Sunday, April 1, 2012

Bad Girls

Season #3, Episode #14: Bad Girls

"Want. Take. Have."

I started this blog about one year and four months ago. My very first review of Welcome to the Hellmouth was a whopping 729 words. At the time, I found this embarrassingly long, and subsequent reviews were more in the 400 word range.

My last review (The Zeppo) was 2,597 words long.

I can cite some reasons for the ever-increasing length of these reviews. Surely more sophisticated Season 3 episodes warrant more analysis than The Harvest. And also, I tend to babble in search of a point.

But the real reason I can't shut up is that the more I write about Buffy, the more I become interested in the arcs, the series-long themes, and the structure of the show. I'm not just making quips about the goings-on of each episode. For stupid reasons, I find it necessary to tackle the entire series thru each episode.

99% of the time, this is unwarranted. But then there are episodes like Bad Girls. Like Surprise/Innocence, the events of this episode will cast a shadow on every episode to come. Almost every season of Buffy meanders for the first 2/3, only to have the plot arrive for the final episodes. Some seasons prepare us better than others. Whether you enjoy the rest of Season 3 depends on you buying into this episode. It's a gamechanger.

The first time around, I wasn't buying. I found the latter half of the season infuriating. But this time around, I'm armed with the knowledge of what's yet to come, and I'm hoping Bad Girls can change my mind.

We begin with a bang. Buffy and Faith slay side-by-side, but Faith can't get her mind off the fact that Buffy and Xander have never had sex. She asks, "All the sweating nightly, side-by-side action, and you never put in for a little after hours uhh?" Oh, Faith's dialogue.

Now, let's pause here. On the surface, this is yet another example of free spirit Faith being liberated in the face of prudish Buffy. But considering that Faith just had sex with Xander in the last episode, you can also see Faith's indignation as an attempt to get Buffy to approve of her boning Xander. And when Buffy (who doesn't know what happened in The Zeppo) reacts with disgust, Faith feels disgusted with herself--or else feels irritated at holier-than-thou Buffy.

And one level below that is the fact that this is so super homoerotic. The question Faith posed ("All the sweating nightly, side-by-side action, and you never put in for a little after hours uhh?") could just as easily be asked of Buffy and Faith. This is the most homoerotic episode of Buffy, period. Get excited.

ANYWAY. Mr. Trick, the Mayor, and the Deputy Mayor, Alan, discuss a new variety of vampires who have come to town. They also discuss their favorite cartoons--the Mayor and Trick like Family Circus and Marmaduke respectively, and look on bemused when Alan says he prefers Cathy. This is the Mayor's M.O. Obsession with minutiae. Good hygiene. Family values.

Importantly, they allude to the Mayor's "ascension," which will take place in due course. He hopes that he can unleash the Slayers on these new vampires and that the two will kill each other. He doesn't have a vendetta. He just wants them out of his way, preferably without getting his hands dirty.

Back at school, Giles has an unwelcome guest in the form of Wesley Wyndham-Price, Buffy and Faith's new Watcher. He's young, stodgy, and British, like one imagines Giles might have been minus the whole selling his druggie soul to a demon thing. When Buffy arrives, her only question is, "Is he evil?" When Faith meets Wesley, she says, "Screw that," and leaves. "Hostile" is an understatement.

Faith tells Buffy that she won't let Wesley get in the way of her fun, because to her, that's what slaying is. Fun. And she insists that Buffy gets "juiced" when she stakes a vampire, too. Tellingly, Faith uses the same awful dialogue to describe slaying a vampire ("give it a good uhh!") as she did to describe boning Xander.

Wesley sends Buffy to recover an Amulet of Indiscriminate Importance, but she runs into a group of six vampires on the same mission. Faith turns up and recklessly follows the vamps against Buffy's protestations, outnumbered though they are. When one of the vamps tries to drown Buffy (just like in Prophecy Girl), she comes to stronger and lusting for life (just like in Prophecy Girl).

Buffy can't stop blabbing to the Scoobies about how much fun she had with Faith last night. Right in the middle of their chemistry test. Right on time, Faith shows up outside the classroom and writes the universal symbol for loveslaying on the window. Buffy ditches. She's looking for some uhh, after all.

And boy, does she get it. There's an excellent cut from the Slayers breaking into a vampire nest in daylight, ready to kill, to the two of them letting loose at The Bronze. To say Buffy got turned-on by her little afternoon outing isn't enough. Angel turns up, and Buffy pounces on him.

There's an actual plot to this episode. A really gross demon named Balthazar needs the amulet for A Reason. Buffy and Faith procure the amulet, but need to take out Balthazar before he steals it back. They decide to break into a sporting goods store to steal some crossbows for their mission, though I don't recall there being a lethal weapon section at my local Sports Authority. Faith reassures Buffy that a life of crime isn't so bad, and that her Slayer Motto is, "Want. Take. Have."

And then--whoops!--the cops show and arrest them. Faith flirts with the cops, but Buffy is petrified. Faith manages to convince her to take them down and crash the cop car, though it's totally harshing on Buffy's buzz.

The next night, Buffy and Faith head to Balthazar's lair to finish what they started. But this time around, Buffy just wants to get it over with. She's been neglecting her friends, freaking out her boyfriend, and falling under Faith's bad influence.

In an alleyway, some of Balthazar's lackeys attack from out of nowhere, and the Slayers fight them off one by one. Only when the Deputy Mayor pops out of nowhere, Faith doesn't realize he isn't a vampire, and stakes him. He collapses, and they watch him die before their eyes. They flee. But while Buffy heads off to take down Balthazar, Faith returns to the scene of the crime to think about what she's done.

The plot resolves, but this is the pivotal scene. It's all well and good to get off a little on killing demons day in and day out. But the show has not yet faced the issue of killing humans.

At the end of the episode, Buffy goes to Faith's motel to tell her that they need to figure out how they're going to deal with the murder. Faith has a Lady Macbeth moment, trying to scrub the bloodstains out of her clothes. She tells Buffy that they never need to talk about it again, because she disposed of the body.

The episode ends with the following exchange:

Buffy: Faith, you don't get it. You killed a man.
Faith: No, you don't get it. I don't care.

The writers could have taken this plot point a few different ways. Faith could have gone into a deep depression. She could have run away a la Buffy in Anne. But they take her somewhere else entirely. She's convinced now that she's a killer, not a slayer.

And I'm still not convinced that her trajectory over the next however many episodes is satisfying. I will admit that this episode was excellent, and definitely one of the best from Season 3. It sets up Buffy and Faith as mirrors better than any episode before. The philosophies of the two characters are fundamentally different, but sometimes uncomfortably parallel. Buffy can't let herself enjoy violence the way that Faith does, and so Faith will be the one who has to suffer the consequences. But to me, Faith is not strong enough a character to shoulder all the darkness of the series. We'll just have to wait and see.

Favorite moment: Oh yeah, I forgot to mention. The Mayor does a spell to make himself invincible.