to Buffy, but it does nothing to ease her pain because she knows it’s untrue. Think of the final episode of Angel, where Illyria lies to Wesley and what that lie does for him. He can momentarily convince himself that she’s telling the truth, but not so for Buffy and Giles in this scene.
One of the lies is that the good guys are stalwart and true, but as Buffy discovers in “The Dark Age,” Giles, the good guy, isn’t what he seems, and he’s made terrible mistakes in his past. We discover that Ripper was in fact his nickname when he was a daredevil in university and managed to raise a demon that has now killed several of his friends. This knowledge will begin to change the way people begin to look at each other on the show. If you can’t trust Giles, who can you trust?
These two episodes also go a long way in elaborating on the vampire lore in the Buffyverse; in “Lie to Me,” we see the tension between what the goth romantics believe to be true and the monstrous reality they don’t anticipate, and in “The Dark Age” we get a visual on the demon living inside Angel, who is at war with the souled man in there.
• Drusilla’s nails are divine. I’ve always wanted to have mine done like that: either black or deep wine colour with white tips. But alas, I keep my nails short. ;)
• Willow’s delayed reaction to what “I Touch Myself” was really about. Hannigan has perfect comic timing throughout “Lie to Me.”
• Willow is SO CUTE when Angel comes to see her: “If I say something you really don’t want to hear, do you promise not to bite me?”
• Angel saying he spends the day honing his brooding skills. That is SUCH a Joss line.
• Xander: “Yeah, I gotta go with Dead Boy on this one.” Angel: “Will you stop calling me that?!”
• The Angel lookalike walking by Angel as he complains about the clichéd clothes the vampire-lovers are wearing. Ha!
• Giles: “What? And miss the nitro-burning funny cars?”
• Spike: “I’ve known you for two minutes and I can’t stand you. I don’t really feature you living forever.”
• Xander: “Angel was in your bedroom?” Willow: “Ours is a forbidden love.”
• The graveyard scene with Buffy and Giles. So beautiful:
Giles: What do you want me to say?• “The Dark Age”: Buffy to Xander: “You got a bit of schlub on your shoe there.”
Buffy: Lie to me.
Giles: Yes, it’s terribly simple. The good guys are always stalwart and true, the bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and, uh, we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies, and everybody lives happily ever after.
• Jenny: “All right guys, the first thing we’re going to do is… Buffy!” Xander: “Huh? Did I fall asleep already?” LOL!!
• I love how Ethan’s always a punching bag… he’s such a wiener.
• Cordy stepping up with her big grin, wanting to help.
• “Don’t be sorry, be Giles.” This line is wonderful; at this point, just as Buffy realized in the previous episode that life gets complicated, she’s asking him just to be the same old guy she’s always known and not to change, but that’s not realistic.
• Willow to Cordy and Xander: “If you two aren’t with me 110% then get the hell out of my library!”
Did You Notice?:
• Despite how many times I’ve watched this show, I’ve never noticed how often Buffy seemed jealous of Angel in these early eps. We haven’t actually seen them out on a “date” date, and yet she’s always freaking out whenever she sees him talking to Cordy or Dru or anyone but her. Hm.
• Willow has a balcony off her room: I’m pretty sure in future episodes when we do catch glimpses of the rest of Willow’s house that it’s rather upper-middle-class, so I guess it’s safe to assume her parents have money. Interesting that Cordy hasn’t glommed onto her as a result.
• “Dark Age”: Eyghon says, “Be seeing you,” which is the same note that Ethan left Giles in “Halloween” (and, again, is a Prisoner reference).
• With Giles out of the picture, this is the first time we see Willow really take control and come up with a brilliant plan, one that may even best what Giles would have done. The scene of Angel grabbing the demon is amazing.
• One of the new viewers mentioned last week that they really enjoy the Mutant Enemy man, that little guy who says, “Grr, Argh,” at the end. I just wanted to point out that that’s actually Joss Whedon’s voice doing that. ;)
Our guest commentator this week is Cynthea Masson, someone I met at – you guessed it – Slayage! We were actually at the first one together and I didn’t meet her there other than to congratulate her – at the end of the conference she’d won the Mr. Pointy award for best paper. I’d missed her paper (I was in another panel at the time) and so I emailed her after the conference to ask if it would be possible to read it, and we struck up a friendship through email. Turns out she and I grew up pretty close to each other geographically, and one of my co-workers was a friend of hers in high school! Talk about small world… I was very excited to see her at the most recent Slayage, and after the conference she joined us at Universal Studios, as I posted here when I showed y’all a pic of Cynthea and I sopping wet after the wicked Popeye ride.
Dr. Cynthea Masson teaches medieval literature and composition at Vancouver Island University (British Columbia). Her recent Whedon publications include “‘Evil’s Spreading Sir…And It’s Not Just Over There’: Nazism in Buffy and Angel” (Monsters in the Mirror: Representations of Nazism in Post-War Popular Culture, Ed. Maartje Abbenhuis and Sara Buttsworth, 2010) and “‘It’s a Thing We Do’: Crying with Buffy and Angel” (On the Verge of Tears: Why the Movies, Television, Music, and Literature Make Us Cry, Ed. David Lavery and Michele Byers, 2010). Her fiction includes The Elijah Tree (Rebel Satori, 2009), a novel that combines theories of medieval mysticism with contemporary issues of faith and sexuality.
Take it away, Cynthea!
“What? Whating a What?”: Truth and Lies in “Lie to Me” and “The Dark Age”
“Lie to Me” and “The Dark Age” illustrate an essential and overarching message of the entire Buffyverse: life is decisively not “terribly simple,” “the good guys” are not consistently “stalwart and true,” and “the bad guys” most certainly cannot be “easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats” (“Lie to Me”). Without spoilers, let me say that one of my favourite aspects of both Buffy and Angel is that some good guys turn bad and some bad guys turn good (and then the bad turn good again and the good turn bad again, and so on and so on). In Buffy, we learn to expect the unexpected precisely because Whedon and company continually work in figurative shades of grey. “The Dark Age” provides us with a glimpse of this technique when revelations about “good guy” Giles reveal a demon-summoning past that works against our expectations of him. Notably, in both “The Dark Age” and “Lie to Me,” Buffy must face an unexpected revelation about someone she thought she knew—both Giles and Ford harbour a “dark secret” (to borrow a phrase Buffy uses about herself in “Lie to Me”). In “good guy” vs. “bad guy” ethics, the difference between Giles and Ford hinges neither on their respective demonic associations nor on the unethical lies they tell regarding those associations, but on the choices they make (or refuse to make), in the end, to do good. Thus, alongside shades of grey, these episodes illustrate another fundamental tenant of the Buffyverse: the power of choice. “You have a choice,” Buffy says to Ford, despite the rationale he has provided for his unethical actions. “You don’t have a good choice, but you have a choice” (“Lie to Me”).
In “Lie to Me,” one site at which the “good guy” / “bad guy” dichotomy collapses is around the practice of lying. When Buffy confronts Ford on his lack of ethics, calling him “a lying scumbag,” he replies, “Everybody lies.” Given the array of lies expressed in “Lie to Me,” Ford’s retort may well be one of the episode’s prevailing truths: with the best or worst of intentions, with positive or negative results, both the apparent “good guys” and the apparent “bad guys” lie. Buffy lies habitually as she attempts to keep her slayer status a secret from people, including Ford. Angel lies to Buffy regarding Drusilla—eventually compelling Buffy to rebuke, “Don’t lie to me.” Willow, albeit by omission, lies to Buffy regarding her investigation of Ford—“You want me to lie to her?” she asks Angel. Ford blatantly lies to Buffy when he claims to have killed a vampire who, alive and well (so to speak), later appears at the school library. Ford also lies to Buffy about his true intentions in Sunnydale and, moreover, to his group of vampire-wannabes about the full extent of his plan. Meanwhile, lies of another sort influence people’s perceptions: thus, to Chanterelle, vampires are “the lonely ones”; she labels Xander’s more accurate description of vampires (“the nasty, pointy, bitey ones”) a “misconception.” Similarly, Giles believes the lie that Drusilla “was killed by an angry mob in Prague,” when, as we know, she currently resides in Sunnydale. In other words, in “Lie to Me,” virtually everyone—good or bad, for better or worse—is caught up in a lie of one sort or another.
Yet despite the profusion and, at times, apparent necessity or relative comfort of lies, truth prevails; thus, by the end of this episode, each of the lies noted in the previous paragraph has been replaced (again, for better or worse) by a respective truth. In the process, “Lie to Me” asks us to consider not only the ethics of lying but also the ethical complications of telling the truth. Is the revelation of truth necessarily good? Is truth necessary when pursuing what Richardson and Rabb call “virtue ethics” (see The Existential Joss Whedon, page 52)? When Buffy transparently lies that her vampire-slaying ruckus in the alley was merely cats fighting, Ford matter-of-factly responds, “Oh, I thought you were just slaying a vampire.” “What?” says Buffy. “Whating a what?” Having had her truth exposed by someone else, Buffy is initially flustered. “You don’t have to lie,” Ford insists. Relieved, Buffy later admits to Willow, “I don’t have to constantly worry he’s going to find out my dark secret.” Of course, Ford’s knowledge of Buffy’s truth is the very thing that incites Ford to develop (and lie about) his own “dark secret” plan. When Buffy learns from Angel that Ford is “not what he seems,” she accuses “the people [she] trusts” of being part of a “conspiracy.” Momentarily, she is unable (or, perhaps, unwilling) to distinguish truth from lies. “Virtue ethics,” it seems to me, involve not merely telling truth or lies but telling the difference between them, recognizing the intentions behind them, and making ethical choices accordingly. (One might recall here Wesley’s words in Angel’s “Not Fade Away”: “The first lesson a watcher learns is to separate truth from illusion—because in the world of magics, it's the hardest thing to do.”) “Virtue ethics” also involve the choices we make when the lies we have told or accepted are replaced by difficult truths. Buffy chooses to believe her friends and to demand that Ford make an ethical choice. (Of course, Ford makes an unethical choice, and he pays the consequences.) “Some lies are necessary. […] Sometimes the truth is worse,” asserts Angel. “I can take it. I can take the truth,” replies Buffy. Yet, as “Lie to Me” illustrates, taking the truth sometimes takes slayer strength.
“The Dark Age,” like “Lie to Me,” also portrays the complicated relationships among truth, lies, and choice. This episode brings to light a hitherto hidden aspect of Giles: his rebellious youth, complete with the practice of demon summoning. Thus the Giles that Buffy, Willow, Xander, and even Jenny know—the “fuddy-duddy” whose “diapers were tweed”—is suddenly revealed to have an unexpected and unethical past. Years earlier, instead of the tweed and books for which he is known by Buffy and others (including us), Giles sported leather, an electric guitar, and a tattoo. For Buffy, Giles’s uncharacteristic behaviour in this episode is precisely not Giles or, as she succinctly puts it, “very anti-Giles.” Xander conjectures, “Nobody can be wound as straight and narrow as Giles without a dark side erupting.” However, what the episode reveals is that the “dark side” of Giles preceded the “straight and narrow”; thus, the “straight and narrow” Giles is, arguably, a chosen construction meant to repress or replace the aptly named “Ripper” of his youth. To protect his “straight and narrow” identity, Giles lies repeatedly in this episode—not only to the police but also to Buffy. What we might ask, especially in the wake of “Lie to Me,” is whether Giles has been lying to Buffy for years by concealing his less-than-reputable past. Are friends obligated to reveal their “dark secrets” to each other? We might alternatively ask whether the “straight and narrow” Giles is a lie and, furthermore, whether Giles has been lying not only to Buffy but also to himself. Will the real Rupert Giles please stand up? “So,” Giles says aloud to his reflection in the mirror, “you’re back.” In this moment, does Giles refer to the demon Eyghon or to “Ripper”? Either way, Giles must now face a former truth he had tried, but clearly failed, to suppress. “Don’t be sorry,” Buffy later demands of him. “Be Giles.” Thus Buffy requests that Giles continue to be the man she knows and trusts. Only when Buffy confirms his current self as a truth—be Giles—can Giles admit the truth of his past to her and, consequently, move ahead (with a little help from his friends) to fight his demon(s).
The early scene in “The Dark Age” in which Buffy, Willow, and Xander discuss Giles’s fondness for school is later countered by Giles’s own admission about “studying history at Oxford and…the occult by night”: “I hated it. The tedious grind of study, the overwhelming pressure of my destiny.” Another truth is thus revealed: Giles and Buffy have more in common than they might have previously believed. Everyone makes mistakes, but mistakes—even demonic mistakes—are not necessarily apocalyptic; this, perhaps, is a lesson Buffy must learn. By the end of the episode, Giles is the subject of admiration: “I don’t see how Giles does it,” says Willow. Buffy responds, “I don’t think he has a choice.” But, of course, he did have a choice, and he chose to abandon the arguably unethical practices of his youth to pursue his responsibilities as a Watcher. “I never wanted you to see that side of me,” Giles says to Buffy. “I’m not going to lie to you,” she replies. “It was scary.” What Buffy affirmed to Angel in “Lie to Me,” she illustrates with Giles in “The Dark Age”: that is, despite the difficulties she may face in the process, Buffy—slayer of the vampyres—most certainly “can take the truth.”
Richardson, Michael J. and J. Douglas Rabb. The Existential Joss Whedon: Evil and Human Freedom in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and Serenity. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2007.
2.9 What's My Line? Part 1
2.10 What's My Line? Part 2
Aptitude tests, bad accents, and... a bunch of malarkey. With co-host Evan Munday. You're in for a very fun treat with this one. ;)