“Beauty and the Beasts”
May 9th, 2010
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Due to more Mother’s Day related traveling than I had anticipated, I actually ran out of time to watch enough of Buffy to make today’s piece as expansive as I wanted it to be. I watched “Beauty and the Beasts” earlier in the week when I went through the first disc of the season, but then I haven’t moved on since that point as a result of more excursions than usual. Accordingly, you’re stuck with a small capsule review rather something something a bit more substantial, but I do have a few points to make (as if running out of things to say is ever really my issue).
While not quite as momentous as “Faith, Hope & Trick,” this episode nonetheless plays an important role in starting off the season’s story arc. While it’s not the most subtle episode the show has ever done, the various parallels do a nice job of handling the reintegration of a certain character both in terms of the character himself and Buffy’s response to their return, and they have some fun with a couple of television clichés in the process.
The story of Pete as a self-medicating Jekyll/Hyde figure is a little bit dull, but I think that’s more or less the point here: when something goes wrong like this, we used to be able to presume that it was some sort of demon and just move on, but now the characters we know and trust are just as likely to be responsible. In the case of Oz, you all alerted me to the fact that Oz’s three days a month affliction wasn’t going to be smooth sailing, and here we see Xander asleep on the job result in our resident werewolf potentially being responsible for the attacks. Meanwhile, the feral Angel is an entirely unpredictable creature, as his centuries in hell (as nicely set up by the time/space continuum details in “Anne”) have robbed him of his humanity. Both situations are reflected in Pete’s strange concoction, a story which never particularly goes anywhere but does help keep the episode thematically consistent.
I was initially very wary of the introduction of the school psychologist, primarily because this device always seems a bit too convenient. Most shows have had episodes where a shrink of some sort comes in so that they can justify having characters letting out their feelings, and Mr. Platt first appears to be such a device and little more. The character isn’t uninteresting, but it seems like an excuse for Buffy to talk about her feelings in more detail, and there isn’t enough clever dialogue in Buffy’s attempt to speak vaguely about her situation to make the scene really pop. However, at a certain point you realize that it’s all a bait and switch in order to parallel Angel’s return: Angel emerges from hell just as soon as she’s ready to put him behind her, so it’s fitting that Mr. Platt is murdered by Pete just as soon as Buffy wants to start confiding in him. It’s a nice demonic subversion of the typical cliché: Buffy isn’t going to be the kind of person who gets “saved” by a school psychologist arriving in order to put her life into perspective, and it’s nice of the show to remind us of that sometimes.
Part of the reason I wanted to watch a bit more before writing about this episode is that I still don’t quite know how to respond to Angel’s return. I can say that the scenes with Buffy watching as a chained Angel struggles like a wild animal are really evocative, and there’s a heartbreaking quality to the entire story which again makes poor Scott Hope seem just too gosh darn normal for this universe. Boreanaz does a great job of playing the wounded Angel, but my opinion on the speed of his return to “normal” will depend on how things play out in the future. Making the entire episode about transformations and reconciling behaviour with identity means that we at least understand what it means for Angel to recognize Buffy at episode’s end, but the nature of that recognition will very much be something to figure out in the future.
- I am going to presume from this point on that any people we meet who are very clearly not “new characters” are going to somehow be involved with the main case: this isn’t a new thing for the show, but both Pat in “Dead Man’s Party” and Phil and Debbie here seemed like characters who would logically exist in this universe (a friend for Joyce, friends for Scott) who become collateral damage perhaps because the show doesn’t have time for them to keep existing.
- You know that Faith’s introduction was strong when the show can just nonchalantly make her “one of the gang” here and I don’t even bat an eye.
- The opening (from Willow) and closing (from Buffy) readings from “Call of the Wild” were an interesting stylistic choice: I’m going to presume that they’re supposed to directly recall Angel’s voiceover in “Passion,” which is the last time that we got this sort of structure, and it certainly clarifies (if perhaps too well) the focus of the episode.