2.16 Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered
We seem to be equally divided between first-time watchers and rewatchers on this Buffy Rewatch, which is amazing (I know I’m not alone in being excited to discover new Buffy recruits). In the beginning of this rewatch, I was writing more as if I were talking to longtime Buffy viewers, and now I find I’m gearing my weekly posts to the newbies (or n00bs, as we sometimes call them). To all the Lost viewers out there who’ve jumped on board this rewatch because they were curious to find out what I’ve been on about, you’ve probably noticed over the years how often I’ve remarked that I love Joss Whedon’s work because no one knows how to bring the pain quite like Joss... and make us love it.
And there’s no pain quite like the pain he brings in “Passion.”
“Phases” is a great episode (I’m eager to see how many people were completely shocked to discover Oz was a werewolf!) and finally gives Seth Green a starring role. And it gives us what might be my favourite Willow/Oz scene of the series:
Oz: So... Maybe it'd be best if I just... sorta...
Oz: Well, you know, like, stayed out of your way for awhile.
Willow: I don't know. I'm kind of okay with you being *in* my way.
Oz: (stops and faces her) You mean, you'd still...
Willow: Well, I like you. You're nice and you're funny. And you don't smoke. Yeah, okay, werewolf, but that's not all the time. I mean, three days out of the month I'm not much fun to be around either.
Oz: You are quite the human.
Willow: (smiles) So, I'd still if you'd still.
Oz: I'd still. I'd very still.
Willow: Okay. No biting, though.
Oz: Agreed. [Willow walks away, smiling, and then suddenly runs back, kisses him on the lips, and hops away again, leaving Oz standing there, amused and bewildered.]
Oz: A werewolf in love.
This time around, I watched this scene with a silly grin on my fave the whole time, wiping away tears of joy. Oz and Willow give me a happy like nothing else on this show.
A few other things to note:
• Willow laying a verbal smackdown on Xander and Cordy, saying he should dial 1-800-I’m dating a skanky ho.”
• Xander suggesting the werewolf had last year’s almanac.
• The werewolf hunter in “Phases” will later play Sahjhan on Angel in season 3.
• Oz’s hilarious and insane phone conversation with his aunt: “Is Jordie a werewolf? Huh. And how long has this been going on?”
• Xander suggesting Oz will always be in the backyard burying their things.
“Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” gives a vehicle to Nicholas Brendon, allowing him to come to the fore. Joss loves the Xander-centric episodes… we’ve seen Teacher’s Pet, The Pack, and Inca Mummy Girl, and now this one. Generally the Xander eps are comic ones (though The Pack had a more sinister element to it) and the fan fave is The Zeppo, coming up in season 3, but this one ranks right up there. Yeah, it has a creep factor (Joyce!!) but the underlying joke is in the spell that Amy casts – notice she asks Diana to make Xander’s beloved fall in love with him… it’s as if every woman who comes after him in this episode is someone he’s crushed on or fantasized about in the past. And that makes the Joyce thing even funnier. (Perhaps Cordy is immune to the spell because unlike all the others, she’s the only one who’s really loved him back… although I would argue that Willow has always had real feelings for him, too.) One of my favourite moments of that episode is where Cordy goes to her locker and quickly slips the necklace off her neck, and looks like she really loves it and it means something to her. For all her big talk and bluster, I think she’s very lonely.
• How much do I love the Buffy rat cam!!!
• Giles saying seriously “We have to catch the Buffy rat.”
• I love how Xander puts up the bookshelf in front of the library door and then Buffy opens the door outward (it’s a true Big Lebowski moment). Interestingly, when he and Cordy are in the basement, they board up the door, even though it, also, opens outward.
• Did the Lost fans out there notice that the fights in the graveyard always seem to happen next to the Alpert mausoleum?
But the real star of the week is “Passion.” Back at the beginning of season 6, Space (the Canadian sci-fi network) began airing episodes of Buffy from Monday to Friday. A friend of mine who was working on a book with me at the time was watching the series for the first time, and at one point I made some sort of, “Ooh, wait’ll you see ‘Passion’” remark to him. He’s a film critic, and would often be out late during the week to watch the movies and then come home and write into the wee hours of the morning, filing the reviews for the various publications he worked for. While he was out, he’d record Buffy, then he’d come home and watch it, then write his reviews. The day after “Passion” aired he called me at work, and he sounded very strange. “Why didn’t you WARN me about this one?!” he said. He told me that he watched it, and when Giles went up the stairs, he felt like a knife had been thrust into his gut. He said he sobbed like a child for the rest of the episode, then turned off his television and just sat in the darkness, unable to move. He said he must have sat like that, alternately sobbing and staring at the wall, for a few hours. He got no sleep, barely filed his story on time, and was devastated. He said he’d never had an hour of television affect him like that. “Hm,” I said, “You might want to hold off on watching Becoming and The Body until the day after your stories are due.”
I’ve always loved this story. This was a guy in his fifties who had so identified with certain characters that the brutal death of one of them shattered him. “Passion” is that rare episode that I absolutely adore, and yet I’m writing this post the night before the rewatch (rather than a week before) because I just kept putting off watching it until I was emotionally ready. When you’ve seen it as many times as I have, there’s an anticipatory element to the second half of the episode that’s almost excruciating. When Giles comes home and finds the rose attached to his door, my whole body begins shivering and I can feel the tears coming. He walks in, sees the champagne, finds the note, glances up the stairs and a smirk comes over his face. He takes off his glasses, pats down his hair, and picks up the bottle. The whole time, we can hear “O soave fanciulla” from Puccini’s La Boheme, a gorgeous aria sung between a man and a woman in love:
Oh lovely girl, oh sweet face
bathed in the soft moonlight.
I see you in a dream
I'd dream forever!
Giles, too, will probably forever be seeing Jenny when he dreams, but what he finds at the top of the stairs is the stuff of nightmares. This time watching, as every time since that first wonderful/horrible moment where I first watched it, I could feel the lump rising in my throat the closer Giles got to the top, and as the bottle of champagne smashes to the ground, the tears began running down my cheeks.
But oh, it doesn’t stop there. No… then, just as Angelus loves to draw out the agony, so, too, do Joss and his writers just keep bringing it on. Angelus can’t just kill Jenny… he has to watch the reactions of those whom he’s hurt. Just as the episode opens with Angelus slipping quietly into Buffy’s room and watching her sleep (see, Edward? It’s FREAKIN’ CREEPY), now we see him lurking in the bushes, and watching Buffy as she picks up the phone, then slumps to the floor against the wall. Then Willow with her deep sobs falls into Joyce’s arms, while Angelus stands in the bushes, smiling and taking in the sweetness of what he’s watching. The fishkebab at the beginning of the episode is nothing compared to what Angelus does to them here. Giles, in his grief, storms down to the factory and in a zombie-like fury he tries to destroy Angel, but he doesn’t stand a chance, and Buffy knows it. She drags Giles outside and punches him in the face out of love and anger before kneeling down and they hold onto each other, a man destroyed and a girl who can’t live without him. (Cue second box of Kleenex.)
I mentioned back in “Lie to Me” that there would be another graveyard scene featuring Buffy and Giles that would be even sadder than the one next to Ford’s grave, and this is the one. You can hear the “Jenny theme” (more on that below) and if you listen closely, you’ll hear Anthony Stewart Head actually singing along with it in the non-diegetic music laid over the scene. It’s gorgeous. The Angelus voiceovers add an even darker element to the episode, from the one at the beginning:
Angelus: Passion. It lies in all of us. Sleeping... waiting... And though unwanted... unbidden... it will stir... open its jaws, and howl.
To the one at the end, spoken by Angelus, as we watch Giles slowly walk back into his apartment:
Angelus: It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion, maybe we'd know some kind of peace. But we would be hollow. Empty rooms, shuttered and dank... Without passion, we'd be truly dead.
“Passion” is sublime, and demonstrates the heights and depths this show is capable of reaching. I hope you loved it as much as I do.
This week I’ve got a whole bunch of people who wanted to discuss these episodes with you. I thought about perhaps splitting this into two posts, but I think it's easier just to keep it all together. So sit back and join my three guest-hosts this week!
First up is our resident music expert Steve Halfyard who is back this week to give us a full analysis of the music in this week’s episodes. Last week someone asked on the boards what Steve meant by LT; she’s referring to the Love Theme, which you can listen to here:
It’s one of my favourite musical themes of any television show, and if you’re interested, you can get it as part of the BtVS score soundtrack here.
This week I’m official rather than forcing my cheese slices in where they’re not wanted [note from Nikki: they are always wanted, and welcome!!]. “Phases”, BBB (as I like to call it, much quicker) and “Passion” are three really interesting episodes to talk about from a musical perspective, so that is mostly what I’m going to do.
“Phases” is a great episode (actually, all three of these are fabulous – no Bad Eggs here!). “Phases” remembers previous episodes, develops character relationships, and sets up things for the future. Oh, and we find out that Oz is a werewolf (quite important); and Kane the werewolf hunter comes back in Angel as Sahjhan, a trans-dimensional demon (the actor, not Kane himself). So many fun things.
Alas, the music is not one of them, and that’s what makes this episode interesting as part of this group of three. It was scored by Shawn K. Clements & Sean Murray who scored a lot of episodes in season 2 and are, I’m sure, jolly capable chaps but they mostly write bog standard boring TV music (as we say in the UK – that’s not rude, by the way, it’s a corruption of the “Box standard” edition of Meccano you could buy here in the 1920s, rather than “Box deluxe”. Bit of UK trivia for you).
Now, the Seans are not all bad: they gave us the pretty, feminized version of the series theme tune for Buffy’s Dorothy Hamill moment in “What’s My Line?”, and they wrote some nicely creepy music for “Killed By Death” that ended up in the DVD menu music. But alas, this episode really shows up just how dull and lazy TV music can be. There is nothing remotely thematic at all (Oz is a werewolf: doesn’t that deserve something a bit distinctive?). Instead we are treated to a series of seemingly interminable drones: we have tense drones, scary drones, fill-in-the-silence drones and occasional bits of slightly limp action music; plus one decent piece of scary music when Teresa thinks she’s being chased by a werewolf and runs into Angelus. But oh, listen to the feebleness of the music when Teresa rises from the dead in the funeral home, fights Buffy and is staked by Xander. That staking is a really dramatic moment: and it becomes part of Xander/ Nicholas Brendon’s credit sequence for many seasons to come – but the music does absolutely nothing to underpin Xander doing something useful and effective (for a change). Lame. The closest the music gets to being interesting is the rather generic bit of lyrical piano and guitar for Oz and Willow being monosyllabically romantic at the end. Pah.
Anyway, the next two episodes seem to be trying very hard to make up for the musical mediocrity of “Phases”. Scored by the lovely Christophe Beck, right from the start BBB is in a different musical league. Compare the teaser here to the Teresa staking scene before. As Buffy fights the vampire, the music is gestural – it is written to her physical gestures, bringing out the sense of movement and action, but also the drama. There’s a fabulous musical climax leading up to the moment Buffy stakes the vampire; then a little bit of post-staking ambience as she and Xander talk. She tells him that slaying is more perilous than dating; he replies that she is obviously not dating Cordelia – and a lovely little musical sting (as we call it in the trade) comes in after he says it, like punctuation. It’s a tiny moment but it’s not lazy: Beck’s music actively engages with every movement and line and look and nuance of what’s going on in the show and helps structure the scene. And that’s why Mr Beck is relatively unusual in TV scoring, and why what he does lifts the show’s music out of the ordinary and into the innovative. Basically, he treats it like a film score (where you get maybe 10-12 weeks to write music for a 2 hour film) rather than a TV score (where you get a week to write music for a 40 minute show. Do the maths!). Another sequence later on takes this further: have a listen to the way Beck paces, stretches out and builds the tension throughout the scene where Buffy and Joyce are watching TV when a knock at the door precedes the delivery of flowers and the creepsome message “soon” – the whole scene is beautifully underpinned, and the music builds to an unfinished climax as the camera focuses on Buffy’s face at the end, really giving us a sense of the sick physical feeling she is experiencing as she understands that Angel is stalking her and threatening her. This whole scene is scored much more like it would be in a film rather than a TV episode.
Things Beck does in this episode also give some insight into his overall approach to scoring. We have episode specific themes (which are essentially restricted to a single episode, although even these do sometimes crop up in a later episode to remind us of something); cross-episode themes, which can go through whole seasons and even across seasons; and as a special category of that, we have love theme variations, reworkings of elements that belong to the love theme to say new things, not always about either Buffy or Angel, but always to do with love.
• Xander’s “sad-and-lonely, nobody loves me” music, coming in at the end of the scene where Cordy dumps him and taking us through the transition to the next day at school. It comes back again when Giles sends him home in disgrace, and it starts, very briefly, when Xander thinks he’s being rejected again at the end, just before Cordy comes up trumps.
• Amy’s spell theme: say no more, it’ll be obvious.
• Xander’s quirky theme (“everything’s going wrong” panic music) - pizzicato strings, tremolos and skittering violin melody; it’s fast and funny and actually had its first embryonic outing back in “School Hard” when Xander is rifling through Buffy’s bag looking for a stake and finds a tampon instead. Here, it finds its true form, and we get it in several other episodes too, most especially “The Zeppo” in season 3.
Love theme variations
Everything to do with love and/ or loss seems to turn into a Buffy/ Angel love theme variation. These variations take elements of the love theme, usually the first three notes with that big falling sixth and then the small step up.
• Giles and Jenny meeting in the corridor early in BBB and have a rather awkward conversation – it’s definitely the love theme but gone horribly wrong (go figure);
• Cordelia hiding her true feelings from Xander as she takes the locket off behind her locker door: almost like an inverted version, with the falling note at the start rising instead. Still very much in the same ‘area’ as the love theme;
• Cordelia near the end realising that the spell was meant for her, and that Xander loves her after all.
• Xander looking back through the library window as he realises that that the spell has affected Buffy too, and she does not love him at all.
Also, note the silence when Buffy, in the preceding library scene, suddenly ‘sees’ Xander; and then when Amy and later Jenny come on to him – the clue that this isn’t love is in the fact that there is no love-themey music. Also, got to love Buffy’s saxophone film noir moment when she comes back to the library wearing nothing but a raincoat. Buff, for the love of God, don't open that raincoat!
The popular music used in this episode is also doing new things: in the Bronze, we see Dingoes Ate My Baby (we’re hearing the band Four Star Mary!) performing their song “Pain” as Cordy dumps Xander; and when the spell has kicked in we get a crazy old 1970s funk number from the Average White Band for Xander’s slo-mo John Travolta-esque strut down the corridor. It’s funny because the music and the slo-mo are sending it up: think about how utterly sincere (and emotionally devastating) some of the other uses of pop songs are in this series (“Goodbye to You” at the end of Tabula Rasa, for example); or even “Pain” in this episode – it’s ‘real’ music, music that belongs to the characters, that they might (and do) listen to, the soundtrack of their lives as well as of the episode; and the lyrics underpin what the characters are feeling. But “Got the Love” is so retro, so old fashioned, so supremely uncool that it’s ridiculous – it is making fun of Xander because actually, none of these women really find him attractive, any more than they would find this music cool (although, have to say, I always found early Xander mightily cute).
“Passion” again has its own episode specific music, but the theme you may have missed is the Angelus motif – his own little musical signature, a motif (something very short) rather than a theme (a more extended idea). The main idea is a pair of falling notes, normally followed by a third note, and then a number of different ways of ending. For those who do notation, think of it as a C falling to a B, then a drop to a G sharp. We get it in pretty much every scene with Angelus present or just implied – every time we see one of those letters/ drawings, it’s played high up (creepy); then in the scene where he confronts Jenny in the classroom, it suddenly drops to be played really low down (danger!); and the two falling notes dominate the chase music as he pursues her through the school to her doom.
The more obvious and utterly lovely episode theme is another version of the love theme used for Giles and Jenny. It’s not the original theme, but it is so close that you can hear the Buffy/ Angel version theme lurking at the edges. When I talked about this in Florida last year, I attempted to demonstrate by singing the love theme whilst playing the “Passion” theme on the piano (9.30 in the morning, jetlagged, not very good!) but it can be done. Anyway, the allusion to the LT is a rather horrible clue that this is not going to end well; it sounds like it’s about love, but if we hear it as an aspect of the main LT, it is warning that there is going to be great loss. We get it several times in connection to both Giles and Jenny in the first twenty minutes, establishing that it is about their relationship; and then we hear it again when Buffy and Willow learn of Jenny’s death. It mirrors the journey of the original LT: starting out about love, becoming about loss. And then it brings the relationship between the two themes back round narratively to Buffy and her losses. We hear it when she rescues Giles from his attempt to avenge Jenny’s death, where it underpins her fear of losing him (“Were you trying to get yourself killed? You can’t leave me”); and it plays over the scene with Buffy and Giles at Jenny’s graveside and Buffy’s acceptance that her own love is irretrievably lost and she now has to kill the man she once loved. There’s a sense of the theme passing from Giles and Jenny back to Buffy and Angel: Firstly, we have Angel’s voice-over whilst we (in fact) hear Giles’s voice singing the theme (inarticulate with grief, there are no words but he physically inhabits the music that represents his love for Jenny); and then at the end of the episode, Buffy’s voice replaces Angel’s – their voices frame the theme, linking their passion to Giles and Jenny’s, Buffy’s loss to Giles’s loss.
It was a musically good decision to use a different version of the LT here (and in BBB) because Beck knows that he needs the big theme for the season finale (it’s not far off now) and he’s is an intelligent enough composer to know that you should never bludgeon your audience with a theme or it starts to lose its impact. So he’s saving it: tapping into its meanings but restricting the number of outright statements of it he makes in order to ensure maximum impact when he does use it. So even though we’ve only had one clear statement of the LT since “Innocence” (in “Passion”, in the scene just after Willow’s found the dead fish and Buffy talks about the Angel she has lost), the variations on it we have in BBB and “Passion” means that it’s constantly there, just below the surface, not letting us forget it.
I’m very pleased this week to introduce for the first time into the Rewatch the woman who is known throughout the world of Whedon Studies as the Mother of Buffy Studies, Rhonda Wilcox. I first met Rhonda at Slayage 3 in 2008 (shock) where I was a little nervous to meet her, having read both Fighting the Forces and Why Buffy Matters, but she was instantly accommodating and lovely (and we had a shared dislike of high-fives). I’m a big fan of her work -- Fighting the Forces is the book of essays she did with David Lavery (who was part of our second week on the rewatch) and Why Buffy Matters is an extended study of the art of Buffy, and a brilliant book if you want to check it out (please do!) She is a professor of English at Gordon College in Georgia and the president of the Whedon Studies Association.
She is the editor of Studies in Popular Culture and the coeditor of Slayage: The Journal of the Whedon Studies Association. Along with the two books mentioned, she is the editor with Tanya Cochran, of Investigating Firefly and Serenity: Science Fiction on the Frontier; and, with Sue Turnbull, of Investigating Veronica Mars, which just came out. And if you’re wondering why she didn’t focus on “Passion” in the essay below, it’s because she’ll be covering that episode in a much longer essay in an upcoming post on PopMatters http://www.popmatters.com/pm/special/section/spotlight-joss-whedon, which is hosting a special Joss Whedon spotlight all month long on their site. (It’s excellent, and I urge you all to check it out and find many of our contributors here on it! However, thar be spoilers, and they don’t white them out over there!) ;)
So without any further ado, please welcome Rhonda!
Rhonda V. Wilcox
One of the things I love best about Buffy is that the series does not end with coupling. At the end of the seven television seasons, it’s not all about who’s going to mate with whom; it’s about the larger journey of life — not just romantic love. Now those who know me might comment that that’s easy for me to say; I’ve been happily married for many years. But it’s important that the series places such a great emphasis on other values — standing on your own and (seemingly opposite but really not) friendship. Agape love is more important than eros in Buffy. But eros has its place, and one such place is this sequence of episodes. In the immediately preceding “Surprise” / “Innocence,” Buffy and Angel have made love and Angel is lost. But then, rather than turning to simple monster-fighting to get past the trauma, we have three more episodes about Scooby love lives: “Phases,” about Willow and Oz; “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” about Xander and Cordelia; and “Passion,” about Giles and Jenny — and, again, Buffy and Angel. These episodes are about both the death of love and the endurance of love.
In “Phases,” Willow finally gets smoochies; and it is satisfying that Oz is worthy of being smooched. Willow, the unpopular smart girl, was my emotional way into the show; she was the one I identified with first (later, I identified with Buffy and overwork). Given that Willow wasn’t getting Xander, it was very important that the person our smart girl got was cool. As many Buffy fans know, this was not the first pairing of Alyson Hannigan and Seth Green; Hannigan was the stepdaughter in My Stepmother Is an Alien, and tiny Alyson’s first date was tiny Seth. The two undeniably have on-screen chemistry. In addition, the Oz character is both a senior and the lead guitarist for a rock band, Dingoes Ate My Baby (the name cannot be said too often). But more importantly, Oz has internal qualities that make him worthy of Willow. We know he is intelligent; he and Willow were the only students recruited by the giant software company in “What’s My Line.” He also sees things others don’t. At the beginning of “Phases,” we find him staring at a cheerleading trophy; when Willow enters, he tells her its eyes follow him. Those of us who watched “Witch” (1.3) know that it encases the vengeful spirit of Amy’s mom — something not even Willow and the other Scoobies know. (This scene also prepared audiences for Amy’s return in “Bewitched.”) His attentiveness has already been displayed; in “Surprise,” when at Buffy’s birthday party Oz witnesses a vampire being staked and must be told of the magical dark side of Sunnydale, he does not react with the usual denial: “Actually, it explains a lot,” he says. He observes Willow’s feelings for Xander, too, and is willing to wait. And while he may sometimes seem the epitome of the laconic, he is nonetheless blessed with a crucial quality for strong characters in any Whedonverse: the ability to play with language. When Willow says hi, he responds, “Oh, that’s what I was gonna say.” Like other major Buffy players, he moves words to unusual places: When Willow says she enjoyed seeing a movie with him, he answers, “My time was also of the good.” And when Larry talks to him about getting “Buffy and Willow action,” he replies with a gentle riposte: “That’s great, Larry — you’ve really mastered the single-entendre.” His restraint here is another one of his fine qualities, qualities that let us feel good about his dating our Willow.
All this virtue is on display in a minefield of an episode: the episode after the cruelty of “Innocence.” And, indeed, “Phases” is full of anger at the male of the species. This is the episode in which Oz becomes a werewolf. After we’ve learned that a werewolf is on the loose but before we know it’s Oz, Giles describes the animalistic violence of the creature. “Your typical male,” says the emotionally wounded Buffy (Giles points out that it might be a female). Willow and Cordelia also complain about men, specifically about Xander and Oz: the former keeps talking about Willow and Buffy when he’s with Cordelia; the latter, apparently still waiting to be sure Xander is out of Willow’s system, has yet to kiss her. “What’s his problem?” asks Cordelia. “Oh, right, he’s a guy.” “Couple of guys,” agrees Willow. And later in the episode, when Oz has deserted Willow, Buffy asserts, “They grow body hair, they lose all ability to tell you what they really want.” Thus “Phases,” the werewolf episode, suggests that even the most intelligent, self-possessed, and restrained of young men has an animal inside. By the end of the episode, Willow claims some of that wildness too (and the longer the series goes, the truer we know that to be); but some anger seems right for the emotional arc of the series at this point. And in the end, we get past the anger. After Oz’s secret is discovered and he offers to leave her alone, Willow instead offers to stay: “I’d still if you’d still,” she says. “I’d very still,” he happily replies. She is indeed, as he says, “quite the human” — and she is the one who, right out there in the crowded sunshine, kisses him. Even after “Innocence,” love can still be sweet.
“Phases” is in part about shame and secrets — not just wolfish ones; it’s also the episode in which we learn Larry is gay (and I have always loved that his self-recognition allowed him to become a kinder person). “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” on the other hand, is about another important part of high school: public humiliation. In this episode, Cordelia loses status because of dating Xander; she turns her public humiliation into his when she dumps him at the Valentine’s Day dance. But by the end of the episode she publicly claims him, demonstrating that Cordelia has the character to make her worthy of Xander. (I’d say more, but I promised Nikki I’d stick to a thousand words.) In “Passion,” Jenny’s patience and intelligent determination result in her reconciliation with Giles—another case of love enduring. It is also, however, in dreadful parallel with Buffy and Angel, a case of the loss of love. It is one of the most beautiful and horrifying episodes of the series. Like “Innocence,” it makes us aware of the meaning of love through its loss. Thankfully, the episodes between — “Phases” and “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” — comfort us with the bravery of love.
And finally, on deck next is David Kociemba, who was previously on here in our season 1 finale week talking about “Nightmares,” “Invisible Girl,” and “Prophecy Girl.” Thanks for coming back, David!
These three episodes are near and dear to my heart. I broke writer’s block of several years duration defending “Passion”. “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” is an early moment where Xander takes of the mantle of Emersonian comic heroism. This passage is from Emerson’s essay, Manners: “I have seen an individual, whose manners, though wholly within the conventions of elegant society, were never learned from there, but were original and commanding, and held out protection and prosperity; one who did not need the aid of a court-suit, but carried the holiday in his eye; who exhilarated the fancy by flinging wide the doors of new modes of existence; who shook off the captivity of etiquette, with happy, spirited bearing, good-natured and free as Robin Hood; yet with the port of an emperor,—if need be calm, serious, and fit to stand the gaze of millions.” Stanley Cavell writes about the screwball comedy roles of Cary Grant and Barbara Stanwyk in this light in Pursuits of Happiness. To me, it defines him in this episode, the first with Buffy shunted to the B storyline due to her commitment to appear on SNL. He’ll have a few more of these moments later in the series.
But “Phases” was the first episode I ever watched. I was at a friend's house studying with her for a midterm for a graduate school film studies course. She insisted that we take a break and watch an episode being aired that night. What enthralled me was that it validated one of my pet theories about the werewolf myth, which is that the werewolf investigates what would happen if men menstruated. (Once a month, on a cycle connected to the moon, the man's secondary sexual characteristics run wild and he experiences violent mood swings. See Ginger Snaps for an excellent take on the werewolf myth from the girl’s perspective.) The final exchange between Willow and Oz clinched the series for me, “I mean, three days out of the month I’m not much fun to be around either.” The series creators knew how to work on multiple layers of meaning at the same time and were aware of the multiple meanings that these myths carry. I was primed to be an active viewer because the first episode I saw had rewarded that behavior. (As a midseason replacement with low ratings airing prior to the arrival of YouTube, many viewers saw the series out of order in broadcast.)
One of the things that strikes me about these three episodes now is the enormous courage of the characters to dare to believe in love and fall hard for one another. Angelus proves that all lovers are dangerous, for we can lose ourselves in them and they can transform into strangers before our very eyes. Jennifer Cruisie wrote the best article on romance in the Whedon scholarship in Seven Seasons of Buffy. She writes:
“But there’s another dimension to Buffy’s love stories beyond the psychological accuracy, a dimension that makes them even deeper: the ever-present knowledge that while falling in love can be devastating, consummating that love can be lethal…. [L]ove in this world really is a matter of life and death…. In a world where any attempt to find connection results in pain and death, love is an unbelievable act of courage.”
Cordelia’s dares social death, Xander learns to give up the pornographic gaze, Willow busts a move and Giles suffers heartbreak. We find each other, against all odds. This impulse to form attachments defines humanity for Joss Whedon. In Dollhouse, repeated memory wipes aren’t enough to separate Echo, Sierra and Victor. This embrace of humanism as our greatest virtue gets it most direct expression n the Firefly episode, “Our Mrs. Reynolds”:
SAFFRON: Everybody plays each other. That’s all anybody ever does. We play parts.
MAL: You got all kinds of learnin’ and you made me look the fool without tryin’, and yet here I am with a gun to your head. That’s ‘cause I got people with me. People who trust each other, who do for each other, and ain’t always lookin’ for the advantage.
Mal rejects the postmodern understanding of the human condition as isolated performances of social roles in a context where power perverts every aspect of life in favor of the understanding, liberty and fellowship of old-fashioned humanism. Our love defines us.
Did You Notice?
…that Giles laughs at one of Xander’s jokes for once?
… how the tiresome Karofsky Glee storyline was handled with grace and humor a decade earlier with Larry here?
… why the love spell went awry? The incantation appeals to Diana, a virgin goddess who herself usurped the masculine role of the hunter. In a popular folk tale, Diana punished a hunter who spied on her while she was bathing. She transformed him into another object of desire by turning him into a hart to be hunted by his own hounds, which lust for his blood. Holding a lit candle in his lap, Xander sits on the floor within the painted red symbol of the female sex. And he’s stripped the waist, revealing muscular shoulders, arms and chest. Xander has made himself into a spectacle for the camera’s admiring gaze; he’s taken the place of the woman in the cinematic tradition. (Again.) This spell is designed to gain control over another person’s erotic desire, over their genitals. Had a heterosexual woman blown out a lit candle held in their lap, she would have demonstrated her control over the ritual’s symbol of male lust, the phallic candle. The logic of magic is that like attracts like and the part stands for the whole. So, the candle should attract its visual like, a penis. Xander’s symbolism is that of masturbation, a sexual conquest in the imagination rather than the real.
…that the men seem to be ensorcelled too? A few male peers gaze at him admiringly. The others react to him with intense anger, possibly repressing that sexual desire and redirecting it into aggression. Giles coldly berates him. Ordinarily unflappably cool, Oz is “left with the very strong urge to hit him.” Even Angelus admits to “feeling very close to [Xander] right now.” Oh, how I wish Larry had been in this episode.
… that force is okay for Willow? It’s not just Vamp Willow who’s excited by playing “Mistress of Pain”.
…that Angelus has the first voice-over of the series? (Or possibly the second, depending on how you read Anthony Stewart Head’s intoned intro.) For the first time, a villain has power of voiceover, enabling him to serve as the storyteller, the narrative guide. Angelus becomes the center to patterns of editing, rather than Buffy. It is his position that is adopted by the camera as viewers watch Buffy and Willow react to the death of Jenny Calendar. Angelus systematically rewrites the settings within the series, the rules of the series itself, and our relationship to the series. We invited him into our homes as much as Buffy, Willow and Giles did. The question will be whether we too will change the locks.
… what’s playing when Giles discovers Jenny? It’s La Vie Boheme: “Oh! Lovely Girl! Oh sweet face/bathed in the soft moonlight/I see you in the dream/I’ll dream forever.” It still makes me get a lump in my throat, even after seven years of teaching this episode.
… the lovely use of pools of light to edit within the frame when Angelus chases Jenny from one school building to another? This was the first time cinematographer Michael Gershman directed an episode for the series.
… that Giles never denies that he was trying to get himself killed? This pays off in the season finale.
Thank you, David!
Next week: One of my favourite people in the world, Ian Klein, joins me to discuss "Killed by Death," "I Only Have Eyes for You," and "Go Fish," the trio of episodes that will precede the series 2 finale!