Thursday, January 27, 2011

Angel

Episode #7: Angel

"When it said that your eyes are penetrating, I meant to write bulging!"


Not only is this my favorite episode from Season 1, it's one of my very favorite episodes in the series, so it gets special loving attention in my blog. It's a perfectly contained melodrama that's sentimental but funny and familiar but subtle and oh, it's just wonderful! For someone who thinks Angel the Character is quite dull and lifeless, and that David Boreanaz is maybe the worst actor ever, I still adore this storyline.

The Netflix Watch Instantly synopsis of "Angel" said that in this episode we would learn Angel's dark secret!(!!!) If you can believe it, 13 years after this episode aired, I legitimately had no idea what Angel's dark secret was and boy oh boy could I not WAIT to find out!

So, onto the actual episode. Buffy is frustrated that she has a big crush on Angel but he only shows up when she's in grave danger; when he does show up, however, they have super awesome chemistry. And it's true, they do have chemistry, despite David Boreanaz being the worst actor ever. As Buffy walks out of The Bronze all dejected and missin' Angel, we see him lurking in the shadows staring at her. If this invokes Edward Cullen for you, well...I'm just saying that's fair.

In the meantime, The Master is PISSED that Buffy is still alive. This will be a recurring theme in every season, that the big bad villain is totally flummoxed by Buffy's super strength. It's like, read the newspaper. She does this a lot. Another thing Buffy does a lot: make puns that range from cheesy to awful whenever dusting a vamp. This does not help her much when a vampire prog rock band attack outside The Bronze.


Because whoops, they're surprisingly strong! It turns out that The Master got so pissed that he hired them as bounty hunters. (Darla, the blonde vampire from the first episode, offered to kill the slayer, but The Master said that she had a personal stake in the matter. Hmm, what does that mean!) Buffy seems to be in trouble, so Angel comes to the rescue. "Good dogs don't bite!" he says. Buffy's puns > Angel's puns. Also, if this is invoking Edward Cullen for you...

The two run back to Buffy's house because the vampires can't enter uninvited. Angel is wounded so Buffy says, "I'll go get some bandages. Take your jacket and your shirt off." Get it, Buffy! They stand awkwardly close to each other, Angel revealing, umm, this thing on his back.

Angel has to sleep over because it's too dangerous outside, bow chicka wow wow!!!!! Buffy asks why Angel spends all his time fighting demons because I mean I do it but only because I have to and what I'd really like to do is be a normal teenager. She wonders what his family thinks of his life choice, and he very ominously replies, "They're dead." By vampires. Oh my god is this Angel's dark secret??

Not quite. When Buffy goes home the next night, Angel hilariously reveals himself by emerging from the shadow of the curtain, and tells Buffy that he can't be around her because he so badly wants to kiss her. "I'm a lot older," he says. But nothing can stop these two crazy kids, and they finally kiss and everyone at home is cheering and hey this kiss has really been going on for a long time and then oh my god! Angel breaks away for a second to reveal...HE'S A VAMPIRE! Nooooo wayy!!! He jumps out of the window as Buffy shrieks into the night.

If, you know, Edward Cullen...

I've pointedly neglected to mention Xander, who has spent this entire episode trying to guilt trip Buffy for having feelings for Angel, and now gets really excited that she'll have to kill him. There's an annoying wannabe love interest forcing its way into Angel's life too in the form of Darla, who breaks into his lair and tries to get him to turn back to the dark side. It's one of those, "You're not one of them, you're one of us! You thirst for blood!" things.

Giles looks up Angel's vampire past in the old Watcher diaries and discovers that he's known as Angelus, a particularly cruel and sinister vampire who inexplicably moved to America and stopped hunting altogether. There's much ado about whether or not a vampire could possibly be good: Giles says that all vampires are evil, but Buffy doesn't want to believe it's true. Her sacred duty dictates that she kill Angel, but her heart is saying NO!

Darla tricks Joyce into inviting her inside, attacks her, and frames Angel. Her whole deal is that she and Angel had a romantic history and she wants him to come back and Buffy to be gone, a goal that she will accomplish by forcing Angel and Buffy into mortal kombat. I'm telling you, these villains! Always underestimating Slayer strength!

Buffy discovers Angel and Joyce, and realizes that she has to kill him. She goes to the library, where, of course, there's a stronghold of crossbows and axes, and heads to The Bronze. Darla is back in Angel's lair trying to fire him up, telling him to kill, and he finally concedes because he just wants it finished. He also heads to The Bronze. In this corner, weighing 120 pounds, Buffy Summers! In this corner, a 240-year-old vampire!

Joyce tells Giles that the last person she saw before passing out was Darla, and he realizes that Angel was set up. But the death match has begun, only it takes a pause so that Angel can reveal the final piece of this dark secret!!!!! He was the one who killed his family, and their friends, and their friends' children, and did it with a song in his heart. At some point he pissed off the wrong gypsies, who cursed him by replacing his soul. "You don't know what it's like to do the things I've done, and to care," he explains. So it turns out Angel really is a good vampire! The vampire-soul issue becomes one of the most important pieces of Buffy lore, so not only is this episode pulpy and part of the epic love story, but it's integral to the development of the show.

After hearing this, Buffy throws down her weapon and tempts Angel to bite her. And, awww, he doesn't! But Darla, who just won't go away, shows up. Blah blah, Angel proves his true allegiance by killing Darla, which makes The Master REALLY sad.

[There there!]


So why do I love this episode so much when it's treading on such familiar ground? It's a perfectly realized romance that could have been its own movie, and will resonate with the whole concept of teen romance as well as the series-long concepts of duty and the demon/soul as a metaphor. And "Angel" does such a beautiful job with the doomed romance, summing up basically everything that will happen between them throughout the first three seasons, that you forget it's basically prototypical Twilight. They want to make it work, and they care about one another, and it's all terribly romantic and swoon-worthy, but it can never really be.

And this is never more evident than in my...

Favorite moment, which is one of my favorite moments in ALL of Buffy, sappy as it may be. At the end of the episode, Buffy and Angel meet at The Bronze, and before they part, they kiss one last time. "It's painful, I know," Buffy says, and walks away. What she doesn't see is that her crucifix necklace (that Angel gave her) burned into his flesh when they kissed. It's small, and it's cheesy, but it says more about these two than the entirety of the Twilight saga.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Pack

Episode #6: The Pack

"His idea of wooing doesn't involve a Yanni CD and a bottle of Chianti."


If I hadn't been sure that Buffy was not quite like most other teen dramas on television, this is the episode that did it for me. In fact, if I saw you within 24 hours of watching this episode, I probably interrupted you at some point to say, "OH MY GOD I just watched this episode of Buffy you won't believe what happened oh my god oh my god!"

We open in a zoo during a class field trip. A group of bullies who we have never seen before and will never see again (for good reason, as we will find out) trick a nerdy kid into entering the off-limits hyena exhibit. I find the idea of a hyena exhibit delightful in the first place, let alone one that's all blocked off with caution tape (for good reason, as we will find out). They try to push nerd boy into the hyena cage, and who comes to save the day but our very own Xander! No sooner has Xander ushered him to safety than he and the bullies all see the hyenas emerge, and everyone's eyes light up a mysterious green, and then they all start cracking up, and you think, "No....way......."

I neglected to mention the fact that Willow has a big girl crush on Xander. Ok, we've gotten that out of the way. Willow has a crush on Xander, he doesn't notice her, now we don't have to think about it anymore. But she spends an awful lot of time complaining about it to Buffy, and is doing this at The Bronze when Xander walks in with a swagger, takes a big bite out of Buffy's sandwich, sniffs everyone, and makes a wordless love connection with the leader of the bully gang with this smoldering glare:


It seems that Xander has turned mean. He's been spending too much time with The Wrong Crowd. We can tell because he cackles at other peoples' misfortune, breaks poor Willow's heart, incites fear and panic into the school's ADORABLE pig mascot, and is overly-aggressive at dodgeball.



This all seems quite goofy, until the kids find the pig mascot in a cage and eat it alive. I am not kidding. This happened. They celebrate by walking onto the set of a music video for which they wander around Sunnydale High modeling Gap's new fall fashions. Oh wait...


Principal Flutie finds out that the gang were responsible for eating the pig and takes them into his office. They (minus Xander) circle around him, swipe at him, close in, and...

THEY EAT. PRINCIPAL FLUTIE.
THE KIDS. ATE. THEIR PRINCIPAL.
THIS HAPPENED.

In the meantime, Xander corners Buffy and essentially tries to rape her, going on and on about how he knows she wants bad boys, and clearly she is attracted to him, and, "I like it when you're scared!" This will be summarily forgotten for the rest of the series. Also, THE KIDS ATE THEIR PRINCIPAL. But one thing I can say for the show is that it is always calls rape what it is, something that most shows/films/news articles/people fail to do. (I'm looking at you, Dollhouse.) Buffy drags an unconscious Xander into the library to lock him in the cage that is inexplicably in the library (and will come in handy for many seasons to come) and we hear the following:

Willow: What happened?
Buffy: I hit him.
Willow: With what?
Buffy: A desk. He tried his hand at felony sexual assault.


It turns out that the zookeeper is somehow responsible for the hyena possession as it is a part of his sacred ritual to paint his face blue and become possessed by a hyena. This dastardly plan is foiled and the kids are un-possessed. But we find out that they remember everything that happened during their period of possession, and we never see the bullies again, leaving you to imagine them lying in bed, the memory of ripping apart their principal's flesh on their minds, transferring schools, decades of therapy, lifelong veganism...

Favorite moment: Buffy: They didn't hurt him, did they?
Giles: They...ate him.
(pause)
Buffy: They...ate Principal Flutie?

THE KIDS.
ATE.
THEIR PRINCIPAL.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Never Kill A Boy On The First Date

Episode #5: Never Kill A Boy On The First Date

"I lost my Emily.
Dickinson."


File this under: Buffy wants a normal life!

Owen "He can brood for 40 minutes straight" Thurman takes an interest in Buffy, as well as black turtlenecks, poetry, old-timey watches, and all things morbid. You at home might be wondering, "Aren't he and Angel essentially the same character?" Well, Owen is blonde.



Giles is tirelessly researching as per usual and says, "Buffy! You may not go on a date with Owen, because I found a fancy shmancy ring in a graveyard that must mean something dangerous! Also, you may not have a normal life!" After making some grandiose pronouncements about how the end of the world is imminent and must be stopped that night, there's a good bit of humor when the shot cuts to Giles and Buffy sitting in the graveyard alone, no demons in sight, Buffy slurping an extra-large Diet Coke. The first season really tries to set up Buffy's problem with authority, Giles being the "authority," who is basically a curmudgeonly stick-in-the-mud who just doesn't give a damn how long Owen can brood.

Over Giles' protestations, Buffy and Owen reschedule their date for the following night. As Xander and Willow help her pick an outfit, Xander tries to sneak a peek at an unclothed Buffy in the mirror. Aww, so charming! Boys will be boys!! Giles shows up just before Owen to remind Buffy of her sacred calling™, but she's sooo over being stood up by vampires in a graveyard.

Turns out Giles was right, as The Master's minions go hunting to turn a bunch of humans into vamps and create The Anointed One, who will somehow be very important in one way or another. This is probably the first episode that's downright creepy--a group of vampires overturn a bus and pick each of the passengers off one-by-one. Not only is the show unafraid to kill high school kids, but we see here that it also has no problem killing little kids! Little kids who look like John Cusack!!



Owen and Buffy go on an ill-fated date that has an untimely ending in a funeral home because they assume The Anointed One's body will have been brought there. Buffy has to stop the Anointed from rising without telling Owen what she's up to, but no matter, he thinks funeral homes are SO COOL and Buffy is one down chick for taking him there on the first date! "Are we going to see a dead body??" he asks excitedly. "Possibly several," Buffy responds.

Long story short, Giles arrives at the funeral home looking for Buffy and has to hide with a body until she shows. Together they kill The Anointed One, but Buffy thinks Owen has died when really it's only a flesh wound. He comes to and assures her that he totally could've taken those hooligans (he, like most of Sunnydale, lacks the critical consciousness to recognize vampires), and you're sitting there like, how? By throwing your book of Emily Dickinson poems at them? Unfortunately, Owen and Buffy aren't meant to be. He's kind of brooding-lite, while Angel is the real deal. And while Buffy and Giles were all busy shoving who they thought was the Anointed into an incinerator, it turns out that the Anointed is actually--LITTLE JOHN CUSACK!


[How do you like that face now?]


Favorite moment: Buffy's. Leopard. Coat.

Teacher's Pet

Episode #4: Teacher's Pet

"I'm not saying that we should kill a teacher every day just so I can lose weight!"


In many ways, this is more-or-less a typical Buffy episode. You have your toolish, jealous Xander and his unrequited love for our heroine, yet another murder at Sunnydale High, and...a gigantic praying mantis disguised as a substitute teacher who looks like Julie Cooper and seduces students so she can use their sperm to fertilize her eggs. Oh, and then she decapitates them.

The plot is loosely as follows: Xander's got it bad for Buffy, who doesn't want to be with him (because he's TERRIBLE). He fantasizes about rescuing her, which he cannot (because he's useless). He hates Angel with his "girlie name" and his leather jackets, and decides to go for the new substitute teacher, who--surprise!--is actually a praying mantis who eats grasshoppers on toast for lunch.


(About that teacher/mantis. Her name is Ms. French, and her accent is South African. She looks EXACTLY like Julie Cooper, the world's greatest character ever to grace television, but she ISN'T! )

After giving Buffy some sass about how she's just jealous that he found someone, he goes over to Ms. French's house to help her work on a "class project" wink nudge! She gives him a martini and asks if he's ever been with a woman. This seems like appropriate student-teacher behavior! But as she starts feeling him up, he watches in drugged confusion the teacher-to-mantis transformation, astutely remarking, "Your hand is so...serrated!" Before he knows it, he and another kid are locked in cells in the basement and are in need of some rescuing. The Scoobies are happy to oblige, but at great cost to Xander's precious ego, as it's revealed that he was chosen because he'd never had sex with a woman LOL!!!! You at home will be thinking, why, I find it hard to believe that girls around the world don't line up for this man of men!


Somewhere around this episode I decided to turn my brain off re: Angel for the rest of the series and enjoy the ride--quite early on, as you'll see--because seriously, what is he mumbling about? Ever? At some point, Buffy comes across Angel in a park, and upon my first viewing, my two friends and I had to sit down, slow-mo, and take notes to figure out wtf he was talking about. It turns out he was warning Buffy about the death of a homeless man; I heard homeless man, which I decided couldn't be correct because why would Angel be talking about a homeless man, and my friends both heard "boneless man," so we were like, "Do praying mantises have bones?"

Favorite moment: Buffy suggests that Giles find a recording of bats, as praying mantises can't stand bats. At the climactic moment in Ms. French's Love Dungeon, Giles whips out his dictaphone, presses play, and! it's just a recording of his voice talking about praying mantises.

Witch

Episode #3: Witch

"Macho macho man!"


Poor Buffy was the big woman on campus at her old high school, and all she wants to do is regain some of her glory through the cheerleading squad. Giles/Joss Whedon says: "Buffy! You may not have a normal life, but perhaps you should sassily remind everyone that it's all you want for the entirety of this season!" Anyhow, within the first five minutes of this episode a cheerleader spontaneously combusts, leading to this delightful exchange:

Willow: That girl's on fire!
Cordelia: Enough with the hyperbole.


God I love this show.

This episode is also the birth of the Scooby Gang--Willow and Xander are Officially On Board to have many research sessions with Giles in the library and fight vampires by proxy! We also establish that Joyce Summers, Buffy's mama, is too busy in the fast-paced world of collecting masks from many world cultures to pay attention to Buffy, which would explain why she doesn't find it curious that Buffy apparently never sleeps and why she will spend the next two seasons confusing vampires with "PCP gangs."

So it goes: members of the cheerleading squad each suffer horrible fates, such as the aforementioned combustion, going blind, mouths disappearing, you know.

Creepy stuff like that.

The gang suspect fellow cheerleader-in-waiting Amy, and dump on her arm a magical witch-identifying potion concocted by Willow in chem lab. Survey says: she's a witch, and she REALLY wants a spot on the cheerleading squad! But after many hilarious shots of a creepy attic and Barbie dolls being thrown into vats of green potion (all of which will make your entire being yearn for the 90s), we discover the culprit: Amy's mama, who is, of course, inhabiting Amy's body in order to regain some of HER glory from high school through the cheerleading squad. Geez, maybe Giles was right.

Amy's-mama-in-Amy's-body comes after Buffy with a hatchet, and when all else fails, tries to cast a spell to send her into a hell dimension. But her spell backfires and hits her instead, trapping her inside of the cheerleading trophy she won for Sunnydale High so many years ago.

Woah.

Favorite moment: A dear, dear friend of mine despises when Buffy turns "stupid," because Buffy is not stupid and it is disconcerting to watch. And yes, throughout the series she'll randomly get cursed and become...a blithering idiot. But when Amy's mama curses Buffy with excess pep, well...this happens:



And it's incredible.

The Harvest

Episode #2: The Harvest

"You could try blowing up the school, they're real strict about that."


Oh, The Harvest! What is The Harvest? This is unimportant. What matters are the danceable grunge bands playing at The Bronze that week, and Buffy's SUPER high ponytail, and Xander and Willow being all, "huh vampires what"

If you could not tell from Episode #1, one very essential fact of the series will become painfully obvious to you: Xander is a tool. He will continue to be a tool, forever. After Jesse is captured by the vampires, the group reconvenes in the school library to strategize with Giles. Buffy feels that she should go back and fight the vampires alone because she's the slayer and has slayer strength, causing Xander to become Mopey McMopesalot and passive-aggressively whine that Buffy thinks he is inadequate and not man enough. Yes, Xander. That is exactly what this is about.

Anyway, back at the crypt, Buffy runs into the ever-mysterious David Boreanaz, who seems more like a frat boy than the brooding, damaged soul we will come to know and love. He introduces himself as Angel. "Pretty name!" Buffy says, but in a haughty tone characteristic of someone who is embarrassed to have a big crush on David Boreanaz. He still refuses to say who he is, and upon my first watching I totally bought into all this and wanted soooo badddlly to know Angel's deal, like, what a hunk. He cannot convince her to stay out of The Master's lair, though, where she runs into Xander (moping) and discovers Jesse (now a vampire, and acting as Buffy-bait). Whoops! Turns out the vampires are already on their way to start The Harvest, that thing that for some reason I didn't quite catch would be bad.

The Master, by the way, is this season's big bad guy vamp who is essentially the exact same thing as Voldemort.


Buffy has to rush to The Bronze, where a bunch of vampires are about to kill everyone. Oh, back in the day when vampires were actually a threat to Buffy! Every human they feed on will also feed The Master, who is trapped in his underground dungeon. "GIMME MOOOOOORE!" he screams. (None of this plotline ever made much sense to me.) Of course, Buffy foils his plan, but the plot of this episode is not super exciting, at least not as much as the loud sound effects that signify impending vampires and sound like cats running up and down a piano, and badass shots of a backlit Buffy looking like she just dusted a vamp and were almost certainly made to put into the opening credits.



Favorite moment: Xander holds a stake up to his old friend Jesse but doesn't want to actually kill him. "I can't do this!" he says, until a random stranger accidentally bumps into Jesse and pushes him through the stake. Et tu?

Welcome To The Hellmouth

Episode #1: Welcome To The Hellmouth

"Gym was canceled due to the EXTREME dead guy in the locker!"


A timid blonde and an aggressive dude break into a high school. It's dark and empty and creepy, and shot with a teen horror film quality a la The Faculty. Blonde hears creepy noises. Guy says nobody else is there. You, realizing that you are watching Buffy The Vampire Slayer, are ready for the blonde's imminent death, but...it turns out she's a vampire! This is the sort of gender reversal that Buffy is based on and Joss Whedon, being such a good feminist, is SUPER proud of himself for.

Roundabout the opening credits, I mentally blocked off the next six months of my life to devote to all things Buffy. (I finished the series in 3.) Cats jumping out of trunks! Creepy basements! Dusty books! Vats of green goo! All filmed with The Saturated Sheen Of The 90s and a rockin' theme song!



This episode introduces the premise of the show: one girl in all the world is endowed with super strength so that she can fight vampires and demons, and Buffy is It. But poor Buffy was kicked out of her last high school for burning down the gym and, upon transferring to Sunnydale High, just wants to be a normal teenager. Cordelia Chase, resident popular chick, tests Buffy on her coolness, and these kids seem to live in a world where it is fashionable to wear lime green velour pants, James Spader is a sex symbol, and anyone knows/cares about John Tesh.

But, as luck would have it, Buffy can't escape her role as the Slayer, and will remain bitter about this for the next 7 seasons. Dorky Xander bumps into her and, whoops, stakes come flying out of her purse! She goes to the library where the inexplicably British librarian, Giles, gets all excited and busts out a huge book called VAMPYR.

Then the dude from the beginning falls out of a locker with vampire bites in his neck. Buffy goes back to Giles to yell at him about the extreme dead guy, allowing for Giles to explicate a whole lot about the show in his posh audiobook accent. The basics: Giles is Buffy's Watcher, meaning he was sent there to train and guide her. Sunnydale is located on top of a Hellmouth--don't worry about making sense of that. There are many demons. Anyhow, Buffy does not warm to Giles, even though everyone watching is thinking, "AWWW I WANT YOU TO BE MY UNCLE!"

Buffy wants to be a normal teenager©, so she decides to go to the hip teen club The Bronze. But uh oh, somebody's following her on her way! She stealthily kicks him upside the head and we see...it's David Boreanaz, and he knows about vampires too! So brooding and dashing in the shadows as he says, "You're standing on the mouth of hell!", throws her a crucifix necklace, and disappears into the night. BUT WHO IS HE! Only time will tell.

Now we are introduced to The Bronze. The Bronze is a mystical gathering place where every teenager in all of Sunnydale comes to dance to long-haired, headbanging 90s-rock bands every weekend. Buffy chats with nerdy Willow, who is adorably self-deprecating, but leaves the club with A VAMPIRE! Buffy realizes she cannot deny her sacred calling™, and she and Xander go to rescue her and their dopey friend Jesse. The vampires take them to a crypt, where there's some hugger mugger about bringing young nubile flesh to The Master and why is Buffy so strong and no way there's the blonde vampire from the beginning of the episode!

Willow escapes...but what will become of Jesse? The episode ends with a cliffhanger, as burly vampire Luke lunges on top of Buffy and the screen reads, "TO BE CONTINUED..." What will happen? Will Buffy escape, or will the series be a 143-episode obituary to the slayer who once was? Tune in next time...

This review is about three times longer than all the others, just in case you've not watched Buffy (in a very long time) and need some background. I feel like I have a duty to explain just how delightful the show's first season is--Buffy's dark lipstick! Cordelia is literary bitchy and says things like, "What is your childhood trauma!" Giles never stops wiping his glasses! THE BRONZE!

Welcome to the Hellblog

This summer, one of my very best friends sat me down and we watched the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer via the miracle of Netflix Watch Instantly. I'd known that the series existed for a very long time, and felt like an IDIOT when I realized it was the best show ever and I'd wasted my first 20 years of life on things besides Buffy.

Recently I bought the series box set, an investment in my future happiness. I thought it'd be fun to start watching the show for a second time and do a write-up on each episode while I was lazing around at home over winter break. Alas, winter break has come and gone, but this blog remains. The idea of actually watching every episode, including season 4 (ugh) but excluding season 7 (not actually part of the show), is daunting, but I'll do my best. Anyway, when I run out of steam, you can just go read one of the hundreds of other blogs doing the exact same thing as me (albeit without my sparkling wit).

Also worth mentioning: I assume that if anybody reads this blog, it's because they love Buffy and thus won't mind me spoiling everything that ever happens. If you've never seen Buffy, what is wrong with you!!! But you can read anyway.