3.2 Dead Man's Party
3.3 Faith, Hope and Trick
Before I get to this week’s episode, I wanted to print a letter that I got from one of the followers of the rewatch, Eric. I’d like all the contributors to know that our work is really bringing people on board to watch our favourite show with us! Thanks to everyone who’s been sending me personal notes telling me how much you’re enjoying it. Maybe I’ll make the “Rewatch testimonials” a semi-regular addition to the rewatch!
The reason I'm writing is because soon after Lost ended I remember asking you about Buffy and you recommended that if I get through the first season and get to the double whammy of 'Surprise' and 'Innocence' in season 2, then I would be unable to stop watching. Well I watched half of the 1st season and gave up because I just couldn't get into it.
Then when I heard you were doing a Buffy rewatch, I thought I would try again. This time I kept watching and when I did get to the episodes you mentioned I found myself completely hooked. The storytelling and the writing of the show is top notch and I find it to be very enjoyable watching. It is such a smart, fun show done with humor and has an emotional impact where you care about the characters and what they will do next. That, to me, is what makes a show great. Buffy, like Lost, has me caring about the characters and what happens to them to the point that I have become invested in them and I want to keep watching to see what happens with my friends Buffy, Willow, Xander, Oz, Cordy and Giles. I also love to read your posts each week like I did during Lost. You have such a brilliant analysis on shows such as this and it makes the watching experience that much more enjoyable.
I just finished watching the season 3 finale, Graduation Day parts 1 and 2 and all I can say is, WOW what a great season of a show. This show is now up there with Lost for me in terms of favorite shows. I still feel Lost is my favorite of all time, but I am not finished watching Buffy yet.
This week we begin season 3, the one that many Buffy fans list as their favourite one of all (if they didn’t list season 2). Don’t worry… it’s not like the show peaked in season 3 and is all downhill from there. Most of the best episodes of the series are still to come.
For me, “Anne” isn’t one of them. Mostly because, as I’ve said with the season 2 opener, the season premieres are all trying to tie up the loose ends of the previous seasons, and usually show the characters in a light we’re not used to. Buffy was all snarly and awful in “When She Was Bad,” and in this one she’s an LA waitress named Anne. She’s sullen, depressed, and has an air of giving up. Even when she’s kicking demon ass her heart doesn’t look like it’s in it.
“Dead Man’s Party” is a difficult episode for me to watch. It’s not a bad episode – it’s actually a rather good one. But I don’t like it. That party scene just puts me on edge every time. I thought that maybe, years later, rewatching it would have a different effect on me. Nope. The only thing that changed was my attitude to Joyce, as has often happened throughout this rewatch. In the season 2 finale, Joyce suddenly discovered Buffy was the Slayer. I remember being upset with her “if you leave, don’t even think about coming back” ultimatum at the time, but now rewatching it, I’m disappointed in Buffy’s “Have another schnapps” comment to her. Joyce has no idea what’s happening – her daughter just told her that the world is full of vampires and werewolves and she’s the only one who can stop them. Either her daughter is in grave danger, or is in need of serious mental help. In either case, Joyce isn’t in a good place. So now we enter season 3 and Joyce is walking on eggshells around Buffy, trying to be nice to her. Xander makes snippity comments and it’s clear he wants Buffy to hurt, Willow is nervous like she’s just met Buffy and doesn’t know what to do, and Cordelia is, well, Cordelia. So Willow avoids talking to Buffy, scared that if she does she’ll tell Buffy what she really thinks and she doesn’t want to lose Buffy. Xander rubs his relationship in Buffy’s face as if to remind her that his girlfriend is human, unlike Buffy’s dearly departed. And Joyce tries to understand this whole Slayer thing but also wants to give her daughter space. But when it all comes to a head, they all gang up on her and are merciless to her at the party. Every time I see that scene where they all go off – and Xander is SUCH AN ASS – I actually feel my blood pressure go up. Do they have a right to be angry? Absolutely. But none of them is strong enough to talk to Buffy on their own, and instead (as is human nature, granted) they find strength in numbers, ganging up on her. Willow is the only one who has the nerve to say something to Buffy (privately, I might add) and works things out at the end. But even she wades into the fray during the party.
Buffy has saved their asses a thousand times, and maybe they should give the girl the benefit of the doubt and try to get to the heart of what’s wrong. Why would she have disappeared? It had to have been something big. Only Giles – oh how I love Giles – is at once immensely relieved, concerned, and willing to give her the space that she needs. Only Giles suggests that a big party is not a good idea. Only Giles sees her and immediately disappears to another room to simply breathe a sigh of relief and smile, happy that she’s back and willing to wait for her explanation. He alone knows what she must have gone through… and he proves that even more in the next episode.
“Faith, Hope and Trick” introduces the new Slayah from Bah-ston, Faith. I still remember the immediate fan reaction when she showed up – please oh PLEASE let this stint be short-lived. But Faith won people over really quickly, and she’ll become a favourite (if she irritated you in this episode, just give it time). But once again, that moment where Giles draws the real story of what happened with Angel out of Buffy – even after Angel tortured him, he still cares about Buffy’s love for him – is one of those moments that makes me well up every time. Giles is more of a father than he realizes at this point.
• Oz throwing the stake in such a dramatic fashion… and it bouncing off a grave. Ha!
• Buffy on Joyce’s mask after Joyce says it brightens up the room: “It’s angry at the room. It wants the room to suffer.”
• “What about home-schooling? It’s not just for scary religious people anymore.”
• This scene:
Oz: (leans back in his chair) We should figure out what kinda deal this is. I mean, is it a-a gathering, a shindig or a hootenanny?
Cordelia: What's the difference?
Oz: Well, a gathering is brie, mellow song stylings; shindig, (nods to Cordelia) dip, (Cordelia smiles) less mellow song stylings, perhaps a large amount of malt beverage; and hootenanny, well, it's chock full of hoot, just a little bit of nanny.
Xander: Well, I hate brie.
Cordelia: I know. It smells like Giles's cat.
Giles: It's not my--
Xander: (interrupts) And what'll we talk about at a gathering anyway?
• Giles: “‘Do you like my mask? Isn’t it pretty? It raises the dead!’ Americans.”
• The return of Ripper when Giles threatens Snyder.
• Joyce to Snyder: “I think what my daughter is trying to say is, ‘Nyah, nyah nah nah nyah.’”
• Faith to Oz: “As long as you don’t cut me or try to hump my leg, we’re five by five.”
• Cordy: “What is it with you and Slayers? Maybe I should dress up as one and put a stake to your throat.” Xander: “Oh please god don’t let that be sarcasm.”
• Buffy suggesting that the vampire lives for taquitos. Haha!!
Did You Notice?
• Willow is dressing more stylishly, yet uniquely. She’s not going along with the fashion plate stylings of Buffy, or the brand name dress-up Cordelia’s got going on. But she’s wearing a cute fuzzy sweater and red pants, and the new shorter hairstyle really suits her.
• The band on stage during the Bronze scene in “Faith Hope and Trick” is Darling Violetta, who would later write and record the Angel theme song.
• Seriously, Buff. He loves Buster Keaton. Grab him!!
• Can you say worst timing ever? Faith couldn’t have shown up in Sunnydale over the summer, filling the hole Buffy had left behind?
This week’s guest is Cynthia Burkhead. I met her for the first time at Slayage 3 in 2008, when a group of people took a shuttle over to a nearby Chinese buffet for lunch (and marveled that no matter where you are in the world, the insides of Chinese restaurants all look exactly the same). She and I sat next to each other, and I fired a bunch of questions at her about the South, which she enthusiastically answered in her lovely accent. She was back at Slayage 4 and gave me the most amazing gift – you Lost fans will love it! It was a Namaste charm bracelet with black and white beads all around, “Namaste” spelled out in the middle, and a little plane charm, a dog bone for Vincent, a skull… it was amazing. (Thanks again, Cynthia!) She is an instructor at the University of North Alabama where she also serves as co-director of the George Lindsey UNA Film Festival. She received her PhD in English from Middle Tennessee State University. Her dissertation, directed by David Lavery, focused on the narrative function of dreams in television. She is the co-editor with Lavery of the forthcoming Joss Whedon: Conversations, co-editor of Grace Under Pressure: Grey's Anatomy Uncovered, and the author of Student Companion to John Steinbeck.
I hope that watchers and re-watchers alike are sufficiently healed from last week’s episodes, especially Buffy’s “killing” of Angel to save the world once again. For those who watched the original airings on the WB, there would have been a long hiatus adapting to the idea of Buffy gone from Sunnydale and feeling both anger and sadness at her going – much like the feelings of the friends she left behind. For those like me who came late to BtVS and perhaps only allowed for a short refreshment break between seasons 2 and 3 on DVD, the emotions were probably just as intense, just not as long lived. For all of us, the feelings evoked from “Becoming, Part Two” (re)placed the story’s focus squarely and near-completely on the Slayer. And there we begin season 3 ….
Poor Anne … I mean Buffy. For the first time since “Welcome to the Hellmouth,” Buffy is truly the lone slayer, a traditional role she has resisted from the beginning but takes on in “Anne” partly because the slaying-with-friends model proved too harmful to those friends. While quitting school, moving to LA, changing her name, and wearing a diner uniform (especially wearing a diner uniform!) might seem an extreme reaction to the tragedy leading up to and culminating in Angel’s death, remembering that our slayer is an adolescent makes the seemingly extreme more real. Coupled with the trauma that Buffy has experienced, Whedon creates a brilliant opportunity for intense character development of his Slayer. If the most striking development begins at the lowest point possible for a character, Whedon has situated Buffy in the depths from which change will be most remarkable. The loneliness of LA anonymity (and again — wearing a diner uniform that strips her of identity!) is Buffy’s personal hell, self-inflicted perhaps, and Whedon uses, among other devices, dreams to help guide her out and above that hell, leaving us after “Anne,” “Dead Man’s Party,” and “Faith, Hope, and Trick” with a re-developed Slayer.
Dreams occur in the first three episodes of season 3, “Anne,” “Dead Man’s Party,” and “Faith, Hope, and Trick.” Dreams on BtVS typically foreshadow future events, often presented as the Slayer’s prophesy. While the dreams in this week’s rewatch episodes do serve this function, all of the dreams also serve to develop Buffy’s character as they express the almost crippling emotional pain she feels from the loss of Angel and the guilt she feels for his dying at her hands. The effectiveness of these dreams comes from the way in which Whedon manipulates us to witness them only as an expression of Buffy’s feelings. Because we are so focused on her emotion in each of these dreams, and because we have no indication from Buffy herself that they should be read as prophecy, we don’t recognize that they portend anything, making them seem like more traditional literary foreshadowing.
Buffy’s first appearance in “Anne” is in her dream, where she is on the beach and Angel comes to her. She says to him, “Stay with me.” Angel responds, “Forever. That's the whole point. I'll never leave.” He then whispers in her ear, “Not even if you kill me.” The look on her face is one of pained horror. At this point we understand how desperately Buffy misses Angel and, if Angel’s words are read as an expression of her subconscious, how heavy is the guilt she continues to carry for killing him, a guilt that will “never leave.” The overwhelming emotion in the dream is one reason it is not read as a clue to future action. In her “mystical foreshadowing” dreams, such as in “Graduation Day, Part II” (3.22) and “Restless,” Buffy reacts in the dreams in what is best described as a dreamlike manner, moving through them as a visitor with little emotion. For the most part in those dreams, Buffy’s role is as the observer or “vessel” for the information which both she and the viewer must then interpret. In “Anne,” however, the depth of Buffy’s emotions, the sadness and guilt which seem to have transformed the Slayer so much that she must take on the identity of a waitress named Anne, negates our option of reading the dream as foreshadowing. Whedon skillfully achieves character development by pushing Buffy to emotional levels not yet seen, at least in her dreams, and at the same time foretelling plot developments in such a way that we are not made aware of the tease being dangled in front of our eyes.
In “Dead Man’s Party,” Buffy dreams she is walking around the Sunnydale High School campus, and only Angel is there. As character development, this dream magnifies the sadness and guilt exhibited by Buffy in “Anne,” but also indicates the degree to which Buffy feels the loss her choices have created. In killing Angel, she lost the man she loved, but she also came to fully understand the degree of sacrifice required of any Slayer, not to mention one who refuses to give up family, friends, and romance. This is a hard reality, but one which Giles has been trying to warn Buffy about since first becoming her watcher (and one even we reject when faced with the antithesis to Buffy: Kendra). There is a part of Buffy herself that is lost in killing Angel, the part that naively believed she could protect these people she loves. So the Buffy we see in “Anne” and in “Dead Man’s Party” is a lonely Slayer. In “Anne” she believes she must walk her path alone. In “Dead Man’s Walk,” Buffy returns to Sunnydale to reunite with her mother and friends, but they keep her at arms’ length, angry at her decision to run away after killing Angel. She feels as much alone as she was in Los Angeles, and this is supported by her dream which only offers her a dead lover for companionship.
“Faith, Hope, and Trick” finds Buffy reintegrated into her circle of friends, back at school, with her biggest problem being how to deal with the new Slayer in town. The Scooby Gang appears in her dream, suggesting that she no longer believes she is alone. But their position on the periphery of the dance floor at the Bronze, where her friends are witnesses rather than participants in the dream’s primary action, shows there is still a disconnect between them and Buffy. What remains unresolved is Buffy’s guilt for killing Angel, and this is the source of the distance between Buffy and the Scoobies. In the waking action of the episode, Giles continues to ask Buffy how exactly the killing transpired, and she continues to lie to him, an outward manifestation of her guilt. In the dream, as Buffy and Angel are dancing and the claddagh ring drops to the floor in a seemingly final moment of separation, there is a flash of the moment she kills him, and she says to dream Angel, “I had to.” Now bleeding, dream Angel says to her, “Go to Hell. I did.” Buffy’s guilt has finally turned her dreams to nightmare, and this nightmarish guilt eventually leads to Buffy’s confession to Giles that Angel was cured when she killed him, but that the cure came too late, so she had to. She says, “I’ve been holding on to that for so long – felt good to get it out.” When she leaves her ring at Angel’s place, it is a culminating moment that releases Buffy from the dreams and nightmares that are not the mystical dreams of a Slayer but the very personal dreams of a sad and lonely young woman.
In the real world, some of our greatest growth comes out of our greatest pain. I think this is what Whedon is replicating in the Buffyverse with his Slayer. I also think the sympathetic pain we experienced in season 2 and from seeing Buffy at such a low point in “Anne” brought us growth as viewers of this series that matures with each new episode.