Thursday, April 12, 2007

Season Two, I Barely Knew Thee

12 April 2007

The Last Buffy Wednesday?

Probably not, but it's possible.

Of course, it's possible I will impregnate Kelly Brook, but just as likely.

So, last night, I went over to tyranist's house and we enjoyed the last two episodes of BTVS Season Two: "Becoming" 1 and 2. These episodes feed right into one another, and probably should be watched as a two hour movie, since they're not at all satisfying on their own.

So, a lot happens in these episodes. First of all, we get to see Angel's origin: when he is turned into a vampire, how he messes with Drusilla's head, and how he is cursed by the gypsies to get his soul back. We also see what happened to bring him to Sunnydale as the dark and mysterious stranger that showed up in the pilot. All of this was really well done, but I still have a problem with David Boreanaz's performance, and even more so, Julie Benz's performance as the vampire who sired him. But that may well be just me. Obviously, Boreanaz is beloved, or they wouldn't have spun a series off with him that (according to pesky insiders) got better ratings that "Buffy" did.

We end the season with the resolution of many plotlines: What's to be done with Bad Angel the chief one among them. In these two, they find a statue within an obelisk that houses a sword that holds in a vortex that will pull humanity into Hell.
At one point, Xander pokes his head into the conversation and says, "I've got a suggestion: Let's kill Angel." It's interesting because it's a valid point, but delivered with a combination of bitterness, fatigue, and calculation. Of course he's looks like an asshole for making the suggestion, and I had to wonder why it wasn't Giles or Cordelia the line was given to, but there's logic in his statement. Tyr and I talked about it (which is the reason for Buffy Wednesday), and it's worth talking about here too. If Buffy had the chance to kill Bad Angel, but doesn't do it because of who he used to be, and he kills three innocent people (he probably killed more, but they showed three I can name in previous episodes) . . . well, isn't some of that blood on her hands?

It's part of what makes the show--or any good show--interesting, a topic of conversation where not everything is black and white. Discuss amongst yourselves.

These two episodes pay off the Spike storyline, and I'm surprised how much I like that character. I look forward to whenever he shows up again. While they've made him into a likable character with depth, I find I still despise Drusilla. I wonder if they can change my mind on that front.

They kill off Kendra the Vampire Slayer at the end of the first half, and that's too bad, because I was curious where she came from, what her Watcher was like, and if she has sex with pasty white internet bloggers. I'm not satisfied with the way Kendra died, but I'm sure we'll see other Slayers in the seasons to come.

They also pay off the lost yellow disk Miss Calendar made to restore Good Angel from Bad (but not before a nice tease where we think it's not going to be found), and Willow delves into serious magic for the second time (though not the last, I'm told).

In another new development, Buffy's mother finds out what she does in her spare time. Also interesting is her reaction. First there's the "Have you tried NOT being a vampire slayer" line that probably would have inspired conversation, had we not already seen X-MEN 2 (which didn't exist at the time).* Then, after seeing a vampire crumble to dust before her eyes, she forbids Buffy to go out and save the world, even telling her that if she does, she's no longer welcome in their home. I haven't been a teenager since around the time Bush was president (is that at all comical?), but I remember the power struggles with my parents, and the feeling that their decisions were sometimes so arbitrary and unfair that I wanted to Hulk out. I think every teenager goes through it, and every once in a while, when I'm around my dad, I feel echoes of it even now. But seeing it from the perspective of an adult, I was surprised that I didn't side in the slightest with Buffy's mother (sorry, I forget her name). She was so clearly wrong, and Buffy is so inarguably selfless in fulfilling her Chosen One-ial obligations (especially in this episode), that you just want to "sit Mrs. Summers down," as a roommate of mine used to say ("sit her down" was Ray-speak for telling someone female that they're in the wrong, a sort of Nineties version of "putting a woman in her place"). Hmmm.

Giles is tortured (though subtly instead of graphically, not like Malcolm Reynolds is tortured in Firefly's "War Stories"), and he manages to bring some English wit to the exchange, before Drusilla mindtricks him into seeing her as Jenny Calender, and she sweet-talks the answers out of him. We don't think poorly of him for doing this, and there's another thing Joss does well: his characters can show weakness without coming across as weak. I could rant on that subject too (and cite a rainbow of movie offenders), but not today.

I understand why they killed Miss Calender, but I sure am sad to see her character go.

Principal Snyder, who I don't think I've mentioned before, is another character I like. Played by "Deep Space Nine"'s Armin Shimmerman, he's just so cartoonishly nasty that I feel there has to be something else going on with him (a bit like Severus Snape, I suppose). Tyranist's theory was that he knows Buffy is the Slayer, and my theory was that he knew Sunnydale was a weird-arse place, but not what Buffy was up to. Well, that question was not resolved when he expels Buffy from school with venomous relish (exactly the reason I don't like krautdogs). Buffy's response is, "I'll bet you never dated in high school," when anyone else would have torn him in half like a wet Us Weekly.

There's a lot of fighting in this episode. Xander gets his arm broken, Willow gets hospitalised, and Cordelia runs away. I've heard Joss say that the fight scenes are his least favourite part to write, and I can't blame him. They rarely thrill me--though the fights in SERENITY kicked ass (quite literally)--and I am much more impressed by a clever line or emotional moment than a well-choreographed stunt.

So, in the end, Buffy confronts Bad Angel, and at the same time, Willow attempts to perform the ritual that will return Angel's soul to him. It succeeds, but not before Angel has begun opening the vortex that doom us all. Angel comes out of his funk with no memory of what Bad Angel had been up to, and Buffy has about one minute to make a choice. She kisses Angel, tells him she loves him, and then has him close his eyes. It's a nice moment, because Angel appears very childlike in this scene, and Buffy, all five-foot-nothing of her, seems much older than he is. She thrusts her sword into his chest and he disappears, closing the vortex and saving us all.

But all is not well. Besides killing the man she loves, Buffy has no home, no school, and no car to return to (though the car was never really an issue before). We see her, alone as Gilbert O'Sullivan, getting on a bus departing Sunnydale, headed to places unknown. For the first time, Buffy is alone.

Don't know how alone any of you fine folks have been (though if you're reading this, chances are you know a little bit about solitude), but it's often a pretty cold place to be. Even in Southern California.

And that's it.

Part of me wants to dive right into season three, to devour it like a Romero zombie in a phonebooth with Rosie O'Donnell. But at the same time, I want to hold off. To give it a couple of weeks (or months), or maybe even quit now, when the show is as good as it could possibly be. Before Joss splits his attention with "Angel" and "Firefly" and before the writers start getting lazy and the actors start to phone it in.

Looking back on the Horror elements of the show, I'd say, of all the spooks of Season Two, it was Ted (from "Ted") that was the scariest. I didn't blog that one up, but basically, John Ritter played Buffy's mother's perfect new boyfriend, who everyone absolutely adores . . . except for Buffy. He's old fashioned, and controlling, and a completely psychotic amoral android. In the scenes when he's giving Buffy a life-lesson or making an emotionless threat, it was truly chilling to watch him. I think part of this is because of the body of work John Ritter was so known for (that of a wacky, light comedic pratfaller), and it shows he had a great deal of talent we may never have seen.**

If I had to nail one episode down as the best of the season . . . well, I probably couldn't do it. But if I had to name one from before I started blogging and one from after, I guess I'd say "Halloween" from before and "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered" from after. It may be that "Innocence" was actually a better episode (it was, after all, the one that made me feel the need to blog about the show), but it was the second half of a two-parter, and may not qualify.

But folks, I can't stress how unbelievable it is that every episode in Season Two was great. That simply doesn't happen in television. Sure, every episode of "Firefly" was great, but that wasn't a real season. And every episode of the first season of (Ron Moore's) "Battlestar Galactica" and "The Simpsons" were great, but those aren't real seasons either (just mini-seasons or BBC-length seasons, or "series" as they're called in the UK). How Joss pulled it off I don't know, and if you know, I'd really like to find out.

When I was in school, I came up with the idea for a TV show I wanted to do someday, and started writing down my ideas. I envisioned it as just one season, with all the episodes written (or at least plotted out) before the first one was ever shot or cast. The arcs of the characters, how they meet, fall in love (or hate), and live or die would all be planned out and kept in mind when we went into production. When I talked to people in the industry about the show, or even my friends about it, they all wondered why I would hobble myself like that.
"What if it's successful?" they asked.
"Then hooray, we've accomplished our mission."
"But come on, what if people want more?"
"They can buy the DVD," I said, feeling more smug than usual.

I may well buy "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" season two on DVD. It's a shame that technology makes everything so obsolete so quickly, because that's something I would like to have for the rest of my life (all three more months of it, ha ha) and bring out every couple of years to watch with my nieces and nephews, while cuddling my semi-lifelike Companion Robot 3700.

The internet, besides the porn thing, seems to have been invented so geeks could complain about things. On every message board on every site on every server, somebody is typing about how much something sucked, from SUPERMAN RETURNS to President Bush, "Lost" to the latest issue of "New Avengers," from Celine Dion to the the latest "Harry Potter" book, from posting rules and regulations to Prequels. I have done it too.*** It's a lot easier and more fun to complain about something than to praise it. And it's a hell of a lot harder to create something than to tear something else down. Why else do you think I have six hundred horror film reviews on the internet, yet have created . . . well, not so many.

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" season two really rocked. Hey, I recognise that this is a love-fest here, and that may be irritating to many. But if an episode sucked, I'd tell you. And I didn't come into this thing as a fan of "Buffy." I didn't like the first few episodes of season one enough to watch the second disc, and the one episode I saw in first-run back in '97 wasn't enough to ever make me watch another.

Sure wish it had, though. I was missing out.

Rish Outfield

*Another interesting connection: Joss Whedon wrote at least one draft of the original X-MEN movie for Fox. According to Joss, none of his script, save a single line, ended up in the finished film.

**Which reminds me: I went to Disney's California Adventure Park back in August 2003. ABC was having a presentation promoting their upcoming fall shows, and I attended, hoping to see Jennifer Garner. John Ritter was there promoting his "Eight Simple Rules" TV show. It was only a few days later that he died.

**And will do it again soon. Someday I'd like to rant about the one (and only) time I went into Sit & Sleep, the mattress store, shopping for a bed, then slept on laid-out newspapers the rest of the month.

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