Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Buffy Rewatch Week 47
7.7 Conversations with Dead People
7.9 Never Leave Me
Follow along in Bite Me!, 326-334.
If you’re watching Angel, the episodes this week are:
4.7 Apocalypse, Nowish
4.8 Habeas Corpses
4.9 Long Day’s Journey
Follow along in Once Bitten, pp. 259-265.
Or maybe you won’t be able to read the pages in Once Bitten because your eyes are bleeding from the sight of Connor and Cordelia together. (I STILL don’t think I’ve gotten over that. Blecccchhhh.) We’ve finally seen The Beast on Angel and, funny story (only in retrospect), I met the Beast, Vladimir Kulich, in 2003, I think it was. I was at some fan gathering and he was wandering around, and I was back in another section and suddenly he came up behind me and said, “Well, hello there, would you like to take a picture with me?” completely out of the blue. And his voice sounds EXACTLY like The Beast. I think I first peed my pants, then turned around to see him, and looked up, up, WAY up (my first Friendly Giant reference!) and saw him. We took the picture (my scanner isn’t working and I only have it in print – remember the days before digital cameras?!) and I think I look like I’m going to cry in the photo. Scariest celeb picture ever. Then I had to go change my pants. (But seriously, he was actually a very nice guy.)
But now over to S7 of Buffy, where the Big Bad has been revealed to us finally, and… it’s one we encountered before. Buffy says she knows who the Bringers are, and who the First is, and we saw all of this back in the season 3 episode, “Amends.” If you’ll recall, back then Angel was visited by ghosts of people he’d killed, and he went up on the hill to kill himself when the daylight would come, but Buffy talked him out of it before a miracle occurred and the sun didn’t show its face. That was the First playing with Angel’s head, and it’s waited four long years to return and play with Buffy’s. And Spike’s. And Andrew’s, Willow’s, and Dawn’s.
Now, let’s look at Dawn first. In “Conversations with Dead People” (one of my all-time favourite episodes) we see a new side to Dawn, a backbone and bravery and fierce courage in the face of blinding terror. That flash of white-eyed Joyce reaching out her arm to Dawn while being held down on the couch by a crazy-scary human-sized charred Gollum-type figure sends a chill down my spine worse than just about anything in the series. I think it’s actually scarier than the Gentleman going by the window just as Olivia’s looking outside in “Hush.” But Dawn doesn’t flinch. She develops a communication system with Joyce (knock once for yes, twice for no, another scene that freaks me out completely), does a magic spell, and doesn’t stop even when she’s being slashed to bits, like a little version of Willow from “Bargaining.” Was the final image of Joyce the real Joyce shining through the darkness, or was it the First playing with Dawnie’s head?
The big problem people have with this episode is that Cassie appears to Willow instead of Tara. Just like the death of Tara, it truly divided fans who said it wouldn’t have worked if Tara had shown up because that would have been far too painful vs. those who said they wished Amber had been available to have shot this episode. And even that matter has fans divided among those who declare that Amber says she refused to play the part and turned down the opportunity to those who said she was actually in a play in London at the time and was unavailable. I tried to track down the truth and David Fury, one of the writers on the show, told me point blank she was unavailable, as did Jane Espenson, another writer on the show (read my episode guide entry for this episode to see her explanation of how Marti Noxon had to entirely rewrite the scene for Cassie and taking out Tara). I also spoke to someone representing Amber at the time, who confirmed that Amber had been busy at the time and unavailable and she would have loved to have returned to Buffy. But others say they’ve seen Amber at conventions and she’s said she simply refused. Maybe she’s just being swept up in the fan fervor, or maybe she’s telling the truth. Goodness knows, and in the end, it doesn’t much matter. Personally, I think it would have been more effective to have had Tara there. I find it baffling when people say it would have been too painful – right, and having young Dawn see her dead mother being strangled on the couch was all sunshine and puppy dogs? No, it was horrifying, and that’s why it worked.
But I think the writers did a good job of convincing us Cassie was the person to appear, and Alyson Hannigan is downright extraordinary in the scenes with her. When she looks up, with tears tumbling down her cheeks and tries talking to “Tara,” who she believes is in the room with her, my heart is breaking. I love Alyson Hannigan on How I Met Your Mother but I truly hope she finds a great dramatic acting gig after that show is done. She’s astounding.
Bibs and Bobs:
• The guy playing Holden will appear on Angel next season as a scientist.
• Do the Summers women really like Spanish music? In S5, Buffy is washing dishes in “Listening to Fear” and she flips on some sort of salsa music really loudly, and the moment she turns on the radio it’s on that station. In this episode, Dawnie turns on the radio and it’s on that station. An interesting choice.
• Buffy: “I commit! I’m committed. I’m a committee.” Hahaha!
“Conversations with Dead People” is the ultimate “going back to the beginning episode. Through the First’s manipulations, we revisit the deaths of Cassie, Tara, and Joyce, as well as Jonathan’s experiences in high school (the guy who took a rifle into the clock tower to commit suicide misses high school?!), Spike’s previous bad boy persona, and Buffy’s entire psychological trajectory throughout the season. It’s a shame that Xander is absent from the episode, but it would have been one too many people.
Pay close attention to the opening song of the episode, which is sung by Angie Hart of Frente! fame, and was written by Hart and Joss Whedon for the ep. One of the best scholarly papers I’ve ever heard was delivered in Arkansas in 2008 by Rhonda Wilcox, where she deconstructed the song line by line and talked about how perfect it was in light of season 7. Unfortunately I couldn’t find that paper published anywhere, but Rhonda, if you’re reading this and you did get it published, please let us know where we can find it! It was brilliant. The last word of the song is “alone,” and the idea of doing things alone versus being part of a group will become a key factor in S7.
Speaking of music, how awesome is Aimee Mann at the Bronze? Totally unfazed in a dazzling striped suit. It reminded me of a friend of mine, who is the lead singer of a prominent band who had a big Billboard hit (and they appeared on SNL) and she and her husband are HUGE fans of Buffy, and I remember the time she was telling me all about how she practically begged to be on the show, but her band was simply too big and Joss wanted to promote independent talent. Dammit. (Her band’s album became a focal point of an episode of True Blood instead.)
Sleeper looks at Spike’s personal hell and how he’s being driven mad by one particular song:
Early one morning, just as the sun was rising,
I heard a young maid sing in the valley below.
Oh, don't deceive me, Oh never leave me.
How could you use a poor maiden so?
Why that song? Maybe the First is Canadian (Canadians know that song as the theme song for the children's show, "The Friendly Giant" -- second reference!!) which would be consistent with the Lost idea that Canadians are evil. But as for the song, stay tuned… you’ll find out. Needless to say, the song is enough to trigger the big bad in him, and turn him into the soulless demon he once was, pre-chip, pre–Buffy lust. Can he fight the anger within? Angel loses his soul when he gets a big happy, and he can’t be easily turned back. Spike’s evil turns on and off, and they need to get to the bottom of that switch.
But someone who WANTS to be evil and isn’t is Andrew. As the member of the Troika whose name NO ONE can remember (“whatshisname” makes me laugh every time), he’s now back and will be funnier in every episode he’s in. The death of Jonathan was really sad for me, as we see how far he’d come from the scared unhappy nerd in the clock tower, but now Andrew (“THAT’LL DO PIG!!!!” hahahahahaha) is the last one of his gang. Will the others let him survive?
All I can say is, I hope Anya and Xander are heading up all future interrogations.
Meanwhile, over in merry olde England, the Watcher’s Council got blowed up real good. But can I just take this moment to mention once again how useless I’ve always thought the WC was? There’s one girl in all the world, and her name is Buffy. Well, and Faith. And the WC seems to know absolutely nothing about either of them. They’re not in contact with Buffy, nor have they done a thing to get Faith out of prison. So… if their job is to watch the Slayer, and they have no contact with them, what exactly are they doing? Researching apocalyptic events? That’s all well and good, but if they don’t pass their findings on TO THE SLAYER it’s not a lot of good, now, is it? Frankly, I remember watching them go boom at the time and thinking, “Oh well…” And I still feel that way.
This week’s guest is my coworker (our desks are right next to each other) and fellow companion guide writer, and we’ve edited each other’s writing before. It’s the lovely Crissy Calhoun! Her first book was on Gossip Girl but she’s since moved into the vampiric realm with me and has written books on The Vampire Diaries. Her book, Love You To Death was a hit with fans, so much so that she released a book on the second season a couple of months ago. If you are a TVD fan (and I will be soon… no really, Crissy, I WILL get those season 1 DVDs back to you soon!) you can follow her weekly recaps at Vampire-Diaries.net, and follow her on Twitter here.
Take it away, Crissy!
Here we go.
Rather unintentionally, I’ve landed on a trio of episodes that form a turning point in the final season of Buffy: the Big Bad makes its presence known and Buffy figures out that it’s in fact the Biggest Bad, Spike comes to realize just how many layers there are in the blooming onion of his identity crisis (in large part brought on by the First), and thanks to an impromptu therapy session in a cemetery, Buffy takes one step closer to understanding the complex complexities that drive her — and ultimately guide her as she takes on the First.
To begin at the beginning, “Conversations with Dead People” opens with a montage set to “Blue” (a song so perfect for the episode you’d think it was written just for it . . . oh wait, it was) and we see Buffy on patrol, like we’ve seen her a hundred times before, alone in the cemetery — alone among the dead and undead. It’s the perfect visual to set up the coming dissection of her personality with Holden: as the slayer she is isolated, there’s only one of her (“pretty much”), and in some ways she is superior to her friends. She has superhuman strength and a calling; just watch her slay those two Bringers in “Never Leave Me” and it’s doubtless than Buffy is far better than your average badass, she’s an epic heroine. But coupled with that superiority complex is her feeling that she’s much, much worse — not only for believing that she’s better than her loved ones but for, as Buffy says, “what I’ve let myself become,” the darkness and pain that fuel her (as Spike figures out). The disconnect between her identity as slayer and as human being, between being moral and needing to kill and inflict pain on a daily basis has been part of Buffy’s struggle since the beginning, but post–death and resurrection, the darkness has amped up. It means that now more than ever Buffy is alone.
“Conversations…” features all of our characters in isolation, and for Dawnie, the fun and freedom of being a teenager home alone — pizza, dance parties, trying on your sister’s clothes, playing with her crossbow… — twists into the absolute horror of having no one there for you. The haunting absence of her mother, which the Summers girls live with daily, becomes nightmarish as Joyce reappears on the couch where she died (and with the creepiest creeper creeping on her). Just as “Blue” is used to create mood and set up the theme in the opening and close of the episode, we hear the most menacing salsa in the history of television, as the First haunts Dawn. In fact, all three of these episodes have great Buffy music moments: Spike’s trigger is the lilting song “Early One Morning” that takes on a sinister edge, and in what is my favorite Bronze performance scene ever, Aimee Mann’s “Pavlov’s Bell” is interrupted as the vampire Spike sired falls from the balcony and dusts on the ground. “I hate playing vampire towns.”
As with the music, so with the comedy: it all comes together to create that quintessential Buffy tone that’s often imitated, never duplicated. Part of that comes with the strength of six seasons and trust that the audience gets it. Andrew (Tyler’s brother) is a prime example of that, giving us the lightest comic touches with a dark edge. He adopts Spike’s look after killing Jonathan but can’t kill the little piggie. The butcher mocks his “Neo” look. And in a classic scene, Willow and Andrew have a standoff in the alley, threatening each other; it’s hilarious, but actually they are both murderers.
And there we come back around to the difference between “bad people” and “people who do bad things.” Why doesn’t Buffy kill Spike like any other murderous vampire? Why don’t the Scoobies judge Buffy for violence she’s perpetrated? Why is Willow allowed to go unpunished?
Penance. As Buffy tells Spike in that brilliant scene in the basement in “Never Leave Me,” she saw his penance, she saw him face the monster inside and fight back. Between the chip, the soul, and the song, Spike’s been having a rough go of it, unable to sort out how much of a baddie he is. He’s been controlled by the First, made into a murderous puppet, but even as he seems to be breaking free of that by the end of “Never Leave Me” he knows what he, alone, is capable of. He chillingly reminds Buffy of what kind of a vampire he’s been, taking pleasure in violence and in his victims’ pain. But she won’t stop him: she believes in him, and he can stop himself. Wresting control away from the First, breaking free from the psychological manipulation and influence, and becoming more man than monster is the battle Buffy wants Spike to fight and win. In a lot of ways, it’s exactly what she needs to do herself.
For me, the Spike/Buffy “I believe in you” dynamic is an interesting one to watch in light of this season of The Vampire Diaries, where we have a bad/gone good/gone bad again vampire that will at some point have to wrestle with an existence post–killing rampage and a heroine whose belief in him as someone innately good could easily fall into the realm of lady-writing-love-letters-to-a-jailed-serial-killer. But Buffy’s belief in Spike isn’t reckless (she chains him up, after all); it’s believable. How do you give up on someone when you know their potential?
The fight to be “masters of our fate, captains of our souls” — as Quentin Travers so sagely quotes to Lydia before being blown to smithereens — is hard enough without the First Evil’s diabolical plans, but it’s the struggle at the heart of this trio of episodes and, arguably, season 7 as a whole.
Thank you, Crissy!
Next week: Jennifer K. Stuller is back to guest host, and you’ll find out the reason why I ♥♥♥ Xander so much.
7.10 Bring on the Night
And if you’re watching Angel, enjoy the return of one of my favourite Whedonverse characters!
See you next week!