Saturday, May 21, 2011

What's My Line Pt. 1

Season #2, Episode #9: What's My Line Pt. 1

"Do I like shrubs?"

At my college's final soirée, a dark-haired vision in Prada approached me and said, "You need to rethink Drusilla." I consider his suggestion as I watch Drusilla whimpering again because of some reason or another. I suppose this time, she and Spike can't translate the manuscript that holds the antidote to her illness. Drusilla divines from some tarot cards that they need a key, which they magically know is in a mausoleum for plot purposes. But in order to prevent that pesky Buffy from ruining their healing ceremony, they summon a mystical trio of assassins to get rid of her once and for all.

Drusilla is a character I find wholly uninteresting because a. Juliet Landau is a horrible actress, and b. her character seems to come from an older generation of vampires--seductive, feminine, eerie, supernatural. Spike, who mostly looks like Billy Idol, runs rings around her in terms of charm and relevance to anything going on in the show. She's meant to be powerful and visionary, a cool juxtaposition with her simpering whining and macabre cutesiness, but all of these traits just come across as super high and crazy. I find her less terrible this time around but she still does nothing for me, as I'm never really sure what to make of her.

So anyway. It's time for the Sunnydale High career fair! Buffy is a bit mopey because no matter what her test says, she'll always have to be a Slayer. (Can't lead a Normal Life etc.) Angel comforts Buffy by inviting her to go ice skating. Apparently Baby Buffy was an aspirational Dorothy Hamill. Such a sweetheart! But that doesn't make Buffy feel any better when her career aptitude test tells her she has a future in law enforcement--too Slayer-ish?

Xander and Willow try to cover for Buffy's absence at the Career Fair when Synder comes a'knockin', which doesn't make our favorite principal very happy. He says to Xander, "Whatever comes out of your mouth is a meaningless waste of breath." Nothing more right on has been said.

Willow, on the other hand, showed great promise in her career aptitude test, and is corralled by a bunch of dudes in tuxedos who tell her how special she is. The only other person to receive such treatment? Why, it's Oz! Who woulda thought?

The assassins show up to Sunnydale by bus, which is just so delightfully quaint! One of them is dressed up like James Hetfield, and one pretends to sell make up door-to-door, and wait, is that a black woman arriving on a jet plane? On Buffy? The whitest show of all time??

The Scoobies are very anxious about the contents of Spike and Drusilla's manuscript. Giles even dramatically removes his glasses. But Buffy sneaks off to go on her ice skating date with Angel, which is rudely interrupted by James Hetfield. Buffy slices his throat open with an ice skate, one of the Top Ten Things I Didn't Realize I Was Terrified Of Happening To Me.

She and Angel make out while he has his vampirey face on, which is so romantic because get it? Buffy doesn't even care about him being a demon and all! Awww. But the jet plane woman spots them creepily and is none too pleased by what she sees!

Giles puts James Hetfield's ring under a microscope and realizes it belongs to the mystical assasins, who will never stop coming until they have finally killed Buffy. This puts her on edge as she walks through the career fair and imagines that everyone is trying to kill her. One fella has a killer knife comb, and Oz just has the wrong look in his eye. She runs off to Angel's lair for comfort, but he isn't there! Instead, he's at a demon bar pumping the bartender, Willie, for info about the assassins. (Poor Willie will be pumped by the Scoobies for many seasons to come.) He tells Angel that Spike and Drusilla are responsible--and then Angel gets kicked upside the head by jet plane lady? She sasses him using the worst accent this side of Drusilla--is it Jamaican? Irish? (Research shows it's modeled after a specific Jamaican dialect.) And then she locks him in an eastward-facing cage in eager anticipation of sunrise.

The episode is almost over, and we have so many loose ends to tie! Makeup assassin is apparently made up of worms. Of course. The ever-vain Cordelia invites him into Buffy's house, where she and Xander are gathering weapons, after he promises free samples. Angel's about to get incinerated by the sun. And jet plane lady attacks Buffy while she's asleep at Angel's. She's got a lot of nerve! "Who are you?" Buffy shouts between swings. "I'm Kendra, the vampire slayer!" she responds.


Favorite moment?: This episode is barely even an episode, but is more of a preamble to What's My Line Pt. 2. I don't have much to say. So I'm going to use this section to briefly address the overwhelming whiteness of this show. Up until the sudden appearance of Kendra, every single major and minor character, and at least 90% of the extras, are white or pass for white. The situation will hardly improve after Kendra. The show really paints itself into a corner by playing off of stereotypical high school dramas, particularly the super white upper-class ones--whenever Buffy attempts to address its whiteness, albeit rare, it ends in disaster. This will become more prevalent in later seasons, but there are some choice moments in Pt. 2 that we'll need to talk about, Whedon.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Dark Age

Season #2, Episode #8: The Dark Age

"I'm so used to you being a grown-up, and now I find out you're a person."

Once upon a time, Joss Whedon made a terrible film called Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The entire premise of this film was that the ditzy horror film blonde who is usually first to die instead fights back. Try as he might to make it last for seven seasons, this premise doesn't translate to TV because it leaves little room for things like Characters and Themes. (In fact, this foundational premise will become the bane of Buffy's existence in later seasons, but we'll get to that in time.) Once the show got picked up for a second season, you could almost see the wheels turning in each writer and producer's head--how do we make these stock characters interesting?

Which brings us to The Dark Age. This was another episode I pretty much hated first time around because it was too dark, but now that I've made it through The Body and Season 6 (aka the season in which every single episode is about suicide), I think I'll be able to handle it. And while I still think it's not as good as the previous episode and a little clunky in its quest to add depth at all costs, it's all about Giles, and I can't say no to that!

We begin with some guy I don't know running away from some zombie I don't recognize. But when he sees her, he says, "Deirdre??" Oh, it's Deirdre! (Who's Deirdre?) The man pounds on the library door screaming for Giles, but Buffy's beat-keeping training music drowns out his voice. Too late, anyway, because Deirdre knocks him out and then goes all Secret World of Alex Mack on him.

Willow and Buffy share their romantic fantasies on the quad, which include such main actors as Gavin Rossdale and John Cusack. OH MY GOD, Gavin Rossdale, official hottie of the 90s. I remember my sister verbally berating her friend for losing an issue of Rolling Stone with a shirtless Gavin Rossdale on the cover.

Okay anyway. Buffy, Willow and Xander think that Giles and Jenny Calendar are soooo cute together! The lovebirds steal away to exchange awkwardly sexual innuendo such as: "This weekend. I think I'd like to stay in. Let's see if I can make you squirm." Woahhh, kids these days!

The police question Giles about the corpse outside of his library, and he reveals that it's an old friend from England with a ~mysterious tattoo~. He is duly shaken up, and forgets his slaying date with Buffy. Everything is just so uncharacteristic and ominous. Giles rolls up his sleeves to reveal his ~mysterious tattoo~! He even drinks alcohol! He drunk dials the elusive Deirdre in hopes of warning her about something, but, y'know, zombie corpse.

Buffy is worried about Giles, and crashes Jenny Calendar's remedial computer science class to ask for help. Everyone is just as shocked as I was when Buffy reveals that he was drinking!!!!! Buffy can't wait another moment to find out what's going on, and rushes to the library, only to find...Ethan Rayne? The British costume guy from a few episodes ago? He starts to explain WTF is going on when the guy Deirdre killed at the beginning breaks in, only to be locked in the famous library cage by Jenny and co. Then, Giles is starting to explain WTF is going on when corpse guy breaks out, knocks out Jenny, and pulls another Alex Mack. Jeeeesus whattt is going on???

Giles won't tell, so Willow traces the ~mysterious tattoo~ to a demon called Eyghon who possess dead and unconscious people. Eyghon = Alex Mack goo, and therefore Jenny Calendar is now possessed and at home with Giles!!! She comes onto him, turns into a demon, and jumps out the window. I just don't think this is going to be good for their budding relationship.

At this development, Giles finally decides to let us all in on his Dark Secret. When he was young, he was a 'lil punk and fell in with a gang of miscreants, including Ethan. They'd hold rituals in which they summoned the spirit of Eyghon to get high. I guess that's like huffing for stodgy British people. Anyway, things got out of control, Eyghon took over completely, and now he's back and ready for some fun!

Then there's a long convoluted segment in which: Ethan tattoos Buffy to trick Eyghon, Xander and Cordelia bicker a lot, Demon Jenny tries to possess Buffy, Angel comes in and inexplicably gets possessed instead but because he is dead he kills Eyghon? Okay, sure. This is all more or less unimportant. What we all take away is that Giles is not the token straight-laced tea-drinking double decker bus-riding British librarian we've all come to know and love. And while Jenny lives, their final conversation in this episode is pained and distant. His secret, which nearly killed her, drives her away from him. Forever.


Favorite moment: Back when Giles is still being obscure, Buffy delegates investigative tasks to the Xander and Willow. Touchingly, Cordelia wants to join and help ("I care about Giles, too!)", marking her unofficial induction to the Scoobies.

Yayy, Team Cordelia!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

[Credit where credit is due]

My Buffy reviews are generally written on the fly as I watch each episode. I am not tech savvy, and I watch the episodes on DVD, so I don't take my own screen captures. Instead I get them from Screencap Paradise, a charming website with screencaps of almost every single moment of every Buffy episode. Thanks, website!

Lie to Me

Season #2, Episode #7: Lie to Me

"A couple more days and we'll get to do the two things every American teen should have the chance to do: die young and stay pretty."

I know this review is a long time coming, but I've been preoccupied with other things like graduating college??? In any case, I'm done with my busy schedule of lazing about on the beach and am ready to review this depressing Buffy episode.

I remember that the first time I saw Lie to Me, I thought it was way too serious and not at all like the goofy season 1 episodes that I so loved and cherished, but in retrospect, it's lovely and has SUPER arcs and sets the tone for the rest of the season.

First creepy moment: Drusilla stalks a little blonde kid at a playground, who is anxiously waiting for his mom to pick him up. So what, she just dropped him off at a playground in the middle of the night? He's been waiting there after school for the past five hours? In any case, the two have this exchange:

Drusilla: What will your mummy sing when they find your body?
Little blonde kid: I'm not supposed to talk to people!

This kid is unphased.

But lest you fear our young innocent suffer a cruel fate, Angel comes to the rescue! He and Drusilla have a chat in which they reveal some sort of shared history, and then the show actually has the nerve to pull that trope where Buffy is lurking in the shadows and sees them together and thinks that they're having some romantic rendezvous.

In class the next day, Buffy and Willow exchange notes about the mystery lady Angel was rendezvousing with, and Xander wants to hear the details because hearing bad things about Angel "gives me a happy." Ughh. Mercifully, they're interrupted by Ford, Buffy's best friend from her old high school who wears orange sweater vests and makes Xander very jealous. It seems he's matriculating at Sunnydale High--will he join the Scoobies??

The gang go to The Bronze, where Angel also flexes his muscles at Ford. Geez, at least Xander has the excuse of being sixteen and Joss Whedon. Things get tense, so Buffy and Ford take a walk outside where Ford sees the slayer in action! But rather than shock and awe, he reacts with familiarity, because he inexplicably knows that she's the slayer? The show sez: Let's not fret over this fact, as it is perfectly understandable that this random teenage kid would know ancient slayer lore.

Ford retires to a shady looking club where everyone wears eyeliner and top hats and listens to the worst possible industrial music of all time. They rename themselves things like "Chanterelle" and "Diego," the latter donning a shiny blue cape, because that is goth. They allude to some future event for true believers, with poor Ford acting out a quintessential Joss Whedon Signature Moment in which he mouths the dialogue from the vampire film playing behind him. That's some brain you've got there, Ford!

Angel just can't let go of this Ford thing, and he sneaks into Willow's room so he can ask her to look up Ford on "the net." You see, Angel can't help but be jealous--he spent 100 years "honing his brooding skills" but Buffy just sends his heart all aflutter. Also, Angel is looking exceptionally like Edward Cullen in this scene.

Willow discovers on The Net that Ford didn't actually enroll at Sunnydale High. Shady??

Well, obviously. He goes to a goth club! Willow, Angel, and Xander follow him to said club and are totally grossed out by all the darkness. Chanterelle tells them that everyone at the club thinks that vampires are great and exalted and calls them They Who Walk The Night. Angel gets pissed off and calls Chanterelle a fool! He complains loudly that these people don't know what vampires are like, how they act, or how they dress.

Spike confronts Drusilla about her ~*~secret rendezvous~*~ with Angel. She whimpers because her pet bird died and she always whimpers constantly. They are lovey dovey and she whimpers and ughh they are so gross.

But they're interrupted by Ford, who is entirely too amped to live out Bram Stoker's Dracula with Spike and seriously wears on one's patience. Then he offers Spike the Slayer in exchange for eternal life. Rude!

Then Buffy confronts Angel about Drusilla. Wow, apparently Ford's appearance on the show has made everyone inexplicably insecure about everything. Leave the crippling jealousy to Xander! Anyway, before Angel explains his relationship to Drusilla, he asks Buffy if she loves him. "I love you, but I don't think I trust you!" she says. Oh, these crazy kids! Angel reveals that he turned Drusilla into a vampire a long time ago. Not just that, but: "First I made her insane. Killed everybody she loved. Visited every mental torture on her I could devise." Vampire Angel certainly sounds like a lovely fellow.

Angel tells Buffy about Ford's vampire society, and there is a super avant garde scene that would totally win a NYU film school prize in which Ford invites Buffy out on a date. She knows that he's lying, and he knows that she knows that he's lying, and the camera spins around them at weird angles, and it's so tense you guys!!!

On their "date" at the goth vampire club, Buffy confronts Ford about being a lying scumbag, and he tells her that everybody lies, and hey, do y'all think that this episode (Lie to Me) is about lies? Ford anticipated Buffy's heroic antics and locked them all in the club until sunset, when Spike will come and turn all of them into vampires. Chanterelle and Diego and co. won't believe Buffy when she says that Spike will kill them all and pig out at the "all you can eat moron bar."

Buffy tries to find an escape, and she and Ford get some alone time. He reveals that the rest of the people in the club will die, but that he'll become a vampire. Then the episode gets all grey and ambiguous when Ford reveals that he has brain cancer and will die in six months, and that becoming a vampire is his only way to stay alive. Dilemma!

But okay, not really. Because basically Ford is inciting mass murder so that he can become a vampire, one of few situations in which brain cancer doesn't really pull the trump card. Luckily Buffy sees through this act, but is a 'lil sad about it nonetheless. True to word, Spike and his gang show up, but Buffy manages to save them all. That is, except Ford, who stays behind so he can collect his eternal life. We're left in suspense as to what will become of him, until Buffy returns to the club and finds a very dead and non-vampirey Ford corpse.

Favorite moment: The episode ends with a really depressing scene that signals the DARK half of the season. Oh boy oh boy!!!! Buffy heads to the cemetery to patrol with Giles. She's upset because she can't hate Ford, or simply call him the Bad Guy, and everything is confusing, and she doesn't know who to hate or love or trust. She asks Giles if things will ever get easier, but he doesn't know what to say. "Lie to me," Buffy offers him. The episode fades out as Giles tells her, "The good guys are always stalwart and true. The bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies and everybody lives happily ever after."

While I am partial to pretty much any scene between Giles and Buffy, this one is particularly satisfying. They have father/daughter dynamic going on, but somewhat strained because Giles is slowly forced to accept Buffy as his equal. So it's precious when Buffy turns to Papa Giles for comfort, and bittersweet when he can barely offer her any.