Monday, September 24, 2007

Buffy Wednesday (21 September 2007)

Technically, these are Buffy Fridays* until we can get our schedules rearranged, but they don't call "Saturday Night Live" anything different when it's taped and on a different night.

We had one more "Angel" episode to watch before we'd be caught up and be able to go back to our old pattern, and that episode was called "The Ring." In it, Cordelia is given a mysterious video tape by a frantic woman who wants to hire Angel Investigations, but then drops dead in the most ghastly way imaginable. Despite Wesley's warning otherwise, Cordelia watches the tape and gets an ominous phone call. "Seven days," a dead-sounding voice says.

Wait, none of that happened. I don't know what I was confusing this episode with. In this episode, Angel Investigations gets what may be their first male client. He's a middle-aged man named McNamara and he's heard that Angel takes on cases that are out of the ordinary. His brother, Jack, a gambler and ne'er-do-well, was in debt and kidnapped by shady characters (that we recognise as demons), and Angel offers to investigate. He goes to the bookie and threatens him into telling him where these "shady characters" might be. They turn out to be Howler demons, and they tell him Jack had been sold and where to go to find him.

Angel discovers a high-class underground fighting ring where people go to watch demons fight it out to the death. He sees Jack there and follows him into the back, where McNamara is waiting. Angel realises that it was just a set-up to get him there. Big dudes zap him with cattleprods and all goes black. The end.

I thought it was odd for the "Angel" series to end this way, but tyranist explained that the WB never really believed in the show and orchestrated its early cancellation. He then explained that I should consume less alcohol and that the show continued after that point.

Angel has been put in a cage with all sorts of other demons (apparently, this show was nominated for a Best Makeup Emmy), all of whom have a mystic bracelet on their wrists. If they go past a certain point, poof! they get 'sploded. The prisoners are forced to fight, night after night, and if they attain twenty-one victories (i.e. kills), they're given their freedom. This was Merv Griffin's final game show idea before he died.

Meanwhile, Wesley and Cordelia are worried about Angel. They try to reach McNamara and find him unavailable, which seems odd. Wesley goes to the bookie Angel intimidated the night before and impresses us with his crossbow prowess. Armed with Angel's location, he and Cordelia go looking for him.

Despite the other demons being standoffish and unfriendly, Angel says he refuses to kill any of them. A cold-looking woman we later find out is from Wolfram & Heart, the evil L.A. lawfirm (talk about redundant), tells McNamara about Angel having a soul and Jack puts him on the bill to fight a demon with the frightening name "Baker."

Pretending to be undercover cops, Wesdelia confiscate a pair of tickets to the match and go inside. Wesley knows what's going on, and is apparently familiar with the bracelets that disintegrate anyone wearing them if they cross the red line. They see McNamara there, and that he's got one of the bracelets. Then they are surprised when the fighters are announced: Baker and "The Vampire, Angel." Angel tries to stay out of Baker's way, but the demon is playing for keeps, and the audience tires of the one-sided match. McNamara sets down the bracelet and throws Baker a knife, which he cuts Angel with, causing him to vamp out. Almost immediately, Angel wrenches the knife away from his opponent and buries it in his chest.

Cordelia and Wesley get out of there (how they weren't recognised, I'm not sure) and consider going to the police. Wesley figures, though, that McNamara will kill all the prisoners to eliminate the evidence if they do. He wishes he had one of the bracelets so they could figure out a way around them, and Cordelia produces the one she swiped when McNamara put it down. How she did this, I attribute to getting Doyle's katra.

Inside, Angel grabs one of the other demons, a big turtle-headed brute named Trepkos and suggests they fight the guards instead of each other. Trepkos has become institutionalised, though, and goes through with his match as planned. When Jack laughs about Angel's ease at killing, Angel grabs him and tries to get the other demons to help him find a key to their "cuffs." The other demons just stand around like good little prisoners, and McNamara comes in with his guards. Angel offers to swap Jack's life for their freedom, but McNamara pulls out his gun and blows his brother away. I did not see that coming, and the show was better for it. The cattleprodders do their thing on Angel again.

This time, when he wakes up, he is alone in the office of the evil hot lawyer chick. Her name is Lilah Morgan (again, I had to look it up because I'm hoping she turns up again on the series), and she tells Angel that she bought his freedom (though it may be that the lawfirm did the buying, I don't remember, and that's somehow worse). If he never says nothing about the fights and goes about his business, he is free to go. He refuses her offer and is taken back to the cells, where some of the other demons are impressed by his return.

Wesley has studied the bracelet and using some horsehair of Cordelia's (I'm not saying Cordelia looks like a horse, I'm saying she had a horse and provided some of its hair from a bracelet of her own), he manages to short out its mechanism. They rush off to set Angel free.

In that night's fight, Angel has been paired with Trepkos, who doesn't seem like a bad guy, even if his head is odd-shaped. Still, if Trepkos kills Angel, it will be his 21st win, and he gets an all-expense paid trip to a four-star resort on the Isle of Lesbos, along with a suitcase full of cash and prophelactics and such (I mean come on, why would they EVER let these demons go, no matter how safe they felt from them?). So, they fight. It goes on a long time, and Angel is victorious, but doesn't kill Trepkos. Then, Trepkos gets the famous hero-turns-his-back-on-defeated-villain attack, but when he has the chance to kill Angel, he too stays his hand. Well, the crowd doesn't like this and they boo.

Meanwhile, Wesley and Cordelia have snuck down to the prisoner hold to free Angel, but they were too late. To make matters worse, one of the demons swipes Wesley's improvised horsehair key and frees himself, then the others. Wesdelia make it to the arena just in time to see the demons running loose. The crowd panics. McNamara pulls a gun on Wesley, but Cordelia pushes him over the railing and McNamara falls down to where the freed demons are. One of them snaps a bracelet on McNamara's wrist, and he is quickly tossed over the red line, where he disintegrates.

Angel and Trepkos too are freed and congratulate each other on a good fight. Angel thanks Wesley and Cordelia for rescuing him, and they head for home, aware that L.A. now has a bunch more demons running loose than it did before. The end.

Another solid episode, with a bit more focus on the fighting than the talking or scariness. I'm okay with that, though I'm more of a fan of . . . well, everything else on these shows than the fighting. In looking up Howard Gordon, the writer, I found information on two series he and Tim Minear did for Fox ("Strange World" and "The Inside"), both of which were canceled even faster than "Firefly" was. It's funny, but just knowing that Fox quickly axed those shows makes me wonder if they weren't worth watching. Weird.

And that, folks, brings us to the catch-up point with our "Buffy" and "Angel" marathons. Like I said before, I will try to control myself in the future, so this never happens again.

But it will.

We turned on "Buffy" for the first time in weeks, and were immediately confused (or at least I would've been, had my cousin not told me all about this episode back in August): suddenly, Buffy and Company have a new member of their gang, the great and powerful Jonathan (formerly Jonathan the Geek, last seen giving Buffy the Class Protector award in "The Prom"). In fact, Jonathan is smarter, stronger, and better than all of them, hence the group is now known as Jonathan and Company. The episode was called "Superstar," and tyranist and I laughed out loud as the credits ran, and action poses of Jonathan interspersed our usual montage of exciting scenes.

He is the leader of our gang, the mastermind, if you will. And not just of the gang, but of the whole town of Sunnydale, if not the world. The man invented the internet, starred in THE MATRIX, sleeps with identical twin babes, trains Buffy in her fighting routines, and is the idol of men, women, and children everywhere.

It had been so long since we had seen the show that I truly appreciated when the characters provided exposition about what was going on: Adam the cyberdemonguy is still roaming free, Buffy is upset that Riley slept with Faith (which was technically not cheating because he thought she was Buffy), and Willow and Tara are becoming closer by the . . . week, I guess. What's strange is, I don't remember the show doing that before (tyranist tells me that the original broadcasts began with "Previously on BTVS..." to avoid all that), but I figured that there must've been a hiatus between the Faith episode and this one (which tyranist corroborated for me).

So, Buffy is having more problems than usual, since she is having relationship troubles as well as battling evil, and the novel experience of being one-upped by Jonathan the Stud. None of our heroes suspect something is wrong with the universe, but Adam does. He knows the status quo has been changed, and I can't tell if I think Adam is cool, or if I'm really annoyed by him. Can you tell?

Jonathan is busy singing and playing at the Bronze, signing autographs, and helping the Initiative track down Adam, but not too busy to give Buffy advice about her issues with Riley.

I love the internal consistency that Buffy and Riley do not communicate well, or that they communicate best when, as that song goes, they say nothing at all. Jonathan tells her she just expects too much of him, like a supernatural knowledge that the Buffy he was shagging was not the real her, just as she expects too much of herself.

Meanwhile, there's a new demon in town, terrorizing the locals. It comes after Tara, but casts a Hermione Granger-level spell to protect herself. The demon is a scary brown one with a triangular symbol on it . . . the same triangular symbol Jonathan has tattooed on his back. Jonathan is a bit defensive about the demon, clearly unnerved by it, but trying to pretend it's no big deal. This makes Buffy curious, and speaking of curious, instead of Riley, Giles, or even Willow, she goes to Xander to talk about it. How could Jonathan be so perfect, so amazingly talented, and so omnipresent in culture and everyday life?

Oh, and Giles has a Jonathan the Stud swimsuit calendar.

Buffy and Jonathan go underground to find this demon, and he begins to falter in his courage and charm. It turns out that the almighty Jonathan used to be Jonathan the Geek, and that he found a spell in a book that would cause him to be an icon of admiration and adoration. The downside was that it created an opposite number, a Rish Outfield to his Sean Connery. This demon is linked to him, and he is powerless to fight it.

Buffy, however, is not, and as she battles the demon, she gets stronger and stronger, while Jonathan gets weaker and . . . you know. In the end, he pushes it into a handy chasm and Buffy pulls him from over the edge. With the demon destroyed, Jonathan becomes a sad, lonely, pathetic person again. Everyone begins to forget the alternate universe ever existed, not really able to reconcile their love for Jonathan anymore.

Soon, even his memory will have faded, but before it does, he seeks out Buffy on campus and tells her that even though he was a sham, his advice about her relationship with Riley was valid, and that she ought to take it. Buffy and Riley do get their act together, closer than they ever were before. Until in the act of passion, Buffy says Jonathan's name, that is. The end.

Yet another great "Buffy" episode, courtesy of Jane Espenson. I really respond to the Jonathan character (since I have years of imagining a fantasy life where I rise above my normal mediocrity and become a champion bull rider, bed hopper, and baby seal basher, among other things), and delighted in the absurity of a world revolving around him. You know, I don't want the show to suck, not ever, but I'm sure it's dull to read how good each show is. And now, "Angel" is becoming better and better too, so I can't even complain about that.

Life just isn't fair.

Rish "Superstar, But He Didn't Get Far" Outfield

*Or even more technically, Angel Fridays, or Buffy/Angel Fridays.

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