Monday, August 10, 2009

Buffy: The Big Finish

Earshot
I remember this being a lesser episode, but the word online is that it's good. Let's check it out ...

... (after watching it) Yeah, that was good. Much more than I remembered. Earshot is an episode that takes its time and lets us hang out with the characters, rather than rushing along with the plot. I also felt a sense of fear for Buffy - that this telepathy could be really bad for her - and I felt that despite (a) having seen the episode already, and (b) still feeling my prior comments about how threatening the lead character's life doesn't work for me.

So, the thing that was different for me here was the idea that being driven mad by telepathy could actually change Buffy. And it occured to me that in long-running TV shows with established lead characters, change can equal jeopardy. Hypothetical example: you can't kill off Jack Bauer in 24, but you can change him so that he's no longer operating from motives that we'd sympathise with.(*)

(*) I know. They'd just change Jack's character back within 2 or 3 episodes, or reveal that it's an elaborate bluff ... but man, a series of 24 where Jack is the bad guy? And we're following him? That'd be spectacular. And probably the end of the show.


The episode also really illustrates that Buffy is a hero, by showing her as crippled by the telepathy but still compelled to help, and it has a great reveal at the end about the killer. Top marks: not essential to the main plot of Season 3, but excellent television.

Choices
I remember 'Choices' as being a really strong episode, with a locked room setting that's one of my main memories from this season. Let's see how it stacks up to the idealised episode in my mind ...

... ah, it's a bit different. The locked room setting takes up maybe 5 minutes, a far shorter portion of the ep than I remembered.

'Choices' features some great little moments: Faith's look of hatred towards Willow; the Mayor as a well-intentioned, yet evil truth-teller; and a great payoff for Willow's floating pencil trick. And at the very end I thought they were going to have an upbeat finish ... but no. The script had to decompress itself through 2 scenes, but it managed to get to a downbeat place eventually. Yay! Or yay-ish. The sense of dread and the maudlin tone of Season 6 is not entirely unknown to this show.

A good ep, and very clearly belongs in the main plot of Season 3.

The Prom
I remember this being pretty good, but it turns out that The Prom is a fracking great episode that delivers a huge emotional payoff for setting the show at high school for three seasons. What this episode has in common with 'Earshot' is that it's not afraid to humanise the characters, to take time to reflect on their relationships.

It's also a big Buffy-Angel (BAng) episode (and it makes me realise that Season 3 is partially about resolving the BAng relationship so that both characters can move on.(*)

(*) Two asides: The first is that having watched the spinoff show Angel, I can see how 'cooped up' Angel feels hanging out in Sunnydale. Moving to Los Angeles gives him a more epic quality that I really like.

... Secondly, Angel has just spent several hundred years being tortured in a hell dimension. It always occurs to me that the time he's spending in Sunnydale during Season 3 must feel like a dream, like a fantasy that the hell demons are using to torture him and that'll be yanked away at any moment.


Graduation Day
It's a well paced war movie of a finale, and I don't have too much to say about the plot - other than it's good, and it weirdly makes me regret not going to my own graduation.

There are many fantastic moments in it, but most notable for me is that I totally buy the Mayor's paternal attitude towards Faith now. What started as a comedic characteristic that came completely out of the blue is completely sold by the way they talk to each other and the Mayor's genuine rage when he finds out what Buffy and Faith have been up to. There are also beats that are mirrored and developed in later seasons (Buffy quitting, Buffy going to war).

Basically it's an excellent two-parter that first sets up a smackdown with Faith, and then a war with the Mayor, and neatly wraps up three seasons of story-telling.

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