Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Buffy Rewatch Week 16: Spoiler Forum

And here is the place where you can discuss this week's episodes (after reading the post above) without fear of spoiling anything for the new viewers.

So... how about that First, eh? ;) I was dying to talk about that above, but obviously couldn't say anything. Interesting that the Big Bad of the series' final season makes its debut in a mid-season 3 episode in a way that makes you forget the First itself and focus on the impending Angel immolation instead. Many fans had forgotten about the First in S3 when it returned in S7. Perhaps it was an early attempt to break Buffy by taking Angel away from her. Now I watch Angel seeing Jenny standing behind Giles, and all I can think of is Cassie taunting Willow as Tara. (And how much I still wish Amber Benson had been available to be in that episode.)

24 comments:

Page48 said...

I'm one of those people who completely forgot about The First by the time S7 came around. I was actually quite surprised to see TF this week. One of the many cool things about a rewatch.

Tom D. said...

Amends is such a huge episode in the way it sets up the ideas of atonement and destiny and higher powers that are going to be front-and-center in Angel's own show.

In particular, in Amends, we (and Angel) are told some important things about what's "really" going on and what Angel's life/existence means, and they're all told to us by a very unreliable narrator, the First Evil. The First asserts that she/he/it is responsible for bringing Angel back from the hell dimension. We never will learn for sure whether that's true or not (unless I'm forgetting something huge).

The First also convinces Angel that it's not just the demon in him that is evil and worthless -- it's the man, too. It seems like some fans take that message as true, even though it's said by an evil thing for its own reasons and is only supported by tiny snippets of information about what Liam was like as a human before Darla sired him. In Amends, and previously in Becoming, we basically see him being young and drunk, as if that's the entirety of who he was as a human. But come on... many, if not all of us have been young and inebriated and come off looking pretty bad from time to time (like Buffy in Beer Bad?), but that doesn't define who we are for all time.

I tend to think young Liam had some of the noble qualities that Angel shows when he becomes a hero in L.A. -- he just hadn't grown into them yet, if you know what I mean.

Anyhow, back to my original point: the First is an unreliable narrator telling us about the grand scheme of how the world works. We're going to see a lot more of that on Angel. Wes kidnaps a baby, relying on the advice of a talking hamburger. Wolfram and Hart screw with Angel's mind by telling him he's got this big destiny. Angel fights Spike over a goblet of Mountain Dew. Jasmine is simultaneously beautiful, horrifying, benevolent, and evil. The so-called Powers-That-Be are unpredictably helpful, manipulative and indifferent. Cordelia ascends to a higher plane, or does she?, and then returns as something that may or may not really be Cordelia. And we never get definitive answers about what the Powers-That-Be really are, what really happened to Cordy, what the Shanshu prophecy really means, or the original mystery that Amends touches on: how or why was Angel returned to Earth from the hell dimension?

All of the above isn't a complaint, of course: it's just a description of how the world/cosmos/reality is depicted on Angel. It's all given to us by unreliable narrators, and everything you think you know about reality might turn out to be wrong.

That's not generally the case on Buffy, where the world is a bit simpler and less mysterious. Sometimes there are mysteries, like Dawn's identity and origin during early season 5, but ultimately a clear explanation gets provided. Amends is a notable exception to that.

Relatedly, Robert Wiersema's lovely commentary focuses on the idea of miracles. This may be a little nitpicky, but I don't think he's right that the snowfall in Amends is the first miraculous moment on the show. To me, Buffy's returning to life in Prophecy Girl is the first miracle, and Angel's returning from hell is the second one. (I can't think of what Wiersema means when he refers to a miracle coming up a few months from now, but I look forward to his writing about it.)

Tom D. said...

Other random observations. I really like Giles's dry wit when he paraphrases the information about the Bringers in one of his books as, "They're rebels and they'll never ever be any good."

I'm very fond of the first Oz/Willow scene in Amends, where they talk in the empty classroom and Oz says he misses her. It's much more low-key than the Barry White scene between them later on, but I find it very moving, with Willow's relief and happiness.

Is Amends the first time we've seen Willie the Snitch since What's My Line? I think it might be. I somehow thought I remembered him appearing more often. He's a great character.

Xander sleeping outside: so very melancholy to see. I imagine he has spent some past Christmases with Willow, but this year he can't do that because of Oz. Poor guy.


And then there's The First. I correctly guessed, towards the end of season 6, that The First would be the villain of season 7. Amends makes such a big deal out of The First being this ancient thing that's older than demons and so on -- I figured Joss had created it with the intention of bringing it back at some point. But it was a mistake to bring it back, in my humble opinion. Amends was the last time we really ever needed to see The First. Buffy so perfectly slays The First with words in this episode, that having to fight it again later just seems empty by comparison. She brushes aside The First's grandiloquent speech: "Alright, I get it, you're evil. Do we have to chat about it all day?" The First tries again: "You have no idea what you're dealing with, little girl!" Buffy: "Let me guess, is it evil?" At that point, The First -- whose whole game is just words and manipulation -- really should just admit defeat and go away, knowing it can't possibly win.

Tom D. said...

Gingerbread's demonic villain seems to be the same general type that later appears in the Angel episode Are You Now or Have You Ever Been: a demon that gets off on (or gets nourishment from) inspiring people to form paranoid, murderous mobs.

I find Gingerbread darker, and much harder to watch, than the Angel episode (AYNOHYEB for short). AYNOHYEB happens in Angel's L.A., which, though part of the same universe, is much more noir-ish to begin with, so it's less shocking that people would go crazy and murder each other. But in Sunnydale, and especially when it's being done by Joyce, of all people -- to me, that's really scary. Come to think of it, the last episode I found this viscerally scary was Ted, which is also the last episode in which Joyce got co-opted by a villain and betrayed Buffy.

Gingerbread and AYNOHYEB also obviously have an element of socio-political commentary. It is pretty awful that in real life, people do sometimes turn into mobs and act approximately this way, without the excuse of demonic influence. It's made more horrifying in this episode by the fact that Joyce, a generally likeable and good person, is the ringleader.

This may not have much significance, but it seems like the people who are immune to the demon's influence in Gingerbread are those who actually know something about the occult: the main characters (including Cordelia), Amy, that warlock kid, and the Mayor. (It's unclear if Snyder is under the demon's influence, but my guess is that he's not.) Thus, knowledge is a defense against paranoia. The only exception to that rule is Joyce, who leads the collective freakout even though she's known for months that her daughter slays vampires. I guess a little knowledge is a dangerous thing?

(Sorry to be so verbose this week.)

Efthymia said...

@Tom D.: Thank you for agreeing that "Gingerbread" is a very frightening episode!

Willow is asked if she's ever had a dream where she's in the middle of a play and doesn't know the lines, and I can't help thinking about her dream in "Restless". Did they decide to do it so because of this episode? Was it just coincidence? I would really like to know.

Missy said...

@Efthymia

I believe it all stems from S1 'The Puppet Show' :)

EBethToThePowerOf? said...

I also had no idea what/who The First was, but I always hated Amends (sorry!) because I am not a fan of broody, self-pity Angel.

Tom D. I totally forgot about how the First says it brought Angel back. Since we never know what really did it?

Also, Tom--great point about the other miracles to date in Buffy. And The First is my least favorite "big bad" of a season.

Of the trio, I find Helpless to be the scariest. Seeing Buffy in the usual role of the female horror victim is such a reversal it's truly chilling, and then Giles' betrayal on top of that.

Anonymous said...

"(And how much I still wish Amber Benson had been available to be in that episode.)"

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't it the case that Amber Benson was available to shoot, but didn't want to portray Tara as 'evil' (or, as a vessel for evil, whatever) because the fans had been so upset at her death? Always bugged me that she did that, though I suppose it was the decent thing to do...the Willow-Cassie scene always seemed a bit off to me either way (though more on that once we get to Season 7).

Suzanne said...

@Tom D, viewing Amends this time around after having already seen Angel, it was impossible not to think of many of the ideas you brought up in your post. Did the First Evil bring Angel back or was it the Powers that Be? Who is behind the miracle snow at the end? Is the Powers that Be? What is the purpose of bringing Angel back or does it matter?

I also liked your point about the First Evil being an unreliable narrator and how given that fact it is odd how easily some of us in the audience take what it says literally. People do seem to take it as a given that Liam was some sort of "bad" person as a youth. I, too, though have always wondered what the evidence of that is besides the fact that he was a partier. He really is more like a drunken frat boy (of the time) than any thing else. What about that makes him evil? Isn't he just acting stupid as many of us do when we are young. Also, we later find out in Angel that his father was not the nicest man and that Liam might have been suffering from verbal abuse (possibly a parallel with Xander)causing him to rebel and drown his feelings of insecurity in booze. This is not a young man that I see as being "evil" just misguided, so there is no reason to believe that Liam couldn't have grown up to be more like Angel than Angelus. I really see him as a victim, especially once he is bitten by Darla.

I am really appreciating the character of Angel on Buffy more this time after seeing the series Angel. It is hard to like the character of Angel when you only see him on Buffy since there just doesn't seem to be a lot of depth to his character, except when he becomes Angelus in Season 2. However, I saw glimpses of the depth we will see in his own series in Amends, and I enjoyed that.

Suzanne said...

Did anyone else get a nice sense of anticipation when seeing Buffy say "bite me" to the Watcher's Counsel leader in this episode remembering her wonderful speech in defiance of them that is coming in a later season (can't remember which one, but I remember it being my favorite Buffy speech).

By the way, Nikki, is the name of your book a double play on "bite me" in the sense of vampires biting victims and Buffy's line "bite me" in Helpless? How wonderful! I got excited when I heard the line and thought of your book title since I don't remember hearing Buffy say that in this episode the first time I watched it. I probably missed it since I sometimes talk to my husband or son while watching and miss lines. I have to stop that!

Colleen/redeem147 said...

And yes, Amber turned down the episode seeing it as cruel to the fans. Robia, a devout Christian, didn't want to play the First either but had committed to the part.

Colleen/redeem147 said...

The First tries the same tricks on Spike that it uses on Angel. With Angel it stirs up guilt, but with Spike more madness. Both are driven to contemplating suicide, (by sun and stake.) The First don't like them souledy vamps.

The First as Jenny touches Angel - we see his hair move. It will later be established that the First can't touch.

Here the Bringers seem to be controlling the First (hence the name, I guess) while later they will be more like minions.

Angel tries to burn as a coward, Spike burns as a hero. (Right, like I wasn't going to point that out.) ;)

In Gingerbread, Buffy wants Joyce away from the school - she wants to keep home and school separate. In season 7 she gets a job in Dawn's school.

The school searches the lockers for magic objects - the beginning of the magic = drugs metaphor?

Snyder says, "I love the smell of desperate librarian in the morning". - Later he will play in Xander's Apocalypse Now Restless dream.

I didn't notice too much spoilerish in Helpless - though Travers is a lot like Wesley's father.

Okay, this didn't post but my 'and' did. Hmmmm...

Tom D. said...

Amber turned down the episode seeing it as cruel to the fans.

I know there are fans (like Nikki) who wish Amber had been in Conversations With Dead People. But I'm one of the people who Amber was being nice to when she decided not to be in that episode. I'm sure I'll never again care nearly as much about a TV character's death, as I did about Tara. Amber must have heard a lot from fans who were broken up about Tara's death. Good on her for sparing us from having our hearts broken even further. The Willow/Cassie scene was quite moving enough.

Colleen/redeem147 said...

I think it ended up working better - Willow's frustration at NOT seeing Tara.

Nikki Stafford said...

I've considered weighing in on the "why Amber didn't appear in CWDP" discussion, but honestly, my only concern about hosting this entire rewatch was the possibility that certain people would appear and turn the discussions into something more hostile in S6. So suffice to say, I interviewed writers and cast on Buffy at the time who all told me Amber was in London working on a theatre production and couldn't come, but that she'd said she wanted to. Perhaps they were lying, but they were pretty specific, and when I checked in with Amber and she confirmed that story, I don't see why she would have said that to me if she'd felt strongly the other way. Perhaps she retracted the story and turned it into something later, I don't know. Or perhaps she was just trying to be nice and later she told the truth. Again, I don't know. I think Tara appearing in the ep would have been about as painful as anything I'd ever seen in the Whedonverse, and I think having Cassie doing it was a bit of a blessing. But then again, Passion is in my top 3 favourite episodes for a reason, and it's the pain. I think story-wise, it would have been stronger to have Tara there. (Please don't throw things at me.)

But I really don't want to have this discussion now. Let's get back to S3. I haven't yet properly prepared myself for the end of S6 debates.

The other thing I want to say is, as controversial as the Tara debates became (and will no doubt become again) I do hope people feel open enough to post with their real names or screen names, so we can avoid the Anonymous thing. Opinions against S6 are as valid as those for it, and I have heard some brilliant and compelling arguments against the end of S6, and equally compelling ones for it. I hope it'll be a wonderful discussion, and not an angry one.

Tom D. said...

That's interesting about Amber.

You make the upcoming debates sound rather scary! I hope they won't get too acrimonious. I've been enjoying the discussion here a lot.

Stephen said...

I wanted to post my wife's theory/point-of-view on Helpless (one that I don't disagree with, though I'm not sure how strongly I insist on it being true).

In the non-spoiler discussion, there's talk about the reasoning behind the test, such as "I also believe it is a way to intimidate the Slayer, making her fear the Council, this way they will have control over her."

My wife's view goes stronger that the Council is in fact perfectly happy to have the Slayer die in the test to maintain their control. A younger, inexperienced slayer is less threat to their power.

I'm not necessarily saying that it's a conscious view of the members of the council that they want to kill off the Slayer in the test, but that, institutionally, the the test serves the purpose of killing of Slayers to maintain their patriarchal power.

Nikki Stafford said...

Tom D: Don't worry, if there's one thing people know from my years of running Lost discussions on here, it's that I don't tolerate rudeness or bad behaviour, so people will try, and blood pressures will rise, but I'll try to keep things as calm as I can.

In my 13-year career as an author, I've never received letters as hurtful or as hateful as those who berated me (they were all from the same online group, by the way, and someone had gone on with my email address and suggested the group try to overload me with emails) because I didn't write off Joss Whedon as a misogynist homophobic asshole in my guide to season 6. I tried speaking calmly with them, and just got a string of hateful invectives in response. But I'm really hoping they don't show up. We'll see.

OK, back to season 3. ;)

Stephen: Excellent idea! I really like that one, as if they really couldn't give a rat's about the actual Slayer. Later scenes with the Council would probably back up that theory. How wonderful that Buffy got the one good one. :) Get your wife over to his rewatch, stat!

verif: wookaa (n) 1. what you get when you cross Chewbacca with Fozzie Bear.
2. the pipe Chewbacca uses to smoke hash.

Colleen/redeem147 said...

Gee, Nikki, are the Kittens still around? I'm hiding under the couch now. ;)

And I thought you were talking about the Bangel/Spuffy wars. I'll try to be good.

gme said...

Eek! Sorry. I was the anonymous comment. I am not afraid! I just didn't have a screenname in mind...apologies for the laziness.

Chris said...

Colleen, my thoughts exactly about the Kittens: Eeeek!!

Just my thoughts about Amends and who actually brought Angel back: While an unreliable source, I believe that the First Evil did return Angel to the world - after all it would be difficult for a non-evil group/being to bring him back from a hell dimension. The purpose was to get Angel to kill Buffy, but when Angel instead decides to poof himself, the FE figured "no harm, no foul" so long as he isn't around to aid Buffy in the future. At this point the Powers That Be stepped in with the cheesy snow in order to save Angel so he would become what he became in Angel: The Series (of course as shown on ATS the PTBs are not necessarily the powers of good).

Cindy/SenexMacDonald said...

Late to the party - so sorry. I had totally forgotten the First's first appearance.

Personally, I too believe that the First is responsible for Angel's reappearance. I am of the mind, however, to believe that an 'alternate' higher power (insert whatever name you want here) is what brought the snow. And it is not just the snow - if you listen to the broadcast re. the weather voiceover, it also stopped the sun from shining for that day. Now that is pretty powerful stuff. Not that the PTB aren't powerful, but this would have given Angel and Buffy an entire day/night to be together, work on stuff, etc. Not just stay Angel's attempt at suicide but allow them to work on their 'new' relationship as well.

Now that was a miracle!

DavidK said...

Hi,

I've been watching along, and really loving the comments here on the re-watch.

This isn't my first time through Buffy, but I was late to start the party and only picked them upon DVD. So my question is (and I hope this doesn't stir up too much trouble) - who/what are the kittens?

DavidK

p.s. did I mention that I'm really loving this re-watch forum?

Colleen/redeem147 said...

The Kittens are Tara fans. Fans who were not happy with the end of Seeing Red, and with Steve DeKnight.