Cultural Catchup Project: “Something Blue” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“Something Blue”

June 30th, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

“Something Blue” is one of those episodes of Buffy that is inherently playful, a quality that I think defines many of television’s finest series. While some shows grow content and refuse to “mess with a good thing,” other shows go out of their way to play with expectations to see how things might be different. When a show like How I Met Your Mother tries out a new narrative device, or when Glee gives “Bohemian Rhapsody” an entire act, the shows aren’t clinically experimenting with different structures: rather, they’re playing with their respective narratives, netting results which help define each series as unique within the television landscape (even if the results are at times divisive).

And play is not necessarily a strictly comic notion, either: shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men do not spring to mind when I use the word “playful,” and yet what is “Fly” if not a playful depiction of Walt’s growing psychological struggle, and isn’t “Shut the Door. Have a Seat” a merging of heist film structures with Mad Men’s historical fiction? Sometimes I think people presume that you can’t spell serialized without serious, but these sorts of dramas rely on characters like Saul Goodman or Roger Sterling who make the light observations without damaging the tension within their respective series. – they’re serious dramas, but that doesn’t mean they’re serious all the time, willing to play with our expectations for the sake of dramatic or comic effect.

“Something Blue” is an episode about Willow’s struggle to overcome tremendous grief, and while the episode is inherently comical and wistfully playful at times, there is no point at which Willow’s emotional pain feels as if it is being mocked or disrespected. While Willow’s attempts to overcome her own pain result in a series of humorous events, the playfulness of the consequences always remains connected to Willow’s feelings, allowing for the episode to capture a character’s fragile state of mind and have some fun at the same time, a feat worthy of some discussion.

In terms of the episode’s playfulness, there’s a lot to discuss here. First off, the show continues to play around with its own continuities: for example, how great is the return of Amy and her sudden reappearance and then disappearance as Willow and Buffy fail to notice how the “Will” spell is working out? There’s even something playful about Buffy bringing up the events of “Beer Bad,” like the series digging through the sandbox and finding a toy that had been buried beneath the surface. Sure, I know that many didn’t particularly like “Beer Bad,” but those playful moments of memory help to build a greater sense of continuity. It isn’t just the highly emotional or depressing elements of the series which linger on, but those which can work their way into witty banter or the like, something that I’ve always appreciated (and which the brief Amy cameo captured very nicely).

This is also a show which a highly active fan community, so I have to presume that there was a whole lot of response to Buffy’s betrothal to Spike. It’s the sort of storyline that’s purposefully cheeky, but it’s rare to see a show this willing (or able) to play around with a pairing of this nature. It’s a rich world, one which I’m fairly certain had a healthy fan fiction community, but there’s sometimes a sense that any real play within that world has to be done by viewers. Here, Spike and Buffy’s nearly-wedded bliss is meant largely as humour, but yet it also quickens Spike’s de-fanging as he becomes more a part of the group. If the show is heading in a particular direction, with Spike being able to walk amongst the group without being tied to a chair at all times, then what better way to move in that direction than to play around with the universe so that you can test it out? This isn’t just a bit of fan fiction come to life, but rather a narrative use of the primary element of fan fiction in order to move closer to Spike as something more than an antagonist. Both Gellar and Marsters had an enormous amount of fun with it as well, which is a requirement to really sell its effect on the other characters (see: Giles’ disgust at the “smacking”).

And while there was fun in a blind Giles or a Demon Magnet Xander, the episode really comes down to Willow, oblivious to it all. It’s important that she make the decision to walk away from D’Hoffryn, Anya’s demon sire of sorts, at the conclusion of the episode as opposed to being saved by the others. Willow is clearly damaged by Oz’s departure, made all the more real by his things disappearing from his apartment, and it makes her selfish: her spell is that everything she wants will come true, a wish which primarily includes unbreaking her heart but sort of reflects her general response to things. She wants Buffy to be there for her instead of for Spike, and she wants Giles to stop worrying about her, concerns which have been heightened in the wake of Oz’s exit (and were especially highlighted in “Fear Itself,” one of the many ways in which that episode foreshadowed future developments). In those moments when she curses people without realizing it, she also thinks that her curse didn’t work, one more bit of anxiety we’ve seen in the past. And so when she realizes what’s happened, and learns that it was all vengeance unleashed by her pain, she doesn’t so much fix her inner pain as she understands its impact on others. And while it may have resulted in Buffy and Spike making out, Giles hilarious tripping over things and Xander nearly being killed, at the very least everyone – the characters and the audience – better understands Willow’s pain.

You could have probably established this in a single tearful moment, as Hannigan is a great crier and if everyone had witnessed her immediate response to Oz’s stuff being shipped away to some other location you could say that they understood her pain. But seeing it brought to life in such a playful fashion makes it that much more memorable, becoming about more than what happens or what’s said and more about how that differed from what we would normally expect to see. “Something Blue” isn’t the first time this has specifically revolved around Willow (“Doppelgangland,” after all, used Vampire Willow to show us some things about how Willow has evolved as a character), and I’ve got a suspicion that it won’t be the last.

Cultural Observations

  • I got a pretty huge kick out of Spike’s desire to watch Passions while locked in the bathtub: I saw bits and pieces of the soap when it began, and it’s a fitting point of reference considering its hokey presentation of magic (including Timmy, the living puppet who Spike mentions specifically).
  • Speaking of Spike, interesting that he is the only one who can really see through Willow’s false presentation of happiness to see her hanging by a thread – while we would normally presume that Spike isn’t particularly attune to human emotions, he has a lot of experience with witnessing people in a state of disrepair, so he’d be an interesting window into the human condition.
  • I don’t have any specific spoilers, but I do have a sneaking suspicion that the talisman Willow receives from D’Hoffryn may come into play in the future. I could be very wrong, but it would connect some dots for me.
  • There was more Buffy and Riley flirtation business going on here (their picnic, for example), but there’s no real surprises there, and I’ll have more to say on that subject tomorrow when I look at “Hush.”
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47 Comments

Filed under Cultural Catchup Project

47 responses to “Cultural Catchup Project: “Something Blue” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

  1. rosengje

    D’Hoffryn is one of my favorite recurring characters. His appearance in Season 7′s “Selfless” is particularly effective. His appearances also speak to that continuity that you mentioned. With three full seasons worth of material behind it, the show can weave in those characters and moments without it seeming gratuitous.

  2. Really spot-on look at “Something Blue” Myles. Like “Fear, Itself” this is an episode which will have even more resonance when you come back to it at the end of the series. But I think you’re on the right track. All I’ll say for now is that Willow’s behavior here isn’t forgotten — it’s expanded upon. Oh, and it’s also not the last we’ll see of D’Hoffryn (a wonderfully fun recurring side character) or his talisman. ;)

    • I’d like to clarify that this episode and “Fear, Itself” aren’t the only episodes that take on an even more memorable light in retrospect. Most of the entire series resonates more the second (or third, etc.) time around, although there’s a good number of episodes that personify this the best.

      Also Myles, nice catch on picking out Spike’s ability to see what’s really happening and get to the truth of matters. It usually takes people a lot longer to catch onto this their first time through the series. Note that he also did this in “The Harsh Light of Day” in his fight with Buffy/jabs about Parker and in “Pangs” in regard to the argument Giles and Willow were having. Continue to keep this in mind as you move through the season and beyond.

      • Yep, Spike brings the outsider’s perspective to the Scooby gang, and he can often see things that the others can’t, possibly because they’re too close to it. (Anya is also an outsider, but she has the opposite-of-insight into human interactions.)

        Possible-mini-spoiler-alert?

        I think Spike’s insight comes from the kind of person he was before being turned. That, of course, is character information that will come much later in the show.

        • greg

          Yeah, but also how Spike and Angel are now. Spike seems to really enjoy being a vampire, he seems far more comfortable in his skin and is far more connected with the world/people around him. In a similar position, I can’t imagine Spike needing any help to get the girl in ‘City Of’ to talk to him or open up. Spike’s just not the “brooding in a dark corner” kinda vamp. Nor do I believe that Spike would have reacted quite as enthusiastically as Angel did had he been accidentally turned human again.

          Not that I’m Spike’s biggest cheerleader or anything. Obviously, the writers need him to at least a little emotionally in touch with the people around him or else he wouldn’t be able to make facetious and undiplomatic comments about them. (he’s not insightful, he’s just drawn that way) Angel didn’t need to have that ability.

          • Eldritch

            “Spike seems to really enjoy being a vampire, he seems far more comfortable in his skin and is far more connected with the world/people around him.”

            With all due respect, Spike is evil. He’s without soul or conscience. Naturally, he’s comfortable with himself. He’s completely selfish. So was Angelus, until he was re-ensouled. How would Spike react were he ever re-ensouled. He might not be so comfortable with himself then.

          • Becker

            Nor do I believe that Spike would have reacted quite as enthusiastically as Angel did had he been accidentally turned human again.

            Well, you also have to keep in mind that Angel was both with soul (far closer to human) and the woman he loves but couldn’t be with otherwise at the time. Angel took a long time (100+ years) to get to the point where he was actually able to deal with it. Spike would be jumping a few steps. I doubt he’d deal well with the sudden change, regardless of anything else.

          • KokoBuffs

            ““Spike seems to really enjoy being a vampire, he seems far more comfortable in his skin and is far more connected with the world/people around him.”

            With all due respect, Spike is evil. He’s without soul or conscience. Naturally, he’s comfortable with himself. He’s completely selfish. So was Angelus, until he was re-ensouled. How would Spike react were he ever re-ensouled. He might not be so comfortable with himself then.

            And yet, Greg’s point is still valid, which is why I will eternally love these shows. Joss just lays out the irony, the “burden” of a soul, the responsibility of the good, and I just love to roll around in it.

            ***Spoiler below?…well, erring on the side of Spoiler***
            Sure he’s evil. But that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have something there… Thinking Buffy in Season 6/7, especially Spike’s “Normal Again” speech to her.
            ***
            Joss loves to play with those expectations and characters are nuanced just so, to be great foils for our title characters. Being comfortable or (finding comfort) with who you are?–A good. Relishing in your inherent evil?–not so much. The two existing in the same character in a narrative, often highlighted simultaneously?…Spike in Pangs: (roughly) “Oh I’m sick and tired of all the boo-hooing about the bloody Indians…You had better weapons and you massacred them. End of Story…You EXTERMINATED HIS RACE, what could you POSSIBLY say that would make him feel better. It’s kill or be killed here, take your bloody pick.”

            Priceless.

            p.s. how do you italicize text? sorry if it’s a dumb question. i’m a little new to the actual posting my response side of things (usually, by the time I organize my thoughts, another season has passed)

      • KokoBuffs

        I remember feeling like it was ironic and apt at the same time, as he’s been at his memorable best when he’s moping over his love-life. Hilariously moping (to the point of setting his hand ablaze) while pithy through the pain, maybe because of it:

        (roughly) “You’re not friends. You’ll never be friends. You’ll love and you’ll …and you’ll shag, and you’ll hate each other til it makes you quiver, but you’ll never be friends. Love isn’t brains children it’s blood….I may be love’s bitch, but at least I’m man enough to admit it.)”
        He knows about the pain that you want to magically fix, as in that episode, he kidnapped Willow to fix his pain with a spell. They remind us of their connection upon their first meeting in this season when he comes to her room…and I have to say, knowing that Oz just left, I was on the lookout for the potential love-interest and was like hmmm, Spike and Willow….? Sure, the narrative played with Spike and Buffy, but the Willow connections were just beneath the surface….

        Hey, I’m not saying whether they went that way or not (yup, hardcore about non-spoilage, lol) just trying to give my first viewing memories/perspective… ;) Half or more like, 3/4 of the things I want to point out, I always end up going aww, shoot, can’t say that, or can’t quote that line from Season…, it’ll spoil the experience of hearing it for the 1st time.

        On that note, I think people have been pretty good about spoilers and spoiler warnings on here, but we should also try avoide dropping in direct phrases or quotes from future eps as part of commentary. I know they become part of our lexicon without even knowing it most of the time… Especially with shows as rich as Buffy and Angel, it’s not just “spoiling,” the what , but experiencing how. I know if it were me, I have an ear for dialogue and I’d be partly distracted remembering, “Didn’t I hear that already somewhere?” We quote the lines because we delighted in hearing them, or meeting their depth…even remember what we were doing when we first heard someone say….

        And I’m real good at putting 2 and 2 together, so if my friend tells me about a movie I’ve just gotta see, I’m usually like, DON’T. SAY. ANOTHER. WORD. Don’t tell me you liked the ending. Don’t tell me the ending surprised you. Nothing. One minor comment about the ending of “24″ Season 1 and I was like, Oh no, I have a feeling I know exactly what’s going to go down, ERASE ME PLEASE!

        • Becker

          Hell, some episode titles are spoilers in and of themselves. I’m glad that most people have gone to jut saying S4.15, etc. I just wish people wouldn’t say things like “So and so will be back and in episode blah. But I’m also a super spoiler hater. I know Myles knows some things, but I think it’s easier for me to assume he has seen nothing beyond the current ep and knows nothing so I can talk about thing he’s seen and stop there. Everything else is a spoiler. There are a few spoilers that I will be extremely irate if people mention. I know that a lot has been posted that I know would have pissed me off if I saw them back in the day (given no one would have had that info back then, but….).

          • Becker, did you ever see the edition of the Angel DVDs with quotes printed on them? I was watching A3 for the very first time, and renting the discs, and the very first disc has a quote from Angel (from 3.7) that RUINS THE ENTIRE ARC OF THE ENTIRE SEASON. I was so frikkin pissed.

            Myles, don’t use the DVDs with quotes on them. Or if you do, close your eyes while you put them into the DVD player :-)

          • Becker

            Not hte S3 discs, but I’m down to the last two special features on the S2 discs with the lame quotes on that one. DVDs are not designed with first time viewers in mind, but for people who saw it and now want it. Hence the lack of concerns about spoilers in the quotes, the menus or in the special features. Things get spoiled in the commentaries all the time and the S1 & S2 “Blueprints” feature use the same blueprints for S2 sets. On S1 only the “Introducing Angel” and “It’s Cordy” ones are future spoiler free (and worth watching immediately after finishing S1 to see more footage from the original 5 minute network presentation that never aired).

          • Commentaries, I understand. Special features, I understand. But on the discs themselves? Sigh.

            ::runs off to watch the special features::

          • Becker

            The episode descriptions on the packaging can be pretty spoilery as well. So you just look at disc numbers and ignore the rest. ;)

        • Becker

          To italicize just do this [i] [/i] but with instead.

          • Becker

            With the arrows above the comma and period instead of the brackets. I didn’t think they’d vanish.

          • KokoBuffs

            D’oh! html. duh squared. I knew I was missing something obvious…It’s been awhile…and well, it’s sleepy time and all…lol

        • Aeryl

          To answer your question about the italics, you have to use HTML code. It can be a bit tricky, but basically you surround the text you want to highlight with italics with an open code “[em]” and closing code [/em].

          Just replace the [], with . Bolds use the word “strong”. “i” also works for italics in some programs as well.

      • Becker

        He did it on “Lover’s Walk” when he deconstructed he B/A…situation…in that. So it’s something he’d been doing for some time. He just had less direct interaction with the group previously in a non-trying to kill them capacity.

      • Gill

        As early as Lovers’ Walk Spike is perceptive, as Buffy recognises – he sees the truth and speaks it unless there’s a good personal reason not to. He is particularly attuned to emotional states that just whoosh past Buffy.

  3. diane

    D’Hoffryn is such a wonderful character. Same actor as the creepy doctor in I Fall To Pieces.

    In a lot of ways, this is a very Willow season. With all her love of “spurty knowledge”, she grows and changes, all built on those old insecurities.

    Marsters is indeed excellent here. Spike has made quite a journey since School Hard, and Marsters does a phenomenal job of managing chracter consistency and continuity with all the changes the writers give him.

  4. I adore Something Blue; I think it’s probably in my top five Buffy episodes. Alyson Hannigan is amazing. And I love all the Buffy/Spike interaction — the lovers part, as well as their arguments and taunting in the bathroom beforehand. :-D

    The show, and the characters, are so well-established at this point that this kind of episode has TONS of humor potential. The idea of Xander as a demon magnet is funny, but when you’ve seen the truth of that conceit all the way back to Teacher’s Pet, then it becomes hilarious. And at this point the writers can do that with practically every character. (Anya, interestingly, did not get her own spell/curse, perhaps because she hasn’t been around as long?)

    By contrast, AtS is, as we’ve said plenty of times here, still struggling to find its voice. I think AtS was only able to do something this wacky and funny in its own season 4. (I’m thinking of 4.6 — can anyone think of another Angel ep that pulls of the same kind of fun as Something Blue?)

    (Ooh. And Tabula Rasa, in B5, also pulls the same kind of trick.)

    “It’s all right. I have more Scotch.”

  5. Tausif Khan

    I don’t agree with your interpretation of the spell. Granted what you said is true but Willow is more than her love life. If you connect what happens with Amy and her “will” spell you get that she is being very careless. This expands her personality beyond her romantic relationships. It continues her her arc of dealing with power when she first took over Ms. Calendar’s place in terms of teaching and study of magic.

  6. Jack_Kay

    I think Something Blue, while being extremely fun and kinda carefree, is a really good symbolic point showing how far Willow has come in terms of her magical abilities, and the fact that she’s totally unaware of it herself!

    The specific moment being the Amy resurfacing – in just less than a year since Amy’s animal transformation (and considering Willow’s briefly determined attempts to re-humanise her back at the time of her rat-changing) Willow has unknowingly gained/or accessed the level of power that is required in order to transform one type of being into a completely different entity altogether in, basically, the snap of a finger.

    All of this is sort of subtly disguised within the more overt (and incredibly amusing) whimsicalities of the episode.
    Her reckless attitude regarding the consequences of potentially dangerous magic (especially when she uses it for selfish, ‘untrue’ or some other word pertaining to ‘generally unmoral’ reasons, i.e. not for powers of goodness) and most ominously when fuelled by her own reactions to grief…
    (v. slight/general Spoiler) – her lack of self control or control over the magic she invokes in Something Blue strikes me as very foretelling in light of events to come, particularly in seasons 5 and 6.

    Plus, on a lighter note, I just thought SMG was the epitome of fun and cuteness in this episode, even with that crazy frizzy season 4 hair of hers that I can never quite tell if I like or not… don’t think it gels with me (no pun intended) as much as most of her other styles.

    • Jack_Kay

      yeah so I completely meant “immoral”, not “unmoral” – that makes not so much with sense

      • Glad you caught that, it saves me from having to be the grammar police :-) JK. I think. Nah, I probably would have pointed it out.

        Yeah, there are connections between this ep and B6. But I can’t condone using this ep to *justify* the end of B6.

        Don’t get me wrong, I think that the way B6 turns out is amazing and aweful and tearful and unbelievably good. But the metaphor they used to get us there? Not a fan.

        • greg

          It’s always dangerous to take metaphors on ‘Buffy’ or ‘Angel’ too literally. I look forward to vigorously defending the indefensible in future seasons. Say, you’re not making the error of believing things characters say on the show just because they say them, rather than believing what you see with your own eyes, are you? ‘Cause that’s dangerous. People have their own agendas sometimes and others can easily fall into the trap of believing things that are simply and clearly not true just because it gets them off the hook and casts themselves as the victim rather than as the bad guy. When someone says something and there’s zero evidence on the show to back it up I get suspicious. They might believe it, and they might get others around them to believe it, but that doesn’t make it true. If the writers really wanted the audience to believe something, they’d put in at least one one scene to back it up. And that’s all I’ll say about that now.

  7. Karen

    Great insights, Myles, especially regarding Willow and Spike. As others said, this one is light and fun, yet in retrospect such as significant one in so many ways.

    So looking forward to your review of *Hush.*

  8. Austin

    I cannot take credit for this observation since I read it somewhere else, but notice that Willow’s spell only worked on things she said that had some grain of truth to them already. Giles was wearing glasses (he is slightly blind already), Xander has always been a demon magnet, Amy was a human before, and Spike and Buffy? Well… food for thought.

    • Nicole

      Huh. That’s very interesting, I’d never heard that before. IMO Gile’s blindness was scary. Not being able to see to read? -shudder-

  9. morda898

    I find that one of the most endearing qualities about the Buffyverse is its admirable memory. The continuities of both shows are almost flawless and this is highlighted by the fact that things, even the most minor of things, from the series’ past are mentioned all the time from now on. All the time – as in every single episode. You mention Amy for instance, well that wasn’t the last time you’ll see her. And D’Hoffryn, he’ll be coming back in a frackingly entertaining way. But it’s not just character appearances, it’s all the little things. Just throw away mentions of minor to major events that have happened to these characters over the years. I think it’s enjoyable for Buffyverse fans because these little comments (Usually in the form of a joke) are like rewards for careful, dutiful watching. They also kind of rely on the intelligence of the audience which is always good. Joss show’s never make you feel cheap or stupid – If nothing else, you’ve got to respect them for that. (Of course, there are a thousand other reasons to respect the work of the Whedon)

    Myles, I was wondering what your thoughts are on the Angel opening credit sequence and theme song. As well as the Buffy one actually. It’s not that important but it’d be cool if you mentioned it in your “cultural observations” bit one time.

    • Becker

      I asked about the theme songs and what he thought of them both as music as as a representation of the shows a topic or two ago. Hopefully with both of us asking, we’ll get a response. (My question came pretty late, so I’m not surprised it wasn’t answered)

    • Aeryl

      I love the continuity too.

      There’s a future episode, where someone is invisible, and they respond to queries with, “No, I’m not going all Marcie on everyone.” which refers all the way back to S1.

      It’s the little things.

    • Now, see, saying that Amy or D’Hoffryn will be back, that’s something I’d consider a spoiler.

  10. Eric

    …and an anticipatory Hush falls over the crowd as we await Myles’ next review…

  11. Gill

    A perceptive review, as we’ve come to expect, Myles. I love this episode, for its humour but also for the penetrating character insight. As someone said upthread, there has to be a grain of truth before Willow’s spells work, and then the metaphorical turns horribly literal – Giles is metaphorically blind to Willow’s pain, Xander has a history of attracting demons (Praying Mantis Teacher, for example) and now actually physically pulls them towards him. The interesting thing is that there is no similar bond between Spike and Buffy, so far, but not only are they engaged, they seem to be in love. The source of countless fanfictions then and still today!

    Marsters and Gellar somehow manage to communicate both besottedness and a relationship that’s existed for some while – a just reward for Buffy’s taunting of Spike in the bath, perhaps, when her “offer” of a tender, vulnerable neck could be understood in more than a literal, vampire-food sense.

  12. Bob Kat

    It’s only partly Willow’s power, it’s also the type of spell, sort of the equivalent of a “Wish” spell (or maybe closer to “Alter Reality,” I was never really a player) in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. Perhaps she doesn’t have the control to cast it properly (so it works on her assertions rather than her commands) or perhaps she cast it properly but misunderstood its nature. (Not exactly spoilery to say she never casts this particular spell or anything especially close to it again.) Or perhaps this kind of spell never really works absolutely as intended.

    • Eldritch

      I heard that, like the fashions they dressed their stars in, the writers didn’t like to do the same spell twice. So they always invented a new spell. Makes the show more entertaining.

  13. Surgoshan

    Spike is a poet. He’s a terrible poet, but damn if he isn’t a fantastic observer of the human condition.

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