5.19 Tough Love
Follow along in Bite Me!, pp. 268-273.
This week’s Angel episodes are:
2.18 Dead End
Follow along in Once Bitten, pp. 185-190.
I was just saying on my Facebook page the other day that from “The Body” onwards, every episode in season 5 makes me cry. This week my guest host will be covering “Intervention,” so I’ll talk more about “Forever” and “Tough Love.”
As I mention in Bite Me, “Forever” is a modern take a short story called “The Monkey’s Paw,” where a family is given a monkey’s paw and told it will grant them three wishes, but that the wishes will come with consequences. The father wishes for money, and the next day his son is killed and the factory compensates the family with money. The mother grabs the paw and wishes for her son to come back, and they hear this lumbering, dragging sound at the door and then a long, loud knock. The mother rushes to the door to embrace her son and the father, realizing that whatever has come back is NOT the son, grabs the paw and wishes for the son to go away, and when she throws the door open, he’s gone.
The end of this episode is very similar, but there’s a lot of other material leading up to it that take us nicely from “The Body” to the rest of the season. First, there’s the mention of why Hank Summers is absent. It wasn’t because the actor was unavailable (as you’ll soon see) but because they simply didn’t feel like he was needed in the story. For the entire season, we’ve seen the Summers women band together to take on the world, and now with the mother gone, Buffy has become the mother. But poor Buffy doesn’t know how to BE a mom. So she’s bossy on the one hand, dismissive on the other, and is so caught up in trying to do everything the proper, adult way, she forgets she has a little sister who’s going through her own pain, who stands at the funeral without any close friends by her side, who is suddenly feeling like she’s even younger because her sister isn’t acting like her sister, but a mother. I used to watch this episode and think, “Oh god, Dawn, GROW UP” but curiously, I didn’t feel like that this time. She doesn’t have a say. She used to be Buffy’s equal – they’re sisters, after all, even if Dawn acts 10 years younger than she is – and now she’s not allowed to have any say at all. They talk to her like she’s a little kid, and don’t help Dawn through her grief by talking to her the same way they all talk to Buffy.
I’d entirely forgotten that Angel showed up at the gravesite until he walked up to Buffy in this episode. What a surprise! (And a great surprise, even if it’s my tenth time watching this episode, because when I originally saw it, the WB had released a bunch of PR bumpf saying Boreanaz would be making an appearance, so while it didn’t come as a surprise then, it was nice for it to be one now!) I loved seeing them together again, and the quiet comfort he brings to her. It brought tears to my eyes.
This episode is the first sign that Willow’s about to go down a dark path, as we saw even more in “Tough Love” this week. Willow’s magic is getting out of control, and her misguided decision to “help” Dawn by showing her the book that will allow her to use a faulty spell to bring back some horrible creature that isn’t really her mom was disappointing, but Willow just saw a lost soul and tried to give her some comfort using the very thing that brings HER comfort. Spike does the same thing, helping out Dawnie because he thinks it’ll help the “little bit.”
And I hope no one missed that beautiful, quiet scene where we see Giles listening to Cream’s “Tale of Brave Ulysses.” I’ve always loved that moment immensely. This is the same song he and Joyce had listened to when she was in her Juice Newton clothes and he was dressed as Ripper in “Band Candy,” as they lay on his floor chomping on gum and smoking and acting like teenagers. Now Joyce is gone, and while Giles is stepping up as the parental figure for both Buffy and Dawn now that they’re orphaned in a way, we realize in this one painful moment that he’s missing Joyce terribly, too. They slept together – twice – and clearly connected on a level both physical and emotional. While “Band Candy” is something that was done under a spell, and never led to an actual relationship between the two of them, they helped raise Buffy together, and there must be a part of him that is hurting now that she’s gone.
But it’s Buffy’s speech at the very end that is the real beauty of this episode. Dawn pushes things too far, and despite my growing sympathy for her, when she told Buffy that she didn’t even care about Joyce being dead and Buffy slapped her I yelled, “Good for YOU, Buffy!!” I wanted to slap her. Dawn is, of course, speaking from a place of intense pain and frustration, but Buffy voices something very similar to what Suzanne Kingshott was talking about in her post last week about her father. Buffy HAD to be wrapped up in the funeral arrangements and dealing with Dawn and trying to put her life back together, because just as Sue pointed out is normal post-funeral, it’s only when you stop doing all the arranging that you realize that person is really gone, and the only way to go on with your life is without them. Buffy is broken, and has been trying to avoid the inevitable by keeping busy, something Buffy’s always done.
The writing in that speech is SO GOOD, though, because it speaks to something more general and something that most adults have experienced. People need people to take care of them. Even if you’re grown up and have kids, you have friends and family to lean on, but then THOSE friends and family also need to lean on you, and at some point there is often a blow-out where two people realize they’ve been so wrapped up in their own problems they simply didn’t have the energy left to deal with anyone else’s. This is the moment where Dawn learns a major lesson. Becoming an adult is discovering that maybe you need to deal with things on your own, that just because big sister Buffy isn’t there to hold your hand every step of the way doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about you or the situation or doesn’t love you, it’s just that she’s so overwhelmed with her own problems that she needed to deal with them first. It’s like when that in-flight video tells you to put on your own oxygen mask before you affix your child’s. You’re not going to be much good to them if you can’t breathe, so take care of yourself first, and then take care of them. Buffy needs to heal a bit before she can be of any use to Dawn, but Dawn was simply too young to realize that. Only when Dawn realized that Buffy was feeling as much pain as she was does she dissolve into her sister’s arms, and they use EACH OTHER to lean on, falling to the floor. It’s a gorgeous moment, and immediately after Buffy has tried to tell Dawn that what she’s done is bring back something that’s not her mom, she hears the knock. And it’s not Dawn who rushes to the door, squeaking out “Mommy?” in a little girl voice . . . it’s Buffy. The roles are reversed, and Buffy becomes the little girl who needs her mommy so that she can stop being the parent and go back to being just a big sister again. Dawn steps up and becomes the caretaker, destroying the photo and taking care of her sister, so by the time Buffy gets to the door, her mother is gone and she won’t have to deal with whatever thing is standing on the other side of it. It’s an extraordinary moment. I still remember the terror with which I watched this episode the first time, certain that we’d have to see some version of Zombie Joyce and I remember partly covering my eyes because I just didn’t want to see it. Luckily, Joss didn’t either, and he finished this episode the only way it could be finished.
But, I will admit, this season is the only one where I constantly long for a second theme song… if only they had a backup theme song for sad, quiet openings, so we don’t see Buffy finding Joyce dead on the couch and then cutting to Nerf Herder. Or Buffy opening the door at the end of “Forever” and realizing her mom is gone – REALLY, TRULY gone – and then… cutting to Nerf Herder. (Speaking of music, though, I adore the music that plays during Joyce’s funeral.)
“Intervention” comes next, and I won’t say too much about it other than to say it’s a fantastic episode and Giles doing the hokey pokey is one of my all-time favourite things on the series. Anthony Stewart Head is hilarious as the exasperated Watcher, hopping into the circle, hopping back out, and then shaking his gourd, clearly aware of the fact that he looks like a Grade A Loser. Buffy snidely remarking, “And that’s what it’s all about” has always made me laugh out loud, and this viewing was no exception. Again to comment on the music, I like the reuse of the music from “Restless” when Buffy is out in the wilderness. Meanwhile, back at home, Willow’s magic is continuing to become troublesome, Dawn’s becoming a klepto, and Buffy’s friends are becoming boneheads. I guess Joyce’s death is having a huge effect on all of them. (I mean, come ON, how could they not have noticed the Buffy Bot was speaking like Anya?!)
I can’t go to the next episode without mentioning that the humans are not the only ones who change with Joyce’s death; Spike, too, becomes a much deeper and richer character, as if he realizes his little crush is nothing compared to the anguish Buffy is going through, and he steps back from mooning over to Buffy and begins to truly care about her. He’s always had a soft spot for Dawn, but the beating he takes in this episode shows that he didn’t need a gypsy curse to have a soul.
“Tough Love,” much like “Forever,” has some absolutely stellar writing in it, again because it can apply to our lives in so many ways. I found this episode especially difficult to watch simply because I’d gone through so much of what happens in it over the past few years. When you get to a certain age (in my case, 29… cough, cough), life can become overwhelming at times. Kids, a job, books to write, TV shows to watch, books to read, aging family members needing help, not-so-aging family members needing your time, friends going through difficult periods… it can all be a bit much. And just when you put out one fire, there’s another one. You try to put in some extra work, and your kids think you don’t give them enough time. So you focus on them, and family says you’re not calling or emailing them often enough. So you try doing that and your job needs you to be more focused. So you do that and try to give your kids enough time and make sure you’re not neglecting family or friends… and then suddenly the house looks like a hurricane has run through it and you’ve forgotten to fill out that permission form for the kids’ field trip and the cats have no water in their dish and there’s nothing but a jar of Cheez Whiz in the fridge. And you have no idea how that got there because you didn’t buy it.
But hey, that’s life. And we deal with it, and find the joys in it. But again, as with the end of “Forever,” people get so hung up on little things that are bothering them that they forget to step back and try to see it from another angle. Willow is upset with Tara being “knowledge girl,” while Tara is worried about Willow’s use of magic. Willow lashes out at her, when Tara didn’t quite mean what she said, and Willow didn’t mean what she said. Buffy is being told by Giles to put her foot down with Dawn, be unmoving, and keep that girl studying or she’ll lose her to foster care. Willow tries to convince Buffy to let Dawn be Dawn, not knowing what Buffy has just been told by Giles, and Buffy is caught in the middle of a friend whose feelings are hurt, a sister who’s starting to resent her, and a Watcher/father figure who is telling her to work harder.
It’s only when something truly tragic happens that all of these petty day-to-day things screech to a sudden halt and the Scoobs all come together again. We can all have our differences and think no one is paying attention to us and our brother just looked at us funny so we’ll stop talking to her and our best friend won’t answer phone calls so she must be angry about something… but when something big happens, all those things just fall away. Willow will do anything for Tara, and even through her madness Tara is completely attached to Willow and looks at her with loopy love. Dawn quiets down and is there for Willow as well, and Buffy holds Willow’s hand and reassures her it will be okay, and Willow looks at Buffy as the best friend who is her rock. It’s a wonderful moment when they all come together again, and again, that comes straight from real life. For no matter how much you can’t see eye to eye with your spouse/friend/sibling/parent/loved one, no matter how many times you argue or are angry at them (or they at you), when it comes down to the crunch, you’ll do anything for them and you don’t want to see them hurt.
In this episode we get the first glimpse of Dark Willow, and to avoid spoilers I’ll say nothing more, other than to mention that Willow is beginning her descent along a dark path, and it’ll take more than love and applesauce to find her way back.
Glory knows that Dawn is the Key now. And it’s up to the Scoobs to surround Dawn and make sure nothing can happen to her.
Okay, now it’s time for this week’s guest host!! And… what’s better than one Nikki? TWO Nikkis! That’s right, folks, it’s Nikki Fuller (who posts on Facebook as Nikki Faith; you may have seen her posting on my wall a couple of times). Nikki is a college English teacher in California, if my memory serves (correct me if I’m wrong, Nikki!) She’s currently working on her PhD in Mythological Studies with an emphasis on Depth Psychology (how awesome does that sound?!) and she wrote her Master’s thesis on Buffy and got THE MAN HIMSELF, Joss Whedon, to sign it when she met him at Comic Con in 2007 (squeeeeee!) She said when she met him he told her he was amazed by all the attention that scholars were giving him and his work. I think he would think this Rewatch is pretty awesome, don’t you? ;)
I loved chatting with Nikki online and when I heard she’d given a paper on “The Body” at PCA this past April, I sent her a note and asked if she would be interested in participating (she did her MASTER’S on Buffy! Have I mentioned that yet?) and she was very interested. Nikki blogs here, and she tweets here, so go and follow her! She’s written some fantastic stuff.
And one of those fantastic stuffs is this week’s Rewatch piece. Take it away, Nikki!
by Nikki Fuller
Throughout my academic career, I have focused on Buffy as a modern mythology. There will never be one simple definition for myth because it is so truly expansive, but a couple things are clear. Firstly, mythology, in the strictest sense, is not a synonym for a falsehood. Secondly, to paraphrase my great instructor Christine Downing, myths are stories about things that matter a lot. Truly, they are stories of the human condition. And this is why, fourteen years after its original debut, we are still discussing our favorite vampire slayer. Buffy beautifully depicts the human condition and grants viewers with an arena to discuss and evaluate the most meaningful events in their lives. Encountering death is certainly one of them.
Two critical, life-altering events take place for Buffy when Joyce dies: not only does Buffy lose her mother, but she simultaneously transforms from the role of sister to the role of mother. “Forever” begins to show the difficulty of this transformative time for Buffy. In her conversation with Angel, Buffy reveals what is really the most difficult task: the day after the funeral when normal life is supposed to restart. As I discussed in a paper I presented at the American Pop Culture conference earlier this year on Buffy ’s season five, our modern American funerary rituals do not grant us the time needed to effectively manage the loss of loved ones. The process of the funeral and the return to “normal” daily life is rushed. Buffy is clearly experiencing this. As “Forever” continues, we also see Buffy failing in her new mothering role: Dawn feels no support from Buffy, and she reacts by performing a very dangerous spell. When “Intervention” begins, it is understandable that Buffy would feel that she is emotionally cut off from those around her. Her proposal is to take time off from slaying, but Giles has a better solution: a quest.
“Intervention,” which is greatly about grief and death, includes key elements that are often present in mythology: quest, ritual, sacred space, and spirit guide. At the beginning of this episode, Buffy is in dire need of a ritual, which is partly what the spirit quest provides for slayers. Rituals aid us in moving forward, often into the unknown. As a motherless mother in grief, Buffy needs to both cope with her loss and move into her new role. By taking Buffy on this spirit quest, Giles is providing her with the ground work to do all of this. It will not, of course, happen instantaneously or be easy, but he is essentially initiating her into her new role. The initial ritual Giles performs, albeit similar to the Hokey Pokey, is also representative of Buffy’s new role. While he is temporarily releasing his guardianship of Buffy, she is assuming full guardianship of Dawn.
I will side-step from Buffy’s quest for a moment to emphasize that this entire episode focuses on the roles everyone plays. Even the programming of the Buffy Bot points to the roles The Scoobies have in Buffy’s life: best friend Willow, carpenter Xander, money-loving Anya. (Side-note: I love the pure glee on Anya’s face when the Buffy Bot asks how her money is). We even get a special look at the role Spike plays. Though Buffy’s gut reaction is to kill him before Glory can get a word out of him, he proves his role and dedication in protecting Dawn and Buffy, even if he was inclined to model a sex toy after the latter. (Who says love is perfect?)
After Giles performs his ritual, Buffy must continue alone, as is often the case with a quest. Giles cannot go with her; indeed, he does not even know the specific location of the sacred site. A guide must lead Buffy, for “men are not free to choose the sacred site . . . they only seek for it and find it by the help of mysterious signs” (Eliade 28). Buffy’s guide appears to her in the form of a mountain lion. According to the philosopher Macrobius, “lions are emblematic of the earth” (qtd. in Cooper 98). Since the Earth “is the universal archetype of . . . sustenance,” (Cooper 59) the lion symbolizes that this spiritual quest is going to provide Buffy with the nourishment she needs to move forward with her life and cope with her loss. (Whedon and his team of writers masterfully utilize symbols throughout the series. One does not have to consciously identify symbols to feel their impact for they resonate in the collective unconscious, to use the term of psychologist Carl Jung.) Furthermore, Buffy is now in the very desert she encountered in her dream with the First Slayer in season four, the season where the Scoobies emotionally detached from each other as they all sought their post-high school identities. Since this is ultimately a coming of age show, it is important to see Buffy progressing, continuously re-defining herself and adapting her roles as daughter, sister, lover, Slayer, student, and friend.
Though Buffy has always slain vampires and other monsters, season five has made death a new reality for her. We started to see this in “Fool for Love” when Buffy is stabbed with her own stake and asks Spike to tell her what it takes to kill a slayer. Although she herself died in the season one finale, she did move past that experience rather quickly. Because she was still a young teenage girl, I think it was easy for her to revert to the typical feeling of invincibility that teenagers often maintain, despite her dangerous calling. In season five, however, as a grown woman with more responsibilities and a more mature outlook, the reality of her own mortality is unsettling. Buffy’s injury, her mother’s death, and Glory’s threat against Dawn’s life all force Buffy to face death in a new way. She needs to reconcile herself with this harsh aspect of life.
Ultimately, Buffy encounters the spirit guide in the significant form of the First Slayer, reminding Buffy who she is and what her ultimate role is. Buffy originally receives some comfort about one of her concerns: she’s not hardened; she’s full of love. And love will lead her to her gift! This sounds so beautiful . . . but, wait, death is her gift?? This message is certainly unclear and unsettling to our grief stricken Slayer.
To avoid spoilers, I can say no more, so I will leave you with a quote to contemplate: “Death is a paradox – it can be understood as both a changeless state and transforming process, as a definitive end or harbinger of new beginnings and rebirth” (Grillo 20).
Eliade, Mircea. The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion . Florida: Harcourt, 1967.
Cooper, J.C. “Earth.” An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols . London: Thames & Hudson, 1978.
Cooper, J.C. “Lion.” An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols . London: Thames & Hudson, 1978.
Grillo, Laura S. “‘Rambu Solo’: the Toradja Cult of the Dead and Embodied Imagination.” Varieties of Mythic Experience: Essays on Religion, Psyche and Culture . Einsiedeln: Daimon-Verlag, 2008. Print.
Thank you, Nikki!
Next week: We come to the end of this marvelous season with an incredible triptych of episodes, along with co-hosts Robert Wiersema and Tanya Cochran:
5.21 The Weight of the World
5.22 The Gift
On Angel, we come to the end of season 2 in a WONDERFUL trio of Wizard of Oz-named eps, and all I can say is, prepare yourself for season 3, the best Angel season to this point. (And for all of you new viewers who wonder why Whedon fans always say, “Numfar, do the dance of joy!” you’re about to find out.)
2.20 Over the Rainbow
2.21 Through the Looking Glass (hey, wasn’t there another TV show that recently used that title?)
2.22 There’s No Place Like Plrtz Glrb