So... when I posted on last week’s trio (Revelations/Lover’s Walk/The Wish) I was thinking it might be my favourite week of season 3. No... that was trumped by this week. Amends, Gingerbread, and Helpless may be as perfect a trio of episodes in the centre of a season as we’ll find in this rewatch, highlighting both the hilarious highs and gut-wrenching lows this series has to offer.
“Amends” shows us that the crimes of Angelus weigh heavily on Angel’s heart. Where it seems to come a bit from left field, I’ve never really questioned it before, and it would explain his constant Tai Chi and why we keep seeing him reading existentialist books, as if he’s longing to find some sort of meaning to his life. We have the Angel/Buffy showdown on the hill, the miracle that happens to break it up, and a Buffy plea that equals the one she gives to Giles (also followed by a punch, oddly enough) outside the factory in “Passion.” While she’s desperately trying to keep the world safe, the men in her life keep attempting to abandon her, and she can’t handle it.
Another highlight of this episode is the lovely Oz/Willow talk in the classroom, as he expresses his emotions to her while she delicately speaks back, careful not to overstep her boundaries and remaining sensitive to his feelings. This lovely little scene is countered by the equally lovely but also sadly hilarious one of Willow offering herself to Oz on her couch, with a bottle of Sprite stuck in an ice-filled champagne bucket while she’s got the Barry White workin’ for her. God, I love those two.
Faith sits alone in her hotel room, with her tiny little Christmas lights failing to cheer up a dreary and dingy room (I don’t know why this gets me every time... I went and looked up what I wrote about this episode in Bite Me, and was surprised to see that I also focused on those sad little lights, after I’d jotted a note about them while rewatching it this time).
Xander sleeps outside tight in a sleeping bag because of the sinister suggestion that he might be beat up if he remains in the house (the suggestions that Xander has had domestic abuse in his life will continue throughout the series), and my heart always feels a tug when we see him in that sleeping bag out in the open, without even a tent to cover him, with a little plate of cookies by his side that he no doubt scrounged up on his own. I just wish he’d go and live in Buffy’s basement or something.
But of course the centrepiece of the episode is Angel and his past. We see him as a monstrous Barry Gibb, hunting down servant girls without remorse (I wondered at one point... do Angel’s dreams actually have a “Dublin, 1838” title card on them?), and in the present, a broken person standing on a hill, saying to Buffy, “It’s not the demon in me that needs killing ... it’s the man.” Heartbreaking. See below for this week’s guest post, which focuses on the emotional reaction this episode creates in fans who love it (and it surprised me to discover this is NOT an episode beloved by all!) Highlight for me: Joyce, snapping Buffy out of a sex reverie with Angel: “Angel’s on top again?” Buffy: “What?!” Least favourite moment: The snow looking like shaving cream at the end. ;)
“Gingerbread” has always been an episode in my top 10 faves. You’ve got to have some funny in with your angst-ridden, and DAMN this episode is funny. There are SO many moments where I’m laughing out loud in this one, and the jokes never get old for me. Buffy’s frantic, high-pitched, sing-songy, “Did I get it?! Did I get it?!” is probably my favourite line of dialogue in the series, and I probably say it four or five times a year, exactly the way she does (whether it’s me smacking a fly with a fly-swatter, or reaching under a bench to knock out a toy with a broom... if I can find an opportunity to use this phrase and say it like her, I do).
• Snyder’s locker checks: “This is a glorious day for principals everywhere!”
• Willow: “A doodle. I do doodle. You too. You do doodle too.” Dr. Seuss would be proud.
• Giles on Snyder confiscating his book: “I won’t take this from that twisted little monkey person!”
• Willow talking to her Mom: “Mom, I’m not an age group. I’m me. Willow group.”
• Mrs. Rosenberg talking about the patriarchal nature of the puppets on Mr. Rogers, with King Friday lording over the lesser puppets.
• Buffy: “And nice acronym, Mom.”
• Buffy: “Like that story of the kid who stuck his finger in the duck.” Angel: “Dyke.” Buffy: ???? Angel: “It’s another word for dam.”
• Xander coming up behind Giles, who is on the computer: “Frisky Watchers Chatroom, why GILES!”
• Oz, after finding out Hansel and Gretel are real: “What do we do?” Xander: “I don’t know about you, but I’m going to sell my cow for some beans.”
• Giles and Cordy are a match made in heaven: “God, you really WERE the little youthful offender, weren’t you? You must look back on that and cringe.”
• That final scene, where Giles and Cordy crash into the room, Buffy impales the monster, and Oz and Xander come crashing through the ceiling. Oz: “We’re here to save you.” It’s the perfect riotous climax to this episode.
• Buffy after the spell to de-rat Amy fails: “Maybe we should get her one of those wheel thingies.”
What makes the funny of Gingerbread such perfect timing is that it’s couched between the sweet sadness of Amends, and the sad sadness of Helpless. This is another episode that hurts just to think about it, but I love it. There has always been something about Giles and Buffy that I adore (and no, not in a weird slash fanfic sort of way... that always gave me the heebies). For anyone watching and thinking that Giles has always been like a substitute father to Buffy, this was the episode you’ve been waiting for. When Buffy’s dad lets her down (we’ve moved away from the good ol’ Almanzo Wilder from S1 and over into sleazebucket “went to Mexico with my secretary” deadbeat dad territory) she’s upset, but hides her feelings from Joyce and instead turns to Giles, suggesting none too subtly that perhaps HE could take her to the Ice Capades. Giles, however, is too caught up in the terrible task that he’s performing to notice what she’s doing. This episode could perhaps stand as a metaphor for all those bad things parents are forced to do for the good of their children – let them go because they need to go out in the world. As a parent, I watch it very differently than I did when I wasn’t one. I now see that he was in pain while he was doing it, but felt he had no choice. It’s like when you “Ferberize” your baby and your heart is breaking while she is screaming but they need to learn how to sleep... or when you leave them behind at daycare because they need to learn how to socialize... or when you give them space and use tough love to try to help them overcome an obstacle. Parenting is damn hard, but in this episode, Giles fights back, says no, and helps Buffy do what she needs to. He refuses to accept that love necessarily needs to have the word “tough” in front of it, and he gives up his vocation, his job, and everything he’s lived his life for in order to be there for her when she needs him the most. That scene where Buffy backs away from him is the mirror scene from last week’s Revelations. In that episode, Giles tells her that she has no respect for him or the duty he performs. Buffy stands there, knowing that she does show him a lack of respect often, despite her deep, deep love for him. In this scene, the opposite happens, when Buffy tells him that he’s betrayed her trust. Again, he knows she’s telling the truth, even though he cares for her more than possibly anyone else in the world, and would do anything for her. Everyone else sees it, too, including Quentin, who tells Giles, “You have a father’s love for the girl.” In each case, Buffy and Giles strive to right the wrong they had done to the other person.
As we’ve heard many a time on Buffy, connections are seen as the thing that holds you back. Buffy was supposed to be a Slayer and not tell anyone what she does. Giles was supposed to maintain a rigid distance from his Slayer and not become emotionally involved. Vampires are for slaying, not for... laying. And friends and family are unimportant. But if there’s one thing Lost and so many other shows have taught us, that’s all bunk. Connections to others are what make us stronger – Buffy is a strong Slayer because of the way Giles cares about her, not in spite of it. And his love for Buffy makes him a stronger Watcher.
Highlights and Notes:
• Buffy telling Angel that she’s going out with a man who’s older, handsome, “likes it when I call him Daddy”
• “Brian Boitano doing Carmen is a life changer.”
• Notice when Buffy goes into the house with Kralik, she’s wearing the overalls of sadness. She will transform them into the overalls of badness.
• For the Lost fans, if Kralik looked familiar to you, that’s because he played a bit part in S6 of Lost as the mechanic who takes off Kate’s handcuffs in the sideways world after she escapes the airport.
• “If I was at full Slayer power I’d be punning right about now.”
• Willow: “I’m writing an angry letter.”
This week’s first guest writer is novelist Robert J. Wiersema. Where most of the bios begin with, “I met so-and-so at Slayage,” Robert is neither a Slayage peep, an academic, nor someone I actually know personally. He is a friend of a friend, and someone I’ve known to be a Buffy fan just from reading other things he’s written. He may or may not know this (and I think I mentioned this once before) but he actually gave me my first review, waaaaaay back in 1998 when my first book on Xena came out. His review came out in Quill & Quire (the trade paper for the publishing industry), which is the first and last time that one of my books was deemed review-worthy in that publication. I still have a copy of it. I posted an article he wrote recently about rewatching the series with his son, Xander (who he says was not named after the character on Buffy). Robert is the author of Before I Wake and Bedtime Story, both national bestsellers, and the novella The World More Full of Weeping, which was shortlisted for the Prix Aurora in 2010. A respected critic and reviewer, he lives in Victoria with his family. I’m absolutely thrilled to have him as part of this rewatch.
“If I can’t convince you that you belong in this world, then I don’t know what can.” — Buffy
And the snow starts to fall.
* * *
For me, it’s all about the snow.
I think if you asked most people I know, they would call me cynical. Pessimistic. Dark. And they’d be right. I tend toward the maudlin on a pretty regular basis. I brood. I mutter negatively. I am, a lot of the time, a moody, cantankerous bastard, seemingly limited in my ability to see the positive, to embrace the good.
If you were to ask me, point blank and to my face, whether I believed in miracles, I would probably laugh, and say something along the lines of “It’ll be a miracle if I ever get this book finished.”
I’ve actually been confronted with that question. My first novel Before I Wake centered on a very young girl who, in the wake of a car accident, seems to have the ability to heal. After the book came out, people would ask about my own beliefs, and I would do everything I could to dodge the question, usually saying something about the nature of fiction, or the importance of looking at different viewpoints, or vague comments about how sometimes things happen that we can’t understand.
The thing is? I do actually believe in miracles.
You can’t really say that to people, though. For a cynical, urban, maudlin atheist such as myself, it’s the equivalent of being fourteen years old in the schoolyard and letting it slip that you still believe in the tooth fairy. The word itself, “miracle”, has so much weight to it, so many connotations and layers of implication that admitting you believe puts you, in many people’s minds, just to the left of the snake handlers and the television evangelists. When I think of miracles, I think of crappy TV movies and cheap, rushed-to-market paperbacks. I think of people who don’t have the strength to stand on their own, waiting to be rescued. Sure, that’s a cynical, pessimistic and highly judgemental way to feel, but I’m a cantankerous bastard.
And I do believe in miracles.
I don’t attach any faith to them; I have none to attach. Rather, for me, they’re a glimpse of the mystery that underlies the rational world. They’re a momentary awareness of the magic that underpins everything we do. If they could be logically explained, they wouldn’t be miracles, and I revel in that mystery. I revel in the magic.
To my mind, there are two miraculous moments in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and owing to the almighty power of “Dibs!” I’ll be writing about both. The second is a few months from now.
The first comes in “Amends.”
There are few episodes of Buffy quite so divisive as “Amends”.
A few months ago, I did an online event ostensibly promoting my new book, Bedtime Story, which included a live-blog simulcast commentary of a Buffy episode. (It’s a long story, but the short version: the interviewer, Julie Wilson knew that I was a fellow Buffy fan, and a bit of a scotch aficionado. In that “my uncle’s got a barn, let’s put on a show!” spirit, we decided to incorporate a Buffy viewing into our interview. The scotch -- before noon on a Monday -- helped.)
A few weeks prior to the interview, I put out to Twitter a general inquiry as to what episode I should watch. I suggested “Amends” as it’s one of my favourites. The response was... galvanizing. There was so much vitriol directed toward the episode. So much loathing. And I get it at home, too. My son Xander and I have watched and rewatched the series, and “Amends” is the one episode he always demands we skip.
I decided to go with “Hush.” It was safer.
People hate “Amends”.
And I love it.
I should probably hate it. It should set off my cynicism, and my pessimism. It should offend me as a writer. But it doesn’t.
Instead, it embraces the mystery. It doesn’t attempt to explain away the miraculous, even with the logic of the Buffyverse.
It’s that snow...
“Amends” is about forgiveness, and coming to terms with the sins of the past. It is not about atonement; it’s not about making things right. It’s about accepting that things aren’t. When Oz offers forgiveness to Willow, having caught her in flagrante with Xander weeks before, he does it with the acknowledgement that her feelings for her longtime friend aren’t, as she tries to argue, in the past, and he’s come to terms with that. When Giles invites Angel into his apartment, and decides to help him figure out who or what is tormenting him, it’s with the acknowledgement that, yes, this is the same vampire who tortured him, who killed his love.
And then there’s Angel himself.
Driven by his visions of the First Evil, and haunted by dreams of his horrific deeds, he must face himself, and come to terms with who - and what - he is. It is only when Buffy appears in his dreams, however, witnessing the atrocities of his life as a vampire, that he fully realizes the depths of his depravity. The horror in her eyes, the shame it elicits, drive him to despair. As the First intends, this awareness chips away at his humanity, revealing how very fine a line it is between man and demon for him (for us all), and how it will be his humanity -- his capacity for love -- which destroys those things he loves. “It’s not the demon in me that needs killing,” he tells Buffy desperately, “It’s the man.”
His acceptance of this is what drives him to the hillside to wait for the sun to rise. In order to fully embrace his humanity, he must sacrifice himself for those he loves.
The confrontation between Buffy and Angel on the hilltop is one of my favourite scenes in the series (and it’s a hearty rebuke for the “SMG can’t act” crowd.) Everything is laid bare for both Buffy and Angel; neither has anything left to lose. Buffy’s speech is heartbreaking. Shot from above, she looks small and frail, innocent. Her voice catches when she asks “what about me?” before professing her love for Angel, and the scene is suffused with the same power as the final moments of their fight in the Season Two finale (“I love you. Close your eyes.”).
Set early on Christmas morning, and with dialogue that verges on the Biblical (“Am I a thing worth saving?” Angel asks. “Am I a righteous man?”), we’re in the realm of miracles. And we get one.
That snowfall that saves Angel is, of course, more than a freak meteorological event: it’s a moment of grace, a benediction. It not only saves his life, but it baptizes him in his new one. From that moment forward, he is a new man. Without that moment, he would never have left Sunnydale. He would never have become the hero of Angel The Series. He would never have become a hero, period: he wouldn’t have been capable.
Watching “Amends” breaks me every time (and I’ve watched it a lot in the last few weeks).
There is something so primal, so pure, about the moment the snow starts to fall. Buffy’s pleading, her desperation, brings a tear to my eye, but the first flutter of snow destroys me. It is as if, for once, the universe is unfolding as it should.
And people call it hokey.
They scoff. They scorn.
I think the root of the aversion to “Amends” is that people feel that it’s too pat, too easy. But there’s nothing easy about it: the five minutes before the snow starts to fall are undiluted agony and pain, two broken, distraught human beings reaching out for one another, and pushing each other away. It’s anger and despair and beauty and love and desperation.
And when the snow comes...
Look, I know it’s deus ex machina: people say that like it’s a dirty word. In this case though, that’s not a literary failing, it’s just a description, and it’s an accurate one, which will be borne out by the remainder of season three and the whole of Angel the Series. We’re talking about elemental, divine forces at play here: the First Evil, and whatever brings the snow, whether you call it God or the universe or the Powers that Be. Of course it’s deus ex machina: what else could it be?
This is starting to sound like a defense of “Amends,” and it really shouldn’t be. There’s nothing to defend. We all like what we like, right? And we don’t like what we don’t like. There’s nothing wrong with that. Somewhere out there, I’m sure, is someone who adores “Doublemeat Palace.” Don’t scoff; it could happen.
For me, “Amends” is a moment of grace and meaning in a sea of chaos and confusion. It’s a soft, cool refuge in a world of fire and pain. It’s a balm for broken souls.
And it makes this cantankerous old bastard cry, every single fucking time.
Yeah, I believe in miracles.
But let’s keep that between us, shall we? I have an image to uphold.
Thanks, Robert! And now someone who is as much a part of this rewatch as I am, our music specialist Janet Halfyard! Rather than giving us a slice of gouda this week, she’s given us the entire wheel. I for one can say I’m now listening to the score more closely, noticing snippets of one motif or another being reworked to evoke meaning through the music, so I’m really appreciating her analysis throughout this exercise. Here is her take on the music in this week’s trio:
These three episodes mark the dead centre of season 3 and as such they have a lot of work to do in terms of bringing earlier problems to a head. ‘Amends’ resolves (if only temporarily) a lot of the problems that have plagued the first half of the season, such as the antagonism between Faith and Buffy that has been particularly problematic since Faith was fooled by Mrs Post in ‘Revelations’; and the rift between Oz and Willow from ‘Lover’s Walk’; but most importantly, it marks a climax of the problems between Buffy and Angel. ‘Gingerbread’ marks a similar moment in Buffy’s relationship with her mother; and ‘Helpless’ does the same for her relationship with Giles. Each episode therefore marks a moment of crisis in her relationship with the three adults who feature most significantly in her life and who, literally or figuratively, fulfill the roles of lover, mother and father.
‘Amends’ is a musically extraordinary episode. I am not going to mention the creepy little theme used for the First; nor the utterly gorgeous folk-like viola melody used during the flashback in the opening sequence; nor, indeed, the insanity of having Pachelbel's Canon playing in the background of a 19th century party (it would never happen!). No, what makes ‘Amends’ special is that it brings back the different themes that have so far been written for Buffy and Angel as he reaches his own crisis point. Firstly, it brings back what I can only call the Buffy/ Angel sex theme from ‘Innocence’ in Season 2, the music we heard over Buffy’s dream-memory of having sex with Angel, the events that led to him losing his soul. Like the first time round, it’s a dream sequence. This time, we hear it as Buffy falls asleep in the library, while Angel is asleep at the mansion, and they share the dream in which they are in her bedroom and start to make love. The theme itself is reproduced exactly but the instrumentation is different. The exotic/ erotic duduk from the original is replaced by the western flute, and the heartbeat drum sound that we heard in ‘Innocence’ disappears. Instead, we have a celeste, like a music box, accompanying the flute.
The music is an essential part of recreating the circumstances under which Angel previously lost his soul. It’s almost as if the First has stolen the music itself, disguised it with the deceptively innocent-sounding flute and celeste and is using it as part of the overall plot to try and seduce Angel into losing his soul again. The instrumentation is part of this idea of the music (and the events) being magical rather than a real memory or event: the celeste has a very long standing association with magic and fantasy in film scores from Edward Scissorhands to Harry Potter. In season 2, when this theme was part of Buffy’s memory, the heartbeat sound grounded it in physical reality. That is now gone, and the magical celeste contributes to the illusory nature of this second sequence, a trick being played on Angel. We hear this particular theme in the only two moments in Buffy itself that we see the couple fully engaged in a romantic and (ahem) adult relationship. I should also mention that we get it a final time as a sort of naughty joke, as Buffy is helping her mother decorate the Christmas tree. Lost in thought, we hear a hint of this ‘sex theme’, which cuts out as Joyce says ‘So, Angel’s on top again?’. No question what Buffy was thinking about, then.
The climax of the episode is Angel’s attempt to kill himself, and to mark such an extraordinary moment, Beck reunites the thematic material of the original love theme with the reduced ‘This is what is left’ theme that he previously extracted from it. In ‘Amends’, on the hill side just before dawn, the two themes are combined, the melody of the new theme being interspersed by the distinctive falling sixths of the Love theme itself. Narratively, this brings everything together: what they had, what they lost, what they have now. The cue (beginning at the point that Buffy says ‘Angel, please, the sun is coming up’) starts with the usual version of ‘this is what is left’, and then as Buffy says ‘What about me? I love you so much’, we hear her fear that she is going to lose even the little she has left of Angel being articulated in the way that Beck places the falling sixth of the Love theme within the fabric of ‘This is what is left’, between the first two notes, and then again between the second two notes, so bringing back the idea of the love theme itself in parallel with the stripped down ‘This is what is left’ version. The past and the present collide as Buffy tries desperately to stop him from killing himself and, for the first time, tells him how much she still loves him, at last admitting now what she denied to Spike when she told him in ‘Lover’s Walk’ that she and Angel were just friends. And then the snow falls, and the episode finds resolution in the shot of Buffy and Angel walking down the snowy street (well, wading thigh deep through foam, if you look closely) as a major key melody allows them a moment of respite in their otherwise doom-laden relationship. The fact that this melody bears a surprising resemblance to ‘Going through the motions’, Buffy’s own moment of existential gloom from ‘Once More, With Feeling’, is curious to say the least.
‘Gingerbread’ and ‘Helpless’ explore issues to do with mothers and fathers: coincidentally, they occupy the same position in the season (episodes 11 and 12) as ‘Ted’ and ‘Bad Eggs’ in season 2, another pair of episodes that have ideas of problematic parenthood at their heart. ‘Gingerbread’ brings to a head Joyce’s process of trying to come to terms with Buffy as the Slayer, founding MOO (great acronym, Mom) and attempting to burn her daughter at the stake (nice way to deal with things, Joyce. Very Sunnydale). The music does something unusual and interesting in the way it complements the narrative: it falls silent. Not the whole way through (we have to wait for season 5 for that) but nonetheless, after the first scene following the teaser, the music falls silent for a full 8 minutes, from the point that Buffy goes to Giles to demand action, to the point that Joyce starts to speak at the vigil. Music, as many film music writers have noted, is important in imbuing characters with agency, the power to act. In a film score, the way music is used will tend to point to one specific character as the narrative agent, the one who is at the centre of the film, driving the story forward. In Buffy, the music tends to point to her as that narrative agent, whether it is scoring her fighting, loving, planning or speechifying to rally the troops (always more effective when not wearing yummy sushi pyjamas). Now, it turns out that the evil doers of ‘Gingerbread’ may not be something she is allowed to fight. It may be a someone with a soul rather than a demon; and so she has her agency stripped for her, and with it, all the music that underscores her actions and points to her power. Instead, when the music returns, it is scoring Joyce as she speechifies to rally her own troops, leaving Buffy disempowered. The general (not exclusive) absence of music continues right the way into act three, when Buffy meets Angel in the playground where the children were killed, with the episode theme for the dead children playing gently underneath their dialogue. She is depressed, demoralized, has been convinced by her mother’s comment that being the Slayer is fruitless (No fruit for Buffy) – but then Angel delivers his ‘why we fight’ speech, giving her back her agency, her reason for doing what she does. After this, she gets both her mojo and her music back: we have normal amounts of music for the rest of the episode as Buffy finally twigs that something is very wrong with the whole story surrounding the murdered children and gets back into action – what more proof of agency do we need than that she can kill demons when tied to a stake and surrounded by the still slightly smoking remains of the recent attempted immolation?
‘Helpless’ is the episode on which I very nearly did my entire 60 minute keynote at last year’s Slayage conference, which will come as a surprise to some people, as I’m not sure it is generally regarded as a particularly important episode, but in terms of the music, it is pivotal; and actually, in terms of the plot (her relationship with the Council), it is as well, even though I don’t think anyone’s ever put it on their favourites list. Buffy turns 18 and is put through the Council’s test. Giles suppresses her strength and coordination with injections of some mysterious substance, the plan being that she is then trapped in a house with a vampire and has to kill him to escape. A reference underlying this episode is Hitchcock’s Psycho: the house she is to be trapped in has a distinctly gothic appearance, resembling Norman Bates’s house above the motel; the vampire she has to face admits he has a thing about mothers, having killed his own; he kidnaps Buffy’s motherwith the intent that Buffy will kill her. Whedon and his writers then add fathers into this mix: the episode juxtaposes Buffy’s numerical transition to adulthood with a narrative that is about good fathers, bad fathers, absent and present ones.
Motherhood comes out well: Buffy saves Joyce and Joyce in turn displays evident confidence in her daughter and her abilities. Fatherhood is more difficult. When Buffy comes home to find that her father is not coming to take her to the ice show, we hear her disappointment at his absence in a slow clarinet melody with pairs of piano chords over the top. We have a brief hint of it at the end of the scene where Giles tells Buffy what he has done to her; and then at the end of the episode, when Giles has been fired by the council for caring too much about her – Quentin Travers specifically accuses him of having ‘a father’s love for the child’ – we hear the theme again as Giles and Buffy are more or less reconciled. The theme connects two scenes at opposite ends of the episode, making the connection between Giles and fatherhood explicit, but it also poses a questions which it does not fully resolve about whether Giles is any more successful and reliable a father than her actual dad. The theme was first used to score the idea that her father had let her down; and there is no question that Giles has let her down as well; but by transferring the fatherhood theme to Giles, who is present rather than absent and who is trying to offer comfort and make amends (that word again), it not only confirms his symbolic fatherhood but reminds us how complicated and difficult his relationship with Buffy is, just as the relationship with her actual father is difficult and complicated. These ideas carry on well into season four and beyond: does she still need him, has she outgrown him, will he end up standing in her way? So one very small theme, but it feeds into the whole trajectory of Buffy and Giles’s relationship and points to the issue of not just the father’s love but the daughter’s trust. The theme is about Buffy’s disappointment – themes tend to represent Buffy’s point of view, so the issue of her trust is just as much at stake as that of Giles’ paternal role.
This is essentially an episode-specific theme: I would be the first to admit that the fatherhood theme in this episode is ultimately not hugely important in the greater musical scheme of things (although it will come back in odd circumstances in season 4). But Helpless also contains a theme that is seriously important: it runs for the rest of the season. We first hear it just after the credit sequence at the start. Buffy has very nearly been killed by a vampire with her own stake. She’s not just hurt: she is shocked at how close to death she came. As she picks herself up, we hear a slow three note motif which although short is actually quite distinctive.
We hear this on about half a dozen other occasions in the episode, such as at school when she attempts to defend Cordelia and is knocked down, and then Willow helps her up; and as she walks home, miserable and alone in her red coat like Little Red Riding Hood (more complicated familial relationships there) just before she is attacked; and during the scene where Giles confesses. The meaning it seems to generate in this episode is the idea of Buffy’s mortality: let’s be cheerful – let’s call it the Death Motif. She is at considerable risk of dying in this episode because she has been literally disempowered; but the same motif appears in later episodes as the particular threats to Buffy’s mortality make themselves known. [To be continued…]
Next week: Three more brilliant episodes:
3.13 The Zeppo
3.14 Bad Girls
Guest commentary to be provided by Ensley Guffey and Michael Holland