Saturday, December 10, 2011

Band Candy

Season #3, Episode #6: Band Candy

"WOAHH Summers, you drive like a spaz!"

Of the many fellow Buffy fans I've met since starting this blog, many consider Band Candy to be one of the very best episodes of the series. Certainly one of the funniest. And while I hold in high esteem, I have to open this review with some bashing.

This episode is the Buffy debut of writer Jane Espenson. You will either love or hate Jane Espenson. She has a distinctively obnoxious style of dialogue that you will either find delightful and whimsical or akin to nails on a chalkboard. She's primarily known for writing what you will either call comedic reprieves or attempts to hijack the show.

I think Buffy fans tend to rally around her episodes--except for Doublemeat Palace, my personal favorite that everyone else hates. But you may divine that I'm not exactly the president of the Jane Espenson fan club. She is the Buffy writer most likely to force a character to say, "But Gii-iiiles! I don't wanna go all slay-y on prom night! It gives me the wiggins! Big time wiggins-giving! It's wiggins-y! I just want big smoochies with my honey!" You get the idea. With Espenson, it's over-the-top and out-of-character all the time. She's the one at the dinner table making sure everyone hears her interminably shouting knock-knock jokes. Her episodes typically come clunking into the middle of an arc, loud and in desperate need of your attention. Not always a bad thing, but when it's bad, it begs for resentment. This is all to say that I don't think Jane Espenson had a lot of friends growing up.

The episode opens in the graveyard where Buffy and Giles hold an SAT study session periodically interrupted by vampires in need of slaying. This is only the beginning of the show's attempt to undermine the first couple seasons, in which vampires were an actual threat to Sunnydale's safety, thru incessant retcon.

We then head to the Mayor's office, who has enlisted the assistance of Mr. Trick. The Mayor has a file cabinet full of creepy doodads and mystical whatsits and gadgets and gizmos aplenty, which he explains are used to pay tribute to the many demons who helped him assume power in Sunnydale. They allude to a bad guy from times past whom they have recruited to assist them in this tribute. My money's on those hyena kids from The Pack.

At Sunnydale High, Principal Snyder wrangles the Scoobies into selling candy bars to raise money for the marching band. Joyce agrees to buy twenty candy bars, while Giles agrees to buy the other twenty. But this isn't enough for Buffy, who is so bummed out that Joyce and Giles monopolize all her free time and she has noooo social life and she just wants to be a normal teenager! Sorry Espenson, we kinda covered this two seasons ago.

If we've just seen Buffy revert to a Season 1, pre-Angelus bratty teen, we jump right back into the melodramatic current when we find Angel in the courtyard of his lair doing interpretive dance in the buff.

For a really, really, uncomfortably long amount of time.

The two have another loaded conversation full of double entendre about how they want to bone but oh no Angelus will happen and but isn't he so dreamy and they totally don't even want to be together, and it goes on this long, really, and is just as banal.

Turns out, in order to have this secret rendezvous with Angel, she lied to both Joyce and Giles, making them into her alibis. They confront her at the Summers home and accuse her of playing hooky to go act like a delinquent at The Bronze. "What were you doing there!" Joyce asks, to which Buffy responds in classic Espenson fashion, "Bronze things! Things of bronze!"

There's a clever shot of Joyce and Giles sharing a bar of band candy while the ominous score creeps in, cutting to the factory where the band candy is being manufactured, supervised by...Ethan Rayne!

The behavior of the adults at Sunnydale High the next day may indicate that the secret ingredient in the band candy isn't just milk chocolate and lots of smiles. Giles never shows up to monitor study hall, leading Principal Snyder to tell a substitute, "The big pinhead librarian didn't show up, and I don't wanna do it. You do it!!" The substitute tells the kids to run free. Xander and Willow may or may not play footsie in this scene.

Buffy heads over to Giles' place to see if he's been mauled or enchanted, but finds him with Joyce. The two are acting a bit Twilight Zone, like, maybe pod parents, and you at home may be wondering if Buffy had nearly walked in on the two in the act. They inform her that they've been drawing up a study and training schedule for her, really solidifying that whole Giles-as-Buffy's-surrogate-father thing. But as soon as Buffy leaves, they splay themselves out on the floor, smoke cigarettes, and do air-drumrolls to Cream.

The Scoobies head to The Bronze to ("do things of bronze lollll!!!") see Dingoes Ate My Baby, only to find the place overrun by ADULTS! Nutso Substitute Teacher turns up with the munchies and calls Willow "Little Tree," whereas Principal Snyder is a nervous 'lil ball of energy bounding up and down with delight that he's the principal and has so much power, yippee!!

The rest of this episode is more or less a montage of adults doing ~*~hilariously~*~ out-of-character things. Giles and Joyce go out on the town, where Ripper Giles smashes a storefront with a trash can and steals a terrible hat.

Then Giles beats the crap out of a cop. Then they have sex on the top of a cop car. (ETA: With Joyce, not the cop. Though I'm sure the latter situation has occurred in many a fanfic.) And I mean don't get me wrong, I find all of this delightful, but Joyce seems a bit too Olivia Newton-John. And I always got the idea that Teenage Giles was more brooding and sitting in creepy factories pledging his soul to the Dark Prince listening to Throbbing Gristle than doing his best James Dean. But that may just be wishful thinking.

Buffy happens upon Joyce and Giles in a compromising situation, and tells them, "No more candy!" while they stamp their feet. Eventually, they break into the factory and chase down Ethan Rayne, who tells them that Trick and the Mayor needed all of the adults of Sunnydale to be out of it so that they could collect a tribute for a demon.

The tribute? Babies, obviously.

While Joyce is sent into paroxysms of sorrow at the idea of babies in jeopardy, never fear. Buffy finds the babies in the sewers, disposes of the evil demon, pisses off The Mayor, gets Mr. Trick in trouble, bland plot stuff.

But at least this allows for some truly special effects.

All in all, this is a very popular episode with appeal that I have never been able to totally understand. Thematically, the episode seems to exist to LOL at the Scoobies' immaturity and inability to take things seriously. When Willow's doctor takes his shirt off and stage dives at The Bronze, and Joyce repeatedly coos over the "poor babies!!!", characters repeatedly make comments about this being an unflattering mirror and isn't it so funny how they suddenly have to start acting like adults?? Only this doesn't jive with where we are in the series--Buffy left her desire to be a normal teenager back in Season 2, and even then, she never carried on like an idiot. By Season 3, this already seems vintage. So the insinuation is a bit insulting to the younger generation.

But it would be disingenuous to get up in arms over this, because the "role reversal" only exists to allow Tony Head and Kristine Sutherland to show us what they've got, and that's what makes this episode hilarious. By Season 3, we've grown to know and love all the non-Xander characters, and watching them have this much fun is, well, fun. Does it advance anyone's arc? Outside of giving Buffy's mother and surrogate father the opportunity to get it on, no. Does this episode give me many things to pontificate on? Outside of ending my sentences with prepositions, no. But do I care?

Minus a few missteps, one of the best Espensons. But it's no Doublemeat Palace.

Favorite moment: Band Candy's entire appeal lies in the little moments between Giles, Joyce, and Snyder. Favorites include danger junkie Giles, who is all to eager for Buffy to kick the crap out of Ethan Rayne.

Snyder, trying to scoot a 'lil closer to a disapproving Joyce.

And when the group learn of Trick and the Mayor's baby kidnapping:

"Something's going to eat those babies?"

"I think that is so wrong!"

"Let's find the demon and kick the crap out of it!"