Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Buffy Rewatch Week 13

3.1 Anne
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.

If “a dream is a wish your heart makes,” can we say dark heart?: Season 3's opening dreams, or how a lonely Slayer grows up
Cynthia Burkhead

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.

Buffy Rewatch Week 13: Spoiler Forum

As always, this is the place to discuss this week's episodes openly without any fear of spoiling things for those who are watching for the first time.

There are two key moments this week that act as foreshadowing for the last two seasons. First, Willow tells Buffy that dabbling in dark magicks is like being torn apart inside. The death of Tara will tear Willow apart, and the physical pain of the dark magicks she invokes at the end of season 6 are probably nothing compared to the emotional torture she’s enduring after watching Tara get gunned down in front of her.

Secondly, Buffy waves her stick in Xander’s face and says, “It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye.” Wah. (See the season 4 premiere for Buffy’s not-funny-in-retrospect comment about Joyce.)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fringe: "Bloodlines"

In honour of Fringe being picked up for a fourth season yesterday, I'm going to do something I haven't done in a long time... blog about it the same night of the episode!

Last week’s episode of Fringe featured Anna Torv channelling Leonard Nimoy, and the episode ended with a momentary return of Olivia’s consciousness in her own body, which signalled that Bell’s soul magnets might not be sticking as well as he’d hoped. With a cliffhanger like that, I was disappointed to discover we’d be back in the other universe this week.

But luckily, this week’s episode was amazing, and once again pulled in season 1 elements, making those early “fringe science of the week” episodes even more a part of the larger Pattern at work.

At the beginning of the episode, Fauxlivia is at her ob/gyn appointment with her mother, being tested to find out if she’s a carrier of VPE. This disease, which doesn’t exist in our world (although there’s a test to figure out if the mother has a certain ph balance which, if it’s not neutral, will pass a disease onto the baby as it passes through the birth canal), is what killed her sister, and sister’s baby, in childbirth. Fauxlivia returns home with the suspicion that someone is following her, and she’s right – as soon as she’s done talking to Lincoln, she’s kidnapped and taken to a warehouse in Chinatown, where her pregnancy is accelerated and she endures nine months of pregnancy in a matter of hours.

Meanwhile, Lincoln finds out she’s missing and begins searching frantically for her, and the first person he and Charlie go to is Bubs, the cab driver (you can call him Henry, but he’ll always be Bubs to me). His cab had been spotted driving by Fauxlivia’s house several times, so they question him, only to find out that he knew Olivia... as in our Olivia, and not theirs. They begin to put the pieces together when they go to Walternate, who finally tells Lincoln that the Olivia who’d been with them for several months was from the other side, and Fauxlivia is pregnant. And then Fauxlivia’s mom shows up to say that hey, my daughter’s got VPE and cannot have that baby.

But see... it appears Walternate had his finger on those results long before the ob/gyn got them. He knew she couldn't bring that baby to term, and he was going to do something about that.

Over in Chinatown, the doctors are preparing Fauxlivia to give birth (Me: “Wow, if you could go through pregnancy in one day, your stomach muscles would bounce back immediately!!!” Husband: “Right... and your skin would have probably torn to shreds, not to mention what your muscles would have done under that kind of stress.” Me: “Let a woman dream here.”) and she appeals to an obstetric nurse to let her go, but the nurse won’t. Fauxlivia overcomes her (even as a prego, Fauxlivia KICKS ASS) and gets out into the streets, where she’s found by Lincoln and Bubs. Bubs delivers the baby, and it would appear that Fauxlivia has died (when she was in labour, I said to my husband, “Oh man, they might actually kill her off here!!” and we both thought they had) but she opens her eyes again and she’s just fine.

At the hospital, Walternate comes to see Fauxlivia just as the nurse is taking the blood sample of the baby. The super-slimy and sleazy Brandon (he’s a fun geek in our world, and an evil nerd in the other) intercepts the card, which will presumably be used for DNA tests. We’d guessed early on that Walternate was behind it, so that didn’t come as much of a surprise, but his actions create several questions:
• Why did he do this? Does the Vacuum machine work with anyone matching Peter’s DNA, so his child could also operate it? And did Walternate have the technology to do so and needed to speed things up to get the child to do it now?
• Will the child continue to grow at a more accelerated rate? (Will this be like Gabrielle’s baby on Xena?)
• Does this link back to the second episode of season 1, “The Same Old Story”? In that episode, we see a prostitute become impregnated and move to full term in about an hour, and she’s killed during delivery because the baby is growing at such an exponential rate that it’s a pre-schooler before they can get it out, and it basically breaks her ribs and tears her insides apart. After it’s born, the doctors stare at it with horror as it continues to age before their eyes, and by the time the Fringe division shows up, there’s a dead woman on the table and what appears to be an 80-year-old man on the floor, dead, still connected to the woman through the umbilical cord. It was such a horrific opening to the episode I was almost scared away from the program, but it was too fascinating to stop watching. We find out that the man who impregnated the woman suffers from a rapid aging disease, and his father, Dr. Penrose, has been getting his son to drug women and cut out their pituitary glands in order to slow down his aging. The two of them have been working toward something that will control the rapidity of the aging. Clearly... Walternate’s figured out exactly what that control is. But we can only wonder what will happen to that child now.
• What did August the Observer mean when he said it’s beginning?

Anna Torv continues to be a marvel on the show. Last week my husband and I were chuckling our way through the episode, giggling every time she’d say something with that lisp and the Nimoy slur. It was awesome. And this Olivia is so entirely different from ours, and yet there are moments of sameness. I’ve often wondered this season... is she an example of what Olivia would be like if she hadn’t been administered the cortexiphan as a child?

Did You Notice?
• The glyphs this week spelled out FATED.
• Opus the Peahen!!!!! I think that is my favourite pop culture reference ever. SO brilliant. First, did you notice he had the same enlarged nose that our beloved Opus the Penguin has? The strip was still written by Berkeley Breathed, and it still appeared to be making current topic jokes (the words were fuzzy, but a large woman sits down and appears to say something about Lindsay Lohan... did I see that correctly?... and Opus tells her to hold that thought, brings back some sort of electrodes that shoot out and electrocute her, and he makes a witty comment I couldn’t read). If this means that in the other universe Breathed is still doing that strip, I want to go over to the other universe. Peahen or Penguin, I just want more Opus.
• West Wing is in its 12th season.
• In the altverse, Francis Ford Coppola directed Taxi Driver, not Scorsese. (The protagonist is still named Travis Bickle, though...)

Tom Waits Inducted into the R&R Hall of Fame

Great News for a Friday!

Things I never thought I'd hear myself say:

"You know, that Hitler guy wasn't so bad after all."

"You want to read an AMAZING book? Check out this one, it's the first in the Twilight series. It's awesome."

"The Bachelor is easily the best show on television. What it's done for feminism is astounding."

"Thank you, thank you, Fox, for renewing a show I love that's on the bubble for cancellation!"

Well, as of today, I can actually say the last one (those first three? Never gonna happen). Yes, Fox has officially renewed Fringe for a fourth season!! Just yesterday I was thinking, "What will they do with the mythology arc if they don't let them know far enough in advance whether or not it's being cancelled? Will we ever find out what the machine is all about?"

And now, I must get all of you non-viewers to start watching. To start, check out the recent issue of EW where Ken Tucker makes a brilliant plea to TV viewers about why they need to start watching. In short, he suggests it's not as serialized as you would think, and if you believe that all you need is love, and that filial love and romantic love can both be so strong you'd be willing to cross universes to find them, then this is the show for you. (Interesting that, like Lost, Fringe is a show where people focus on the sci-fi elements and forget that it's immensely human.) So if you're not watching, use this summer to catch up! It's SO worth it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

RIP Elizabeth Taylor


I only just heard the news (what a terrible way to start my day). I hope everyone remembers what a vivacious, beautiful, talented woman Elizabeth Taylor was. In memoriam, we should all watch "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," still one of my all-time favourite films. An incredible lady who lived an incredible life.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Buffy Rewatch Week 12

2.21 Becoming, Part 1
2.22 Becoming, Part 2

And so we come to the end of season 2, which, as someone said earlier in the season (and I have to agree), may not be the best season of Buffy, but it’s probably my favourite. And the “Becoming” two-parter might be my favourite season finale of any show. I was a little worried going into it, knowing that I hadn’t seen the episode in a few years. Would it still stand up? Especially after the consistent excellence of Lost? Would it still have its oomph?

I’m happy to say that years later, it’s full of oomph. It's oompherriffic. I wept as much this time around as I ever have.

At the beginning of the Rewatch, I sent out the list of episodes to all of the contributors and told them to sign up. But there was only one pair of episodes I’d written my name beside... and it was this one. However, after much thought I decided I’d write something about the future of the series in light of what we’ve already seen. In previous weeks, when a paper contains spoilery bits, I’ve been whiting them out. I haven’t relegated anyone to the spoiler post because I wanted everyone to be able to read the writing of all of my guests. However, you all know my writing, so I’ve decided that I’m going to post my paper in the spoiler post below, and I’ll keep my point-form notes here. To help me out this week, though, the wonderful Janet/Steve Halfyard has offered to write up this episode (thank goodness!) because the music is absolutely extraordinary. So don’t worry, you all are still getting a lovely treat this week. First, some notes:

• That horrific Oirish accent that Angel has in the first flashback. Oh my GOD it’s awful. I said a while back in the Kendra week that her accent was the worst, save one. Well, this is the ONE. I think David Boreanaz’s accent coach for this one was the Lucky Charms leprechaun. “Frosted Vampire Fangs... they’re magically delicious!” Good news, boys and girls... when Angel was first bitten, he saw red hearts, yellow moons, green clovers, and blue diamonds!

• Xander’s fish-stick re-enactment.
• Dru: “Met an old man. Didn’t like him. He got stuck in my teeth.”
• Spike: “It’s a big rock! Can’t wait to tell all my friends. They don’t have a rock this big.”
• Buffy calling Acathla the Tomb of Alfalfa. HAHA!!
• I LOVE Max Perlich as Whistler; I’ve always thought he could play Thom Yorke in a Radiohead biopic.
• Spike’s singsong voice: “Someone wasn’t wor-thy.”
• Mr. Pointy! The legendary stake. (At the Slayage conferences, the awards for best paper of the conference and best academic Whedonverse book are the Mr. Pointy awards... as these large wooden pointy awards are given out, there are always many jokes about how to get THAT into a carry-on.)
• That slow-mo run of Buffy racing into the school to find Kendra. It’s become one of the iconic scenes of the series.
• Spike: “Hello, cutie.”
• Spike and Buffy coming up with the story of them being in a band. Spike: “Well I sing.”
• Spike and Joyce making small talk. Possibly my favourite comic scene of season 2.
• Willow’s resolve face.
• Giles: “In order to be worthy, you must perform the ritual... in a tutu. You pillock.”
• Snyder: “In case you haven’t figured it out, the police in Sunnydale are deeply stupid.”
• Buffy: “You never ever got a single date in high school, did you?” Snyder: “Your point being?”
• The conversation between Xander and Giles as Xander tries to save him:
Giles: You're not real.
Xander: Sure, I'm real.
Giles: It's a trick. They get inside my head, make me see things I want.
Xander: Then why would they make you see me?
Giles: (considers) You're right. Let's go.
• Angelus: “Take all that away, what’s left??” Buffy: “ME.” YESSSSS!!!!!!
• The entire scene where Angel’s soul comes back. I don’t think a single scene had ever gutted me like that one when I first saw it.
• Oz: “We know the world didn’t end, because... check it out.”

Did You Notice?
• Giles has an Orb of Thessaluh that he uses as a paperweight; if you’ll recall, the guy who ran the magic shop says he usually sells the orbs to New Age types who use them as paperweights.
• This week’s Lost reference: Did y’all see the Hurley gravestone in Becoming?? It’s near the Alpert mausoleum. How I wish the dates on it were April 15, 1923-August 16, 1942. As I mentioned in the comments last week, David Fury was a writer on Buffy, and then went over to Lost (he wrote “Walkabout” in S1). However, I doubt that he offered up suggestions for names that he saw on props on Buffy. But weirder things have happened.
• That “to be continued” elicited a LOUD scream from me the first time around.
• When Buffy comes out as the Slayer, her mom acts like she just announced she was gay: “Are you sure you’re a vampire slayer? Have you tried NOT being a slayer?”
• The chalk drawing on the floor of the library has Kendra lying on her side, where we saw her flat on her back.
• Spike squeezes Dru until she passes out... but Angel said in “Prophecy Girl” that he doesn’t breathe.
• Joss loves his Sarah McLachlan. Listen for it in a future pivotal scene... in another season finale.
• At the end, Buffy’s wearing the overalls of sadness again from “Ted.”
• The Mutant Enemy man (the little Grr, Argh guy) says, “Ooh, I need a hug!” Aw!!

One of the key players of this episode is the score (now you see why the love theme is called "Close Your Eyes") and it just wouldn't be right to talk about "Becoming" without inviting the marvellous Steve Halfyard along to help us out. So... here she is! To read my post, proceed to the spoiler forum after reading this.

“It hurts, yes? Good. It will hurt more.”
Love, loss and music in “Becoming”

I said in an earlier post that it was a musically good decision not to overuse the love theme, and the reason for that is this double episode. As listeners as well as watchers, we are all pretty familiar with the love theme now, but not bored with it because we haven’t been bludgeoned with it at every opportunity (which sometimes happens in films that only have one big theme). Beck, I think, knew that he needed his big theme for the season finale so he saves it, tapping into its meanings in various episodes but restricting the number of outright statements of it in order to ensure maximum impact when he finally does unleash it.

The use of flashbacks is another important part of this episode, and the music for them is very distinctive, partly it uses real instruments and voices rather than just synths. Beck often adds some live woodwind, a single player who is recorded over the synths to “sweeten” the music and give it a bit more life, but the flashbacks in particularly have some unusual ‘real’ music in them. In the flashback to the first time Angel meets Drusilla, we have male voices singing the Tantum Ergo, a rather beautiful bit of chant from the catholic liturgy, seriously ancient (it’s part of the longer Pange Lingua written by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century); and then in the Romanian woods in the 1890s, we have a soaring, searing cello line when Angel is cursed. This use of real instruments lifts the music, gives it an emotional depth that is very hard to achieve with synthesized sounds (but it’s more expensive than one man sitting at a keyboard, so Buffy was being quite adventurous with its budget by increasingly using real instruments — and then there was Firefly!). Representing Angel with a cello, incidentally, reconnects him with that other suffering vampire, Louis from Interview with the Vampire, who was also scored with achingly emotional cello lines in the 1994 film.

When we (or rather, Whistler) find a bedraggled Angel in Manhattan in 1996, we get a new theme that is used several times in this flashback, but always scored differently. The first time, we have it on the cello — it’s a very sad theme, not really going anyway, just circling around the same notes, lost, somehow. We hear it again when he sees Buffy for the first time from his car outside her school: any sense of creepy stalker is countered but that sad little theme, now with the melody played on a cor anglais (very like an oboe, but lower and with a darker tone colour), and with the cello harmonizing underneath; and then after he has watched her kill her first vampire, he watches her at home, being yelled at by her mother, and then crying as she looks at herself in the bathroom mirror. First we have the theme on a clarinet – even darker colour than the cor anglais – but then it changes again, with a question and answer pattern, piano answered by Angel’s cello, as if we hear the connection that Angel makes with Buffy, hear him responding to her pain and falling in love with her.

The love theme itself also gets played on real instruments, giving it that greater emotional depth. We hear the first three notes in the computer room as Buffy realises that the lost disk holds the key to restoring Angel’s soul; and then we hear it in full when she finds the ring he gave her, now played on an alto flute (again, a darker sound than a normal flute). In both cases the theme seems to represent Buffy’s hope that perhaps she can get Angel back: certainly, it reminds us of her love for him, that it has not gone away, that she has not given up on him. But then something very unexpected happens, something that takes the whole idea of this theme in a new direction. At the end of part 1, Buffy realises that Angelus has tricked her into leaving her friends undefended and they are being attacked. She races back to the library, but we already know it is too late; before she gets there, we see Kendra killed by Drusilla. The deaths of Jenny and Kendra have one particularly horrible thing in common. They are both killed specifically to hurt other people rather than to feed — neither Angelus nor Drusilla bother to bite or to drink from their victims, but kill them by other, somehow more brutal means and leave them to be found in order to bring pain to those that love them.

As Buffy enters the school, the image goes into slow motion, and the love theme begins to play — again, the flute that represented her sense of hope has the melody. The image and the music conspire to hold us longer in this moment where we know the truth but we know that Buffy stills hopes she can save her friends: it is meant to hurt, to make our sense of her loss more acute when she kinds Kendra’s body. As she comes into the library, the melody is taken by the piano alongside the flute; and then the flute drops out, as if to say that all her hope is gone, and the theme keeps playing as Whistler tells us that we are never ready for the big moments.

There are several different ways one can read this scene. If you read the theme primarily as a love theme, perhaps it signifies Buffy’s love for her sister Slayer; if you read it as a Buffy/ Angel love theme, it reminds us that this death is the direct result of their relationship; and if it represents Buffy’s point of view, then perhaps it indicates that this is on her mind in these moments, that she feels herself responsible for what has happened to Kendra, just as she blames herself for what happened to Angel. But if you read it as a theme primarily about loss, it becomes an articulation of the things that Angelus is taking away from her He’s already taken Angel; now he takes Kendra. And in part 2, this process of stripping away from Buffy the things that she loves gains momentum. She fears she’s lost all her friends, which is why we hear the theme again as she sneaks into the hospital, having escaped from the police; she then has a row with her mother and we hear music that suggests the love theme but now it’s holding back from making an outright statement again — Beck is once more saving it for the big finish; we get it at the top of the episode in the hospital, but what we hear in both the scene with Joyce (losing her mother and her home) and then when she returns to the school (and gets expelled) references the theme by using the falling 6th and other fragments, but holds back from playing it in full.

In Part 2, there is music new and old: a new, lilting lullaby theme used for the unconscious Willow in hospital; and Jenny’s theme from “Passion” making its last appearance of the season as Giles is hypnotized into thinking that Dru is Jenny. Having her theme reinforces the illusion of it really being Jenny, even though Giles logically can’t hear it; but even more heartbreakingly, it is the version of the theme from the end of “Passion”, the graveside version that, first time round, had Giles’s voice singing the melody — so in some way, perhaps he does hear this music and is convinced by it that the illusion is real. It evokes his love for Jenny just as specifically as does the presence of Robia LaMorte playing Dru playing Jenny.

And so to the big finish. By the end of the final episode Buffy has lost Kendra, Willow is badly injured, Giles has been kidnapped and tortured, she’s been thrown out of her home and her school: and as she prepares to kill Angelus, Whistler, the (mercifully) shortlived precursor of Doyle, tells us that she still has one thing left to lose: that of course is the process of completing the circle that the love theme began and making her lose Angel yet again. This is the scene Beck has been waiting for, and we get his music in all its glory as she kills him in a scene in which love and loss are perfect partners. The sword fight is scored with the expected action music; and it is only at the moment that Angel’s glowing eyes tell us that Willow’s spell was successful that the action music drops out and the love theme begins.

It starts with the first three notes of the theme like a question mark until he says Buffy’s name and she realises it is truly Angel. The melody is the flute again, the instrument of Buffy’s hope, but something new happens in the theme: the third phrase of the theme is replaced with something different which sounds like it really might come to a happy ending – until she sees the vortex opening behind him, and instantly, the original third phrase comes back in its original form as she realizes it’s too late to save him. The theme starts again now, stripped down to just the piano — the hopeful flute is gone — as she understands what she has to do, tells him she loves him and instructs him to close his eyes (“Close your eyes” was the name he gave the cue for the CD track). I’ve talked before at how good Beck is at scoring to the visual image:, here, the music lingers so that she can stab Angel through the heart precisely on the goal note, the highest note of the second phrase, which not only mimics the physical gesture as she stabs him but rings out like a cry of anguish as he brings the rest of his ‘orchestra’ in at this point and Angel is sucked into hell.

The emotional peak the music has taken us to by this point (if you weren’t even a bit tearful, you have a heart of stone) means that we need something dramatically different to help get us to the end of the episode, and so we have the very unusual use of a song to close the episode and the series, Sarah McLachlan’s “Full of Grace.” There’s a beautiful segue — the final note of the love theme is held and merges into the opening of the song, as if they are part of the same musical idea. There are only a small number of episodes that end with songs, but McLachlan gets two season-end moments, this one and season six (ironically, the song of hers that seems to have been written for this series — "Angel" — is never used). Here we have "Full of Grace": “I never thought I could feel so low/ Oh darkness I feel like letting go/ I’m all out of strength and all out of courage/ Come and lift me from this place/ I know I could love you much better than this/ Full of grace.” The lyrics give voice to how Buffy is feeling: there is no need for dialogue (we do not hear her speak in this season again after she utters the line “Close your eyes”) and the lyrics stand in to tell her story for us as she leaves Sunnydale and apparently abandons her post as Slayer. I remember the first time I saw this, being a little pool of snivelling misery on the floor as the screen faded to black — it’s a remarkably brave and complex ending: she both wins and loses in equal measure, and the repercussions of this never entirely go away. Her willingness to be the Slayer is always compromised after this in a way that it wasn’t before. In “What’s My Line?” she toyed with the idea of handing responsibility over to Kendra, but this was because she wanted a chance at a normal life; after “Becoming,” she is always much more aware of the weight of responsibility for the choices she has to make and the repercussions of them. The end of season 2 is the moment when that weight first descends in full force, where the hopes she had that there was a chance of a normal life and a happy ever after are stripped away from her. Not only does she never get them back again, but things get progressively worse as we move through the later seasons. It hurts, yes? It will hurt more.

Buffy Rewatch Week 12: Spoiler Forum

2.21 Becoming, Part 1
2.22 Becoming, Part 2

As always, welcome to the spoiler board this week, where you can speak freely about this week's "Becoming" episodes without fear of spoiling anyone. Please check out the post above this one for Steve Halfyard's musical analysis on the "Becoming" episodes, as well as my own point form notes.

This week I'm posting my take on the episode here simply because it looks forward as much as it looks back, and I thought this might be the better home for it. So here we go.

“It’s What You Do Afterwards That Counts”:
“Becoming, Parts 1 & 2”

“There's moments in your life that make you, that set the course of who you're gonna be. Sometimes they're little, subtle moments. Sometimes... they're not.”

I will never forget the first time I saw the “Becoming” two-parter that ended season 2 of Buffy — unlike "Surprise" and "Innocence," we had to wait a whole week between episodes. And don't get me started on that incredibly long summer that followed.

For two seasons we’ve watched these vampires mention snippets about their backstories (or, more commonly, Giles reading their backstory details out of dusty, old books) and heard about how they became who they were. “Becoming” finally goes back in time and shows us what really happened.

Now, of course, the flashback device seems pretty standard. We’ve seen how Damon and Stephan became vampires in The Vampire Diaries. We know absolutely everything about every character on Lost by going back and seeing where it all began. We spent more time in flashbacks on Flashforward than we did in the present. Fringe often goes back in time to show a young Olivia or a younger-looking Walter as they were several years ago so we can find details in the re-enactments that might not have made it to the retellings through the characters.

But Joss was a pioneer of the flashback, and he did it beautifully. (And without those Wayne’s World wavy lines.) We see the happy-go-lucky leprechaun, Liam (oh, how I hate Angel’s accent in this episode... see above for more complaining) as a drunken lech, something we didn’t know about Angel before now. We see Darla turn him in an alleyway (and rather than the Catholic schoolgirl outfit, she was going for more of a courtesan look back then). We see Drusilla as the poor, desperate, good girl, who didn’t mock churches, but worshiped in them. As she steps into the confessional, we see the beginning of what would become horrible torture for her at the hands of Angelus. We see Angelus get re-ensouled, and the unwashed creature lurking in alleyways he became after.

And, we see the first time Angel looks at Buffy. In the moment where she’s first approached and told she’s the Chosen One, Angel is right there. He watches her dust her first vampire, and he follows her back home (Angel has a thing for lurking in the bushes, and the Summers have a thing for leaving their curtains wide open) and sees this little girl torn between a future she doesn’t want, and a present that’s pulling her apart as her parents fight in the background.

But the big moments aren't all in the past; this episode is filled with new ones: Kendra dies (meaning a new Slayer will be called), Buffy’s mom finally finds out what her daughter does, Willow tries the Dark Arts for the first time, and Buffy sends Angel to Hell. And then... she leaves.

We’ve watched these characters building up to these moments from the beginning – Buffy tried to run from her duties in the very beginning, when a naive Giles plunked the Vampyr book onto the library counter and Buffy ran away. Buffy has gone from being a reluctant Slayer to one who accepts her job, albeit begrudgingly, to one who despite being annoyed at her Chosen One status doesn’t want to share that status with the Aladdin-panted Kendra, to one who realizes at the end of “Becoming” that it doesn’t matter if you save the world alone, or surrounded by friends, or at the side of another Slayer... this slaying gig SUCKS.

“Bottom line is, even if you see ’em coming, you’re not ready for the big moments [...] No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does.”

What may not be clear to fans watching the show – and definitely not to anyone watching the series for the first time – is that “Becoming” is actually filled with many of those initial moments that won’t come to fruition until much later in the series. Just as Angel stumbled out of a bar into the streets and was bitten by Darla, in this episode Spike joins forces with Buffy for his own selfish reasons, completely unaware of what is going to happen as a result – he’ll find a connection with the Scoobies, he’ll work against Angel, he’ll incur Drusilla’s wrath for doing so and will be left behind, and after a brief canoodle with a certain unicorn-lovin’ vamp, he’ll find his way back to the Scoobies, and to Buffy. And there he’ll fall in love, ask for his soul back, and prove to be a hero. In “Becoming, Part 2,” Buffy asks him why he wants to help her. Spike chuckles and says, “I want to save the world,” with a snide grin. In five more seasons, he’ll do exactly that.

And then there’s our Willow. She insists on doing the spell that will re-ensoul Angel. Giles warns her that if she channels these dark magicks, she may open a door that she won’t be able to close... but at the same time, he supports her decision to do so. Buffy also encourages her. Both of them have selfish reasons for wanting her to do it: Giles believes it’s Jenny’s last wish, and Buffy, as Xander puts it, wants her boyfriend back. But fastforward to season 6, where Willow’s use of magic will spiral out of control, and it’ll be both Giles and Buffy who must stop Willow... because they’re the one who started it. Both of them will admonish her and act like it wasn’t their fault, and truly, it wasn’t. But they were definitely partly responsible for what she became, and it starts here.

Xander argues with the lot of them, something that begins to show his separation from the team, a separation that will continue to grow until he accepts that he’ll be a part of the group, but never a heroic, demon-slaying part (think of his speech in "Potential" when he tells Dawn how important it is to be a background player). When he says to Buffy that Willow told her to kick Angel’s ass, we can’t help but be momentarily angry with him – if he’d told the truth, Buffy might have held him off longer, kept him away from the sword, and Buffy wouldn’t have left town. But Xander has always been the guy who speaks what’s in his heart. He hates Angel because of what he did to Buffy, to Willow, and mostly to Giles and Jenny. One can forgive him for not wanting to hug the guy who hurt the people Xander loves the most.

Giles is one of those people, and he becomes a liability when Angel realizes he’s knowledge guy and can help them out with how to get the sword from Acathla. Throughout the (surprisingly non-bloody) torture scene, Giles holds his own, but Drusilla goes right to his heart and by making him see the woman he cares about once again, he spills everything. Buffy has to rush in and save him, and she puts her plan together without needing his help. If he hadn’t mentioned the blood thing, Acathla wouldn’t have opened early and perhaps everything would have worked out. I’ve often wondered if this moment was where Giles began wondering if he was simply “standing in [Buffy’s] way” and that maybe she can handle this on her own. Just a few episodes earlier, in “Passion,” she told him how much she needed him and that she can’t lose him, but the daughter begins to come out from the father’s shadow in this episode, and proves she can begin to handle things on her own.

And then there’s Buffy. Her mother now knows the truth, her fellow Slayer is dead, and she’s just thrust a sword into Angel to send him to Hell. And worse, moments before she did so, she saw the soul of the man she loved come back, which made destroying him so much worse. She’s broken by the end of this episode, and no matter how strong she appears, she can’t face anyone after what’s happened to her. She walks away from Giles, her friends, and her mother. When she returns in season 3, it will be to a sea of hostility, of people who see her as the friend who turned her back on them, and that will harden Buffy further. Killing Angel provides the seeds to what Buffy does at the end of season 5 – if she can thrust a sword through Angel’s heart (and consequently, through her own) in order to save the world, then she can sacrifice herself to save the world and her little sister Dawn. If she can come crawling up out of the dark depression and Hell she’s endured over the summer after killing Angel and face the people around her in season 3 – the people partly responsible for the pain she feels – then she can climb her way out of the dirt in the ground and face the people who are wholly responsible for bringing her back. The strength she gains from this moment, unbeknownst to her, will be crucial to her survival in later seasons.

Interestingly, when Joyce first finds out what Buffy does, her first instinct is to act like Buffy just came out of the closet. Her second is to talk to Buffy like she might be mentally ill. It evokes the brilliant season 6 episode, “Normal Again,” where we find Buffy in a mental hospital, living in the fantasy world of her mind where she’s a Slayer and saving the world, and her parents are sitting by her wondering when she’ll come back to them. The seeds of that moment are planted here for the audience, so we can store this comment from Joyce to recall later in that episode.

“So what are we, helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come. You can’t help that. It’s what you do afterwards that counts. That’s when you find out who you are. You’ll see what I mean.”

As Whistler says in his voiceover in this episode, these moments happen whether you want them to or not. There isn’t just one moment, but many, and they shape who we are and the people around us. It’s not how you deal with the moment itself that’s important, but how you handle it. We’ve seen how Angel and Drusilla have handled their “becoming.” Now it’s time to sit back and watch how Buffy and her friends handle theirs.

Monday, March 21, 2011

My New EW Just Arrived...


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Big Love Finale: Saying Goodbye to the Sister Wives

Tonight HBO’s wonderful, complicated – and, at times, just plain loony – five-year series Big Love comes to an end. It’s the story of Bill Henrickson and his three sister-wives: Barbara, his first wife and mother of his three eldest children; Nikki, the second wife who was brought up on a strict polygamous culture and is the mother of his two blond-headed boys; and Margene, the young, wide-eyed girl who loves Bill unconditionally and who is the mom of his three youngest. (Warning: Spoilers for all five seasons are ahead...)

When the show began, everything seemed peachy for the Henrickson family. He had three neighbouring houses – one for each wife – and a monthly schedule where he would spend certain evenings with each wife. This was worked out by Barbara, taking various “womanly” things into consideration, and when the series opened we saw that Bill was taking Viagra just to keep up his stamina. As a female, married viewer, I immediately identified with Barbara, as many women who watch this show probably do. She married Bill first (when there were no plans for a polygamist family) and is the only one of the women who knows what it’s like to be his one and only. But then Barbara got sick, and he brought Nikki, a girl from the insane Juniper Creek compound where Bill grew up, to help nurse her through her cancer. Barbara, worried that she might die, talked it over with Bill and agreed that he should marry Nikki, so she could be his life partner, provide him with children, and help ensure his place in the “celestial kingdom.” But then Barbara got better, and now realized she had to share her husband with someone else. And then Margene came along, and Barbara once again encouraged Bill to marry her (we find out this season that she actually felt lonely with Nikki and wanted a woman around who she could talk to). And now with two other women sharing his affections and giving Bill children when Barbara no longer could, Barbara began to wonder if this really was the best thing for her.

Women first coming to the show will probably come at it with the same preconception: How could any woman DO this? How could you share your husband with another woman? How is it fair that he gets to sleep with other women and call it a “religious right,” but if you dared have an affair, it would be nothing more than a tawdry affair? How do these women live with the gender imbalance that exists in their lives? But then, as the first season went on, while these questions still bubbled below the surface, one couldn’t help but start to see things their way. All of these women always have other women to turn to, women who have their best interests in mind and who aren’t jostling for any position (well, except maybe for Nikki). They help each other with the laundry and with the housekeeping. They share groceries and menu-planning and cooking duties. They not only get help raising their own children, but they get the pleasure of helping raise new little ones constantly.

But this was an idealized notion of polygamy. When we traveled to Juniper Creek, we saw a different reality: where the women all dress in identical confining giant Laura Ingalls dresses; where the men use them for sex and baby-making but show them no love or affection otherwise; where they don’t confide in each other, but keep secrets, worried that any confidence will be used against them. Throughout the five seasons we’ve watched Bill’s family slowly come under scrutiny in the public eye, while the Grants at Juniper Creek fight for who will be the “prophet” (once again drawing in Bill, since Nikki is the daughter of one prophet and the sister of the other). We’ve been introduced to the creepy and crazy Greens, and saw Bill decide to shine a spotlight on polygamy and try to legitimize it in the public eye at what could be one of the worst cases of timing in history. At the end of last season, which was just rather psychotic (I’d like to pretend it didn’t happen in many ways), I said to my husband, “So... next season will they all get on a spaceship and move to outer space and hook up with some alien sister wives??” This shift in mood in S4 was signalled by changing the opening credits from this wonderful vision of the women skating with Bill to the sounds of the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” to a more ethereal song called “Home” by The Engineers while we watch images of them all falling through the sky in sexy poses in slow-motion. I love the song, hate the context of it, and long for that old opening (which, with the cracking ice, perfectly sums up this season).

The show is always at its best when it focuses on the personal issues of the family. Nikki’s overspending and secret ingestion of birth control pills while pretending to try to get pregnant. Margene’s dreams to be something more, getting a job at a QVC-type of TV show and harbouring a guilt-inducing crush on Bill’s eldest son, who is closer to her age than Bill is. Barbara’s inner struggle with the changing family and her desire to hold the priesthood, just like any man would.

And the reason season 5 has been SO good is because, aside from Bill’s foray into politics, it’s focused more on the family, which is what made it so good in the first place. All three women have been thrust into the spotlight when Bill outs them as polygamists at the end of season 4. Now Margene has lost her TV advertising job and is lost. That’s before it finally comes out that she lied about her age when she married Bill, and his “marrying” her and having children with her legally constitutes statutory rape (with Barbara as the accomplice). Yikes. Meanwhile, Bill refuses to recognize that any woman is capable of holding the priesthood, undermining Barbara’s desires. Nikki’s daughter (whom she had when she was really young and betrothed to this guy at Juniper Creek when she was in the Joybooks as a child, a guy who played Juliet’s husband on Lost and who ends up marrying Nikki’s mother and making her his latest sister-wife before trying to impregnate both Nikki and her mom through in vitro before they both fight back and burn down his clinic with he and his evil other sister-wife inside... no, really...) has come back to live with her, but because Nikki isn’t legally married to Bill, Bill can’t adopt the girl as his own. So he DIVORCES Barbara and marries Nikki. It was a whopper of a storyline this season, and brought our sympathies and affections back to the person with whom they originated: Barbara.

Now, as we enter the season finale, Barbara has some decisions to make. Bill’s about to go away for a long time if the statutory rape thing goes through. Nikki is legally married to Bill and is the only woman who can see him for conjugal visits. Barbara is trying to find herself – she’s begun drinking casually (something Mormons do not tolerate), she’s visiting her old church again, she’s continuing to vie for the priesthood, and she’s refusing to visit Bill’s new church. Nikki is happily at Bill’s side no matter what, and has gotten her wish at being his real wife, something she rubs in Barbara’s face every chance she gets. (Nikki is played beautifully by Chloe Sevigny, who manages to make you despise her for half the episode, and love her for the other half. Every. Time.) And then there’s Margene, who’s suddenly realized she’s in her early 20s and now won’t have a husband in her bed for 20 years. She’s got three children, but she’s worried that her sister-wives will resent her, because it’s her lie that will put Bill away to begin with.

So what will happen to them? It’ll be interesting if the family ends up entirely broken by the end of it. Part of me wonders if Bill will end up with only Nikki and her family, and Barbara will finally venture out on her own, which I would love to see. That leaves Margene on her own, but something tells me that no matter what she said about her age, Barbara won’t abandon Margene. Perhaps they’ll decide to stay together, as sister-wives without the intrusive husband. Now THAT would be an interesting step in a new direction.

Big Love airs tonight on HBO and HBO Canada at 9pm.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Buffy Rewatch Week 11

2.18 Killed By Death
2.19 I Only Have Eyes for You
2.20 Go Fish

This is that difficult week of episodes that happens after the manic pace of last week’s (“Phases,” “BBB,” and “Passion”) and before the jaw-dropping awesomeness of the “Becoming” two-parter season finale next week. Our guest this week will look at what that means for these episodes within the arc of the season, so I won’t get into it much other than to say they’re rarely listed among the fan favourites.

But I have to say, I’ve never listed them as ones that were bad. It’s just their unfortunate juxtaposition – had the subject matter come before “Surprise” and “Innocence,” perhaps fans would have been kinder to them. On their own, I think they’re very good… and in the case of “I Only Have Eyes for You,” great.

“Killed by Death” has never been a fave of mine. It takes place away from familiar locations – the library, Buffy’s house – and is focused more on Buffy and her childhood problem more than the other characters. And coming on the heels of “Passion,” it was a disappointment when, following the shocking horror of Jenny’s death, Giles seemed to be puttering around the hospital and not openly grieving. But… that’s not really Giles. Yeah, he pulls a Lost Weekend when he thinks he’s effed up so badly people are going to be seriously hurt, but when the people HAVE been hurt and he can no longer help them, he buries himself in his duties to hide the pain he’s feeling.

When I checked my write-up for it that I put in Bite Me, it was the first entry where I disagreed with my much-younger self who wrote that, oh, a decade ago. In it I said if there’s some sort of metaphor here, I didn’t get it. But watching it now, I do get it. In the hospital, the children can see the horrors that the adults can’t. In the FOX show, Fringe, we discover that scientist Walter Bishop once ran tests on young children, giving them a particular drug that could heighten powers he believes we’re all born with, but as we get older certain parts of our brain become inactive and, effectively, kills off our potential. Similarly, these children still have eyes open to the nightmares and bogeymen, where the adults in their lives no longer believe in such fancies. This idea brings us back to one of the essential themes of the series – that Buffy might appear to be a “kid,” but she knows more and has seen more than most adults will ever see. She’s an old, wise mind in a young person’s body (this becomes more obvious in later seasons once she’s out of high school).

Some extra notes:
• One fun game you can play with this week’s trio of episodes is “Spot the Guest Character Who Went on to Bigger Things.” In this episode, we see Stanford from Sex and the City playing the security guard that Cordy tries to seduce.
• I see that Buffy’s borrowed Kendra’s silver Aladdin pants for her hospital sojourn.

When Buffy first aired, “Killed by Death” aired on March 3, and then the show went on a seven-week hiatus. When the show returned on April 28, many fans were swept up in the romance and wonder of “I Only Have Eyes for You.” I adored the ghost story, and when Buffy and Angelus stepped into the roles – and we saw Angel again for the first time in a long time. See, for us rewatching – even for the first-timers – it’s only been a couple of weeks since Angel went to the Dark Side. But at the time, he turned bad on January 20, and this is the first time in three months that we saw a glimmer of the old Angel again. So it had been a very loooooong time since we’d seen him, and it was glorious. I especially loved Buffy taking the man’s role, and Angel – who is often seen as the feminized side of Angelus – is the woman. It brings up the important idea of forgiveness, something the ghost needs to move on. If Buffy ever gets the souled Angel back, will she ever be able to forgive him for what his demony counterpart did?

Some extra notes:
• Apparently when Angel loses his soul and begins sporting the hot leather pants, Buffy switches to skintight… gold ones.
• John Hawkes!!! I’d completely forgotten he was in this episode. Sol Star from Deadwood, Lennon from Lost, and an Oscar nominee. Who’d have thunk the janitor from this episode would have gone on to such critical acclaim?
• Also, James, the 1950s ghost, is Henry from Ugly Betty; the teacher the janitor shoots when they’re possessed was Cousin Eddie’s wife in the Vacation films; Meredith Salinger was in several movies in the 80s and early 90s (I always think of her in that Jimmy Reardon movie with my teenage boyfriend, River Phoenix).
• The director of this episode is the son of actor James Whitmore.
• Snyder returns! I’d forgotten how much he looked like a rat.
• How odd that Jenny’s computer is back on her desk with all her lesson plans on it… didn’t we watch Angel burn it in Passion?
• Giles needing that ghost to be Jenny was heartbreaking. I still I get a catch in my throat when Willow looks at him and says, “Jenny could never be this mean!”
• Where’s Samuel Jackson when you need him? I’d love to see him walk into the school and say, “Why are there motherf***ing snakes in this motherf***ing cafeteria?!”
• Angel tells Buffy that he loved her with his last breath… and he’s telling the truth.
• Spike standing up from the wheelchair is one of the highlights of the season for me. He’s like the vampire John Locke!!

“Go Fish” is a much-maligned episode within the longstanding Buffy fandom, but I actually don’t mind it. I mean, it’s worth it for that scene where Xander enters in slow-mo in the Speedo. Comedy gold. (Joss Whedon always joked that Xander’s body was far too ripped to be nerdly, so he tried to show him shirtless as many times as possible as an in-joke.) And the scene where the fish creature jumps into the pool, and Cordy begins her long speech to it thinking it’s Xander is a very important moment in the development of her character. Even though she’s back with him post-Valentine’s Day, there’s still a sense of superiority she holds over him. “I’m better than you, you’re a nerd, and you should be happy that I’ve lowered myself to be with you.” But in this scene – even as she believes Xander’s been turned into a fish!! – she professes her true love for him, telling him she’ll stand by him and even get him extra bath toys (LOL!) I love this scene, and it’s where our sympathies truly begin to turn in Cordy’s favour.

Some extra notes:
• Xander: “It’s especially nippy. So say my nips.”
• Gage is played by Wentworth Miller, who starred on Prison Break.
• I honestly don’t buy the whole Willow-as-teacher thing. How does that work within the teacher’s union? How is a student teaching the class? What would that do to student-teacher politics? If Willow was harassed and disrespected by students before, wouldn’t they come down on her even harder now? Is there honestly not one single teacher in the area who could sub in for Jenny?? And even if this is a whole “Snyder keeping everything on the down-low” thing, I still don’t buy it. Aren’t her parents wondering why their daughter isn’t being paid? And if she IS being paid, how is that being worked out with the other teachers? “Oh, great… she’s had half a year of computer training but I guess she’s as qualified to teach high school as I am… after several years of university and practical training.” And yes… I understand the irony here that I have no problem with the swim team turning into sea creatures but I do have a problem with the practicality of Willow being a substitute teacher. ;)
• Buffy’s use of “from whence it came.”
• Jonathan ♥♥♥
• Buffy: There’s just something about the smell of chlorine on a guy. Oh baby.”
• Buffy on Xander’s worry he’ll turn into a fish: “Let’s not break out the tartar sauce just yet.” LOL!
• Xander correcting Cordy on the difference between the creature from the blue lagoon and the black: “The creature from the blue lagoon was Brooke Shields.”
• I love Buffy and Willow eating the popcorn while watching the swim team. Watch for the popcorn bucket to pop up again and again in weird moments.

This week I once again welcome Steve Halfyard for a small slice of cheese as she discusses the use of music in this week’s group of episodes:

You have to admire the way Beck’s music remembers and connects up ideas from earlier episodes. “I Only Have Eyes For You” brings in another little twist on the Love Theme for the two ghosts. We first here it in Buffy’s ‘dream’ about their moment together in the class room – it has the first three notes of the LT, but with an extra note added on the beginning and the end – the note at the start makes is a little bit discordant and gives it an extra yearning. It comes back again when the janitor and teacher are possessed; and then, when Buffy and Angel are possessed at the end, we get another version which is closer to the original LT, but still not quite right (for obvious narrative reasons – they aren’t quite Buffy and Angel at that point). Also, note the fragment of the Giles/ Jenny theme from “Passion” when Willow gives Giles Jenny’s necklace, and how it starts sneaking back in (in the oboe) when Giles hears the sound of the janitor and teacher fighting, thinks it may be Jenny’s ghost and rushes off to try and find her: but the full theme never quite arrives, because, of course, Jenny is not there.


Thanks, Steve! And now it’s my pleasure to introduce Ian Klein. Ian’s featured on my blog a few times in some of my anecdotes. I met him on a shuttle from the Little Rock airport to the Slayage conference in 2008, and my friend Sue and I began hanging out with him and Ryan, also from that shuttle. We all stayed in touch (and I got together with Ian in the interim when I was in NY on business) and at the last Slayage we did the conference first, and then went to Universal Studios, where we stayed in a huge suite in Holiday Inn and went on rollercoasters and rides and saw Harry Potter land and ate tons and tried this awesome Mexican place and had a blast. He’s brilliant. (And he’ll probably kill me for running that photo, but seriously… adorable, right? We saw this old car at Universal and I told him to pose, and you don’t have to ask him twice.)

Ian G. Klein earned his BA with Honors from the University of Washington. He is currently studying at Columbia University in pursuit of an MFA in Dramaturgy, which will be completed in Spring 2012. Ian first experienced the work of Joss Whedon when he started watching Buffy in anticipation of an assignment concerning fandom during his senior year of college. He has since become a charter associate member of The Whedon Studies Association and has presented papers at several academic conferences, including The Slayage Conference on the Whedonverses and meetings of the National Popular and American Culture Associations. His most recent publication was “'I Like My Scars': Claire Saunders and the Narrative of Flesh” in the SmartPop book, Inside Joss’s Dollhouse. You can read an interview with Ian here, and he blogs regularly here (and if you haven’t been checking out his site, please do: he’s been following our rewatch since January and doing his own weekly posts, which have been excellent!)

Without any further ado, please welcome the wonderful Ian Klein!

“A Little More Fallout”: Life After Trauma on the Hellmouth
Ian G. Klein

If there’s a task more daunting to me than writing about some of the most iconic episodes in the series like “Surprise,” “Innocence,” and “Passion,” it’s writing about the trio of episodes that rests between “Passion” and the epic two-parter “Becoming” that concludes the show’s second season. These three episodes are not unlike many other episodes of the series, especially from the first season. But placing episodes that signal a return to the quieter tone and content at this point in season 2 (which is so fraught with violence, grief and drastic character transformations) can seem like a step back on the part of the show’s progress both in season 2 and the series as a whole.

When I knew I would be writing about “Killed by Death,” “I Only Have Eyes For You,” and “Go Fish” I thought the only way to write about them would be as discrete units through the monster-of-the-week lens as I perceived these episodes to be based on my last complete viewing of the series in late 2007/early 2008. Even when I started watching these episodes I was still skeptical not only as to how they related to the compelling story arc they were housed between but as to how they related to each other. How could these episodes be so “ordinary” amidst such greatness?

As I finished this close rewatch, I realized this question was also the answer. These episodes serve as a kind of unholy trilogy of the ordinary in the midst of life’s greater conflicts. Just because your boyfriend dumps you, turns evil, and wreaks havoc on your city, doesn’t mean life gives you a break from the rest of the world’s troubles. Life goes on after trauma. Our bodies and minds continue to be affected through extended suffering. As Buffy later says in the season 2 finale, “Becoming, Part 2”, “It doesn’t stop. It never stops.” The Hellmouth doesn’t stop speaking.

I am currently an MFA candidate in Dramaturgy at Columbia University in my last semester of classes. If there’s one thing I won’t miss as a non-student, it’s my body’s tendency to break down the moment I turn in the last of what is often five final projects. For the last x number of years, getting sick or being overcome with fatigue happens like clockwork at the end of a semester. So what happens to Buffy immediately following the loss of her boyfriend’s soul and the death of Jenny Calendar caused by said soulless boyfriend? She gets sick.

In “Killed by Death,” Buffy’s mother, Joyce, tells Giles “Buffy’s been so down since [Jenny’s death] happened. I mean, she never gets sick.” Our bodies have a way of reminding us when it is time to slow down and relinquish some of our daily responsibilities in order to repair, not only physically but mentally. It might not normally occur for her or us as the audience to think that she would be stopped by something so mortal, so human, when she is so super-human.

Non-Slayers, a category that includes myself, tend to use this same logic for ourselves too. We often think we’re superhuman and this false perception of ourselves can be compounded by our ability to come out victorious on the other side of seemingly impossible tasks through sheer adrenaline. But life takes a toll and at some point the choice to remove ourselves from the world for a spell no longer is a choice. The Slayer, however, does not have the luxury of stopping being the Slayer. Sometimes the fight comes to you when you’re down and you have to fight back.

We have to keep living in a world of constant threats despite our internal afflictions. In Buffy, these threats are both literal and metaphorical. In our world, the demons we face don’t have horns, pointy teeth or fish heads, but it’s true that some of the forces we confront in our lives like trauma can’t be seen at all. In these three episodes, the unseen threat is represented by the fever in “Killed by Death,” poltergeists in “I Only Have Eyes for You” and internally driven metamorphoses in “Go Fish.” In this tripartite treatise on trauma, it’s not just Buffy who is affected. The recent tragic events in Sunnydale have also disturbed Giles, Xander, Willow, and even Cordelia in different ways. Nothing will be the same, but in their shared trauma, they come together stronger than ever. There is hope when it comes to recovery from trauma but not before it may take over both body and mind. In each of the episodes, someone must succumb to potentially life-threatening conditions in order to defeat a given threat. They must endure the trauma, even embrace it in order to overcome it.

In “Killed by Death” this takes place as Buffy willingly infects herself with the flu so that her perception is fundamentally altered and she can see Der Kindestod, the demon that sucked the life out of sick children. The effects of this selfless act are twofold. First, she reaffirms her identity as the Slayer as she tells Ryan, “We both know that there are real monsters. But there’s also real heroes that fight monsters and that’s me.” Second, she works out personal trauma not only by moving forward from the deeply affecting ordeal with Angel but an older trauma: being the sole witness to her cousin Celia’s brutal death at the hands of Der Kindestod. The moment Buffy kills Der Kindestod, she effectively deals with these two traumas. She avenges Celia’s death and by snapping his neck mirrors the manner in which Angel killed Jenny in the preceding episode, “Passion.” Her trauma caused by Angel, however, will take much more time and effort.

“I Only Have Eyes For You” sees Buffy physically and psychologically taken over by the spirit of forbidden love throughout the episode — more than just the final confrontation between she and Angel, who in a wonderful plot twist takes on the role of the female teacher in the pair of star-crossed lovers while Buffy takes on that of the spurned male student. Buffy is constantly afflicted by an outside force experiencing powerful, visceral, and vivid visions and Xander, Giles, Willow, and Cordelia also experience varying degrees of the school’s violent haunting. The poltergeists are not banished upon their first coordinated attempt. Like some illnesses, this haunting must consume its hosts and run its course before it will release its hold. This and the other two episodes discussed here are about the hurt that lingers as much as it is about new ills that befall us while we are beaten and broken. In order to defeat one evil, the hero must often live another. Even “under the spirit’s thrall” or yielding to a high-grade fever, there are still opportunities to process pain, recover and — as in this episode — to be forgiven.

These three episodes explore a wide spectrum of Buffy villains: the silly, the nightmarish, and the worst kind of villain of all: the one you love. In most viewer’s books, “Go Fish” would probably fall into this first category. The creatures, as Cordelia points out, bear a strong resemblance to the creature from the Blue Lagoon (which Xander corrects to “Black”) and the swim coach’s motivation for bringing about these transformations is no more involved than wanting to win the state championship. “Go Fish” is also the least related to the season’s primary throughline. Why does it matter? It matters because it is, as I suggested in the introduction: ordinary. In the wake of trauma life keeps happening. This is especially true of life on the Hellmouth. At Sunnydale High, members of the swim team turning into freakish fish monsters is life as usual. As with “Killed by Death” and “I Only Have Eyes For You” we see the trope of a character who submits himself to dangerous circumstances in order to conquer an unseen evil. By getting on the swim team and participating—though unwittingly—in the toxic “aromatherapy” of the steam room, Xander is affected internally. It is only after getting to that perilous and frightening place that progress can be made and the threat can be overcome. Sometimes that threat is one’s own pain.

In response to Giles’ erroneous theory that Jenny is the one haunting the school in “I Only Have Eyes For You”, Buffy remarks, “He misses her. He can’t think. Just a little more fallout from my love life.” If there were one word that could unify these episodes, it would be “fallout.” Buffy’s life and the lives of those around her have been shattered and they breathe in the resulting radioactive dust. Indeed, the nexus of their trauma is that of Angel and though the effects of his actions are not just Buffy’s burden, she bears the heaviest load.

It’s important to note that Angel as Angelus appears — albeit briefly — in each of these episodes. He illuminates the storytelling even as a background character. His appearance at the beginning of “Killed by Death” for example seems a bit superfluous and unnecessary and if this were any other episode, it would begin with any other vampire, but the choice to make it Buffy’s biggest vampire adversary at this point in the series reminds us that her wounds are still fresh and the healing process is far from over. In fact her wounds will deepen before the season is through. Angel’s reduced presence is also symbolic of Buffy’s resolve to regard him as a threat amongst many others across the landscape of the Hellmouth and another threat that needs to be defeated. In fact, these episodes are as much about recovery from trauma as much as they are about mentally preparing for the battle ahead. These three episodes allow Buffy a much-needed breath before the inevitable showdown.

After being attacked by Angel, Gage asks Buffy, “Was that the thing that killed Cameron?” “No,” she responds, “That was something else.” “Something else?” “Yeah unfortunately we have a lot of other something elses in this town.”

“Killed by Death”, “I Only Have Eyes For You”, and “Go Fish” are places where those “something elses” thrive — the somethings that simultaneously get in the way of life as we’d like it and force us to move forward with our lives as we reclaim our broken selves. There’s always something else and even if you’re the Slayer, you’ve never seen it all.


Thank you, Ian!

Next week: Becoming, Parts 1 & 2, brought to you by... me!! (They're possibly my favourite episodes of the series, so I laid my claim on them early.) We'll also have some music analysis from Janet/Steve, so I'm looking forward to that, too. :) Brace yourselves for season 2's backstory!

Buffy Rewatch Week 11: Spoiler Forum

As always, welcome to the spoiler portion of this week's rewatch, where you can openly talk about the episodes in the context of the whole series without worrying about spoiling anything for anyone. I don't have much to add here this week except to ask about Willow's interrogation of Jonathan: interesting how he think she's on to him and the "evil" that he perpetrated, but when she asks him outright if he'd conjured up something to turn the swim team into horrible creatures, he looks perplexed, and says he'd simply peed in the pool. He thought he'd done something terrible, but Willow showed him there was so much more he could have done. Could this have planted the seed in his head that the world really CAN accommodate evil geniuses? Could this have been the moment when the Troika was first formed in his head?

While I'm enjoying discussing this week's episode, I can't wait for Becoming. Squeee!!!

Today's Lost Challenge

I received possibly the most unique request via Facebook message today. One of my readers has asked for our help in naming her dogs. Since I don't know anything about official registration of dogs, I'll let her explain the conundrum to you:

I have two dogs (Shelties) I need help naming. They're the two boys in the litter I had (well, actually my Momma Dog, Madilyn had them) born in 2008, during Lost. The girls named themselves fairly easily ~ Possum, Zoey, and Lacey. But the boys, I just could not think of names for!

Until it struck me like a slap upside the head. They became Jack & Sawyer.

Now I need registered names. Actually, I've needed registered names for a long time, but I procrastinate. You know how they do that, right? You've seen TV dog shows, I imagine?

My kennel name is Dunvegan ~ a castle in Scotland in our family, and Shelties are Scottish, of course. So, as a for instance, their Dad is Dunvegan Reminiscence, and we call him Luke. Mom was Dunvegan After Midnight, and she was called Madilyn. (We lost her to cancer about a month ago.) Possum will be Dunvegan Midnight Skies, because of her coloring. Lacey will be Dunvegan Midnight Lace. (Zoey I don't have a name for yet, either.)

Do you think you & your fans would help me come up with Lost-themed registered names for the boys? All the best episode titles seem to be Desmond-related, like Flashes Before Your Eyes, or Through the Looking Glass. Any ideas for Jack & Sawyer-related names? I've thought & thought, and can't come up with anything suitable.

I've wanted to write & ask for your help for awhile now, but as I said, I procrastinate. :)

I hope you'll help me ~ it could be fun for people to think of names! :)

Tricia & the woofers

As I said to her when I wrote back, I would have gone with Desmond anyway (I know that comes as an utter SHOCK to all of you) and called him Dunvegan Midnight Constant. But Jack and Sawyer are tougher. As I told her, I think Dunvegan Midnight That's Why the Red Sox Will Never Win the Series is a little wordy. ;)

So whaddya think? Who wants to weigh in on some names?