Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Buffy Rewatch Week 21

4.1 The Freshman
4.2 Living Conditions
4.3 The Harsh Light of Day

**Pages 215-219 in Bite Me

And, if you’re watching Angel, those episodes are:
1.1 City Of
1.2 Lonely Hearts
1.3 In the Dark

**As I mentioned last week, I won’t be covering Angel in detail, but my episode guides are much longer for that series, so check out pp 105-112 in Once Bitten

We now enter season 4, that ill-fated middle season (flanked by three on either side of it) that lands at the top of most fans’ “Least Favourite Season” lists. It features Riley (who, for all the newbies who were the Lost fans and followed my blog before, will recognize him as the guy I usually deface in every Buffy pic I post). I don’t hate Riley, but he just annoys the crap out of me. I’ll talk about my reasons why later. For now, you just see him in “The Freshman,” and he’s charming and funny. Yeah.

But I want to follow that statement with this: you will still love season 4. The story arc is... you know what, I’m just not going to address the overall story arc until we get into the meat of it. Then we’ll talk. I don’t want to give you any preconceived notions about it, and I’ll just let you hate it decide for yourself if it works or not.

However, while the overall arc is weak, the individual standalones are brilliant. Season 4 contains many of my favourite episodes of the entire series – “Fear, Itself,” “Pangs,” “Hush,” “A New Man,” “Who Are You?” “New Moon Rising,” and “Restless.” I can easily say it contains more fantastic standalones than any other season of Buffy. So you’re in for a treat. In fact, while season 3 is often touted as the strongest and tightest season of the series, it’s a season where I look forward to the arc, but there aren’t many episodes that actually stand out for me. They all blend together as various chapters of one storyline, rather than being good on their own. It’s hard to say to a newbie, “Ooh, watch this episode of season 3” without having to hand them a ton of backstory. But many of the episodes I just listed above can do exactly that. In fact, I’ve always said if you want to try to convince someone to watch Buffy by showing them a single episode, that episode is “Hush.” Wait til you see it, and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

But now on to this week’s episodes, which offer a rather perfect entry into why the arc of season 4 was a difficult one. “The Freshman” is about new beginnings and how they can be good, but they can also be difficult. If high school was a place where you shone, then the college years can be a cruel wake-up call. Suddenly the popular cheerleader has to deal with eyerolls from the student body who thinks she’s not smart enough to keep up. The star of the football team isn’t even a starter on the college team. But the geeks, the freaks, the outsiders... THIS is where they can start over, reinvent themselves, and find themselves all over again. Two of my friends came out as homosexual in university while remaining entirely in the closet in high school. University is a liberating place.

But that first week? It’s hell. I loved university, but hated frosh week. UGH. In fact, my best friend and I just decided to avoid it (and then paid for that decision for the rest of the year when our fellow students, who had bonded over Jell-O shots and beer-chugging contests, didn’t know who the hell we were and decided we weren’t worth getting to know for the first year... in second year, when we began specializing, everything changed completely). I remember all those pieces of paper being thrust in my face, and companies handing out free samples of their products and coupons and orientation and... gah. That scene at the beginning of Buffy being entirely overwhelmed by everything is brilliant.

And the same goes for the series. We’ve moved away from the familiar high school setting, we’re introducing new characters and scenery, and we’ve lost old ones (I was always a little disappointed that no one asked what happened to Cordelia... who’s now over on Angel in case you didn’t have time to check out the other series). Just as Buffy is feeling disoriented, so did fans for the first little bit, and it was hard to get our heads around no library... no Snyder... no Giles at the centre of everything... no high school on a hellmouth. Joyce has moved some crates into Buffy’s room (because she’s living on campus... like three minutes away). Giles has some British lover and has become a “gentleman of leisure” (British for unemployed). Xander is feeling lost without the gang, and is desperate to feel needed again.

But just as college gets better after you survive frosh week and first year, so does Buffy improve as the series continues and finds its niche without the high school.

I think “The Freshman” is a great episode, very funny and frightening. I loved Sunday (despite that weird thing she does with her hands that gets a little grating) and was so upset when she got dusted off the top. I was really hoping she could be a recurring character. Riley is very funny as well, and the scenes inside the classrooms are pretty much the nightmares of every student. (And for the record, that pop culture professor? EXACTLY like every single scholar at Slayage. Totally.*) (*This is a complete lie.) I’ve had that professor, and while I wasn’t the one singled out, watching someone else get it is almost as terrifying as getting it yourself. I found that first-year profs were often mean, as if they just wanted to weed out the weak ones. I had one in particular who was so imposing in first-year that I avoided any upper-year courses from her. Meanwhile, friends who had had a different first-year prof and took one of my prof’s upper year courses thought she was amazing. Finally, in my final year I had no choice and had to take one... and she was sweet, kind, encouraging, and one of the most amazing profs I’d ever had.

“Living Conditions” is that sophomore episode that each year seems to boast that elaborates on the premiere without really moving us into the main text of the season quite yet. Kathy is a hilarious creation, from ironing her jeans to listening to Cher’s “Do You Believe” on constant repeat (my mom totally did the same thing... it stopped only at Christmas so she could play Kenny and Dolly’s album on constant repeat for two months – til the end of JANUARY – and then back to Cher) to putting up her Celine Dion poster and declaring it “cool.” Watching the scenes between her and Buffy killed me... when this episode first aired, I was still getting over a recent college roommate relationship that was about as friendly. I was in school, she’d already graduated and was working, so whenever I had to cram for an exam or work on a paper on the weekends, she’d have wild, loud parties. When I would give up in frustration and move into the library to work, she’d just go out with friends and not be in the apartment at all. Then I’d come home around midnight after the library had kicked me out and fall into bed, and she’d arrive at 2 a.m. and continue the party with her friends until about 5, whereupon I had to be back up at 6:30 to get to school in time for the exam I was far too exhausted to take.

Yes, Willow, I feel your pain. (I should have figured out that girl was a demon.) “Living Conditions” is fun, but it’s certainly not a very memorable instalment in the Buffy oeuvre.

Similarly, “The Harsh Light of Day,” despite heralding a return of our Spike, is a bit clumsy and covers the same ground that was already covered in “Beauty and the Beasts,” with almost the same parallels being drawn. Harmony is now a vampire (we saw her turned at the end of “Graduation Day, Part 2”... when she ran down the steps you see a vampire grab her and bite her), and a REALLY annoying one at that. Spike is using her for sex while treating her like dirt... definitely not one of his better moments, for sure. The episode ends with the gang coming back together to take him down, and with Buffy once again deciding to help out Angel (and Willow telling Xander just not to make a big deal). But it IS a big deal. Despite my leanings to Angel + Buffy 4-EVA, he always has the capacity to turn evil again, and if he had that ring, chaos would ensue. It’s a little clumsy that we don’t have Giles and Xander actually take this more seriously and talk her out of it, which would be in keeping with the way they acted through much of season 3, but the writers needed a segue to lead fans over to Angel in case they weren’t watching already.

And I’ll just briefly mention Angel while I’m at it... if you’re watching that show in tandem (or if you’re not), there is actually one very brief crossover in “The Freshman,” one of those blink-and-you-miss-it type of things that even some fans watching one show right after the other managed to miss: In “The Freshman,” Buffy stops at home for a bit and the phone rings. She picks it up and says, “Hello? Hello...” and shrugs and hangs it up. In “City Of” we see Angel actually make the phone call, you hear Buffy say, “Hello? Hello...” and he just sits there, unable to speak, and just listens to her confused voice. “The Harsh Light of Day” concludes over on Angel on “In the Dark,” and that episode is totally worth seeing just for the opening scene before the credits, with Spike watching Angel take down some guys in the alleyway and narrating the scene while watching. It’s one of the funniest moments in the Jossverse.

• The whole opening scene of “The Freshman” with Buffy and Willow chatting in the cemetery, from the part of the conversation that makes me chuckle given the number of pop culture professors we have on the Rewatch:
Willow: Wait! ‘Images of Pop Culture.’ This is good. They watch movies, TV shows, even commercials.
Buffy: For credit?
Willow: Heh. Isn’t college cool?

To Buffy saying she has to stay sharp while a vampire is walking up behind her as she’s yammering.
• Willow on the first day of school: “I’ve heard about five different issues and I’m angry about each one of them!”
• Willow’s wording when she talks about spurty knowledge.
• I think the Klimt versus Monet poster contest is one of the funniest thing of the entire season. Every year at both universities I attended there was this company that came to sell posters to the kids in the dorms, and the Klimt and Monet ones were the two biggest sellers. (For the record, I bought posters from them too: one was John Cleese doing the Ministry of Funny Walks, and the other was Edward Gorey’s “Gashlycrumb Tinies” alphabet.)
• Buffy: I think someone had just a little too much free time on their hands.
Giles: I’m not supposed to have a private life?
Buffy: No! (In a whiny voice.) ‘Cause you’re very, very old, and it’s gross.
Giles: Well, before I succumb to the ravages of age, why don’t you tell me what brings you here.
• Buffy to Giles: “Remember before you became Hugh Hefner, when you used to be a Watcher?”
• Xander: Buffy, this is all about fear. It’s understandable, but you can’t let it control you. ‘Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to anger.’ No wait, hold on. ‘Fear leads to hate. Hate leads to the dark side.’ Hold on, no, umm, ‘First you get the women, then you get the money, then you...’ okay, can we forget that?
Buffy: Thanks for the Dadaist pep talk, I feel much more abstract now.
• And by the way, that conversation with Xander is one of the many reasons why I love him, and why I keep forgiving him, even when he acts like a dick.
• Xander: You up for a little reconnaissance?
Buffy: You mean where we all sculpt and paint and stuff?
Xander: No, that was the renaissance.
• Kathy: I’m 3000 years old! When are you going to stop treating me like I’m 900?
• “Harmony a vampire? She’ll be dying without a reflection.”
• Xander spurting the juice box when Anya drops her clothes, hahaha!!
• Everything about Anya’s pragmatic come-on to Xander makes me laugh:
Anya : At point the matter is brought to a conclusion with both parties satisfied and able to move on with their separate lives and interests. To sum up, I think it’s a workable plan.
Xander : So, the crux of this plan is -
Anya : Sexual intercourse. I’ve said it like a dozen times.
Xander : Uh, huh. Just working through a little hysterical deafness here.
Anya : I think it’s the secret to getting you out of my mind. Putting you behind me. Behind me figuratively. I’m thinking face to face for the actual event itself.
Xander : Ah, right. It’s just we hardly know each other. I mean I like you. And you have a certain directness that I admire. But sexual interc-- What you’re talking about, well--and I’m actually turning into a woman as I say this--but it’s about expressing something. And accepting consequences.
Anya : Oh, I have condoms. Some are black.
Xander : That’s... that’s very considerate.
Anya : I like you. You’re funny, and you’re nicely shaped. And frankly, it’s ludicrous to have these interlocking bodies and not... interlock. Please remove your clothing now.
Xander : And the amazing thing... still more romantic than Faith.

Did You Notice?
• I just want to say up front that Willow’s best hair is season 4 hair. LOVE IT. Perfect colour, perfect cut.
• I’ve never bought that a tiny “one-Starbucks” town like Sunnydale would have a university that massive.
• Anya’s way of talking is very specific, and Joss often brought writer Jane Espenson in to perfect her language. She had a way of rewriting the scenes to make her words very basic and reflect the simplicity and matter-of-factness (and childish way of looking at things) in the way Anya would speak.

Next week:
4.4 Fear, Itself
4.5 Beer Bad
4.6 Wild at Heart
**Janet Halfyard joins me for a lengthier discussion on the music of these three episodes, and I will also be treating you guys to an academic battle royale as two teams face off to discuss one of the most polarizing episodes in the Buffyverse.

If you’re watching Angel, keep up with episodes
1.4 I Fall to Pieces
1.5 Rm w/ a Vu
1.6 Sense and Sensitivity (pp. 112-117 of Once Bitten)


Marebabe said...

First impressions of Buffy S4: I love Buffy’s French braids. (And yes, Willow’s short cut is perfect!) I’m so glad for the light tone at the beginning, where Buffy and Willow were together, chatting amiably. And during the opening credits, I was very pleased to see several quick flashes of Spike. More Spike = Good!

In “The Freshman”, Sunday’s stoner-lackey reminded me of Jeff Spiccoli from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”. That’s a good thing, in case you were wondering. ;)

I noticed a couple odd things. Would even a museum or art gallery still be using WOODEN packing crates? With EXCELSIOR for cushioning? That seemed very antique and strange and out of place to me. And has anyone ever had such a spacious dorm room? I never lived in one, myself, but I’ve seen a few up close, and you could fit 3 or 4 of them into Buffy’s roomy room!

Buffy confusing reconnaissance and Renaissance = Cute!

When Buffy was perched on that skylight, I was just waiting for it to collapse under her weight. It was inevitable.

“Living Conditions” was almost equal parts serious menace and comedy. And I’ve realized that those episodes are my favorites. LOL when the Blob-o-Ketchup from Hell squished out of Kathy’s burger and landed on Buffy’s borrowed-without-asking sweater. The “horror movie” music was perfect!

Oz: “Nobody deserves mime, Buffy.”

“The Harsh Light of Day” was rather a fun, naughty outing. Harmony is such a brat! Yet, in spite of her supremely bratty way of doing everything, she still managed to seduce Spike.

I liked Xander’s temporary “hysterical deafness”. Seriously, I really hope that Xander can find happiness with a woman who truly LOVES him. I feel that he’s been used enough times. That goes for Buffy, too, as long as she can’t be with Angel. Speaking of “Angel”, I watched the first three episodes this week, and I’m totally IN! Loved it.

Dusk said...

I liked Sunday and her stoner vamp lackey. I thought of Spike talking about Woodstock and staring at his hand for 6 hours.

I've had a teacher like that too, was in high school though.

Poor Xander, I wonder what happened that one night someone got sick...

Hopefully Willow can keep having a better time here then in High School.

I winced through the entire Giles/Buffy encounter I can see his point but still feel how uncomfortable fo her.

Joyce shifted stuff around fast.

"Living Conditions" was a dud for me. Probably because I've never had a roomate, the only part I thought was funy was Xander freaking out about checking Buffy's ropes.

Glad Spike's back and even though in no way do I support his treatment of Harmony, I also did want her to Shut Up about France!

I thought Nikki and Paulo were annoying. Angel can get tormented in whatever demension, lock me in a room with those two and Harm and that'll be in for me.

I've also thought the way the group Xander with Spike and Parker fell flat. Anya clearly knew what was going to heppen, and she still hasn't been human long.

Colleen/redeem147 said...

I should go to bed. But I have comments!

Kirstie and Max should have... Sorry, wrong show.

I forgot Riley was in the season opener. I thought I had a respite. Ah, well.

The pop culture teacher's words reminded me of Joss. Has anyone else heard him sing Heart(Broken)?

What exactly is Joyce's job at the gallery? Not only did she bring that mask home (which ended up broken - did her boss know?) she has packing cases in her house filled with pieces.

"What Would Buffy Do?" - I have that book.

That's not Mr. Gordo. That's a cow. Mr. Gordo is a pig. Buffy doesn't even know her own pig?

Cathy snored all through Freshman, but doesn't seem to in LC. Is that because she's soul sucking? How did Buffy get any sleep in the first week of school? I would have smothered Cathy to shut her up. Well, maybe not. I would have slept in the hall.

I've never had a school roomie. I got married and went to WLU. I guess he counts.

I like the way characters are introduced briefly and then have more important parts later (Cathy, Parker etc)

That sweater looks more Cathy's style anyway.

Giles said, "Living with someone can be a challenge." I wonder who he lived with.

And after it all, with all her annoying ways and soul sucking, I still feel sorry for Cathy.

Buffy needs to learn that having a reflection doesn't mean that's a good person. Well, I guess she'll know it now.

Does Buffy's scar only appear when people mention it? It was freaking huge there and she enjoys the skimpy.

Parker is a better musician than Oz - watch him play Buffy.

Anya has Oz 'what colour is it this week?' hair.

Bif Naked! I'm keeping track of the Canadians. BTW, I love 'Lucky Ones.'

I wonder why they never made a Harmony action figure?

It's amazing how many ancient civilizations ended up in California. Nice treasure trove.

And with one panther crawl, Spike goes from best boyfriend to sex symbol.

I love Xander's expressions when Anya talks to him. Women confound him.

Never put butter on a burn.

Buffy says, "Did I do something wrong?" like "Was I not good?" - sex is not going well for her.

And the lesson of the story? Men are scum.

Veri word 'uniangl' - what Angel wears in Cirque de Soleil.

The Question Mark said...

Joss really hit the nail on the head, making college feel scary & unfamiliar & weird & uncomfortable, for both Buffy AND the fans. Just like in real life, I found myself pining for the more innocent times at high school.

"Harsh Light of Day" is actually the VERY FIRST Buffy episode I ever saw...it was way back in the day, when this first aired, and I only saw about 30 seconds of it. It was the scene where Buff & Parker are walking down the street at night, she asks him a question that makes him uncomfortable, and then she reprimands herself by saying "Bad Buffy". I remember watching that one tiny scene back in 1999 before changing the channel to catch "The Simpsons". Now all I need to see is the Halloween ep, and the one with the cavemen, and I'll have seen all the Buffy that I've caught snippets of in the past :P

I've been watching Buffy/Angel episodes back-to-back, and I think it's great! I don't know why more shows don't employ this tactic, it'd be a genius way to get ratings: have 2 shows that take place in the same universe, and every once in a while toss in some intertwining plotlines! It's great!
Question for everyone who's seen all of "Buffy" and "Angel" before: is there a lot more criss-crossing of the shows to come? The whole bit with the silent phone call was brilliant.

JS said...

Ditto on the disorientation, I was definitely pining for HS during those episodes.

The thing that makes me happiest - everyone gets a wardrobe upgrade. Is there a record of the number of coats, or leather clothing Buffy has? If The Closer has a wardrobe blog, BtVS must have one. I know you must have posted that before, Nikki, would you mind pointing it out again?

Page48 said...


Giles is starting to jog and sweat and wear runners and shag and drink and other things. This is not my favourite period for Giles.

I don't like any of Buffy's human boyfriends. They all have that yuk factor. Word to Buffy: go dead or go home.

Buffy killed the bench, which was lookin' shifty. Ozzy rules.

Number one sign that Cathy is a demon? Lite FM.

Cordelia and Angel receive token mention. Kinda nice to acknowledge that they exist, but as Nikki suggests, somebody could have at least asked where Cordy got to.

Harmony is ill-equipped for vampiredom. As annoying as she is, I actually sympathized with her when Spike was being so abusive toward her.

I could have used a sexually uninhibited, naked, former vengeance demon dropping by and reminding me to use fabric softener (and forward-thinking enough to bring some black condoms) when I was Xander's age.

I like the shot at the end of "Harsh Light of Day" where Buffy, Harmony and Anya are all walking within 20 feet of each other and seemingly oblivious to each others presence, what with being consumed with their respective man issues.

ChristinaB said...

Watching Angel for the first time while rewatching Buffy for the second time...Phew, did that make sense?

I just want to say I actually HOWLED with laughter when Spike was doing his little narrative from the rooftop!
Best scene EVAR!

And a question for the Angel bunch--I have to say these first three episodes haven't sucked me in like Buffy did.
It's darker, yes, and I like that. I like Angel and I really like Doyle. I was never a Cordelia fan but she IS much softer so I can tolerate her.

...er, yes...I did have a question there...Does it get better? It just has a very "batman" feel to it. Someone gets into trouble, Angel saves the day, the end.

Tell me it gets better! ;)

Tom D. said...

ChristinaB, it gets vastly better! Season 1 of Angel is pretty uneven; the show takes a while to figure out what it wants to be. But there are some great episodes in season 1, and then season 2 gets to a much higher level of quality.

In the scene with Spike narrating from the rooftop, the way he talks reminds me of a voice that Joss Whedon uses sometimes, when he's being funny/sarcastic in interviews. Does anyone else hear it that way?

Colleen/redeem147 said...

I must be the only one who liked college better than High School. Grade 13 was hard. :)

Though I spent two years at a tiny independent college and was married when I went finished at university.

Nikki Stafford said...

Colleen: I loathed high school and adored college. So our hatred of Riley isn't the only thing we have in common, my friend. ;)

Marebabe: LOL! Guess what: when S4 first aired the fans called that stoner guy "SpiccoliVamp." ;)

Nikki Stafford said...

Re: Angel: If you have a chance, check out a post I did last week called "To Angel or Not to Angel."

@Question Mark: I've listed at the end of it all the crossovers (not any spoilers, just where they occur).

@ChristinaB: As I mentioned in that post, yes, you really do have to get through season 1. There are some major highlights: Prepare thyself for "I Will Remember You" and "Hero" but as Tom said, it only really figures out where it's going at the end of the season. Then from season 2 onwards it's pretty stellar. Stick with it... it's worth it. ;)

Anne said...

The Question Mark said:

Question for everyone who's seen all of "Buffy" and "Angel" before: is there a lot more criss-crossing of the shows to come? The whole bit with the silent phone call was brilliant.

Yes there will be many crossovers, but I can't go into details without spoiling anything.

I have to say that I like season 4 a lote, for its individual episode (not arc related) there is some pretty stellar stuff in this season that seems to be forgotten by season 4 haters. I really like how out of place Buffy is, as this is similar to how I felt, and that is not long ago. And yes the minni-crossover is brilliant.

Witness Aria said...

"And with one panther crawl, Spike goes from best boyfriend to sex symbol."
Snerk. And Rrowrr!

Season 4 Buffy is the first season of TV I bought on DVD (along with season 1 Angel). The DVD sets were released soon after I had first watched the first 3 seasons. So I have the music that is endlessly played on the DVD set embedded in my brain. So many good episodes this season!

PS My verification was trash, speaking of rrowrr.

Efthymia said...

I don't know if it happenned in the original broadcasts or if it's just a DVD thing, but why suddenly the "Previously on"s? I don't like them, they're kind of spoilery.

I am one of those Season 4 haters (although 'hate' is too strong a word; I'd rather call myself a 'Season 4 disliker'). Yes, there are some great individual episodes, but there are also some of the weakest, and some things that I really hate happen as well; can't talk about them yet. When I first watched BtVS, I had so loved Season 3 and its finale that I couldn't wait to get to Season 4, but -alas!- it didn't live up to my expectations. Rewatching it, I find I'm somewhat less harsh, but I still consider it my least favourite season.

I always considered "The Freshman" as another weak opening episode, but after reading your comments here, maybe it's because the University experience here in Greece is COMPLETELY different to the one depicted in this episode, therefore I can't really relate.

"Living Conditions": Kathy is not the best of roomates, but she's not awful, and frankly, Buffy's just as bad! You know, I would be seriously pissed-off if someone drank my milk. I survived the flatmate-from-Hell for 3 months (dirty and disgusting, singing at the top of his lungs at 3 am, listening songs on repeat far more annoying than "Believe") and I truly believe that Buffy should get some perspective.

"The Harsh Light of Day": Spike, Anya & Harmony -a recipe for fun!

Missy said...

I'm one of (what I'm currently finding out is)the few people who love the season premiers.

'The Freshman'
I'll start with Sunday because my God do I love her and her little gang(sorta like the evil scoobies)
and just like Nikki was majorly bummed when they killed her even though lets face it that
move and subsequent staking was awesome on Buffy's part.
My fav Sunday line will always be
"No, the fact that you're fat makes you look fat.That sweater just makes you look purple."
(Mostly for the last line because I find the fat comment crude).
My second is all in the Speech Xander gives at the bronze,
I've never hated or even disliked Xander(Okay the BS
lie in 'Becoming' still grates but it does get resolved in a moment of epic truthfulness)he is such a flawed character but flawed in a perfect way...he's more human
(and not because of his lack of supernatural powers)then any of the gang and I can only assume people find his character annoying and mean because they see a part of themselves in him.(XanderLove rant over Lol)
Oz still as cool as ever<<<The look Buffy gives Oz when he gives her directions is priceless.
Willow she's never anything but adorable...Re:Spurty Knowledge.
We get Joyce living up to her uninterested mother card.(I like Joyce)
Giles(/Hef) living the highly coverted unemployed life....
and his GF Olivia(Phina Oruche) is attractive,though whos surprised he is a goodlooking fella.
Poor Buffy beat up,Sucky Professors&Roomates....plus hard classes,apparently getting high SAT scores was a bad idea.Lol
Also gotta love Riley not remembering Buffy's name and calling her Willows friend.
'Living Conditions'
Of the three ,it's definitely lacking.It doesn't suck it's actually got some standout funny moments most of which unsurprisingly involve Oz(Afew yrs ago I realized the awesomeness of Buffy&Oz' relationship).
Kathy was annoying(though we do share a love of Cher&Celine dion),Was very glad to see her leave.
I've always enjoyed the final scene sort of saying Buffy is alittle selfish and mean and it has nothing to do with the absence of her soul
(I find Buffy to be incredibly selfish alot of the time)
'Living Conditions' is also hampered by the debut of one Parker Abrams,who from this moment on will be refered to as Stinky Parker man by me.
(he is the only character in both BtVS and Ats that I absolutely loathe).
'The Harsh Light Of Day'
Along with 'The Freshman' and the awesome s4 standalones
(I really dislike the season arc even knowing the behind the scenes reasons doesn't help) this is one of my fav eps,lets run down the reasons why shall we:
1.ANYA(the way Emma says "Interlock" in the infamous juicebox scene is one of my favourite things in the world,like when Alyson Hannigan swears,Oh and ya'll should start taking note of the many hair colors and styles Emma goes through Lol she outdoes Seth Green by a country mile)
2.Harmony, she's just soooo damn adorable and sunshine-y and sweet that making her one of the undead was a brilliant move on Joss&Co.'s part.
3.Bif Naked nuff said.
4.Spike....he's back and you know what I looooooove him.
5.The fact that it leads into the first actual character crossover between BtVS & Ats.
To end Stinky Parker Abrams is a Douche.<<<Honest to God's truth.

Oh and on the topic of Ats DON'T GIVE UP,Buffy will always hold a special place in my heart but Angel is the show that will rip it out, stomp all over it and make you still ache for more.

Blam said...

Hey, folks! I look forward to reading this week's analysis and jumping into discussion soon, but right now just a tip: Either still or again, Target has Seasons 1 & 2 of Angel on sale in a double-pack for just $19.99 (in the US, at least; in Philadelphia, at least). I picked up such a pack and also one with 3 & 4 at a different Target for the same price last year in anticipation of the Rewatch. Once upon a time I saw similar double-packs of seasons of Buffy and in retrospect wish I had bought them then, but Netflix has been getting me through viewing on a budget (with very well-worn discs, based on how often they skip). You're on your own when it comes to Season 5, but ten bucks a season for slim sets of the first four, special features intact, ain't bad at all if you can find 'em.

Tom D. said...

I think Living Conditions may be my least favorite of all Buffy episodes. Not just because Kathy is super-annoying, but because the premise of the episode just fails to make sense. Buffy thought she could live together in a smallish room with some random girl she's never met before, and keep her slayer identity a secret from her roommate? That's about as smart as attacking the mayor with hummus. I can suspend disbelief in all kinds of miscellaneous magical McGuffins when I watch this show, but I can't believe that neither Buffy nor any of her friends ever stopped to think about what a wildly dumb idea it would be for the slayer to share a dorm room with a random civilian.

Grr. Argh. OK, rant over.

Missy said...

@Tom D

I agree,I've never understood why she didn't room with Willow from the beginning.
But I think at some colleges you don't get a choice.

Tom D. said...

The Harsh Light of Day was almost a really good episode, for me. I like the Xander/Anya stuff (like Missy said, Anya's way of saying "interlock" is excellent) and the Spike/Harmony stuff. It's great to have Spike back again. Harmony somehow manages to be shallow and annoying and evil without being completely unsympathetic -- I think she's a great character.

This is the first time since the beginning of season 1, I believe, where somebody who we previously knew as a human becomes a vampire. (Well, except for The Wish and Doppelgangland.) It's a fun type of plot. Part of what's funny to me about Harmony as a vampire is that she was basically evil anyway, so her personality as a vampire is a lot like it was before -- but subtly different, more unrestrained. Or so it seems to me -- admittedly, we never saw a whole lot of Harmony as a human, but that's the impression I have.

Anyway, basically everything about The Harsh Light of Day is good except the Parker stuff. I've been pondering all week, in the back of my mind, why I find Parker to be so unpleasant to watch. It can't just be because he's a bad person -- plenty of major and minor villains are very entertaining. Is it the actor's performance, or the writing? I can't seem to put my finger on anything that's really wrong with either of those. Maybe I just hate seeing Buffy fall so hard for this manipulative guy and get hurt? But this pales in comparison to, for instance, the much crueler scene in Innocence where Buffy confronts Angel(us) in his apartment and doesn't yet know he has lost his soul. I think that scene is amazing, yet I really don't like watching the Buffy/Parker stuff, and I think I share those views with a lot of fans.

Does anybody have a theory?

Dusk said...

@Tom D: I think it's because Parker is human and he works Buffy really bad.

That and that fact that we/she had just met him and a lot of orginal viewers at the time were still mourning the transfer of Angel.

From what I've read, apparently a lot of fans were shocked and gave the writers a lot of grief for having Buffy jump into bed so fast it seemed out of character, and the Bangels eyes were probably still red with mourning, so they turned redder with fury.

Angelus gets a pass because he's soulless now, it's expected of a vampire, Buffy's show doesn't really have a lot of evil humans, it's more black and white for her, over in LA things are not as cut and dry, fitting with Angel's character, but Buffy doesn't have the kind of moral issues they he does. If Buffy is light, Angelus is dark, then Angel is grey.Think of Angel episode 19.

Granted, Parker isn't truly evil, but he is clearly not a good person. Harmony can get sympathy because even as a vampire she's clearer weaker then Spike, but Parker is just human and gets hated because he does a bad thing with no consequence in the episode, but isn't evil enough to be respected as a villian.

Blam said...

I have mixed feelings about Season 4 like most Buffy fans. The show did need to change things up to accurately reflect the evolutions in its main characters' lives, and I'm appreciative that Whedon & Co. really committed to that; I'd like to think that significant changes would still have been made had the Angel spinoff not occurred, but that must've helped. Still, I don't exactly love every direction taken with the plot or the characters, even as I totally groove to some of them and find others at least having, uh, potential.

While I wish that the early scripts hadn't driven home the small scale of Sunnydale so hard — making it difficult to watch the series in quick succession and not notice that we keep discovering new parts of town or big(ish)-city establishments that seem counter to Cordelia's disparaging description of the place to Buffy back in "Welcome to the Hellmouth" — I do recognize that the producers needed a way to keep the core cast at home. And if they'd only had the forethought to establish it as basically a community that sprang up around University of California at Sunnydale, tying its establishment to some UCSD predecessor like a Sunnydale College that was originally a divinity school strangely obsessed with defending humanity against occult forces, then there'd have been no problem. I went to a small but well-regarded, historically significant liberal-arts college with an internationally renowned conservatory of music (Oberlin — less than an hour's drive from Cleveland, another hellmouth), and it's much smaller than Sunnydale was even meant to be at the outset; the center of town is literally just a couple of blocks in any direction, with one small movie theater and no shopping mall at all.

I find that my biggest objections revolve as usual (and as with any fictional universe) not around the patently fantastic material that is the very premise of the show but with the show's real-world elements on their own and how they interact with that fantastic premise. You can perhaps explain away Giles' nonchalance as some combination of well-deserved break after averting yet another apocalypse and wanting to let Buffy grow up, something that she herself has asked to be allowed to do repeatedly, even if it means discomfort when her general desire to leave the nest inevitably clashes with her instincts to retreat to the familiar during difficult times; the man is still a trained Watcher in a hotbed of demonic activity, however, possessed of knowledge crucially useful to the Slayer, the friends of hers who help her in her never-ending battle, and the citizenry at large. Not only is it hard to believe that Buffy even thinks that she could attend college while attending to her duties as Slayer, and that there's this whole area of Sunnydale real estate apparently as yet unpatrolled by her — both topics that, along with Giles' situation, may if course be addressed over the course of the season (he says as neutrally as possible from a non-spoiler perspective) — but at this point seeing Buffy visit home or hang out at Xander's or deal with Spike and pretty much do anything but get swamped by schoolwork is just hard to swallow.

VW: unitte — Ye olde joyning of forses.

Blam said...

Notes on Buffy 4.1-4.3:

A big spanner in the works for me was to hear Buffy say "It's been a very slay-heavy summer." She was out of town the last couple of summers, remember. The first I could rationalize as being slow because The Master had been defeated and one could assume that any vampires following him were laying low or skipping town, perhaps with the hellmouth itself regrouping its mystical energies. But especially after seeing how shaky the Scooby Gang was substituting for her, the second was harder to write off as even survivable for them. Now this comment not only reinforces my incredulousness over Buffy ever spending time away but how she could fathom taking on college.

Blam said...

I found Buffy's college experience in these early episodes fairly realistic save for the aforementioned lack of us seeing much doing of the studies. My first year I lived in an open double as half of a quad — an ironic bummer, since I'd picked the dorm I did because it had divided doubles instead of open ones (everywhere, it turned out, but the quads) — and, yes, the rooms at UC Sunnydale are a bit on the spacious side. The roomie-vs.-roomie behavior was not all that exaggerated for television, however, especially when it comes to first-year students who tend to be put together by the school since most students don't know other students. Of course it would've made sense for Buffy and Willow to room together not just out of friendship but because of the whole "has to protect secret identity but goes out in the middle of the night" deal, but [A] friends don't always make great roommates and [2] the gals might've thought that by not requesting to live together they'd be more social.

Willow lost a shocking amount of "baby fat" — but I agree with those liking the haircut, and Alyson Hannigan is incapable of being other than adorable even when she's a little too skinny. Nicholas Brendon has gained even more of a man body and face, which makes Xander's moments of adolescent regression even more humorously incongruous.

Buffy continues to look, as she has since Season 1 concluded, preternaturally mature no matter how she dresses — not "old" per se nor even like she has the weight of the world on her shoulders as the Slayer; there's just something about Sarah Michelle Gellar, even beyond her eerie resemblance to Lindsay Wagner (young, plainclothed TV superlady of a previous generation), that makes me think "Oh! I forgot to pick up a sweater for my stepmom at Talbot's."

VW: Sharcan™ — Shark in a can!

Tom D. said...

seeing Buffy visit home or hang out at Xander's or deal with Spike and pretty much do anything but get swamped by schoolwork is just hard to swallow

Really? Maybe it was like that at Oberlin, but there are a lot of college freshmen who don't really put much time into the "schoolwork" part of being in college. Particularly at random non-elite state schools like UC Sunnydale. I don't see much reason to believe that college is any more time-demanding for Buffy than high school was.

Regarding the time-consuming nature of being the Slayer in general, my theory is that one of the minor powers of the Slayer is that she needs less sleep than other people do. (It kind of fits with the ability to heal quickly.) That's how, throughout high school, she managed to spend half the night out on patrol and still get to school in the morning and not sleep through all her classes.

Blam said...

@Nikki: If high school was a place where you shone, then the college years can be a cruel wake-up call. ... But the geeks, the freaks, the outsiders... THIS is where they can start over, reinvent themselves, and find themselves all over again.

I take your point, but my college was largely made up of those people and, while it was nice to be among like, open-minded, intellectually curious, artistic young folks it could also be a rude awakening to find that everyone had been The Wit or The Music Person or The Cartoonist at their high school and you were now just another former editor of the newspaper, lead in the school play, guy who used to draw posters (before the Web and Photoshop were invented), etc.

@Nikki: “Living Conditions” is that sophomore episode that each year seems to boast that elaborates on the premiere without really moving us into the main text of the season quite yet.

That's such a good point that I won't make a joke about you calling the episode after "The Freshman" the sophomore episode.

@Nikki: I think the Klimt versus Monet poster contest is one of the funniest thing of the entire season. Every year at both universities I attended there was this company that came to sell posters to the kids in the dorms, and the Klimt and Monet ones were the two biggest sellers.

I actually jotted this down as being totally hilarious. We didn't have a traveling company selling posters in the dorms, but the co-op bookstore had a limited selection of material; that plus the broadly similar tastes of the student body and the fact that stores in everyone's hometowns must have been serviced by similar distributors resulted in the same effect of repetition on walls throughout campus. Klimt (and The Kiss in particular) seemed to win out over Monet during my time at Oberlin. Your Ministry of Funny Walks was also popular, as was Escher; I had a couple of Eschers myself, and a poster of Disney's Fantasia, and some stuff brought from home.

VW: palverse — 1. Friendly poetry. 2. Alternate reality where everyone's your buddy.

Blam said...

I kind-of really don't like Harmony, but at least that's good for brilliant writing by Whedon & Co. in scenes like this with brilliant delivery by James Marsters as Spike...

H: Is Antonio Banderas a vampire?

S: No.

H: Oh. Can I make him vampire?

S: No. (pauses) Wait. On second thought, Yeah. Go do that. Do Melanie and the kids as well.

I'm sure that that's much funnier to those of us who can mentally place ourselves back in pop culture contemporaneously with the episode, but Spike's low tolerance of just about anything combined with Harmony's extremely low tolerability makes it hurt just that little bit less to see him with someone who's such a comedown from the formidable Drusilla.

VW: swinasce — Pig birth.

Blam said...

Thoughts on Angel 1.1-1.3:

I may literally be here all night, folks. 8^)

Actually, I didn't take that many in-depth notes because we're not officially discussing Angel and it's hard to get into it this early on in a non-spoiler way anyhow.

I love the theme (although the guitar comes in a little heavier than I remember; I'd like a better balance with the cello staying more prominent), I got a kick out of seeing the familiar face from Lost, and I find that phone-call wisp of a crossover so nicely done in so many ways.

I really missed Janet/Steve Halfyard's slice of musical cheese this week because while watching a later episode in which the notes are repeated as part of the score it hit me that the first three notes of Angel's theme are the same as the first three of the four notes that introduce Buffy's theme before it launches into the rock. Deep Space Nine did something similar, if I recall right, echoing the start of the theme to Star Trek: The Next Generation (much more starkly and slowly) — cool move.

Even more so than on Buffy, by the way, I find myself totally distracted that Angel on Angel is frickin' always in sunlight that we're apparently supposed to pretend is not sunlight or not hitting him in the right way or something. This is on a set of shows that has vampires who can't perform CPR on their dying girlfriends but can smoke, yeah, so everything's relative; at one point Angel is even protesting while his neck's being stepped on, "I can't... I can't... breathe." Nikki has also pointed out that lack of blood flow would also make all the lusty vampire sex rather difficult, to which I would add as a total medical layperson that bleeding itself wouldn't really be occurring to anything more than a superficial extent, but, hey, when life writes you into a corner you make... um... oh, I'll go with corned beef.

Blam said...

I highly recommend that even those of you choosing not to watch Angel check out the third episode, "In the Dark", which follows Buffy's "The Harsh Light of Day" — if you love Spike, especially, it's a must-see. Not only does the episode have the series' first appearance of a Buffy regular (aside from main cast Angel and Cordelia) in the form of Oz, following up on his promise to Buffy to deliver the Gem of Ruben Amaro to Angel, but if you don't like Angel you'll thrill to him being tortured by Moby and if you do like Spike you really can't miss what ChristinaB called his "little narrative from the rooftop".

"I have a nephew who's gay, so..."

VW: fitican — The workout room at the Vatican.

Blam said...

@Marebabe: When Buffy was perched on that skylight, I was just waiting for it to collapse under her weight. It was inevitable.

Yeah. Like Chekhov said, If you introduce a latticed, pitched skylight in the first act...

I'm so glad that you liked Angel, by the way.

@Dusk: "Living Conditions" was a dud for me. Probably because I've never had a roomate,

While I've never had a roommate situation that bad, I can vouch for it not being much of a stretch, especially (and this is just the reality of my observance) where a pair of young women are concerned — except for the soul-sucking part. Scratch that, in fact: except for the demonic soul-sucking part.

@TQM: I don't know why more shows don't employ this tactic, it'd be a genius way to get ratings: have 2 shows that take place in the same universe, and every once in a while toss in some intertwining plotlines!

Way back when I was but a little Blam, The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman did exactly this. The Bionic Woman, in fact, not only preceded Buffy in having a title character with enhanced physical abilities who looked amazingly like Lindsay Wagner (in this case it actually was Lindsay Wagner) — named Jaime Sommers, no less — but in leaving the network of its companion program; the last season of Bionic Woman ran on NBC while Six Million Dollar Man remained on ABC, with a first-billed cast member (Richard Anderson's OSI Director Oscar Goldman) actually starring on both series at the same time.

Blam said...

@ChristinaB: Tell me it gets better! ;)

As others have chimed in, and at the risk of totally trivializing what's become a significantly uplifting social meme, yes, it gets so much better.

@Efthymia: I always considered "The Freshman" as another weak opening episode, but after reading your comments here, maybe it's because the University experience here in Greece is COMPLETELY different to the one depicted in this episode, therefore I can't really relate.

You mean like you have to do coursework?

@Tom: Harmony somehow manages to be shallow and annoying and evil without being completely unsympathetic -- I think she's a great character.

I will agree that she's not completely unsympathetic, because she's so clearly vulnerable and Spike is such a Koosh Ball to her. And I will even agree that the writers do a great job making her at once shallow and annoying and evil without being completely unsympathetic. But I find her too shallow and annoying to actually be a great character.

Some of my problem with her might fall into what I call the Riker Conundrum, which sounds like it could factor into your Parker issue as well — Do I borderline love-to-hate / just-plain-hate William T. Riker because of the failure or the success of Jonathan Fraker's performance? In Harmony's case, though, whether or not the fault is Mercedes McNab's, and despite the occasional nuance, I find her mostly one-note (and the one note is in the key of Mary Hart's voice that gave that dude seizures).

What's devastating in large part about the Parker situation is how much it hurts Buffy and, I have to say, in my experience, how validly what happened to Buffy reflects what happens to a lot of women — young women in her situation especially, first-year students preyed upon by upperclassmen as almost literal fresh meat. The fact that the plotline wasn't paralleled by characters actually being preyed upon as literal fresh meat (other than the normal vampire activity) is likely in part because that's the rest of what makes the Parker situation so devastating: Unlike what happened with Angel, driven home in the form of black humor during conversations between Buffy and Joyce, this was not a supernatural occurrence operating as allegory. Parker's usage of the death of his father as a pick-up line and the coffee the next morning in particular certainly pushed his characterization in creepily psychopathic dimensions, but manipulative horndogs like this do exist.

VW: gatillin — Usin' yer gun ta work the field 'cause y'ain't got no rake.

Blam said...

Oops! "Jonathan Fraker's" should be "Jonathan Frakes'".

VW: giless The Discount Watcher!

Blam said...

Me: seeing Buffy visit home or hang out at Xander's or deal with Spike and pretty much do anything but get swamped by schoolwork is just hard to swallow

Tom D.: Really? Maybe it was like that at Oberlin, but there are a lot of college freshmen who don't really put much time into the "schoolwork" part of being in college. Particularly at random non-elite state schools like UC Sunnydale. I don't see much reason to believe that college is any more time-demanding for Buffy than high school was.

I buy your theory of the Slayer needing little sleep. And perhaps there was not as much of an academic onus at UC Sunnydale as at Oberlin, Prof. Walsh notwithstanding. But even though Buffy isn't working a campus job like I was to attend a college way out of my financial league, her actual "career" takes up exactly those hours that most college students are not just writing and cramming but schmoozing and partying and doing all that great into-the-night college stuff; I'm not saying that all I ever did was study — a large part of my most valued education at Oberlin was films and concerts and connecting with folks ("and interlocking!" Joan screams. "Admit it, Blamdaddy! You interlocked!")... *sigh*... I guess I'm noticing during this Rewatch, never having actually done one since seeing the series the first time — I've caught some repeats on occasion, but mostly avoided them and looked forward to doing a concerted rewatch like this one — just how big Sunnydale is, how little patrolling actually gets done, and now how serious the disconnect would be between Buffy being an effective Slayer and being not even so much a bookworm but just a normal experientially omnivorous college student, with, yes, a healthy courseload.

Marebabe said...

@Blam and Tom D: One of the biggest reasons for the huge differences between high school and college is the sheer number of variables. How busy a college student is depends on many factors, chief among them being how many hours the student is taking. I was pushed to my limit taking 15 hours in a semester, and to this day, when I meet a young person taking 17 (or even more!) hours, I usually just stare in awe for a minute, and ask how that’s even possible. And of course, different degree programs have different requirements, like labs for sciences and languages, and, for music majors, hours and hours of practice! Back in the 70s and 80s, music majors almost always took 5 years to finish their degree. I’m a little out of touch, I don’t know if that’s still true. But it used to be that a 4-year music degree was almost unheard of.

And then there’s the complete opposite end of the spectrum. The slackers and partiers, kids who are not serious at all. Like the Deltas in “Animal House”. As Bluto said, when they all got expelled, “Seven years of college down the drain!” We don’t know much about what any of the Scooby gang are actually doing in college, but I suspect that Buffy, at least, is carrying a pretty light load academically.

Marebabe said...

@Blam: I’ve noticed the similarities at the beginning of both the Buffy and Angel themes, and it’s actually the first FOUR notes that are used in both. I like it a lot. And I’ve noticed all the bright sunshine in Angel, too. It’s a bit confusing, and makes me wonder about the rules, if they’re really rules at all. Did the entire production team get lazy on this point, thinking that nobody would notice a little thing like sunlight? ‘Tis a puzzlement.

And thank you for “palverse”. :)