Friday, March 23, 2007

Buffy Wednesday Continued

This may be a longer post than I expected.

So, last night, we watched four episodes of BTVS: "Surprise," "Innocence," "Phases," and "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered."

"Surprise" and "Innocence" was a two-parter, in which Buffy turns seventeen. Her friends throw her a party, a new villain known as The Judge shows up, and Buffy consummates her relationship with Angel, the Good Vampire. Due to his gypsy curse preventing him from ever achieving happiness, he loses his soul immediately afterward, and becomes Angel the Really Bad Vampire. With his soul gone, he is free to kill and snarl and saunter about, and be a villain that Buffy doesn't dare kill. I don't much care for the Angel character (which is going to make it hard when we have to choose whether or not to watch "Angel" in a couple months), but they really did something brilliant here.

I talked with tyranist a bunch of times about the fact that Buffy is only sixteen years old and yet dating a man who is not only a legal adult, but around two hundred years older than her. While I don't personally have a problem with adults sleeping with teenagers, this country has become fixated on it this past year with the advent of "Dateline: To Catch A Predator," which people love to watch and make fun of, always pretending it's not just another reality show, capitalising on humanity's lust for deceit, shame, and humiliation. As far as Buffy and Angel go, though, I wonder if the age difference issue bothered people in 1997 (when these episodes first aired), and I wonder if it would bother people now. However, the show is so well-written (and acted), that it's not really an issue. But I do wonder.

As I was saying, in the two episodes I was recapping, after Buffy has slept with Angel, he turns all cold and heartless, and every bit of tenderness and love he showed her before the act are gone. This is a blatant (yet very effective, this is not a criticism) parallel to the way males will often completely change after sex (having gotten what they wanted), and the betrayal women must feel when it happens to them. And God, the acting was good in this episode. While I can't really buy David Boreanaz as Bad Angel, Sarah Michelle Gellar's performance was the best I've ever seen her. The scene where she goes to her bedroom and cries (as well as the eighteen other times she cries in those episodes) was just heartbreaking.

I wonder, is there a reason why men change after sex? That Buffy felt this profound connection and beautiful closeness, and Bad Angel smirks and basically calls her a slut, well, there's not much that needs to be said there. It's got to hurt. Got to, 'cause it hurts just to watch it unfolding on a television show full of fictional characters.

It's nice to have someone to talk about a show you love with, and tyranist and I have shared a few words about "Buffy."* In fact, he and I had lunch after I started writing this post and he told me to mention that we are the only people on the globe that hate Angel. Well, here's a revelation: I don't hate him anymore. Oh sure, I did to begin with (and he's still my least favourite of the bunch). I felt like the character was designed to be smooth, attractive, and mysterious, but I found him to be vapid, motive-less, and uninteresting . . . until now. Bad Angel is interesting because he USED to be good, and because he has a deeper connection to our hero(ine) than anyone else she's faced. He knows her strengths, but he also knows her weaknesses and soft spots.

I still have difficulty believing the actor's performance (it's like the rare occasion of seeing Scott Bakula, or Bill Shatner, or Harrison Ford play a bad guy . . . they seem to hold back, and you're always waiting for the revelation that they were just pretending), but the writing is spot-on, and Boreanaz's performance may even be intentional, knowing that Good Angel will be back before to long, so let's not alienate his many fans.

Whedon and Company know, and really all good dramatic writers know, that while audiences want the characters to be happy, we only watch when they are suffering. So suffer they do. Joss has set up these pairings on the show: Buffy and Angel, Xander and Cordelia, Giles and Ms. Calender, and now Willow and Oz. Every relationship suffered in the four episodes we watched last night, and I'll give you twenty dollars if ANY single one of those relationships still exists when the series ends.

TV shows thrive on sexual tension, much more so than movies. We desperately want the characters to get together, but the game is to keep them apart as much as possible (note that I didn't say "as long as possible," because audiences will grow restless if Clark and Lana, or Dave and Maddie, or Hitler and Zeitl stay apart for too long), bringing them close, then pushing them away, and doing it in a seemingly-reasonable, seemingly-organic way. We have to yearn for them to find happiness, but not so long that we give up hope that happiness is within reach.

And frankly, a happy couple in love is boring. If you didn't know that, then you've never watched television or had buddies who got married and drifted away from you.

Romance is really hard to write. Maybe that's why I avoid it, but I have tried ("He tried and failed?" "He tried and died."). In the screenplay I wrote that was mostly a love story, I put a lot of myself into it, putting in as much kissy-wissy schmaltz as I dared because I knew things would not work out in the end. I'm a good writer (this blog notwithstanding), but I winced all through the group read-thru. The dialogue, which I wanted to sound heartfelt and real, was so trite and childish when read aloud, that I didn't even bother changing any of it in a rewrite, figuring nothing could be done.

But now I figure, if you have someone committed to the material, the way SMG or Allyson Hannigan was in the same episode, well hey, it totally works. So, Buffy and Angel are now separated, and I call it brilliant. "Surprise" and "Innocence" are, when taken together, the best BTVS has ever gotten. Just between you and me, I've never had my boyfriend lose his soul and go all evil after I just gave him the preciousest gift imaginable, but it sure feels like I have. I guess that's the secret, isn't it, to put as much truth and genuine emotion into the fantastic and unbelievable as you can, and it feels real somehow.

And while Buffy and Angel's relationship reaches a lowpoint with her defeating him in battle with a superhuman kick to the mechanism, I think Buffy and Giles's relationship reaches a highpoint when, in the car, he tells her how the times ahead will be difficult, but she has his support and confidence that she will overcome it all. The next scene is her and her mother, sharing some alone time, but Giles is the parent-figure that she can truly confide in, which is both nice and terribly sad.

I wonder if fans a decade ago saw this episode and knew that a line had been drawn, that something enormously special had just happened. I was moved and impressed enough to start a blog about the show, so I don't doubt it.

The third episode we watched last night was when Oz turns into a werewolf. Werewolves are cool.**

And the last episode we watched was the most fun. In it, Xander gets dumped by Cordelia on Valentine's Day (she's such a snot it's actually become cute), and in retaliation, he has a witch cast a love spell on her. The spell backfires, and everyone BUT Cordelia falls in love with him. Man, it was funny; they really took that idea as far as they could. Even Buffy's mother, Drusilla the Creepy English Vampire, and a lunchlady wanted him, and I was delighted (yeah, when I hear myself say things like that, it's not so shocking that I'm single). Xander is usually the character I most relate to (though it may have to be Spike now that he's deformed and in a wheelchair), and I'll never forget the time I put a love spell on someone and it went totally wrong like that. Ahh, memories.

We had only intended--or I had only intended--on watching one or two last night (and the week before), but they're just impossible to stop. It's like they used to say about Lay's Potato Chips:*** No one can eat just one. Given the right circumstances, we could burn through an entire season boxed set in a single weekend. Television is designed to be addictive. They don't make their money if everybody watches one episode, then, totally satisfied, then never watch another one. So, if they're worth their salt, they reel you in, create all sorts of plotlines that need to be resolved in the future, and characters you want to check in on every seven days.

And "Buffy" has totally done that for me. I've gone from zero to fan in, well, probably a month. Luckily, I had the blessing of coming to "Buffy" practically a virgin. I knew it went seven seasons, that eventually she would get a sister, that Angel would spin off into his own show, and that, at some undefined point, there would be singing. But most everything else has been a complete surprise.

Unfortunately, last night, I made the mistake of looking up "Buffy" online, to find out what the titles were and a bit of trivia, and I found out major spoilers for later in the season. That's too bad, but what's done is done. I said I was blessed with knowing little, but that also puts me at a disadvantage, spoiler-wise, for the comics or message boards or books or spin-off show. I can either stay the hell away from the internet (and the Season 8 comic), or expect many more unpleasant surprises in the coming days.

Wow, I'm realising I have a great deal to say about the show and its characters; much more than I'm willing to write up now. I feel like I missed out when this show was on and I had many more hours of disposable time to watch and comment on it (unlike now when I have to type this during work hours, looking over my shoulder like an escaping prisoner). But no use crying about that now. There's a lot more things going on in my life to cry about.

Rish Outfield

*I just realized that I've implied that I love "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Strange, but I guess I do.

**I guess I should say more about this episode. Tyranist thinks that because I wrote almost nothing that I didn't like it very much, but I just had little to say. He really champions the (inevitable) love affair between the Oz and Willow characters, but I sort of shrink away from it. Partly because Willow seems to be a person that is defined by her pain (which I can totally relate to), and partly because their interplay is just a little too cutesy for me to excitedly pull for them.
But it's been told to me that eventually, Willow will drop Scott Evil's affection for what his Austin Powers mother embraced . . ie "the love that dare not speak its name." So if the sparks really fly between Willow and Oz, or I totally pine for them to join body and soul, then I'm in for a rude, sapphic awakening. And if she discovers she really hails from the vaunted Isle of Lesbos, then did she not genuinely love Xander and Oz? And if so, then what of the argument that people are born gay or straight (nature or nurture?), other than the fact that these are not real people, but fictional characters manipulated by a rotating band of writers?
I have no answers here, hence I said nothing. And should have left it that way.

***Or was it cannibalism?

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