Friday, July 29, 2011

Stuff for a Friday

I used to have a regular feature on here where I'd just pack a whole whack of little things into one longer post, and usually called it Stuff for a [insert weekday here]. Problem is, with the advent of Facebook, I'm finding I just mention many of those things in my status updates on my page, and then to mention them here again seems redundant. But I want this blog to be more than just a Buffy Rewatch (and a damn fine one at that!) so I'm going to pop this in here!

For the past five years, I've been writing books about Lost. I wrote the first one between my daughter's first and second birthdays (that covered seasons 1 and 2), and season 3 while I was pregnant with my son. I couldn't write one during maternity leave, so I wrote season 4 once I was off mat leave, and it was released in April 2009, followed by season 5 in October 2009 (ugh). And then the season 6 one came out last year. Everyone keeps saying, "So what are you working on now?!" and I tell them I'm taking time off. And yet, despite not having a book to write from 8:30-midnight and every weekend for the past several months, I can't seem to find the time to blog. I'm watching TV, but not blogging on it. Perhaps with the end of Lost I haven't found anything that's intrigued me quite as much. Perhaps it's because my kids are a little older and stay up a little later, so it's not until 9 or so that I'm finding time to watch TV. Maybe it's because I've been trying to spend more time reading books. Or maybe it's just the solitary aspect of it.

But I have SO many blog posts in my head. So rather than mope about the fact that I haven't been able to write them yet, I'll just tell you briefly what they all are. And then maybe some of them will actually get written.

Doctor Who Series 2
I finished watching this a million years ago, and have a whole Word document full of notes for this one. I'm editing a Doctor Who companion guide that will be released next spring, and since I'm about to embark on editing series 2 of that book, I really need to post my thoughts before I know what someone's else's were! In a nutshell, I never thought I'd love another Doctor like Eccleston. But Tennant completely changed that.

Doctor Who Series 3
And yes, I bombed through series 3 in about four days. But because I haven't posted on 2, I couldn't very well go on to 3, now, could I?

Doctor Who Series 4
Do you see how woefully behind I am? Finished this, but because I'm having some trouble getting my hands on the specials, I haven't completely finished off Tennant yet. But I'm an episode or two away from doing so. And after watching Planet of the Dead, which was dead boring, I was put off by it a bit. But I really REALLY will.

If it helps, I'm enough of a Doctor Who nerd now that when I was at Polaris last weekend, I bought a TARDIS pendant and walked around the dealer's room reading every button, T-shirt, and bumper sticker and I TOTALLY got every Doctor Who joke. Yay me! I also almost bought a sonic screwdriver complete with sound effects, but they only had the eleventh Doctor's and I wanted the Tenth's. Yes, I'm in full-on geek mode.

Oh right, I was at the Polaris sci-fi fan convention! Lots of fun, I was on a few panels, and sat in on some great chats. Took pictures, have a ton of stories... haven't posted. Sigh.

Fall TV
There are a lot of great-looking shows this year that I plan to watch, and I've already begun plans on which ones I'll blog on more seriously. I hope to post this soon, or at least before the damn season begins!

Buffy Season 8
I finally finished the Season 8 comics and I think part of my brain melted, but I really wanted to post on it. Maybe it's something to wait for until the Rewatch is over and then we move on to it? Nah... I think I'll talk about it sooner.

I've seen a ton of great movies this summer. But I usually post a quick loved it/hated it status update on FB and leave it at that.

So You Think You Can Dance
I've been addicted to this show for ages, and this season is pretty great. Last week, as I was just saying on FB, the divine Mr. Neil Patrick Harris was the guest judge and he TOTALLY dissed a Tyce Diorio routine. I cannot STAND Tyce so to hear a judge say something other than "Oh Tyce you are so fabulous" was amazing. To hear him say quite the opposite was sublime.

True Blood
I've been watching this all season and it's been a lot of fun. I don't read the books, and I've heard there's a big difference between Book Eric and TV Eric, but I've been enjoying it a lot. And what happened to Jason? Whoa.

Breaking Bad
LOVE THIS SHOW. Everything about it is brilliant. Highly stylized, but not in a way that overshadows the series at all. Superb acting, incredible writing... Aaron Paul was inspired this past week. I just love it.

So much else to talk about, so little time. But I do want to mention that I was very pleased by the positive response my Game of Thrones series of posts got from people. It was nice to do them with someone else, Christopher Lockett, who provided the bookish perspective.

And so, I'm happy to say I'll be doing that with some other shows this fall, joining forces with other bloggers to write posts together where we discuss the new shows. I hope you'll join us!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Buffy Rewatch: Week 30

5.4 Out of My Mind
5.5 No Place Like Home
5.6 Family

Follow along in Bite Me! on pp. 252-255.

If you’re watching Angel, this week’s episodes are:

2.4 Untouched
2.5 Dear Boy
2.6 Guise Will Be Guise

(Week 30?! Wow.) This week’s episodes actually work well together. Last season the gang was split up in ways they had never dealt with before – Giles was no longer a librarian; Willow and Buffy were at university (with Willow in her element and Buffy feeling lost and disconnected); Xander had to move into a construction job; Cordelia and Angel were gone. But as they had to reposition themselves within each other’s lives, they not only realized they still needed each other (shown concretely in their defeat of Adam by working together, and metaphorically throughout the season), but they also began to change their priorities. In short, they began to grow up. Willow discovered a new love with Tara, and said goodbye to Oz. Buffy realized Angel had a new life in L.A., and through Riley and the Initiative and a new spirituality discovered at the end of the season, became keen to learn more about where she came from.

Season 5 is where the characters take what they learned about themselves in season 4 and move forward, rather than being stuck the way they were for much of S4. Giles decided he was no longer needed in Sunnydale, but found a new purpose in season 5. Spike begins to fall in love with Buffy in this week’s episodes (making “Spuffy” shippers everywhere squee very loudly). And then there’s that whole new sister thing.

So in the episodes we watched this week, the characters begin to discover a new sense of where they are in their lives and in each other’s lives. Riley, poor put-upon Riley, is the one who feel like he doesn’t actually belong. I’ve never liked Riley, which is obviously no secret around here, but I found when I began watching in season 4 this time around that I immediately felt sorry for him, and the episodes we watch this week encapsulate why. While he can still be annoying – Jane Espenson’s dry wit in “The Replacement” just fell flat when coming out of Riley’s mouth – the moment he opens up to Xander at the end of that episode and sadly, yet directly, tells him that Buffy doesn’t love him really changes him. I don’t want Buffy with him any more than I ever did, but I feel badly about his misery. That said, there’s something about the scene in “Out of My Mind” where Buffy tells Riley that she’s never been closer to anyone, that she’s never opened up to anyone the way she has to him, that is entirely disingenuous. Unless the majority of their relationship has been kept from us (or her phrase “opening up” had a sexual meaning and wasn’t referring to conversations), it just falls flat. But it doesn’t change the sadness in Riley that, where everyone else is finding their new place within the group, his place is out of it.

Spike, on the other hand, for the first time actually wants to be a part of the Scoobs, although this longing is largely against his will. In “No Place Like Home” he begins milling around Buffy’s haunts – Spike telling Buffy what he’s doing in five words or less. “Out for a walk. Bitch.” remains one of my favourite moments of the entire season – and where she doesn’t yet realize what he’s up to, watching him pine after the person he hates the most is very funny to watch. But don’t worry, Joss won’t let you down. He’ll soon bring the pain on that one, too.

(And on a totally unrelated side note, this week also brings Giles in the wizard hat. Part of me has been waiting the entire rewatch for the Giles in the wizard hat scene. I think it's that oddly serene look on his face and the face he just stands there in his full wizard nerdly glory. Perfect. It's right up there with Fiesta Giles at Halloween, pulling the little string in the Frankenstein monster doll.)

Family, as Tanya Cochran will beautifully outline in her commentary below, is about how the family we make is more important than the one we’re born into. “Family” was never a huge favourite of mine, but I know other fans absolutely love it. I don’t dislike it, it just felt a little preachier than I like my Buffy to be. But I never fail to feel my breath catch with that last image of Tara and Willow floating above the dance floor. Where Riley feels like he’s not part of the gang, and he might be right, Tara’s paranoia that everyone will hate her when they find out who she really is, is entirely misplaced, an evil seed planted there by a vindictive family. And, I mean, AMY ADAMS! (I’d entirely forgotten she was in this episode!) A future Oscar nominee right here on Buffy. Not to mention Herc from Friday Night Lights playing Tara’s brother (he also had a quick appearance on Lost as Jerry, the dude in 1970s Dharmaville who gets caught dancing with Rosie in the security station).

But as Buffy’s outside family becomes more stable, her “biological” one begins to fall apart. She discovers that Dawn isn’t actually her sister, a fact that is devastating, despite the half-joking wish that Dawn would just disappear. To Buffy, Dawn has always been there. It would be like you discovering your sibling didn’t actually exist and had been recently planted in your life, despite the lifetime of memories in your head. And while she’d like to think Dawn is a supernatural force that is hurting her mother, what is afflicting Joyce appears to be an old-fashioned real medical problem. When it comes to vampires, monsters, and Big Bads, no one can slay them like Buffy. But her house has been invaded by something she can’t fight, and for the first time, she is utterly helpless.

This week I’m pleased to welcome back Tanya Cochran, who was last here in season 3, discussing Doppelgangland, Enemies, and Earshot. Take it away, Tanya!

Family Is Thicker Than Blood: Buffy and Choosing Lasting Bonds
Tanya R. Cochran

A few weeks ago, my sister Cynthia arrived at the airport for an early morning flight. As she stood in the security line, she glanced over her shoulder and caught a glimpse of someone she thought looked familiar. She glanced again. The man grinned and stepped in line behind her. The conversation went something like this:

Cynthia: Are you who I think you are?
Man: I don’t know. Who do you think I am?
Cynthia: Well, if you’re who I think you are, my sister’s gonna freak out.
Man: Well, if your sister’s a Buffy fan, she’s gonna freak out.

Thus, a pleasant encounter with actor Marc Blucas, Buffy’s Riley Finn, followed. When my sister asked if he’d give her an autograph for me, he didn’t hesitate. And he didn’t just jot his name down; he took the time to personalize: “Tanya—Rumor has it . . . you’re a pretty serious Buffy fan—which probably means you hate me.” When Cynthia called me and read the whole message, I laughed at the first part because it’s true that many fans of the series don’t like Riley—at least, don’t like Riley with Buffy. As I rewatched “Out of My Mind,” “No Place Like Home,” and “Family,” however, Blucas’s comment kept nagging at me, eventually pushing me to think more deeply than ever before about what this week’s episodes (and the Buffyverse as a whole) teach us about who and what defines family.

“Out of My Mind,” as you know, follows two central storylines: Riley’s failing heart and Spike’s pesky chip (Joyce’s loss of consciousness is important too). The character that brings the two together is the doctor who can fix Riley and whom Spike hopes can fix him as well—which is why Spike and Harmony kidnap him. There are, as always, lots of great lines of dialogue I wish I had time to mention, but in the interest of time, space, and bits for you yourselves to discuss later, I will cut right to the part I admire the most, the part I think relates to who and what defines family.

If you’re watching on DVD, the scene selection feature allows you to choose “What A Girl Wants,” which begins at 27:53. Of course, the titling of the scene is itself significant. What does Buffy want? On the surface, she wants to find and convince Riley to see the doctor. The other Scoobies are also out looking. Riley has made himself scarce, avoiding the inevitable—avoiding Buffy and telling her the truth of what he feels. He can’t hide forever, though. Buffy finally discovers him in the abandoned Initiative caves, his knuckles bleeding from punching the jagged walls:

Buffy: This stops now. I’m taking you to the doctor.
Riley: The one from the government, you mean? Like the ones who did this to me in the first place?
Buffy: He’s the only one that understands what’s wrong with you. He’s the only one that can help.
Riley: What’s wrong with me? I’m more powerful than I’ve ever been, Buffy. Most people would kill to feel this way.
Buffy: Yeah, and this feeling is going to kill you. Riley, your body was not built for this kind of strength. . . .
Riley: I go back . . . let the government get whimsical with my innards again . . . They could do anything that— Best-case scenario: they turn me into Joe Normal. Just . . . just another guy.
Buffy: And that’s not enough for you?
Riley: It’s not enough for you. . . . Your last boyfriend wasn’t exactly a civilian.
Buffy: So that’s what this is about? You’re going to die, all over some macho pissing contest.
Riley: It’s not about him. It’s about us. You’re getting stronger every day, more powerful. I can’t touch you. Every day, you’re just . . . a little further out of my reach.
Buffy: You wanna touch me? I’m right here. I’m not the one running away.
Riley: Not yet.
Buffy: So you have this all figured out? I’m bailing because you’re not in the super club.
Riley: It’s human nature.
Buffy: Don’t Psych 101 me. Not now. Not after everything that . . . Nobody has ever known me the way you do. Nobody. I’ve opened up to you in ways that I’ve never opened up to . . . God, you’re just sitting back there thinking that none of this means anything to me.
Riley: I never said that.
Buffy: Because it obviously doesn’t mean anything to you. Do you really think so little of me—
Riley: Buffy.
Buffy: No! No. Do you think that I spent the last year with you because you had super powers? If that’s what I wanted, then I’d be dating Spike. Riley, I need you. I need you with me . . . and I need you healthy. But if you wanna throw it all away because you don’t trust me, then . . . then I’m still gonna make you go to that doctor.

There are obviously many layers to this exchange—double meanings, foreshadowings, and more. I want us to consider only one layer, one reading.

What does Buffy want? I think Riley and Buffy are very likely talking less about their romantic relationship and more about Riley’s place in the Scooby Gang—in the family. Also, there are hints of deeply embedded assumptions about masculinity and femininity. For example, I see a man uncomfortable with loss of power and unaccustomed to the likelihood that he will have to ask for help in the near future, that he won’t be able to do as much by or for himself. I see a man afraid of relinquishing the filter through which he sees himself as protector and provider. I see a man who even after a year of dating and working alongside Buffy still doesn’t comprehend how the Scooby family works and doesn’t understand that he’s needed by that family, and he’s needed not just for what he can do but for who he is. It’s difficult for me to fault Riley for not “getting it,” though. After all, he once thought of the Initiative as family, and look how that institution (dys)functioned! [1]

One of the many reasons I believe this scene from “Out of My Mind” focuses on family and not just romance is because of an idea Reid Locklin proposes in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Domestic Church: Revisioning Family and the Common Good.” Locklin argues that (a) family and community are not necessarily exclusive of one another and (b) “the writers and producers of [Buffy] . . . used it as a venue to develop an alternative vision of the North American family, a vision that clearly refuses to sever family from the common good” (par. 2 ). In Televised Morality: The Case of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gregory Stevenson helps us understand Locklin even better by suggesting that “what makes a family of value on Buffy is the ethic that binds it together. A family (whether traditional or created) is a community, and the same ethic that guides a successful community (sacrifice, mutual dependence, loyalty, etc.) is the primary determinant of a successful family” (151).

In this episode’s “What A Girl Wants” scene, Buffy provides very convincing evidence that the Scooby family and the common good coexist: “Riley, I need you. I need you with me . . . and I need you healthy. But if you wanna throw it all away because you don’t trust me, then . . . then I’m still gonna make you go to that doctor.” Essentially, Buffy tells Riley that even if he doesn’t understand how much she and the gang love and need him—for who he is—she will still make sure that he survives. In other words, his survival benefits not only the Scoobies but also the world. Even if they weren’t to make it as a couple, Buffy wants Riley to exist—for the common good. As the result of the Rewatch, I have been persuaded to say something I never thought I’d say (though I never hated him): the world of Buffy is better place with Riley Finn in it. In “Out of My Mind,” what Riley must see for himself is that very fact. If he cannot bring himself to trust Buffy and the others completely, continue to sacrifice for the good of all, and remain loyal to the gang, he won’t ever be an authentic member of the family. By his choice.

As convincing as Buffy is (Riley agrees to let the doctor fix his heart), her own ideas about family take a serious blow in “No Place Like Home” when she comes to realize that Dawn is not her sister but a mass of energy molded into human form. Dawn doesn’t know this, however. She is, according to the dying monk who explains the history of the Key, ignorant and innocent. Feelings of being violated (imagine discovering that your own memories are not authentic, that they have been invented and implanted in your mind) at first seem to overwhelm Buffy. But the idea of family and the common continue to prevail. The final scene of this episode moves me deeply: Buffy sitting on Dawn’s bed, asking for Dawn’s forgiveness, and running her fingers through Dawn’s hair. Buffy knows what she has to do. “Real” sister or not, Dawn must be protected—as family—for Buffy’s own good and the good of the entire world.

That “Family” comes on the heels of “No Place Like Home” seems to me intentional on Whedon’s part, especially now, after rewatching the series several times. Dawn and Tara share many feelings about not fitting into the Scooby Gang, about not being useful, about not being loved and accepted—ultimately, about not being family. It takes an extraordinary threat to change Buffy’s perspective about Dawn, and it takes a mundane (but no less real or powerful) threat to change some of the Scoobies’ perspectives about Tara.

You know the story, because it’s not only Tara’s story. It’s the story of an imbalance and misuse of power, an imbalance and misuse that favors men over and sometimes instead of women. And the theme of family and the common good are inextricable from this attention paid to patriarchy. According to Candace Havens, Whedon highlights one of the series “mission statements” in “Family”: “Your family can be difficult and cruel, . . . but you have the power to create your own family. Your new family can be more important, more real, than the family you are born into” (74). Though we know that Whedon avoids making the “very special episode,” he himself says of “Family” that it is “as much of a didactic message show as I’ve ever done” (qtd. in Havens 75). Unlike the American television after-school specials of my teen years, however, Whedon doesn’t wag a finger at us about the typical topics (sex, drugs, and rock and roll). Instead, he preaches about family:

When we created the show, they said, “Do you want [Buffy’s] family?” and I said, “Well, mom and whatnot, but basically she has a family. Her father is Giles, her sister is Willow, and it’s already in place.” I had some things go on in my life that made me say, “I really want to get this message out, that it’s not about blood.” Tara was the perfect vehicle for that. (qtd. in Havens 75)

So when Tara’s father, brother, and cousin come to take her home, using what Spike calls “a bit of spin to keep the ladies in line,” Buffy and the others finally make a decision about who Tara is to them, clearing up any doubt Tara has been harboring about whether or not she’s an authentic member of the Scooby Gang, the family. Tara’s father insists that being “blood kin” trumps the loose bonds of friendship. Because of what she now knows about Dawn, more than ever before Buffy knows otherwise. [2]

Here’s what I love most about the final confrontation with Tara’s kin: the face-off represents a decision rather than a negotiation. Sometimes, negotiations are useful, even required. But not when it comes to the value of a human being. Jes Battis reminds us that when Buffy declares, “We’re family,” she points us to “the motif of surrogacy and choice that weaves its way throughout the [entire] show” (17, emphasis added). Family, more than any other theme, is the grand and, therefore, unifying narrative of the series: “It is the sense of belonging that these exiles achieve, and the omega-power that not only infuses, but makes possible, their efforts to push back apocalypse” (18).

Being someone who has herself created a chosen family, I find these episodes especially moving and, yes, didactic or teach-y in the best of ways. I think that’s why Marc Blucas’s comment about hating him because of hating Riley really bothers me. I know, Riley is just a character on a TV show. Yet Buffy obviously influences our lives. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be having these Rewatch conversations. So it matters that Blucas continues to feel a transferred sense of dislike from fans. Maybe I’m making too much out of a simple autograph, a note that was meant to be humorous. For me, though, it’s not funny. Rather, it’s a reminder of Whedon’s “mission statement” about choosing (or not choosing) family, the common good, and lasting bonds: it’s all about power—the power of choice. [3]

[1] Gregory Stevenson notes that characters use the term family twice in Season Four to describe the Initiative—in “This Year’s Girl” and “The Yoko Factor” (151).
[2] Locklin and Stevenson both remind us that not all families—blood and/or chosen—are created equal. For instance, the vampires Angelus, Drusilla, Darla, and Spike are also referred to as family (par. 6; 151). See also Locklin, pars. 16-21, for a discussion of some of the flaws in the Scooby family; after all, no family is perfect.
[3] If you’re really interested in the idea of choice in Whedon’s works, I highly recommend K. Dale Koontz’s Faith and Choice in the Works of Joss Whedon (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008).

Works Cited
Battis, Jes. Blood Relations: Chosen Families in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005. Print.
Havens, Candace. Joss Whedon: The Genius Behind Buffy. Dallas: Benbella, 2003. Print.
Locklin, Reid B. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Domestic Church: Revisioning Family and the Common Good.” Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies 2.2 (Sept. 2002): n. pag. Web. 12 July 2011.
Stevenson, Gregory. Televised Morality: The Case of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Lanham, MD: Hamilton, 2003. Print.

Thank you, Tanya!

Next week: The themes from this week deepen and darken as we move further into the season, the first episode of which is in my top three favourites of season 5.

5.7 Fool for Love
5.8 Shadow
5.9 Listening to Fear

Our guest host will be Rhonda Wilcox, the “Mother of Buffy Studies,” so you are in for a treat!

And just a quick heads up for the Angel followers (and those NOT watching Angel), “Fool for Love” is an episode that has its mirror episode, with similar events told from a different perspective, over on Angel in “Darla.”

2.7 Darla
2.8 The Shroud of Rahmon
2.9 The Trial

Buffy Rewatch Week 30: Spoiler Forum

There's so much sadness coming, and I can feel it already in these episodes. Joyce getting sicker and her death; Spike's backstory and Buffy's "You're beneath me" cutting him to the quick next week; Riley leaving, which should fill me with joy but I always felt sorry for him; and Buffy's sacrifice to save Dawn. GOD I love season 5.

In Honour of Buffy Rewatch Day...

You can pick up this great Buffy-themed shirt from Teefury! Remember, their super-cheap shirts are up for 24 hours only; tonight at midnight, they're gone.

Go here to order yours!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Lost Deleted Scene

If you haven't already checked this out, you must. This "deleted scene" from the season 1 finale was finally revealed at Comic-Con this past week, as two characters revealed in a much later season debate how the survivors are going to react when they finally realize why they were brought to the island (and many of the fan reactions to the finale are alluded to). Brilliant and hilarious. SERIOUSLY, when are we going to give these two a spin-off show?!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Weekend Food for Thought

If you could enter the universe of one television show and live there either momentarily or permanently, which one would you choose, and why? This not only would include the world itself depicted (i.e. the neighbourhoods, cities, planet in some cases) but the characters who are on that show. Is there a series where you'd love to have the main characters as your friends? Or one that features a universe you'd like to live in for one reason or another? Tell us which one, your reasons why, and whether you'd like to live there permanently or just drop by before returning to your regularly scheduled life. ;)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Buffy Rewatch Week 29

5.1 Buffy Vs. Dracula
5.2 Real Me
5.3 The Replacement

Follow along in Bite Me!, pp. 246-251.

If you’re watching Angel, this week begins the excellent season 2:

2.1 Judgement
2.2 Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?
2.3 First Impressions

Follow along in Once Bitten, pp. 151-158.

So… um… what’s up with Buffy having a sister?! Did I MISS something?

I’ve actually really been looking forward to this week, just to relive the WTF?! reactions we all had when this episode originally aired (and no, to answer a question that I’m asked all the time when people are watching for the first time, there wasn’t a mistake, the DVD didn’t leave an episode off, and you haven’t missed anything… just keep watching).

I’m a big season 5 fan. So where I went into season 4 defending the amazing standalones but letting you know it was my least favourite, I have no such qualms with this season. It includes two of Joss Whedon’s best episodes, and the one that I consider his masterpiece – yes, even putting it above the musical. The rewatchers know the one I mean, and I can’t wait for the new viewers to get to it.

But for now, we have the first three episodes, which are more comic than dramatic (don’t worry, the tone of the season will change muchly). I’m a very big fan of “Buffy vs. Dracula,” even though I know it’s a very disliked episode among fans. Many people I know love it, so it’s not a “Beer Bad” by any means, but considering how few of the season premieres I like, this might be my favourite of all of them. How can one NOT love an episode with bug-eating Xander?:

“Like that’s enough to stop the Dark Master . . . bator.”
“I think you’re drawing a lot of crazy conclusions about the Unholy Prince . . . bator.”

“Real Me” introduces that annoying little sister, Dawn. Oh, Dawnie. Some Buffy fans have a certain fondness for her, even if half the time we want to throw her off a cliff or lock her in a closet or throw her into a vampire lair and let them take care of her. (No? Just me?) She’ll grate on you, for sure, and you’ll find yourself yelling, “Shut UP Dawn!!” so many times you’ll lose count, but... okay, I know I was working towards saying something positive here, but my hatred of Dawn took over. Oh, right... seeing her on the rewatch actually didn’t trigger my gag reflex, but instead my affection for her. Maybe I'm being soft. After all, the rewatch made me rethink my assessment of Joyce (and for a minute I thought I was starting to like Riley and then "Where the Wild Things Are" happened and, well, there was that old gag reflex again).

That said, I yelled “Shut UP, Dawn!” about four times in this episode. (Like, really, what tweener eats ice cream like that? Is she THREE? No, wait, my three-year-old wouldn’t eat ice cream like that…) And I still wanted to whack her upside the head. Perhaps they were a little too successful in making her annoying.

“The Replacement” isn’t the best episode, but it’s still really fun, and so many people have emailed me over the years to ask how they did the special effects on that episode, but there was no CGI… that’s Nicholas Brendon’s twin brother Kelly! It certainly helps to have a cast member with an identical twin who is ALSO an actor, and it’s fun that they incorporated it in some way. And OMG the Snoopy Dance!!!!!!! I can’t describe the decibel level of the squeeee I emitted the first time I saw that. ;)

But enough from me, now on to our two guests this week! First up, to give us an excellent context for “Buffy vs. Dracula” within its literary and filmic precedents is Stacey Abbott! I’ve been working with Stacey on her upcoming anthology, TV Goes to Hell: The Unofficial Road Map to Supernatural and she’s been an absolute pleasure, so I’m so glad to have her with us here (again) on the rewatch! Take it away, Stacey!

“Nothing but a Bunch of Gypsy Stuff”: Dracula in the Buffyverse
Stacey Abbott

While Buffy is a series that is immersed in popular culture, its references to other vampire texts come few and far between. There is an occasional reference to Anne Rice – “I’ve fought more than a couple of pimply overweight vamps who called themselves Lestat”— and in “Parting Gifts” (Angel 1.10) Angel claims that Frank Langella’s was the only performance of a vampire he ever really believed, referring to the 1979 John Badham adaptation of Dracula (which says so much about Angel). Beyond that there is little acknowledgement of centuries’ worth of vampire literature, films and television, that is until “Buffy vs Dracula” and then the references come fast and furious. The first time I saw this episode I was disappointed. I found Rudolph Martin’s performance as the Count to be somewhat underwhelming to say the least. Dracula is now such an iconic figure that you need actors of great presence to play this role – Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Jack Palance, Gary Oldman (Ok Angel – even Frank Langella) – these are the actors you remember (who really remembers that Gerard Butler got his start as Dracula in Dracula 2000 or Gary Purcell pre-dated Prison Break with a performance of Dracula in Blade Trinity?). Martin’s performance seemed hollow, and overly indebted to all the Dracula’s who had come before him. But upon repeat viewing, I came to realise that this was the point.

Dracula, born at the end of the 19th Century in Bram Stoker’s novel and then reincarnated into film and television more times than almost any other literary figure (second only to Sherlock Holmes) is such an iconic figure of the 20th Century that he has become the sum of his parts: long dark hair, pale skin, long cape and, as Buffy says, “dark penetrating eyes and lilty accent.” Upon meeting him, Xander immediately recognises him for Dracula (or at the very least a Dracula-wannabe) because of his cape (“look whose caught a case of Dark Prince envy”) and accent (“no we we’re not going to leabe you and where did you get that accent? Sesame Street? One two three victims. AhAhAh!”). His performance is there to remind us of the legacy of Stoker’s novel and its impact upon our understanding of vampire mythology. That is why he is allowed to break the show’s own vampire rules by having Dracula be able to transform into bats, mist, and wolves – dismissed by Spike as “nothing but gypsy stuff”—not to mention affecting the weather (yes it is Dracula’s arrival that makes it rain at the beginning and not Willow) and making a castle appear in town. In many ways this episode is one of the best adaptations of Stoker’s novel, interpreted through the lens of a century’s worth of adaptations. Martin’s Dracula is composite of Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Frank Langella, Gary Oldman, and the Count from Sesame Street. The episode contains numerous moments right out of Stoker’s novel and yet they also contain within them echoes of later vampire texts. For instance, Dracula is delivered to his castle in Sunnydale in a dirt-filled box by two un-witting truck drivers just like Dracula is similarly delivered to Carfax Abbey in the book. But the modern-day truck drivers are reminiscent of the drivers who deliver the vampire Mr. Barlow to the town of Jerusalem’s Lot in the TV adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot (1979). This allusion is reinforced when Dracula literally busts out of the box to kill them, calling to mind the frightening image of Barlow’s shattered crate which confirms his arrival in the small town.

Xander’s wonderfully comic performance as Dracula’s bug-eating sidekick is an outstanding allusion to Dwight Frye’s classic performance of Renfield in Tod Browning’s Dracula, with a touch of Arte Johnson from Love at First Bite (1979) thrown in for good measure. While Dracula’s brides have appeared in countless films about Dracula (including Browning’s Dracula 1931, Hammer Studios’ Brides of Dracula (1960), Dracula 2000, and Van Helsing 2004), the seduction of Giles by the brides is a conscious allusion, through its music and visual style, to Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula in which Keannu Reeves is seduced by the brides. Finally, Dracula’s invasion of Buffy’s home is both a reference to the novel and more recent vampire films. In the novel Dracula gains access to the heroine Mina by using the mad Renfield to let him into the asylum where she is staying so that he can hypnotise and seduce her, placing her under his control like Buffy. In Dracula, the attack on Mina is a means for Dracula to assert his power over the other men by showing that their women are vulnerable. But the fact that it is Buffy’s Mom who puts her in peril in “Buffy vs Dracula”, contains within it echoes of the pre-Buffy teen film Fright Night (1985), in which hero Charlie Brewster’s equally single Mom invites a tall dark stranger into the house, putting Charlie in danger of the vampire. In these teen dramas, lonely mothers are targets for manipulative men.

So what is the significance of these allusions? Is it just a chance to dust off their vampire trivia and infuse the text with all that has been withheld before? Partly? But also it is about the confrontation between these two icons of popular vampire fiction one born at the end of the 19th Century but which informed the 20th Century conception of the vampire, and one born at the end of the 20th Century but which so far has proven itself to be one of the defining texts for the 21st Century vampire genre. Buffy is fast becoming as influential to the genre as Dracula (and while it is still comparatively young the fact that we are still talking about it supports this argument). In this episode Buffy faces the genre’s past in order to prepare for its future. She knows what has come before, she’s seen Dracula’s movies and so she knows how to defeat him. What she doesn’t fully know yet, as pointed out by Dracula, is the true nature of her own power. It takes one icon to put another icon on her path to self-discovery. This path will take Buffy on her darkest journey so far and one of my favourite seasons – “you think you know who you are? What is to come? You’ve only just begun.” Enjoy.

Thank you, Stacey! And for the next episode, it’s always my pleasure to introduce the wonderful Cynthea Masson. (Spoilers have been whited out: if you see a space and you're a rewatcher, highlight it with your mouse and you'll see the hidden words beneath.)

“You Don’t Belong Here”—“Real Me” and the Break of Dawn
Cynthea Masson

Maybe “Beer Bad” (4.5) caused me to have a chemical reaction or something because I’ve never dissed Buffy in the past as much as I have of late. Perhaps the fact that I am now on my umpteenth (really it could even be the 20th-something) time through the series accounts for my grumpiness about parts of it. Just this morning I silently cursed a Season Six shot of Buffy’s house, which featured the street number 1313 on both the house and the sidewalk even though the Summers live at number 1630. (I assume 1313 is the number of the actual house of which Nikki Stafford spoke so fondly in her post of May 20, 2011.) Still I will state for the record before the most recent rant on which I’m about to embark that Buffy remains my favourite television show of all time (with Angel a close second, if not a tie for first). And Season Five is one of the two I claim as my favourite seasons of the series (the other being Season Six). That said, let me clarify that I have never, ever, ever liked Dawn. Never. Not even in the comics.

Rewatching “Real Me” (5.2) helped me to recognize that my dislike of Dawn may well originate with the manner in which Dawn is introduced to us; she is simply too annoying from day one—cloyingly annoying in a way that I think she need not have been (or even should not have been) if the show’s intention was for Dawn to garner sympathy from the viewer as an essential component of Season Five’s emotionally driven plot arc. Of all the things that happen to Dawn in Season Five that could elicit sympathy (none of which I’ll mention here for fear of spoilers), not one of them made me feel sorry for her—no, not even that one. Through the entirety of “Real Me” (and, indeed, through the entirety of Season Five), I just wished she’d go away. (Michelle Trachtenberg certainly had her work cut out for her having to play such an exasperating character each week—a remarkable feat worthy of slayer status!) If only Dawn had been introduced in a different manner, if only she had done something to help me like her in “Real Me” or to understand why any of the Scoobies like her, I would have readily asserted that the idea of Dawn—the story of a mystically fabricated sister whom Buffy comes to love absolutely—was one of the best plot devices of the series.

So, what went wrong in “Real Me”?

Dawn interrupts. I suppose that’s the point of her. But she interrupts just as Buffy is in the midst of honing her slayer-strength meditation skills and just as Giles is imparting his astute Watcher wisdom. And if they’d just been allowed to continue rather than being disrupted by Dawn acting like a four-year-old brat who doesn’t know the difference between a set of mystical crystals and the game of Jenga (even though she has apparently spent fourteen years living with the Slayer), Buffy might have paid attention to Giles’ sage (indeed, prophetic) advice: “There is nothing but you. You are the center.” Do you hear that, Buffy? That annoying sister of yours is not supposed to be here! “And within you is the core of your being of what you are. Find it.” Buffy, find your gift! (“Death is your gift.”) Okay, so it might not be the sort of gift the average person discovers at the core of one’s being, but you are the Slayer after all. “Let the world fall away. Fall away. Fall away....” Spoiler much? Well, first-time viewers will just have to wait for the season finale to read more into Giles’ words of wisdom.

Even Dawn’s opening disruption could have been forgiven—chalk it up to regrettable clumsiness of the non-slaying Summer’s girl—but she is unredeemable through the entire episode. A sister of the Slayer, a resident of Sunnydale, a teenager with vampire acquaintances (not to mention the former Vengeance demon and practising witches with whom she hangs out) would not, could not have been sheltered from the pantheon of demons and other supernatural paraphernalia that are part and parcel of life in Sunnydale. Dawn may be new to us, but she is supposed to be Buffy’s fourteen-year-old sister. Fourteen!

Why then does she not have more Hellmouth street smarts? Why can she not remain with the gang after Willow trips over the dead body of Mr. Bogarty in the magic shop? Along with many others, I am willing to suspend my disbelief for a multitude of elements in this show, but I am not willing to believe that a sister of the Slayer could be so immeasurably ignorant of the very substance of Buffy’s day-to-day life that she has never even seen a corpse, reanimated or otherwise. Even worse, what fourteen-year-old would get chocolate ice-cream all over her face in front of an older guy on whom she has a crush? What sister of a vampire slayer would invite a vampire (of the soulless, chip-free variety) into the house? Simply put, Dawn exhibits no maturity or logic and, therefore, no credibility.

Of course, such a lack of credibility may be intentional. Perhaps we are meant to gather from Dawn’s grating ways that she, in fact, does not belong in Sunnydale. Perhaps we are meant to expect her to be discovered as a fraud and ousted. But if we are meant to recognize (along with the occasional mentally unstable passerby) that Dawn doesn’t belong here, then why doesn’t Buffy or anyone else see the “real” Dawn? After all, Buffy recognized that super-Jonathan wasn’t real in “Superstar” (4.17), and Tara recognized that fake-Buffy wasn’t real in “Who Are You” (4.16), so why does Dawn’s unreality remain concealed in “Real Me”? Buffy finds Dawn annoying, but she neither questions nor challenges the fact of her existence. Like it or not, Buffy accepts this interloper as a sister. Dawn is here to stay despite her maddening ways. And, to quote Buffy’s complaint to Riley about kid sister Dawn, “that’s what bugs.”

Thank you, Cynthea!

Next week: We move into a more serious realm... remember Tara swiping the object under the bed in season 4 as if she was hiding something? Good. ;)

5.4 Out of My Mind
5.5 No Place Like Home
5.6 Family

Your host will be Tanya Cochran, who has written an excellent summary of the three. And if you're watching Angel, more excellence is coming your way with
2.4 Untouched
2.5 Dear Boy
2.6 Guise Will Be Guise

See you next week!

Buffy Rewatch Week 29: Spoiler Forum

How much fun will reading the new reader comments be this week?? A lot of Restless elements popped up in this week's episodes, and Curds and Whey (aka Little Miss Muffet counting down from 7-3-0) makes her first appearance after Faith predicted her arrival at the end of season 3.

Much to talk about!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Buffy Rewatch Week 28

4.22 Restless

Read along in Bite Me, pp. 244-246.

If you’re watching Angel, this week’s episode is 1.12 To Shanshu in LA, a brilliant first-season ender. For everyone who’s stuck with it through season 1, this episode is the payoff…and season 2 is even better.

Now, before we discuss “Restless” here in the non-spoilery post, I just wanted to remind people that while “Restless” is notable for foreshadowing much of the coming seasons, please don’t talk about any of that unless you’re over on the spoiler board below. We’ll keep this board as a discussion of the references made to previous episodes, and the other board will be where you can talk about “what is to come.” (In my book, I actually included "Restless Moments" throughout for the following episodes, talking about the events that happened that had already been foreshadowed in "Restless.")

Ah, “Restless.” As I mentioned last week, this is an episode unlike anything else in the Whedonverse. In season 1, with “Nightmares,” Joss showed that he has an incomparable grasp on conveying dreamscapes in a way we can all identify with. The “oh my GOD I’ve had that dream too!” feeling that accompanies many of the scenes is repeated in several other dream sequences that he builds in season 2 (the one in “Surprise” where Buffy is walking through the Bronze, hearing snippets of things that had been said in previous episodes), season 3 (the Faith/Buffy dream “counting down from 7-3-0” – a line that will have immense significance in season 5) , and season 4 (the more Faith-perspective sequel to that dream in “This Year’s Girl). But nothing compares to “Restless.”

In this episode we see the innermost thoughts and subconscious of our four main Scoobs – Buffy, Willow, Giles, and Xander – through their dreams, which are at times frightening and funny. Interestingly, Xander’s is the one we might expect to be the funniest, but it’s not. As with many goofballs, he’s a funny guy on the outside to cover the torment that he deals with every day, and his dreams show that. He moves in and out of Apocalypse Now, but always ends up in his bedroom, which is clearly not the way out. We see his father for the first time, albeit briefly, and it’s not a happy moment.

Willow’s dream is a bit of a repeat of the one in “Nightmares,” but this time around she’s not so much worried about having to walk out on stage, but that every day she’s wearing a costume and pretending to be someone she’s not. As many people watching can attest, you can slough off the trappings of being the school nerd or browner, but you’ll always carry those taunts with you.

But seriously, how much do you love the production of Death of a Salesman? Even I loved Riley as Cowboy Guy.

Giles’s dream is where we begin to break through to what is really happening. Oddly, while I love Giles’s dream, watching it this time through it seemed like the least dream-like to me. Giles is in complete control throughout the dream, shrugging off everyone and not looking confused or perturbed by anything happening around him. The scene on the stage is BRILLIANT, and the line, “And try not to bleed on my couch, I just had it steam-cleaned” is so hilarious I laugh out loud every time I see it. (This is why Joss had to do the musical in season 6…) If the dreams are Alice in Wonderland-like in feel and terror, Giles is the White Rabbit, believing he’s late for everything and things have passed him by.

Buffy’s dream is the most prophetic for reasons I won’t go into here. In case you didn’t notice, the other agent sitting at the table with Riley is the guy who played Adam… in one piece instead of a mish-mash of demon-ness.

But for all the intertextual subsconsious-y goodness at work here, what many people want to know is the significance of the Cheeseman (“I wear the cheese… it does not wear me”) and as I said in my book, and still say, he doesn’t mean anything. It’s one of those wacky things you see in your dream and wake up to think, “WTF was THAT?!” Why does he appear in all of their dreams? For me, it’s just because of the interconnectedness of the group… and possibly an aftereffect of them all coming together to do the spell.

But don’t take my word for it. Let’s move on to the cheesiest man I know (ha-HA, how’s THAT for a segue!) When I initially wrote my entry for “Restless” in Bite Me I said that an entire dissertation could probably be written on this one episode. And then Matthew Pateman one-upped that and wrote most of a book on it. I’ve mentioned his book, The Aesthetics of Culture in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, several times before, and we last encountered him in his “Beer Bad” recap (he was the hatiest of the hate camp) and in week 3 of the rewatch. You may know my nemesis... the devil himself... this know-it-all... the British wanker... my dear friend as the guy who went head-to-head with me at last year’s Slayage conference.

Because he’s basically written the ultimate analysis of “Restless,” I wanted him to cover this week, obvs. But by that same token, it’s like asking me to say a few words on Lost: when you’ve researched something as much as this, how can you speak generally about the topic? But he came through, as always. If you’d like a really fantastic, and occasionally (chuckle) academic look at the episode, I’d recommend his book, but first, here he is:

“Restless”: Not adventurous, but kind of accurate*
by Matthew Pateman

‘Restless’ is many things, and many of the things it is have been discussed me at interminable length in the book which I am really hoping Nikki plugged in her preamble! [I have no idea what book he’s talking about. — Nik] Let’s get the simple things out of the way first – though their simplicity should not be mistaken for being unimportant: it is an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the 78th); it is written and directed by Joss Whedon (the 15th such one to this point); it is the last episode of season four (the fourth finale episode to this point – yes, obvious, I know, but pertinent). A few less simple things (all that I just wrote by the way, is open to dispute: surely ‘Surprise’ is a finale of sorts; isn’t the unaired pilot also an episode?, how are we defining ‘written’)... Be that as it may: a few less simple things – it concludes season four; it is an episode made up of a series of dreams; it is highly allusive; it reflects back on much of the previous myth we thought we knew; it offers hints (if only we knew) about some things to come – as a spoiler free discussion, this cannot engage with those, but phew!, have we got some stuff coming!

I want to leave the detailed discussion to the board – few episodes provide more cud to chew than this one, and few allow for so many points of entry, baffled questions and wonderfully elaborate answers.

So, I will propose an idea about the episode, which is that it operates (among its many other modes of operation) as an essay on interpretation. It is an episode that freely plays with a range of hermeneutic possibilities, and does so both to expand the kinds of discussions that television can be thought to allow, and to offer a warning against an excessive over-determination of interpretive engagement.

In terms of interpretation, the first question it poses is: what is this episode meant to do? It’s the last of the season, so surely it will sum up what’s happened, provide answers, conclude stories. But that happened already in ‘Primeval’. So, what function does this have? Maybe it will start season five early? Nope. It alludes, certainly (but only in a way that can be made sense of after the event, again questioning our role as interpreters), but it does not begin. Perhaps it will offer a stand-alone character episode. Again, nope. Each of the acts is focussed on a character but not in a way that adds up to systematic character episode (unless the character s the First Slayer, but then her introduction is so cryptic, allusive, gnomic that this seems unlikely).

The question remains unanswered at the episode’s end. Indeed, it’s possible the question is even more pronounced, more angrily vented: ‘what the hell was that?’; ‘what just happened?’ and so on.

And what did just happen? Well, Riley left, Joyce went to bed, the gang were left alone and we have the very last time the ‘original’ Scoobies will be like this: three kids and an adult hanging out watching movies. Except they don’t. They fall asleep. Except it’s more than sleep – what, though, is it? Then they wake up and ponder about the dreams they just had (except they were more than dreams)."

What these sleep-visions are is not entirely clear. The presence of the First Slayer is not accidental or unmotivated (even if it is cryptic until the Buffy’s act); indeed in many ways the visions seem to need to be read as manifestations of her spirit. Tat poses many unanswered questions: how does she get in their minds? How dos she know which memories, ideas, desires, thoughts to stimulate? Or does she simply promote a dream that she is then able to inhabit, in addition to being able to make somatically present that which is seemingly only in the mind?

And if she only prompts dreams, why would each of them dream of the cheeseman? Is he simply the sign of her presence, a kind of dream-glitch, necessary for her to be able to work? Or is he, as I maintain, an authorial joke – Whedon studied film, knows the literature, and will have sat through the psychoanalysis lectures. Cheese man in this case is a purposefully exaggerated site of the possibility of both over-interpretation in dreams, and the over-interpretation of the episode. By over-interpretation I mean the desire to read the episode as some kind of psychological truth either about the characters, or (worse) Whedon.

The dreams / visions / manifestations cannot be ‘truths’, but as mini narratives they do offer us a different way of thinking about the character from ‘inside’ as it were. Their acts (whether motivated by the First Slayer or just inhabited by her) draw from the character’s histories, events, relationships, and as such offer reflections on these. These reflections at the level of character also reflect upon the aesthetic practises and narrative trajectories of the show itself: complex, multi-faceted, witty, playful, intense, ambiguous, over-lapping.

I spent half a book offering my ideas about what these might be, so will not bore people by repeating those here. However, it is worth saying that the title is also a reflection of this kind. Whedon as writer, producer, director is always restless; he never sits on his laurels, simply repeating what has succeeded before. “Restless” is not just a wonderfully ambitious, bold and brilliant attempt to structure a four-act drama in a new way; nor is it simply a visual tour-de-force; neither can it be praised solely for its cultural references, homages, pastiches and formal innovation; and it is not merely a staggeringly sophisticated re-statement and pre-diction of the show’s history and future. It is all of the above, and more, but it is also a manifesto: the enactment in artistic form of an artistic belief and this belief is that art is not simple, that Buffy is art, that art requires audiences to work, to interpret, but that interpretations should be challenged, questioned.

“Restless” is an essay about interpretation (though as this is my interpretation / summation I imagine some strong counter-views to such academicism!) . It is part of an on-going declaration that popular culture, popular aesthetics are deep, rich, textured... and it is a perfect ending to a season that took Buffy to University where spurty knowledge and the interpretation and re-interpretation of self is so central.

(*In case Matthew’s title seemed strange, it’s because I emailed him to ask what he wanted to call it. He replied simply, “‘Restless.’ Not adventurous, but accurate.” The second part of that note was simply his own comment, but I took the whole thing to be the complete title. When I stared at it for a bit, thinking, “Really? You don’t think the episode is adventurous?” it suddenly dawned on me that it wasn’t the subtitle. I told him what I’d done and we both laughed a lot, and then he said we should keep it. So there it is!)

Next week: We enter season 5 of Buffy, season 2 of Angel, a brilliant year of television.
5.1 Buffy vs. Dracula
5.2 Real Me
5.3 The Replacement

2.1 Judgment
2.2 Are You Now or Have You Ever Been
2.3 First Impressions

Your hosts will be Cynthea Masson and Stacey Abbott! See you next week!

Buffy Rewatch Week 28: Spoiler Forum

Possibly more than any other episode, we really need this spoiler board for "Restless"! In particular, watch the scene with the swing set and the sandbox. Spike is dressed like "Randy Giles" from Tabula Rasa, with his father Giles beside him. Buffy plays in the sandbox and talks about sharks with legs moving on land, foreshadowing the loan shark that Spike meets up with.

But the biggest event that's prophesied in this episode is the coming of Dawn. I'm looking forward to the WTF posts that happen to the new readers when THAT happens. ;)

Happy Birthday to Us!

I just had one of those little reminder pop-up things appear on my desktop that told me Nik at Nite turns five years old today!! Sniffle... they grow up so fast, don't they? A half-decade old. And to think it all started here... when I didn't know how to load a photo, or, by the looks of it, even write a title.

Good to see I've become SO much more technologically inclined, right? *cough* Hm... what does this button d

Monday, July 11, 2011

Music for a Monday

My current song obsession...

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Cabin in the Woods: First Look

Thanks to Michael Holland for the heads up... here's the first still from the lost Joss Whedon film, Cabin in the Woods, which might get released... one of these years.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Buffy Rewatch Week 27

4.19 New Moon Rising
4.20 The Yoko Factor
4.21 Primeval

Read along in Bite Me!, pp. 239-244.

If you’re watching Angel, this week’s eps are

1.19 Sanctuary (Part Two) (the brilliant conclusion to the Faith arc)
1.20 War Zone (Gunn!!)
1.21 Blind Date

Read along in Once Bitten, pp. 142-149.

When you were watching “Primeval” this week, that wasn’t just your imagination making you think it was the finale. It was… and that’s why this week we’ll be talking about it as if it’s the season finale. For all intents and purposes, it was. It’s the only one of seven seasons that Joss wrapped up one episode before the end, which is why next week’s episode – “Restless” – stands alone in the Buffyverse as the most unique episode of all, and is the middle episode of the entire oeuvre (or, it would have been if season 1 had been a full 22-episode one). Joss himself refers to "Primeval" as the S4 finale, and says that "Restless" is the show's "coda."

But for this week, we’ll talk about the conclusion (thank god) of the Initiative arc and sum up the season as a whole. I’m up first, and our guest host for this week will discuss “The Yoko Factor” and “Primeval.”

As I’ve said a few times, what doesn’t work for me in season 4 is the Initiative arc. The military aspect goes against BtVS’s reliance on folklore and fairy tales. However, the arc itself almost feels necessary (Chris will handle this in greater detail below) because there have been hints all along that the real world knows about the baddies outside: Buffy got the Class Protector award from a school that realized she wasn’t a normal girl; the Mayor, police, and principal were all aware of what was happening; and considering the events of “Hush” made it onto the LA News (remember the Scoobs all watching the news discussing the quarantine of Sunnydale?) methinks a giant lizard/snake thing suddenly appearing at the high school graduation and eating the principal before being blown up by the students might have made it into the front section of the LA Times. Maybe.

So this season confirms that Buffy’s secret ain’t so secret anymore. And when we see the way the military botches everything, we realize WHY the Scoobs rely on folklore. The season also furthered the theme of togetherness with everyone scattering to do their own thing: Buffy and the Scoobs are unaware that Willow has found a new love in Tara; Buffy separates herself from Giles and turns to Maggie Walsh as her new mentor; Xander doesn’t go to college with the girls and instead discovers a new world of wild monkey love with the childlike and hilarious Anya; Giles becomes a man of leisure, just a sad man – a bad man – behind blue eyes. And Joyce is practically absent for the entire season.

They’re all in new worlds, discovering new things, and going it alone. Spike for the first time enters the fold, but only to be a shit disturber and cause greater rifts among all of them (quickly becoming the fan favourite of the season). Angel, Cordy, and Wesley are gone, Sunnydale High is gone, the library is gone, and the togetherness is gone. Separate them all, and what have you got? What happens in the Yoko Factor. Only when they come back together again do they become a force that is so unstoppable they can do anything.

But before we get to the final two episodes, let’s look at New Moon Rising. As I’ve also said before, despite the military misstep of the season, there are SO many brilliant episodes in S4. While season 4 has my least favourite arc, I often tell people how much I love it and the reasons why. And one of the biggest of those reasons is “New Moon Rising.” WHAT an episode. Now there’s a lot to say about the entire episode as a treatise on tolerance and prejudice, from Buffy’s stuttering response to discovering her best friend is in love with another woman, to Riley’s method of painting all demons with the same brush. But I’m going to set that aside and talk about the reason why I love this episode so much. (If you want to see more on the other material, check out my book.)

After several episodes that have focused on Adam and Maggie and Riley and the stupid Initiative, we finally come back to one that focuses on the emotions of the most beloved character: Willow. The return of Oz is worth rejoicing over, but if you’d been pulled in by Tara the same way Willow is (and I’ll understand for the new people if you weren’t; the overdone stutter and over-shyness were a little much in the beginning, but trust me when I say Amber Benson gets MUCH better as the show progresses) you can feel the torture Willow feels when Oz suddenly shows up again. As she stands in Giles’ living room and stares at the one thing she wanted more than absolutely anything just a few short months ago, the number of conflicting emotions she’s going through are apparent on Alyson Hannigan’s face – the actress is absolutely amazing in this scene.

From Oz’s point of view, he believed he would go on his world journey because he needed to bury the wolf inside him for Willow. And if he’s going through all of this for her, it’s understandable that he would be picturing her standing there waiting for him in the same place where he left her. Even he admits how silly that was, but we can forgive him for picturing the stalwart Willow waiting for him.

And if Tara hadn’t come along, perhaps she still would have been. They still had a LOT to deal with (remember the whole Veruca incident that happened right before he left) but he wasn’t anticipating a new love – and a female one at that.

The Oz and Willow pairing might be my favourite in the Jossverse. It was so innocent and sweet, with that squee-worthy scene in the beginning where Willow kisses Oz and tells him that she’s not a lot of fun to be around a few days a month, either. Willow slips up, but unlike Cordy and Xander, Oz and Willow find a way to work through it and they come out stronger on the other side. We remember Oz’s original “who IS that girl?” upon first seeing her… the Barry White music playing as Willow tries to be sexy for him… the Pez witch… Oz’s devastation upon thinking Willow had been turned into a vampire, and his joy when she gives him a little wave while dressed up as Vampire Willow… the “Willow kissage”… Oz “panicking” before he and Willow make love for the first time… Willow’s little squeal every time she realizes she’s dating a guitarist in a band… they were just the pinnacle of first love, with all the highs and lows associated with it.

But Tara is something different, something deeper, something that goes beyond Pez witches and deep down into Willow’s psyche. The scene last week of the two of them doing that spell together was so gorgeously done, showing something deeper and more magical (in every way) than the scenes with Willow and Oz, or Xander and Cordy, or Xander and Anya, or Buffy and Riley, or Buffy and Angel… there has simply not been another scene like it on this show, between any other couple.

But that doesn’t change the pain with which we watch the final scene in this episode. Willow decides she wants to be with Tara, but that means saying goodbye to the first great love of her life… and along with her, we feel like we, the audience, are also breaking up with him. It’s a beautiful scene that is written with such heart and depth it’s still one of the series standouts for me:

WILLOW: I missed you, Oz. I wrote you so many letters... but I didn't have any place to send them, you know? I couldn't live like that.
OZ: It was stupid to think that you'd just be... waiting.
WILLOW: I was waiting. I feel like some part of me will always be waiting for you. Like if I'm old and blue-haired, and I turn the corner in Istanbul and there you are, I won't be surprised. Because... you're with me, you know?
OZ: I know. But now is not that time, I guess.
(They look at each other.)
WILLOW: What are you gonna do?
OZ: I think I better take off.
OZ: Pretty much now.

Goodbye, Oz. :::sniffle:::

OK, and now for the final two episodes, I’ll introduce someone who, for the Game of Thrones fans out there, needs no introduction: it’s Christopher Lockett, who recently joined me for weekly discussions on the HBO drama, and we had a lot of fun doing it. Now he’s back to take us to the end of the season. Take it away, Chris!

“So it’s chips all around, then?”: Conspiracy and Collectivity in “The Yoko Factor” and “Primeval”

When I was signing up for the Buffy rewrite schedule, I leapt with both feet on these two episodes for the very selfish reason that I have written about them before, and indeed taught them. Well, not both—in my dissertation and in a class I taught several times at UWO on Conspiracy Culture, I dealt with “Primeval” as the culmination of the conspiratorial story arc of season four. What I love about this episode is the way it resolves the storyline, a storyline that at many points through the season was at best strained and at worst hackneyed and cliché.

But for a variety of reasons, I love season four for all of its flawed and derivative use of familiar military-industrial-espionage-conspiracy tropes. And not just because, as has been noted several times during the Rewatch, the season contains some of the best stand-alone episodes in the entire Buffy and Angel corpus. Rather, I love it because of how it ended. Or rather, how it pre-ended. “Primeval” remains to my mind the best season finale that wasn’t actually a finale; Buffy’s final showdown with Adam in which her strength and skill is bolstered by that of her friends, is (for me) the most deeply satisfying fight scene in all seven seasons.

But let me back up a little. My other reason for loving “Primeval” is that it was a vindication of one of the central premises of my doctoral dissertation. I wrote about conspiracy and paranoia in contemporary American fiction and film and popular culture, and to a certain extent season four was tailor-made for that line of inquiry. At some points, perhaps a little too much: as I alluded above, the season errs a wee bit on the side of cliché (wherein “wee bit” = “a whole lot”) with the whole military-exploiting-monstrosity for the purpose of weaponizing it (Alien and Aliens anyone?), along with the anxiety about cyborg/Frankenstein experimentation and the concomitant paranoia about technology as an insidious check on free will. All season we’ve laughed at Spike’s inability to harm (or even think about harming) humans, but his behavior modification has overtones of A Clockwork Orange. The dystopian manifestation of that technological blight appears at the end of “The Yoko Factor” when Riley appears before Adam. At first we think he has come to offer a fight, but we realize in the first few minutes of “Primeval” that he, too, has been technologically modified. “So it’s chips all around, then,” says Spike ironically, but Riley’s helplessness reflects on Spike’s own Alex DeLarge state of being.

Perhaps it seems odd to offer sympathy to Spike at this point, especially considering he does his best in these two episodes to screw over Buffy et al for his own benefit, and especially considering his impairment is largely played to comic effect; but when season four gets it right, it’s usually when it deals with issues of free will and scientific hubris.

One of the other things I love about season four, for all its flaws, is that it gestures toward answering the question of the real-world implications of demons’ existence. At the outset of Buffy, we’re given the trite dictum that humans’ capacity for willful ignorance and blindness is powerful enough to make them mentally paper over the existence of vampires, werewolves, etc. But as the Buffyverse grew, and grew more populous and complex, that explanation seems less and less tenable. Sooner or later, one has to wonder: does the President know about vampires? Perhaps that strikes some as not being in the spirit of Buffy, but then I’m the guy who reads the Harry Potter novels and imagines a special section of MI6 dedicated to keeping tabs on Voldemort and developed anti-magical countermeasures (or would that be MI5?).

All of which is by way of saying that the overall arc of season four wasn’t necessary per se, but that it did answer a particular question: yes, the government knows about vampires; yes, the military has thought long and hard about it; and yes, they have considered how sub-terrestrials might benefit their own weapons programs.

But of course, military intervention into a Hellmouth wouldn’t be benign, and it is with that assumption that the conspiratorial dimension of season four starts. From the mid-sixties onward, conspiracy narratives had less to do with foreign infiltration (or alien invasion that was really just an elaborate metaphor for foreign infiltration) than with the perfidy of the government, the military, or the various intelligence agencies operating in the nether regions between the two. Timothy Melley coined a useful phrase for this in his excellent study Empire of Conspiracy: “agency panic.” On one hand it refers to the fear we have of such “agencies” as the CIA, the FBI, or the host of fictional acronyms populating popular culture. But the double entendre here is the fear for our personal agency—i.e. our ability to make our own decisions and decide our own fates. The paranoia at the root of conspiracy theory is the fear that we are not our own masters—that our autonomy has been or will be taken away by the nefarious agencies in question.

Hence, Spike’s behavioral chip is dystopian in its implications, and though it has been played for laughs throughout the season, those implications become clear not just with Riley’s technological enslavement but the chimera that used to be Forrest. Are we meant to believe that his embrace of his new patchwork body and his new destiny as Adam’s minion is solely to do with him being enamored of his newfound strength and power? Or has some not-so-subtle tweaking been done to his behavior?

At its baldest, season four is yet another retelling of the Frankenstein story, right down to the inevitable loss of control over the monster. Adam is the Frankenstein’s monster, he is Hal from 2001, Mother from Alien, and of course he is Skynet. But before anyone thinks I’m slagging season four for being derivative, the almost-final two episodes offer their own very interesting—and I would say innovative—contribution to the conspiratorial imagination. Conspiracy narratives are almost invariably about positioning the individual in relation to a collective—usually the paranoid subject, the person being victimized by conspiratorial forces, finds him or herself facing an impossibly pervasive conspiratorial collective.

What season four of Buffy gives us instead is opposing collectives: on one hand, the Scoobies, and on the other the conspiratorial Initiative. Significantly, these two opposing collectives are also defined by their relationship to technology. Buffy and friends (Willow’s computer talents notwithstanding) embody premodern, intuitive, and indeed magical thinking; the Initiative, the fetishization of technology and science. This opposition has been driven home several times this season when we have seen sequences cutting between the Initiative being briefed and the Scoobies discussing a mission. The rather obvious point established, and dramatized in spectacular fashion in “Primeval,” is that intuition and “natural” power are authentic while technology can offer, at best, a pale simulacrum.

But the Scoobies’ power—and, by extension, Buffy’s power—rests in teamwork and their collectivity. “The Yoko Factor” of course makes this quite clear, and we see how they fall apart when the team is fractured. By comparison, Adam’s strength and power derives from his amalgamation of disparate parts assembled by Professor Walsh. He is himself a collective being, produced by the conspiratorial collective of the Initiative, and his nightmare scenario involves the creation of an army of über-soldiers like himself (again, not an uncommon trope in popular film).

The final showdown is a fight between Adam’s amalgamated self—until this point, seemingly one of the most indomitable Big Bads Buffy has faced—and the conflation of Buffy with Giles, Willow, Xander, and the spirit of Slayerness itself. The fight is at once predictable and awesome—as already mentioned, to my mind the most satisfying fight in all of Buffy. But what is crucial to understand is that Buffy’s victory comes not just from the literal realization of her collective identity with her friends, but the reach backwards in time. Conspiracy narratives almost invariably privilege what is older and preferably archaic as authentic. In tapping into primeval powers—though they must deal with the repercussions of that in the actual final episode—they endow themselves with power and ability that the conspiratorial-military-industrial-complex not only cannot match, but cannot comprehend.

Thank you, Chris!

Next week: Restless on Buffy (hosted by Matthew Pateman, the man who’s written an entire book on the episode!), where you’ll finally see why Steve Halfyard – our music gal who randomly pops up to discuss the episodes – calls herself the Cheeseman! And To Shanshu in LA on Angel. For those of you following along on the sister series, hold onto your hats for this one!!

Buffy Rewatch Week 27: Spoiler Forum

And here is the place where you can discuss this week's episodes -- both Buffy and Angel -- without fear of spoiling it for anyone else. Enjoy!

Monday, July 04, 2011


Who's got two thumbs and has been asked to be the keynote speaker at the LOST conference in New Orleans in October?