Sunday, January 29, 2012

Amends

Season #3, Episode #10: Amends

"Your Christmas will be his wake."


A couple years ago, I began watching my first episode of Buffy in my friend's living room with much disinterest. But I was almost immediately hooked by the same impulse that makes me want to revisit every generic alt rock band I heard on Q101 at the age of five and wear see-through lace tops in the 21st century. There's a reason that this video is my happy place.

So it was only an added bonus that the appeal of Season One included a little more than 90s nostalgia. Sure, there's humor, and B-movie humor, and some chills, with lovable characters, etc. But underneath all the goofy dialogue there is a comfortable, well-worn coming-of-age story about teenage girls and their doomed bad boy lovers. As much as I thought Angel was one-note and David Boreanaz couldn't act, I was drawn to his plotline, always. The best episodes of the first two seasons, in my opinion, all revolve around Buffy and Angel.

And kudos to Whedon and co. for coming up with a way to transition Angel from token brooding boyfriend into the more nuanced world of Season Two. Having seen all seven seasons, I still think bringing Angelus back was the most brilliant plot development the show ever invented. But now that it's Season Three, we watch with painful awareness that Angel is only on the show because of his spinoff potential. Buffy's arc included Angel, but extends far beyond him. So what to do with a somewhat-developed character who started as a trope?

Amends gives us a small hint at what Angel might become in his future spinoff. Actually, the episode is kind of a trailer for Angel the Series, which will be almost a complete departure in terms of tone and theme. And it is really great, and you should all watch it, seriously.

The episode opens with a flashback, which means David Boreanaz attempting to affect an Irish accent. Also, Irish Angelus looks kinda like Josh Brolin, no?

In this flashback, Angelus kills a dude in Dublin on Christmas. In present day Sunnydale, Angel wakes up from a terrible nightmare of said flashback. He runs into the street and has an awkward run-in with Buffy, who it appears he hasn't seen for a long time. But who should he see staring morosely in the distance but the Irish dude he just dreamed about killing? It's so distracting, he doesn't even notice Buffy's terrible new bangs.

It's almost Christmas vacation, and the Scoobies are feeling the holiday blues. Buffy will spend Christmas with Joyce, moping apart from Angel. Willow misses Oz dot com. And Xander plans on spending Christmas night lying in his sleeping bag in his backyard, which Cordelia rudely tells everyone is because he wants to avoid his family's drunken Christmas fights. At last, we offer Xander some mitigating back story!

Cordelia may not be ready to play nice, but Oz and Willow want to make Amends. Oz announces that he's willing to give it another shot, and it's actually quite sweet despite the fact that his character barely even exists when he's onscreen.

At the Christmas tree lot, Joyce suggests that she and Buffy invite Faith over for Christmas. Buffy is none too pleased, and spends about five minutes eerily creeping up to the center of the lot where one imagines she is about to find a heap of corpses, but actually finds a bunch of dead trees.

Cut to a creepy montage that invokes the likes of Season One with it's Gregorian chanters and bones and candles. A bunch of Voldemorts with Xs for eyes worship at an altar. But it turns out this is just another one of Angel's dreams, and another opportunity to fulfill David Boreanaz's shirtless scene quota.

Angel goes to ask Giles for help interpreting his creepy visions, but Giles tells Angel that he is complete scum and how dare he even show his face!! Considering that the show goes to great lengths to differentiate between Angel with and without a soul, Giles' behavior seems a bit petty, but since there is no real life example of this soul lore, none of the characters will ever be able to react to it in a way that makes much real world sense.

Anyway, Giles agrees to let bygones be bygones, but only if Angel doesn't mind having a crossbow pointed at him at all times. Angel tells Giles that he has to understand why he was freed from an eternity of suffering in hell, but gets distracted when the specter of Jenny Calendar appears in the room, invisible to Giles.

Shirtless scene #3 involves another flashback/dream to a fancy Christmas party in ye olden times. Angelus (and his mustache) corners a maid, who believes he is trying to rape her, when really he is about to do the symbolic vampire-y equivalent. Dream Angelus stops suddenly when he sees Buffy staring at him in disbelief. Cut to Buffy waking up with a start. We are to understand that Buffy appeared in Angel's dream because she was also having the same dream at the same time. Just go with it, y'all.

When Angel wakes up, Jenny Calendar has arrived at his creepy palace to taunt him. Angel repeatedly apologizes for what he did, but Jenny assures him that she doesn't want him to feel bad--she just wants him to see himself for who he really is. Also, Jenny begins morphing into the various different people Angel killed. Whaa?

Buffy runs to Giles, who begrudgingly agrees to help figure out whatever is wrong with Angel. Touchingly, Xander asks if he can help Angel too, and makes Amends with Buffy for being such an unfathomable douche. Willow comes in to see what's the haps, and the group gathers to research in the library just like the good old days.

Meanwhile in Angel's lair, the neverending parade of Angel's victims continues, this time including a father who congratulates Angel on the artful way he murdered his two children. The maid tells him that he's a special beast because of the way he takes pleasure in killing. When Angel appeals to Jenny that he was once a man, she asks him to take a look at what kind of a man he was via flashback. It seems he was a bit of a drunken fratboy, but in ye olden times.

The creepy spirit does a bit of a good cop/bad cop number on Angel, at once telling him that he was a worthless creature with no talent except cruelty and stroking his neck, telling him it will all be okay. This is all to say that Angel is a trembling mess. Then he and Buffy both fall asleep and dream about boning.

Jenny takes this opportunity to tell Angel that he obviously wants Buffy, and if he would just let himself have her, that he would be free from the pain of having a conscience. Who would ever suggest that Angel do such a stupid thing?

Giles discovers Who in the library. The spirit is called The First, or the world's first evil. It is an intangible, pure distillation of evil that depends on the aforementioned Voldemorts to exact physical damage on earth. In the meantime, it just tries to drive people crazy and make them do evil stuff. The First is a great idea in theory, as it turns the entire concept of evil into an entity that pervades all and can't be fought. (But as we'll see in Season Seven, it is a terrible, terrible idea in practice.)

This is all a bit serious and doom and gloom and boring to read about. Willow offers some levity as she tries to make Amends with Oz by putting Mountain Dew on ice and playing some Barry White and offering, "I'm ready to, with you...we could do that thing." Luckily, he says no. But it's still pretty cute.

Back at the Summers home, Joyce asks, "So Angel's on top again?"

Faith interrupts this awkward moment by showing up to celebrate Christmas with the Summers after all. She even brought crappy gifts. Buffy runs upstairs for some decorations, only to find a very disturbed and confused Angel. Jenny eggs him on, saying, "She wants you to taste her," and promising if he does, he'll be left alone. Buffy's attempts to bring Angel back to reality fail, and he dramatically shouts, "Leave me alone!" and jumps out the window. And yeah it's kinda hilarious.

Buffy divines that The First is camping out beneath the Christmas tree lot with all the dead trees, and goes to have an epic battle. This pisses off The First, who appears as Jenny Calendar to tell Buffy all about evil and how it is everywhere and in every thought and in every thing ever. Though this is kind of an intimidating idea, Buffy is not at all impressed...and since The First can't be fought, Buffy simply runs off to find Angel and rescue him from certain death.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Angel decided that rather than killing Buffy to rid himself of The First, he would kill himself instead. He realizes now that The First somehow managed to bring him back from hell to do its bidding, and that his reason for existing is to do evil. Buffy finds him standing on a ledge reflecting on all the little kiddies nestled snug in their beds, and desperately asks him to come inside before sunrise.

Okay, maybe I'm just a huge sap, but I think the following scene is one of the most effective moments in the series. It's hard to describe, so here's a Youtube video. Please try to ignore all the comments about how they are soo much better than Bella and Edward.



The scene works for me on a few levels. First, as a culmination of the events of the episode; The First tries to drive Angel to kill Buffy, and then to suicide, by making him doubt the possibility of redemption. Second, it works to set up the themes for Angel the Series--which, in my humble opinion, does a better job on the whole of relating supernatural plotlines to the real world. His recent foray into the world of Angelus, and the events of this episode, force Angel to realize that a deep part of him desires to give into his baser impulses. He wants to take comfort in Buffy and sometimes doesn't care about the consequences. At the same time, he wants to redeem himself, but feels that it is futile. The line between Liam the Irish Guy, Angel, and Angelus is not as clear cut as Buffy and Buffy would like it to be.

(A bit of a tangent, but I was struck by the fact that this episode and The Wish are both pretty dark, but in completely different ways. The Wish presents a grimy, bleak portrait of the world, whereas Amends is far more internal. This is a split between the two TV series as well; Buffy follows a cast of characters trying to keep it together when the world is at stake, while Angel explores people who try to fathom their purpose in a world where very little is at stake.)

But on a more immediately satisfying level, this is just a powerful depiction of a fight between people who love each in a very dysfunctional way. One tries to pull the other out of a dark place, and can't. They're stubborn, they fight, they hit each other, they cry. Buffy tries to appeal to Angel by forgiving him and telling him that she loves him in spite of the terrible things he's done to her. They struggle, but they know it's over. It's full of the melodrama of Season One, but here, it's honest and it hits hard. (And SMG is just sooooo good.)

What the video doesn't show is that out of nowhere, it begins to snow.

This is played off as a bit of a miracle--not only does it rarely snow in Los Angeles, but this prevents the sun from rising and Angel from dying. The episode ends with a montage of the Scoobies reacting in awe to the miracle of snow. I guess many people consider this to be kind of a copout, but I think it's a bittersweet reprieve for Buffy and Angel. They think it's the end of the world and wear themselves out fighting until they have no more energy, and then the next day begins. The sun still rises, or in this case, it doesn't rise.

Damn you, Joss, for getting it so right sometimes.

Favorite moment: Not a moment, but kudos to Robia LaMorte, who agreed to reprise her role as Jenny Calendar even though she had since found religion and wasn't too happy about portraying the purest form of evil. And she gives a great performance, going from pissed off as hell to sensual and nurturing at the drop of a hat.

3 comments:

  1. So much to say!

    I have decided to give Angel a shot, because you framed the show so well in this recap (seriously, you should pitch television shows to network executives!).

    Robia LaMorte--hahahahahahah. I don't know; she always struck me as way too hammy. She has the same sort of arc importance as Drusilla in terms of how they impact leading male characters, but Drusilla's inane guffawing tickles me whereas Robia overacts her parts to death. Oh, Christians.

    I think the instances where Giles shits on ensouled Angel are evidence of bad writing. Or, at the very least, the writers are finding the soul/soulless binary far too restrictive of a moral ontology for the Buffyverse, but they can't seem to escape the ever present question of a vampire's autonomy. "The person leaves and a demon enters their body" cannot be the same thing as "You did a lot of horrifying things and you must make AMENDS," and yet the writers squirm till their pants drop off to make it so. What even is agency in the Buffyverse? It seems contingent on some vague notion of guiltiness, but the doer behind the deed's identity can never be nailed down.

    The First is fairly terrifying for its debut. It never should have tried to amass an army in Season 7. Breaking the Scoobies down through spreading lies and deceit a la an Iago would have been more satisfying. I prefer the First's methods to incapacitate Angel in this episode than the nonsense with a vampire mosh pit beneath Sunnydale in S7.

    SMG reminds us all why she should play every part. Can any other actor on the show hold a candle to her? Perhaps Anthony Head?

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  2. Yay! I'm glad you're watching Angel! I'm interested to hear what you have to say about it. It takes a while to get going, but it builds goodwill over time, rather than squandering it away like Buffy.

    I like Robia as The First! Maybe now that I've seen everyone else on the show play The First, I appreciate her take on it more or something. Granted she gets more to do in this episode than just say mean things to ~Crazy Spike~ over and over.

    As for the soul narrative, the bane of the show's existence, I think the writers largely want us to forget that little moment in "Angel" (the episode) where he or Buffy stipulates that the demon has nothing to do with the human. Now, it seems they're trying to build up the idea that something about Liam from Ireland made him a particularly good vampire. Buffy paints itself into a corner, and Angel the Series will benefit by starting fresh and spending a lot of time explaining that what happened on Buffy was inaccurate/nonsensical.

    As far as agency, I think the best statement the show makes is thru Spike. I know people hate what happens with his character in seasons 5-6 but I consider that arc to be the most coherent explanation of demons having free will. And so, to me, it's also the most effective attempt to relate these "demons" to the real world. If you can imagine a human being who always acts out of self-interest and ignores their conscience, you have Spike.

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  3. Oh, and I think Anthony Head and James Marsters are both great, but they don't have as much to do. I buy SMG as a comedienne and as a badass action star, but she can be soo sad, even though I think this episode and "Dead Things" (my all-time favorite) may be the only two in which she actually cries.

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