Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Buffy Rewatch Week 22

4.04 Fear, Itself
4.05 Beer Bad
4.06 Wild at Heart

**Follow along in Bite Me, pp. 219-222

For Angel viewers, this week’s episodes are
1.4 I Fall to Pieces
1.5 Rm w/ a Vu
1.6 Sense and Sensitivity (pp. 112-117 of Once Bitten)

This week’s trio of Buffy episodes is probably more of an emotional rollercoaster than I’ll see in any other week of the Buffy Rewatch. This might be the funniest scene in the entirety of BtVS for me:

Buffy: “This is Gachnar?”
Xander: “Big overture. Little show.”
Gachnar: “I am the dark lord of nightmares! (Buffy tries not to laugh) The bringer of terror! Tremble before me. Fear me!”
Willow laughing: “He – he’s so cute!”
Gachnar: “Tremble!”
Xander bends down: “Who’s a little fear demon? Come on! Who’s a little fear demon!”
Giles: “Don’t taunt the fear demon.”
Xander: “Why, can he hurt me?”
Giles: “No, it’s just – tacky.”

And this line…:

Buffy: “Want beer. Like beer. Beer gooood.”

triggers my gag reflex more than any other in the Buffyverse. I wish I could go back in time to the storyboarding of season 4, storm into the writers’ room and get down on my knees and BEG Joss Whedon not to do that episode. No, actually, I wish I could go even further back in time (and closer to home) and visit the writer of this episode who happens to be from... gulp... Toronto... and beg her not to go to Ryerson to take the writing course there, convincing her instead that she just might have a colourful future career as a florist. I mean, it’s such a great-smelling job! But alas, I can do neither of those things. Cue gag reflex.

And this:

“Oz... don’t you love me?”

immediately brings forth the tears for me. Willow tears are like tiny, wet daggers, each piercing my heart and wanting to gather her into my arms and make her happy again. And this episode just abounds with Willow tears.

So we’ve got the funniest, the worst, and one of the saddest episodes, all in the same week. Where to begin? Well, let’s begin with “Fear, Itself.” A fantastic episode all around, from Anya’s ridiculously awesome bunny suit to Giles wielding a chainsaw to the brilliant costume Oz wears (“Hello my name is God”) to that laugh-out-loud ending, “Fear, Itself” is one of the highlights of season 4. It’s the natural sequel to “Nightmares,” when the Scoobs all had to face their deepest fears. But notice how inconsequential their high school fears seemed compared to now, even though at the time they felt like the worst things in the world. Xander was scared of clowns; Willow had an intense stage fright; Buffy believed her parents broke up over her (something that’s mentioned at the beginning of this episode, a great dialogue cue that immediately brings “Nightmares” to mind for us); Giles got lost in the stacks; Cordy had crazy hair and was welcomed into the AV club. In this episode, Xander becomes invisible to everyone around him, like he’s no longer important in their world; Willow fears she will lose control over her talents in magicks; Buffy is scared that her friends will abandon her; Oz worries the wolf in him could threaten his friends. We’ve already seen Oz’s fear become a reality in “Wild at Heart,” and I’ll just say his isn’t the only one that will. But these are real fears that are life and death situations. The fears they all had in “Nightmares” ranged from funny to poignant, but here they’re all quite terrifying.

Until we realize that their fears are actually more dangerous to them than what lies ahead.

I’ll skip ahead to “Wild at Heart,” the episode where we finally meet the loathsome Veruca (aptly named after the vile character in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and Oz breaks Willow’s heart. I feel for Oz in this episode, but that doesn’t take away the hurt of watching Willow fall apart. Buffy steps up as a real friend in this episode, and Willow plays with knives when she goes to the school’s science lab and threatens to make her fear from “Fear, Itself” actually come true. I still remember watching that ending for the first time, when Oz went out to his van, turned it on, and then turned it off. My face was soaked, I was practically hyperventilating, and I was begging him aloud to get back out of that van and go back to her. The scene cuts to Willow, and the audience expects the door to fly open and him to come back to her... but he doesn’t. He turns the van back on, and we watch as it drives away. One of the most heartbreaking moments on Buffy for me. Well, that and the fact that Giles, who’s supposed to have good taste in music, somehow thinks Veruca has charismatic stage presence. That girl looks like she’s going to swallow the microphone every time she opens her mouth. For god’s sakes, someone teach that actress how to LIP SYNCH. It’s not that hard, really.

Anyway. I think that rant just signalled me to begin talking about that middle episode I’ve been avoiding, but before I get there (and I have a treat for y’all this week when it comes to that stinky episode), I’d like to re-introduce our wonderful Janet/Steve Halfyard, who is here this week to talk about the music in “Beer Bad” and “Wild at Heart.” And hey, she doesn’t hate “Beer Bad,” I’m happy to say, so let’s hear from her first before I unleash the hounds.

Boy bad, wolf bad (beer good): Buffy, Willow, love and loss
by Steve Halfyard

I come down firmly in the love camp for "Beer Bad". What's not to love? Beer is indeed foamy, and we in the UK really do not seem to share the US's concern about the evils of foaminess. I regret to say, of course, that what Buffy is drinking does not actually appear to be beer but that feeble cousin of beer's, known here as lager. If she'd been drinking real ale, none of this would have happened.

But: the big bad (as opposed to the "Beer Bad") early in season 4 is Parker, pretty, evil, amoral, adorable Parker, one of these people of such charm and yet such damaged psyche, who has the ability to make you feel like the most important and wonderful person in the world when they turn the spotlight of their attention on you, and who then turn away, leaving you desperate to get it back. It takes until this episode for Buffy to get him out of her system properly. Lorna Jowett, author of Sex and the Slayer, has observed that Buffy’s encounter with Parker is loaded with reminders of Angel, from his own remark about “dark and brooding” guys to the way sex with him “replays what happened when she had sex with Angel only without the allegory”: she has sex with him, and then he changes, loses interest, “turns evil”, and leaves her feeling that the only way to make sense of the encounter and to restore her sense of herself is to get him back, to prove that it wasn't a mistake.

And it is in relation to Parker that our old friend, the Buffy/ Angel Love theme appears in significant disguise, but revelatory of what is really going on in that Buffy brain. Buffy has her Parker fantasy in the teaser of "Beer Bad" In fact, if we listen to the music, we know right from the start that this is a fantasy, as the fight music is techno, not Beck’s normal orchestral underscore: this is fight music scored by Buffy's own imagination. And then, fantasy Parker makes his apology, and as he does so, listen to that music. In particular, listen to the first four notes of the theme – there they are, the first four notes of the Buffy/ Angel Love theme, in a slightly different rhythm, with different harmony, but the same melody nonetheless.

Fantasy Parker’s music is a sort of over-romanticised, easy listening, swooshy string version of the Love theme. What it seems to be saying is that Buffy thinks her problem is Parker; she thinks that what has upset her is how he has treated her. And yes, it has. But actually, her problem is still Angel, and the problem with Parker is that he’s not Angel. She doesn’t want Parker; she knows he’s shallow and unworthy. She wants him to be Angel. I believe the technical term for this is rebound.

And if any of us were in any doubt about her feelings for Parker, all we have to do is listen to how she constructs him musically in her fantasy: there’s a sort of metadiegetic thing going on here (sorry for the jargon), by which I mean that the music is arguably audible to Buffy as the soundtrack in her imaginary scene. She replaces Beck’s orchestral music for the fight with the type of thing she listens too (the type of thing of which Bay City Rollers-loving Giles would say “it's not music, it's just meaningless noise”), and she reworks her Angel love theme: her fantasy is trying to make Parker sound like Angel. It's a great sequence: and we get it not once but twice, the second time even more over the top, with Parker and his flowers and tub of ice cream - oh, Buffy! Comfort eating in your fantasies? Who could not love this episode, I ask you again?

The best bit is saved till last. Right at the end, whilst Buffy is still in cavegirl mode, Parker – who, of course, she now really has saved, although not quite as she fantasized it, she being more monosyllabic and with much less good hair than in the teaser – comes to offer her exactly the apology she had been hoping for, and we get the romantic fantasy version of the Love theme back again, a little more down to earth and sincere now (and on a piano, always an instrument for scoring sincerity in the Buffyverse), and a little more hesitant because now it is not the music of a fantasy Parker as imagined by Buffy but of the real Parker, who is genuinely grateful and ashamed. It is, of course, cut off in mid-flow as Buffy clubs him. And yes, we all know he deserved. Boy Bad, indeed.

If "Beer Bad" revisits something old, “Wild at Heart” delivers something new: not just a new theme but a theme which, just for a change, is really not about Buffy in any way. There have been little thematic things here and there not about Buffy – some Xander music, some Xander and Willow music (oh, their season 3 guitar theme was cute!) – but mostly it all comes back to Buffy, her battles and her relationships (same thing, a lot of the time). This season has been no different – there's been a whole “Buffy's disappointment” theme going through the first five episodes of this season that I decided not to bore you with (it's only a little motif, and it disappears from the score around now) – and there is more Buffy-related music to come, but this episode, musically, belongs to Willow.

You would be forgiven for not noticing this because “Wild at Heart” is the episode where Oz's musical interests drives a wedge between him and Willow; and we hear the remarkably mean Verucca singing at the start of the episode (and really, with a name like Verucca, were we ever supposed to like her?) so in fact, musically it starts out looking like this episode belongs to everyone but Willow. Her music starts up when she finds the pair of recently un-werewolfed musicians in Oz's cage; and as she runs from the crypt, we hear a flute melody, which later reappears as the music that scores Oz leaving her at the end of the episode. If the Buffy/ Angel love theme is mostly about Buffy's loss of the man she loves, this is Willow's direct equivalent, and it isn't an episode-specific theme – again, this one is coming back (as indeed, is Oz, spoiler spoiler). The scene when Oz leaves was originally going to have a song (a “Goodbye to you” moment) but Whedon and his music supervisor, John King, just couldn't find one that worked, that didn't intrude or do too much, so in the end they got Christophe Beck to write music for the breakup, which is how we come to have this lovely, delicate theme in several places in this episode and others. But the fact that Willow is starting to get her own themes (there will be more!) is symptomatic of the gradual shift in the balance of power, as Willow gradually becomes more powerful as a witch throughout this season and so deserves to have her own music as distinct from Buffy’s. Season 4 is the season in which Willow really starts to become strong enough in her own right to compete with Buffy for agency and that in turn affects the way the whole narrative and its underscore are constructed.

Thank you, Janet!

OK. So. First, I want to say that in ten television companion guides, written over twelve years, there has only been one episode where I’ve written the following:

“This episode was such an insult to both the characters and the viewers that I really don’t want to waste any more paper talking about it.”

I don’t think I’ve ever written off a single episode more succinctly and completely than “Beer Bad.” In my mind, it’s a travesty. It’s a joke. It’s not worthy of the Joss Whedon stamp. As I say in my book, YES, it has that brilliant Parker vs. Willow moment. And YES, it has that great moment where Buffy clunks Parker over the head with a piece of wood (okay, so I hate Parker... who doesn’t?) But, to put it bluntly, it’s STUPID. Ridiculously stupid. I watched it again this week for the first time in years, thinking maybe it’ll make me chuckle. Maybe I’ll think it’s funny. I clicked Start. Heh, that Xander line at the beginning is pretty funny. And Buffy’s hair is pretty awesome at the start, isn’t it? Um... okay, seriously, Buffy, you got over ANGEL quicker than you did Parker, really? Are you still really moping over this guy? Okay, whatever... oh hey look, it’s Kal Penn! And... wow, you’d never know he could act from this episode. He’s kind of terrible. Good thing he switched from acting to public office. Oh god, cavepersons are starting now... and okay, no. You know what? I HATE THIS EPISODE. I tried, I really did, I hoped it would work. But no. No no no no no. I HATE it.

It’s pretty well known among my readers that I hate this episode (I kinda made my feelings clear in my book.) And over the years, while “Beer Bad” has become a critical term, as in “That episode is the ‘Beer Bad’ of this series,” (for the Losties joining the rewatch, I once used that term to describe “Stranger in a Strange Land”) I’ve also met many people who defended it. Some went so far as to say they loved it. And so, I decided it wouldn’t be fair if I just used this space to rant even more. Instead, I’ll let other people talk.

So I rounded up twelve of the Buffy Rewatch peeps (some of them you’ve yet to meet, because they’re scheduled to be appearing later this year) and I won’t provide intros to each one of them, but you can go here to find their bios on the contributors’ page. Six of them defended it with honour, and six of them unleashed the powers of hell... or maybe they were just a little angry. So allow me to present both sides of the argument, and I’ll let you decide. (Oh, and in case you think it’s lopsided for me to take up this much space despising it, thus skewing things to the Hate side, I let the Love group go much longer, so they probably have a higher word count... so I’m just evening out the teams. And hey, Steve up there liked it, so we’re even again!)

So after my little hissy fit above, let’s start with someone in the Love column. First on deck, Stacey May Fowles, who will be appearing in season 6 of the rewatch.

Stacey May Fowles
When I told my partner I had agreed to defend Beer Bad, he stared at me perplexed and said “Why would you do that?” Yes, I, in the minority, have always had a soft spot for it (and no, it’s not just the minor Kal Penn appearance.) Maybe it’s personal, in the sense that I shared a pitcher or seven of bad beer with a tribe of fiercely loyal boys in my freshman days. Maybe I love the fact that Whedon never gets all lazy, after school special on us by making the lesson “drink lots of beer around boys, get assaulted.” Maybe it’s the fact that Parker gets told by Willow, who is still in her slightly awkward phase, making the sting of it all that much better. Whatever the reason, in my mind, Beer Bad is actually real good.

“The id doesn’t learn, it doesn’t grow up,” Professor Walsh says in the opening scene, highlighting the entire point of the episode. Buffy wants Parker, or more accurately, wants Parker to want her. Parker only wants sex, seemingly with every woman on campus, and is willing to creatively lie to get it. While it’s easy to misread the episode as a lesson on the perils of collegiate drinking, it is more accurately a critique of both the perils and purposefulness of unbridled, capital W Want.

A deluded Buffy spends much of the first part of Beer Bad fantasizing not only that Parker loves and idealizes her, but that he’s actually worthy of her affections—as Willow puts it, the Buffster is in need of “a big mental tidy.” Who among us have not gone down this road of the lovelorn only to discover, through the help of some good ol’ glass clinking (“It’s nice. Foamy. Comforting.”), that the object of our affection is actually a complete douchebag? Buffy’s busy beating herself up for being “a slut” and “an idiot” (still deluded) when a random group of boys (Hey Kumar!) invite her to drink -- the side effect of the boys and the beer? Buffy wants. And in wanting she seems to actually clear up that pesky Parker problem for good.

Sometimes you need the beer and the boys to get past the I’m a slut and an idiot phase and realize that guy was a total loser and you shouldn’t beat yourself up over it. Sure some people may get pushed around and some things may get vandalized, but the episode is Whedon’s way of saying to the broken-hearted “Beer? Hey, why not? It’s a process—just don’t accidentally set the campus coffee shop on fire.” In fact, in all the chaos and destruction of bad, bad beer, the ending has our heroine return to her former uncompromising self.

Also, I laugh every time Buffy falls off that desk chair.

LOL! OK, to counter, I present David Lavery, the man behind Slayage and the first person on deck to co-host with me in Week 2 of the rewatch. What did you think, David?

David Lavery
A now-retired, often cantankerous colleague of mine used to insist literature professors customarily teach the wrong stuff in their classes. Instead of having students read and write about masterpieces / classics — Tom Jones, say, or The Great Gatsby — we should be concentrating on bestsellers. He would teach appalling novels by Nora Roberts and Danielle Steele in a course, all the better, he was convinced, to make clear, by contrast, what makes great literature great.

If those of us studying and teaching the Buffyverse were to accept such an approach, we would not be focusing like a laser on “Innocence” and “Becoming” and “Hush” “Restless” and “The Body” and “Once More with Feeling.” Instead, bottom feeders like “Beer Bad” and “Where the Wild Things Are” would captivate our scholarly and pedagogical imaginations.

Revisiting “Beer Bad” for the Great Buffy Rewatch I am more dubious than ever about the value of the “begin at the bottom” approach. If all copies of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the world were destroyed except for “Bad,” future humans could ascertain nothing about the genius of Joss Whedon’s series. I had forgotten how inconsequential it is, not just a stand-alone episode but a go-and-stand-by-yourself-in-a-corner episode. Who are these characters? These are not the Xander, or Buffy, or Giles I know. Only Willow comes through relatively unscathed. It’s so off, so out-of-synch, that I like to think of it as non-canonical. A professor of mine once returned a paper to be without a grade and whispered “Let’s just pretend you didn’t write this.” I like to pretend “Bad” doesn’t really exist.

I began watching Buffy with “The Freshman,” and “Bad” arrived only four episodes later. I gave up on Vampires Diaries after only two, but “Bad” did not drive me away and obviously I am glad I stuck with BtVS. Not even the execrable “Where the Wild Things Are” (4.18) later in Season 4, also written by “Bad’s” Tracey Forbes, could drive me away.

Oooh! A smackdown! Well, the Vampire Diaries fans won’t like THAT one, I can tell you. Wait, what? We have the author of the Vampire Diaries companion guide to counter that one? Take it away, Ms. Calhoun!

Crissy Calhoun
“Beer Bad” is the kind of Buffy episode that a non-Buffy person could watch five minutes of and judge the series harshly (the way people currently rag on The Vampire Diaries until they actually start watching it). And while “Beer Bad” is no “Hush,” to malign it seems unfair to the episode’s simple comedic charm or its rightful place in the evolution of episodes — like “The Pack,” “Band Candy,” “Tabula Rasa” — where characters temporarily lose their identity. Buffy’s slayer strength helps her get everyone away from the fire (“bad”) in the end, but “Beer Bad” is otherwise about Buffy as a human — a college girl who feels stupid and slutty after sleeping with a guy who doesn’t want anything else to do with her.

Add to that the fun of seeing: Xander’s Good Will Hunting-style revenge on the poncey college guys; Willow faking us out by seeing Carter’s side of things; Buffy’s cavegirl hair; Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement Kal Penn as a caveman; Giles describing Buffy’s strange gait to random hallway dudes; Riley, all cute and full of love-interest potential; and Buffy bonking Carter on the head — twice.

And I know I’m not the only Buffy fan who’s woken up after a particularly late beer-filled night, feeling non-verbal and like stealing my roommate’s Cheerios, and in those times I can grunt, “Beer bad,” and feel close to the Slayer. Which is just about the best feeling possible in the midst of a hangover — or at any time really. “Beer Bad” good.

I feel like the sports commentator caught in the middle here... now, back over to the Hate team. And maybe the argument is just so obvious, all it takes is something short and sweet. Here is Ian, who appeared earlier in the Rewatch, using one of my favourite forms of poetry to describe his thoughts on the ep.

Ian Klein
Choosing refreshments
For the Buffy writer’s room:
Soda good, beer bad.

Seriously, we need to institute some haiku in our Buffy watch. I miss it. OK, back over to the Love team, who’s just getting warmed up. Let’s go grab Evan Munday, the guy who argued in favour of “Ted.” Of COURSE he loved “Beer Bad.” I’d expect nothing less.

Evan Munday
'Beer Bad' gets a bad rap, sandwiched between two pretty solid episodes, the Hallowe’en one featuring a chainsaw-wielding Giles and the one that breaks Willow’s heart (and had me crying in my bedroom as if my dog had just died). Additionally, the episode has that whole after-school special aftertaste of the evils of drinking, but it does have some incredible advantages:

1) This episode was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Hairstyling in a Series! No one can style caveperson hair like Lisa Marie Rosenberg!

2) This episode features a guest appearance by Kal Penn. 'Nuff said.

3) We get a Cliff's Notes lesson on Freudian psychology (now largely discredited) in the first five minutes!

4) Buffy watches Luscious Jackson on the TV. Remember them? ‘With my naked eye / I saw all the falling rain / Coming down on me.’

5) Most importantly, this episode clearly inspired those delightful Geico caveman ads (which themselves led to another, less-successful) television series, Cavemen.

Ball’s in your court, 'Hated It.'

Oh, Evan. You almost convinced me. But not quite. OK, hated it, who’s next? Kristen Romanelli!

Kristen Romanelli
"Beer Bad" actually begins with some promise. We enter with a totally badass fight. Buffy’s kicking and punching and flipping and kicking, and she gets in some wicked quality dusting. It all goes downhill from here. This turns out to be a very sad little power/redemption fantasy about Parker. I mean really. Parker? You don’t get this hung up on a rebound. Trust me. I find it really hard to believe that a woman as badass as Buffy can get this mopey over a guy like Parker. An epic, tragic love like Angel, yes. But… really?

Ugh, anyway. This episode is like the perfect storm of awful writing, directing, and editing. The lines are stilted and the pacing is slow. Just because the characters regress to plodding idiot cavemen doesn’t mean that everyone involved in the production had to do so as well. “Nothing can defeat the penis! Too loud, very unseemly.” For reals, Tracey Forbes?

Also? This episode marks the first appearance of Veruca who came out for all of 30 seconds to slobber all over a microphone wear offensively bad pants. Hate. And it reminds me that Kal Penn isn’t on House anymore. Double hate.

Is it just me, or is everyone mentioning Kal Penn? Now, when I sent out the list of teams to everyone on here, Evan Munday immediately emailed me back to say, “We are SO going to win, because we’ve got RAMBO on our team!” Ladies and gentleman, please welcome Elizabeth Rambo, who you’ll see more of in seasons 6 and 7 of our rewatch:

Elizabeth Rambo
Yes, the subtext is blatantly textual in "Beer Bad," and I won’t even try to defend the cavemen, but lack of subtlety is one reason I find myself enjoying it. The other reasons are some character revealing moments that tie this episode to later developments:

When Buffy bumps into Riley, he’s so engaging: “I’m ungainly...[Parker] should have his attention span checked.” But she can’t see him...yet.

Willow is adamant about Buffy getting over Parker, while she puzzles over Oz’s mystifying attraction to Veruca. Willow can tell Buffy that drowning her troubles is no answer, but check her later in "Something Blue.” Willow's confrontation/conversation with Parker, in which he seems to be making an impression, giving her the “you’re the only one I can really talk to” line, until you realize that her sweet Willow smile is a cynical smirk and she gives him a well-deserved set-down.

The unsubtlety I love most: ultimately, it’s all worth it to see Buffy knock that rat Parker out, not just once, but twice. Unlike my namesake, I believe in forgiveness, not vengeance, but don’t believe for a minute that Parker was truly repentant; a good bash or two is the only way some people can learn. Um—metaphorically, of course!

One of my favourite people from Slayage is Cynthea Masson, and I was thrilled to discover she’d be in our Hate camp. A fellow Canadian, we can also get behind hating the fact the writer of this episode is one of us. Sigh.

Cynthea Masson
“Beer Bad” wouldn’t be so bad if not for the beer—the “bad, bad beer,” as Xander dubs it. Admittedly, the episode (as with all “bad” Buffy) offers us a few notable highlights, including Veruca’s song and Xander’s sensible caveat: “Giles, don’t make caveslayer unhappy.” But such highlights are sparse and dispersed amidst the overarching foamy badness of metaphor-laden beer chugging. To appreciate the badness, we need only answer Xander’s final questions to the caveslayer: “Was there a lesson in all this? … What did we learn about beer?” I refer not only to the drinking will turn you into a Neanderthal metaphor (with which we are clubbed over the head along with Parker) but also to the less obvious and highly problematic drinking can bring a woman to her senses. That is, Buffy cannot forego her irrational longing for Parker until she drinks herself into complete inhibition (or a state of pure “id,” as Professor Walsh might say). Bad, bad lesson: college guys who drink become metaphorical cavemen (of the sort who wouldn’t stand a chance against astronauts), but a college woman who drinks can find the strength to recover from heartbreak.

That astronaut joke will make sense to the Angel fans. ;) I mentioned in the contributors’ post that I was pleased to feature both Dale Koontz and Ensley Guffey, a husband-and-wife comedy team (okay, they’re academics, but really funny ones!) who I know from Slayage, and they stepped up and agreed to take opposite sides (ah!) and do theirs together. So here are the Guffeys, with their little play, “Bakhtin or Bactine? Either way, this is gonna sting…”

DALE: The Tracey Forbes-scripted episode “Beer Bad” is often dismissed by casual fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is to be expected in the virulently anti-intellectual cesspool that is so often Internet fandom. In fact, “Beer Bad” is a sparkling gem of an episode, one whose facets shine when the twin lights of logic and academic inquiry are properly focused upon it. The episode is a subversive primer in both Freudian theory, and, far more important to the post-modern critic, the explorations of grotesque realism put forth by Bakhtin.

ENSLEY: I’m glad you brought out the Bactine, since after watching this episode, I need an antiseptic that won’t sting.

DALE: Ignore the trained monkey, ladies and gentlemen. He gets snippy without a constant stream of bananas. Back to the episode – even you, incurious cretin, can’t ignore the utter propriety of setting the climactic battle scene underground, in the “Grotto.” Think about it - cave-men, cave-Buffy, cave-fire. Clearly, this is a direct reference to Plato’s famous allegory of the Cave.

ENSLEY: I think more likely it’s an allegory of the dangers posed by lax fire inspectors. Seriously – there’s a pillar of smoke rising from the middle of a college campus. Where the hell’s the fire department? And those are definitely sprinkler system pipes Cave-Buffy’s swinging on, but where’s the water?

DALE: You must have wet brain. The water pipes are a metaphor.

ENSLEY: Yeah. A metaphor for the necessity of fire codes!

DALE: As is typical, you’re unable to discern the forest for the trees, as your people would say.

ENSLEY: You mean SANE people? Just admit it – it’s a bad episode! It happens. (For example, see
Dollhouse. Any episode. All the episodes. (Alan Tudyk excepted. I love you Alan!)

DALE: So you fail to see the redeeming qualities in showing Buffy striking out at the patriarchal society that has, for countless millennia, degraded and belittled the accomplishments of women?

ENSLEY: Well, you’re right about one thing. The episode does strike out; in fact, it’s a no-hitter, repeatedly bludgeoning the innocent, unsuspecting viewer with its hackneyed symbolism.

DALE: Oooohhh, look at the upright simian, using big words!

ENSLEY: You mean like “pusillanimous and obfuscating female”?

DALE: Ohhh, baby, tell me more. You know how I get.


Oh, I love those two. Well, it all comes down to this. One last love, and one last hate. First, Jennifer K. Stuller, who you may remember from such Rewatch posts as season 1 finale and season 3 finale (the woman likes her satisfying endings!) Your team is counting on you, Jen, take it away!

Jennifer K. Stuller

That, in itself, should be enough. How can people not like the brilliant “Beer Bad”?!? (Kal Penn? Cave Slayer? Willow being the most awesomest girlfriend we all want in our lives?) Sure, the metaphor is stretched thin, but it often is on BtVS. As the hubby recently joked, “So, when Buffy is fighting Faith . . . She’s really fighting herself!”

Yes, Dear.

We can go to our classes on Big Thinking and talk about “shadow doubles” (or we can debate the geo-political ramifications of bio-engineering) but I want beer. Beer good.

Maybe, it’s all those nights I spent getting drunk with my girlfriends in Santa Cruz – and driving back to Marin in time for class suffering the afterness of a bad night of badness. Or maybe it’s that I love the Slayer because even as the Chosen One, she makes the mistakes most of us do. To all you haters – I know I’m not the only girl who acted dumb around an id-boy she later wished she could knock unconscious with a big stick.

How cathartic that our girl gets to do it.

I’ll leave the final word to Matthew Pateman, who you may remember from the third week of the rewatch, and who we’ll see again in the “Restless” week. Unfortunately, it’s not really clear what side he’s on, so I decided to leave things with a decidedly neutral party. Just to be fair.

Matthew Pateman
Beer isn’t bad; beer’s bloody brilliant. And more beer is even better. After a dozen pints, the world’s a better place (or you’re so smashed and unconscious that it not being a better place is not a worry).

is also brilliant – a morally nuanced, socially engaged, generally liberal show that offers an examination of being in the world in different ways and at different times of your life.

This episode was, at best, a blunt metaphor of absolutely no aesthetic worth, no narrative interest and peculiarly dull acting and direction; or it was a cow-towing act of nauseatingly obsequious obeisance to a corporate dictat from a bunch of hypocrite cynics and two-bob bullies.

The episode is dull, didactic and stupid. Worse, it parades its ignorant message of abstinence in a context that has always been open to multiple possibilities and to oppositionality. To love this episode is to pander to the worst aspects of a non-reflective, self-satisfied, moral myopia; it is to side with the philistines and life deniers.

No one episode has ever done more to try and defile the artistic integrity, aesthetic bravery and politico-moral sophistication of its parent show. It is an irredeemable excrescence.

I am not fond.

You know, I really wish he'd choose a side.

Next week:
4.7 The Initiative
4.8 Pangs
4.9 Something Blue
**See pp. 222-226 in Bite Me

For those watching Angel, prepare for the first truly great week of episodes... episode 8 is a don’t miss for Buffy fans:
1.7 The Bachelor Party
1.8 I Will Remember You
1.9 Hero

Buffy Week 22: Spoiler Forum

And here once again is the place where you can discuss Buffy and Angel spoiler-free, without worrying about what you're saying (just a quick reminder not to mention the comics, even if they're starting to take shape in this season). I don't have much to say other than despite my love of Tara, I think Willow and Oz were my favourite couple. I watched this episode knowing that "New Moon Rising" was coming, and it just broke my heart in so many ways.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Game of Thrones Ep 6: A Golden Crown

And welcome to Week 6 of the Nikki Stafford/Christopher Lockett rundown of this week’s instalment of Game of Thrones. I’m Nikki Stafford (excitedly waving from my desk), your TV guide of a select few shows over here at Nik at Nite, and that is Christopher Lockett (sagely nodding while sipping his scotch) over there at An Ontarian in Newfoundland. Together we’ll discuss the show with me talking about it as a newbie to the world of George RR Martin, and Chris as the longtime fan of the books.

Before we get into the episode, I just wanted to mention that when I was watching this week's episode, I kept staring at Viserys and thinking that I bet he was like Orlando Bloom in Lord of the Rings -- not actually a blond, just wearing a blond wig. For some reason his features just didn't suit someone so fair-haired. I'd thought the same thing about Emilia Clarke (Daenerys) at the beginning of the season, and I googled photos of her then. So last night I googled Harry Lloyd, who plays the ill-fated Viserys, and saw what he really looked like. And as you can see, they're both dark-haired.

Well, let’s start at the end of this episode, with a scene that most viewers will never forget: Viserys finally getting his golden crown. I LOVE this scene, even though it’s terrifying and gory and graphic, but how often do you see a truly vile character really get his these days? Viserys was worse than usual in this episode, mostly because he went from Mr. All That to realizing that maybe he’s really not. He watches Daenerys as she eats the horse heart (ew), and is held aloft before her adoring followers... and that’s when he realizes, oh my GOD she has adoring followers, and he has none. “Who can rule without wealth or fear or love?” he asks as he decides to make a break for it. The Dothraki aren’t a people who will follow his rule as his army, and so instead he decides to steal the only valuable thing Daenerys has – her dragon eggs – and get another army (one that would no doubt eventually rise up against the Dothraki).

We hear all sorts of predictions of what Daenerys’s son will be like, and at the end of the episode, she says bluntly that Viserys couldn’t have been the Dragon, because a Dragon can’t be hurt by fire. So, does that make her the Dragon? Perhaps her son? Chris, I was interested in what the scope of the books is when it got to this scene. Are we only watching the very beginning of a very long saga that will cover decades, or is it still moving along in a methodical pace? Is this just the first generation of the series or will the books continue to follow these people? (Now, try to answer THAT one without spoilers!) ;)

Chris: The heart-eating scene is brilliant, not least because the first shot of Emilia Clarke, with the blood on her mouth and her slightly manic grin, makes her look like a very sexy zombie. Or some kind of flesh-eating succubus. Either way, that whole sequence was beautifully done, and manages to be faithful to the novel while conflating the sequence with Viserys’ realization of his isolation (well observed, by the way). Ser Jorah was great in this episode, especially in terms of his quiet yet fraught dignity when he faces down the larcenous Viserys with the dragon eggs.

I can be relatively spoiler-free when I say that over the first four books, GRRM isn’t doing any long-term, multigenerational things. In fact from the start of A Game of Thrones to the end of A Feast for Crows (which I am just now in the process of rereading—not unpredictably, rereading GoT has sucked me back into the other books ... and now I have to wait until July for book five! Wah!), only about two or three years elapse. Now, GRRM has said some cryptic things about the timeline of A Dance with Dragons, so this may change. But as of now, we’re still in the thick of it with all the characters you know and love from GoT. Well, most of them. ;-)

And there is simply nothing I can say about Daenerys’ child that wouldn’t be spoilery. So you’ll just have to wait and see.

Can I add here that though this was an AMAZING episode, with all sorts of cool and mind-blowing moments that we’ll undoubtedly get to, that my hands down favourite moment was Arya’s look of horror at Sansa’s fairy-tale dream about her and Joffrey, and her appalled exclamation “Seven hells!” Heh. I don’t know where they found Maisie Williams, but that young actress is superlatively good. Arya is one of the best characters in the novels—if not in fact the best, which is saying a lot—and I was concerned that they wouldn’t be able to find a child actor who could do her justice. And not only is she doing her justice, she is going beyond and making Arya her own ... something few adult actors can do with a complex, nuanced character adapted from a novel. It’s a shame she gets killed by the sassy robot at the end of book one.

OK, I was lying about that last bit. Seven hells. Heh.

Nikki: You are evil. I should pour YOU a golden crown. ;) I agree, Arya is fantastic. In fact, in a complete aside, our family got a new female kitten this week and were on the hunt for a name, and a friend who has been reading these blog posts suggested Arya. I didn’t go with it, but I thought it was a great suggestion, especially her connection with cats. That scene with her sister is hilarious... the woman with Sansa notices she’s changed her hair style and seems quite happy to be integrated into the world of the Lannisters, and she’s right. Do you sympathize with Sansa, or do you find her rather annoying? I wonder if you get more of her own thoughts in the books... in the show, there are times when I think she deserves Joffrey. I did absolutely adore the line, “I don’t want someone brave and gentle and strong. I want him!” Hahahahaha... that’s like saying, “I don’t want to be with someone who’s smart and good-looking. I’m happy with you.”

Speaking of great lines, check out the back and forth between Cersei and Robert after he slaps her across the face:
Cersei: I shall wear this like a badge of honour.
Robert: Wear it in silence, or I’ll honour you again.

Yikes! As we’ve discussed before, I really do think the king is a washed-up, ineffectual ass, and despite Cersei’s Lady Macbeth tendencies and general miserable nature, I don’t blame her given the husband she’s had to be with all these years. Ned is a much more effective ruler in that scene where he actually holds court and DOES something when a civilian comes before the council with a problem. I loved that scene, and you could tell Littlefinger was relishing the fact he actually got to write down something interesting for a change.

Ned seems to be coming to the realization that his old friend is incompetent as well, which could be why he makes such a drastic ruling in that scene. Of course, from the conversation he has with Sansa, he begins to put things together and realizes that while the Baratheons all have hair of black, his “children,” as the old Brady Bunch song used to say, “Have hair of gold, like their mother, the youngest one a douche.” (I could be remembering that song differently.) That was a big moment. I can’t wait to see what he does with this information.

Chris: Sansa is one of the key POV characters throughout the books, and her development is quite nicely done. She is irritating for the balance of book one, especially when seen from someone else’s perspective. She’s still in the irritating phase in the series, but if they hold true to the book, she’ll get substantially more sympathetic by the end.

On rewatching the episode this morning, I caught the little smile that Ned and Arya share at Sansa’s oblivious comment about Joffrey. Arya is so totally her father’s daughter, even more so than in the novels.

And yes, there were some amazing lines in this episode. The one you quote between Robert and Cersei is actually taken verbatim from the novel, as is his threat to make Jaime Lannister Hand if Ned throws it in his face again. Among my other favourite lines were Tyrion’s confession about jerking off into the turtle stew, “Which I do believe my sister ate. At least, I hope she did,” and his attempts to bribe the gaoler Mord. His first attempt, when he talks about wealth and ownership being an “abstract” thing had me howling, as did his slow, precise “Because you’re a smart man.” Also, Bronn’s word’s after he wins the duel:

LYSA: You don’t fight with honour.
BRONN: No. [indicates where Vardis fell] He did.

But I think my favourite line, and it’s one the writers added themselves, was Syrio’s comment “There is only one god, and his name is Death. And there is only one thing we say to Death: not today!”

One of the great themes running through this episode was the contrast between effective leadership and not. King Robert, we see again and again, is a moral coward—fearless in battle, but quails before any sort of difficult decision. We saw it when Cersei browbeat him into killing Sansa’s direwolf, we saw it in his inability to see reason on the question of the remaining Targaryens, and we saw it when he basically begs Ned to settle the dispute with the Lannisters in such a way that (1) Jaime will never be called to account, and (2) he won’t have to deal with the sticky question of standing up to a man whom he owes a vast amount of money. It sort of goes without saying that if he’d been sitting the throne when the despoiled peasants petitioned him, he’d have fobbed them off with vague promises. Ned’s condemnation of the Mountain and Tywin Lannister was ballsy.

Across the narrow sea, we see a similar contrast between Viserys and Daenerys. I think your reading of those scenes is spot-on. Viserys continues his downward spiral unto death, but we see Dany maturing and, as Jorah observes, becoming more queenly. Is it just me, or does it seem that Emilia Clarke has lost some weight? In her face, at any rate—she looks older, leaner, as if she’s lost her baby fat. And she is more poised now. The look in her eye when she tells Viserys that Drogo will give him his golden crown is both heartbreaking and chilling. She knows Drogo’s intent right away even as Viserys is cheerfully oblivious, but does not flinch from it.

Nikki: Absolutely. There is a hardness in her face, but also a determination that she’s doing the right thing. And, at the same time, you can tell this is difficult. He may be an ass, but he’s also her brother. However, he’s an interloper who claims to be the Dragon, when he’s not. Back in the fourth episode a couple of weeks ago, Ser Jorah tells her that her other brother was the last dragon, not Viserys, and so in this moment she has this look like, “Fine. You’re the real dragon? Prove it. If you are, this won’t hurt a bit.” But she knows if it DOES kill him, he died a charlatan and a fraud, and the world’s better off without him. Amazing scene. Probably the most vividly memorable of them all (except for the horse being decapitated... that still gives me the heebs).

The scene of Tyrion’s champion fighting the other man is excellent, and worthy of mentioning that when HBO sends out the screeners, they’re not always complete. Often there will be a scene where you can see flashing in the corner, “Temporary audio” or “Temporary VFX” and it’s usually very minor, like the wind whipping around the Wall that’s not as harrowing as it will ultimately become. But in the Tyrion scene, when the queen’s sister’s champion is bested, he fell through the hole and sort of laid there, flailing his arms while a green screen appeared behind him and “Temporary VFX” flashed in the corner. My husband and I were laughing, and we got the gist even if we didn’t quite see what happened, so I was looking forward to seeing the drop for reals this time.

Tyrion’s confession is brilliant, as you say. As are his discussions with the aptly-named “Mord.” (I wondered how long it would take for Mord to get clunked on the head after Tyrion leaves the castle so someone else could take his purse.) As Tyrion marched out, my husband and I said in unison, “A Lannister always pays his debts.” LOVE it.

Did you notice that the man who steps up as Tyrion’s champion is actually the same guy who was at the inn when Tyrion was captured by Catelyn? I happened to be rewatching the fourth episode again this week with my father, and sure enough, the champion is the one who, when Tyrion walks in and demands a room, clinking his gold piece on the tables, holds up his hand and says, “You can have my room.” Strange that the same person has stepped up twice to help out Tyrion when it was needed. I never would have noticed that if I hadn’t gone back to see the earlier ep.

My last question to you is, we’ve now twice seen Bran’s strange dream of the three-eyed raven. I guess you can’t really say what it is without spoilage, but is that dream also in the books?

Chris: I hadn’t noticed that Tyrion’s champion—Bronn—was that same man. I looked for him later when they were fighting on the way to the Eyrie, because Bronn becomes a fairly significant character as the novels go on. He’s a great character, actually, doubly because he never loses his simple mercenary pragmatism. He fights for Tyrion here because he knows he’ll be well paid, and he stays by Tyrion’s side for a long time for the same reasons. But he’s no fool for honour, and—mild spoiler—when the time comes in book three, he refuses to stand for the Imp.

There are a number of things we haven’t yet discussed, and since you’ve left the last comment to me, I think I’ll run through them before answering your question about Bran.

Robert’s admission that he never loved his brothers, and that Ned was the brother he chose … oh, so heartbreaking. Poor Robert. Poor stupid, cowardly, oblivious Robert. You should have made Ned your Hand so long ago.
Catelyn didn’t have much to do in this episode, but I have to give her credit for some great face-acting throughout Tyrion’s “confession”—in particular, the look she gives her batshit sister when she realizes they’ve all been played by him.

Syrio! I love Syrio.

The scene between Joffrey and Sansa was utterly cringe-inducing. Seeing him playing the gracious prince (at the behest of his mother, no doubt) and Sansa’s buying of the act, was painful to watch. So much so that on my re-watch, I fast-forwarded through it. Seven hells, indeed.

King Robert’s excruciating monologue about the good old days, and how simpler it all was. A bit heavy-handed, perhaps, but it did a nice job of showing the fissures between him and Renly, and also set up a necessary plot point.

I love love love how the penny drops for Ned. The first part, when Sansa points out that Joffrey is nothing like Robert, is exactly how it happens in the novel. Ned’s perusal of the “ponderous tome” is implied in the novel, but not depicted. Watching him realize Jaime and Cersei’s incest is brilliant. Can’t wait for the next instalment.

They’ve modified the dreams somewhat, but the three-eyed raven is quite prevalent in the books. I can’t really say why here without being REALLY spoilery, aside from saying that Bran becomes an increasingly important and central character as the books go on. And the three-eyed raven (and wolf with wings, heh) is quite prevalent.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Lost Conference

This past week was the one-year anniversary of the end of Lost, and I commemorated it with a post on my thoughts on year later. In response, many of the most avid commentators back in the day returned to leave their thoughts on the post, and it was like a little family reunion.

While some people would say an anniversary lasts one day, I like to extend these things, so I’m thinking of this as Lost week. Today I wanted to talk to you about something I’ve been yammering about for over a year now: the Lost academic conference.

Many of you have heard me talking endlessly about Slayage – a biannual conference on the Whedonverse, where scholars and fans from around the world converge on a particular spot every two years and present or listen to papers on Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, the Buffy comics, Serenity, Fray, and Dr. Horrible. (When it began, it was just covering the first three.) Many of the scholars who present at that conference every couple of years have graciously joined the Great Buffy Rewatch, and have been entertaining you week after week with their thoughts on various episodes of Joss Whedon’s best show. Fans following along have been enjoying much deeper insights into the show.

Well, if you’re a Lost fan, that’s what this conference will bring. David Lavery, the same man who started the Slayage conference, is organizing a Lost one. Scholars from around the world will converge at one place to discuss every facet of Lost. Just the other day I was thinking how amazing it would be if so many of the Nik at Nite Lost fans could actually meet in one place, and I think this could be it. You don’t have to present a paper to attend, but you’ll get a chance to listen to so many different points of view – and you can weigh in, logging your comments in person, verbally. And hey, if Batcabbage comes, I’m sure he could stand up and offer an impromptu haiku.

The conference is to be held in New Orleans from October 6-8, 2011, and will be part of the larger PCA conference, meaning if you tire of papers on Lost (WHAT?!) you could zip next door and instead listen to papers on Mad Men, the Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Big Bang Theory, Twilight, Bob Dylan, the Saw movies... whatever you’d like. And you’re in New Orleans!!

However, right now the conference may be on the bubble. If you are interested in presenting a paper, the deadline for proposals has been extended to June 30, 2011, and I urge anyone reading this who is interested in presenting to send in a proposal as soon as you can, to ensure this conference actually happens. I’ve been dying to go and listen to these papers, and I will be presenting one of my own. I really hope to see many of you there, too.

So get those papers in now, and even if you’re not looking to present, set aside a few days in October to come down and join the fray. It’ll be our own little Lost convention.

Go here for more information and all the submission guidelines.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Buffy Rewatch Week 21

4.1 The Freshman
4.2 Living Conditions
4.3 The Harsh Light of Day

**Pages 215-219 in Bite Me

And, if you’re watching Angel, those episodes are:
1.1 City Of
1.2 Lonely Hearts
1.3 In the Dark

**As I mentioned last week, I won’t be covering Angel in detail, but my episode guides are much longer for that series, so check out pp 105-112 in Once Bitten

We now enter season 4, that ill-fated middle season (flanked by three on either side of it) that lands at the top of most fans’ “Least Favourite Season” lists. It features Riley (who, for all the newbies who were the Lost fans and followed my blog before, will recognize him as the guy I usually deface in every Buffy pic I post). I don’t hate Riley, but he just annoys the crap out of me. I’ll talk about my reasons why later. For now, you just see him in “The Freshman,” and he’s charming and funny. Yeah.

But I want to follow that statement with this: you will still love season 4. The story arc is... you know what, I’m just not going to address the overall story arc until we get into the meat of it. Then we’ll talk. I don’t want to give you any preconceived notions about it, and I’ll just let you hate it decide for yourself if it works or not.

However, while the overall arc is weak, the individual standalones are brilliant. Season 4 contains many of my favourite episodes of the entire series – “Fear, Itself,” “Pangs,” “Hush,” “A New Man,” “Who Are You?” “New Moon Rising,” and “Restless.” I can easily say it contains more fantastic standalones than any other season of Buffy. So you’re in for a treat. In fact, while season 3 is often touted as the strongest and tightest season of the series, it’s a season where I look forward to the arc, but there aren’t many episodes that actually stand out for me. They all blend together as various chapters of one storyline, rather than being good on their own. It’s hard to say to a newbie, “Ooh, watch this episode of season 3” without having to hand them a ton of backstory. But many of the episodes I just listed above can do exactly that. In fact, I’ve always said if you want to try to convince someone to watch Buffy by showing them a single episode, that episode is “Hush.” Wait til you see it, and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

But now on to this week’s episodes, which offer a rather perfect entry into why the arc of season 4 was a difficult one. “The Freshman” is about new beginnings and how they can be good, but they can also be difficult. If high school was a place where you shone, then the college years can be a cruel wake-up call. Suddenly the popular cheerleader has to deal with eyerolls from the student body who thinks she’s not smart enough to keep up. The star of the football team isn’t even a starter on the college team. But the geeks, the freaks, the outsiders... THIS is where they can start over, reinvent themselves, and find themselves all over again. Two of my friends came out as homosexual in university while remaining entirely in the closet in high school. University is a liberating place.

But that first week? It’s hell. I loved university, but hated frosh week. UGH. In fact, my best friend and I just decided to avoid it (and then paid for that decision for the rest of the year when our fellow students, who had bonded over Jell-O shots and beer-chugging contests, didn’t know who the hell we were and decided we weren’t worth getting to know for the first year... in second year, when we began specializing, everything changed completely). I remember all those pieces of paper being thrust in my face, and companies handing out free samples of their products and coupons and orientation and... gah. That scene at the beginning of Buffy being entirely overwhelmed by everything is brilliant.

And the same goes for the series. We’ve moved away from the familiar high school setting, we’re introducing new characters and scenery, and we’ve lost old ones (I was always a little disappointed that no one asked what happened to Cordelia... who’s now over on Angel in case you didn’t have time to check out the other series). Just as Buffy is feeling disoriented, so did fans for the first little bit, and it was hard to get our heads around no library... no Snyder... no Giles at the centre of everything... no high school on a hellmouth. Joyce has moved some crates into Buffy’s room (because she’s living on campus... like three minutes away). Giles has some British lover and has become a “gentleman of leisure” (British for unemployed). Xander is feeling lost without the gang, and is desperate to feel needed again.

But just as college gets better after you survive frosh week and first year, so does Buffy improve as the series continues and finds its niche without the high school.

I think “The Freshman” is a great episode, very funny and frightening. I loved Sunday (despite that weird thing she does with her hands that gets a little grating) and was so upset when she got dusted off the top. I was really hoping she could be a recurring character. Riley is very funny as well, and the scenes inside the classrooms are pretty much the nightmares of every student. (And for the record, that pop culture professor? EXACTLY like every single scholar at Slayage. Totally.*) (*This is a complete lie.) I’ve had that professor, and while I wasn’t the one singled out, watching someone else get it is almost as terrifying as getting it yourself. I found that first-year profs were often mean, as if they just wanted to weed out the weak ones. I had one in particular who was so imposing in first-year that I avoided any upper-year courses from her. Meanwhile, friends who had had a different first-year prof and took one of my prof’s upper year courses thought she was amazing. Finally, in my final year I had no choice and had to take one... and she was sweet, kind, encouraging, and one of the most amazing profs I’d ever had.

“Living Conditions” is that sophomore episode that each year seems to boast that elaborates on the premiere without really moving us into the main text of the season quite yet. Kathy is a hilarious creation, from ironing her jeans to listening to Cher’s “Do You Believe” on constant repeat (my mom totally did the same thing... it stopped only at Christmas so she could play Kenny and Dolly’s album on constant repeat for two months – til the end of JANUARY – and then back to Cher) to putting up her Celine Dion poster and declaring it “cool.” Watching the scenes between her and Buffy killed me... when this episode first aired, I was still getting over a recent college roommate relationship that was about as friendly. I was in school, she’d already graduated and was working, so whenever I had to cram for an exam or work on a paper on the weekends, she’d have wild, loud parties. When I would give up in frustration and move into the library to work, she’d just go out with friends and not be in the apartment at all. Then I’d come home around midnight after the library had kicked me out and fall into bed, and she’d arrive at 2 a.m. and continue the party with her friends until about 5, whereupon I had to be back up at 6:30 to get to school in time for the exam I was far too exhausted to take.

Yes, Willow, I feel your pain. (I should have figured out that girl was a demon.) “Living Conditions” is fun, but it’s certainly not a very memorable instalment in the Buffy oeuvre.

Similarly, “The Harsh Light of Day,” despite heralding a return of our Spike, is a bit clumsy and covers the same ground that was already covered in “Beauty and the Beasts,” with almost the same parallels being drawn. Harmony is now a vampire (we saw her turned at the end of “Graduation Day, Part 2”... when she ran down the steps you see a vampire grab her and bite her), and a REALLY annoying one at that. Spike is using her for sex while treating her like dirt... definitely not one of his better moments, for sure. The episode ends with the gang coming back together to take him down, and with Buffy once again deciding to help out Angel (and Willow telling Xander just not to make a big deal). But it IS a big deal. Despite my leanings to Angel + Buffy 4-EVA, he always has the capacity to turn evil again, and if he had that ring, chaos would ensue. It’s a little clumsy that we don’t have Giles and Xander actually take this more seriously and talk her out of it, which would be in keeping with the way they acted through much of season 3, but the writers needed a segue to lead fans over to Angel in case they weren’t watching already.

And I’ll just briefly mention Angel while I’m at it... if you’re watching that show in tandem (or if you’re not), there is actually one very brief crossover in “The Freshman,” one of those blink-and-you-miss-it type of things that even some fans watching one show right after the other managed to miss: In “The Freshman,” Buffy stops at home for a bit and the phone rings. She picks it up and says, “Hello? Hello...” and shrugs and hangs it up. In “City Of” we see Angel actually make the phone call, you hear Buffy say, “Hello? Hello...” and he just sits there, unable to speak, and just listens to her confused voice. “The Harsh Light of Day” concludes over on Angel on “In the Dark,” and that episode is totally worth seeing just for the opening scene before the credits, with Spike watching Angel take down some guys in the alleyway and narrating the scene while watching. It’s one of the funniest moments in the Jossverse.

• The whole opening scene of “The Freshman” with Buffy and Willow chatting in the cemetery, from the part of the conversation that makes me chuckle given the number of pop culture professors we have on the Rewatch:
Willow: Wait! ‘Images of Pop Culture.’ This is good. They watch movies, TV shows, even commercials.
Buffy: For credit?
Willow: Heh. Isn’t college cool?

To Buffy saying she has to stay sharp while a vampire is walking up behind her as she’s yammering.
• Willow on the first day of school: “I’ve heard about five different issues and I’m angry about each one of them!”
• Willow’s wording when she talks about spurty knowledge.
• I think the Klimt versus Monet poster contest is one of the funniest thing of the entire season. Every year at both universities I attended there was this company that came to sell posters to the kids in the dorms, and the Klimt and Monet ones were the two biggest sellers. (For the record, I bought posters from them too: one was John Cleese doing the Ministry of Funny Walks, and the other was Edward Gorey’s “Gashlycrumb Tinies” alphabet.)
• Buffy: I think someone had just a little too much free time on their hands.
Giles: I’m not supposed to have a private life?
Buffy: No! (In a whiny voice.) ‘Cause you’re very, very old, and it’s gross.
Giles: Well, before I succumb to the ravages of age, why don’t you tell me what brings you here.
• Buffy to Giles: “Remember before you became Hugh Hefner, when you used to be a Watcher?”
• Xander: Buffy, this is all about fear. It’s understandable, but you can’t let it control you. ‘Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to anger.’ No wait, hold on. ‘Fear leads to hate. Hate leads to the dark side.’ Hold on, no, umm, ‘First you get the women, then you get the money, then you...’ okay, can we forget that?
Buffy: Thanks for the Dadaist pep talk, I feel much more abstract now.
• And by the way, that conversation with Xander is one of the many reasons why I love him, and why I keep forgiving him, even when he acts like a dick.
• Xander: You up for a little reconnaissance?
Buffy: You mean where we all sculpt and paint and stuff?
Xander: No, that was the renaissance.
• Kathy: I’m 3000 years old! When are you going to stop treating me like I’m 900?
• “Harmony a vampire? She’ll be dying without a reflection.”
• Xander spurting the juice box when Anya drops her clothes, hahaha!!
• Everything about Anya’s pragmatic come-on to Xander makes me laugh:
Anya : At point the matter is brought to a conclusion with both parties satisfied and able to move on with their separate lives and interests. To sum up, I think it’s a workable plan.
Xander : So, the crux of this plan is -
Anya : Sexual intercourse. I’ve said it like a dozen times.
Xander : Uh, huh. Just working through a little hysterical deafness here.
Anya : I think it’s the secret to getting you out of my mind. Putting you behind me. Behind me figuratively. I’m thinking face to face for the actual event itself.
Xander : Ah, right. It’s just we hardly know each other. I mean I like you. And you have a certain directness that I admire. But sexual interc-- What you’re talking about, well--and I’m actually turning into a woman as I say this--but it’s about expressing something. And accepting consequences.
Anya : Oh, I have condoms. Some are black.
Xander : That’s... that’s very considerate.
Anya : I like you. You’re funny, and you’re nicely shaped. And frankly, it’s ludicrous to have these interlocking bodies and not... interlock. Please remove your clothing now.
Xander : And the amazing thing... still more romantic than Faith.

Did You Notice?
• I just want to say up front that Willow’s best hair is season 4 hair. LOVE IT. Perfect colour, perfect cut.
• I’ve never bought that a tiny “one-Starbucks” town like Sunnydale would have a university that massive.
• Anya’s way of talking is very specific, and Joss often brought writer Jane Espenson in to perfect her language. She had a way of rewriting the scenes to make her words very basic and reflect the simplicity and matter-of-factness (and childish way of looking at things) in the way Anya would speak.

Next week:
4.4 Fear, Itself
4.5 Beer Bad
4.6 Wild at Heart
**Janet Halfyard joins me for a lengthier discussion on the music of these three episodes, and I will also be treating you guys to an academic battle royale as two teams face off to discuss one of the most polarizing episodes in the Buffyverse.

If you’re watching Angel, keep up with episodes
1.4 I Fall to Pieces
1.5 Rm w/ a Vu
1.6 Sense and Sensitivity (pp. 112-117 of Once Bitten)

Buffy Rewatch Week 21: Spoiler Forum

Here is the forum where you can talk about Angel and Buffy without fear of spoiling anyone. Just a couple of tidbits this week:

Spoilery bits
• Buffy’s line about her mother – “I hope it’s a funny aneurysm,” never fails to make me wince in retrospect. Shudder.
• Did you notice the line from Xander, “Okay, once more, with even less feeling.”
• I mentioned above that Spike uses Harmony for sex while treating him like dirt... karma will bite him in the ass on that one when Buffy does the same thing to him.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Remembering Lost...

Where do I begin? “At the beginning” just seems so… predictable. And linear. And Lost was neither of those things.

It’s a year later. On May 23, 2010, my favourite show came to an end. I remember that day… I was working on the final Finding Lost book in the series, trying to finish taking notes on the penultimate episode, “What They Died For,” before the finale began, because I wanted to be careful not to add any spoilers into any of the previous episode guides. I had this feeling of excitement, but also overwhelming dread. This rock was sitting in my stomach. Yes, there was a fear that the finale wouldn’t deliver, that it would have been built up so much in all our hearts and minds that it couldn’t possibly be as good as we needed it to be. But more than that, there was a sense that it would be over. All the questions would be answered. No more speculation, no more discussions, no more disputes, no more insane theories. All the things I loved about Lost were about to come to an end.

But I didn’t need to worry. The finale was polarizing, yes, but luckily (and I really do mean luckily because I’ve always felt so bad for the Lost fans who were unhappy with the ending), I loved it. I loved almost every single thing about it. And the answers weren’t offered on a plate. The speculation, discussions, disputes, and insane theories could continue!!

Unfortunately, I was only able to keep the intense discussions (and they were intense) going for a couple of days after it aired. After that, I had to switch gears and write a book based on all the notes I’d been making for months. Where other Lost fans were packing away their DVDs and needing time to themselves, time to digest what they’d just seen, I was forced right back to the first episode of the season and immediately began rewatching it all over again. I had to do my first live chat five minutes after the finale ended, and while “WTF?!” just scrolled by over and over again by thousands of confused Lost fans, I launched into my explanation of what had happened. By the following day, I was still there and hadn’t changed my opinion much at all.

I’m not going to analyze the finale. If you want that, check out my final book, Finding Lost: Season 6, where I devoted 22,000 words and 50 pages to a full analysis of “The End.” Instead, I want to talk about where we are a year later.

I want to know if there’s anyone out there who loathed that finale when they watched it, but now, with time, they’ve realized they no longer hate it. I want to know if there is anyone who had a discussion with someone else where the finale was put into a new perspective that made them appreciate the subtlety of it. And I also want to know who is still disappointed.

For me, I miss the show so much. But even more than the show itself, I miss the discussions. I miss the camaraderie that we Lost fans had week after week on this blog and countless others. I miss the weekly discussions that began moments after an episode happened and continued through to moments before the next one began. In the case of Nik at Nite, I miss that panicky mad scramble to get the post up the night of the episode.

I miss our haiku.

I miss the inside jokes and language that we used here that I haven’t seen anywhere else. The wacky definitions of verification words. “Palatable.”

I miss making fun of Jack.

I miss Jack. Terribly.

I miss the way we would gather together to take down the shippers in a massive organized, evil smackdown! (OK, that didn’t actually happen, but I miss that each of us were probably wishing it would, while putting on our polite faces and pretending that some of those people weren’t entirely batshit crazy.)

I miss coming up with superlatives to describe my affection for Desmond. And how others would come up with ways to describe their crushes on Sayid or Sawyer or Kate or Juliet.

I miss the torcha scrunchie.

I miss the photoshopped photos that were sent to me of people holding my books, or playing with their avatars, or playing with screen captures from the episodes to make other things happen.

I miss that we could have intense debates that would run so deep that someone could go and create a pdf map of Dharmaville to prove exactly where one person’s cabin was in conjunction to the next.

I miss the way we could actually have those debates without ever talking down to one another or being rude. I mean, when does that ever happen? Most of my family members can’t have a casual discussion without someone getting hurt, so the fact we could do this week after week was amazing.

I miss the personal emails I got from people off-list, and I’m happy that I still get some of those.

I miss the anticipation of next week’s episode and the excitement we found ourselves in week after week just imagining what would happen.

I remember.

I remember meeting the characters for the first time in season 1, and the twists and turns discovered through their backstories. I remember wishing Terry O’Quinn could be in every show I watch.

I remember the tension of season 2, whether it was with the new tailies being introduced, or the fact that ABC had wonked up the schedule so much it was difficult to keep track of everything, and I remember how the writers took what we knew in season 1 and turned it on its head.

I remember the utter grief of watching Charlie die at the end of season 3, followed by the thrill of realizing that the flashback we’d just seen was actually a flashforward.

I remember the excitement of season 4, the beauty of “The Constant” and the rivalry between Widmore and Ben. I remember wishing Michael Emerson could be in every show I watch.

I remember the complexity of season 5, and how much fun we all had trying to piece it together. And how it was the season where I realized I could no longer really explain to non-viewers what Lost was about.

I remember the crazy anticipation we all had leading up to season 6, the fan videos that were appearing, the way we were piecing together bits of the story we’d seen so far to figure out where the story would go next, linking John Locke and the Man in Black and learning of Jacob being in there. I remember this fan video in particular, and how it blew me away. I remember the creator emailing me asking if I’d post it, and I said sure, and within weeks it was everywhere, and even Damon tweeted about it. It’s still one of my favourite fan videos ever:

Breathtaking, isn’t it? I remember how season 6 built up quickly with every episode, and the panic that began to slowly creep in when half the season was gone and we hadn’t gotten many answers, and thinking the writers would run out of time.

I remember crying like I’ve never cried before when the show ended. I really don’t think I’ll ever cry like that again for another television show. I find it hard to imagine how that would be possible.

Lost was a show that ended with a simple message: that it’s not about where you end up, but the journey you took to get there. It’s about the connections you make in your life, which is why every character on the island seemed to have been interconnected even before they got on the plane. It’s about who you touch emotionally, and how those experiences and memories are the only things you can take with you to the next life. It’s about constancy. It’s about love and hope.

The sideways world turned out to be a place where everyone went after they died, with no memory of having been on the island at all, but instead working through their issues – the very issues that made each person so emotionally lost when they crashed on that island in the first place – without the island helping or hindering them along the way. When they came to a revelation about who they were or what their purpose was – a revelation that could only come through a connection – they could suddenly see everything, past present and future, clearly. And once they could see clearly, they knew that it was important to help other people come to that clarity, and only then could they move on to the afterlife. Jack was the last one to come on board, because he simply couldn’t step back from the minutiae of his life and see the big picture. But when he did, he saw that, like Dorothy and her ruby slippers, that the answers were there all along. And of all the people to impart the wisdom to him, it was his father:

Some fans have complained that the ending is too spiritual. Yes, the church setting could certainly make one say that, but the church itself is simply a visual cue in this case. It’s not meant to evoke a religion, but to suggest that the scene we are seeing in front of us is spiritual. That we don’t need to look to higher powers to find spirituality – it’s within us, and in the connections that we make. The friendships that everyone had on the island with each other, the connections and relationships they forged with one another, they were spiritual. They might not have seemed it, but in the end, they are what mattered. The church setting simply said, “What you are watching right now? It’s spiritual. Not in a God sense, but in an uplifting of the soul sense.”

Lost was an intensely personal show. In a way, it was like a religion. You can read the bible, or go to church and listen to a church official interpret the bible for you, but in the end, you will still make your own decisions and have your own take on things. You will feel your own personal relationship to God. Religion doesn’t hand you the answers; it gives you the tools with which to find those answers. Life doesn’t give you answers, but if you follow the right path and connect with the right people, you will determine what answers work for you.

Lost didn’t offer up answers, but it gave us the story of people who were similarly seeking answers, and showed us how they went about finding them. We, too, need to look within and outside ourselves to find those answers. Our very discussions on this blog were a way of us looking for those answers within the context of the show. We connected to each other, and were able to find some of the answers we sought just by talking it out with each other.

“The End” was extraordinary. But for me, the real beauty of Lost was the fun in getting there, both in watching the show and discussing it. A year later, Lost is firmly entrenched in my heart as not just a TV show, but an experience I will never forget.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Leaving Sunnydale High

This week we watched the "Graduation Day" episodes on Buffy, and we had to say goodbye to high school... not just the high school years, but the ACTUAL high school. So, to honour this big moment, I wanted to share with you some photos I took when I actually went to Sunnydale High.

Back in 2003, I was in LA to attend the Posting Board Party. Waaaay back when Buffy was still on the air, there was an online fan forum called The Bronze. It was run off the WB site, and then when Buffy split for UPN in season 6, it spun off into the Bronze Beta, run by the fans. It was a place where Joss Whedon would drop by to say hello, where the writers would ALWAYS post (writers are notorious for turning procrastination into an art form), and where if you were online at a certain time of night, you could say hello to Alyson Hannigan, Amber Benson, Nicholas Brendon, Seth Green, or any number of drive-bys conducted by the actors themselves. How did we know it was real and not an interloper? The VIPS were given a special code that would make their name light up a certain way, and only they knew what it was. That way you knew it wasn't someone masquerading as someone else. (It's like the "verified" Twitter accounts they have today.)

Starting in the show's second season, the fans came up with the idea of having a get-together in LA where fans could all fly in and meet each other, since they'd been spending every night chatting away at the Bronze. Someone stepped up to organize the shindig, and they came up with it being a select party with something like 300 tickets (I'm totally going by memory here), and the fans could buy the ticket that would allow them into a closed party where they could just schmooze with each other.

And then the surprise came. For not only were the fans there, but... Joss, David Boreanaz, Alyson Hannigan, Nicholas Brendon, Anthony Stewart Head... pretty much every single person on the show except for Sarah Michelle Gellar (she never showed up to any of them). From that point on, the Posting Board Parties became legendary, and happened every year, with more and more actors and writers showing up each year to mingle with the fans.

I attended in 2003 as one of the VIPs, and at that time it had really grown into a giant affair. No longer was it the intimate little gathering, but instead thousands of tickets were sold. I was in the VIP area, so I got to meet most of the stars down there before heading upstairs to the fan area. It was fantastic. It was mostly Angel actors that year (and a few Firefly peeps) but James Marsters (Spike) was probably the biggest hit of the party. Eliza Dushku (Faith) was there, as well as Julie Benz (Darla), Danny Strong (Jonathan), Joss Whedon, Alexis Denisof (Wesley), and many, many others (I'm being careful to only name characters that you guys would know at this point in the rewatch).

If you have the 2002 edition of my Bite Me! book, I had an entire chapter with tons of photos from each of the Posting Board Parties. Unfortunately, when it went to the Chosen edition, my editor thought that section could easily go because it was more fanny and less episode guidey. I always mourned the loss of that chapter, because I loved it and it was unique to Buffy. But if you can get your hands on that earlier edition, you'll see some great photos.

Anyway! The day before the party, I went on a tour of Sunnydale (aka Torrance, California) to see Sunnydale High and a few other important landmarks. The tour included major LA spots to see Angel buildings, but my favourite part of the tour was going to the high school. As many of you know, Torrance High was used previously on the 1990s version of 90210, so it's a school that's familiar to audiences. Here's a shot from across the street:

I'm standing on a grass island that separates the school from the main street behind me (remember back at the beginning of S3 when Buffy shows up with a picnic lunch for everyone? She sat on that island). Here's a view of the front lawn of the school:

Look in the foreground for the tree Giles walks into at the end of "Earshot." ;) And here's a closeup of the front doors of the school, where you can see the usual school sign, which was replaced with "Sunnydale High School" whenever it was shown on Buffy.

And here I am (yes, I was in my I-dyed-my-hair-red-to-match-Willow's phase here) sitting on one of the benches out front.

Now, if you walk behind where I'm sitting, away from that bench, you'll eventually turn left to go around to the side of the school, and when I did, I actually gasped aloud when I found this:

You may remember this as the outside corridor where Angel chased Jenny in "Passion," before she re-entered the school and he killed her in the window above the front door.

Now, go back to the front doors of the school and walk in the opposite direction from that outside corridor, and you'll find these stairs off to the far side of the school:

These are the stairs we saw several times (usually in night shots) where, for example, Ford pretended to kill the vampire when he was lying to Buffy in season 2's "Lie to Me." Continue around that corner, et voila, the best part of the school:

SO much happened here, and if you look to the top right of the photo, you'll see that the clock tower where Jonathan was loading his rifle in "Earshot" was actually added in digitally, because it doesn't exist on the school. I stood in that courtyard and just pictured everything... Buffy running up the cement side of the stairs to get Jonathan in "Earshot," the gang hanging out by the fountain, Cordelia's speeches, graduation day... SO much happened here. Now, standing in the spot where I took that photo, if you turn 180 degrees you see this:

This is where the giant fight happened on Graduation Day, where the vamps were standing and where Angel and his crew were behind them. These are the stairs the kids charged down to fight them.

Back over in the courtyard, I went up the stairs (eeeee!) and took this photo looking down. I had chills standing up there. Most scenes were actually filmed at the top of the stairs rather than here (it widens so I imagine they were able to fit more camera equipment there).

And then I went back down the stairs and took a closeup of them, thinking of Jonathan sitting at the bottom of the stairs drinking his Big Gulp, or how many times the gang would be chatting about something while standing there.

When the bus left Sunnydale High, we went down a street that's actually quite close to the high school for a special treat. We weren't allowed to disembark, and they asked us not to take photos (yeah, right) but voila... Buffy's house!!

The house exterior was used throughout the series for long shots, but after season 1, I think, they stopped using the interior of the actual house, and instead rebuilt the entire thing on a closed set so Buffy and her enemies could trash the place a little more easily, without worrying about the current real-world occupants. But apparently what we saw on the show was what the house actually looked like on the inside. Imagine living there? Hm. Maybe that would be a little creepy.

Anyway, those are my pictures of Sunnydale High. I have many memories of that school, not just from being there but from three years of watching it on the show. I'm gonna miss that school... until the next rewatch, that is. ;)