Sunday, November 25, 2007

Buff-gel Wednesday (21 November 2007)

Earlier this year, I started blogging about "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" on its twenty-fifth episode. I sometimes wonder if I shouldn't go back and review that first season and a half, just for completion's sake.

But even if I did (which will never happen), I wouldn't be able to recreate that fresh first-time viewing experience, where characters and situations are introduced with no hint as to where they'll be going, and I find myself surprised and amused in ways only my mother (who instantly forgets anything she's seen) can repeat.

First up was "Buffy" episode "The Replacement," written by Jane Espenson. I was introduced to her as the editor of two essay books about "Firefly," as well as the writer of the episode "Shindig" from that series.

In this one, Xander is tired of living in his parents' basement (like a buttmonkey) and goes apartment hunting. He and Anya and Buffy and Riley find a really nice apartment that Anya loves, but Xander is worried about money (his construction job is ending soon) and thinks he ought to turn it down. Anya throws a little fit about this and Buffy and Riley go to the bedroom to get it on.

Before even opening the magic shop, Giles is attacked, this time by a cool-looking demon who wants, big surprise, to kill the Slayer. The demon's name is Toth, and is described as being pretty resourceful.

For reasons I don't recall, the group goes to Sunnydale's dump (we called them "junk yards" where I grew up, I wonder what the difference is*), where they encounter Spike, gathering garbage up for use in his home. You know, I'm starting to relate less to Xander and more to Spike as the show goes on. If they could only get Jonathan back. The demon Toth attacks, aiming a sort of wand/stick/rod at Buffy and firing. But Xander gets in the way of the blast and is knocked to the ground.

The demon has vanished, and the gang help the barely-conscious Xander up and out of there. Once they're gone, it is revealed that there is a second Xander, knocked out, among the trash. We will call him Dirty Xander (which I've been told is a revoltingly perverted act that only Thai prostitutes and Paris Hilton will perform), because when he wakes up the next morning, he's kind of grimy, having used several diapers as a pillow. He makes his way home and finds, to his horror, another Xander there. This one we'll call Clean Xander, since we first see him fresh out of the shower and combing his hair.

Dirty Xander follows Clean Xander, trying to figure out what is going on. Tyranist and I were sure that the demon had taken Xander's form and was now impersonating him, though in retrospect, that doesn't make any sense, really (since he was aiming at Buffy, presumably to kill her in a roundabout way). Clean Xander goes to his construction job and is called into the foreman's office. Dirty Xander spies at them, gleeful at the duplicate being fired rather than him (no, this also makes little sense, but real life never does), and is shocked when Clean Xander is not only kept on, but given a promotion for all his hard work.

Next, Clean Xander goes to the apartment they checked out, and not only gets the flat, but flirts so hard with the real estate woman that she needs to change her underclothes afterward. He then calls Anya, who is angry with him, and tells her he has something he wants to show her. Dirty Xander is convinced the other one is an evil twin, perhaps a robot**, using mind control to get his way.

The two Xanders finally meet face to face, and Clean Xander is forceful, direct, and ambitious, while Dirty Xander is timid, callow, and paranoid. Tyranist mentioned that he didn't like Dirty Xander much. We are no longer friends.

Dirty Xander runs to Giles's place to tell the gang about the evil duplicate, only to find Clean Xander there, telling the others what he saw. He claims that Dirty Xander is the double, and should be killed on sight. It begins to rain, and Dirty Xander goes to the dorms to see Willow (who, though I haven't mentioned it, is now living with Tara). He is able to convince Willow to believe he's the real one and confides in her that his evil twin is doing a much better job with his life than he ever did. Then he remembers Anya, and that Clean Xander is probably mounting her at that very moment. He heads to her place, and finding her not there, he gets into her drawers (her literal drawers, as in dresser drawers, not . . . never mind) and removes the pistol she has hidden there.

I believe it was at this point that I began to really hate tyranist. But let's look at this logically: Anya spent hundreds of years as an immortal being making men miserable, it's only natural she be afraid of dying and afraid of the many enemies she surely made along the way.

Speaking of Anya, she is at Xander's new apartment with Clean Xander. He's patched things up between them and comforts her about her anxieties. Suddenly, Dirty Xander bursts in, telling Anya to get away from the evil duplicate. He pulls out her pistol and points it at him.

Buffy and company arrive also (good timing). Giles has done a little research about what the Toth demon did to Xander, and reveals that neither is an evil twin (or a robot): the blast split Xander into a strong and a weak half, the same way Captain Kirk was in "The Enemy Within." Oh, and Giles doesn't mention Star Trek. That part was me.

It turns out that one cannot survive without the other, and Toth's plan was to kill the weak version of Buffy after they'd been separated. At this knowledge, the two Xanders stop fighting and begin to interact, finding a strange sort of delight in having a twin.***

The demon Toth arrives at the apartment and a battle ensues. Riley and Buffy slay him and then Willow comes up with a spell to reunite the two halves. But not before Anya proposes a three-way between them. Sadly, that scene was not included on the DVD.

Xander, now clean and dirty in one, moves his stuff out of his parents' basement and Riley assists him. In a head-blowing moment, Riley mentions to Xander that he's almost envious of his relationship with Anya, because as much as he loves Buffy, he knows she doesn't really love him back. The end.

With this, tyranist surprised me by saying, "Wow, I actually feel sorry for Marc Blucas." I'm sure he meant Riley, but he always refers to him by the character name. There's growth there.

This episode was fun, and despite my almost overwhelming desire to kill tyranist, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

As is tradition, we followed up the "Buffy" with an "Angel" episode, this one called "First Impressions," written by Shawn Ryan, who went on to create the hit FX show "The Shield."

At the end of last season, after Cordelia had been cursed with that deluge of suffering visions, she seemed to have turned over a new leaf. Gone was the selfish, money and fame-centric Cordelia of yesterday, and there was a new one on the scene. In the first two shows of this season, we got the same old Cordelia (though I'm referring to the same old Cordelia from "Angel," who is much less materialistic, shallow, and arrogant as her "Buffy" counterpart).

In this episode, Angel has been dreaming a great deal about the OTHER woman from his past, Darla. They meet, they dance, they kiss, they moonbathe, they kill together. Ah l'amour. And I gotta say, though I'm not a fan, Darla was looking damn fine. Angel drags himself out of bed later and later each day, feeling more and more tired, while Cordelia, Wesley, and Gunn do what they can around their new office in the no-longer-haunted hotel. Nabbit the billionaire shows up as well, happy to have friends and excitement, and offers to help Angel out with property investment advice. I like Nabbit.Gunn has been having problems with a demon named Deevok, and Cordelia has one of her visions, this time of Gunn in trouble, and apparently quite afraid. Wesley is busy and Angel is sleep-humping Darla, so Cordelia takes Angel's car and goes to Gunn's hideout to rescue him. As she enters, she finds Gunn in the middle of combat, so she hits his assailant over the head with . . . if I recall correctly (but how could I?) a battle axe. Turns out, though, that her victim was just a friend of Gunn who was training with him. The guy, apparently, will be okay, and Gunn is none too pleased about a) Cordelia's presence in his "crib," b) Cordelia beating up one of his pals, and c) Cordelia thinking he might need her help. He marches her back to where she parked, only to find that she left the keys in Angel's car, and it has been stolen.

Angel's still dreaming of Darla, and Wesley has to wake him up to tell him Cordelia is gone (as is his car). Luckily, Wesley has his motorcycle, and a sissy pink helmet he forces Angel to wear (after all, it is the law).

Gunn and Cordelia go looking for the car, checking out the area's known car thieves. At the first one's auto shop, he tells Gunn that Desmond is the man he wants, and where he is partying. As they leave, Deevok steps out, planning general naughtiness. The unlikely pair ("Gunn and Cordelia, they're the original odd couple!") go to the party, where Gunn runs into a chick, Veronica, who I assume is an old girlfriend of his.

Suddenly, a bunch of vampires crash the party. Gunn and Cordelia do battle with them, but Veronica gets her neck cut, and Cordelia tries to stop the bleeding as they rush her to the hospital. The doctors are able to stablise her, and mention that Cordelia's actions likely saved her life. Gunn is distraught that she nearly died, and even refers to Veronica by his dead sister's name.

Angel and Wesley get to the party a little late, amid cops, paramedics, and shocked partiers. Angel grabs one of the survivors to ask her what happened, then headbutts her (watch out British censors!), revealing her to be one of the vampires. He finds out Deevok was behind it and how to locate him. Gunn and Cordelia are already at Desmond's chop shop, where Angel's stolen car has been taken. Deevok is probably the most revolting demon we've seen on the show (except for the maggoty one from the previous season-ender), with rot and exposed bone in his face. He tries to kill Gunn and Cordelia sprays him in the eyes with mace. Wesley and Angel arrive and everyone does battle, eventually, Angel slays Deevok with Cordelia's axe.

Gunn seems frustrated he didn't get to do it himself, seething with unreleased anger, and Cordelia theorises that the danger he was in in her vision was from himself. She vows that she's going to save him, even if it takes really big boobs to do it. Gunn, though not thrilled with the idea, seems to have warmed to her a bit (indeed, it was pretty entertaining to see them bicker, and they've got a dynamic I like, so why not?), and we'll see where that goes.

Angel goes back to his hotel room and dreams of more romance and bloodletting with Darla. While he sleeps, we see that it's no dream: Darla is there, in his room, crawling on top of him. The end.

You know, this is all good stuff. People say that it took "Angel" a couple seasons to find its tone, but I'm really enjoying it, not in the same way as "Buffy," but in a different, but nearly-equal way. By introducing a half dozen characters besides the original three, they've got a lot of faces I enjoy seeing from week to week, as "Buffy" has been for years.**** If "Angel" truly does get better as it reaches season three and beyond, then perhaps it won't be quite as sad when "Buffy" reaches the end of her run.

We'll see,

Rish Outfield

*Of course, we also called chickens "pets."

**Grunt. Mark my words: the day this show actually sinks to having a robot version of one of our characters is the day I finally achieve studliness.

***I had no earthly idea how they pulled off some of the doubling, even with computer effects and double-passes. Later, an evil angel came to me in a dream and told me that Nicholas Brendan has a twin brother who also appeared in the episode. That really pissed me off.

****I nearly put "years" in quotation marks, because I've only been watching "Buffy" since February or so, but I feel like I've known her, well, a little longer than that. I wonder how I would feel had I been watching five, seven, or ten years ago.

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