4.18 Where the Wild Things Are
Read along in Bite Me!, pp. 235-239
And if you’re watching Angel, this week’s episodes are:
1.16 The Ring (featuring the little brother of Dennis, the Beeper King)
1.18 Five by Five (Part One)
Follow along in Once Bitten, pp. 136-142
Well, with this week’s episodes we officially reach the midpoint of the Buffy Rewatch! (And the year, for that matter.) Twenty-six weeks down, 26 to go. This isn’t one of my favourite weeks, although it opens with a great episode, the end of the two-parter that began last week. Sarah Michelle Gellar’s impression of Eliza Dushku being Faith acting as Buffy (did you follow that?) is a thing of beauty, especially that hilarious scene where Faith stands in front of the mirror and does her holier-than-thou Buffy mimickry, “Because it’s WRONG.” Then later, Eliza does her impression of Sarah Michelle Gellar when she goes to Giles’s house, “Giles, you’re inching. Stop inching!... What’s a stevedore?” This episode is at times funny and devastating, and is where many of the fans who still hated Faith at the end of season 3 really came around. Faith hasn’t had Buffy’s cushy life, and she let the power of Slayerhood get to her. As she beats her own body to a pulp, despising every contour of it, we finally see the real Faith. Her self-hatred will destroy her… unless she can find a forgiving soul who knows what she’s been through (you’ll have to follow her over to Angel to see the true conclusion of the Faith arc).
And of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the super-hot Tara/Willow spell scene. That entire scene is incredible, and one of the best visual metaphors ever done on the show.
I’ve never been much of a fan of “Superstar” (I was kind of shocked at how much I hated it in Bite Me! when I went back and reread what I’d written) but this time around I didn’t dislike it as much as I had before. I still don’t love it (and I know many, many fans do, so I say all of this knowing full well that I’m definitely in the minority on hating this ep), but I was able to chuckle a bit more, especially knowing what this episode was foreshadowing. I think my main beef is that we last saw poor Jonathan as someone who’d had a rough time of it in high school and was driven to a brink, but Buffy was the only person who could really see what he was going through. I LOVE the scene in “The Prom” where he gave her the Class Protector award (I still can’t watch it without weeping) and this episode seemed to undermine that when we see that he owns it instead of her.
My feelings for “Where the Wild Things Are” didn’t change much. Whenever I think of this episode I think of Buffy and Riley, and honestly, I have to skip through scenes of them snogging. Really. I never used to… but I really have to now. Tracey Forbes, author of the infamous “Beer Bad” episode who redeemed herself with “Something Blue,” loses a few more points for this one only for one major reason: she always writes Buffy as acting completely unlike herself. Buffy is never Buffy in a Forbes script; it’s like Forbes has no idea who this character is supposed to be, so she gives her these out-of-character storylines every time. Thankfully, this is the last of the Forbes scripts.
However, while I hate that aspect of the episode, it still has that wonderful scene of Giles singing “Behind Blue Eyes,” a precursor to another episode coming up where we’ll see him singing a lot more.
As I’ve said, season 4 is my least-liked season, but on this rewatch I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed it. However, when the Initiative arc took hold and Adam was revealed I remembered why I didn’t like this season after all. Luckily, the next episode, “New Moon Rising,” will yet again show you why I adore this series. Prepare to have your hearts stomped on.
I have a big lineup of material for you again this week! First, our lovely Steve Halfyard talks about the music once again!
In “Who are You?”, it's that angular cello melody that gets varied into a whole new thematic idea for Faith-as-Buffy as she battles with issues of identity and intimacy – the biggest working-through of that idea is the scene where she seduces Riley, juxtaposed with the equally intimate process of Willow and Tara working their spell: the theme starts off angular and awkward and transforms into something rather lovely and magical as those two sequences of events unfold. But then, having revisited musical ideas from season 3 for Faith's return to life, something very strange happens in “Where the Wild Things Are”. Firstly, as we see the house that is at the centre of the episode, the voice/ cello idea from when Faith woke up reappears again as voice and oboe, so connecting the dysfunctional, lost, vulnerable, badly behaved but sympathetic Faith with the children of the house (to whom all those descriptors equally apply); but then, in one of my biggest ever OMG moments, we get a complete cue from season 3's “Helpless”. The cue is the one we first heard as Buffy found out her dad wasn't taking her to the ice show for her birthday (the 'Fatherhood' theme) which was then followed by our first sight of the Psycho-like house in which she was supposed to be trapped to undergo her coming-of-age ritual fight to the death with a mad vampire after all her powers had been taken away from her (and the whole 'problematic parents' subtext of the episode, Buffy's bad father(s) and the mad vampire's mother-killing fixation).
In “Where the Wild Things Are”, we have a scary house full of angry spirits who have a problem with a mother figure, a house in which Buffy is trapped and may well die in because she’s pretty much disempowered, this time by the fact that she can’t stop having sex with Riley. Apart from that last bit, that all sounds pretty familiar – and so does the music Beck uses to introduce the scary house about 9 minutes into the episode: it's exactly the same “scary house” part of the cue from “Helpless”. The connection between the two houses is pretty straight forward and kind of cool: Beck reminds us in season 4 that we have been here before, that there are precise parallels between these two houses. What’s less straightforward but actually even more interesting is that the music that symbolises issues of fatherhood and trust in “Helpless” is also used in the preceding scene (at night in Riley's bedroom) and is used to score Riley. Why? one might well ask! Well, at this point Buffy is still pretty upset about the whole 'you slept with me and you couldn't tell I was Faith?' business, which got rather put on hold in “Superstar” (oh, those James Bond guitar chords and brass stabs!) so we have the element of betrayal of trust. But fatherhood? My word, doesn’t that potentially bring a whole new dimension to our understanding of what Buffy sees in him!
Next up is David Kociemba, who we previously saw in weeks 4 and 10. Take it away David!
Obviously, “Superstar” attracts a lot of attention in the academic study of fandoms. In a way, all three of these episodes are Mutant Enemy’s tip of the cap to its fan culture, just like “The Wish” (B3.09) and “Doppelgangland” (B3.16) were. You have three classics of fanfic genres here: a body-switch episode, an alternate reality Marty Stu and the normal interest in people bonking, whether it be Willow/Tara’s exploration of the nether regions or Buffy/Riley’s!
In Fighting the Forces, Justine Larbalestier expresses some concern about this episode, in the context of talking about how this series rewards fan engagement and acknowledges fan culture as productive and a source of inspiration for Mutant Enemy. She observes that “Jonathan’s desires to be a Buffylike superhero and to be publicly recognized as such (an acknowledgment that Buffy, with the exception of ‘The Prom,’ does not receive) are embarrassing and come dangerously close to caricaturing the relationship of fans to the show.” This episode is part of Jonathan hitting rock bottom—his use of magic to rape the twins presages even darker moments later. In the past, I’ve agreed with Larbalastier, suggesting the writers use Jonathan as a catalyst for the viewer to engage in a searching and fearless exploration of how they use Buffy. By season six, the writers engage in some serious soul-searching themselves. What does fiction mean after 9/11? What’s a Giant Mayor Snake next to a real apocalypse? The writers use Jonathan, The Other Two and Buffy to figure out whether getting lost in a story means losing yourself and whether losing yourself in some stories can help you find a better self afterwards.
Larbalestier’s unstated worry is whether Jonathan needs to “Get a life!”, to cite the infamous SNL skit, and whether Mutant Enemy thinks all their fans need to as well. Yet, I don’t think many viewers watching “Superstar” feel that way about Jonathan. What makes Jonathan different from them is that we know him. He has a history. That makes him a character to be understood, not a harmful and largely inaccurate stereotype to be mocked.
Jonathan was first seen almost getting the life sucked out of him by the kiss of the “Inca Mummy Girl” (B2.04), although he was in the unaired half-hour production pilot. He returns to the screen next at the end of “Reptile Boy” (B2.05) fetching a cinnamon, chocolate, half-caf, nonfat cappuccino with extra foam for Cordelia, his date. (In “The Wish,” Harmony shows her usual lack of creativity by suggesting that he’d make a wonderful date for Cordelia after she’s dumped Xander for cheating with Willow. All he can do is look up from his Big Gulp with those wounded eyes.) Later, some “Bad Eggs” (B2.12) control his mind, setting him to do some recreational digging in the school basement. Xander accuses him of mistaking the school library for a Barnes & Noble bookstore in “Passion” (B2.17). “Go Fish” (B2.20) is the first time the villain within is suspected, when Willow accuses him of being behind the rash of swim team deaths after his wounded masculinity prevents him from showing any gratitude to Buffy for saving him from swimmers intent on drowning him. (He got his revenge by peeing in the pool.) Despite all of this contact with Buffy, does she remember his name the next time they meet, in “Dead Man’s Party” (B3.02)? No, she does not, calling him “you, by the dip.” Still, he helps defend the Summers manse from an attack by zombies moments later. His greed for the good things in life first manifests itself in “Homecoming” (B3.05). He pits Buffy and Cordelia against each other when they buy his vote for Homecoming Queen, garnering a tidy profit in cupcakes and cash. This legacy of small wounds to his psyche, which would drive him to even more drastic measures later, leads him to try to kill himself in “Earshot” (B3.18), only to be prevented from doing so by Buffy. Jonathan shocks both Buffy and the audience by delivering a speech at “The Prom” (B3.20) that thanks Buffy for all that she’s done to make this class have the lowest mortality rate in Sunnydale High’s history. He even has a date that slow dances with him—a fan who won an online contest. And when the Graduation Day battle is joined, he’s the one who hurls himself with a barbaric yawlp in the student’s charge towards The Mayor’s minions.
Jonathan’s us. Jonathan lost his way and looked for the easiest way to solve his hardest problems. This character—who grows from human scenery into something more complex than any of the roles he steals—has trouble imagining a new narrative to his own life. Don’t we all? Viewers shouldn’t see Jonathan in the same light as those Trekkers on SNL. We don’t know anything about them and there’s nothing to know.
And if Jonathan’s us, it’s very interesting that he can also be Joss Whedon. The first shot of Jonathan in “Superstar” shows him swiveling his desk chair around to face the camera—suave, smiling, and smug—to observe to Buffy, “It sounds like you can use my help.” The score quotes the James Bond theme, then segues into Nerf Herder’s series theme for the opening title sequence… into which Jonathan has inserted himself. These appropriations are few in number, but strategically chosen for maximum comic impact. He does Buffy’s kip-up, but stands wielding her crossbow. He’s bent over to disarm a bomb, while Xander had to have a zombie do it. He cocks his head and smiles, as so many of the characters do. The final crescendo references but does not duplicate the final shot of the opening title sequence in Angel. When Jonathan’s magic spell allows him to alter the opening montage, Whedon acknowledges his implicit presence in the narrative as narrator of the series. Whedon is a part of the series, so his creative efforts are just as subject to rewrite as the heroic efforts of his characters. SNL’s creators can’t see themselves in their subjects; Joss Whedon can and teaches us that empathy through his stories. Through Jonathan, and Faith, we learn to love the sinner and hate the sin. Even when the sinner is us.
Cynthea’s post discusses the meaning of “Who Are You?” in some depth, so I’ll take pleasure in making a just a few informal observations. First, I absolutely love Faith’s arc here and its two crossover episodes in Angel. “Five by Five” and “Sanctuary” show the limitations of Buffy’s role as a righteous warrior of justice, which has little room for the complexities of how redemptions are actually nurtured. Faith’s the catalyst in seasons three and four for weaning viewers away from hero worship towards a richer understanding of Buffy and heroism. Faith’s recovery is different from Angel’s because she is the first villain to admit that her life had become unmanageable and to explicitly seek forgiveness. It was never as difficult to forgive Angel’s blood binge in season two of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as it was to do so with Faith’s murderous treachery and class resentments. The emotional hardship of actually embracing genuine outsiders becomes most apparent through Faith’s story. And you should see those two crossovers, as they are actually vital to understanding season seven. They also explain why producers thought Eliza Dushku merited a starring role in Tru Calling and Dollhouse.
But what’s interesting here is how complex the acting is. Sarah Michelle Gellar has to perform the role of Buffy plausibly enough to temporarily fool the other characters. She must slip in enough of Dushku’s techniques to signal the presence of Faith’s consciousness in Buffy’s body. Vocally, Gellar does this through a brassier voice contrasted with a higher pitched laugh, slightly longer pauses, and strategic mispronunciations. Physically, Gellar rolls her shoulders back, half-closes her eyes, purses her lips and makes active use of her hands and legs, especially while sitting. Gellar has to play a plausible Buffy using her own techniques, the role of Faith using Dushku’s techniques, and Faith’s understanding of Buffy by blurring both approaches. In addition, Gellar has to signal that Faith is beginning to understand and emulate Buffy through moments of genuine Buffyness prior to the scene in the church. Meanwhile, Dushku has to impersonate Gellar’s performance of Buffy. During Dushku’s scene with Giles, she opens her eyes wide and speeds up the delivery of her lines while varying her pacing to include hitches. Dushku largely eschews the expressive use of her body and hands, although she does push her hair back with her pinky and tilt her head.
And you know what? Both actresses are clearly commenting on their relationship on set while they’re doing this! In an interview with Jana Riess, Dushku mentions that “My relationship with Sarah was the same way, art imitating life in a way. We had a real chemistry that was similar to Buffy and Faith. [laughs] I was like, ‘Hey! This is fun! Let’s have some fun!’ And she’d say, ‘This is my job. This is work. There’s responsibility, and there are consequences. You can’t hook up with these hot guys! We work with them. You cannot hook up with our costars.’ It was a real dynamic we had, that just started to come out in the show.”
So now you know why Joss Whedon had Faith sleep with Riley. It had to have made Gellar nuts.
Thank you, David! And finally, Cynthea Masson, one of my cohorts in our Beer Bad battle, and previously seen here covering “Lie to Me” and “The Dark Age.”
Two of this week’s three episodes, “Who Are You?” (4.16) and “Where the Wild Things Are” (4.18), represent Buffy at its best and worst. An example of the best: Willow and Tara’s homoerotic “nether realm” spell in “Who Are You” emphasizes the intense sexual energy between these two witches. An example of the worst: Buffy and Riley’s enchanted heterosexcapades in “Where the Wild Things Are” confirm for me an absolute lack of genuine chemistry between the Slayer and her commando. (After all, the reason Buffy and Riley can’t keep their hands off each other is mystical interference. At least Willow and Tara are responsible for their own orgasmic magic.) I have little else to say about “Where the Wild Things Are” since I place it alongside “Beer Bad” as one of the worst Buffy episodes ever. So, let’s forego the literal and figurative sexual alliances of these episodes and discuss another type of relationship emphasized in “Who Are You?”—that of “self” and “other.”
This is not the first time we’ve witnessed self/other interplay in Buffy—we need only think back to “Dopplegangland” (3.16) when Willow and Vamp Willow temporarily co-exist in the same dimension or “A New Man” (4.12) when Giles is transformed into a Fyarl demon. The human “self” and the demon “other” are not necessarily polar opposites. Indeed, Buffy repeatedly asks us to consider the ways in which the self is recognizable in the other and, moreover, to recognize that a person’s conception of him/herself is considerably limited; as Adam says in “Superstar” (4.17), “Humans sense so little of what they carry inside.” We also repeatedly see that a person’s perspective on other people (and, by extension, our perspective on any given character) is limited; as Faith says (when she inhabits Buffy’s body in “Who Are You?”), “I guess you never really know someone until you’ve been inside their skin.”
When Buffy and Faith switch bodies, each self temporarily exists within the other. Initially, when Faith (as Buffy) strokes Buffy’s leg in the bathtub and then scrutinizes her face in the mirror, her fascination is limited to the physical experience of the exchange. Similarly, Buffy (as Faith) experiences the sheer physicality of being Faith when told by one of the Council thugs, “What you are, miss, is the package. I deliver the package. I don’t much care what’s inside.” We must ask here whether the assumption perpetrated by others that Faith is merely a physical package rather than an emotionally complex woman has contributed to her callous persona. Faith herself seems to believe that she is merely the body she inhabits; thus when she (as Buffy) sexually propositions Riley, she asks, “What do you want to do with this body?” Only after experiencing emotionally laden sexual intimacy with Riley does Faith (as Buffy) ask the titular question, “Who are you?” Arguably, this question represents a first attempt on Faith’s part to see beyond the body or beneath the physical surface. In this moment Faith disassociates herself from Buffy’s body, asking Riley, “What do you want from her?” Shortly thereafter, having apparently learned something about her self through living as the other, Faith begins to assume Buffy’s ethical role, to redefine her position in the world (“I am not a killer. I am the Slayer”), and to fight for what is right. She begins to understand the moral complexities of being the Slayer, recognizing that she has a choice to fight evil because it’s wrong rather than because she possesses the physical power to do so.
“Who Are You?” also plays with notions of selfhood through other characters. For example, Spike is reminded by Faith (as Buffy) that he is “William the Bloody with a chip in his head.” In other words, he is no longer the self he used to be or the self others knew him to be. But neither is William the Bloody the person he used to be prior to being sired as a vampire: William the “bloody awful” poet (“Fool for Love” 5.7). Positioning Spike as a continually evolving vampire/person/character is fundamental to the plot lines of upcoming seasons. Tara also provides a site at which to question the relationship between self and other when she acknowledges that none of the Scoobies know her: “They don’t even know I exist, right?” In response, Willow claims she wants to keep Tara for herself, but she must also recognize (and perhaps fear) that if the others knew Tara (or even knew of Tara) they might discover the extent of Willow’s relationship with her. One’s friends can reveal something about oneself.
Indeed, Faith (as Buffy) immediately recognizes the sexual connection between Willow and Tara, as she acknowledges rather crudely to Tara: “So, Willow’s not driving stick anymore.” Tara likewise immediately recognizes that Buffy (that is, Faith) is not herself: “A person’s energy has a flow, a unity. Buffy’s was—was fragmented. It grated, like something forced in where it doesn’t belong.” Notably, the episode suggests that a stranger may be better than a friend at recognizing subtleties about a person’s character—subtleties that exist beyond the limitations of familiar physical features and expected patterns of behaviour. Riley knows Buffy intimately, but only Tara recognizes the “other” within her; Buffy knows Willow very well, but only Faith recognizes the sexual relationship Willow shares with another woman. (Where does Buffy think Willow has been spending her nights?) In “Superstar” it is Buffy who recognizes that Jonathan is not the person (or people) he claims to be: “He just seems too perfect.” Both “Who Are You?” and “Superstar” imply that people are not necessarily what they appear to be and that each of us needs to be open to recognizing the other within the one (or self) we thought we knew.