6.05 Life Serial
6.06 All the Way
Follow along in Bite Me!, pp. 281-286.
This week’s Angel episodes are:
3.04 Carpe Noctem
Follow along in Once Bitten, pp. 202-209.
I’m writing this in 10-minute spurts over several days leading up to rewatch night as I recover from heart surgery (don’t tell my cardiologist you saw this), so forgive me if it’s all out of order and rambling. (I’ve already had to cut and paste a bunch of things to move them around when I realized I wasn’t making any sense…)
I’ll say this off the top of season 6: where I said outright that season 4 was my least favourite, but contains some of my favourite episodes, and season 5 is my second favourite season after season 2, but it’s not so much for individual episodes as the way they all come together to tell one long story, I like the arc of season 6 a lot, but it contains a lot of hokey episodes. The season goes up and down and has problems finding its place, but it’s always held a strong place in my heart, because I LOVE the end of this season, and the ways it shows the harshness of growing up. The season 6 finale is my favourite of the series (after season 2, of course). ;)
The one thing I do like about the placement of these episodes is how light they are – while on the one hand the comedy seems out of place, on the other, considering how unbelievably dark the first trio of episodes of season 6 are, it’s a welcome change. But I will add to this that the reason Flooded has always bothered me is because of the way everyone looks at Buffy like she has to solve the issue. Um, hi, Willow? You and Tara have taken up quarters in the largest room in the house, and you’ve been living off Joyce’s insurance money, and you haven’t gotten a job? Did you bring Buffy back because you loved her or because you needed a worker bee in the house to pay your bills? Sell the house, get an apartment. Cripes.
But besides that irritation, I really enjoyed Flooded, and I thought Sarah was great in it. And Willow redeems herself when she lamely attempts to piss off Buffy. Hilarious.
In the not-so-hilarious but wonderful category is Giles returning. I melt whenever I see the look of fatherly love on his face, but also the way she closes her eyes and falls into his arms, as if she knows that FINALLY someone is there who might be able to help her, rather than relying on her to solve the situation. And then the flip side of that scene is the one where he confronts Willow. For me, that’s always been one of the most painful episodes of the entire series to watch. Willow has always occupied a soft spot in Giles’s heart, right from the beginning. When Buffy was young and impetuous, Willow was the one who listened to him and helped, who had a connection to Jenny Calendar like Giles did. And now he faces her and calls her stupid and a “rank, arrogant, amateur.” And if that isn’t difficult enough to watch, she threatens him menacingly at the end of the scene. Beautifully acted by both of them, but that scene drives a stake through my heart every time.
Flooded and Life Serial introduce the evil trio of nerds: Jonathan, Warren, and Andrew. When these episodes first aired, the Evil Trio, who became known as the Troika within the fandom (and I believe Joss nods to that later in the season when one of them refers to themselves that way) were reviled among fans. Not all fans: there were many out here in the fandom who actually thought they were very funny, and posed a serious threat to our Slayerettes. And I was one of them. I thought they were hilarious, and frankly, as much as I love The Big Bang Theory, I’ve often thought that show stole a lot from these guys and their antics in season 6 (yes, in case you thought they were a one-off… they are not). But other fans thought they were too goofy, not menacing enough, and detracted from the darkness of the season. Perhaps it’s because their true menace won’t be apparent until later. Or because they were all regular joes who appeared on the series before. Or perhaps because Jonathan was so sweet (he gave Buffy the UMBRELLA!!!) and now he’s turned on her after she saved his life. OK, I’ll give you that one… that always bugged me a bit.
But without spoiling, I will say this: these guys will be a menace throughout the season, but they are not the season’s ultimate Big Bad. You’ll have to wait a bit longer to see that one. And when you do… it’s a doozy.
Life Serial is a tad disjointed, but it has some great moments: Buffy drinking alcohol is laugh-oud-loud hilarious to me, and Jonathan’s Magic Bone makes me giggle every time. And kitten poker!! And Clem!! And the James Bond smackdown. And that snarky mummy hand.
Oh, and this scene:
BUFFY: I don't really know how to say this, but it's a little like having Mom back.
GILES: In this scenario, I am your mother?
BUFFY: Wanna be my shiftless absentee father?
GILES: Is there some sort of, um, rakish uncle?
Oh, Giles. ♥♥♥♥
And that brings us to All the Way. Featuring Amber Tamblyn before she was Joan of Arcadia or on House or in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, this is my least favourite of the three Halloween episodes. But it’s important for opening up two storylines: Xander and Anya’s engagement being rife with anxiety, and Willow playing with magic against Tara’s wishes.
This week I’d like you to welcome Graham F. Scott to the Rewatch! I didn’t actually know Graham prior to the Rewatch, but he came to me with interest in participating, and I was thrilled to have him be a part of it. Graham is a writer, editor, and designer based in Toronto. He edits This Magazine, Canada's premier magazine of progressive politics, opinion, and culture. This is his first venture into amateur Buffyology. His website is here and he tweets @gfscott. Take it away, Graham!
When asked by a colleague what politicians fear most, British prime minister Harold MacMillan is recorded (apocryphally) to have said: “Events, dear boy, events.” Meaning that any plan, no matter how careful, can be sideswiped by sudden, unpredictable occurrences. Based on the start of Buffy season six, I would say the same applies to TV production.
Both Nikki and Elizabeth wrote last week about the ways that 9/11 loomed over the premiere of the sixth season of Buffy. I’m a latecomer to the Buffy party: I watched my first episode in 2009 and burned through the whole series in about six months. So I can only imagine in retrospect how eerie it must have been to tune into Buffy the Vampire Slayer in early October, 2001, and see so many echoes of September 11, some implicit (a darker, more graphic, more apocalyptic tone), and some unintentionally overt (um, a big collapsing tower).
What I mean by bringing up MacMillan’s old trope about “Events” is that TV producers, like politicians, are often at the mercy of larger social and cultural shifts, and even a show about a wisecracking vampire hunter and her plucky sidekicks isn’t immune.
Season six would have been outlined sometime the previous spring; scripts written soon after; and I understand shooting started in June or July, months in advance of the attacks on New York and Washington. There was no way for Joss and Co. to predict that the darker tone they were establishing for the new season would resonate so chillingly with current events. Sometimes you just catch the zeitgeist, no matter how much you might prefer not to. (An interesting side note: Fox’s high-concept terrorism fantasia 24 also began shooting during summer 2001, and began airing in early November. There is probably no show that better encapsulated the post-9/11 cultural moment, but just like Buffy season six, it was pure coincidence.)
Season six is notable for being somewhat uneven in tone and quality, veering haphazardly from grim pathos to cheerful absurdity and back again. I think the first six episodes, last week’s and this week’s, starkly illustrates the trend.
In the first three episodes we got a comprehensive array of horrors: Buffy as decomposing corpse; Buffy having to claw her way out of her own grave; biker demons tearing the Buffybot’s limbs off with motorcycles; the same biker demons threatening the female Scoobies with rape and genital mutilation; a possessed Anya slashing her own face with a knife; the revelation that Buffy has been ripped from eternal bliss and now regards her old life as, literally, hell on earth; plus a little snake-vomiting for good measure.
But take a look at this week’s episodes: three light, comic confections, goofy diversions as things settle back into some sort of routine. In “Flooded,” Buffy meets her match in the form of utility bills and property taxes, while newly introduced self-styled supervillain doofuses “The Trio” summon a demon to rob banks for them (with wacky results). In “Life Serial,” Buffy tries to get a job but is foiled by the Trio’s meddling (more wackiness). And in “All the way,” Dawn inadvertently goes on a date with a vampire on Halloween (terminal wackiness achieved).
Outside, the real world of autumn 2001 had morphed into bad fiction — a sinister mastermind in an actual mountain lair plotting global chaos — while on TV, we have three nerds in a basement playing mean pranks on an unemployed single parent with money problems. This is the flipside of catching the zeitgeist: really, really not catching it.
Don’t get me wrong: “Flooded” and “Life Serial” are enormously entertaining episodes, showcasing Sarah Michelle Gellar’s underappreciated gifts as a comic actress and the kind of snappy banter and winking fan-service that makes Buffy so great. (“All the way,” however, must be the worst Halloween episode Buffy ever did, from the fakeout creepy-old-man premise to the lame vampire-makeout twist. I don’t know what else to say about it.)
But the tonal shift from the dark and violent first three episodes of the season to the comparatively frothy fun of the next three is, I would say, a tad jarring in itself; the effect is heightened in a cultural context that’s abruptly turned threatening and paranoid. And that’s always going to be a risk with a cultural product that takes six months to make it from idea to broadcast. In this case, it meant true villainy flooded the news, while Buffy introduced the goofiest, least intimidating villains the Scoobies have ever faced.
The goofiest, least intimidating villains for now, anyway. I don’t think it’s a spoiler at this point to say that things are going to take a turn for the worse; this is a Joss Whedon show, after all. Among all the fun and games — such as “Mr. Drippy,” “evil lint,” drunk Buffy, kitten poker, mummy-hand hijinks, Death Star-airbrushed van (“That’s a flawed design!”), and “Stop touching my magic bone!” among many other lulzworthy moments — the introduction of The Trio is important in one key respect, which is that this enemy is not supernatural.
Sure, The Trio use demons and magic and far-out technology as means to an end, but they themselves are three ordinary human beings with a taste for power and Star Wars trivia and not much else. That’s a subtle but significant difference from the vampires and demons and gods and rogue slayers that have played the role of Big Bad so far. It implies that the threat is closer to home, something terrestrial and banal and icky and human. Without a supernatural big bad, it’s no longer a clash of good and evil; it’s just a bunch of people trying to murder each other.
In other words, perhaps it caught the zeitgeist after all.
Thank you, Graham!
Next week: Everything comes to a head with the fantabulous Buffy musical we’ve all been waiting for!!!! And trust me, both the episode and the Rewatch itself is worth the wait. (Next week’s Angel episode will be 3.7 Offspring.) See you next week!