Thursday, September 11, 2008

Buffy Wednesday (10 September 2008)

Tyranist and I got together with the plan to watch two, maybe three episodes of BTVS. We certainly didn't intend to finish out the show (although I wouldn't put it past tyranist . . . he really does have the brain of a supervillain), but almost did just that.

So, here I stand (sit, actually), at the edge of the end of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." My cousin, six or seven months ago, proclaimed it to be the greatest TV show of all time, and I don't know how much weight that carries (considering his number two seems to be "The Power Puff Girls"), but I've been pretty inclined to agree with him.

I've been pretty lax when it comes to the Whedon Wednesday blogging lately, usually finishing up each post two weeks after starting it, but I promise to work harder on this one, and get it in sooner, if not better, than the last few.

So I'm starting early (as in, early in the morning), just a few minutes after arriving home from tyranist's, moving my bowels, and checking my email.

First up in our viewing schedule was "Get It Done," written and directed by Doug Petrie. I have to be completely honest and admit that I actually blogged about the next episode first, having forgotten that I ever even saw this one. Maybe I should go to Wikipedia first thing every time instead of at the end to find out our writer and such.

This episode begins with a dream in which Buffy is warned by the First Slayer (yeah, her again) that what she's doing is not enough. She welcomes Principal Wood into her cadre, team, whatever we're calling it, and she also appears to have gained another half dozen Potential Slayers.

Kennedy seems to have been put in charge of training the Potentials when Buffy's not around, and the authority appears to have gone to her head. She's become a rather attractive drill sergeant, shouting orders, demanding push-ups, and calling one girl--with the awful name Chloe--"a maggot." I thought it was pretty sweet.

Unfortunately, Chloe goes upstairs and hangs herself. Kennedy regrets her actions, but the First Evil appears again--this time in the form of Chloe--and tells the other girls to follow her lead, that suicide is a much better way to go out than it has planned for them. Buffy gives everybody a pep-talk, where she announces that Chloe was stupid and nobody should listen to the First's lies.

Principal Wood comes to the house and glares at Spike. He brought a bag that belonged to his mother that was supposed to have been carried on from Slayer to Slayer. It's got weapons in it and some strange box that only a Slayer can open. In the box is a device I can't really describe except to say that it casts shadows on a wall as it spins around and the shadows tell a story. The story it tells is that of how the First Slayer came about.

It also opens a portal, which Buffy jumps through. There was some kind of instruction manual that explained that one makes a trade with the portal, and as soon as she's through, a big demon monster creature comes through and starts wailing on those present. Spike decides to go after it (putting on that black leather duster he took from Principal Wood's mother, and lighting up a cigarette), thinking that if he shoves it through the portal again, Buffy will come out.

In the other dimension, Buffy meets the trio of men who first created the Slayer line. They are aborigines of some sort and to fight evil, they took a village girl and gave her the power of a demon (or demons). I interpreted it that way, but hey, I could be wrong, as it's a little bit cryptic and a lot symbolic. Buffy is angry at their actions, calling them cowardly, and I guess it's because they did this to the girl (and ultimately to Buffy) against her will.

The Slayer Makers offer Buffy greater power, if she will become part demon, but she refuses. Before parting, they show her a vision . . . you know that Hellmouth seal under the high school? Well, on the other side are about a gazillion Ubervamps waiting to get out and run free in our world. Gulp.

Meanwhile, Spike goes out, thrashes the demon quite soundly, and brings its dead body back to Buffy's to stick in the portal. But the portal has closed, so Willow has to use magic to try and open it again. She's not really succeeding, so she grabs on to Kennedy and sucks out her energy.* Instantly, Willow's hair turns black again (her eyes too) and she opens the portal. Spike puts the demon in, Buffy comes out, and it closes up again.

Kennedy is freaked out at what Willow did, and Willow apologises, explaining that Kennedy was the strongest one there, and that's why she's so afraid to use magic. Looks like Willow's gonna be sleeping alone tonight. The end.

Seeing the poor Potential hanging there was the first in a line of really harsh moments in tonight's "Buffy"s. If there weren't only a handful of episodes left, there would've been time to mourn for the character and examine how her death affected the others (particularly Kennedy, who called her a maggot and liked it), many of whom don't even have names.

There was probably a lot more going on in this episode than I mentioned, but I really didn't like it (except for the maggot thing and the momentary return of Dark Willow, but neither of those aspects were satisfactorily explored), and as I said, I found it rather forgettable. Sorry, Doug.

Next up was "Storyteller," written by Jane Espenson. I probably ought to mention that my aforementioned cousin has only seen a couple of episodes from Season Seven, but two of them were this one and the one that followed, so I had a pretty good idea what was coming on these two.

"Storyteller" focuses mostly on Andrew as he tries to document the goings-on at Buffy's house with his handy video camera. He offers his own personal insight on the Slayer and those around her, and we see into his head a couple of disquieting times. His idea is that, since the fate of the world pretty much hangs in the balance, that history will want to know what they're doing there . . . assuming there are people left to watch the documentary.

His constant shooting and commentary irritates most everyone (particularly Buffy), but a couple of them, such as Spike, seem to find it amusing. Andrew asks Xander and Anya embarrassing details about their almost-wedding, and it gets them talking about their relationship. It becomes apparent that there may be a way to salvage things between them. Which is cool.

Andrew explains his past to the viewers, and we get to see a couple of flashbacks, both as things really happened, and as he retells them (for example, Andrew apparently was able to hold his own against Dark Willow at the end of last season, and was the real brains behind the Evil Trio). Not a heck of a lot happens with his scenes, but we do progress the narrative when we're away from him.

For example, Buffy goes to work and finds the school at the brink of disaster. Many Hellmouthy things are happening at the same time (such as a girl turning invisible because nobody notices her), and she explains to Principal Wood that everything is coming to a head, mentioning her dream about the thousands of Ubervamps waiting to escape the seal down below them.

Speaking of which, a bunch of students become possessed and go down to the seal and begin the process of reopening it. Buffy goes to Andrew and asks him the circumstances under which it was opened the first time. We see Andrew and Jonathan in hiding in Mexico, and the First Evil appearing to Andrew in the form of Warren, suggesting he obtain a special knife to be used in a ritual.

That knife is now in Buffy's kitchen, and Willow sees there are symbols or words carved into it. She does some translating and tells Buffy what she knows. Buffy then takes Andrew to the school with her, telling him it's his chance to undo the damage he once did. Spike and Principal Wood go too, and find many students running amok, burning and graphitti-ing and attacking people.

On a brighter note, Xander and Anya have a little bit of old-times-sake sex, after which she feels like she can finally move on with her life. It looks like Xander, however, feels differently.

While Spike and the Principal fight the students, Buffy takes Andrew down to the basement. She asks him about killing Jonathan, and he tells her a story where Jonathan attacked him and Andrew only killed him in self defence. Students have turned themselves into Bringers, and Buffy thrashes them nicely. Buffy asks Andrew for the Jonathan-killing story again, and he tells her a version where he was possessed at the time and didn't have control over his actions.

Buffy pulls out Andrew's knife and tells him his blood can close the seal. Andrew begins to plead for his life, crying, and finally admits that he killed Jonathan of his own free will, knowing what he was doing. His tears hit the seal and it closes. Turns out that it wasn't his blood that was necessary to shut it down after all.

Principal Wood sees his opportunity to kill Spike amid the violence with the students, but when the seal closes, the students turn back to normal. Except for the ones who have faded away, killed one another, become Bringers, or exploded, I suppose.

Buffy takes a contrite and repentant Andrew back to her house, and he seems to be a changed man. The end.

This was the closest we've had to a stand-alone episode in a while, and while I liked it more than the shadow puppet one, I find myself frustrated that not more is going on in each episode. It may be that I'm just freaked that the show is about to end, but there's a log of stuff I still don't know, and if "Buffy" stops airing new episodes, I probably will never find out.**
So, our third episode of the evening was "Lies My Parents Told Me," written by David Fury and Drew Goddard, and directed by Fury.

It begins with a flashback. Principal Robin Wood, a little boy, is watching his mother fight with Spike in Central Park in New York.
Spike is really enjoying their tussle, but doesn't know the kid is there. He heads off into the night, and the Slayer feels she has to go after him. She tells the boy to go to her Watcher and stay until she gets back. Before she heads to the subway--and her own demise--she tells Wood "The mission is what matters."

Spike, Buffy, and Principal Wood, in the here-and-now are fighting vampires together. Spike saves Wood, and seems oblivious to the hatred radiating off the man. Or it could be that being around Buffy's friends for so many years, he's just used to it.

Spike is still staying in the basement, chaining himself up in case The First uses the trigger (which is an olde English folk song) to turn him to its will again. Buffy tells Giles that she had Spike's chip removed, and he's very disappointed with her judgment. Buffy wants to figure out how to de-trigger Spike, but Giles and Principal Wood both think Spike oughtta become the contents of a dustbin.

Willow figures out a spell that can go into Spike's mind and let him know what the trigger is. When she casts it, we get another flashback, this one to his days of being William the romantic, lonely poet, living with his doting mother and dreaming about the awful, horrible Cecily (who a lot of people say is the vengeance demon Halfrek). William's mother is ill (with tuberculosis), but still comforts him, singing "Early One Morning" to him.

This is the song that's been triggering his episodes, and it does so then, with him snarling and vamping out, nearly attacking Dawn before he can be restrained.

Back in Spike flashback land, we see what happened immediately after he came back as a vampire. Knowing how close he was to his mother, I expected an even more unpleasant scene of matricide than we saw when Angelus came back. But I was surprised. Vampire William seems to be exactly like regular William, only more confident. Drusilla is at his side, planning the reign of terror that would be their legacy, and Spike says it will be marvelous what the three of them will accomplish. See, he wants to make his mother a vampire too, sharing the gift he's been given.

His mother enters the room, hearing them talking, and is distraught that William's been gone for days with nary a word. William explains that he has become a vampire, and that he wants to make it so she's not sick anymore and never has to age another day. She is afraid, but he bites her, to share the gift he's been given.

These flashback scenes are totally bizarre, kids. It's as though the writers wanted to make Spike a thorough and complete opposite of Angel, and show that somehow he kept a hell of a lot more of his humanity than any other vampire I can remember seeing on the show. It may be that it was just the most interesting (and unpleasant) twist they could come up with, but it seems to insinuate that Spike didn't become a monster by having a demon come inside him when he became undead, but learned to be a monster through bloodshed and the company of truly evil vampires like Drusilla, Angelus, Darla, and Count Chocula. I don't have a problem with it, actually, it just strikes me as very strange.

Well, Principal Wood sees that Giles is of a similar mindset, and takes him aside, asking him to help him get rid of Spike. He tells him that Spike killed his mother, and he has a plan for reve--er, justice. But he'll need Giles' help.

Willow gets a phone call from someone named Fred, and tells Buffy that there's something she has to leave town to do. I don't believe she explains exactly what's going on--perhaps Buffy would be too distracted knowing Angelus was back, or maybe Buffy would want to go with her--but she says she'll return as soon as possible.

Now, had we been watching these in slightly different order, I guess this would have led in to the last "Angel" we watched, "Orpheus." Maybe that would've been better, but it would have ruined the surprise of seeing Willow when . . . her name first appeared in the opening credits. Grrrrr.

Giles asks Buffy if he can pretend to be her Watcher again, and they go to the cemetery (or probably one of many Sunnydale cemeteries) for a bit of training and advice. A vampire comes up out of the ground and Giles asks Buffy not to kill it yet, just grappling with it. A war is coming and he asks her if she is ready to make the hard decisions--unlike in Season Five when she was unwilling to sacrifice Dawn to stop Glory--and she insists she is.

Then Giles reminds her of Spike. Spike is a tool of the First that can be triggered at any time, but Buffy is unwilling to remove that tool from her enemy's hands. Then Buffy realises that this was all a distraction, so that Spike could be eliminated, and she kills the vampire and runs off.

Principal Wood takes Spike to his workshop, where, once they're inside, he reveals has crosses covering the walls. There's a drawer full of armaments and a computer on a table, and Wood tells Spike he murdered his mother. "I murdered a lot of people's mothers," Spike says, but understands that Wood wants his vengeance.

But Wood doesn't want this Spike, he wants the Spike from 1977 . . . the soulless monster. He turns to the computer and pulls up the song "Early One Morning," which changes Spike once more. Then Wood attacks.

We flash back again to see what happened after William sired his mother. She seems delighted to be healthy and alive, and can't wait to get away from her boring, sentimental, despised, pathetic weakling of a son. He is hurt by her words, but she just gets worse and worse, mocking him for being a mama's boy, and insisting that he wanted to be far more than just her son, and now that he's turned her into a vampire, he'll get his wish. It's some vile stuff, and he's horrified to hear it, and he apologises for he did, then stakes her.

Only then does Spike--in the 21st Century--come out of his funk, and throws Principal Wood clear across the room. Spike tells Wood that that he did him a favour with this little ruse. For years, he's carried the sting of his mother's last words with him, but now he understands that it was the demon inside her talking, not his mother. His mother loved him, unlike Wood's mother, who was a Slayer, and incapable of looking beyond the mission, the fight against evil. He goes over and turns on "Early One Morning" again. But the trigger's been broken.***

Buffy arrives to find Spike putting on his black jacket. Principal Wood is alive in the workshop, and Spike tells her that the next time he tries anything like that, he's dead. Buffy goes in and tells him how she lost her own mother a couple of years back, but that there's a war coming, and they need Spike to help fight it. Despite any personal feelings or vendettas, the mission is what matters.

Buffy goes home, and Giles tells her that it had to be done. She tells him that their plan failed and that Spike is still alive, so he tries to stress his point once again. She tells him she can't learn anything from Giles anymore. The end.

Wow. There's a lot to think about in this episode. Tyranist and I might have discussed everyone's motivations and what it all means for Giles and Buffy's relationship (as well as the Spike/Buffy, Spike/Wood, and Wood/Buffy ones), had we had time to discuss anything except for how long it would take to press the PLAY button on the next episode.

I guess "Lies My Parents Told Me" is about Spike and his mother, Wood and his mother, and Buffy and her "father." The ending shows us that Buffy has far eclipsed her teacher in most ways, and it's sad, because the Giles/Buffy relationship was probably my favourite of the whole series (a close second was probably the Willow/Xander one, and it's embarrassing how thrilled I still get at the ice cream scene in Season Two, or those several fleeting moments in Season Three where they sort of did get together. Hell, suppose I'll always have Vampire Xander and Vampire Willow, if I really wanted those two as a couple.

Spike is a really complicated character, made even more so in this episode. It seems like a long time ago that I saw "Fool For Love," Season Five's Spike origin episode. I remember talking to my cousin about it, and he said, "What did you think of what happened with Spike's mother?" As we chatted, I realised there must have been more to Spike's origin I didn't know about, and I imagined Spike must have eaten his mother, the same way Angel ate his family. But you know, this really puts Spike in a different light. I know it's a ret-con, but the thought that he wasn't at all different after becoming a vampire, just a bit more confident, is pretty enlightening.

And I remember theorising once that deep down, Spike is still that dopey, poetry-writing loser, where as deep down, Angel was the godless womanising drunkard. If anything, this episode reinforced that silly idea I had, and unless we're to accept that the demon that went into Spike was somehow a lesser one, or that he retained a portion of his soul all along, I guess I'll stick to it.

And Buffy is complicated too, though I have to wonder if that is by design or by accident over the years. In this episode, I'm not sure we ever really see Buffy's reasoning for trusting in Spike or keeping him around. I know that in real life, people don't have reasons for a lot of the things that they do (much less feel), and I remember having some pretty prolonged attraction/affection/love for a couple of girls who were really unworthy of such feeling. I mooned over them, and pursued them, and I supposed had my own little horrible Cecilys in them, where my affection was never returned and I loathe myself for feeling it now. But feel it I did, and while I don't know what Buffy Summers feels for Spike, exactly, she clearly feels something. And maybe she hates herself for it too. Or used to hate herself for it.

"Someday, she will tell you."

I thank god I still don't know what this phrase means. Guess that's one tiny revelation that has not been spoiled for me. Yet.

To Be Continued...

*I'd suck out her energy too. But hey, I'm a pervert.

**And maybe that's an opening to talk about the comic books. Sure, people have made a big deal about Joss doing a Season Eight in comic form, but it's just not the same, and I'm sure there are many who don't consider any of the comic books to be canon. Tyranist has several, and I've read some of the "further adventures" books, and while some have been good (the story that took place between the movie and the first episode was particularly great), there's a temptation to just ignore them all (same with the novels), since they'll never be as important (or reach the level of acceptance) as the filmed works.
It's like the "Star Trek" novels and comics. I saw William Shatner wrote (or "wrote," if you prefer) a book detailing Captain Kirk's first meeting with Spock at the Academy. While the story sounds just up my alley, and I really enjoyed another of the books Shatner wrote (or "wrote," if you continue to prefer), won't this book be rended moot, or imaginary, or incorrect when the J.J. Abrahms movie comes out next summer?
Not that I expect there to be any more "Buffy." There's little chance for any of that to continue. Unless "Dollhouse" is a breakaway hit, I suppose (though my ex-friend Jeff is constantly announcing its demise, months before it's even set to air). It's just that if the comics say that Warren or Cordelia or Dobson or Uncle Ben are still alive, I doubt the majority of fans are going to lend that any credence. And if . . .
You know, I think tyranist has the first "Buffy: Season 8" trade. Maybe I'll just read that, and then make up my mind.

***We do get a moment where we are led to believe that Spike, in his right mind and with his soul intact, kills Principal Wood in much the same way that Angel leapt upon Wesley in that last season episode that kept me away from the show for a month or so . . . but it was just a fake-out on the writers' part, so I didn't mention it.

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