Friday, July 31, 2009

Buffy: Heading towards the middle of Season 3

More mini-reviews, this time with the occasional listing of specific act breaks

Lover's Walk
The episode that convinced Joss Whedon that he could mine more dramatic potential from Spike - by protraying him as a drunk, hilariously love-lorn emotional sap/psychopath. It's great comparing the scene of Spike trying to convince Willow to cast a love spell with the scene in Season 4 where he's failing to bite her - Willow as the terrified confident of a confessional Spike is a fun dynamic, and I can see why they revisted that well.

This episode starts building up the question of what going to happen after high school finishes, as Buffy begins to realise the future is wide open to her. A tremendously entertaining episode that finishes on a low point for everyone. It's not key to the overall story of Season 3 though.

Act Break (AB): Spike decides to use Willow.
AB 2: Spike captures Willow and Xander. Wants Willow to cast a spell on Dru.
AB 3: Spike shows up at Buffy's house. He has a heart to heart with Buffy's mum.
AB 4: Spike is under threat, and Buffy and Angel have to protect him. Although I'd argue that the real act-out comes when Cordy gets impaled by a pole.

I enjoyed how the reactions to these act breaks (when we cut back from commercials) are unexpected and reveal character.

The Wish
An episode that ties off quite a few of the romantic subplots from the first third of the season and sets up a new status quo. Cordy's wish doesn't create a subtle alternate reality, but it's a nicely handled one - it feels logical, and it's portrayed in broad strokes that feel appropriate and convey a lot of information.

Amends
Boy, I remember this as a weak episode. And in a way it is - it creates this false jeopardy that Angel was brought back to kill Buffy (*), before swerving into the more believable territory of Angel wanting to destroy himself. The result is pretty damn sappy, but not as bad as I remembered it.

(*) Cos they're totally going to kill off Sarah Michelle Gellar's character halfway through the season, right?

Amends also demonstrates that this show does NOT ignore the emotional reality between the characters. Take a look at the scene where Giles meets Angel for the first time since he's back - Angel killed Giles' girlfriend, and the show tackles that head-on. This emotional continuity is a vital part of the 'watching a novel' effect I'm talking about.

Gingerbread
I remember this as an effective little story, although (like Amends) it's not essential to Season 3. It's a nicely-developed mob-mentality horror story. It also features the transformation of Amy into a rat that becomes so important in Seasons 6 and 8.

I'm beginning to really lock in to the idea that the reason Buffy is so satisfying to rewatch is that the real plots happen in the sub-text of the episode.

Helpless
This felt like a significantly deeper episode to me; a great combination of schlock (suddenly defenceless slayer hunted by vampires) with introspection (what is Buffy without her powers? What is the exact nature of her relationship with Giles?).

I'm impressed by David Fury (the writer of this ep; he later moved to 24). The episode is filled with nice transitions between scenes, and scene endings that are odd, skewed, and quiet. There's also a extended pre-teaser intro that really drew me in to the episode.

This is a Buffy/Giles episode - the presence of other supporting cast has been significantly reduced. Buffy has to deal with Giles' betrayal; the father-daughter vibe between them is more deeply explored (and the conflict between Giles' role as a Watcher and his relationship towards Buffy as a human being is fully brought out into the light). It also ends with a big plot development for Giles - something I'd completely forgotten about.

A good, more serious episode that I think will be pretty important to the rewatching of Season 3.

The Zeppo
I can remember reading that a lot of fans were angry about this episode - presumably because it undermines the reality of the show but undercutting the epic Buffy/Angel love story and the seriousness of preventing the apocalypse. Me, I think that's hilarious.(*)

(*) In particular, check out the music cue when Xander leaves Buffy and Angel alone about 32 minutes into the ep.

This episode is supposedly about Xander's inadequacy, his search for coolness, and generally trying to find his identity in the group. I'd say at a meta-level, it's really about giving us, the audience, a reason to care about Xander by throwing him into an episode that gives him a mega-dose of 'worthiness as a protagonist', making him someone we want to watch.

It doesn't hurt that it uses a whole 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead'/what's-happening-backstage structure to tell a series of funny jokes. It also doesn't hurt that Xander and Faith have a couple of scenes together (and check out that impressive 5 seconds of silence as he leaves her motel ... that is some rare stuff in TV, to just watch a character process what's happened to them).

Finally, I'd say check out Xander's costuming. Compare his super-geeky sweater and shirt in the first scene after the title sequence to how he's dressed in the final scene. As with The Wish, it's overt but clearly makes the point about Xander's transformation.

... Now, on to the heart of the season. Episode 14 (Bad Girls), here we come.
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