This week’s trio of Buffy episodes were about pain, pain, heartbreak, pain, SPIKE, one of the best what-if scenarios I’ve seen, WILLOW AND XANDER AS VAMPIRES WHAT?!, pain, love, loss, one of the cruelest camera tricks I’ve ever seen, pain, and more pain. Love these three.
“Revelations” is the first episode where we see a break between Faith and Buffy. There’s clearly some tension between them, but despite us siding with Buffy because we’ve been through so much with her, the writers do create a lot of sympathy for Faith. That dingy motel room, the comments about her mother dying, her inability to connect with everyone (unless it’s with Xander out of a mutual hatred) and her harsh exterior and vulnerability are all adding up to one helluva character development (and yes, I hope this isn’t considered a spoiler, but she will go in amazing directions this season). Xander once again goes back to being the ass he was in “Dead Man’s Party”... there’s just something about the way he does it, that voice, the inflection, those eyes, the flair, the way he pulls out that chair for Buffy to sit in it with not-very-well-hidden delight... Nick Brendon plays him so wonderfully in these scenes. And yet while there are moments where I’m yelling, “Shut UP Xander” at the television, my disappointment in him never lasts long. I love that character too much to hold a grudge.
For me, the moment that always stands out in “Revelations” (other than Faith kicking Angel’s ass, an image that I always coincide mentally with that ep title) is Giles talking to Buffy in his library study. Xander once again likes to publicly humiliate Buffy, relishing in bringing her down while knowing he’s also doing something behind everyone’s back; Willow attempts her “I” statements and wants to help; Oz backs up Willow; Cordy is, once again, Cordy. But just as he did in “Dead Man’s Party,” Giles refuses to join the “let’s beat up on Buffy bandwagon,” and instead he keeps things one-on-one. His words are not meant to humiliate Buffy, but to wake her up to the reality of what she’s doing. When he tells her that she has no respect for him or the job he does, it hurts me every time. She stands there silently, and knows that he’s right. All the Xander insults in the world won’t make her turn her back on Angel, but knowing how Giles feels might.
“Lover’s Walk” features the brief return of our beloved Spike and his now infamous line, “I may be love’s bitch, but at least I’m man enough to admit it.” In this episode, every pairing falls apart. Xander and Willow take things too far and get caught, and thus endeth their fling along with their relationships with Oz and Cordelia. Buffy says goodbye to Angel, and in the midst of everyone else’s misery, Spike realizes what a wanker he looks like and vows to go it alone. Who needs Drusilla? (Oh Spike... we look forward to you coming back again someday!)
• Pez witch!!
• I loved Giles momentarily believing Buffy when she says her mom’s head spun around after seeing Buffy’s SAT results (who’d have thunk Buffy was the savant?)
• Spike returning in a drunken, bastardized version of his first arrival, hahahaha!! (Watch for a twist on that Welcome to Sunnydale sign falling over in season 7.)
• Did you notice the magic shop owner was the woman who played the phony psychic in “Tricia Tanaka Is Dead” on Lost? (She also worked at the employment agency in the sideways world in season 6.)
• Spike pouring his heart out to Joyce makes me laugh every time... I love that he’s using the same words he used to tell Willow, like he’s one of those weepy lovelorn people telling the same story over and over and over again. The scene becomes even better when Angel shows up at the door and Spike stands behind Joyce, taunting him by pretending he’s going to bite her. Oh Spike, I ♥ you and your wacky serial killing.
• Spike: “Oh god... we killed a homeless man on this bench!” LOL! (Drusilla must have had a thing for homeless men... remember the one she said who got stuck in her teeth?)
• That cut to the funeral – making us think Cordelia was dead – is one of the cruellest jokes the writers have ever played. The first time this episode aired I screamed loudly and freaked out completely... to the point where I didn’t actually HEAR Buffy and Willow saying she was OK. When we backed up the tape (yes, I was recording it on VHS back then) and realized what had happened, we laughed. But it was nervous, confused laughter. Joss you are evil.
• Notice how Buffy never flaunts Xander’s indiscretion to him in a cruel way despite everything he’s said about her love life.
• “Bored now.” One of my fave lines from the entire series. (I even bought my daughter a shirt that said that... the daycare workers used to wonder what exactly the statement on the 2-year-old’s shirt referred to!)
“The Wish” is hands down one of my favourite Buffy episodes. It’s sad, poignant, and that slow-mo ending (God, they ALWAYS get me with the slow-mo!!) brings me to tears every... single... time. What makes this so powerful is that relationships that are so meaningful to us as viewers (as a result of watching those relationships develop over three years) simply vanish, replaced by new relationships between the same characters. That end scene is amazing, where we see Oz angrily dispense with Willow, Buffy thoughtlessly shoving a stake into Xander, and Angel turned to dust before Buffy’s eyes as she not only doesn’t care, but walks through the dust to her next kill. In another life, these paths don’t cross, making you wonder if, in another life, that stranger who passed you on the street could have been your best friend.
But not everything is different in the other world. Willow and Xander, the two people who have hurt Cordelia the most in the primary reality, are the two who kill her in this one. Vamp Willow throws matches at Angel’s chest, and in the primary reality she was the one who re-ensouled him, creating a different kind of burning in his chest... that of love and remorse. Larry from S2 (the guy who came out to Xander after bullying him relentlessly) is a white-hat along with Oz and Giles, and all three of these guys are the good ones in our reality. Buffy is a mix of Faith (tough on the exterior, wearing army pants) and Kendra (“I don’t play well with others,” getting the job done and moving on), and there’s very little of the Buffy we’ve come to know and love still there, making one wonder exactly what terrible thing happened to her in Cleveland. The soaring music at the end of the episode always gets to me, especially when Anya challenges Giles by saying, “How do you know the other world is any better than this one?” and Giles responds in a desperate voice, “Because it has to be”... just as Buffy’s neck is broken by the Master. It’s a scene that still makes the hairs on my neck stand on end. Gorgeous, gorgeous writing.
This week we have two guests, and the first one is new to the rewatch. I first met Suzie Gardner when she sent me a proposal in late 2009 for a book on the TV show Glee. About a week before or after (I can’t exactly remember the order now) I got a proposal from someone named Erin Balser for a Glee book. Both of them had great proposals, and I remembered thinking if I could just convince them to do a mashup of their ideas, we’d have a fantastic book. And then I thought what the hell, let’s ask... so I did, and they did, and the book was awesome. The book, Don’t Stop Believin’: The Unofficial Guide to Glee, came out last fall and if you’re a Gleek, there’s no better book out there. Aside from her blog, Gleeks United, Suzie has written for Quill & Quire, Imprint, and Sweetspot. She was filmed as an expert on Glee for a British documentary on the show. She is also well-versed in the marketing world, particularly with social media and online promotional techniques, with experience publicizing everything from books, to conferences, to mayoral candidates. When she’s not busy writing or twittering at @suziegardner, you’ll likely find her with her nose deep in a book or her mouth stuffed with a cupcake. When I was initially putting together my eclectic cast of wonderful people for this rewatch, I thought of her, but wasn’t sure if she watched the show. We were at a literary launch together, and I asked her and she went completely nuts with happiness. So I’m so glad she’s a part of it, and watch for her in a couple more weeks when she’ll cover the other side of “The Wish” in her write-up for “Doppelgangland.” Take it away, Suzie!
(and also some commentary on “The Wish”)
— Spike, “Lover’s Walk”
“What I’m saying is – and this is not a come-on in any way, shape or form – is that men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.”
— Harry, When Harry Met Sally
It seems a bit strange to pair the two together, but it seems that Spike and When Harry Met Sally’s Harry are two of pop culture’s most astute commentators on male-female relationships. Really.
In “Revelations” and “Lover’s Walk,” the show’s romantic relationships take centre stage as both Buffy and Angel and Willow and Xander try to remain “just friends,” despite both pairings’ instincts to act otherwise. Both couples are also entranced by the forbidden aspect of their relationships – Buffy and Angel know that if their relationship goes too far, there could be disastrous consequences, and Willow and Xander know that if their secret gets out, they’ll be breaking both Oz and Cordelia’s hearts. Relationships are always complicated on Buffy, particularly when there’s a supernatural element involved, but what makes the drama in these two episodes ring particularly true is that the complications boil down to the most basic question: Are you friends, or are you lovers?
Due to their romantic history, Buffy and Angel really don’t stand a chance at the whole “let’s just be friends” thing. They were star-crossed lovers from the get-go, and despite the risk of Angelus returning should Buffy “give him a happy,” these two aren’t ever going to be buddies. Spike’s speech in the magic shop (as quoted above) is dead-on accurate, and at least he’s man enough to admit that he’s love’s bitch. Angel may be in his 240s, but he’s still incredibly teenager-esque when it comes to his relationship with Buffy. It’s remarkable how these two can be so mature when saving the world, yet so youthfully naive when dealing with matters of the heart. Whether they like it or not, Buffy and Angel are either lovers or enemies, but nothing in between.
Willow and Xander, however, are a very different story, because they were friends first. And they still are friends...they’re just also secret lovers. Watching this storyline is always one of the most painful ones for me – part of me is cheering for Willow and Xander for finally mutually realizing their feelings for each other, while the other part of me is crying for Oz and Cordy. This storyline is a perfect example of how well Joss Whedon understands high school relationships and all their messiness. Although Buffy and Angel may have trouble establishing if they’re friends or lovers, viewers can tell that given their history, they’re much more likely to fall on the love side of the line – Willow and Xander, on the other hand, aren’t that clear-cut. Friendships that blossom into romance are always risky, especially when it’s a friendship that’s been around as long as Willow and Xander’s. The line between being friends and being lovers is completely blurred for these two, and Joss makes it clear that the mess that they’ve gotten into definitely isn’t going to be an easy one to get out of.
Now, let’s travel back to Spike and Harry. Both of their musings on men, women and sex are perfectly applicable to the more straightforward Buffy/Angel relationship, and, although their relationship is more complicated, Harry’s message rings particularly true for Willow/Xander, as well. Harry thinks that men and women can’t resist their hormones, and for a pair of confused teenagers, this couldn’t be more accurate. Spike and Harry: relationship gurus.
And now for something completely different!
Originally, I chose this set of episodes because of my love for VampWillow...but then I got to thinking about the relationships in the other episodes instead. So, here I go making a few quick notes about “The Wish”:
- Is there anyone who doesn’t love VampWillow’s “Bored now!”? “Bored now” and “Five by five” are my two favourite Buffyisms to quote in real life.
- One of the most interesting parts of this episode for me is the characterization of our favourite Scoobies in the alternate universe. I see Willow as being very Drusilla-like, Xander as the Spike to Willow’s Dru, and Buffy as a blend of Faith and Kendra with her jaded, hardcore-slayer ways. Giles, interestingly, is probably the most similar to his real world self, with his endless optimism and faith in a better world.
- Also interesting to note is who kills who in the final battle scene: Oz kills Willow, a reversal from Willow shooting Oz with the stun gun in “Phases”; and Buffy kills Xander, an interesting choice considering that Xander was the one that brought Buffy back to life at the end of season 1.
- The reference to Cordy’s “come bite me” outfit feels particularly relevant right now, in light of the recent comments from a Toronto police officer, suggesting that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”. Toronto’s answer to this was an event called SlutWalk Toronto – what could we call the vampire biting alternative that Cordy should lead?
Thank you, Suzie! And now on to Stacey Abbott, who I’ve been working closely with over the last month as I edited her new collection of Supernatural essays (of which she is the co-editor along with David Lavery). Stacey last joined us on the Rewatch when she talked about “Bad Eggs,” “Surprise,” and “Innocence.” **As before, for the rewatchers, if you see a section where a sentence stops and white space follows, that's because I've covered a spoiler for the first-timers. If you take your mouse and highlight the white space, you'll see the words I was covering up. (This is the invisible ink I was referring to in a previous post.) There are a few of those sections in the following essay.
In my previous entry for the Great Buffy Rewatch, I mentioned that season 2 was my favourite but season 3 is the best. As I rewatch this season, I stand by that assertion. With Buffy surrounded by Giles, Angel, Willow, Xander, Cordelia, and Oz, the ensemble cast is at its strongest. These are carefully developed and complex characters who share bonds that will fortify them against the senior year traumas ahead (demons, vampires, Prom, Graduation…you know, the usual). As much as I love Anya, Tara, Spike and Andrew, the season three cast will always represent the show at its peak because they capture high school at its best. They are much like the friends you had when you were in high school, you may grow apart, break up and find new friends, but the memories of them define you and stay with you forever. More importantly each of the actors has grown into these roles so that they stand as three dimensional characters with increasingly complex relationships, all undergoing their own dark journey to graduation. Furthermore, the introduction of Faith provides us with a dark reflection of what Buffy could be like without her friends and family but also serves to expand the slayer mythology, preparing us for the onslaught of potential Slayers in season 7. The Mayor gives us the most charming, disarming and disturbing of Buffy’s Big Bads. In this week’s episodes, we only catch a glimpse of the Mayor in “Lover’s Walk”, but it is tantalising taster for the evil that is to come and it is a pleasure to watch this character unfold slowly but surely.
The standalone demon-of-the-week episodes of season 3, of which this week’s episode are examples, are nicely self-contained and sharply written (no “Bad Eggs” this season) but they also gently sow the seeds of what is to come. Gwendolyn Post is in many ways an easy to forget power hungry human (along the lines of Ethan Rayne but nowhere near as fun) but the way she undermines Giles and manipulates Faith establishes an underlying distrust for the Watchers Council that while not justified in this case will be in season 3’s “Helpless” (3.12) and season 5’s “Checkpoint” (5.12). She also prepares us for the arrival of Faith’s new Watcher, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce who, while being clearly less evil than Post, will actually cause more damage to Faith. Similarly “Lover’s Walk” uses Spike’s observations about Buffy and Angel to comment upon their complicated relationship that will continue to grow more complicated until Angel’s departure for LA in “Graduation Day, Part 2.” “The Wish” introduces Anyanka (aka Anya), a vengeance demon who wants to punish Xander for hurting Cordelia, only to conclude with her being made human where she will eventually replace Cordelia as Xander’s love interest and later suffer her own, even worse, heart break because of Xander. Everything is interconnected.
What this season also does is move Buffy beyond the realm of the vampire and into a broader supernatural landscape. Since season 1, Buffy has confronted numerous supernatural ghosts, demons and monsters but the show’s Big Bads have always been the Vampire – The Master, Darla, Spike, Drusilla, and of course Angelus. This week’s episodes reintroduce the vampire as villain, if only to allow Buffy and her friends to confront them, embody them, and then move past them before facing an even more formidable foe.
“Revelations”, along with next week’s “Amends”, is the episode that allows the Scooby Gang to come to terms with Angel’s return and we are reminded of the trauma he has caused and the damage he has done. Much like for Buffy, it is easy for audiences to forget his crimes because we are pleased Angel is back after the pain of “Becoming Part 2”. But the fear and anger expressed by the Scooby Gang during their intervention of Buffy is a telling reminder that all cannot be forgotten so easily and that Angel has a long way to go to make amends -- a theme that will be returned to in “Amends” and will be a defining theme of Angel (in fact many key elements of Angel are established in season three – too many to list here). In particular, we see a return to the Xander who withheld Willow’s message to Buffy about re-ensouling Angel in “Becoming Part 2”. Blinded by his hatred of Angel/Angelus and his inability to forgive him for the death of Ms. Calendar, Xander sees only a murderer and cannot accept that Angel has changed. He, like the others, is not prepared to see the moral ambiguity that surrounds Angel but by reducing Angel to a simple demon-of-the-week monster to be destroyed by rival slayer Faith, Xander nearly brings about disaster as the gang become blinded to the greater and all too human evil among them. This episode tells us that the real evil of season 3 won’t be so easily spotted and will present itself in the guise of a human figure of authority. [Not able to resist another Angel reference, Xander’s anger at Buffy for consorting with Angel nicely foreshadows Buffy’s fury with Angel and blindness to Faith’s rehabilitation in “Sanctuary” when she finds Angel comforting Faith in LA(Angel 1:19)].
“Lover’s Walk” sees the return of Spike and this glimpse of Spike is a nice segue between the murderous Spike of season two and the increasingly ambiguous, and sympathetic Spike of seasons 4 through 7 (plus season 5 of Angel). He brutally murders the Magic Shop owner, reminding us that he is still a force to be reckoned with [she’s not the first magic shop owner to die violently and won’t be the last begging the question, why would anyone own a magic shop in Sunnydale? Ask Giles]. Later Spike lecherously threatens Willow but also visits Buffy’s Mom. While he taunts Angel by threatening to bite Joyce from behind her back, there is no evidence that he goes there for any other reason than to get a bit of motherly love (not to mention hot chocolate with the little marshmallows) and share his pain about Drusilla. This scene is partly there to remind us how moral tables on Buffy continue to turn (to borrow a sentiment expressed in Angel everyone is born capable of great good and great evil) but it also establishes Spike’s human side in that he demonstrates his developing soft spot for Summers women. Here we see a glimpse of the Spike who will protect Joyce and later Dawn, and will bring flowers to mark Joyce’s death, explaining “I liked the lady…she was decent. She didn’t put on airs. She always had a nice cuppa for me and she never treated me like a freak”. This is the only brief glimpse of Spike in season 3 but it does provide us with some closure to his story line (at least so far) as he drives out of Sunnydale, singing along to Sid Vicious’ “I Did it My Way”.
Finally, we come to “The Wish”, a dark variation on the “It’s a Wonderful Life” formula in which we are provided with a glimpse of what the Master’s Hellmouth version of Sunnydale would have been like if Buffy hadn’t moved to town and stopped him. Much like George Bailey’s alternate Bedford Falls, “The Wish” presents us with a dystopian vision, not because vampires rule or because of the Master’s plans for vampire industrialisation – which doesn’t really make sense as it seems like lot of effort for one wine glass of blood. Instead, it is dystopian because there is no hope. Xander and Willow, the heart and soul of the Scooby Gang, have not only been turned into vampires but rather than find their inner strength through their friendship with Buffy they have escaped their future as lonely nerds and geeks by replacing Luke and Darla as the Master’s favourite, most sadistic vampires. Attempts by the White Hats to protect the town are futile, saving Cordelia only to have her murdered right in front of a helpless Giles a few hours later. Even when Buffy does arrive, she is a bleak version of herself, showing none of the personality and humanity that we expect. She has no interest in uncovering the mystery surrounding Cordelia’s claims about another reality. Instead, she simply looks to kill vamps with an even darker-than-Faith-style pragmatism. What this shows is that it isn’t simply her absence that changes the fate of Sunnydale but rather the absence of the relationships she was destined to forge. These episodes confront us with vampires once more and present a dark vision of our most beloved characters as vampires before we are forced to watch the Scooby Gang destroy each other in an apocalyptic battle to the death. While an alternate reality that is, thankfully, destroyed while innocence and normality is restored, the battle in “The Wish” remains a haunting vision of a potential fate for the Scooby Gang, turning on and destroying each other. The final image of Buffy, Xander, and Willow laughing together, oblivious to their narrowly avoided fate, reminds us that friendship and hope is what keeps apocalypse at bay in Sunnydale.
3.10 Amends; 3.11 Gingerbread; 3.12 Helpless, three absolutely stunning episodes. Guest hosts will be Rob Wiersema and the always entertaining Janet/Steve Halfyard.