Thursday, July 28, 2011

Passion

Season #2, Episode #17: Passion

I need to work up an appetite first.


Woah. We're already at Passion?

There are a few episodes throughout Buffy that are gamechangers in that the entire tone of the series changes and all the characters brood about the events of the episode for many seasons. Nothing is ever the same. This is my list: Angel (1x7), Innocence (2x14), Bad Girls (3x14), The Body (5x16), Bargaining (6x1), and Dead Things (6x13).

As you can see, not a long list! And one of them occurred only two episodes ago! And yet, Passion is one of those episodes. Unfortunately, it is sooo serious that it is bound to make a really dumb blog entry. I recommend skimming.

The episode opens on Buffy and Xander dancing at The Bronze. Before he horrible memory of When She Was Bad and the sexy dance can flash through your mind, we hear a voiceover from Angelus ruminating on passion. (Plus, the band playing that night is like Diet Cibo Matto.) Angelus lurks in the background, watching the revelry. Later, Angelus stares at Buffy through her window while she sleeps, a creepy "industrial" score playing. Then he's in her bed, brushing her hair out of her face. He leaves her a sketch of herself sleeping.

Three minutes in and this episode is already awesome.

Post-opening credits, it's business as usual at the Sunnydale High library. Buffy wants to know how Angelus got into her home, and Cordelia tactfully asks why he didn't just slit her throat. The disturbing reason is that Angelus's modus operandi is to torture, taunt, and drive his prey insane before killing them, e.g. killing Drusilla's whole family before killing her. Although Angelus has been lurking in the shadows of every episode since Innocence, we haven't really seen him do anything, and Buffy has more or less been carrying on like always. But now the dramatic stakes have been raised!

The Scoobies reconnect with Jenny Calendar, sort of. She asks Willow to fill in for her as a computer teacher, which gets her all excited. Then she and Giles have a heart-to-heart about Jenny's duty to her family, whom Angelus hurt the most, conflicting with the life that she created in Sunnydale, which included falling in love with Giles. This gets him all excited. "Can I take that back?" she says, embarrassed. "Do you want to?" he asks. These two, y'all :(

Buffy, worried that Joyce is in danger, asks if she remembers "that guy Angel." It's easy to forget just how tooootally oblivious Joyce is! Buffy warns Joyce that they used to date, but he's since "changed," and that Joyce shouldn't invite him into the house if he turns up. This is instance #24294 when you will want to yell at Joyce, "SHE IS THE SLAYERRRR!!!!"

It seems Angelus has made a house call to Willow! She wasn't home, so he left her a message in the form of her exotic fishes strung up in an envelope.

She says, "I'm glad my parents never got me a puppy."

Speaking of puppies, Drusilla finds the most impossibly adorable puppy in the whole world and brings him to Spike!!!! Omg this puppy is so so cute. Luckily, Spike is indignant that Drusilla is trying to feed him like a little child, and the puppy is spared. Angelus finds this hilarious. The fissure between these two macho macho men grows. Drusilla seems unphased that Spike and Angel let out their anger with one another by constantly trying to claim the deed to her vagina--possibly because she's just had a vision of "someone" trying to disrupt their happy family.


It turns out this person is Jenny Calendar. She heads to the magic shop (keep this place in mind!) to retrieve some kind of fanciful orb. The shopkeeper helpfully tells the audience that the orb is useless without the ancient instruction manual. Then, because Jenny never answers when you yell questions at your TV, he asks, "What are you planning on conjuring with the orb?"

"A gift for a friend. A soul," she says.

Giles may have reconciled with Jenny, but Buffy wants her to feel the neverending pain and guilt that she deserves!!! It's hard to blame her, even though she's being irrational, but also you're just like, come on Buffy, be the bigger woman, let bygones be bygones, group hug :(

Angelus leaves another sketch for Buffy at Willow's--this time of sleeping Joyce. Cut to Joyce, oblivious as usual, pulling into her driveway where Angelus is waiting. He does a good impression of a psychotic, obsessively jealous boyfriend--I wonder how! "I haven't been able to sleep since the night we made love," he tells her. Awkward!! This scene is quite wonderful in that Joyce is being the protective mother guarding against the jealous boyfriend, but there's a dangerous undercurrent that is somewhat sexual and somewhat mystical and very very tense! Joyce spills her groceries. Joyce stumbles into the front door. And, surprise! Buffy is home, Willow reciting a magical protection locking spell in the background.

"Sorry, Angel. Changed the locks," she says.

Drusilla shows up at the magic shop to pump the shopkeeper for info. Meanwhile, Jenny Calendar is at Sunnydale High all by her lonesome using her computer skillz to translate the ancient instruction manual for her orb. Just when she thinks she's figured it out...Angelus shows up.

:(

He smashes the orb, rips up the instructions, and sets the computer on fire. He's nothing if not thorough! Jenny runs for her life, but all of the exits have been barricaded. But surely Buffy is around and will show up to save the day, right? And then she and Jenny will finally be able to reconcile? And all will be well in Sunnydale. Right??

Wrong. Angel snaps her neck, saying, "This is where you get off."

If you are like me the first time I saw this, your jaw is on the floor. Her death is so gruesome, sexualized, and painful to watch--and still, somehow, the worst scene is the one that follows :(

Giles comes home and finds a red rose on his door, ostensibly from Jenny. Opera is playing somewhere in his apartment, and petals, wine, and candles greet him inside. He finds a note that says, "Upstairs." The look of joy on his face will seriously make you cry.

Of course, once he arrives in his bedroom, he sees Jenny's corpse splayed out by Angelus on his bed. The shot transitions from him standing in terror at his doorway to him, in the same position, being questioned by the police, as if he is paralyzed. I told you--things will never be the same :(

Angelus watches Buffy and Willow receiving the phone call that Jenny has died. Cue another Angelus voiceover on passion. It becomes all the more tragic that Buffy and Jenny never reconciled, and that Giles and Jenny did.


When the Scoobies arrive at Giles's apartment, they find him...not there. Buffy worries that he went to exact revenge on Angelus, which gets Xander all excited. He says, "I think I deserve something for not saying, 'I told you so!' before now." I think from here on out, I'll replace my exasperated musings on why everything Xander says is awful with the catch-all, "Shut UP Xander."

Giles brings his flamethrower to Spike and Dru's house. He smacks Angelus across the face with a flaming torch. He's not thinking with all his faculties intact, you see. But it still seems a little bit harsh when, after pulling him outside and to safety, he screams at Buffy and she punches him in the face. Then they collapse together in the alley, both sobbing. Okay everyone. This episode is better than Innocence. Best episode so far.


We opened with a voiceover from Angelus, and end on a somber voiceover from Buffy. She apologizes to Giles for not having killed Angel, but realizes she no longer has any choice. Tearful Willow introduces herself as the new computer science teacher in Jenny Calendar's absence. And while Voiceover Buffy explains that the only option is to kill Angel, Willow unknowingly knocks off the desk the floppy disk (lol) containing the spell that would restore Angel's soul. The end!

[The now-hidden floppy disk lol]


The first time I saw this episode, I was mostly shocked by Jenny's death, but the second time around, I can't believe how GOOD it is! Most of this review is just me quoting the dialogue directly, because it's so good it speaks for itself! Both the opening and ending are beautiful, and the plotting! Passion completely changes the group dynamic and creates the kill-or-be-killed strategy that Buffy could never muster up before. Giles' involvement with the Scoobies will never recover. I mentioned the essay on Jenny by Eleusis Walks--he said that Oz was supposed to be the character to die, but he was too popular with audiences! So it's maybe a stroke of luck on the writers part that the character who was ultimately sacrificed emphasized the twisted sexuality in the Angelus arc, and the unique, high-stakes involvement of each major character with her death. (A one true love for Giles, a mentor for Willow, a reminder of Buffy's "failure" and sexual relationship with Angel, and a hot chick for Xander idk.) Jenny, the only character capable of restoring Angel's soul and taking it away, is gone. Gamechanger!

Even the music is good, for once!

10/10

Favorite moment: Well that was an awfully serious episode and an awfully boring review! How about some levity? When the Scoobies talk strategy in the library, Jonathan (!!) and some other rando student walk in. Everyone is like, WTF, are these people hostile? Why are they in the library?


But it turns out they're looking for books.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered

Season #2, Episode #16: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered

"We have to catch the Buffy-rat."


So, let's talk about this "having a job" thing. It has been 22 days since I last reviewed a Buffy episode. On the list of things I would like to do with my ever diminishing free time, watching Xander act like a douche for 42 minutes ranks very, very low. Welcome to Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered.

I should also admit that I recently finished watching Angel (the Buffy spin-off series, if you are really not in-the-know), so it totally threw me off to jump back into this episode and hear Xander talk about his girlfriend CORDELIA! Oh my god they are a couple, what is wrong with this show. (Coincidentally, Angel is wonderful and you should watch it, Andy.)

It's Valentine's Day, and Cordelia and Xander struggle to understand if they are A Real Couple. As if having to endure Xander is not punishment enough for poor judgment, Cordelia's popular friends, led by Harmony, reject her as queen and mock her for dating such a douche. He is really really a douche though, it's hard to blame them.

Meanwhile, Xander whines to Buffy in a graveyard that really he doesn't even want to be with Cordelia, but would rather be with Buffy, who doesn't want him, poor thing!!!

Xander and Cordelia aren't the only ones with problems. Giles and Buffy steal away whenever Jenny Calendar's around cos things are just a teensy bit awkward. Buffy is like, oh yeah, Angelus. Meanwhile, Angelus is busy trying to drive a wedge between Spike and Drusilla--while Spike buys her a quaint 'lil necklace for Valentine's Day, Angelus gives her a human heart that he found "inside of a quaint little shop girl." For Buffy? He buys a dozen red roses with a note reading, "Soon."

It's date night, so everyone congregates at The Bronze to see Oz's band, Dingoes Ate My Baby. From now on it seems Dingoes Ate My Baby are the only band to ever tour Sunnydale, until Michelle Branch inexplicably bleats her way into Season 6. I miss Cibbo Matto :(

Okay, we're getting to the actual plot of this episode. But the actual plot is all about Xander. It is impossible to be an episode about Xander and not be horrid unless you are The Zeppo. So let's struggle through this together.

Xander gives Cordelia a super ugly locket and she says, "It's beautiful! I want to break up." Love Cordelia.

Xander is put off by this and, okay, fair enough. He walks through the halls, shell of a man, while random people come up to him and say, "DUDE! Way to get DUMPED!" Defeated and embarrassed, he takes a moment, summons his inner strength, and comes up with the douchiest possible way of dealing with the break-up. That is to go to Amy (from Witch) and ask her to perform a love spell to force Cordelia to want him against her will. That is terrible, and also involves Xander sitting topless and clutching onto magical candles, which is doubly terrible.

Blah blah, Xander sucks and the spell backfires. It turns out that every other girl in the world BESIDES Cordelia is now in love with Xander.

That is dull. I wonder what's going on with Buffy and Giles? They're in the library researching the old Watcher diaries to help divine Angel's next move. Buffy is spouting out the most horrible dialogue this side of "the wiggins," saying things like: "You never held out on me until the big, bad thing in the dark became my ex-honey."

But then the newly-attractive Xander waltzes in, suggests that Buffy comfort him with a lap dance, and declares himself the mayor of Doucheville. But because of the stupid dumb spell, Buffy doesn't kick him squarely in the balls, and instead comes onto him.

Jenny Calendar and Amy come this close to pulling each other's hair over Xander.

Then Willow shows up in his bed in flannel PJs and nibbles on his ear.

Angelus nearly kills Xander, but is stopped by a lovelorn Drusilla.

Eventually, he'll seek refuge at Buffy's house, where Joyce will come onto him.


Everyone together now. UGHHHHH.

I do have to say that Jenny is quite hysterical, all lustful stares, offering the wisdom of an older woman, Giles desperately trying to pull her away. Less successful is Buffy, who turns into a jealous harpie like all lovesick ladies do when Xander rejects her striptease. (AT LEAST he did that much.) Amy's like, nuh-uh, you stole my man, and turns her into a rat. I mean this all happens, and why.

There's one delightful beacon of light in this episode when Oz shows up and punches Xander in the face. Why? No reason, just that Willow cried to him about Xander for hours and Oz felt like he probably deserved a punch in the face. Things just get better when Giles intimates to Xander that he is actual human scum deserving of death. (I may have extrapolated a little.)

What's still bad is that the entire female population is now out to kill Cordelia because she wounded precious Xander. He comes to her rescue, but they're confronted by a mob of angry ladies (so HORMONAL!) fronted by an ax-wielding Willow, who says, "I should've known I'd find you with her! You don't know how hard this is for me! I love you so much--I'd rather see you dead than with that bitch!"

Say it with me. UGHHHHH.

Blah blah, Xander and Cory hide in the Summers home, where Cordelia is like SOO touched that Xander cares SOO much that he used a love spell, and maybe they can still be together <333
This Cordy's got nothin' on Angel Cordy.

Everything ends in a magical resolution. The Buffy-rat becomes Buffy. Everyone loses the memory of the spell and thinks they all ended up in a heap in the Summers' basement as a part of the "best scavenger hunt EVER!" And I have to admit, we end on what is simultaneously a happy ending for Xander AND a high note! How is this possible? Because Cordelia is so wonderful, calls Harmony a sheep, reminds everyone that she is MUCH cooler than them, and that she reserves the right to have a lame boyfriend. She rescues this episode, and the relationship, from Xander.

Favorite moment: Oz follows Buffy-rat into the basement the moment that the spell is reversed. This is probably one of two times these characters ever interact on the series, and it's quite precious.

Buffy: I seem to be having a slight case of nudity here.
Oz: But you're not a rat! So consider that an upside!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Phases

Season #2, Episode #15: Phases

"Is Jordy a werewolf?"


In writing about Innocence, I've realized something about this blog. Serious episodes do not make good blog entries. I don't have the time and space (I write as I watch) to get too super academic, and it's difficult to address big overarching themes when focusing on only one episode. Plus, I'm watching Buffy a decade after everybody else (except for Mary B.) and much has already been said about each of these episodes.

Speaking of which, when I was reviewing Reptile Boy I got all angry and googled "Joss Whedon is a douchebag" to make myself feel better. This quest led me to many other people who also believe Joss Whedon to be a douchebag, including a blogger called Eleusis Walks. He has written at length about Buffy and Angel (the TV series) in a super academic way. For the purpose of this blog, I try to focus more on what works and what doesn't work on the level of plotting and execution, and so reading through his entries puts a new spin on this well-worn territory. In particular, he has a pretty incredible essay on Jenny Calendar's coming out as Romani passing for white (among other things). It's full of spoilers, but I highly recommend it if you already know what's to come.

ANYHOW, none of this has anything to do with Phases. This is the episode in which Oz is finally given something to do.

That thing, it seems, is not making out with Willow, a fact she finds quite frustrating. "I want smoochies!" she shouts at Buffy. The problem with Willow is that she was awkwardly cute and childlike in Season 1, but by Season 2 it beings to grate on one's nerves. By Season 4 will you want to claw off your own ears every time she speaks.

Later that night, Xander and Cordelia drive out to what I imagine is called Lookout Point to "do things I can't tell my father about because he still thinks I'm a 'good girl,'" as Cordelia says. But Xander keeps on getting distracted--first by his nagging desire to protect Willow's virginity from the evil predator Oz, and then by a real evil predator who punches its claw into the car.

The Scoobies decide that it's a werewolf, and Giles is nearly peeing his pants with excitement about researching this "classic" monster. He drops some exposition on us--werewolves are humans for all but three nights out of the month, and may be totally unaware of their wolfish activities. He and Buffy go back to Lookout Point to capture the werewolf--not kill it--and run into some random werewolf hunter who wants to kill, not capture. Conflict of interest!


I forgot to mention that Larry, the oafish jock from Halloween, has been wandering around harassing female students all throughout the episode. He makes some comment to Oz about wanting to be in a Buffy/Willow sandwich, and approaches another student, Theresa, in gym class (where they're practicing self-defense) and says, "I may have to attack you." Then he mentions that he was attacked by a big dog in the bushes. THEN Angelus stalks Theresa at night, holding a delicate flower and asking her if she knows Buffy. Guys are such animals you know???


The Budget Gin Blossoms are riling the kids at The Bronze into an erotic frenzy, except for Cordelia and Willow, who commiserate about how their boyfriends are GUYS and GUYS are such animals and are always acting like GUYS. They're interrupted by a werewolf inexplicably dropping from the ceiling. Acrobat werewolf.

Werewolf Van Helsing shames Buffy for letting the werewolf at The Bronze get away and blames her female deficiencies. Larry the jock is probably out somewhere being an asshole. Angelus has a faceoff with the werewolf where they singlehandedly lay the groundwork for the entirety of Twilight. GUYS, you know?

The werewolf gets sleepy and passes out in the woods. Come morning, he transforms into his human form, and you will be shocked to see that he's...

OZ!
He's a little freaked out by waking up naked in the woods. He suspects that he may be the werewolf of legend, so he calls up his aunt and asks if Jordy, his cousin who recently bit him, is a werewolf. Turns out he's right. So matter-of-fact, this one.

I have very mixed feelings about the reveal that Oz is a werewolf. Hokay get ready for a LONG rant. I think I once read Joss Whedon saying that he thought it would be funny to make Oz a werewolf because monsters in the show are all meant to be metaphors for teen angst of some sort. If you haven't seen the show, it may not have come across that Oz's character is supposed to be very ~cool~ in the sense that he takes everything in stride, man, and speaks only to make straight little quips, and is so level-headed. So the fact that he now becomes a murderous, flesh-hungry monster three nights a month is supposed to mean...what? That deep down all dudes, even Oz, have an animalistic side that they just repress? The episode says as much, presenting Oz the werewolf alongside Angelus, Larry, and Werewolf Van Helsing, all of whom pose a threat of verbal and physical violence against women--particularly sexual violence. When Giles describes the werewolf as "potent, extreme representation of our inborn, animalistic traits" (and no don't even get me started on this essentialist nonsense), Buffy responds, "So your typical male."

So I can see what the episode is going for, but the monster methaphor will cause so many problems for Buffy that it's almost not worth symbolically tying it to the lives of teenagers. Presenting Oz as a guy who is afflicted by a disease and cannot control himself when he unleashes the monster inside of him is one thing when you're ONLY talking about monsters, but when this is meant to mirror the inner rage and machismo of teenage dudes, it becomes really muddy and irresponsible. This is compounded by the fact that once Willow discovers he's a werewolf (spoilers!) she says, "I'm not fun to be around three days out of the month, either." So I guess hellbeasts that rip open the flesh of innocents are the metaphorical equivalent of ladies on their periods in the universe of Buffy. This show, you guys.

Plus, these werewolves look soooo stupid.


Back at the library, the Scoobies discover that the werewolf killed Theresa. Oz doesn't want to reveal that he is the werewolf, as Buffy has now expressed an interest in killing it with fire. Lucky for him, the gang immediately suspect Larry the oaf, and Xander runs off to confront him in the locker room, intimating that he knows Larry's secret. Larry admits that he does have a secret, and the two have a classic zany mishap in which Xander says "I know your secret because I've been there too!" and Larry says "It'll ruin me!" and Xander says "It's best to talk about it," and then Larry finally admits his secret--that he's gay. Xander is like sooo grossed out by this and is so offended that Larry now thinks he's gay. Like how embarrassing, ewww!!!

So Larry is not the werewolf, but rather a fulfillment of the fantasy that the big dumb jock is actually gay and isn't that so funny! Whatever, show.

Buffy and Xander discover that Theresa was not actually killed by the werewolf, but by a vampire--Angelus, in fact. Theresa rises from her casket to give Buffy the message that Angel sends his love. Buffy is shaken up and takes temporary refuge in Xander's arms, because she realizes that Angelus is going to keep coming after her. Xander is like WOAH BUFFY YOU ARE SO HOT I TOTALLY WISH WE COULD MAKE OUT RIGHT NOW!!!

On the plus side, this exonerates Oz, and he won't have to live with the guilt of having killed a human. The downside is that he hasn't told anyone his secret, and is instead trying to handle it on his own by ordering shackles from Ebay and tying himself down. Unfortunately for everyone, Willow chooses that specific moment to go to his house and confront him about their lack of smoochies. Just in time for him to turn into the werewolf and chase her down.


Buffy goes after Werewolf Van Helsing so that he won't kill Oz, showing that she has realigned her moral compass. Then Willow shoots Oz with a tranquilizer, which is maybe somehow symbolic of her calming the wild beast inside of him. Van Helsing whines that nobody in Sunnydale is man enough to do the job that needs to be done, so Buffy grabs his big phallic gun and bends the barrel with her bare hands. Ouchh.


Willow and Oz have a heart-to-heart about how they are going to deal with his newfound...affliction. Willow says that she's going to stand by her man, and they'll figure out how to deal. Then, she takes the reins and kisses HIM! The camera zooms in on Oz's smiley face as he says, "A werewolf in love!" The end. WTF? Buffy can be quite corny but that was just beyond the pale.

Favorite moment: This episode is pretty stupid (Angelus gets short shrift, the series trips over its own metaphors, etc.) but the beginning has a charming shout-out to Witch, all the way back in Season 1! At the beginning of the episode, Oz is transfixed by the cheerleader trophy that contains Amy's mama and the way it looks like "its eyes follow you!"

"I like it!" he says, nodding approvingly.