Sunday, March 24, 2013

Choices

Season #3, Episode #19: Choices
"You should get captured more often."

Today you get two reviews for the price of one. Why? Because Choices barely counts as an episode. Nothing happens. It's all plot, but somehow, there's no plot. Once all is said and done, Wesley summarizes the events of the episode: "We're right back where we started." And we're meant to see Wesley as an out-of-touch fuddy-duddy who can't appreciate the deeper subtleties of life. But really...the episode ends the same way it begins.

To begin. Faith and the Mayor--whose relationship I've already written doesn't convince me--have another father daughter bonding moment. He buys her a gift, complete with a bow. But before you start thinking this is a Giles-esque gesture, he threatens to take it away when she talks back. Clutching the gift, which turns out to be a fancy knife (flashes of The Zeppo's "Katie,") Faith says, "I'm sorry. Sir."


Then we get to a point where I realize that it really has been a long time since I updated this blog and I have no idea what's going on. Buffy and Angel patrol in the cemetery, and Buffy complains that Angel never takes her anywhere nice and that when they're 50 they'll still be back in the same graveyard. And I'm like, wait, they're a couple?? Hasn't Buffy spent the entire season reassuring the Scoobies that they are never ever getting back together, like ever?


Or maybe I just forgot the part where they got back together, because even as a happy couple, they're always looking for ways out. Always brooding, talking about how it can't work, doing shirtless yoga.

Escape route #3 presents itself to Buffy in the form of an acceptance letter from Northwestern. Please remember that if you can suspend disbelief long enough to forget the kids eating their principal or Joyce trying to burn Buffy at the stake, you can accept that Buffy managed to make it to her senior year of high school let alone get accepted to Northwestern.

There's college buzz abound at Sunnydale High: Willow got accepted to Oxford, "where they make Gileses," and Xander plans on attending the university of life. The chatter is too tempting to Buffy, who begs proud papa Giles and Wesley to let her escape to Northwestern. While they don't come right out and tell her "no," they do seem to err on the side of Cordelia, who tells Buffy, "This conversation is reserved for people who have a future."


Faith heads down to the infamous Docks of Ill Repute to receive a Sinister Package for the Mayor.


The Scoobies discuss a game plan for confronting the Mayor; my eyes glaze over. This is what Willow is wearing.


Xander runs along to do his part of the Scooby Plan (which I have since learned involves destroying a box) and runs into Cordelia, who is shopping for this beautiful creation.


He mocks her for not having gotten into any schools, but she presents him with acceptance letters to USC, Colorado State, Duke, and Columbia. Very respectable if not totally random.

At the Mayor's office, Buffy, Angel and Willow launch a recon mission to retrieve the box that they want to destroy. Buffy pulls a Mission Impossible but sets off the alarm; vampire fight ensues. Charmingly, Buffy and Angel thwart the vampires by pushing a table onto them and running real fast.

While they escape, Faith manages to capture Willow. The Scoobies know that the only way of getting her back is by giving the Mayor his box back. Wesley rightly points out that this box is necessary for the ascension and they have the means to destroy it; if they give it back in exchange for Willow, thousands will die. But we love Willow. Everyone wants to slap Wesley a lot.


Willow manages to break into the Mayor's office and discovers his file cabinet full of ancient artifacts and gross things. More importantly, she finds the "Books of Ascension." Cue montage of Willow sitting on the floor reading the Books of Ascension. She's interrupted by Faith, and acts as an audience proxy (at least for this audience member) by tearing Faith down.


Willow doesn't get a lot of big moments, particularly in the early seasons. And there's never been any love lost between Willow and Faith, largely due to mutual jealousy over the other's relationship with Buffy. But she gets up from her book reading montage, looks Faith in the eye, and tells her that she doesn't care about her Troubled Past or her nebulous Daddy Issues. And I'm like, OMG Willow, neither do I!! She even has the cajones to call Faith a "big, selfish, worthless waste," for which she receives a beating. But didn't it feel goooood, Willow?


Remember the beginning of this episode, and also the entire first three seasons of this show? The part about Buffy wanting to have a normal life that involves Northwestern, Angel, and growing up to be 50 years old? The Mayor explicates all this and more in the Sunnydale High cafeteria where the trade takes place. He takes a moment to offer his two cents about Buffy and Angel's relationship, particularly that Angel is selfish for wanting to keep Buffy when she deserves to live her life as a teenager who isn't deficient in Vitamin D. This is almost exactly what happened when Spike came back to Sunnydale in Lovers Walk, but hey, we have 42 minutes to fill here.

"But Rose," you're probably wondering as you white knuckle your mouse. "What is in that mysterious box?" Even if you've seen the episode, you probably don't remember because it is so pointless.


Well, there's your answer. Snyder busts into the cafeteria to break up the secret meeting. One of his guards opens the box and a spider jumps out and eats his face.

The rest of the episode follows as such. Spiders break out of the box. It is dark in the cafeteria so they can't see the spiders, but turning the lights on would be too logical. Buffy accidentally falls on top of one. Faith kills the other with her fancy knife. "Are there any more?" somebody asks. The Mayor responds that inside of the box, there are 50 billion! No word as to WTF they are or why an entire episode revolves around them.

The trade executed, it's time for everyone to go home. Faith stares longingly at her fancy knife, which is lodged in the wall. At the beginning of the episode, she was at a low. Her attempts to gain the advantage over Buffy--which increasingly seems like her only real motivation--were thwarted episodes ago. She didn't really want Angel, but she wants to be wanted by Angel. She doesn't want to be Buffy, but wants to get out of Buffy's shadow. And she bristles under the watch of the Council, but craves the validation of an authority figure. The knife was something special; a gift meant for her and only her, given to her by the one person who finds her more valuable than Buffy. But at the end of Choices, she has to leave it behind.



But she's not alone. Buffy leaves behind her dream of going to Northwestern, which was never really more than a carrot dangling in front of her face.

Willow leaves behind her dream of going abroad, instead deciding to going to UC Sunnydale. She insists it isn't about Buffy--she got a taste of power back at the Mayor's office and now feels that she belongs in Sunnydale, fighting the forces of evil, developing her powers. Remember this in Season 6. I'll be sure to come back to it in 2019 when I begin reviewing Season 6.

And most poignantly, it turns out that Cordelia wasn't shopping for a dress all those scenes ago; she's a shopgirl! She longingly stares at it in the storeroom mirror before her boss shouts at her that break is over. She leaves behind her dream of...owning a really pretty dress. And why? You'll have to tune in next week. We wouldn't want to reveal any pertinent information in Choices.


Favorite moment: The Willow/Faith showdown. But since that's already been covered, I'll give you an Oz moment. When Wesley insists that they need to destroy the box rather than use it to get Willow back, emotions run high. Everyone's shouting except for Oz, who sits calmly and stares ahead. Just when things hit a fever pitch, he stands up, knocks over the Magic Urn with which they would destroy the box, making that no longer an option.

 

Ahh, true love <333

Earshot

Season #3, Episode #18: Earshot


"Hi Mr. Beech. I was just wondering. Were you planning on killing a bunch of people tomorrow? Oh, it's for the yearbook."


I've been busy, I swear.

I know what you're thinking. What kind of horrible circumstance could possibly have kept me so busy since August that I haven't been able to make the time to watch a measly 42-minute Buffy episode?

To that I say: I know right?

And I also say...
 

A word on our Jonathan. What happened to this guy? Back in Buffy days, Jane Espenson had to fight to get him any screen time, and now he's a Golden Globe and Emmy winner who will be making $6 trillion writing the next Hunger Games screenplay?

I dedicate this review to him.

If you remember what happened back in July, Angel and Buffy executed a devious plan to extract information from Faith re: the Mayor's ascension. But even with the help of Wesley who I forgot was on the show, Oz's bleach blonde spiky hair, and Buffy's pastel pink sweater set, they're no closer to figuring out what this "ascension" means.



Percy approaches Willow at her locker to ask if they can reschedule their study session, and then if she'll be coming to watch him play in the basketball game. Remember Percy? He's the douchebag jock from Doppegangland who Willow was forced to tutor. Now they are totes bff, and I don't know about your high school, but this is probably the least realistic element of the episode. And the show is called "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."



Buffy wishes she could go to the basketball game but can't angst too long because she's distracted by an itch she just can't scratch. Literally. I forgot to mention that while patrolling, she stabbed a demon and Alex Mack-esque goo blood spilled onto her hand and caused a rash. According to Giles, if they don't figure out the cure she'll take on some of the traits of the demon she slayed..."horns, scales," or, as Willow points out, "Was it a boy demon...?"

She takes a moonlit stroll to reflect upon what may be her last days as a female human, where Angel is naturally lurking in the shadows, following her. He noticed that she seemed preoccupied by something and thought if he followed her 10 steps behind he might magically divine what's wrong. When she tells him about the demon blood, he assures her that he'll do whatever he can and he'll always be with her, to which my sister and I both just yelled in unison, "LIAR!!!!!!!!!!!"



But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Back at Sunnydale High, Cordelia brags to the Scoobies about her superior cheerleading and pyramid skills to the perpetual manchild Xander. Buffy hears Xander saying, "I wonder if Cordelia and Wesley have kissed yet," and she responds in turn. But it turns out Xander didn't say it out loud with his mouth...he thought it out loud in his head!!!

Soon she's walking down the hallway overhearing all the thoughts of Sunnydale High's finest: worrying about French homework, inexplicably thinking "someday my pants are just going to just fall down," and fantasizing pervily about Buffy.



And this is all well and good. At first Buffy finds the prospect of telepathy exciting, but soon discovers things she'd rather not. In the library she discovers that while Giles is discussing her new telepathic powers, he's really thinking about Buffy's ugly shoes. In class she steals theories on Othello from a brainy student's...brain. She hears Willow's surprise that Buffy actually understood the reading.



Things all come to a head when the Scoobies meet in the library to discuss Buffy's newfound power. The episode gets mileage out of the question, "What are these characters thinking and not saying?" Xander thinks about naked girls, Wesley chastises himself for his lust for Cordelia. Willow is self-conscious that Buffy won't need her anymore, and Oz humorously reveals hidden depths as he ponders the philosophical meaning of it all. And Queen Cordy? She thinks exactly what she says.



One by one, the Scoobies run from the library and Buffy's mind reading powers to escape their covers being blown. Dejected, Buffy takes another stroll down the halls of Sunnydale High, only this time other peoples' thoughts run deeper than the imminent falling down of pants. Kids, you see, are all really emo. They don't know why they don't have boobs and hate themselves and everyone else. Plus the music is much scarier, particularly when we cut to Giles discovering that Buffy will never be able to shut her power off no matter how crazy it makes her.

In the cafeteria, a cesspool of teens and their loud, loud, thoughts, Buffy manages to pick out a lone voice saying, "By this time tomorrow, I'll kill you all."



It's all too much for Buffy, who passes out from the mental invasion. She needs to stop the cafeteria killer, but can't bear to be around people. And they don't want to be around her, either. Yet another one of Buffy's powers that seems awesome in the abstract but alienating in reality. Like how being a special chosen one is only great insofar as you wouldn't rather just be a cheerleader. And super strength is fun except for when it makes you fail at said cheerleader tryouts. And invisibility is great except for when you can't find Andrew Keegan lurking in the girls locker room. Oh wait, that's Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

A word on the timing of this episode. Y'all are crazy Buffy fans who are reading my blog, right? So you probably already know that the episode ended up airing after the finale because the Columbine shooting occurred a week before it was originally set to air.

Now, I knew all of this. But it never occurred to me just how prescient the episode actually is considering that Columbine hadn't even happened. For example, when the Scoobies take over for Buffy to discover the mass-murderer-to-be, we hear the following exchange:

Xander: I’m still having trouble with the fact that one of us is just going to gun everybody down for no reason.
Cordelia: Yeah, because that never happens in American high schools.

Maybe this is why the rest of the episode is a bit of a tonal clusterjam. It's not just that Buffy's powers turn from fun to debilitating. It's that the search for the shooter that ensues is played for laughs, but also, they are searching for a school shooter. Columbine was not the first school shooting by any means, but for better or worse, the event transformed national discourse. Earshot's irreverent take on school shooting walks a fine line, but it's largely an issue of timing.

Anyway, let's see if the episode manages to acquit itself!

The Scoobies take over for Buffy by interrogating every student who was in the cafeteria. When Oz asks the star basketball player if his popularity causes him to put on a fake persona and how much strain this causes, the athlete says, "Moderate strain?" When Xander asks Larry, the gay bully from Go Fish, if his being closeted has filled him with unexpressed rage, Larry says that he's "so out, my grandma is fixing me up with guys!" Willow tries to get tuff with Jonathan despite her winking cat t-shirt.



But when they go to interview Freddy, head of the Sunnydale High paper and author of such cover stories as, "Apathy On The Rise, No One Cares," he's hiding under his desk in a manner that is indicative of a guilty person.



Angel turns up at the Summers household with a chunky fluorescent blue concoction to feed to Buffy. Maybe I missed the part where they explained what this stuff is but I assume it's some kind of antidote. She seems to find it as delicious as it looks.



But then it works! Buffy can't hear anyone's thoughts, but they're no closer to finding the killer. Willow and Oz corner Freddy, who seems to be The Guy, but it turns out he's been hiding because he wrote a scathing review of a Dingoes Ate My Baby show. Just when they're about to run out of time, Cordelia finds a charming Letter to the Editor from Jonathan, who intimates that he is going to do some drastic death-related thing.

Sure enough, we see Jonathan prepping his automatic weapons up in the school bell tower, because schools have bell towers. Buffy rushes up there to confront him, but not as a Slayer. No, this time she's armed with the knowledge that teenagers are all super emo, and it's not just Jonathan who is lonely, angry, and confused. Then she does something of a rendition of "Jumper" by Third Eye Blind until Jonathan hands over the gun and reveals that he didn't plan on killing anybody else but himself.



Arguably, this makes the rest of the episode easier to swallow, as the school shooter plot line ended up being a red herring.

So with no time to spare, and no insight into the identity of the killer, Xander sneaks into the cafeteria to find some more delicious, delicious jello. There, he finds the lunch lady in a situation which you might describe as "incriminating."





So with the mass murder thwarted, Jonathan's suicide attempt nipped in the bud, and Xander's death-by-Jello unfortunately prevented, what did we learn? Buffy tells Giles that Jonathan is in big trouble and no closer to being accepted by his peers what with the bringing assault weapons to school. But with her new insights into the pain of the rest of the teens at Sunnydale High who don't even have to be the Slayer, will she respond positively to his hints that he wants to ask her to prom? "Ew, no, he's like three feet tall!"

Dark, but realistic.

Favorite moment: When Buffy rests at home to block out the voices in her head, Joyce keeps a respectable distance from Buffy's telepathic powers. And what does she have to hide? As Buffy discovers: "You had sex with Giles? On the hood of a cop car? Twice??"



This culminates in the final scene of the episode, in which Buffy and Giles debrief. With things back to normal, Giles asks if Buffy is up for some training. "Sure," Buffy says, "we could work out after school, you know, if you’re not too busy having sex with my mother!"



Roll credits.