4.12 A New Man
*Follow along with Bite Me, pp. 227-231
If you’re watching Angel, this week’s episodes are a little less devastating than last week’s, and are
1.10 Parting Gifts (featuring the arrival of my favourite “rogue demon hunter”... all together now, “what’s a rogue demon?”)
*Follow along with Once Bitten, pp. 124-129
This week’s trio begins with one of the best episodes of Buffy, “Hush.” If I had to choose three episodes that could be considered Joss’s masterpieces, in my opinion, they would be “Hush,” “The Body,” and “Once More, With Feeling.” As I said last week, if you were trying to get someone to watch Buffy who had never seen it, “Hush” is the perfect entry episode. You don’t really have to know much of the mythology of the series (though it makes the projector scene that much funnier) and instead just revel in the scariness of it (this is probably the scariest episode of the series... to this day I jump whenever Olivia looks out that window and the Gentleman floats right by) and the brilliance of what Joss Whedon, the master of dialogue, can do with a bit of silence.
The genius of “Hush” lies in the fact that even without the ability to communicate, the true personalities of each character comes through, especially in the projector scene. Giles is still longwinded; Xander’s a bit of a doofus; Anya couldn’t give a crap; Willow is the keener; Buffy only wants to find out how to kill the demon... and is worried about whether or not she looks fat. But when the ability to talk returns, they realize they have nothing to say.
“Doomed” returns us to the high school, showing that you can take the people out of high school, but some emotional scars stay forever. My favourite moment of this episode is the classic line, “I’m just an old frienda Xanderrrrrr’s.” (It’s the line many fans use to describe what James Marster’s real accent sounds like the first time they hear it.)
“A New Man” is a personal favourite episode of mine, featuring Giles as a Fyarl demon who feels “out of the loop-y” as Willow would put it. We get Giles referring to the horrible Maggie as a “fishwife” (and chasing her down the street, HAHAHAHA!); the scene of Spike and Giles in the Gilesmobile; and “you have but-face,” something that nearly every Buffy fan I know has said at one point.
The one thing my husband and I both noticed this time around, several years after we first saw these episodes, is that the only thing that truly dates them is the fact that in a world of texting and emailing, losing your voice – or becoming an unintelligible Fyarl demon – wouldn’t be much of a problem.
This week I’ll leave most of the talking to my guest bloggers. First up is Steve Halfyard, commenting on the glorious music of “Hush.”
It more or less goes without saying that the music is rather important in “Hush”, so I will more or less let it go without saying anything. Still, there are two moments that should not pass without comment. The first is the use of Danse Macabre, a bit of 19th century programme music by Saint-Saëns, which Giles chooses to accompany his utterly hilarious slide show on the overhead projector (has he never heard of Powerpoint? Of course not), which is also the first time we get to see his marvellously limited drawing skills (we have to wait till season 7 to see more). It's a lovely moment of musical intertextuality on two levels, as noted by my late and much missed colleague, Vanessa Knights, in her introduction to our co-edited book on music in Buffy. The surface level is that it was a piece of music written to describe the supernatural, and a really important piece in culturally establishing the sound of the violin as the sound of the devil, so it automatically evokes, for anyone who knows it, the idea of devilishness. But even if you don't, Danse Macabre has been so influential in how composers write musical supernatural devilishness in film music, particularly in supernatural comedies (think The Witches of Eastwick, Hocus Pocus , Death Becomes Her and Beetlejuice), that even without knowing the piece it evokes the idea of a supernatural horror-comedy. This helps make the scene even more comic, with the juxtaposition of an ostensibly serious topic accompanied by serious classical music, but with all kinds of memories of Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton lurking in the subliminal musical text. The other intertextual level is that Danse Macabre was used as the theme tune for a long running BBC TV show called Jonathan Creek, about magical mysteries bein solved by a male-female duo (read: Buffy and Riley?) and Anthony Head played Jonathan's employer, a professional magician, in the pilot in 1997. Whether that actually has any significance at all beyond cool insider information I do not know, and nor did Vanessa, but it was cute connection we both liked.
The other moment is twenty minutes in when Buffy and Riley meet on the street as the town falls apart around them: and there it is, their love theme, for the very first time. It more or less comes out of nowhere. There's a brief guitar riff at the end of “Something Blue” that pre-empts it a little, but the theme itself emerges suddenly and fully formed as they kiss, exactly (in fact) as the Angel love theme did. Buffy and her love themes seem intrinsically connected with her being prevented from speaking. Way back in “Surprise” in season 2, Angel kissed Buffy to stop her babbling, and that was the moment their theme first appeared in all its glory. Now, Buffy can't speak at all, and again we have a kiss that replaces words as we hear her fall in love. And that is essentially what both these themes represent the first time we hear them: a kiss may be just a kiss, but the music tells us that this is something more. This is love. And it's a lovely theme – Whedon and Christophe Beck described it as a more grown up theme than the Angel one – but actually it's a really sad melody. Poignant, yes; tender, yes: but honestly, there is something terribly sad in this theme. SPOILER: really, would anyone listening to this think this relationship was going to go the distance?
Thanks, Steve! And now the inimitable Evan Munday, who we last saw in the “Ted” week (as the guy who was super-pro-Ted) and he also appeared in our Love camp for the “Beer Bad” battle. This time I can actually tell you more about his upcoming YA book, The Dead Kid Detective Agency, which I just had the distinct pleasure of proofreading, and it’s amazing. I wish I’d had this heroine when I was a teenager! The book is available now for preorder, and I urge you to pick up a copy.
In the meantime, in addition to his brilliant observations and video-making (yes, there’s another video this week!) Evan is an accomplished illustrator, which he displays in his book, and please check out the beginning of his video to see some of the awesomeness of his work, in, shall we say, his own little homage to the “Hush” projector scene. Enjoy!
Where Buffy the Vampire Slayer & the Myth of Sisyphus intersect
By Evan Munday
Obviously, the majority of my post will focus on 'Hush,' given it's one of the most compelling hours of television (period), but we'll get to that last. (Be patient.) All three episodes this week ('Hush,' 'Doomed,' and 'A New Man') speak to a similar theme that carries throughout Season 4 (or, as I like to call it, the first season of Buffy: The College Years).
Season 4 finds our favourite gang of vampire slayers and demon subduers (yea, even the story arc itself) lost and directionless, which parallels the motion of many individuals after high school. Season 4 is all about failure, about feeling like you're going nowhere, because for many people, first-year university is all about failure.
Buffy is feeling aimless and somehow hollow after the dissolution of her relationship with Angel and is unwilling to start things up with someone new (like Riley). Despite becoming a more powerful witch, Willow is still reeling from Oz's betrayal and departure. Xander is living in his parents' basement, working through a series of unfortunate jobs. Giles, no longer a watcher nor a librarian, feels useless, and Spike (thanks to the chip in his head) has become impotent as a vampire, unable to bite people (which is pretty much the main criterion for vampires). He resorts to self-staking attempts and dressing in smaller versions of Xander's clothes.
Is it any surprise that 'The Initiative' is the gang's nominal antagonist in Season 4? They're the very opposite of the somewhat purposeless Scoobies. They have direction (it's even in their name), all sorts of science guys, something called '314.' They're real go-getters who have set goals and work toward them.
Continuing that feeling of aimlessness, 'Doomed,' begins just seconds after 'Hush' ends, and the episode focuses on the failure and doomed nature of Buffy's love life. But love isn't the only thing that's doomed: the central characters are doomed to repeat high school (figuratively), to face the same threats over and over.
The earthquake that opens the episode parallels past threats. History is repeating itself. The earthquake, in addition to being a taste of things to come, also demonstrates that Riley is not nearly as good as Angel at 'sex-protecting.' For the uninitiated, 'sex-protecting' is when a male character protects a female character from impending harm by covering her with his body. David Boreanaz is a world-champion sex protector. You can witness him sex-protecting Emily Deschanel often on Bones. Marc Blucas doesn't even come close.)
As Giles uncovers the mysterious demons' plans -- opening the Hellmouth again -- things are literally repeating themselves. When Giles says, 'It's the end of the world.' Everyone else cries in disbelief, 'Again?!' Haven't they used this before? After Giles gets beat about the head again (how much brain damage does that former librarian have?), and the gang figures out their demonic plan, they have to return to their alma mater, old Sunnydale High, and again prevent the Hellmouth from opening. This is the first we've seen of the high school since graduation and the Mayor's fiery death, and the school has clearly been abandoned. Seemingly untouched since the ascension, the preserved state emphasizes the inescapability of high school. And that's not where the 'you can never escape high school' references end.
Spike, annoyed with Xander and Willow, brings up their high school fears of old ('Or you're just the same 10th grade losers you've always been and she's too much of a softie to cut you loose.') Earlier in the episode, Willow runs into Percy, the student athlete she tutored to graduation, who also brings up the spectre of Willow's painfully nerdy past, littered with happy-face backpacks and Blossom-esque hats. 'I like my women hot,' he tells his ladyfriend. 'Call me old-fashioned.' Whatever, Percy! Willow Rosenberg is white-hot with the power of a thousand suns!
'Doomed' refers to the feeling of aimless dread pervading our heroes at this point in the season: they keep fighting the same demons, uncovering the threats, their romantic relationships keep ending, they founder in adulthood. Everything does seem doomed.
- The Initiative calls demons 'Hostile Sub-Terrestrials' or HSTs (which has unintended comedic effect for those of us living and paying taxes in Canada)
- Morley Safer / 60 Minutes reference for the win!
- Does Riley have the worst pick-up lines in history, or what? 'I can feel my skin humming ... my hands, every inch of me!' Just berate her into dating you, Riley. You can do it.
- Spike's American accent ('Just an old pal a' Xander's') is pretty hilarious, especially given James Marsters is American. It's like when Dominic West does a fake British accent on The Wire.
- Why does Riley have a poster of 'balls' on his dorm wall? I'm just an average American guy who likes sports. What other kind of poster would I own?
A New Man
Though it begins with Buffy and Riley making out (gross, right?), this episode is all about how Giles has lost his way and how he comes to terms with that, by hour's end. Thinks of it as kind of a How Giles Got His Groove Back thing ... but with demon transformation.
Rupert Giles had always been planning guy: the guiding light to the team, the researcher and wise advisor, a surrogate father figure to the Chosen One. But in Season 4, he spends his days aimlessly, drinking tea in his courtyard, wearing continually less appealing clothing and having sex with random British visitors. (Whatever happened to Olivia anyway?) Professor Walsh is fast replacing him as Buffy's advisor, which troubles him to no end. So much so that he calls her amazing things like 'harridan' and 'fishwife!'
Giles, after being beaten to the punch by The Initiative again (and learning that no one's bothered to tell him about The Initiative), hits rock bottom (i.e. drinks with nemesis Ethan Rayne). We get to witness Anthony Stewart Head getting hammered, then wake up the next day as a demon. The resulting confusion and terror results in significant Mike-Holmes-level property damage (how much does Giles spend in home repairs?), and Giles finds himself unable to communicate with Buffy and friends about his state. Hilarity ensues.
However, the episode can't be written off as a standalone comedy showcase. There are undercurrents that mirror the entire season (and entire series). When Giles utters his Benjamin-J-Grimm-worthy line, 'I refuse to become a monster because I look like a monster,' it echoes throughout the show. Was this not the attitude of Angel? Or even the attitude of Xander and Willow, refusing to act like losers, even when everyone else believes they are? And, as mentioned earlier, Giles does get his groove back to some degree. The episode ends with a heartwarming reunion between the Slayer and her fake dad, and Giles has a renewed purpose and place in Buffy's life.
- Note how Riley and Buffy's conversation about the number of 'hostiles' they've slain mirrors that other 'number question' encountered in non-demon-slaying relationships. Does it really matter if you've 'slayed' 3 or 300? Or if you started 'slaying' at 15?
- Spike measuring the tomb in the graveyard is comic gold.
- Likewise, when Giles walk in on Ethan Rayne's evil monologue: hilarious. Anyone who's watched their fair share of genre television has waited for that to happen for years.
- From Riley Finn's Big Book of Horrible Romantic Sentiments: 'She is the truest soul I've ever known.
Hush (finally, the main event)
'Hush' perhaps most vividly represents this season's recurring them of failure, the feeling of being lost, as it focuses on the failure of language. The episode is all about people failing to communicate with language: Buffy and Riley can't communicate their feelings, Xander and Anya are having problems deciding what exactly their relationship is, Willow isn't communicating her emo-sized pain to the others. (Spike is the only one who seems to notice she's distressed.) It's only when their voices are taken that they really begin communicating.
'Hush' is also simultaneously one of the funniest and one of the scariest episodes of BtVS. The lack of dialogue makes for some truly inspired moments of silent comedy, but the Gentlemen are also one of the more terrifying monsters on the show. You can't scream as they glide toward you in their fine suits and cut out your hearts.
The episode opens with some clumsy foreshadowing about language in Buffy's Psych Class, then continues the grand tradition of Riley Finn delivering horrible romantic lines ('When I kiss you, it'll make the sun go down.'). They make out in front of class to demonstrate ... something ... (not unlike that recent incident at Northwestern University), but luckily it's all a dream! Or is it?
Buffy can't help remember the little ditty (straight out of Nightmare on Elm Street) sang by the girl in her dream. Given her track record with premonitions, it seems like it might be important. Riley shows up (IRL); he and Buffy are having trouble getting things together. Maybe it's his fashion sense, his patented only-bottom-button-buttoned-shirt look. Maybe it's that they're so wrong for each other. Who can say? (I can't help but think that Riley is the James Marsden of BtVS, sans the good looks and charm. Not a bad guy for Rachel McAdams or Lois Lane or Jean Grey to settle down with, but just missing that chemistry.)
Speaking of so wrong, is Anya wearing a backless sweater? Yes, she is. (I feel like I could devote an entire site to the fashions on this show. I mean, can we talk about how many long skirts appear in this season?) And she feels like Xander isn't treating her like a girlfriend (which he hasn't been). And Giles's 'orgasm friend' is in town. And Willow joins a university Wiccan group (been there; done that). A lot is happening.
In said Wiccan group, we're introduced to Tara Maclay, sporting a killer zig-zag part, looking constantly high and not unlike the lead singer of Soul Asylum (but in a good way). Later, we meet Giles's friend, Olivia, who gets Giles laid (sorry to be so crass) for the first time in the entire series (without the aid of band candy). So, kudos, Olivia. Because of said milestone, Spike gets moved to Xander's apartment, much to his chagrin. I also noted a great deal of Spike bondage this season. He's, like, always being tied up.
Once the characters' voices are stolen, the episode moves from humour (like Xander's phone call and Forrest's written 'C'mon, C'mon') to horror (the Gentelemen's appearance) even more seamlessly than this show usually does. It's helped by the addition of Olivia and Tara, who are newcomers, not yet jaded by demons and monsters. We're seeing this through their eyes, in many instances. And the Gentlemen's disturbing mannerisms and metal grills certainly help.
Soon we're onto the overhead projector exposition from Giles, which must rank in the top ten funniest scenes in television drama of all time, and the harrowing escape of Tara (also in a long skirt) from the Gentlemen. She runs from door to door, knocking madly for someone to help, but everyone is afraid to open the door. (Terrifying shades of Kitty Genovese here.) Only Willow has the courage to open the door and find Tara. (I can't remember my college days too well; do dorm rooms not have peep holes?)
Tara and Willow share a witchy moment later, by combining their powers to move a soda machine, which leads to an intense exchange later.
Willow: I'm definitely nothing special.
Tara: No, you are.
Yow. Keep it in your pants, Maclay!
Without language, the characters are all forced to communicate their feelings in other ways. Riley and Buffy kiss, kickstarting their relationship. Xander faux-rescues Anya from Spike, acting more like a boyfriend than usual. Secrets are revealed and the Gentlemen are defeated.
- Willow with the message board ('Hi Giles.')? Totally adorable. I nearly melted.
- I like how Buffy's all like 'How do I get my voice back? Because, I'm obviously the princess in the fairy tale, right?'
Finally, if there's one thing to be learned from BtVS, it's about the importance of friends. Even if you're the Chosen One, you can't do it all alone. So I invited all the Buffy fans (including one future Rewatch blogger) I knew over for a 'Hush' rewatch. This is (sort of) what happened: